Attraction to Monsters (with Ella Gallego)
Beauty and the Beast. Twilight. The Shape of Water. What do these stories have in common? Humans and monsters getting down and dirty. This episode explores the surprising psychology behind “monsterf*ckers” — people attracted to creatures like vampires, werewolves, and tentacled beasts. Hear from researcher Ella Gallego about her study on monstrous desire, which reveals how and why women and LGBTQ+ people are particularly entranced by these inhuman love interests. We’ll trace the history of monster erotica through the medieval church’s preoccupation with demon sex, the horny throughline of vampire movies, and the incredibly surprising history of tentacle porn. Bare your neck and put on your hottest swamp bikini: it’s time to discover the connection between monsters, sex, and our deepest desires.
Resources from Ella Gallego:
Citations and further reading:
- Kit, B. (2017, November 3). How Guillermo del Toro’s “Black Lagoon” Fantasy Inspired “Shape of Water.” The Hollywood Reporter; The Hollywood Reporter.
- Cotroneo, V. (2022, November 13). Why Creature From the Black Lagoon is Better Than Most Cheesy Horror Movies. MovieWeb; MovieWeb.
- Google Trends – “monsterfucker”
- Ellis, Lindsay. (2018). My Monster Boyfriend [YouTube Video].
- The Lighthouse (2019 film). Wikipedia.
- Queer monsterfucker quote: Hello Dear! (2019). Tumblr.
- Myth of Eros and Psyche – Greek Myths | Greeka. Greekacom.
- See U in History. (2022). The Weird Origin of the Terrible Minotaur – Greek Mythology [YouTube Video].
- Demon Lovers. (2023, September). University of Chicago Press.
- A Brief History of Tentacle Porn. (2016, December 6). Willamette Week.
- And here comes a whole bunch of Wikipedia pages,
- Edo period. Wikipedia.
- Ukiyo-e. Wikipedia.
- Meiji Restoration. Wikipedia.
- Censorship in the Empire of Japan. Wikipedia.
Monsterfucker scale TikTok:
@chcltcvrdstrwbrrs Reply to @invisibonne where are you? #monsterfucker #invisibleman #enderman #it #gamora #jabbathehutt #pokemon #edwardcullen #spock #monsterhigh #fy ♬ original sound – Cciv
Ashley: Attraction to monsters is having a moment, but it’s been here all along. In the 1954 B movie, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, there’s a famous scene where the beautiful female protagonist is swimming as the scaly fish-like creature watches her from the depths below. At one point, we see her long white legs as he extends a dark, webbed hand and glides his fingers along her feet. She’s so close to being captured, and she doesn’t even know it.
Ashley: You could interpret this scene in two ways. The typical way is that the creature has evil intentions and he’s just looking for another victim. But in a way, this scene also mirrors a lot of romance movies. A character watches the subject of his heart’s desire from a distance, hopelessly in love but too scared to make his feelings known.
Ashley: That’s how a six-year-old Guillermo del Toro saw it. He told The Hollywood Reporter, quote, “The creature was the most beautiful design I’d ever seen, and I saw him swimming under actress Julie Adams, and I loved that the creature was in love with her, and I felt an almost existential desire for them to end up together. Of course, it didn’t happen.”
Ashley: So the young Guillermo would doodle his fantasy, drawing scenes where the characters were eating ice cream together, sharing a romantic meal. Or riding a bicycle built for two.
Ashley: He spent his career trying to recreate Creature from the Black Lagoon from the Creature’s point of view but kept facing resistance.
Ashley: But finally a co-writer of his shared an episode he was writing about a janitor who discovers a creature in a secret government facility and takes it home. Guillermo realized that this was his way in. He bought the idea from the writer and started working on the screenplay that would become The Shape of Water.
Ashley: The Shape of Water does exactly what a young Guillermo wanted. The creature and the female protagonist end up together. There’s even a sex scene. The reception to that movie was proof that Guillermo was not the only kid who wanted to see the monster and the human end up together. It received 13 Oscar nominations, the most for any film in 2018, and it won in four categories. It was also nominated for seven Golden Globes and won two.
Ashley: But more importantly, the movie made a particular connection with women and LGBTQ people. It’s about outsiders conquering the society that others them, and finding love and happiness in the process.
Ashley: Monsters serve the role of outsider in most of our media. So it’s no wonder that the outsiders in our real-world society find them sympathetic. And for some… more than a little attractive.
Ashley: So today, we’re exploring what it is about monsters that makes some people swoon, and what that says about society at large.
Ashley: I’m Ashley Hamer and this is Taboo Science, the podcast that answers the questions you’re not allowed to ask.
Ashley: If you’re listening to this episode, I’m guessing you’re in one of two camps. You’re either like, there are people who are attracted to monsters? Or you’re like, finally. Someone is talking about me and my experience.
Ashley: There happens to be a thriving online community of the second camp of people. People who call themselves monsterfuckers. To be honest, I had no idea monsterfuckers existed until right before I interviewed today’s guest, because, well, I’ll just let past me explain it.
Ashley: I saw that you used the term monster fuckers. I mean, it was more like, you know, it was cleaned up, um, on TikTok. But then last night I was telling a friend that I was gonna do this interview and, and I was explaining the concept and she’s like, oh yeah, monster fuckers. I was like, okay, this is a thing.
Ashley: This is, there’s, so, there’s like a, an area of the internet that people are self-described that way.
Ella Gallego: Oh, big time. Big time. And I think a big influence of that has to do with, BookTok is a big one
Ashley: BookTok being the area of TikTok where people talk about books.
Ella Gallego: Because with BookTok. You’ve seen the explosion of indie publishers who are not beholden to traditional publishing and their kind of rules for traditional publishing.
Ella Gallego: So what you have are people who are able to just really write freely about whatever topic. You have authors like Cleo Evans, Katee Roberts, C.M. Nascosta, you know, you have all of these authors who write about like minotaur and human, like romances and Kraken human romances, you have all of these different monsters and it’s just exploded due to enlarged social media and Independent publishing allowing for that to occur.
Ella Gallego: But I do think that like, even if you aren’t a part of the like BookTok romance genre, you know, there are obviously monster fuckers who still exist, independent of that as well. And you know, I’m not quite sure when that term started. I’ll be honest, maybe I should do like a way back machine to kind of see like, perhaps when that began.
Ashley: I did a Google Trends search and found that the term has been around here and there since at least 2018, mostly on Tumblr, but it really rose to prominence in 2021. Funny things happen in a pandemic.
Ashley: Anyway, my guest today knows a lot about monsterfuckers. Those who describe themselves that way, and those who just walk the walk.
Ella Gallego: I’m Ella Gallego. I’m a writer, a journalist, and a researcher, and I am the creator of the Monstrous Desire Study in which, um, I study all things erotic monsters and why people are attracted to them.
Ashley: Ella asked thousands of people about their attraction to monsters to find out what kinds of monsters were most attracted to and why.
Ashley: Ella did her master’s dissertation on the dark romance genre, a subset of romance books that deal with darker themes like violence and trauma. There was a major Venn diagram overlap between these books and romance books about monsters, so that genre was already on her mind.
Ashley: But then she went to the movies.
Ella Gallego: so to paint a picture, to set the setting, everybody settle in. Um, so it’s 2019 and I’m in San Francisco with a buddy of mine. We’ve seen the trailer for The Lighthouse with Robert Pattinson and Willem Defoe, and both of us are like, yeah, this is quirky. This is, looks fun, this looks silly. You know, this is gonna be a hoot.
Ella Gallego: So, we’re in San Francisco, we go to this teeny tiny little independent theater and we settle in and, you know, I, I wasn’t prepared whatsoever for the obsession that the lighthouse would trigger in me.
Ashley: The Lighthouse is a very artsy black-and-white film that depicts two 19th-century lighthouse keepers who are stranded on a remote island because of a storm. What they thought would be a few weeks work turned into months, and they go a little mad.
