austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

When my eyes beheld an eerie sight

Let me step ever-so-briefly out of the running narrative of daily life for a pop culture type essay. It's inspired by the climax to Monsters University, but touches also on Monsters Inc, so, there's some spoilers involved and please don't read it if you don't wish to be spoiled.

My question, though, is: does the Monster world actually understand human psychology? Because they don't seem to do very well at getting the emotion-generated energy that they want, considering.

This is a plot hole that stands out pretty obviously from Monsters Inc: the discovery that kids laughing is ten times more potent than kids screaming seems like the sort of thing someone would have had to have encountered before. Yeah, the Monsters go into the human world to scare kids, but surely at least once, sometime, somewhere, a Monster slipped and fell, or something, and the kid laughed instead of screamed, and surely they'd have noticed they were getting a pretty good energy draw from that. You'd have to be institutionally incurious to not notice and follow up on that. And yet there's some good evidence for institutional incuriosity. Consider:

In Monsters University we get a couple scenes of people being trained into doing the scare work, including a competition in which simulated scaring is done. This is all set up by the Monster sneaking into a child's bedroom, setting a little atmosphere, and then yelling ``Boo!'' or getting in someone's face and making them holler in panic. That's fine enough, but ... well, one of the supporting cast in the film is a monster who isn't terribly scary offhand, but has an unsettling ability to be underfoot. It's a bit creepy. More creepy the more he does it. You might not scream at his catching the corner of your eye, over and over, but it'd certainly set the mood for greater fears.

All right, perhaps the contest is meant to be a string of solo performances. But why wouldn't there be team scarers out in the real world of industrialized screaming? If there's any hint that the professional scaring is done by more than one Scarer and one Support guy who stays in the Monster world, I missed it.

Are they looking to minimize the risk of human-contamination by sending the smallest possible parties in? Perhaps, but they are sending, implicitly, millions of Monsters into the human world for little sorties; would it be that much more risk to send about the same number of Monsters in for medium sorties, if those medium sorties are more effective?

And they can be more effective: the climax of Monsters University requires Mike and Sully to team up and get a lot of terror out of a bunch of human adults. This is done not by sneaking up and going ``boo!'' or growling at them, but by a multi-level strategy of instilling and growing the terror aimed at people. This requires more time than the in-and-out attacks seen elsewhere, but the yield is enormously greater, so great as to produce jaw-dropping results from tenured faculty, including people with decades of experience in the Scaring business. Why is this not followed up on?

Particularly, why wasn't that seen in Monsters Inc, where it's explicitly stated that the increasing desensitization of human children means there are sparser and weaker Scares to be had? If adults can be terrified so very well, using not really that much preparation --- Mike and Sully have to put together a campaign without any particular knowledge of what the humans involved are scared by, and without using anything but what they find in the human world --- then why aren't they being harvested?

(Possibly they are, and the Monsters we see in the first film are all in the Child-Scaring Division. But then Mike and Sully are a world-class team: why wouldn't they be put in the Adult-Scaring Division where they achieved such outstanding results?)

In short, it seems like the Monsters could be doing a much better job if they didn't worry about in-and-out ``boo!'' frights, and instead focused on groups of humans, with more elaborate strategies, and let fears grow and simmer.

Perhaps they are just letting their own fears overwhelm them: they're terrified of contamination from the human world, but there's no obvious signs that it does any actual harm. But that seems to mean they've built this vast industrial apparatus to extract emotional energy without evaluating some critical points about what they're actually doing, such as, whether contamination is actually a problem, whether they're getting terror-induced Screams as efficiently as possible, or whether they really want screams at all. Why hasn't anyone in the Monster world noticed this, and tried to research these obvious defects?

Possibly they have and the powerful Monsters Inc corporation is plunging ahead with what it already knows regardless of new research. Monsters University seems to have disturbingly tight links with the corporation, down to sharing logos. Is it possible the school is just a diploma mill meant to funnel talent into the corporation without the students quite realizing it? Is that why the academic hierarchy seems dreadfully screwed-up, and why there seems to be nothing but a Scaring program that twists all a university's priorities so? I don't want to automatically assume big businesses to be bullheaded and obstinate, but, Monsters Inc does appear to be a big and powerful corporation at the center of a vitally needed resource: this is where corporate bullheadedness can really thrive and distort priorities all out of whack.

But granting that Monsters Inc/University hasn't got any particular interest in doing things better (because it would invalidate a lot of sunken costs in equipment and training? I don't know --- but note that the Scaring Floor in Monsters University looks not appreciably different in Monsters Inc, a film set decades later), doesn't anyone in the Monster World have such? Or are questions of ``how to best harvest energy'' left in the hands of people who've already concluded They Know Best, and keep research into this sort of thing from being supported?

In short, why aren't the Monsters better at all this?

Trivia: Samuel Langley's experimental aircraft of 1903, the Great Aerodrome, was rated as having a 52 horsepower engine, although in practice only 40 horsepower was available in 1914 when Glenn Curtiss was refitting it for the Wright patent trial. Source: First Flight: The Wright Brothers And The Invention Of The Airplane, T A Heppenheimer.

Currently Reading: Astounding Days, Arthur C Clarke.

Tags: movies
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