You believe in monsters, whether you know it or not -- and I'm not even talking about the two-thirds of Americans who believe in demons and demon possession, or all of us who for a couple of weeks thought the Miami cannibal attack was the beginning of a zombie apocalypse (deny it all you want, but I know how hard it was to find shotgun shells that week). No, I'm talking about the monsters that live in your brain.
They are the reason we go see scary movies, and why we obsess over the most gruesome, face-eating news stories. These monsters are an important part of who we are and, by the way, are quite a bit more terrifying than the thing you only thought lived under your bed when you were a kid.
Note: I have written a novel that addresses this subject in the most ludicrous way possible and it is on shelves now. Also note that if you click your mouse anywhere on this page, there's a good chance you'll accidentally order it.
So to understand our obsession with monsters, we have to start with the fact that ...
Let's say you are convicted of a crime and the judge sentences you to be parachuted naked into a populated area of someone else's choosing. It can be anywhere on Earth, but in the name of leniency, the judge allows you to pick one city or region where you won't be dropped. What's your pick? What's the one place you know you'd have no chance of getting out of alive? Detroit? Somalia? Think about it, we'll come back to it in a moment.
So, if you picture Japan in your mind, this is what you see:
Right down to the bunny ears. Don't lie. But if we were in 1943 America, you'd see this:
And that's not a person. That's a monster. That thing doesn't have a mother. It doesn't feel human compassion. It's not even the same species, and we shouldn't feel bad about incinerating a couple hundred thousand of them with bombs, any more than we'd feel bad about fumigating some cockroaches. I know that poster looks like ancient history to you, and that your grandparents look very naive for buying into it. But here's what I grew up with:
Even his hair is a weapon.
That was what a "Russian" was in my mind -- cold, emotionless, violent, soulless, inhuman. As a school kid in 1984, I'd have pushed the nuclear button myself. I had seen Red Dawn, I knew it was us or them. So let's go back to our question: What's the one part of the world you don't want to drop naked into? Maybe the darkest, poorest parts of Appalachia, where the inbred Deliverance rapists live?
"Buck up, friend. This is an important part of our culture!"
Or maybe it's the most brutal parts of sub-Saharan Africa, where (as we saw in District 9) there are gangs of AK-47-wielding cannibal warlords:
Fortunately for you, you won't be dropped into any of those places. No, the judge has decided you'll be shoved into one of the radical Muslim anti-American demonstrations going on right now:
If you plead guilty now, you will be allowed to tape up your genitals.
Now, I'm not calling you a bigot, that's not the point of this. It's not your fault that you're scared of all of those people, and that you think they lack any kind of human empathy or rationality. It's not their fault that, in many cases, they're equally scared of you, or what you represent. For you see ...
There is a scene in the movie Pulp Fiction that explains almost every terrible thing happening in the news today. And it's not the scene where Ving Rhames shoots that guy's dick off. It's the part where the hit man played by John Travolta is talking about how somebody vandalized his car, and says this:
"Boy, I wish I could've caught him doing it. I'd have given anything to catch that asshole doing it. It'd been worth him doing it, just so I could've caught him doing it."
That last sentence is something everyone should understand about mankind. After all, the statement is completely illogical -- revenge is supposed to be about righting a wrong. But he wants to be wronged, specifically so he'll have an excuse to get revenge.
We all do. It's in our genes. And once you come to terms with that, a whole lot of ugly things about the world start making sense, the dick of your illusions blown off by the shotgun of truth.
Think about the worst fight you were ever in. Now think about the last time you did cocaine. Did you ever notice how similar the rush was in both instances (maybe you couldn't tell, if both of those things happened on the same night). It's basic biology -- we mentioned before an experiment where scientists found that angry cursing soothes physical pain. It doesn't mean that someday they'll prep you for surgery by injecting you with motherfuckers; it means that when we get angry, our body releases the painkiller norepinephrine. It makes perfect sense -- the emotion we call "anger" or "hate" is a part of our evolutionary fighting instinct, so to prepare us for the battle, it pumps us full of anesthetic to block the pain and releases the pleasure chemical dopamine to ease our fears about fighting the tiger/tribesman/drunken Red Sox fan who is threatening us. Incidentally, these are the same two chemicals that are released when you smoke crack.
Quite simply, hate gets you high.
"I'm about to trip my goddamn beard off."
The science behind it is fairly new, but it explains so much, from wars to the confrontational dick at the office, from racism to the crazy girlfriend/boyfriend who is constantly trying to pick fights or create "drama." You are a biological machine built to hate, and you got that way because your ancestors killed off everyone who wasn't. Rage made you strong, and that strength let you win. This is why so much of society is built around controlling and suppressing it.
