Queer Ecology of Monstrosity: Troubling the Human/Nature Binary

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As a form of visual communication, monsters in popular culture represent and reinforce the changing thoughts and emotions cultures have toward the human/nature binary. This binary, historically supporting discrimination based on race, gender and sexuality, and the environment’s abuse, is often supported through monstrous representations of the Other, but this is a limited view of a monster’s potential. I argue that contemporary hybrid monsters that blend humans and nature together in one queer, boundary-defying body represent U.S. society’s changing relationship with nature while giving the audience a new form of connecting or identifying with the environment and Othered body that critiques the popular ideology of both being something to fear or use. In this study, I advance a monstrous splice of queer theory and ecocriticism that probes the plasticity and queerness of humans and the environment allowing for new narratives, forms of life, and discourses about naturalization and the environment. Through queer ecological theory and methodology, I examine visual and contextual media to study the monster’s potential to embody nature, people, and their conjoined discrimination. The plasmaticness and subversive culture of animation and comics let the monstrous thrive in their display of the plasticity of humans and the environment. I structure my analysis into three case studies focusing on the potential of monsters to critique evolutionary ideology, human exceptionalism, and ecological interaction in light of queer theory’s critique of what is ‘natural.’ Radford Sechrist’s television series Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts and K.I. Zachopoulos and Vincenzo Balzano’s graphic novel Run Wild oppose human exceptionalism by visually plasticizing humanity and giving animals culture and agency in a way that rejects anthropocentric thinking. The monsters of Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart’s independent film, Wolfwalkers and Morvan and Nesmo’s ecological detective novel Bramble critique the cultural separation of urban and green spaces that has excused racial and sexual violence by displaying humanity’s innate connection to nature. Finally, Marguerite Bennett’s erotic graphic novel Insexts and select episodes from Tim Miller’s Love, Death, & Robots challenge evolutionary ideology. In this last case, characters retain their femininity and humanity in their monstrous transformations, rejecting evolutionary and societal inferiority and ultimately showing they can still retain parts of themselves and be powerful and deadly. Taken together, these texts span genres, writing/drawing styles, intended age groups, and environmental messages. They provide a wide range of monster representations and give audiences new ways to view and understand the issues surrounding what we see as ‘human’ or ‘natural’, balancing empowerment, subversivism, and condemnation.