EISSN : 1441-2616
Published by: Queensland University of Technology (10.5204)
Total articles ≅ 1,506
Latest articles in this journal
M/C Journal, Volume 24; https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.2822
Bones are one of the oldest materials used to create musical instruments. Currently, the world’s oldest known instruments are flutes made out of bones (Turk, Turk, and Otte 11). In fact, bones have been used to create or enhance musical instruments in a variety of settings throughout history and in modern day instrument making. Bone bull roarers, jaw bone percussion, clappers, trumpets, drum shells, lyres, or construction parts, such as frets, plectrums, pipes and pipe fittings, embouchure adjustments, or percussive strikes are just a few of the more common uses of bones in musical instrument construction. One man even made a guitar out of the skeleton of his dead uncle to memorialise the person who influenced his musical tastes and career (Bienstock). Bones can therefore be taken as a somewhat common material for making musical instruments. All of these instruments share a common trait, and not just the obvious one that they are all made out of or incorporate bones. None of these instruments are intended to represent something monstrous. Instead, they represent the ephemeral nature of humanity (Cupchik 33), a celebration of lineage or religious beliefs (Davis), or simply are the materials available or suitable to create a sound-making device (Regan). It is not possible to know the full intentions of a maker, in many cases, but a link to monstrosity and a representation of the ‘horrific’ or ‘freakish’ seems missing for the most. There are instruments, however, that do house this sentiment and some that utilise bones in the construction with the purpose of making this connection between the remains and something beast-like. In this article, I argue that the Bone Guitar Thing (BGT) built and played by raxil4 is one of those instruments. Introducing the 'Thing' Raxil4 is the stage name of sonic artist Andrew Page. He has been playing his Bone Guitar Thing for almost twenty years in a variety of settings (Page, email interview, 25 June 2021). The instrument has undergone slight changes during that time, but primarily it has retained its specific visual, timbral, and underlying associative features. The BGT is complex, more so than it may seem at first. By investigating the materials used, the performance techniques employed, and raxil4’s intentions as a musician, instrument maker, and community member within his circles of activity, the monstrous nature of the BGT comes to light. The resultant series of entanglements exhibits and supports a definition of what is a 'monster' that, like several definitions in monster theory discourse (Levina and Bui 6; Cohen 7; Mittman 51), includes challenging that which may be seen as ‘normal’ and thereby may nurture levels of unease or fear. However, in the case of the BGT, that which is monstrous is simultaneously being taken as something positive alongside its beast-like characteristics, and rather than evolving into something that needs to be repressed or eliminated, the ’monster’ here becomes a hero or champion, colleague, or even a friend. The Bone Guitar Thing is not really a guitar. It is a zither with a piece of driftwood for a base, (currently) five strings, and an electric pick-up (see Fig. 1). The bridge for the instrument is two bones, and the pitch and timbre of the strings is sometimes changed with bones used for Cage-like preparation (Cage 7-8; Bunger). Bones are also used to play the instrument, sometimes like a plectrum, others like a hammered dulcimer, or occasionally, simply pounding the string or the soundboard with great force to make a combination of percussive and string sounds. Glissandos are created by using the plectrum bones as a slide, and Page also uses jaw bones to introduce ratchet sounds, string scraping, and precise pitch bending (with the sharper edged part of the bones) (raxil4, “Livestream”). The instrument is electric, so the bones are enhanced with guitar pedals (typically reverb, distortion, and octave-splitter; Page, email interview, 25 June 2021), but the tonal qualities retain a semblance of the bone usage. Fig. 1: raxil4's Bone Guitar Thing. Photograph: Andrew Page. Page often uses the BGT as part of his sonic arsenal to perform dark ambient music, noisescapes, improv music, or live film soundtracks both in live concerts and recording situations. He plays solo as much as with ensembles, and more often improvises his music or parts, but occasionally works with predetermined organisation or scores of some description (although he admits to typically abandoning predetermined passages or scores during live performances; Page, email interview, 14 July 2021). Currently in London, raxil4 presents concerts in a variety of settings, typically well-suited for his brand of sonic art, such as Ryan Jordan’s long-running concert series Noise=Noise (raxil4 feat. King Sara), experimental music shows at the Barbican (raxil4 + King Sara + P23), and dark ambient showcases promoted and arranged by one of his record labels, Sombre Soniks (Wright). Sounds beyond Words: Monstrous Music One series of performances in which raxil4 used the BGT took the form of an immersive theatre show produced by Dread Falls Theatre called Father Dagon, based on the works of horror author H. P. Lovecraft. The performance incorporated a breaking of the ’fourth wall’ in which the audience wanders freely through the performance space, with actor- and sometimes audience-interactive musical performances of partially improvised, partially composed passages by musicians located throughout the set. Director and writer Victoria Snaith considered the use of live, semi-mobile, experimental music dispersed through the audience (mixed with an overall backing soundtrack) as heightening the intensity of the experience by introducing unfamiliar aspects to the setting. She discusses having made this decision based on Lovecraft’s own approach to story-telling that highlights...