Ashley: What’s important is that this movie is bananas. There’s a lot of masturbation, a ton of semen, a lot of blood, one mermaid vagina, and you definitely shouldn’t get your straight husband to watch it with you by saying you heard it was sexy, because that is definitely not the word for it.
Ella Gallego: I was sat there just completely obsessed. And I remember the movie ending and I stumbled out of the movie theater. And, and I, I genuinely, I stumbled. I felt like I had been claimed by something and, you know, it followed me throughout quarantine.
Ella Gallego: I just could not stop thinking about the movie. I could not stop thinking about, you know, Horror and eroticism and disgust and lust and how those two can sometimes coexist simultaneously. And how monstrosity is such a great vacuum to explore other facets of identity such as masculinity and gender in general and sexuality. ’cause to me, the Lighthouse is very clearly an exploration of queerness. And so for me, you know, that was such an important movie as someone who at the time was very closeted. Well, not very, it was a glass closet, but like, um, you know, it was such an incredible movie for me to see someone just battling with these desires and it was, it was an incredible experience.
Ashley: Ella was inspired to learn more about the intersection of monsters and desire, and so in the Fall of 2022, she developed the Monstrous Desire Study. She sought out participants from across the internet, including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook groups, Discord channels, and subreddits. In the end, she had gathered data from a whopping 2, 202 respondents. Not all of them dyed in the wool monster fuckers.
Ella Gallego: I wanted both people who self-describe as, or self-identify as monster fuckers. And so those are people who are very clearly, like, I love monsters. I think they’re very attractive, you know, I love ’em. And then I also wanted people to, quote-unquote normies, quote-unquote, where I wanted people who didn’t self-identify as monster fuckers, but who had had perhaps attraction to monsters in a casual sense.
Ella Gallego: So like, you know, I think a lot of people don’t realize that they have had attraction to monsters, and it’s hard not to with how popular say, vampires are in media or how popular, um, werewolves are in media.
Ashley: Case in point, the most popular monster crushes in Ella’s survey. One question asked if people could remember their first monster crush growing up.
Ella Gallego: the number one first crush that people could remember was Beast from Beauty and the Beast. That was mentioned at a minimum of 390 times. So people were like Beast. It was Beast number one. That is number one.
Ella Gallego: And so I think that’s very funny to me because like, well, I don’t personally find beast quote unquote attractive. I do think that the illustrators made him ugly as a human. It was like a setup where I’m like, well, obviously he looks like a freak as a human. What? Okay, well, I guess. Let’s just go back to what we know, obviously.
Ashley: I looked this up. There’s actually a moment in the DVD commentary for Beauty and the Beast where they admit that they didn’t spend much time on character design for Beast’s human form because they knew that people would feel a connection to the form he was in through most of the movie and feel kind of weird when he changed forms. So was it that people loved the beast or that they hated the human? Eh, a little of column A, a little of column B.
Ella Gallego: Number two I believe was Twilight, which makes sense, and that was referenced 180 times.
Ashley: Doesn’t matter if you’re Team Edward or Team Jacob, Ella threw you in the twilight bucket. Fight amongst yourselves.
Ella Gallego: And then the third most, which was really fascinating, was the show Gargoyles. And people loved Goliath and people loved Demona. So that was referenced a whopping 106 minimum times.
Ashley: Not to bring my straight husband into this again, but I knew he loved Gargoyles as a kid, so I asked him which character he had a crush on. The lady one, he said. I was like, Demona. Her name’s Demona. What was it about her? His response? She was the lady one. Fair enough.
Ella Gallego: So, what’s really interesting about this is that this media is not explicitly about like erotic monsters, but it is showing how people engage with media and find monsters erotic. So I think that a lot of my data is also kind of split, interestingly enough between people who engage in explicitly erotic monsters, and that type of media. And then people who made media into something that they could relate to with erotic monsters.
Ashley: Ella also found that identity plays a big role in attraction to monsters. For one thing, the response she got to her survey was overwhelmingly female and queer. 70 percent of the survey takers were women, and nearly 60 percent were LGBTQ. Ella says that’s probably a result of the places she went to find volunteers. Monsterfucking communities fall under these demographics, so it’s only natural that her survey would too. But like I mentioned earlier, women and queer people also have specific reasons to be into monsters.
