Lethal word play

Lady Gaga – The Fame MonsterSemantics is getting me down again. This time, it’s a word of monstrous proportions – the word ‘Monster’ itself.

Yesterday I opened my copy of The Age and read that word being used in a way classically assigned to your standard-issue media expression of moral panic – in Ted Lapkin’s opinion piece, ‘Anders Breivik’s monstrous crimes a life-and-death issue’.

So, unless you’ve been under the proverbial rock, Breivik is that Nordic perpetrator of hate crimes the world has watched, aghast. And, in direct reference to the ‘but what about our children’ argument (last bastion of right-wing politicians everywhere), Breivik’s crimes went directly to the children, with the most ‘atrocious’ of his terrorist acts aimed at the youth group of the Labour Party of Norway. Lapkin’s argument? Breivik hurts our children – death to him!1

Let’s set aside for a second the similarities between the anglicised pseudonym he took on for the publishing of his manifesto – Andrew Berwick – and the name of yours truly.

Let’s instead look at those moments that sit next to the story. Like the one where the courageous married couple braved gunfire to shuttle boatloads of terrified teens, time and again, away from Breivik and the danger he posed.

Hey look – a lesbian couple! A married couple! How topical!

But where was I, with this confluence of words and topical events … First, we must set aside the fact that Breivik’s 1500-or-so page manifesto itself anticipates Lapkin’s claim in quotable quotes, such as this one:

However, since I manifest their worst nightmare (systematical and organized executions of multiculturalist traitors), they will probably just give me the full propaganda rape package and propagate the following accusations: pedophile, engaged in incest activities, homosexual, psycho, ADHD, thief, non-educated, inbred, maniac, insane, monster etc. I will be labeled as the biggest (Nazi-)monster ever witnessed since WW2.

(Monster, Breivik? Have you been talking to Lapkin?!)

But seriously, the most important question here might be, what are we actually doing with these coincidences?

For instance, has anyone else noticed that the very startling fears of paranoid conservatives – incest, paedophilia, and (heaven forbid) homosexual – have all been listed in Breivik’s list of ludicrous names he expected people would call him? If we’re having an honest-to-goodness real debate2 about changing Australian laws to embrace Gay Marriage (or not), well then, perhaps it’s genuinely worth acknowledging that anti-marriage conservatives engaging in the debates around the issue have themselves talked, in panicked tones, about a slide into bestiality, paedophilia and all things ‘monstrous’, should those terrible gays get such a hallowed institution in their rainbow-sullied hands.

Let us not forget the lessons of history, a history that once labeled the cohabitation, sex and especially (gasp!) marriage of those of mixed races – miscegenation – and created laws forbidding all of these, lest the ‘monstrosity’ of the ‘mulatto’ come to be amongst our society (see, ‘Nation, miscegenation, and the myth of the mulatta/o monster’). Yep, they happened to be stupid laws, based on false, and blatantly racist, assumptions, but hell, they were our laws, and a monster is a monster after all.

Which brings me to Lady Gaga, who, is possibly one key3 person who vocally embraces the outsiders. She not only speaks of her own experiences of not fitting in and being bullied, but directly engages with themes of the lesbian and the criminal, alongside the vocal stylings of Beyoncée. She talks to and for those ‘Born This Way’, as well as depicting the misshapen (her self-depiction with peaked elongated shoulder blades, and artificially sharpened cheekbones), the foreign/alien.

Perhaps now is the time to look to the rights of those who recognise her as the ‘Mother Monster’, as she names herself (see ‘Born This Way’).

Let us look to the teens, and those of many other ages, of the world who embrace the term she uses for all her fans: ‘Little Monsters’. She speaks to the outsiders, those who feel they don’t fit in, those told they’re not good enough, that they sit outside norms and the average; she campaigns for Gay Marriage and against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’; and against youth suicide amongst those bullied and experiencing homophobia through the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign. And she’s joined by people respected by tweens, and adults alike.

So lets look our ‘monsters’ in the closet in the face, and admit that perhaps it’s too easy a word to use to condemn. That perhaps finding such a word that can turn someone from a living breathing person into someone outside the realm of the human makes it all too easy to condemn them to death in our next breath. Perhaps we can look in the eye the fact that that move has been repeated time and again throughout history, from the time we gawked at the carnival ‘freak’ who turned out to be a person experiencing disability, to the time German National Socialists created Jewish ghettos, and remember that we were wrong.

Let’s refuse the distancing act that monstrosity can allow by acknowledging that there are things we are all ashamed of, secrets and un-belongings that trouble every one of us.

Hi mirror. Hello Monster.

1. I feel like he’s been chatting to Sarah Palin.
2. Turnbull, please do take note.
3. Yes, that’s a pun, given her recent ‘key to the city’ honours from the City of Sydney for her work in supporting the rights of the disenfranchised – well, okay, honorary ‘citizenship’ of Sydney.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.


  1. I’m so glad you wrote this article! Breivik is connected to us all, and so in order to understand his psychology, we have to look inward, at the most sociopathic parts of ourselves or the people around us, and the hatred and prejudice those we know tolerate. To dismiss Breivik as an inhuman freak ignores the complex human factors that led to his murderous acts, and ensures that it will happen again, this time at the hands of someone else.

    We should feel sorry for him, because he is trapped in a brutal, dark, threatening place, and needs human interaction from which he can derive hope and psychological transformation.

  2. Pingback: Genevieve berrick | Shereesvoice

  3. Pingback: Overland: Lethal Word Play | Genevieve D Berrick

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.