M/C Journal, Volume 24; https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.2825
Fig. 1: Bated Breath (mirror detail), 2021. Chrome-plated ceramic fish on steel frame with fishing line and mirror. Reproduced courtesy of M. Cope and UQ Art Museum. Photo: Carl Warner. The term monster has its etymological roots in Latin, deriving from monere, meaning to warn, and demonstrate, meaning to show or reveal (Musharbash; Cohen “Hybrids”). Monsters are therefore beings that exhibit behaviours that threaten the familiar, warning others of the dangers of transgressing cultural norms. Online media provides a platform on which many transgressions take place, resulting in acts that could be described as monstrosities. As monsters are imbued with cultural meaning, they serve as conceptual frameworks through which to analyse social systems and structures. In this article we draw on literature from monster studies and monster anthropology, as well as representations of monsters in popular media, as a means through which to discuss online racism. Our article is inspired by the themes explored in Bated Breath (see figs. 1, 2, 3), an artwork by Quandamooka artist Megan Cope (Australia), whose installation embodies the function of a monster. Cope’s art both reveals the prevalence of online racism, which is often directed towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, whilst also warning of our susceptibility of contributing or remaining complacent to such harmful behaviour. We begin by discussing what monsters are, how they are portrayed in popular media, and consider the liminal worlds in which they live. The next section highlights the prevalence of online racism, which we assess through the concepts of “clickbait” and “trolling”, reflecting on how this reinforces power imbalances by spreading misinformation, conjecture, and racial abuse. In the final section we look at monsters as mirrors, unpacking the need to reflexively engage with the ramifications of online behaviour. If Indigenous voices and self-determination are overlooked, and the nation refuses to enter a mature dialogue pertaining to its colonial past and present, monstrosities such as those which regularly occur online are doomed to continue to haunt us all in various forms. Social media have an auspicious hold over many people’s lives, becoming not only a medium through which to share and encounter views, opinions, and experiences, but also an agent that shapes and facilitates how people interact with and respond to their surroundings (Petray “Self-writing”). In the digital age known as Web 2.0 (Petray “Protest 2.0”; Corbett et al.), social media both influence and determine behaviour as much as they reflect it. The online world is a cannibalistic monstrous interface where multiple ideas, behaviours and discussions feed off and into one another, creating swirls of activity that can quickly sweep people up and turn them into the objects of collective discourses. It is this cyclonic-like force that is the subject of Bated Breath. Fig. 2: Bated Breath, 2021. Chrome-plated ceramic fish on steel frame with fishing line and mirror. Reproduced courtesy of M. Cope and UQ Art Museum. Photo: Carl Warner. In the artwork, Cope features 1300 ceramic fish that hang from the ceiling, spiralling downward towards a mirrored disc that lies on the floor of the gallery in which it stands. Each fish is painted with a coating that reflects light and its surroundings. Although the work does not directly reference monsters, Cope has nonetheless given body and a physical presence to the overwhelming grasp that social media have over many people’s lives. Her use of light and mirrors project refracted light and shadows throughout the gallery, reminding viewers that by simply being in the presence of Bated Breath they too are susceptible to being sucked into its monster-like vortex. In the label accompanying the work, Cope states: Often baited with racism, social media spaces have become a trap and a divisive tool that sanctions a common form of lateral violence within Aboriginal communities. The mirror symbolically refers to narcissism, involving self-centred, arrogant thinking and behaviour lacking empathy. Caught in such a vortex encourages mob mentality and prohibits autonomy. Like a monster, Cope’s installation has a metaphysical presence that “shows”, “warns”, and speaks to the dangers of social media, particularly for Aboriginal peoples within settler-colonial settings (Carlson and Frazer). Online spaces can be unsafe for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (Carlson and Kennedy). It is an environment where colonial sentiments—which emphasise white supremacy whilst simultaneously questioning and denying Indigeneity—are pervasive and widespread (Carlson and Kennedy). A study conducted by Tristan Kennedy found that 62% of the Aboriginal people they surveyed have daily experiences of racism online. While such racism can be overt, aggressive, and threatening, it often takes the more subtle, but equally demoralising, form of paternalistic white benevolence that as Cope highlights “prohibits autonomy”. Monsters have been described as the “fragmentation and recombination” (Cohen “Monster Theory” 11) of parts that formulate a grotesque assembly, much like Frankenstein’s Creature. The fragmentations of social media addressed by Cope are racist online journalism, fake news, and clickbait. These fragments are discussed in the latter half of this article. Before we unpack these further, however, it is first necessary to discuss social media as an environment parallel to the settings in which monsters are often situated, a space we are calling ‘monstrous worlds’. Fig. 3: Bated Breath (fish detail), 2021. Chrome-plated ceramic fish on steel frame with fishing line and mirror. Reproduced courtesy of M. Cope and UQ Art Museum. Photo: Carl Warner. Within the...
M/C Journal, Volume 24; https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.2845
Over the past century, many books for general readers have styled sharks as “monsters of the deep” (Steele). In recent decades, however, at least some writers have also turned to representing how sharks are seriously threatened by human activities. At a time when media coverage of shark sightings seems ever increasing in Australia, scholarship has begun to consider people’s attitudes to sharks and how these are formed, investigating the representation of sharks (Peschak; Ostrovski et al.) in films (Le Busque and Litchfield; Neff; Schwanebeck), newspaper reports (Muter et al.), and social media (Le Busque et al., “An Analysis”). My own research into representations of surfing and sharks in Australian writing (Brien) has, however, revealed that, although reporting of shark sightings and human-shark interactions are prominent in the news, and sharks function as vivid and commanding images and metaphors in art and writing (Ellis; Westbrook et al.), little scholarship has investigated their representation in Australian books published for a general readership. While recognising representations of sharks in other book-length narrative forms in Australia, including Australian fiction, poetry, and film (Ryan and Ellison), this enquiry is focussed on non-fiction books for general readers, to provide an initial review. Sampling holdings of non-fiction books in the National Library of Australia, crosschecked with Google Books, in early 2021, this investigation identified 50 Australian books for general readers that are principally about sharks, or that feature attitudes to them, published from 1911 to 2021. Although not seeking to capture all Australian non-fiction books for general readers that feature sharks, the sampling attempted to locate a wide range of representations and genres across the time frame from the earliest identified text until the time of the survey. The books located include works of natural and popular history, travel writing, memoir, biography, humour, and other long-form non-fiction for adult and younger readers, including hybrid works. A thematic analysis (Guest et al.) of the representation of sharks in these texts identified five themes that moved from understanding sharks as fishes to seeing them as monsters, then prey, and finally to endangered species needing conservation. Many books contained more than one theme, and not all examples identified have been quoted in the discussion of the themes below. Sharks as Part of the Natural Environment Drawing on oral histories passed through generations, two memoirs (Bradley et al.; Fossa) narrate Indigenous stories in which sharks play a central role. These reveal that sharks are part of both the world and a wider cosmology for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (Clua and Guiart). In these representations, sharks are