Ella Gallego: I think that with monstrosity and its special relationship to identity and otherment, capital O, what it means to be ostracized or, you know, misunderstood, you know, you’re gonna have a lot of people who are marginalized really find sympathy with the monster and have that appeal.
Ella Gallego: You know, monstrosity and desire are neither a neutral thing. And so when you have people whose identities are made political by whatever context that they’re in, they’re going to have a draw to monstrosity. Especially when it comes to desire. And so I think that women, for example, are really drawn to monstrosity because I think that monstrosity for them at a lot of circumstances, subverts desirability, it subverts how women engage with desirability, especially since, you know, you can have a monster who treats you kindly, who is soft and loving and compassionate. And that in and of itself is a subversion of our, you know, our understanding of romance, especially for heterosexual women. Heterosexual women who, you know, deal with a lot of patriarchal violence.
Ella Gallego: And so monstrosity is in some term a way for them to turn away and to use fantasy to engage with desirability that is an inversion to that patriarchal norm that is expected within desirability.
Ashley: A monster doesn’t care if you’re wearing makeup, it doesn’t care if you can cook and clean, it doesn’t care if you’re ladylike. A monster is scary at first before you realize how gentle it really is, the precise opposite predicament so many women have found themselves in once they’re locked into a marriage with a charming psychopath.
Ashley: But what straight women find in monster romance is pretty far removed from the reason queer people flock to it.
Ella Gallego: identity really drives our, and shapes our understanding of desire, especially in relation to monstrosity. for example, you know, trans and genderqueer people who were really drawn to the monster and felt that like, you know, because we’ve been made to be the monster in society or because we’ve been ostracized, because we’ve been othered capital o, I can really relate to the monster.
Ella Gallego: I can love and, and understand and it’s something that, you know, is very kindred.
Ashley: In fact, some queer people resent the idea that cis, heterosexual women would claim monsters for themselves. A Tumblr post by a user named Largish Cat puts it plainly. Quote, I had to hear straight women talk for hours about how the appeal of monsters is some kind of weird, taming-the-beast fantasy.
Ashley: Loving a monster until it loves you back, sounding like every bad Beauty and the Beast take ever. And there’s my queer ass being like, literally, none of you get it. This isn’t about power, this is about love and alienation and acceptance.
Ashley: You dumbasses, I’m the monster. This isn’t a metaphor for your shitty boyfriend. This is a metaphor for my own alienation from a society that tells me the way I am and the way I love are grotesque. This is a fantasy of love free of judgment, separate from societal standards that I’ll never live up to anyway.
Ashley: That ghoul doesn’t care if I’m fat, they think it’s hot that I eat well. That immortal fey creature doesn’t care if the gender on my birth certificate matches the one I use now, they barely have a concept of gender in the first place. That tentacle monster doesn’t care if I shave, they don’t have eyes.
Ashley: Monsterfucking is queer culture. Everyone else, go home. End quote.
Ashley: So, people who love monsters often find them appealing because they’re outside of the society that oppresses them.
Ashley: But let’s be real. They’re also scary, in a hot kind of way.
Ashley: that is such a more romantic interpretation of it than what I was thinking, which is like, it’s just about domination. Is it just about domination? I guess not.
Ella Gallego: No, I mean to some, to some extent. So, you do have people who love like size difference and like, obviously you have power and strength involved. Um, and it can be dominance, it can be, but I think that, you know, there’s more to it than dominance.
Ella Gallego: Like I think fear plays a really big role. One of my favorite, the favorite piece of my study is looking at the fact that I believe it’s 70, it’s 75% of people
Ella Gallego: Were very likely and likely to be attracted to a monster that was a physical threat to them. So, you know, I, I like to call that being scroused, uh, which is, you know, being scared and aroused.
