The Girl in the Green Ribbon shimmies with a satyr, fiddling with the bow that is keeping her head from tumbling onto the dance floor. Medusa and her sisters dance in the corner, trying not to turn the DJ to stone, while a werewolf howls along to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
CMS was founded in 2019 and is the only institution of its kind in the world. Its research focuses on investigating the various historical and cultural definitions of monsters through a lens of social justice.
“If you look at a monster and see yourself, you’re on the edge of a tremendous growth in terms of your empathy,” said co-director of CMS, Michael Chemers. “But if you see the monster and see the other, then you’re setting yourself up for persecution.”
Throughout the weekend, panels discussed tropes of monstrosity and their connection to discrimination and prejudice. Co-directors Renée Fox and Michael Chemers organized two parts to the festival: a public facing day that engaged with popular culture and a scholarly academic conference.
“We wanted to include both to see how they spoke to each other,“ Fox said. “Part of diversity is about bringing in people who engage with monsters from different positions, life experiences, and desires.”
The festival kicked off on Oct. 13, at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH).
Friday’s events included a Trick or Treat Mask display, various academic panels, a talk with Trick or Treat Studios, and keynote speeches from authors Addie Tsai and Mallory O’Meara. The day concluded with the opening of an exhibit at the MAH: Werewolf Hunters, Jungle Queens, & Space Commandos: The Lost Worlds of Women Comic Artists.
Keynote speaker Addie Tsai performed a reading of their novel Unwieldy Creatures, a biracial, queer, gender-swapped retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
“I want to encourage writers and artists, especially those that live in bodies outside of the cishet white experience, to reinscribe new dimensions onto these old stories and interpretations, whether it’s through an original story or a recasting of an old one,” Tsai said in a statement via email.
Attendance for the second and third day of the festival at the Digital Arts Resource Center (DARC) was free for UCSC students and cost $125 for the general public.
Saturday’s affairs included academic panels on Monstrous Women, The Political Effects of Contemporary Horror, and even a live performance of Kirsten Brandt’s Grendel’s Mother, a feminist interpretation of Beowulf.
Keynote speaker Jess Zimmerman, editor-in-chief of Electric Literature and the author of Women and Other Monsters, dissected female monsters from Greek Mythology and encouraged women to reclaim these stories as inspiration for a more “monstrous” version of feminism.
Finally, there was the Monster’s Ball at the Institute of Arts and Sciences, where attendees dressed up in monstrous costumes. Students and faculty entered the building decorated with flashing lights, a DJ booth, and a drinks table full of monster themed beverages.
Whether engaging in thoughtful discussions on social justice or listening to recrafted versions of old familiar tales, CMS never fails to bring people together through their shared interest in monsters.
“The ideas which this festival embodies […] are very worthwhile,” said Rose Klein, visual technician for the Monster’s Ball. “They have changed my life.”