integrated with, and integral to, Indigenous life, with one writer suggesting they are “creator beings, ancestors, totems. Their lifecycles reflect the seasons, the landscape and sea country. They are seen in the movement of the stars” (Allam). A series of natural history narratives focus on zoological studies of Australian sharks, describing shark species and their anatomy and physiology, as well as discussing shark genetics, behaviour, habitats, and distribution. A foundational and relatively early Australian example is Gilbert P. Whitley’s The Fishes of Australia: The Sharks, Rays, Devil-fish, and Other Primitive Fishes of Australia and New Zealand, published in 1940. Ichthyologist at the Australian Museum in Sydney from the early 1920s to 1964, Whitley authored several books which furthered scientific thought on sharks. Four editions of his Australian Sharks were published between 1983 and 1991 in English, and the book is still held in many libraries and other collections worldwide. In this text, Whitley described a wide variety of sharks, noting shared as well as individual features. Beautiful drawings contribute information on shape, colouring, markings, and other recognisable features to assist with correct identification. Although a scientist and a Fellow and then President of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, Whitley recognised it was important to communicate with general readers and his books are accessible, the prose crisp and clear. Books published after this text (Aiken; Ayling; Last and Stevens; Tricas and Carwardine) share Whitley’s regard for the diversity of sharks as well as his desire to educate a general readership. By 2002, the CSIRO’s Field Guide to Australian Sharks & Rays (Daley et al.) also featured numerous striking photographs of these creatures. Titles such as Australia’s Amazing Sharks (Australian Geographic) emphasise sharks’ unique qualities, including their agility and speed in the water, sensitive sight and smell, and ability to detect changes in water pressure around them, heal rapidly, and replace their teeth. These books also emphasise the central role that sharks play in the marine ecosystem. There are also such field guides to sharks in specific parts of Australia (Allen). This attention to disseminating accurate zoological information about sharks is also evident in books written for younger readers including very young children (Berkes; Kear; Parker and Parker). In these and other similar books, sharks are imaged as a central and vital component of the ocean environment, and the narratives focus on their features and qualities as wondrous rather than monstrous. Sharks as Predatory Monsters A number of books for general readers do, however, image sharks as monsters. In 1911, in his travel narrative Peeps at Many Lands: Australia, Frank Fox describes sharks as “the most dangerous foes of man in Australia” (23) and many books have reinforced this view over the following century. This can be seen in titles that refer to sharks as dangerous predatory killers (Fox and...
M/C Journal, Volume 24; https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.2851
Monsters are everywhere in our popular media narratives. They lurk in the shadows of video games and computer animations, ready to pounce. They haunt the frames of horror films and fantasy televisions shows. They burst out of panels in many comics and graphic novels, bringing with them grotesque forms and nightmarish transformations. They feature recurrently in scary stories for children, echoing the fears of old myths, legends, and fairy tales, and forever drawing attention to our complex views of heroes. They inhabit our nightmares, and challenge our certainties. Monsters are, above all, metaphors. They function both as warnings and as reminders of that which we fear, and which we do not want to admit we desire. Monsters are creatures of difference, but they are never far removed from our human worlds. They aptly reflect not only our fears, but also our deepest and most illicit desires, and like to draw attention to the darkest aspects of our human experience, from the extraordinary to the everyday, from our fictional contexts to the horrors of social media. The monster metaphor is not just part of the imagination, but particularly functions as a representation of “features of a world” that “we are not altogether comfortable living in” (Scott 5). Because of their versatility, monsters refuse to be related to one single aspect of media and culture, and like to resurface in the most unexpected situations. Monsters are entangled with our histories and ways of life, and their representations speak loudly of the complex ways in which we negotiate our relationships and ways of communicating. Monsters present themselves differently from context to context: whether they are covered in scales or equipped with mighty fangs, whether they are undead or all too alive as Internet trolls, monsters always make us wonder about notions of safety and of reliability. While monsters have always been a central part of our modes of storytelling, they can tell us much about our contemporary moment, as we negotiate our concerns over technology, the body, globalisation, and social interaction in our Twenty-first century. Indeed, “while monsters always tapped into anxieties over a changing world”, they have never been “as popular, or as needed, as in the past decade” (Levina and Bui 2). Monsters, for sure, need to be slayed, but that process inevitably entails reflection and understanding of what the monster ‘is’, and what (or who) created it in the first place. In this issue, we approach monsters with fresh curiosity, and enquire into the meaning of their multifaceted incarnations, as both metaphors and as constant—and frightening—reflections of our ways of life. We explore what makes something ‘monstrous’, and how this term is applied figuratively across a variety of media and cultural contexts. We survey how monsters are represented, both physically and metaphorically, and acknowledge them as creatures of both identification and disparity. As Jeffrey Cohen suggests, the monster is always born “as an embodiment of a certain cultural moment, of a time, a feeling, and a place” (Cohen 4). If it is true that monsters reflect our cultural and social anxieties at given moments in time, then we must also wonder what it means to ‘embrace’ the monster, and see its very existence as a definitive part of who we are, how we see ourselves, and how we want to be seen by others. The articles in this issue all pivot on the idea of exploring the monster in media and culture as inevitably connected to our identities. We begin with our feature article, “‘Waiting with Bated Breath’: Navigating the Monstrous World of Online Racism” by Bronwyn Fredericks and Abraham Bradfield, which connects art, social media, and experiences of racism with the concept of the Internet as a ‘monstrous’ space in which new rules apply. We then move to Lawrence May’s “Confronting Ecological Monstrosity: Contemporary Video Game Monsters and the Climate Crisis”, which explores how games can facilitate new forms of ecocriticism through encounters with monsters that both embody and critique ecological collapse. In “Subverting the Monster: Reading Shrek as a Disability Fairy Tale”, Jordan Fyfe and Katie Ellis consider the transgressive potential of the monster in the context of subverting ableist norms and narratives. In the following article, “Kamen Rider: A Monstrous Hero”, Sophia Staite examines how heroism and monstrosity intersect in the Japanese live-action superhero franchise Kamen Rider, noting that “the line between hero and monster has become blurred beyond comprehension”. Angelique Nairn and Deepti Bhargava illustrate how specific professional identities can be framed as monstrous by popular media in “Demon in a Dress? An Exploration of How Television Programming Conceptualises Female Public Relations Practitioners as Monsters”. In “The Megalodon: A Monster of the New Mythology”, Edward Guimont highlights the intersecting forces of science and popular culture in building ‘new’ myths and monsters from nature and the not-so-fossilised past. Drawing on interviews with innovative sonic artist raxil4 (also known as Andrew Page), Will Connor explores the contours of a uniquely ‘monstrous’ musical instrument with the potential to both repel and attract, in “Positively Monstrous! Layers of Meaning within raxil4’s Bone Guitar Thing”. In “Frankenstein Redux: Posthuman Monsters in Jeanette Winterson’s Frankissstein”, Emily McAvan engages with Jeanette Winterson’s Frankissstein (2019), a contemporary re-reading of Mary Shelley’s classic that challenges ideas of what it means to be human in the present day. Morgan Pinder’s “Mouldy Matriarchs and...