Ella Gallego: Um, I think that like the line between fear and arousal is very thin, very, very thin. And especially when you throw in taboo into the play, then we have something really interesting occurring. The term monstrum means that which reveals and that’s really fascinating because like eroticism itself is about our inner experiences reflecting and, and seeking out experiences through external subjects.
Ashley: To illustrate, Ella shared a quote from French philosopher Georges Bataille.
Ella Gallego: The inner experience of eroticism demands from the subject, a sensitivity to the anguish at the heart of the taboo, no less great than the desire which leads him to infringe it. This is religious sensibility and it always links desire closely with terror, intense pleasure, and anguish.
Ella Gallego: So there is very much a relationship between taboo and terror and desire and an understanding of our inner self. And I think monstrosity, especially as kind of this vacuum onto which culture can project its innermost fears and kind of desires and taboos, that’s always gonna play out. That’s always gonna play out.
Ashley: When we come back, why 15th century clergymen were obsessed with what the devil was packing, why vampire movies are so horny, and what is up with tentacle porn.
Ashley: So modern monster erotica has the internet to thank for its rise to glory.
Ashley: But attraction to monsters is much older than that. I mean, there are a ton of Greek myths about women marrying, or at least banging, animals and monsters. The story of Eros and Psyche is basically Beauty and the Beast but with Greek gods. And who could forget the Minotaur, who was conceived when a misbehaving king’s wife was cursed to fall in love with a bull, got an inventor to make her a bull costume, sowed her wild oats, and then gave birth to a half man, half bull creature.
Ashley: And fantasies about women and monsters getting down did not stop when Christianity hit the scene.
Ella Gallego: so I got most of my research from this book written by Walter Stevens, it’s called Demon Lovers, Witchcraft, Sex and the Crisis of Belief.
Ashley: For this book, Walter Stevens read through some of the most influential works on witchcraft from the 15th and 16th centuries, including the one and only Malleus Maleficarum, the Hammer of Witches, which you can hear more about in my Season 1 episode about penises. I’ll link to it in the show notes.
Ella Gallego: His whole theory was that the church was driven by a crisis of belief and needing to find actual, physical proof of corporeality
Ashley: Corporeality is the idea that God and other metaphysical beings have an actual physical form on Earth.
Ella Gallego: And they could do that through carnal desires. And they used, you know, sexism against women and them claiming to be harlots and over-sexualized and, and promiscuous.
Ella Gallego: They used that so that they could prove the existence of demons through demon copulation. But it wasn’t just women fascinatingly enough that were accused of witchcraft in relation to demon fornication. You also had men. So like in some countries, there’s some cases where a lot of men were more so accused of witchcraft than women for fornicating with those dang devils.
Ella Gallego: And then you also had tragically, uh, situations where children were also accused of witchcraft and fornication with, uh, demons and devils.
Ella Gallego: But I think what’s fun about this, not that, but uh, what’s fun about this is, is reading all of the stories that come forth. I think one of my favorite stories has to be about like, there was a hermit that lived in Italy and he lived on this lake and he was walking around the lake one day and he came across this beautiful, this stunning woman.
Ella Gallego: And naturally they started, uh, having sex, the beast with two backs, and, um, and you know, this guy just keeps, you know, orgasming. He keeps having sex. And so finally, the woman pulls off of him and, and they’re done. And she takes off her disguise and reveals, and she says, says a-haha! I’m, I’ve been the devil all along. You fool. And the guy dies, not just from shock, but because he came to death. Like he was so dehydrated. He was so dehydrated that he came to death. And, and so you had priests use the story and come to the exact spot where he came to death and was like, yeah, this happened here.
Ella Gallego: It’s true. You gotta believe me, bro. Like this happened and it’s so like, you can’t not like read that and just like, not guffaw, you know what I mean? Like, it’s such a, a silly, like in the moment, obviously horrible. They’re using this story to like hurt people, kill people, torture people to, for their own gain, for their own crisis of belief.
Ella Gallego: But then, you know, come on, he came to death. That’s meme-worthy.
Ashley: But as you might imagine, writing stories about how sex with the devil was good enough to make you die happy wasn’t exactly scaring people into submission. So the church tried a different tack.
