Wednesday 19 September 2018

Guest post: Revealing Monsters

Guest post by Alexandra Grunberg.

The world is not a simple split of black and white, good and evil, heroes and monsters. Though it would be easy to look at something monstrous and label it a monster, it is more interesting to find the shades of grey. How did they become monsters? Why do we assume they are monsters? What is it about appearance that can be so manipulative, so convincing, if it matches the familiar stories we’ve been told since childhood? If it has teeth, fangs, horns, talons, it’s bad, it’s evil. It’s clear. In the Making Monsters anthology, we are twisting traditional genre expectations by finding the heroic, sympathetic, and complex in characters that present as typical monsters.

But what happens when we reverse that process? What secrets may be hidden behind the beautiful, strong, and romantic? And what can we learn from pulling back the mask of “goodness” and revealing the dark truths underneath? If Making Monsters twists our view of villains, there is an equally important twist occurring in fantasy fiction that unveils the villainous in characters that present as typical heroes. And no one does that twist better than Disney.

In Disney animated films, we see characters that present many attributes of expected heroes, but eventually reveal evil beliefs, intentions, and actions. This twist can be seen in the popular animated films Beauty and the Beast, Frozen, and Coco. Gaston from Beauty and the Beast may be beautiful, but he is still obsessive and jealous. Hans from Frozen may be fun and charismatic, but he still manipulative and self-serving. Ernesto from Coco may be a beloved musician, but he is still a murderer. These are not just examples of great characters and engaging writing, but examples that are relevant to the real world and our own lives. That beautiful man is untrustworthy. That beloved musician is a criminal.

That talented swimmer is a rapist.

In the present #MeToo movement, the public still has difficulty reconciling our heroes who present traditionally good qualities (admired entertainers, successful sportsmen) with actions that do not match their perceived character. It is hard to accept that the story we have been told about this person does not match their behavior. It is hard to accept the reality when we preferred the fantasy. And it is even harder when we are exposed to television and films that encourage these fantasies.

But having examples of these twists in fiction prepares us to recognize the reality of these surprises and disappointments. These characters give the public a framework for understanding, recognizing, and accepting. This is especially useful in films geared towards younger audiences. Children who watch these films grow up with these examples of duality and contradictory behavior, as well as the expectation and need for justice. Twisting heroic tropes in fiction offers an opportunity for representation of an unexpected yet common villain that directly relates to our current social climate.

So, when someone says that they just can’t believe a popular musician would do horrible things, Disney fans can counter with the example of Ernesto in Coco. And we can remember that even someone as loved as Ernesto had to face the consequences of his actions when the public realized his true nature. And maybe we can learn to hold real people to the same standards that we have for fictional characters in animated films.

Alexandra Grunberg is an author, screenwriter, and poet. Her short stories have appeared in various online magazines and anthologies, including publications certified by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. You can learn more at her website.

Alexandra’s story “The Banshee” can be found in the Making Monsters anthology.

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