M/C Journal, Volume 24; https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.2834
2021 is the fiftieth anniversary year for Japanese live-action superhero franchise Kamen Rider. For half a century, heroes bearing the name Kamen Rider have battled rubber suited monsters and defended the smiles of children. Unlike many superheroes, however, the Kamen Riders are grotesque heroes, usually drawing their powers from the same source as the villains they battle. Grotesque human-machine-animal hybrids, they differ from their opponents only in the kindness of their hearts and the strength of their spirits. Although the Kamen Rider franchise includes a variety of texts including manga, novels, movies, and stage musicals, the central text is the Sunday morning children’s television program. This article focusses exclusively on the television series. Each season of the television program is comprised of around fifty twenty-five-minute episodes, and each season features an entirely new cast, title, and premise. Kamen Rider was originally created at a time of economic downturn and social unrest, and the unease of the zeitgeist is reflected in the figure of the no longer human hero. A little over thirty years later Japan was again facing a variety of crises and intense debate over what, if any, role it should play in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The 2002 television season, Kamen Rider Ryūki, tackles difficult questions about what justice, heroism, and monstrosity mean, through the medium of a children’s martial arts and live action special effects hero television program. This article explores the blurred boundaries between monster and hero in Kamen Rider, in the context of social attitudes toward children. The First Kamen Rider The inaugural Kamen Rider (protagonist of the 1971 television season), Hongo Takeshi, is a university student who gains superpowers after being abducted and experimented on by Shocker, a terrorist organisation founded by Nazis. Their medical experiments are part of a plan to produce an army capable of world domination. Takeshi’s body was modified with grasshopper DNA and cybernetic enhancements, but he was able to escape before the mind control portion of the operation. Although he appears human, Takeshi transforms via a special belt into Kamen (masked) Rider in order to fight. His face is obscured by an insectoid helmet with red compound eyes and antennae. The transformation scene is a highlight of every episode, and the transformation belt is the most important of the (many) tie-in toys. The primary audience of Kamen Rider is children between two and seven, and as a media-mix (Steinberg) franchise the sale of toys and branded products to the primary audience is vital. Anne Allison (105) identifies the transformation and blending or crossing of bodily borders it entails as the “money shot” children anticipate and enjoy. There is also a substantial tertiary audience, however, which includes older children and adults. During the early 1970s, when the first few seasons of Kamen Rider were broadcast, ‘employment trains’ were transporting Japanese teenagers (immediately following their graduation from middle school) from rural areas to the large cities, where they worked in factories and construction far from their families (Alt 54). Kamen Rider’s creator, Ishinomori Shōtarō, had debuted as a manga artist while still in school himself, and his works were particularly popular among this disenfranchised demographic. The figure of a young man taken and changed against his will and left to forge his own path in the aftermath may have been particularly resonant with these teenagers. Kamen Rider’s creator, Ishinomori Shōtarō, was a member of the yakeato (burnt ruins) generation, who were children during the Second World War and experienced the fire- and nuclear bombings of Japan and grew up amidst the burned-out ruins. Roman Rosenbaum (Redacting 97-98) argues that this generation (or perhaps more accurately, micro-generation), “later subconsciously released the bent-up trauma of their early childhood experiences throughout their adult lives in their body of work”. Ishinomori was not alone in this experience, of course; other members of the early Kamen Rider creative team were also motivated by childhood trauma. Hirayama Tōru, who helped Ishinomori bring the Rider concept to television as a producer, was sixteen when his hometown of Nagoya was firebombed. He and other schoolboys were dispatched to dispose of the bodies of civilians who had died while trying to escape the flames only to die in the river (Oda and Muraeda 41-2). Members of the yakeato generation were prominent in anti-war activism during the 1970s, opposing Japan’s entanglement in the Vietnam War (Rosenbaum Generation 284). Violence and the meaning of justice were urgent issues for this generation. This first season of Kamen Rider, along with many of the subsequent seasons, is classifiable as a horror text, with numerous Gothic elements (Staite). Many of the monsters Takeshi battles are “designed to elicit a specific reaction: that of abject horror” (Kim 28). While some of the prosthetic suits are quite silly-looking by contemporary standards, many remain compellingly disturbing in their fusion of animal-human-machine. Although he proceeds up the chain of command to eventually battle the leaders of Shocker, Takeshi is always aware when battling other victims of Shocker experimentation that the only difference between himself and them is that he was able to escape before losing his will. He, like them, is no longer entirely human, and has become as grotesque as the unfortunate monsters he must defeat. As Miura Shion (180) puts it (translation mine), “Kamen Rider was originally an entity created by evil. The reality is that the enemy in front of you and you are actually the same. The fate of Kamen Rider is to fight while struggling with this”. Noting that Kamen Rider was...
