Search
  • T Schwab

Making a Monster: Othering Groups Through Horror


A lit orange pumpkin jack-o-lantern with a sharp-toothed smile and narrowed eyes carved into it.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels


As the scary season approaches and leaves, we are reminded of the age-old tradition of scary stories.


These stories come in many different ways, through novels and myths.

The entertainment industry has capitalized on these, turning out movie after movie about the same creatures. Werewolf, vampire, and zombie movies dominate the big and small screens.


While these movies are often fun for those looking for the adrenaline rush of horror, and the occasional good plot line there is something much more sinister behind them. It’s important to understand the history of othering found in these movie monsters, and to first do this it’s important to understand what type of storytelling this is.


COLONIAL STORIES AND OTHERING


Often colonial horror stories are meant to threaten or remove people from society. This is very different from the Indigenous way of storytelling that we have covered in a previous blog. To do this these stories must create an “other” which will most often be the movie monsters. Othering is how people part of a certain social group define themselves against those not within it. It’s the way people create an “us” versus “them” mentality. To do this the “them” or the “other” is dehumanized as they are seen as outside of the social group. Apart of this is through not viewing the “other” as an individual with humanity but instead a tool to say “that is what I am not”. They are seen as less than and as not belonging to the community at large.


In social and global contexts these are usually done to uphold certain communities by bringing other communities of individuals below them. Othering is most commonly seen to be done in regards to race, religion, gender and sexuality—as it is a tool used to marginalize communities. Othering is used to remove people’s humanity and to remove them from the community.

The way that these horror stories do this is by creating a normal, which will often be the hero, the good guy, or the virgin finale girl who rises out of the danger of the serial killer who killed people engaging in promiscuity.


And these stories’ heroes are often white, cis and straight people. In these horror movies and stories making heroes who reflect the societal norms, they are also creating a monster that reflects society’s monsters.


Think of the ways people engaging in sex were brutally murdered in horror movies in the ’70s. Or the monstering of queer folk through characters such as Buffalo Bill in the movie Silence of the Lambs, showing queer folk as predators, while still informing audiences through dialogue that homosexuality is not correlated with violence. And it’s also seen in the 1992 horror movie Candyman, showing Black men as violent and white women as the victims of this violence.


Research professor Jess Peacock touches on this saying

“Whether that be a religious other, a political other, or a sexual other, the role of western colonialism has been to otherize or to make monsters out of anything or anyone that fails to meet a particular normative criterion. And that normative criteria, more often than not, is straight, white, and male.”


Often these stories are meant as warnings against not fitting into norms and they create real-world violence against those who do not fit into them. Think of the bodies that are marked as violent in these movies, or who do not fit norms and are then deemed as predators in real-world situations.


The othering and the monstering do not stay on-screen but follow people into life as they are continued to be made out to be the monster through the way entertainment has highlighted them, and how our systems say they exist.


THE ZOMBIE


An example of this can be seen in the case of the zombie. Zombie mythology began in Haiti during the revolution of enslaved people against the French. The zombie was first meant to represent fears of enslavement. Nowadays the zombie is the cannibalistic undead, far removed from the representation of fear against colonialism, racism and capitalism which it once represented.


Today, the zombie apocalypse situation “isn’t an outlet for fears but for fantasies, functioning as an escape hatch into a world with higher dramatic stakes, fewer people, and the chance to reinvent oneself, for better or worse,” says Journalist Mike Mariani.


The shift of the zombie from a revolutionary symbol to a representation of a fantasy world with fewer people in it shows us how stories are taken and made to fit colonial goals of othering. As the apocalypse represents freedom, it others the fears of enslavement which had come before with it, instead now focusing on the freedom of those who enslaved people.


IMPORTANCE OF UNDERSTANDING OTHERING


While these horror stories mark a place of escapism for some it’s important to note the ways they create other and social rules for many. These films often tell us who we believe should be left out of our definitions of “us” or who we believe should be punished for them. And as these films reflect current day othering and fear it’s important to see how they reflect nature and the othering of views of land which comes with that.

 

About the Author

T Schwab (they/them) is currently majoring in Psychology and Environmental Studies. They currently live on the unceded Coast Salish territories of the Lkwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ peoples. Their passions lie in holistic care and sustainability.


Connect with them on LinkedIn or Instagram.

20 views0 comments