BRASHER: Maybe it was the latent obsessive compulsive disorder rampaging through my brain as an adolescent, but nice orderly books of lists were some of my favorites. I loved comics like "The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe," which did an A-Z of the different characters and their superpowers in loving sequential detail. I really liked alphabetically ordered bios, lists of sports cars, encyclopedias and so on. One of the books I remember most fondly for its stories and illustrations was "The Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual." I don’t know if me and my friends ever successfully played an actual D&D game even once all the way through, but the manual was awesome: ghouls, ghosts, gelatinous demigods, gelatinous cubes, all kinds of fearsome gelatin creatures! So in the spirit of that, here we are just a few days after Halloween with our own Brasher and Rowe Monster Manual.To truly understand a monster though, you have to empathize with it. You have to, like Roky Erickson said, “Walk with a zombie,” and not merely away from it. So prepare for an emotional journey replete with disturbing references and all the juvenile hostility you crave.
ROWE: Halloween! It’s over! A national holiday for self-congratulating Millennial Americans. You published all the photos of you and your friends on Instagram and then immediately deleted them because you’re scared of what you are. (Then you published them again at peak hours to get all those enticing likes.) Can you imagine of being scared of who you are? Monsters in literature are often characterized as conflicted beings, and writers always make monsters more sympathetic or more terrible by appealing to the humanity of the monsters. So let’s start with VAMPIRES.
BRASHER: I'm pretty old, I feel like, and when I talk to young people in their early 20s at bars and such, it is sometimes trying. I'm sure it is for them, too. The priorities and responsibilities of our respective age groups are different much of the time. Except for the Cuervo Gold and the fine Columbian, you ultimately discover that you are in somewhat different realms of reality. Now think about Vampires. Some Vampires have lived for thousands of years. Do you know how absolutely tired they would have to be of all humans? Every single thing a human would say would have a vampire rolling his eyes if he even cared enough to do such. They might have felt some type of way about it 800 years ago, but they are so done with it by now. It would be like a normal adult having to talk to nothing but toddlers for eternity. If you were a real vampire, I think there might be a good 300 years where you could perhaps entertain yourself traveling the world of people. You learn every language, make a ton of money, and just live it up. After half century of that though, I think the darkest sort of depression would inevitably set in. Even the most extreme aspects of this old world would just not do anything for you anymore. After all, you joylessly killed thousands of people just to stay alive until it was probably as mundane as going to Taco Bell. You would have watched every single thing on the Netflix of mortal existence and there would be nothing left to do but just walk out into the sunlight and get it all over with.
ROWE: And that’s just vampires with privilege and mobility. You only hear about the real go-getter, carpe diem vampires. Can you imagine being beat down for like 500 years? Vampires who have humanity would mean vampires with no direction, with dead-end jobs and dreams they’re going to get working on after just another year of saving up. Can you imagine working at Pizza Cafe for FIVE HUNDRED YEARS? That’s 500 years of watching your friends come and go, coming back with new children and new Renfields. Five hundred years of having to train a high turnover group of 200-year-old vampires how to work the prep line. Don’t even get me started about vampire hierarchy. You know that present-day Count Dracula would be Chamber of Commerce President Lawson “Vlad” Dracula.
BRASHER: Another of the realm of immortal and evil creatures are demons. Demons have a few things going on that vampires don’t: They are incorporeal, invisible and they can possess people. I guess they do all of that stuff for their boss, Satan. Still, what a bummer. Demons are creatures to be conjured and controlled. They are truly the working poor of all monsters. You get called into the office by the Lord of Darkness, "Oh, hi there Axaziel the Iniquitous, looks like we have a transfer for you lined up for someone with your skill set." As a demon, you don't want to hear that. First off, you will definitely be going somewhere people believe such things are even possible, I mean otherwise what's the use? Religious demographics being what they are, that means the odds are very good you're going to get stuck somewhere rural, and ultimately that means pretty mediocre accommodations. Lastly, your mortal hosts are also a concern. You probably aren't going to be inhabiting the best and brightest, as they say. No one ever tries to cast the demons out of really successful people, after all. It's always the people least able to dispute the accusations that get saddled with possession. It's exhausting work; sometimes it's all a demon can do to just show up and phone it in.
ROWE: Oh dude, don’t forget werewolves in this piece. According to the literature, they’re usually exclusively men (wolfMAN), to become one you have to be initiated, and they can only be defeated by depositing large amounts of silver into their bodies. I have basically just described the Skull and Bones group at Yale or any other 1 percent fraternal organization that is often lumped in with the Illuminati. Is your next United States president a werewolf? There is a good chance. Just ask yourself: What’s more terrifying? Is it being alone with a werewolf on a foggy moor during the full moon? Or is it having a werewolf send thousands of your countrymen to a war in the desert based on bad information? At least if you’re bitten by a werewolf, you become one, and you can claim you don’t remember all the terrible things you’ve done.
BRASHER: You know who else is a child of privilege? Mummies. The way I understand it, the great kings of Egypt were products of incest and incessant coddling. So first off, they were physically not scary, and secondly they had advisers and generals basically do everything while they pet their sacred cats or something. So what if these guys get brought back to life? Who even cares? Unless they are imbued with new supernatural powers, they are probably going to be overwhelmed with adapting to their own new terrifying independence and diminished social standing. An ancient pharaoh of Egypt probably couldn’t make Hot Pockets in the microwave, much less enslave the living. Like snakes, mummies are more afraid of you than you are of them.
BRASHER: Manticores, griffins, minotaurs, centaurs. What do all these have in common? They are animal mash-ups. Honestly, I feel like these are the laziest and stupidest of monsters. Your eagle head wants to catch fish and build a nest. The lion body wants to roam the savannah. The snake tail is cold blooded so it’s probably pretty uncomfortable most of the time. And what is a Centaur, and why?
BRASHER: The big Z! Zombies. The monster that captured the hearts and minds of a generation. They can be scary, funny, terrifying or ridiculous. Really the fears and feelings we have towards zombies are a merely a projection of our dread of economic labor realities in modern late capitalism, but whatever, I'll leave all that to Zizek I guess. Actually, the scariest thing that the zombie phenomenon did was create the notion of a “zombie apocalypse.” The zombie apocalypse is not scary because of the zombies. Like any good apocalypse, it isn’t frightening because of the root cause; it is scary because of human reactions to it. A zombie apocalypse is a hypothetical crisis situation where all of the suppressed American hatred and violence that exists in our everyday culture is acted out in a safe and culturally affirming way. You aren’t actually killing “people” in a zombie apocalypse, you are killing subhuman creatures, so you get a pass. It’s sort of a pathological release, if you will.
ROWE: It’s as if the occult hand of Adam Smith will bring about the end of civilization.
BRASHER: Oh, one more thing. In case you ever doubted our handle on the cultural zeitgeist, while we were writing this column, comedian Patton Oswalt called out Arkansan Mike Huckabee in a language we can all understand: