Okay, frustrated rant, because I’ve been marathoning Grimm for the past couple of days and it is giving me a goddamn migraine.
I cannot quite describe how much I hate it when works of fiction use the Famous Evil Person of History Was Secretly a Monster and Not in Fact Human. But it’s a lot. It is so much.
Grimm is extremely guilty of this, coming out strong with the egregious beginning choice to claim that Adolf Hitler was in fact a Blutbad (essentially, a fairytale werewolf-like creature, the Big Bad Wolf). It is the worst. I have been seething about that for days, and then the show just decided to pull the same move again with the new assertion that Jeffrey Dahmer, famous serial killer/rapist/cannibal, was a Wendigo, a mythological creature found in several Algonquin peoples’ folklore that eats human flesh.
I have to leave aside the problems of using folkloric creatures from different cultures’ traditions without their appropriate context, which robs them of any cultural or religious importance they might have from their original storytelling environment, and is usually accompanied by refusing to do any real research into the story or what it originally meant as well as being used by primarily white writers on a white-led show to inject a little ~exoticism~ into the story by flavoring it as “foreign” without actually changing anything they’re doing. Grimm isn’t the only show that does this - Supernatural is also a huge culprit, not to mention The X-Files on occasion. It’s a shitty problem, but being a white lady of European descent, I don’t have the perspective to comment on it meaningfully, and I’ll leave that to others.
BUT I really need shows to stop saying, “Oh, evil people in the past were actually secretly non-humans.” And I need them to stop because 1) it’s lazy, poo-flavored writing, and 2) it severely devalues those crimes as well as simultaneously allowing us to view them as fictional and not important.
I’m not Jewish, but I don’t think it’s out of line for me to say that I don’t think anything that contributes to that whole gross soup of “the Holocaust never happened!” or “this is ancient history, it might as well be fiction/folklore” that some people espouse (consciously or not) is a good idea. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a fictional version of Hitler being cast as a non-human creature - I’ve also see him as a demon seeking to damn as many souls as possible, a demigod gone off the rails into a desire for world domination, and a vampire whose machinations in the mortal world were essentially “side effects” of his attempts to wage secret political war against other vampires, and the human effects weren’t even particularly important to him.
This is gross, and it’s gross because it implies that human beings did not do this. It implies that the atrocities of Hitler and his Nazi party were things visited upon unsuspecting humanity by an outside force, that we could not have stopped them, and that we share no responsibility for. It absolves viewers/readers of the responsibility of recognizing that these things were done by people like themselves, making them the fault of outside “predators” and casting all of humanity, not just those who were affected by the atrocities commited by the Nazis, as either helpless victims or at best hapless unaware innocents.
And actually, I think that’s why it’s so popular as a trope. I get it; it’s uncomfortable and sad and guilty to think that a human just like you did these horrific, inexcusable things (especially for us white folks who have a much higher-than-average percentage when it comes to doing horrifying historical things to other people/cultures). It’s way easier and more comforting to instead think that it was actually a literal monster that was to blame, so that you can go back to thinking that it wasn’t something you or anyone like you could ever have done. For some people, the comfort might even extend to allowing them to think that no human ever could have done those things; those things belong to the realm of bad dreams, fairytales, unreality. They couldn’t happen here, and if they did, it wouldn’t be our fault.
Obviously, most people aren’t going to watch Grimm and literally think, “Oh, Hitler was actually a werewolf, thank god no one has to feel guilty about this ever again.” Not consciously, anyway. But media does affect us, and it does affect the way we think about things, especially things not closely connected to us; and the fact that this obnoxious trope keeps resurfacing over and over again tells us that it’s something that keeps gaining real estate in our collective storytelling consciousness.
And watching media like this gives viewers that unconscious bump - it was some monster, it wasn’t us. And that allows us to go on refusing to recognize it when we see it in real life, to continue pretending that these things didn’t happen and don’t happen and if they do we certainly don’t do them. It couldn’t have been our neighbor, he always seemed so nice. It couldn’t have been that guy three towns over, he was in the military and he always marched in the parades. It wasn’t that woman - she’s so pretty and pleasant all the time, she’s a person, not a monster!
So, yeah, I hate this trope. I hate that it says monsters are monsters and people aren’t, and therefore people can’t ever do terrible things to other people, even though people constantly do awful things to others. I hate that it encourages us to think of those awful things as things of the past, as things that maybe didn’t even happen, or as things that belong to the realm of fiction. And, although less important, I also hate that it’s so goddamn lazy, that writers keep over and over saying, “Hey, you know what, let’s just make [insert dictator/serial killer/mass murderer/rapist] secretly some evil being!” like that’s ground-breaking, original, or anything other than coopting the tragedies real, non-fictional people have experienced for a quick blast of sensationalism.
So, y’all TV writers of the world, cut it out. Feel free to write all the stories about man-eating magical monsters you want (although if you could research them, if you’re going to borrow monsters from an unfamiliar culture’s stories, that would be super great). But don’t take real people, people who did horrifying things to others, and make them monsters instead. Don’t excuse them by making it “just in their nature”, and don’t tell your audience to trivialize what they did by making it so patently unreal.