If you’re a schoolgirl in South Africa, be careful not to wear the colour pink. Because Pinky Pinky might come for you. This monster apparently stalks school bathrooms targeting misbehaving little girls, particularly those who wear pink. The creature has no gender and is a grotesque, pink, half-human half-animal, with one claw and one paw. Some describe it as a type of tokoloshe.
If we know they aren’t real, why do we use monsters in stories?
Instinctively, we know that monsters like Pinky Pinky aren’t real. But why do we keep using them in stories? Why does every culture on earth have their own group of monsters, not to mention villains? What can we learn about our continued fascination with all sorts of monsters? In this article I give three reasons why we love to hate monsters.
1. Monsters Satisfy Our Desire For Adventure
Every good adventure story must include some monster(s) for the hero to overcome. It is part of the hero’s journey, enabling her to learn and grow. What would Princess Thákane be without the dragon, or Makoma without the giant Chi-eswa-mapiri? Every story needs a monster for our hero to face and conquer. Otherwise, there would be no story and no adventure.
Apart from monsters fulfilling the plot for a good story, they reveal something about the human psyche. In our hearts, every one of us longs for adventure. Every one of us longs for our mettle to be tested. We want our own monsters to fight and conquer. We want to prove—both to ourselves and to the world—that we are worthy of our own story.
God teaches us that the greatest adventure of all is the call to follow Christ.
The Bible teaches that this thirst for adventure is not wrong. However it is often misplaced. Many of the stories we tell ignore the God of the Bible. He teaches us that the greatest adventure of all is the call to pick up our cross and follow Christ. As we do that, we live by faith, trusting in the Holy Spirit to teach us how to grow. The adventure is often fraught with difficulties and trials to overcome.
Most importantly, we have monsters to face, both within ourselves, and within our world. Because God provides the tools for this fight, we don’t fight alone (Ephesians 6; Romans 16:19; Revelation 19-21). Furthermore, we are not the ultimate heroes of this story. That honour belongs to only one person. This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
2. Monsters Can Represent People We Dislike
This is by far the most common use for monsters within stories. The easiest way to convince one group of people to hurt another group of people is by dehumanising that targeted group. This tactic has been put to horrific use in the propaganda of Nazi Germany, the Apartheid government, the Rwandan genocide, and the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. The way this propaganda is spread is by characterising one’s own country/group as the heroes, and the hated group as a monster or villain.
The easiest way to convince one group of people to hurt another is by dehumanising that targeted group.
But this use of stories isn’t only limited to large-scale propaganda and national identities. All of us tell ourselves stories and construct narratives about ourselves. In these stories we idolise our heroes (whether ourselves or others) and demonise our enemies, often likening them to monsters. But this makes things very difficult when our heroes fall. Think of two recent examples of movements that collapsed overnight because of the failure of their leaders: Mars Hill and Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). However, instead of treating them as monsters, Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).
Instead of idolising our heroes, Jesus tells us: “You are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:8-12).
3. Monsters Show Us Where We Should Repent
I find psychological thrillers terrifying. One of the best movies in this genre is Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Peele constructs a brilliant narrative with a singular purpose: to help white Americans understand their racism. Stories like this help us to recognise that in many cases, the monsters are not outside of us, but within us and within our systems of business and government. Stories can effectively pinpoint our own sin, both individual and corporate. Therefore they should move us to genuine repentance. I’m not talking about feeling guilty or just saying sorry. I mean real repentance that creates a positive change in our lives.
The monsters aren’t always outside of us, but within us and our systems.
Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a controversial movement because of its ideological roots in Marxism. For this reason, many Evangelicals have rejected it in its entirety. However, the movement highlights that globally black people are still struggling to find dignity. This disempowerment of black people has its roots in modern slavery, colonialism, and segregation, perpetrated all over the world to different degrees. Thus, despite all of its flaws, we should resonate with the underlying pain that BLM seeks to give voice to.
Within the Church, there must be true unity between white and black Christians. This true unity should at the very least be true friendship, sharing meals around tables, and getting to know each other. However, this is not where it ends. In addition to the sharing of food, there must be an equal sharing of ideas and the power to make decisions.
Facing A Real-Life Monster
On the 24th of February 2022, Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine with an army of around 200 000 military personnel, in addition to tanks, armoured vehicles, and aircraft. The Russian army is accused of using inhumane weaponry like cluster bombs and deliberately targeting civilian buildings and hospitals. It is easy to label Vladimir Putin and the Russian army as “monsters.” And I would not be surprised if many stories are released over the next few years that cast villains based on President Putin, or Russians.
However one feels about the actions of Vladimir Putin, this war contains questions for the Church. One of these questions is how Christians should treat their political enemies.
I do not want to minimise the suffering and pain that many Ukrainian families are going through. However, Paul teaches us that the monsters we are at war with do not come in Russian uniforms: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12).