Ella Gallego: so after 1520, you see, a resurgence of the witchcraft trials and, and witchcraft accusations, and you see that narrative of pleasurable sex kind of disappear. What you see now is it’s horrible. It’s terrifying. Nobody’s having fun except for the demons and devils. You were being punished. But that wasn’t, always the case.
Ella Gallego: And so, you know, it’s very fascinating because, you know, they talk at length about like the devil’s penis. They talk about like what it looked like and how sometimes he had two, maybe three so that he could stick them in all orifices. And they talk about how they would have orgies and it would just be just all the sex all the time. And, and these witches, you know, I bet you that they’re having the worst of times in these orgies. And so, you know, it’s, this is a lot of fun. I think that’s fun is that reading all of this stuff and, and seeing just how bizarre and at length they’ll go to, to stop their own crisis of belief.
Ella Gallego: They’ll make it everybody else’s problem. You know what I mean? They, and they did, they did.
Ashley: Fast forward a few centuries and you get the birth of Gothic literature. And the horniest of all the monsters, the vampire.
Ella Gallego: there’s something so romantic and, and inherently erotic to vampires, you know, the whole bite. You know, taking blood from the person who you’re feasting upon into yourself. There’s something very erotically charged about that.
Ashley: This erotic undertone was always there in vampire stories — Dracula, Carmilla, what have you — but it really ramped up when we started making movies about them.
Ella Gallego: Christopher Lee, for example, played Dracula. He was most notable for it, if we’re not thinking of Legosi, the, the OG. Christopher Lee was perhaps one of the most notable because women thought he was just, a hunk. They chose Christopher Lee explicitly because they were like, you know, women are gonna come in and they’re gonna wanna watch or fantasize about the hunk nibbling on their neck.
Ella Gallego: You also have the director when speaking to the actress playing Mina, he told her, explicitly, you know, when Christopher Lee bites your neck, I want you to pretend like you’re having an orgasm. And he explicitly told her, I want you to put that on your face. I want you to just give it your all. Like you’re having the best orgasm of your life.
Ella Gallego: And so you have these really fascinating undercurrents that have carried through for decades from Legosi, and you know that marketing was also there as well. From Legosi to Christopher Lee to Gary Oldman,
Ashley: Gary Oldman, of course, played Dracula in the 1992 version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Gary Oldman was 34, in his prime, playing opposite a 21-year-old Winona Ryder. So, you know, the film reels practically burst into flames.
Ella Gallego: It’s insanely horny.
Ella Gallego: It’s so horny, you know, there’s so many scenes, you know, you have that incredible scene where Dracula is transformed into a werewolf, I believe, and he’s having like, carnal desirous sex with, uh, Lucy and Mina comes across it being played by Winona Ryder. And she’s looking at it with just shock, but you also kind of see that, she’s like, there’s an allure to it. You know, she’s, there’s flushed cheeks and, you know, it’s incredible how they play it out.
Ella Gallego: So I think that monstrosity and vampires itself really played upon this inherent eroticism and this inherent romanticism that was, present within, you know, the Gothic genre. But really played upon by people like Christopher Lee who said that like, you know, Dracula’s a really romantic figure. You know, he doesn’t wanna live, but he, he has to keep on living and, you know, it’s really tragic. And so, we wouldn’t have our Interview with a Vampire or our Twilight if it wasn’t for influences like Dracula and how it was portrayed in media.
Ashley: Demons and vampires are one thing. They’re mostly human, with some extra parts. Attractive to people that would rate at a level 3 mild monster fucker, according to one of the many scales I found for this on Tumblr and TikTok.
Ashley: You don’t get to a level 7, yikes, until you start dealing with something like tentacle porn. Oh yeah. We’re going there.
Ashley: now it comes to the question that I’ve been like holding onto for this entire time, even though I wanted to ask you from the very first one, tell me about tentacle porn.
Ella Gallego: So tentacle porn is really fascinating. Japan’s history with tentacle, erotic tentacle art is long but not connected, which is very interesting.
