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.