M/C Journal, Volume 24; https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.2846
Introduction The term monster might have its roots in the Latin word monere (to warn), but it has since evolved to have various symbolic meanings, from a terrifying mythical creature to a person of extreme cruelty. No matter the flexibility in use, the term is mostly meant to be derogatory (Asma). As Gilmore puts it, monsters “embody all that is dangerous and horrible in the human imagination” (1). However, it may be argued that monsters sometimes perform the much-needed work of defining and policing our norms (Mittman and Hensel). Since their archetype is predisposed to transgressing boundaries of human integrity (Gilmore), they help establish deviation between human and in-human. Their cognition and action are considered ‘other’ (Kearney) and a means with which people can understand what is right and wrong, and what is divergent from appropriate ways of being. The term monster need not even refer to the werewolves, ogres, vampires, zombies and the like that strike fear in audiences through their ‘immoral, heinous or unjust’ appearance or behaviours. Rather, the term monster can be, and has been, readily applied as a metaphor to describe the unthinkable, unethical, and brutal actions of human beings (Beville 5). Inadvertently, “through their bodies, words, and deeds, monsters show us ourselves” (Mittman and Hensel 2), or what we consider monstrous about ourselves. Therefore, humans acting in ways that deviate from societal norms and standards can be viewed as monstrous. This is evident in the representations of public relations practitioners in media offerings. In the practice of public relations, ethical standards are advocated as the norm, and deviating from them considered unprofessional (Fawkes), and as we contend: monstrous. However, the practice has long suffered a negative stereotypical perception of being deceptive, and with public relations roles receiving less screen time than shows and films about lawyers, accountants, teachers and the like, these few derogatory depictions can distort how audiences view the occupation (Johnston). Depictions of professions (lawyers, cops, journalists, etc.) tend to be cliché, but our contention is that fewer depictions of public relations practitioners on screen further limit the possibility for diverse depictions. The media can have a socialising impact and can influence audiences to view the content they consume as a reflection of the real world around them (Chandler). Television, in particular, with its capacity to prompt heuristic processing in audiences (Shurm), has messages that can be easily decoded by people of various literacies as they become immersed in the viewing experiences (Gerbner and Gross). These messages gain potency because, despite being set in fictional worlds, they can be understood as reflective of the world and audiences’ experiences of it (Gerbner and Gross). Tsetsura, Bentley, and Newcomb add that popular stories recounted in the media have authoritative power and can offer patterns of meaning that shape individual perceptions. Admittedly, as Stuart Hall suggests, media offerings can be encoded with ideologies and representations that are considered appropriate according to the dominant elite, but these may not necessarily be decoded as preferred meanings. In other words, those exposed to stories of monstrous public relations practitioners can agree with such a position, oppose this viewpoint, or remain neutral, but this is dependent on individual experiences. Without other frames of reference, it could be that viewers of negative portrayals of public relations accept the encoded representation that inevitably does a disservice to the profession. When the representations of the field of public relations suggest, inaccurately, that the industry is dominated by men (Johnston), and women practitioners are shown as slick dressers who control and care little about ethics (Dennison), the distortions can adversely impact on the identities of public relations practitioners and on how they are collectively viewed (Tsetsura et al.). Public relations practitioners view this portrayal as the ‘other’ and tend to distance the ideal self from it, continuing to be stuck in the dichotomy of saints and sinners (Fawkes). Our observation of television offerings such as Scandal, Flack, Call My Agent!, Absolutely Fabulous, Sex and the City, You’re the Worst, and Emily in Paris reveals how television programmes continue to perpetuate the negative stereotypes about public relations practice, where practitioners are anything but ethical—therefore monstrous. The characters, mostly well-groomed women, are shown as debased, liars and cheaters who will subvert ethical standards for personal and professional gain. Portrayals of Public Relations Practitioners in Television and Media According to Miller, the eight archetypical traits identified in media representations of public relations practitioners are: ditzy, obsequious, cynical, manipulative, money-minded, isolated, accomplished, or unfulfilled. In later research, Yoon and Black found that television representations of public relations tended to suggest that people in these roles were heartless, manipulative bullies, while Lambert and White contend that the depiction of the profession has improved to be more positive, but nonetheless continues to do a disservice to the practice by presenting female workers, especially, as “shallow but loveable” (18). We too find that public relations practitioners continue to be portrayed as morally ambiguous characters who are willing to break ethical codes of conduct to suit the needs of their clients. We discuss three themes prevalent as popular tropes in television programmes that characterise public relations practitioners as monstrous. To Be or Not to Be a Slick and Skilful Liar? Most television programmes present public relations practitioners as slick...
