In the context of stories such as Othello and more modern tales, such as the second Futurama movie, The Beast with a Billion Backs, the topic of monstrosity is often brought into the fold. Someone or something is called a monster for one reason or another. But regardless of the characters and their actions, the monster that rears its ugly head is human nature. Throughout the plots of these two stories people, robots and “monsters” commit cruel or repulsive acts that would be looked down upon no matter what the context. They lie, steal, cheat and kill to achieve their own ends. The themes of these vices carry through every story we read, and persist into our own modern ideas. The pitfalls of human nature are what spurn people, real or fictional, into action.
In Othello, an act of deceit is what starts the plot moving. Iago and Roderigo conspire against Othello so that they may profit in their own ways. People learn at a very young age that they can avoid negative consequences for wrong actions or personally gain something by lying, and the habit never leaves them. Iago convinces Roderigo to turn Brabantio against Othello while making Othello think that Iago is on his side. From here Iago’s count of lies grows throughout the entire story. Similarly, Bender, the alcoholic robot from Futurama, is a walking arsenal of lies, which he uses to become a member of a human-hating society. His position is a farce, because deep down he does not hate humans, a fact that he hides from himself as well as others. He goes on to cheat at a duel later in the movie. “I am not what I am.” (Othello, I, i) In addition to Bender, the protagonist Fry is also guilty of deceiving those important to him. While living in a parallel universe with his newfound love Yivo, he promises to never communicate with another universe again. Yet shortly after this he writes a letter that he sends to Bender back on Earth, which ultimately leads to Yivo’s heartbreak. Acts such as these are called monstrous or cruel, and while harmful, are merely products of the wretched qualities that no one is free from possessing.
Lust is perhaps the one vice that everyone is familiar with, in real life and in these stories. It is because of the gruesome things lust can make a person do that there are so many social taboos concerning sex. Yet in spite of this the magnitude of some people’s sexual desires will compel them to “[make] the beast with two backs.” (Othello, I, i). Yivo, the multi-tentacled “monster” from a parallel universe, invades every planet and attaches a tentacle to each person’s neck, seemingly controlling their minds. In fact, this genderless creature is mating with everyone. “The monster [octopus] is a monster perv!” (Futurama). Prior to this Fry had hooked up with a girl named Colleen, in spite of the fact that he’d felt unrequited love for another protagonist, Leela, for the past eight years. A perceived end of the world will make a person show their true colors. Also in Futurama, the pompous and horny Zapp Brannigan takes advantage of the widowed Amy Wong’s grief and sleeps with her. In Othello, Cassio has an affair with a local prostitute named Bianca, and Roderigo tries to make Othello’s relationship with Desdemona look like a false relationship built on lies and lust. Throughout history nothing has stopped the human race from having as much sex as it can, and few good things have come of this.
Envy and suspicion are inherent qualities of people. They can never help but be suspicious of each other, especially when something or someone is very important to them. When Cassio makes Desdemona his confidant in an attempt to get his job back, Iago deceives Othello into believing that they are having an affair. He goes to further lengths to fuel Othello’s mistrustful fire. Othello becomes twisted and hurt by his own jealousy over his true love, until the jealousy itself acts out of his control. “It is the green-ey’d monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” (Othello, III, iii) Fry suffers from jealousy in very much the same way, when he learns that Colleen is a polygamist, and lives with four other boyfriends. This is somewhat synonymous with Yivo’s being in love with everyone in the universe, and having sex with all of them. This in turn ignites feelings of jealousy in Bender, who feels rejected when his best friend Fry spends more time with his love interests than with him. He eventually contrives to break up the universe’s relationship with Yivo, and after succeeding says: “Love is suspicious; love is needy; love is fearful; love is greedy. My friends, there is no great love without great jealousy!” (Futurama)
When it comes to monstrous acts, there is none worse than killing. There is something in human beings that causes them to derive pleasure from vanquishing an enemy. Freud called a killing instinct. As Zapp Brannigan so accurately puts it, “Ever since man first left his cave and met a man with a different language and a new way of looking at things, the human race has had a dream: to kill him, so we don’t have to learn his language or his new way of looking at things!” (Futurama) Later on in the movie we see how easy it is for Leela to kill. When sneaking something into a prison, the guard “[comes] down with a sudden case of broken neck.” (Futurama) Though it is not as easy for him, Othello commits murder as well as suicide. Fueled by hatred at Desdemona for supposedly cheating on him, he smothers her in her sleep. For Iago, however, killing is as simple as blinking. Any potential witnesses against him are dropped like bricks. Though killing hurts many, even the killers, it is as easy as any other sin a person could commit.
To be a monster is to be the voice and hands of one’s own inner demons. Everyone in this universe, and in any other universe, is inherently evil, and the acts of man, both real and fictitious, give evidence. In Othello people feel unfathomable hatred and despair towards each other and commit horrible acts because of it. Perceiving someone as an enemy or a threat will trigger any number of outcomes. Desdemona, Othello, Iago, Roderigo and Cassio all die because they were too weak to overcome their impulses. Fry, Leela, Bender and all their friends committed acts that were just as impulsive and damaging, and even though these acts were made light in a comedic film, they remain just as bad. As Yivo said at the very end of The Beast with a Billion Backs, “The nature of your universe is burning me. Even worse than my gonorrhea.” (Futurama) The true problem is that the people who commit selfish acts are as much victims of those acts as the people they hurt. It is their own nature that hurts them. From 17th century plays to 21st century films about 31st century characters, the undeniable cruelty of humanity works its way into every affair, and because it is so persistent and so eternal, one must wonder if there is any hope for humanity at all.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Simon & Shuster Paperbacks, 1993.
Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs. Prod. Lee Supercinski and Claudia Katz. Dir. Peter Avanzino. Perf. Billy West, Katey Sagal & John DiMaggio. DVD. Dist. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. 2008.