Ashley: Very interesting.
Ashley: So let’s set the stage. It’s the 17th century, and Japan is emerging from centuries of civil wars and social upheavals into a peaceful phase known as the Edo period. People had more money and more leisure time, so arts and culture flourished. This is when an art form known as ukiyo-e got its start. These are woodblock prints and paintings, usually of beautiful women, nature scenes, and images from folklore. Then you had a subgenre of this art form called shunga that was a little racier.
Ella Gallego: it was very explicit of sex and it didn’t have to be about tentacles. More often than not it was people just having sex, just people, no animals. But then you started to see the emergence of tentacles and octopuses and, and very large tentacled creatures taking place within Shunga especially.
Ella Gallego: I think one of the most famous examples of this is Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife.
Ashley: You probably know this one. It depicts a naked woman lying on her back, her head arched back and her legs spread, with a giant squid just going to town on her. It was created by the Edo period artist, Hokusai. That’s the same guy who made The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, which is probably one of the most famous pieces of Japanese art ever.
Ashley: So why did this famous artist decide to make a left turn into tentacle porn? Well, there’s a really interesting backstory.
Ella Gallego: that came about because it was a parody of a Buddhist tale that had evolved throughout time. It was about a diver who had been sent to go retrieve a jewel from the bottom of the ocean, from the Dragon King. And she stole it, but she was caught and she was trying to run away from the Dragon King’s guards.
Ella Gallego: And so she drove her knife into her chest and, and hid the gem away inside of her. And then, when she was pulled up, she had successfully retrieved the jewel. And so within that story, one of the guards was often illustrated as an octopus. And so what you had was this very interesting parody evolved from that storyline and from those illustrations of the octopus guard catching this diver. And then in the end they start to have sex with one another.
Ella Gallego: And so you have this incredible tentacle art play out, and it influenced Japan greatly in terms of, in that moment, you know, you had a lot of people who started creating more artwork of the tentacles and, and the octopus and, and they, they are all, in essence referencing that tale.
Ashley: So there you have it, right? Buddhist tale about an octopus guard capturing a beautiful diver turns into a racy tale about interspecies sex, which turns into sexy drawings of wandering tentacles.
Ashley: And the rest is history. But no, that’s not quite it. Here’s the weirdest part of the whole story.
Ella Gallego: You would think that with how big that was, how big shunga played a role in Japan’s art history during the Edo period, you would think that that would carry over into the contemporary period from like the 19 hundreds and onward. And that’s just not the case.
Ashley: That’s because when the Edo period ended, the new government was a little squirrely about hanging onto power, so they started passing censorship laws to keep people from talking bad about them, among other things. The Publication Ordinance of 1869 banned pornography, and it continues to be illegal in Japan to this day.
Ashley: So artists who wanted to produce explicit images had to find a way to skirt the line without breaking the law. It turns out that tentacles are the perfect way to do that. You can use them to depict penetration without a penis. And an artist in the 1980s named Toshio Maeda was the greatest at this.
Ella Gallego: they call him the master of tentacles.
Ella Gallego: And there was an interview with him and, and someone asked, you know, did the Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife ever influence you? And he was like, I, no, I never saw it until I was much older. And, that never influenced me. In large part one, I was a child who would ever show a child sexually explicit stuff like that. Very fair. But I think the other part was he was saying that, you know, a lot of shunga didn’t start to reemerge within Japan, he was talking about until much later on because of censorship.
Ella Gallego: So, it’s really fascinating to me that Japan can have two tentacle art forms, erotic tentacle art forms that kind of occur within, uh, its art history separate from one another.
Ella Gallego: So very fascinating.
Ashley: That’s amazing. It reminds me of like how every, how animals keep turning into crabs. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that. It’s
Ashley: Yeah. Except it’s about tentacle
Ashley: porn is such a, such a good like evolutionary niche that people keep making it, uh, just independently.
Ella Gallego: And and
Ashley: This bears repeating. Tentacle porn, one of the weirdest expressions of human perversion — and I say that in the most loving way possible — it evolved not once, but twice in Japan. Independently. What are the freaking chances?