M/C Journal, Volume 24; https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.2828
Introduction The blockbuster DreamWorks film Shrek is a play on the classic fairy tale narrative, where the hero, atop his noble steed, rescues the cursed princess from a dragon-guarded tower. Except the hero is an Ogre, the steed is a talking donkey, the dragon just wants to be loved, and, when they finally break the curse, the princess permanently transforms into an Ogre. From the opening scene, the first movie subverts the viewers’ expectations, offering reflection as well as a critique on “some of the cultural conventions that characterise modernity” (Lacassagne, Nieguth, and Dépelteau). As one of the most successful animated films in history (Lacassagne, Nieguth, and Dépelteau) Shrek is an important text to analyse from a disability perspective. As Amanda Taylor suggests, the film introduces several disability themes that work together to make a social and cultural critique about social exclusion: there are many social and cultural issues within the movie Shrek that should be addressed when looking through a lens of disability. Shrek and Fiona are the very opposite of what society looks at as a fairy tale, yet they are still so popular. The producers of this movie have tackled social issues in a very positive way. Elements such as obesity and economic diversity are portrayed within this movie that show that there is an alternative to stereotyping. Taking Shrek as its case study, this article argues that monstrous images offer complex representations of disability that align with the affirmation model of disability. We begin with a review of key literature before starting a disability analysis of Shrek by drawing parallels between the social exclusion experienced by characters within the film and the effects of social disablement identified within the social model of disability and critical disability studies. We then move beyond the social model of disability to follow the importance of interdependence and disability pride throughout Shrek as it culminates in a representation of the affirmation model of disability. Throughout this article we make parallels between monsters, ogres, freaks (as a form of the monstrous), and characters with disability. Each as constructed as having extraordinary bodies—the non-normative. Reading Monsters through a Disability Lens Critical disability studies theorists often observe the way disability is used within narratives as a metaphor for something else (Mitchell and Snyder; Quayson; Garland-Thomson Extraordinary Bodies; Garland-Thomson Freakery). For Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, this is particularly illustrative in the figure of the monster in literary narratives: the word monster — perhaps the earliest and most enduring name for a singular body — derives from the Latin monstra, meaning to warn, show, or sign, and which has given us the modern verb demonstrate. (Garland-Thomson, Freakery 3) Disability has become a defining characteristic of the monstrous body—“bodies that in their gross failure to approximate to corporeal norms are radically excluded” (Shildrick 2). The field of critical disability studies is concerned with the ways these norms are constructed to exclude certain bodies. Jobling notes that the typical figure of the ogre occurs in folklore across many cultures around the world. The ogre performs the function of “a semi-human monster who commits crimes against the ingroup. The hero triumphs over the ogre, usually by killing him” (Jobling). Ogres, depicted as inhumanly large monstrous characters who eat children, are recognisable as a source of fear. The ogre occupies an important position as a narrative prosthesis (see Mitchell and Snyder) in children’s narratives. The monster therefore exists within narratives as a representation of something else. Reading monsters through a disability lens has been well researched in the critical disability studies field. Studies show how monstrosity is represented in film through disfigurement, typically in contrast to the normative or non-disabled body (Garland-Thomson Extraordinary Bodies). Feminist theory is often applied to gain an insight into “the meanings attributed to the bodies by cultural representation and the consequences of those meanings in the world” (Garland-Thomson Extraordinary Bodies). While several critical disability critiques emphasise the negative disability stereotypes associated with representations of monsters, increasingly theorists are considering the ways these monsters problematise and critique the social construction of the normate (Smith). Martha Stoddard Holmes’s Born This Way: Reading Frankenstein with Disability is a notable example of how a monstrous character poses both a critique and representation of society. The Creature forms a “visual identity first from the stares, words, and behaviours of others". She observes “his condition of disability and resulting social exclusion are, as narrated, purely aesthetic in nature, and as such, socially constructed”. Throughout the text, the Creature exemplifies both monstrosity to be feared and vulnerability to be pitied; these are features outlined by Margrit Shildrick as concepts that underpin the non-normative body in popular culture. It is evident that the perception of monstrosity is one that is socially constructed, and is largely negative. Susan Marie Schweik suggests a relationship between this negative representation and the ugly laws. The ugly laws refer to a set of laws that prohibited ugly people from participating in society during 1860s through to 1974. The ugly laws focus on non-normative bodies, especially bodies that were disfigured. The phrasing of these laws was such that it removed the personhood of so-called ugly people. For example, in the quote “so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object, or an improper person to be allowed in or on the streets” (Schweik), the...
M/C Journal, Volume 24; https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.2835
The Netflix/BBC eight-part limited true crime series The Serpent (2021) provides a commentary on the impact of the tourist industry in South-East Asia in the 1970s. The series portrays the story of French serial killer Charles Sobhraj (played by Tahar Rahim)—a psychopathic international con artist of Vietnamese-Indian descent—who regularly targeted Western travellers, especially the long-term wanderers of the legendary “Hippie Trail” (or the “Overland”), running between eastern Europe and Asia. The series, which was filmed on location in Thailand—in Bangkok and the Thai town of Hua Hin—is set in a range of travel destinations along the route of the Hippie Trail, as the narrative follows the many crimes of Sobhraj. Cities such as Kathmandu, Goa, Varanasi, Hong Kong, and Kabul are featured on the show. The series is loosely based upon Australian writers Richard Neville and Julie Clarke’s true crime biography The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj (1979). Another true crime text by Thomas Thompson called Serpentine: Charles Sobhraj’s Reign of Terror from Europe to South Asia (also published in 1979) is a second reference. The show portrays the disappearance and murders of many young victims at the hands of Sobhraj. Certainly, Sobhraj is represented as a monstrous figure, but what about the business of tourism itself? Arguably, in its reflective examination of twentieth-century travel, the series also poses the hedonism of tourism as monstrous. Here, attention is drawn to Western privilege and a neo-orientalist gaze that presented Asia as an exotic playground for its visitors. The television series focuses on Sobhraj, his French-Canadian girlfriend Marie-Andrée Leclerc (played by Jenna Coleman), and the glamourous life they lead in Bangkok. The fashionable couple’s operation presents Sobhraj as a legitimate gem dealer: outwardly, they seem to embody the epitome of fun and glamour, as well as the cross-cultural sophistication of the international jet set. In reality, they drug and then steal from tourists who believe their story. Sobhraj uses stolen passports and cash to travel internationally and acquire more gems. Then, with an accomplice called Ajay Chowdhury (played by Amesh Adireweera), Sobhraj murders his victims if he thinks they could expose his fraud. Often depicted as humourless and seething with anger, the Sobhraj of the series often wears dark aviator sunglasses, a detail that enhances the sense of his impenetrability. One of the first crimes featured in The Serpent is the double-murder of an innocent Dutch couple. The murders lead to an investigation by Dutch diplomat Herman Knippenberg (played by Billy Howle), wanting