Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Are Monsters Real?

When we're kids, monsters seem so very real.  They hide under the bed, in the closet, around dark corners and behind furniture.  They terrify us, and they fascinate us.  We want protection from them, and we want to be them.  Dinosaurs and alligators and aliens, vampires and ghosts and werewolves populate our minds and our books and our toy boxes and our collections of Halloween costumes.  We love their power, their capacity to wreak havoc and unbridled destruction.  They are big, strong, wild, untamed, powerful, in control.

Adults love to tell kids "there's no such thing" as monsters and ghosts and vampires.  But adults are wrong.  What are dinosaurs and sharks and alligators if not monsters?  Of course, the really terrifying monsters are the ones we adults don't want to name or think about in relation to our kids, though we seem to love writing about them.  They are the monsters masquerading as humans who do terrible things to other humans.  They are all too real.  And far too many kids have met those monsters face to face.

Judging by the characters that populate our movies, our books and our TV shows, these more insidious monsters fascinate our adult selves as much as dinosaurs did our kid selves. This fascination seems a lot more disturbing if you ask me.  The monsters that fascinate us as kids aren't necessarily malevolent.  They're just big and destructive.  It's in their nature.  They're predators doing what predators do.  Even the vampires and werewolves and ghosts have only a sort of abstract evil to us as children.  They're interesting mostly because they're gross or mysterious.

Our adult fascination with real, malevolent human characters, with the dark and depraved side of human nature, lands quite decidedly in the moral gray zone.  It's disturbing.  We often couch it in the safety of police procedurals, stories where the bad guy gets caught.  Yet, these stories seem to dwell on and wallow in the malevolent acts with a voyeurism that raises concern.  Are we, as adults, still longing for the license offered by imagining ourselves as the monster?  What moral and ethical price of the soul are we willing to pay to indulge our imaginations in this way?

There is another category of monster, one which is perhaps better referred to as "demon."  It is the unseen, internal one, the hardwiring of our brains that seems outside our control and torments us in a thousand different ways.  Depression is one such demon.  Addiction is another.  Psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder.  We have these new names for them, but back in humanity's childhood we called them "demons.'  If you've ever had one of these things inside you, the characterization feels apt.  It seems beyond your control.  You can't see it or touch it but it has so much power over you, and yet it feels like an alien force, an alien force that has somehow gotten its tentacles into your brain.

When I watch some of my students who struggle with issues such as autism or ADHD or anger issues or emotional disturbance, I see them wrestling these internal monsters. They feel overwhelmed, like they're fighting a battle they can't possibly win.  They need a the power of a T-Rex to fight that stuff.  Hell, adults need the power of a T-Rex to fight that stuff, and even then it's not enough.  Kids need T-Rex on steroids, and he needs to be fighting in their court.

So, are monsters real?  You know it.  Don't let anybody ever tell you any different.

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