Evil Archetypes of Pop Culture: Satyrs, Succubi, and Other Sexual Predators/Book Review: Crea DelRand’s “Lure of the Prairie Monster” and Monster Erotica

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King Kong (2005) can be read as symbolic landscape hosting the battle between reptilian/predatory aspect of the Freudian Id and the life-force aspect of the Id.

Review by Google“>Shawn Stjean

For this eighth entry into the blog’s most popular essay series, I’d like to change up the format and combine a review of a particular writer’s work with my more general, cultural analysis.

First, as you read what follows, you must understand one thing.  I’m a man.  Which means: it’s okay if I’m completely wrong after this sentence ends; just don’t expect me to admit it.

As deep as we all are into the era of postmodernism, when a “new” genre gains popularity, it’s a safe bet that it addresses some old need in a refreshed manner, rather than having recognized a facet of human nature no one’s ever uncovered before.  The rise of Monster or Creature Erotica in not only the marginalia of video game and porn sites, but in the mainstream book culture, signals such a resurgence.

One of the most overlooked episodes of Homer’s eighth-century B.C. epic the Odyssey, excised from most high-school textbooks, concerns the adventure of the protagonist on the isle of Circe, the witch/exiled goddess.  Pedigreed as the daughter of the sun, we may safely infer that the Olympians have not banished her because she conforms to their idea of a “good girl.” Hermes, whose phallic stone herms can to this day be found all over the peninsula, explicitly instructs Odysseus to threaten Circe with his sword and rape her (though most translators employ poetic euphemisms).  Turns out, however, that Circe is a willing victim, and much of her mysterious power blooms from yonic symbolism–the island itself, her voice, her weaving, her drugs that turn men into beasts.  A full year after his “victory,” the hero is still there, in what his men call a “trance,” and the crew must nearly riot to tear him from her arms.  Although Homer casts the details more subtly than most mythmakers, overall this looks like a satyr/naiad seduction of a mortal (or incubus/succubus, if you prefer more medieval terms.)  We humans constantly wage cold war with the demands of our Freudian Ids, (to complete my jargon-journey into the twentieth century,) and they, as incarnations of powerful desire, are absolutely capable of knocking us down, sucking the air from our lungs, and drowning us–at least for a time.  And, most frighteningly, all without us necessarily acknowledging it’s happening, at the conscious level.

Now, the shadowy Id–often mischaracterized as our “evil” self–also comprises our very life force, the power that gets us out of bed in the morning, keeps us seeking and striving and sowing and reaping all day, so its cyclical ascendance over the ego (our manufactured identity) and superego (our “moral” self) needn’t be a terrible thing.  If we can break the spell.

DelRand’s story (packaged as an inexpensive e-book on Amazon and other e-tailers, and sampled on her over-18 blog https://creadelrand.wordpress.com/) treads the edge between fantasy and realism, as undoubtedly much of the genre does. Heroine Tess isn’t fulfilled by her sexual encounters with “ordinary” men.  To be clear, the problem lies in intimacy and sensitivity, not physical dysfunction or performance issues.  A century ago, her dissatisfaction would have been diagnosed by male doctors as some variety of female pathology: frigidity, perhaps, or nymphomania.  I suspect the genre’s writers–many of whom are women, though pseudonyms abound–have often used this motif as a convenient plot device. However, monster erotica can be interpreted, as here, in the vein of social criticism.  Our culture groups its inhabitants in so many ways: by race, religion, ideology, age, income bracket.  Naturally gender and sexual orientation could not escape polarization, either.  Tess’ tale begins post-coitus with her lover, an alpha-type who’d rather break up with her than confront her unarticulated needs, lest he have to confront some inadequacy of his own.

DelRand swells the fantasy structure in her second act, when Tess awakens–minor SPOILER follows–to find herself grown to many times the size of her “small self” (a phrase I read as code for “inhibited, repressed, oppressed self”).  Now she can mate with the titular monster, described by locals as “Godzilla” but suggested by the narrator more in terms of a giant primate, like King Kong.  Thus can her empathy and identification with him as Other be <ahem> worked out.  She’s been, after all, complained of by her erstwhile boyfriend as a kind of monster herself.  So, while for the local (male) farmers the roaming monster could be a psychological projection of some other evil, for Tess–I don’t think this too much of a stretch–he functions as a means to embrace and love her wild, Jungian animus: her own male side.  However, the ending of the tale comes, perhaps like sex itself, predictably and yet a bit abruptly–dare I say unsatiatingly.  But maybe that’s the point.

One need not embrace theoretical feminism to recognize the tragedy of a culture that pollutes something as natural as sex, to the extent that many normally functioning adult males will admit to having tried Viagra for no reason beyond innocent curiosity.  The problem comes down to the fact that few men and women talk openly about sex: why pornography centers around the penis but rarely features male faces, for example, or why its dominant fetishization is so often facial ejaculation.  Who could blame a woman who interpreted this cliche’ climax as revealing a lust for degrading domination of women, perhaps out of frustration over his powerlessness in other aspects of life (like the competitive workplace.)  It’s just as likely that a man’s base instinct to enjoy such an act comes out of the same deep-seated need for total acceptance by his partner.

