Am I a Monster?

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It took me long time to devise a satisfying definition for the word I had built my work around. Movie monsters were the characters I identified with. Creeping creatures were my friends and family. I felt like a monster. But why? What did it mean to be a monster? I wanted to find out.

Early stories of monsters, and even modern usages of the term are sometimes attributed to a desire to separate negative characteristics from the human condition. A murderer is quickly called a “monster” rather than a man. It is speculated that doing so keeps man from having to admit that he and the killer are in many ways the same; that what drives a “monster” is also in a man.

Fantastical creatures were also easy scapegoats for the unknown. Forces of nature not yet understood were often attributed to monsters. Monsters are widely associated with mystery and the unknown, taking up residence in darkness and acting unseen.

But why is it that some creatures are not generally seen as monsters even when they are just as bizarre and are capable of just as much destruction? Take for instance the dragon, once seen in western culture as a horrid monstrous creature, now seen as a more noble and mythical beast. Can something once considered a monster change its status without changing its form?

This question led me to the key of defining a monster. A monster isn’t just fantastical, bizarre, or capable of destruction. A monster makes others feel fear. Just as man is most afraid of the unknown, so most monsters are viewed as mysterious. Monsters are manifestations of things the common man is afraid of, ranging from the terror of impending death to the revulsion at certain physical characteristics.

So was I monster then? Absolutely. Revulsion can be expressed in a lot of ways, including being bullied, judged, or told you are “not good enough.” I am the unknown to a great majority of people. I dress, act, and think differently than they do. People who are upset by counterculture or differing opinions are often motivated by fear or revulsion surrounding something foreign to them.

However, I’m not unhappy to be a monster. I’m in great company not only with such celebrities as Frankenstein’s Monster and Dracula, but also plenty of artists and musicians that shocked and confused the general population, but gave a voice and a community to the unseen groups that had been pushed under the bed and into the closet. I am proud to be different. I am proud to be a monster. My greatest hope is that wherever there is a monster, broken and bruised from the pitchforks of fearful humans, I can offer my clawed hand and let them know that they are perfect just the way they are. 

-Ra Butler


About the Art Piece

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The piece titled simply “Monster” is one of those pictures that has spoken more to me the more time I have spent with it, even after putting down the brush. It is a girl clearly labeled a “monster,” but she is not ashamed. She is smiling confidently, ghost-white hands forming heart over the eye on her abdomen. She proud to be a monster, and loves the parts of herself that make her strange and unique. She doesn’t try to cover up with her clothing, instead she rocks a bikini that shows her in all her terrific glory. Behind her are plastic 6-pack rings and soda cans, objects thrown away, that spill onto colorful beauty magazines-- disposable vignettes that showcase the ever-changing desires of a society that would do anything to conform. The monster is also surrounded by butterflies and fireworks, things that burst quickly into colors that delight humans, but die quickly and are then discarded as well. The monster is not a cheap item to be thrown away. Her beauty is not made to fit a standard that fades with time. She has no intention of exploding into a display for the benefit of others, only to be left fallen on the ground, spent from the effort. The monster’s beauty is in her confidence, her self-acceptance. Hers is a treasure that will last forever.   

-Ra Butler