to provide closure for the families of the victims. Knippenberg enlists neighbours to go undercover at Sobhraj’s home to collect evidence. This exposes Sobhraj’s crimes, so he flees the country with Marie-Andrée and Ajay. While they were apprehended, Sobhraj would be later given pardon from a prison in India: he would only received a life sentence for murder when he is arrested in Nepal in 2003. His ability to evade punishment—and inability to admit to and atone for his crimes—become features of his monstrosity in the television series. Clearly, Sobhraj is represented as the “serpent” of this drama, a metaphor regularly reinforced both textually and visually across the length of the series. As an example, the opening credit sequence for the series coalesces shots of vintage film in Asia—including hitchhiking backpackers, VW Kombi vans, swimming pools, religious tourist sites, corrupt Asian police forces—against an animated map of central and South-East Asia and the Hippie Trail. The map is encased by the giant, slithering tail of some monstrous, reptilian creature. Situating the geographic context of the narrative, the serpentine monster appears to be rising out of continental Asia itself, figuratively stalking and then entrapping the tourists and travellers who move along its route. So, what of the other readings about the monstrosity of the tourism industry that appears on the show? The Hippie Trail was arguably a site—a serpentine cross-continental thoroughfare—of Western excess. The Hippie Trail emerged as the result of the ease of travel across continental Europe and Asia. It was an extension of a countercultural movement that first emerged in the United States in the mid 1960s. Agnieszka Sobocinska has suggested that the travellers of the Hippie Trail were motivated by “widespread dissatisfaction with the perceived conservatism of Western society and its conventions”, and that it was characterised by “youth, rebellion, self-expression and the performance of personal freedom” (par. 8). The Trail appealed to a particular subcultural group who wanted to differentiate themselves from other travellers. Culturally, the Hippie Trail has become a historical site of enduring fascination, written about in popular histories and Western travel narratives, such as A Season in Heaven: True Tales from the Road to Kathmandu (Tomory 1998), Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India (MacLean 2007), The Hippie Trail: A History (Gemie and Ireland 2017), and The Hippie Trail: After Europe, Turn Left (Kreamer 2019). Despite these positive memoirs, the route also has a reputation for being destructive and even neo-imperialist: it irrevocably altered the politics of these Asian regions, especially as crowds of Western visitors would party at its cities along the way. In The Serpent, while the crimes take place on its route, on face value the Hippie Trail still appears to be romanticised and nostalgically re-imagined, especially as it represents a stark difference from our contemporary world with its heavily-policed international borders. Indeed, the travellers seem even freer from the perspective of 2021,...
M/C Journal, Volume 24; https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.2843
Jeanette Winterson’s 2019 novel Frankissstein is a contemporary re-reading of Mary Shelley’s classic Gothic text Frankenstein that profoundly challenges ideas of what it means to be human in the present day, by drawing on posthuman ideas about the constitution of the self. In this novel, Winterson portrays various forms of ‘monsters’ such as AI, lifelike sex dolls and transgender embodiment. Drawing on both Frankenstein as a text and the infamous creation story of the novel, Winterson creates a deeply intertextual cast of characters that blurs the following: Ry (Mary Shelley), a transgender doctor, Ron Lord (Lord Byron), the creator of a line of sex bots, and Professor Stein (Frankenstein), a scientist interested in AI and cryopreservation. Framed by vignettes of Shelley’s composition of Frankenstein, these characters draw together a set of highly contemporary desires and anxieties about the relationship between the social and science, the ways in which matter is always articulated through both the discursive and the material, and how, to quote Karen Barad, “what often appears as separate entities (and separate sets of concerns) with sharp edges does not actually entail a relation of absolute exteriority at all” (“Posthumanist Performativity” 803). Winterson implicitly and explicitly explores ideas of the posthuman—for instance, in the novel Stein gives a lecture titled “The Future of Humans in a Post-Human World” (74)—and suggests that the future is one in which “binaries belong to our carbon-based past” (72), in ways both liberating and disturbing. While Stein talks about our posthuman future of overcoming even death with the zeal of an evangelist, Winterson undercuts this celebratory rhetoric by situating these emerging forms of self-making in a lineage of the monstrous—”Frankenstein was a vision of how life might be created—the first non-human intelligence” (27)—that suggests the posthuman itself to be a kind of monstrosity. For Winterson, the contemporary monster is one bound up in technologies of self-making, an ambivalent process of both promise and danger that entangles us with monstrosity: “Frankenstein in the monster ... the monster in Frankenstein” (130). Drawing on posthuman theory, I propose that we can read Winterson’s novel as suggesting that modern subjectivity in itself has become defined by hybridity, a mixing between human and non-human elements that problematises many of the boundaries of selfhood that Enlightenment humanism valourised for so long. As Donna Haraway famously said in her “Cyborg Manifesto”: late Twentieth-century machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines. Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert. (11) Against this historical backdrop, Winterson suggests that new forms of being human—or becoming posthuman—are emerging, in which sex, gender and sexuality have become profoundly entangled with various forms of biological and informational technology. “We’re still biology but we’re better biology” says Stein (113), suggesting that the future holds new forms of modifications of the body, including smart implants and the uploading of consciousness to computing systems. In situating transgender treatments, AI and sex-bots in a lineage of the monstrous that begins with Frankenstein, Winterson (as much as posthuman theorists), is interested in the way that new forms of technologies mean that all subjectivity has become monstrous itself. But what might it mean to be posthuman? Feminist philosopher Rosi Braidotti has suggested that our post-Enlightenment, posthuman era is one in which the category of the human has become problematised. She says, “not all of us can say, with any degree of certainty, that we have always been human, or that we are only that” (1). For Braidotti, women, people of colour and LGBT people have never been accorded fully human status, and as such the rapid technological change that has challenged humanity as a category is to be embraced, if not precisely uncritically. She argues that posthuman subjectivity is notable for the way that it collapses the boundary between nature and culture, and for the interweaving between human and non-human elements in contemporary life. I want to suggest that one name for those subjects that Braidotti describes that ‘have never have been quite’ human is monster. The figure of the monster deployed by Winterson is one that haunts contemporary ideas of sex, gender, and sexuality. Nikita Mazurov has called the monster a “continuous, unstable project of both disassembly or ex-figuration and of unsanctioned coupling” (262), a posthuman praxis of “hybridity of form” that challenges state-sanctioned productions of the self. The monster challenges ideas of fixity, the metaphysics of presence and essence that created the humanist project. It is, in this sense, abject in the sense that Julia Kristeva famously described, as that which “disturbs identity, system, order [and] does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite” (4). The composition of the monster collapses such foundational binaries as male/female, gay/straight, dead/alive, human/machine, human/animal, black/white, and inside/outside. “The monster is one who lives in transition”, as Paul Preciado says (“Can the Monster Speak” 20). Monsters have therefore historically done profound cultural work, for as Jack Halberstam has said, “monsters have to be everything the human is not and, in producing the negative of human, these novels make way...