Ashley: what does our attraction to monsters just say about human desire in general?
Ella Gallego: I think that it says that humanity kind of likes to be uncomfortable, likes to question itself sometimes, because if eroticism and monstrosity is about to reveal oneself to reveal something about one’s innermost experience, and monstrosity means that we have to sit with being uncomfortable. Because, you know, if monstrosity is something that we project onto our anxieties, our fears, our taboos, our most secret desires, you know, sitting with that is uncomfortable, but it’s something that like, In the case of horror, you know, we always return to it.
Ella Gallego: We always come back to it. We love to be scared. We love to like, feel sick to our stomach. Well, some of us, some of us love to be sick to our stomach about, you know, situations. Um, you know, when we’re watching horror and I think that that discomfort is really fascinating, that we just can’t leave it alone.
Ella Gallego: It’s kind of like having a like sore tooth where your tongue just can’t help, but like, go back to it. And so there’s something really fascinating about that to me that like, despite how uncomfortable monstrosity can be, we’re constantly returning to it.
Ella Gallego: [ pause]
Ella Gallego: I mean, even say Twilight, you know, what we’re seeing is kind of the monster being defanged so that it can fit within our desirabilities and what makes us comfortable. But even that is interesting because it reveals our anxieties. I think that Twilight is a fascinating monster that reveals so much of Stephanie Meyer’s anxiety surrounding heteropatriarchy, and the fact that she feels that it’s threatened and needs to be reinforced through monstrosity.
Ella Gallego: And so it’s so fascinating because you know, Edward is hardly ever called a monster, hardly ever. When it comes to sexuality and, and heterosexuality, you can see so much of Stephanie Meyer’s anxieties play out in monstrosity and kind of what it feels like for her need to reinforce those structures, even though they’re already very fully in place. Um, but it’s, you know, it’s the idea of waiting till marriage and not having sex and squashing your desires, always squashing your desires. And I think that she bastardizes the, the monster, she bastardizes the monster and the vampire itself because , if we’re looking at the gothic genre and what it means to subvert, you know, the monster is supposed to subvert.
Ella Gallego: It’s supposed to be a threat. And if your monster isn’t doing that well, I think you’ve defanged it. I think you’ve misunderstood the point, and or you have understood the point and you’ve created it to fit your own gain.
Ella Gallego: And so I think that monstrosity is always political. It is inherently political. It will never be neutral and no matter what way, whether a monster is portrayed as, you know, if, if it’s written well or not well, it’s always saying something. It’s always saying something about culture at large or anxieties and there’s always something to read into it.
Ashley: Thanks for listening. Huge, huge thanks to Ella Gallego for talking to me. This was her first-ever podcast interview. She killed it. And I’m sure you could tell what a great time I had talking to her.
Ashley: There is so much more to learn from her study, and you can see it all by going to MonstrousDesireStudy.com. She also has a fantastic TikTok, that is at MonstrousDesire. And if that wasn’t enough, she has just started the Monstrous Desire Study podcast, which you can find on your favorite podcast app, or just by following the link in the show notes.
Ashley: Taboo Science is written and produced by me, Ashley Hamer. The theme song is by Danny Lopatka of DLC Music. Episode music is by Epidemic Sound. I’ve got an affiliate link for that in the show notes if you want to try it out for your own stuff.
Ashley: So, hey! This is the final new episode of Season 3. We made it! I’ve got a morbid rerun planned for you to close out the Halloween season, but after that, I’m gonna take a few months to plan Season 4, which will be all about philias, also known as fetishes. Why do some people like feet? Why do some people like pain? Why do some people want their entire bodies to be swallowed whole? I’m super excited for it, and if you have questions you want me to answer, hit me up at ashley at tabooscience. show. I’ll also be sharing behind-the-scenes developments and sneak peeks from my interviews in the newsletter, so sign up if you haven’t. It’s right on the homepage at tabooscience. show.
Ashley: I really hope you tune in next season. I won’t tell anyone.