Vulnerability over the need for acceptance and love seems obvious when considering women (threat of rape, 9-month extended periods of pregnancy, regular menstruation being accepted parts of daily life) but not so much for men.  Yet DelRand approaches it with the male line “You need so much. I can’t give you enough. You know, it’s terrifying to a man to be with a woman who needs more than he does.”  As a man with many male friends, however, and at the risk of burying the point, I’d urge this writer to resist and revise such mouthpiece material.  Most of us guys would have lashed out, in various stages of anger or frustration or humor, “You’re such a horny bitch/wench/slut!” (a slur being the quickest way to defuse someone else’s legitimate complaints/requests, and evocative of a ever-present double-standard).

So, from my admittedly limited engagement with the genre, the monster-porn fantasy seems to me to fulfill the unconscious female desire to regress the male into his simpler, more primitive form, one perhaps less verbally articulate but more intuitively responsive, undamaged by the demands of his acculturated ego.  Also, of course, as the still from King Kong hints, the feminine need for security, safety and protection by males (correction–the right male) from violent, unsavory predators seems equally served by such fantasies.  DelRand’s monster folding Tess into his gentle palm, an homage to the famous effect from the Kong movies, illustrates this need. In short, there’s a lot more going on than sex here.

Perhaps it’s a dangerous assumption that the target audience for such non-violent erotica is primarily female, but the subject is too broad not to limit it somehow.

For those interested, the subject of fantasy sex need not be male-forbidding.  Jon Norman’s underground 1970s-and-beyond Gor series–a counter-Earth orbiting the opposite side of our sun–explores many of these themes from a man’s perspective, especially of sexually inhibited men and women freed of cultural brainwashing.  Though not technically of the more recent Monster Erotica subgenre, this sci-fi set of cult classics–particularly the first half-dozen of the series–might strike a chord with fans, though undoubtedly too masculinist and chest-thumping for many in the  audience, a sort of analog to the Harlequin Romance.

By the way, some of these authors produce their more mainstream fiction under other identities, for reasons of the marketplace.  I imagine this to be an excellent means of stretching one’s writerly muscles: sex, especially, is notoriously hard to write without invoking unintentional laughter (as many anxiety-causing topics do, cf. gallows humor).  It makes sense, then, that purposeful humor would be a staple of these stories–and a good laugh vents repression and discomfort, too. So it’s a genre meant to be fun.

Well into the nineteenth century, novels themselves–any fiction–were a source of guilty pleasure in Europe and America.  A gentleman would either posture himself as above such “nonsense,” or at minimum be discreet enough to hide such books among the compartments of his home.  Certainly wives and daughters would have the decency to conceal theirs.  And now, as then, if fiction were more compelling and attractive than truth, we have no one but ourselves to blame.

Purchase links:

http://www.amazon.com/Lure-Prairie-Monster-Crea-DelRand-ebook/dp/B00UGSWQOE/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lure-of-the-prairie-monster-crea-delrand/1121318957?ean=9781483551050

lure

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Evil Archetypes of Pop Culture–Vampires, Part II–“Monsters From the Id”

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In part I of this article, I discussed what I consider the seven classical “rules” that have historically constrained vampires in storytelling. I further suggested that, rather than being random genre conventions, these form a coherent system which provides insight into the base nature of this fearsome creature.  This means that writers who violate the rules, rather than creating something new and compelling, as often compromise the underlying archetype and offer a tale that, for reasons not always consciously articulated, does not make fundamental sense to readers/viewers.

So what is this underlying system?  A vampire is a manifestation or incarnation (we might almost say personification) of a human being’s psychological “id.”  Quick primer: “Id” is a Freudian term for 1/3 of the unconscious psyche (the other parts being the “ego” and “superego.”)  Put simply, the id is the repository of a human being’s basic will or “life force”—it gets you out of bed in the morning, and keeps you going through the day, because it houses all your desires (things you want) and fears (things you don’t want.)  The superego, acting as a warden, puts limits upon the id’s behavior (we can’t have everything, and we must face many fears,) while the ego keeps a balance: by providing a sense of who we uniquely are, it defines what kinds of limits are imposed, and when, and under what conditions they operate.

If the human “unconscious” were a family, we might say the id is the child (“I want/I hate”,) the superego the father (“No,”) and the ego the mother (“maybe/we’ll see”).  Example: the id wants not only a single cookie, but the entire box, while the superego responds, “That’s not good for you,” but the ego might add a qualifier: “Two are allowable, but only after a proper dinner.”  The id (which we’ll focus on here) is most primitive, selfish, and even animalistic because it has no sense of ethics, morality, or responsibility.  It only acknowledges its own needs.  “Evil” would not be quite accurate to describe the id, any more than children are inherently evil.  An added problem with this comparison is the common association of the id with sexuality (as in “libido”), which means we better clarify that the id is best thought of as an adolescent child.

