There’s a gentlemen down in South America who’s been wandering through people’s imagination for centuries. He’s called the pishtaco. Picture a pale fellow with a coat and a knife. What does he do with the knife? Simple, really. A pishtaco performs guerrilla liposuction to get his dinner; he likes a fatty menu without the middle step of cooking anything. He may be a multiple murderer, but he's not a pig; he doesn't eat all of the fat he harvests.
What to do with the leftovers? Ah, there’s the really interesting question.
It depends when you’re asking, you see. One thing that most people have always agreed on is that he doesn't save for later; there’s no fridge out there that you really don’t want to open. No, our monster is the entrepreneurial type: he sells the fat to people. One wonders how far the Craigslist rabbit hole you have to go to find a pishtaco listing, but we’ll put that to the side for now. Any fantasy will blow away like cobwebs if you look too closely.
Pishtacos are brilliant economists; they vary their markets like no one’s business. Currently, they sell to pharmaceutical companies. You won’t find that on any corporate manifesto or the pages of the Wall Street Journal, of course. These are just the cold, hard facts bandied around the schoolyard and bonfire. Go back a little in time and you’ll see the diversification of the pishtaco portfolio. He'll sell his product as airplane fuel, or peddle it for machinery oil. Heck, the conquistadors themselves bought it to oil their church bells back in the day. Whatever best represents the local fear of outsiders, that’s the preferred market of the pishtaco.
I bet no one deliberately changed the business model. Every so often, I’d expect, you’d get a really keen storyteller. As they amused the rest of the schoolyard audience or their terrified grandkids, every so often one gifted tale-teller would improvise something. They’d have the pishtaco rolling around in their heard, squeezing out of their mouth into the ears of the listeners, and the host would just suddenly say, “And you know how those new airplanes the Europeans have really take off? Pishtaco fat in the engine! True story.” Everybody would squeal and shiver, and decades from then would find one of the audience would make a spark of their own, connecting other cultural woes to the pishtaco killer.
Stephen King, as usually, put it best. In Danse Macabre, a book I have lectured out of more than once, he says that “if movies are the dreams of the mass culture… then horror movies are the nightmares.” Of course you can apply that to more than movies, considering King himself pulls the Victorian obsession about sex out of a few paragraphs from Dracula. That’s why my favorite subject is the cavalcade of imaginary creatures we've dreamed up. I write about monsters because many of them are crystallized chunks of our brain walking around exhibition-style.
Sometimes we tame them. A three-hundred foot tall reptilian metaphor for our atomic nightmare can, through familiarity, become a friend to all children (although that slogan more properly belongs to his flying turtle rival). Even the most recent Godzilla had the big G rise out of the ocean to save us, pulling out all stops except having people on the beach scream, “Look, in the water! It’s a seagull! It’s a seaplane! It’s Godzilla!” Monsters can bounce back from domestication; Freddy Krueger was becoming more and more cartoonish until the under-discussed New Nightmare resharpened his claws. Every wild animal kept as a pet has the instincts to maul you buried in its DNA, and monsters in our mind are no different. They break their leashes.
I love ‘em all, though.
So, hey there! I’m K. T Katzmann. I wrote an upcoming mystery novel about a Jewish vampire who falls in love with a Bigfoot, and I’ll be blogging here. Come back here for movie and book reviews and pontifications on the shapes that shamble out of our nightmares. At some point over the summer, I intend to watch and blog about what it’s like to watch nine Puppet Master movies in a row. I have no idea if I’ll enjoy that, but I’m willing to rip my heart out for you people.
After all, I’ll keep writing about monsters as long as you’re willing to read about it.