So what does this have to do with monsters? Here's a hint:
Jesus, that's a depressing headline. I don't want this article to seem like it's coming off as cynical -- after all, the rocket that took us to the moon ran entirely on hatred of communists. Here, let me lighten the mood with this picture of a couple hundred people dying horribly in a nightclub fire:
That is of course the aftermath of the infamous Bali terror attacks in 2002, where a car bomb detonated near a club full of Australian tourists. The victims were just dancing and laughing and having a good time when Muslim fundamentalists decided that the best way to get the world behind their cause was to make those innocent, joyful tourists die horribly in flames.
Look at that picture. Think about the victims inside. Think about the perpetrators watching it burn, listening to the screams, smugly confident that the act would somehow get them into heaven. How does it make you feel? What does it make you want to do to them?
OK, now how does it make you feel when I tell you that the image above is not of the Bali bombings, but rather the completely accidental nightclub fire that happened a year later in Rhode Island, in which a hundred people died due to a malfunction of pyrotechnics set off by the band Great White?
Which up to then everyone thought was a Spinal Tap-style parody band.
Well, shit. That's a buzzkill, isn't it? Despite the fact that the people died in the exact same way, and that far more people die in careless fires every year than in terror attacks, it just doesn't set off the same fireworks in your brain. Imagining hunting down and killing those terrorists makes me want to charge out of my front door wielding a shotgun and a vengeance erection, with Drowning Pool blasting in the background ...
... but when I imagine charging out the door to advocate for stricter fire safety standards for public performances in small venues, I find myselfIiiiiiithnnnnnnnnnnnnbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbmmmm ...
Sorry, I fell asleep on my keyboard there. So why does one tragedy make me want to do a Liam Neeson on the Arab world, while an identical tragedy barely registers? Because I've been trained like one of Pavlov's dogs to react a certain way -- not to danger, but to monsters. And the fuckers who blew up that nightclub were monsters.
I can't be convinced otherwise because long, long ago, the people in charge figured out that the easiest and most reliable way to bind a society together was by controlling and channeling our hate addiction. That's the reason why seeing this ...
... on the news makes us mumble "That's sad" and maybe donate a few bucks to the Red Cross hurricane fund, while this ...
... sends us into a decade-long trillion-dollar rage that leaves the Middle East in flames. The former was caused by wind; the latter was caused by monsters. The former makes us kind of bummed out; the latter gets us high.
And addicts are very easy to control, if you know how to manipulate their supply. Don't take my word for it. Let's see if you can name which genocidal world leader said this:
"Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. Mankind ... that word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests."
That was, of course, Bill Pullman as President Thomas J. Whitmore in Independence Day. What does it take to unify humanity and let us get past our "petty differences"? A devastating invasion by space monsters. The same thing that got Captain America and Tony Stark to work together in The Avengers. The same thing that got the various warring clans of Scotland to band together behind William Wallace in Braveheart. It's right there, in all of our most popular movies: a war against unspeakable, inhuman evil is the only thing that makes us unite and put our differences aside.
"If it wasn't for the aliens, I totally would have dropped the N-word by now."
And if that singular, despicable monster doesn't exist, we'll create it. We have to.
Or, to quote another leader who rallied his people when things looked their darkest:
"As a whole, and at all times, the efficiency of the truly national leader consists primarily in preventing the division of the attention of a people, and always in concentrating it on a single enemy. The more uniformly the fighting will of a people is put into action, the greater will be the magnetic force of the movement."
At the risk of this getting taken out of context in the week I'm trying to sell a book, I think we can all agree that Adolf Hitler was right. As were all of the experts who came after him who said the same thing.
On one hand, I'm not saying anything new here -- all of this was a major theme of 1984, as well as Van Halen's earlier albums -- but on the other hand, people keep falling for it. The crackhead knows the drug is bad for him, but that doesn't mean he doesn't still freaking love crack.
Now, I'm typing this on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and the above is going to attract conspiracy theorists to the comments claiming that George W. Bush arranged the attacks in order to give the country the mindless monster it needed to rally against. But the process of creating the monster doesn't have to work that way. You don't remember the spy plane incident in April of 2001? The tense international standoff after an American spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet in Chinese territory, killing the pilot? That came on the heels of an election where Bush promised he would get tough on China. If bin Laden hadn't come along, we had another cold war cued up and ready to go.
But before you blame the world's politicians for manipulating you, keep in mind ...