Most adults are aware that this primitively lustful, desirous, greedy, insatiable, yet also fearful part of ourselves exists, deep down below our civilized self-identity (ego) and our moral sense or conscience (supergo).  But because psychology is often seen as an arcane and highbrow science, it makes sense that these three forces would manifest themselves in the pop culture, as a matrix of actual characters.  Mr. Hyde, the werewolf, the evil twin or doppelganger, the Hulk, Jason and his copies: all these could be said to be walking ids, split apart from the rest of their psyches, and taking a separate physical form.  But none more so than the average Vamp.  The plot device of werewolf-types turning into themselves from human beings, versus vampires being enemies of people full-time, is not a worthwhile distinction in the archetypal context of seeing the root nature of figures, events, and rituals.  And the recent plot cliché of pitting vampires against werewolves makes little sense except for the political mileage–which species has more power?—and, it makes good movie-action. However philosophically different werewolves and vampires may be (is the “evil” inside us, or outside?,) they are not psychologically or functionally different.

In short, there’s a vampire in every single one of us, locked in the crypt of our unconscious by day, and rising from temporary death, running rampant, sowing chaos, by night (luckily, mostly in dreams—unless you happen to be in a vampire story).

Now, to test this theory, recur to the rules we discussed last time:

2) and 5) A mirror (or even a full, illuminated look) would reveal the ugly part of ourselves we’d rather pretend doesn’t exist: all the so-called “weaknesses” and appetites that our physical forms make us prey to.  So vamps can’t see themselves or their shadows, and must remain hidden much of the time, skulking on the periphery of our public personas.

3) and 6) As much as we’d prefer it, this part of ourselves cannot be destroyed or annihilated completely—its energy only redirected.  A person on a crash diet, for example, may subdue the appetite for food, but will generally have to substitute some form of reward in recompense to the starved self, before the nearly inevitable backslide.  In order to break certain forms of addiction, others (supposedly less toxic) are commonly substituted.  Thus, vampires can change forms to evade harm, or relentlessly pursue us.  The stake to the heart or beheading (which reduces the average Nosferatu to dust,) is a fantasy of reduction back to basic elements of which mythology tells us we are all made, but notice there are always more to replace the defeated foe.  Thus, if generic and faceless, vamps never really “die.”  And if individuals, like Dracula, they never die for long.

4) The act of free will here is either the relaxing of the vigilance of the superego, or the allowance on the part of the ego, of the id to have its way.  The id cannot forcibly defeat the other powers, but it can be overindulged (“allowed to enter”).  Once it has a toehold, the myth tells us, it can disease the moral sense and erode the identity (which must be constantly guarded against infiltration).  Actions that may seem trivial at first can have unforeseen and significant consequences that cannot be undone.  So never invite a vampire in to your sanctum.

7) Since Christianity (call it morality-based, or patriarchal and prohibition-driven, from the Ten Commandments to the Sermon on the Mount, just as you prefer) is really a system that organizes into conscious form the dictates of the superego, it makes sense that it would be the arch-nemesis of the id (Jesus vs. Satan, generosity versus selfishness).  Guilt and repentance for sin is the absolute antithesis of the grasping of the id.

1) Sexual desire is, of course, the easiest way to conceive of the power of the id.  I saved it for last because of this summative convenience.  Everyone over the age of ten knows how much influence sex can exert over the human will, often overriding all our scruples and common sense.  A vampire is so voracious in its appetites that it will literally suck the blood (life-force) from its victim, killing it.  It has no notion of when to stop.

Given all this, we might say that a vampire is a psychological projection of everything human beings despise about themselves—a beast in anthropomorphic form, recognizable as human, yet indulging in the forbidden, violating taboos against incest, cannibalism, human sacrifice, and more common laws against treachery, revenge, and murder.  Paradoxically, this also explains the attraction the idea of vampirism holds for many people, since by definition our dark “kindred” are free to embrace behaviors we normal folks are daily forced to repress.

Are vampires real?  You bet—as real and close as anyone’s own dark half (or third).  Take away the other parts of the tripartite psyche, and you’re left with a person who does whatever he wants, kills those in his way, or steals their energy for himself, and fears nothing but loss of total freedom.  So everyone acts as his own slayer, to greater or lesser extent.  And yet, what Jung called our “shadow” selves can never really be slain.  Only kept at bay, while the sun shines, and if we survive until summer, the days grow longer and the nights shorter.

In the final part of this article, we’ll apply this theory to some of the popular reconfigurings of the vampire mythology, to explore why certain refinements make archetypal sense, others not.

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