Monsters and Others

Saturday, September 17th, 2005

Perhaps you all have seen the proliferation of monster/alien shows on television, a noticable trend away from the superhero amidst us, to the alien amidst us, which is not unique but going through revival. From Buffy and Smallville to the 4400 and Alien Invasion. The idea of the monster and the alien are related in many ways. In Beowulf, the decendant of Cain is a foul creature who can eat you whole and rip you apart. In The Invasion of the Body Snatchers you are “eaten whole,” likewise in The Thing, but the attack is subtle, infiltrative, and creepy (with lots ooze and gell), unlike the War of the Worlds where the attack has marked borders. Either way, the alien is a monster. In both Beowulf and Invasion, the monster or the alien is NOT US.

The monster always surprises. It approaches from the periphery, from inside us even. The monster is that “other” who is always unexpected, sneaky or not. The world outside the circle of order teems with the agents of chance and aggression. Such is the devil in The Exorcist and the terror agents who killed us and knocked down our buildings. Such is the Green Knight who penetrates from without. Such is Sauron, who sneaks back into Mordor until openly challenging the heros of the day.

Who are the others, what is the other, and how to deal with them, or it, is still a fundamental question. It can be a complicated question of masks, identity, affiliation, affinity, or the design of barriers meant to keep the storm waters out. The clubs children form. The institutions governments make. The images of the artists.

In Battlestar Galactica there are no overt aliens as “aliens.” But the program still confronts the question in that the identity of the enemy is unsure. Who among us, the program asks, will open themselves up as the sudden and unlikely enemy: in a card game, a firefight, a computer system. The robotic army is obviously monstrous, but they are the easy target–openly antagonistic. However, the beautiful but passionate clones are the real danger behind them and the question goes even deeper because there must be a cause behind them as well–guess who? The problem is to flesh the immediate enemy out. As in Gawain and the implications of the pentangle, the skill comes in seeing past the mirage and the agents of bewilderment.


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