Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
Sometimes life is more horrible than horror fiction. In The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule demonstrates the truth of this observation in recounting a nightmare she had as she tried to come to terms with the apparent guilt of her friend, Ted Bundy:
I found myself in a large parking lot, with cars backing out and racing away. One of the cars ran over an infant, injuring it terribly, and I grabbed it up, knowing it was up to me to save it. I had to get to a hospital, but no one would help. I carried the baby, wrapped almost entirely in a gray blanket, into a car rental agency. They had plenty of cares, but they looked at the baby in my arms and refused to rent me one. I tried to get an ambulance, but the attendants turned away. Finally, in desperation, I found a wagon--a child’s wagon--and I put the injured infant in it, pulling it behind me for miles until I found an emergency room.This is the end of her dream. It is horrific. It seems mysterious, too. A baby that’s not a baby, but a demon--what could such imagery mean? Rule is certain that she knows. The baby symbolizes innocence, the demon (its true self), evil: evil is masquerading as innocence, or as she informs her readers: “I did not have to be a Freudian scholar to understand my dream; it was all too clear. Had I been trying to save a monster, trying to protect something or someone who was too dangerous and evil to survive?”(240-241).
I carried the baby, running, up to the desk. The admitting nurse glanced at the bundle in my arms. “No, we will not treat it.”
“But it’s alive! It’s going to die if you don’t do something.”
“It’s better. Let it die. It will do no one any good to treat it.”
The nurse, the doctors, everyone, turned and moved away from me and the bleeding baby.
And then I looked down at it. It was not an innocent baby; it was a demon. Even as I held it, it sunk its teeth into my hand and bit me (240-241).
To describe Bundy as a monster is an understatement. According to Wikipedia, the law student confessed to thirty murders, but may have committed as many as a hundred, and his modus operandi wasn’t merely cruel; it was savage: “Bundy would bludgeon his victims, then strangle them to death. He also engaged in rape and necrophilia” (“Ted Bundy”). His youngest victim, Floridian Kimberly Leach, was only twelve years old. If the brutality of his crimes, the sexual perversions he committed, and the slaying of a preteen girl are not enough to manifest the evil that was Ted Bundy (and, of course, they are), then his own words, chilling to the bone, concerning morality certainly are:
Then I learned that all moral judgments are ‘value judgments,’ that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ I even read somewhere that the Chief Justice of the United States had written that the American Constitution expressed nothing more than collective value judgments. Believe it or not, I figured out for myself--what apparently the Chief Justice couldn’t figure out for himself--that if the rationality of one value judgment was zero, multiplying it by millions would not make it one whit more rational. Nor is there any ‘reason’ to obey the law for anyone, like myself, who has the boldness and daring--the strength of character--to throw off its shackles. . . . I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable ‘value judgment’ that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these ‘others?’ Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more than a hog’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as ‘moral’ or ‘good’ and others as ‘immoral’ or ‘bad’? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure that I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me–after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self.At about the time of the rise of modern psychology, which is often identified with the work of Wilhelm Wundt, who established the school of experimental psychology at Leipzig University in 1879, more than a decade before Sigmund Freud launched his ill-fated psychoanalysis, Edgar Allan Poe became one of the earliest, if not the earliest, modern writer to include madmen in his stories instead of inhuman monsters. Many other writers of horror fiction have since followed suit, and the human monster is one of today’s most popular types. One of the most widely known contemporary examples is Thomas Harris’ Hannibal (“The Cannibal”) Lecter (Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal).
Perhaps, as they age, aficionados of horror fiction become more interested in human monsters like Bundy than in fantastic creatures such as demons, werewolves, and zombies, recognizing that the true monsters are those in the mirror. Certainly, as the authors of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Monster Book point out, there is no lack of variety for such human fiends, a category of the monstrous that includes not only serial killers, but also Adolf Hitler, murderers, rapists, “monsters and abusers, drug trade predators, the heartless and shallow, and even the bitter, belittling monsters,” concluding “there are so many people whose behavior is unnatural or inhuman that we need go no further” than human nature itself “to find our monsters” (360). Joss Whedon, the creator of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series seems to agree. It is people, he confesses, who “terrify” him more than anything else (330).