M/C Journal, Volume 24; https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.2793
In 1999, the TV movie Shark Attack depicted an attack by mutant great white sharks on the population of Cape Town. By the time the third entry in the series, Shark Attack 3, aired in 2002, mutant great whites had lost their lustre and were replaced as antagonists with the megalodon: a giant shark originating not in any laboratory, but history, having lived from approximately 23 to 3.6 million years ago. The megalodon was resurrected again in May 2021 through a trifecta of events. A video of a basking shark encounter in the Atlantic went viral on the social media platform TikTok, due to users misidentifying it as a megalodon caught on tape. At the same time a boy received publicity for finding a megalodon tooth on a beach in South Carolina on his fifth birthday (Scott). And finally, the video game Stranded Deep, in which a megalodon is featured as a major enemy, was released as one of the monthly free games on the PlayStation Plus gaming service. These examples form part of a larger trend of alleged megalodon sightings in recent years, emerging as a component of the modern resurgence of cryptozoology. In the words of Bernard Heuvelmans, the Belgian zoologist who both popularised the term and was a leading figure of the field, cryptozoology is the “science of hidden animals”, which he further explained were more generally referred to as ‘unknowns’, even though they are typically known to local populations—at least sufficiently so that we often indirectly know of their existence, and certain aspects of their appearance and behaviour. It would be better to call them animals ‘undescribed by science,’ at least according to prescribed zoological rules. (1-2) In other words, a large aspect of cryptozoology as a field is taking the legendary creatures of non-Western mythology and finding materialist explanations for them compatible with Western biology. In many ways, this is a relic of the era of European imperialism, when many creatures of Africa and the Americas were “hidden animals” to European eyes (Dendle 200-01; Flores 557; Guimont). A major example of this is Bigfoot beliefs, a large subset of which took Native American legends about hairy wild men and attempted to prove that they were actually sightings of relict Gigantopithecus. These “hidden animals”—Bigfoot, Nessie, the chupacabra, the glawackus—are referred to as ‘cryptids’ by cryptozoologists (Regal 22, 81-104). Almost unique in cryptozoology, the megalodon is a cryptid based entirely on Western scientific development, and even the notion that it survives comes from standard scientific analysis (albeit analysis which was later superseded). Much like living mammoths and Bigfoot, what might be called the ‘megalodon as cryptid hypothesis’ serves to reinforce a fairy tale of its own. It reflects the desire to believe that there are still areas of the Earth untouched enough by human destruction to sustain massive animal life (Dendle 199-200). Indeed, megalodon’s continued existence would help absolve humanity for the oceanic aspect of the Sixth Extinction, by its role as an alternative apex predator; cryptozoologist Michael Goss even proposed that whales and giant squids are rare not from human causes, but precisely because megalodons are feeding on them (40). Horror scholar Michael Fuchs has pointed out that shark media, particularly the 1975 film Jaws and its 2006 video game adaptation Jaws Unleashed, are imbued with eco-politics (Fuchs 172-83). These connections, as well as the modern megalodon’s surge in popularity, make it notable that none of Syfy’s climate change-focused Sharknado films featured a megalodon. Despite the lack of a Megalodonado, the popular appeal of the megalodon serves as an important case study. Given its scientific origin and dynamic relationship with popular culture, I argue that the ‘megalodon as cryptid hypothesis’ illustrates how the boundaries between ‘hard’ science and mythology, fiction and reality, as well as ‘monster’ and ‘animal’, are not as firm as advocates of the Western science tradition might believe. As this essay highlights, science can be a mythology of its own, and monsters can serve as its gods of the gaps—or, in the case of megalodon, the god of the depths. Megalodon Fossils: A Short History Ancient peoples of various cultures likely viewed fossilised teeth of megalodons in the area of modern-day Syria (Mayor, First Fossil Hunters 257). Over the past 2500 years, Native American cultures in North America used megalodon teeth both as curios and cutting tools, due to their large size and serrated edges. A substantial trade in megalodon teeth fossils existed between the cultures inhabiting the areas of the Chesapeake Bay and Ohio River Valley (Lowery et al. 93-108). A 1961 study found megalodon teeth present as offerings in pre-Columbian temples across Central America, including in the Mayan city of Palenque in Mexico and Sitio Conte in Panama (de Borhegyi 273-96). But these cases led to no mythologies incorporating megalodons, in contrast to examples such as the Unktehi, a Sioux water monster of myth likely inspired by a combination of mammoth and mosasaur fossils (Mayor, First Americans 221-38). In early modern Europe, megalodon teeth were initially referred to as ‘tongue stones’, due to their similarity in size and shape to human tongues—just one of many ways modern cryptozoology comes from European religious and mystical thought (Dendle 190-216). In 1605, English scholar Richard Verstegan published his book A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities, which included an engraving of a tongue stone, making megalodon teeth potentially the subject of the first known illustration of any fossil (Davidson 333). In Malta, from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, megalodon teeth, known as...