Close-up on Culture: Monstrous Beauty

They are back, and they are here. Right in front of our house, knocking on our door, under our bed. The Others, the monsters. They are everywhere, and all escape routes are closed. No, this is not the opening scene of a – I admit-  very badly written zombie- or horror movie. This is the daily reality of our visual culture.

Nowadays, our visual culture is over flown with monstrous Others. The movies and television are overrun by vampires and werewolves. We buy our clothes from a model called Zombie Boy, as he is totally covered in tattoo’s which make him seem like a – very fashionable-  living dead. We listen to music from Lady Gaga, the pop singer famous for her extravagant creations, which often turn her appearance into something non-humanlike, such as the often criticized and discussed ‘meat dress’, which transformed her into a modern day dr. Frankenstein. The Others have crawled out from their hiding places and are now out in the open, dominating the media.

This trend is observed and analysed by philosopher Rosi Braidotti. She argues that in post-industrial culture there is a huge increase of various Others, in particular ‘monstrous Others’. She states that these monsters are the incarnation of difference of the human norm and so the visibility of the monstrous kind is a ‘return of the repressed’ which puts the human standard in jeopardy. The standard beauty still firmly reigns, but the fact that there is space for otherness gives hope that her power is declining.

Zombie Boy in Thierry Mugler campaign

More importantly, it is not so much the fact that there is room for the monster or the Other in visual culture nowadays, but of greater interest is the place which they occupy. They are not just part of a freak show to deliciously shudder to. Sure, we are curious and fascinated, but there is more to the appearance of Others in our visual culture: they are presented very much like us humans. Lady Gaga can be dressed as a grotesque crablike creature, but can at the same time speak emotionally about the Japan-disaster. We watch vampires in movies that are romantic instead of frightening. In contemporary culture there is room for humanity in monsters. In this way they are presented not so much as deviations, but more like extensions from ourselves. Our contemporary monsters are more human than ever and thus suggest a new approach to difference.

Famous for her records at the Paralympics Games in 1996, but even more so for her modelling career and spokeswoman for the next generation of prosthetics, Aimee Mullins speaks in her TED-talk about this new definition of difference. She claims that she does not see her prosthetic legs as a deviation of the norm and therefore as a lack of something that needs to be solved, but as a possibility to extend human nature to a next level. According to her, it’s no longer a discussion about overcoming deficiency nowadays, as it is a conversation about augmentation and potential. From a clear diving border between two different worlds, we went to various options on one continuous line.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1b263r75_pg[/youtube]

And so, the presence of monstrous Others in contemporary culture shows us a whole different view on Otherness. Being different is no longer viewed as something negative to be different, these days being different means being full of potential and chances. And so the monster, a word derived from the old Greek teras which means both horrible and wonderful, as a creature went back to the it’s etymological roots. The Latin noun creatura, a creature, is ‘a thing created’ and something which celebrates creativity and difference. Fortunately in contemporary visual culture we can all celebrate, in the words of Lady Gaga, the little monsters inside us.

This blogpost is also published on TedxAmsterdam

Further Reading:

Biography of Aimee Mullins on TED

– Braidotti, Rosi (2002) Metamorphoses. Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming

– Braidotti, Rosi (2004) Op Doorreis

Leave a Reply