Among the many more traditional (that is, inhuman) monsters that appear on Buffy the Vampire Slayer are a number of human monsters, as the authors of The Monster Book point out, including Billy Fordham (“Lie to Me”), “the Kiddie League baseball coach” (“Nightmares”), Ted Buchanan (“Ted”), Frawley, Frederick, and Hans (“Homecoming”), Tucker (“The Prom”), Coach Marin and Nurse Greenleigh (“Go Fish”), “the lunch lady” (“Earshot”), Kyle, Tor, Rhonda, and Heidi (“The Pack”), “the demon-worshiping fraternity brothers” (“Reptile Boy”), Eric Gittleson (“Some Assembly Required”), Pete Clarner (“Beauty and the Beasts”), Gwendolyn Post (“Revelations”), Maggie Walsh (several episodes), and Jack (“Beer Bad”) (361-362).
There are a number of theories as to what causes human monsters. Are they born and bred or are they made? Is it nature or nurture? Perhaps it is a combination both of genetics and environment. Another way to ask the same question is to pose it as a philosophical issue: is evil behavior determined or does it result from the exercise of free will? The authors of The Monster Book favor nurture (or, perhaps, the lack of it) over nature, arguing that “abnormal brain chemistry may account for certain psychopathic and sociopathic behavior, but most human monsters are not born that way; they are made into what they are by circumstances, by experience and example” (363).
Buffy’s executive story editor and writer Douglas Petrie even offers an etiology for the evil of one of the show’s long-standing human monsters, the rogue slayer Faith. The causes of her monstrosity are parental neglect; feelings of isolation, loneliness, and alienation; and an inability to “compete” against Buffy, but, at bottom, Petrie suggests, the "key" to understanding the wickedness of Faith is her “pain”: “The whole key to Faith is that she is in pain. . . . She’s so lonely and so desperate, and all her toughness comes out of trying to cover that. That’s what monsters are made of.” Her pain, however, he intimates, comes out of her lack of the relationships she would like to have: “You’ve always got a carrot you can dangle in front of her. Mrs. Post was the mother she never had. Buffy and her friends are the best friends she never had. The Mayor is the dad she never had. So she’s always looking for a family and always coming up short and making these horrible choices, and it drove her insane” (368). Primarily, Faith’s monstrosity, then, results from her abuse by her family and by society in general, by the way she has been treated--or, rather, mistreated--but it is also a result of her “horrible choices.” Evil is caused, in Petrie’s estimation, by societal abuse and the exercise of the abused person’s own free will. Secondarily, nature might also have a part to play in human monsters’ origin and development, Petrie seems to admit, tossing in, as if for good measure, the observation, concerning Faith, “Plus I think she was missing a couple of screws to begin with. ‘If you don’t love me, you will fear me’ seems to be her m. o. [modus operandi]” (368).
Paradoxically, Whedon and Petrie appear to disagree with respect to how they view threats represented by human monsters. Whedon admits that “people scare him,” the authors of The Monster Book reveal. “Terrify is the actual word he uses” (330). Petrie, on the other hand, in discussing the rogue slayer Faith, a human monster in her own right, says, “she’s not a stable girl, but a fun one” (368). In their commentary upon human monsters, the book’s authors resolve this paradox, perhaps, when they argue that, because of the number and variety of actual human monsters among us, fictional ones seem to be unnecessary:
There are so many people whose behavior is unnatural or inhuman that we need go no further to find our monsters. We don’t really need vampires or werewolves.That’s not a bad rationale for the genre.
Or do we?
In a world where such real, visceral horrors are so disturbingly commonplace, horrors on the screen or the page may be more comforting than terrifying. We can close the book. We can turn of the television when the show is over. We have control. But in the real world, the show is never over. Nothing is more disturbing or monstrous than that (360-361).