Saturday, October 16, 2010

Books: The Age of Tired Monsters?

In a recent interview about his new book, Kraken, China Miéville, Marxist economist and New Weird pioneer, discusses what he believes is the state of monster creation in the early 21st Century. Here's the relevant section of the interview:

BS: One of the things I wanted to ask you about is the talk you did at a Marxist conference called ‘Marxism and Monsters’?

CM: Oh yeah, God.

BS: Because I was obsessed with that talk for ages, and my comrades and stuff we always talk about it. So you talk about these origins of monsters, and the socioeconomic origins, and then I was thinking – nowadays we don’t really invent new monsters, we kinda riff off old monsters like vampires and zombies, we use them over and over again. I wanted to know whether you thought we’d exhausted our ability to create monsters or is there a reason today’s society doesn’t really invent monsters like we used to?

CM: I’m not sure I’d agree, I mean, I think there’s two different levels. On the one hand there’s this kind of endless degraded reiteration of the old tropes, so you get these endless endless endless zombie or vampire films or whatever, but at the same time there is also, I mean particularly within geek culture, that kind of fascination with the monster creation. So, with movies there’s always this thing with like, y’no, ‘did you get to the monster shot?’ ‘Did you see the monster?’ and it’s like ‘what’s it gonna be?’ You remember when Cloverfield came out and everyone was like: ‘what’s the monster going to be like?’ You know, there was all these debates about it. There is still an attempt to create, or self-consciously an attempt to create monsters that haven’t been seen before. Or you think about something like Doctor Who where they’re always trying to come up with the new, y’no – but for me, as you know if you’ve heard the talk, I think the early 20th Century was the high point of absolutely explosive creation in the monstrous. But I would say, at the moment – particularly at the level of vampires and zombies – it’s very tired.

I think probably the ’20s was the anomaly rather than now, I think it was more of a question of that being a particularly fecund time than this being a particularly degraded one. And I think there’s probably more teratological innovation going on now than there was in the 1880s for example. I think it’s very culturally specific and at various moments there’s a kind of upsurge of creativity and others there’s not, so I think at the moment things are roughly sort of in balance, you know - we have a lot of very very tired stuff, there’s still some things that are interesting, but most of the time monsters disappoint. Like Cloverfield when the monster is revealed you’re like, uh. *laughs* And that’s a separate issue. But as to the social reasons, why there is such an obsession with sparkly vampires, or whatever it might be, I mean that’s a whole other question – then you have to get into the specifics of each case. And these things are very fashion driven, so, angels are something they’re trying to do at the moment. Angels are very trendy. So overall I think this day and age is kind of middling, in terms of monster creation.


Sean T. Collins said...

What's wrong with the Cloverfield monster design? I thought all the monster-based stuff in that movie was pretty tremendous.

CRwM said...


I don't recall feeling deflated when Clover was finally revealed. I guess China felt otherwise.

zoe said...

hmmm...interesting...but i think there are probably other monster-creations going on (as he mentions, there's still that desire to create)... it's not that this is a middling time for that, it's that all the things we actually *see* are what the middle-managers feel are cash slam-dunks. which means, naturally, tired and overused...
just an opinion, obviously. middle management tends to be my favorite target, haha.

Radio London said...

While the resulting monsters are basically zombies, their creation story in "Pontypool" is certainly unique.

Sarah said...

Thumbs up to Pontypool, forever.

I can't remember whether or not I felt let down by the monster in Cloverfield. I couldn't tell you what it looked like other than big and kind of brown. However, I did think the little spidery creatures that came off of the monster and attacked the people in the subway were scary.

Spooky Sean said...

New, original monsters are the key for me. Even slightly new, for fucks sake!

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