The Babadook Comes Home, or, A Defense for the Babadook as a Legit Queer Icon
The Babadook accidentally attained status as an honorary LGBT+ icon earlier this month with Netflix’s mistaken inclusion of the horror film in it’s list of recommendations for pride month. Since then, the queer community has taken no pause in integrating the Babadook into queer iconography. Babadook cosplays have shown up at pride parades, on picket signs, and countless memes—even a totally-not-photoshopped pic of the Babadook at the Stonewall protests. While the ebb and flow of internet memes may have celebrated the Babadook’s outing, it’s place as a queer icon has deeper roots.
The Babadook’s status as an LGBT+ icon isn’t just the product of a random Netflix mixup. The Babadook, like countless monsters before it, represents the queer community through a mix of reactionary anxieties and queer experience. As Benshoff writes in his 1996 dissertation Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror film, later published as a book with the same name, “The (homo)sexual implications of the monster movie still continue to lurk just barely beneath the surface of social awareness” (209). Ever since the lord of Gothic vampires swopped fluids with Johnathan Harker the monstrous and the queer have never been far apart. The Babadook may be intended to metaphorically represent Amelia Vanek’s (Essie Davis) depression and struggles as a single mother, but on another level it is an entry in the history of queered monsters.
The Babadook is monstrous, lurking in our homes, corrupting traditional, even if “broken,” family units, seeking to “convert” the innocent via it’s gay—I mean—Babadook agenda. This monstrous representation looks like conservative depictions of the LGBT+ community. Commenting on how anti-queer groups see LGBT+ individuals, Benshoff writes: “They are monsters, or devils” (259) and that one can easily “Substitute the word homosexual for vampire” (221) in anti-queer rhetoric. Beyond their rhetoric, the optics of anti-queer movements also merge in with the anti-monstrous visuals of Horror films. Benshoff writes that it has become the “purview of the religious right and their supporters, many of whom pursue the subject with a moral fervor that defies both science and logic” (218). The echoes of the torch wielding mob at Frankensteins castle should not go unnoticed.
This visual overlap between the anti-monstrous Horror and the anti-queer is striking. Benshoff’s dissertation goes on to examine the “ iconographic and rhetorical elements from the horror film” used in anti-queer propaganda. Similar to Horror’s fetishized gaze on the loudest monsters it can conjure, “the media’s coverage of gay pride events always seemed to showcase their most flamboyant participants” (Benshoff 216). The coverage of pride parades and events uniformly drifts away from the mundanity of the average queer life and towards the gore-free cenobites and celebrant kinks. It’s the same fetishized gaze of the anti-monstrous peering into the world of the monstrous spectacle. The Babadook exists within this context and this context is the very reason that Horror monsters, Babadook included, gravitate within queer circles. The Babadook is queered by it’s visuals, communications, and the actions of the characters around it.
The persistent symbology of the Babadook “knocking” and entering/exiting doorways echoes the “coming out of the closet” idiom and the queer community’s struggle to regain entrance to social systems. The Babadook also presents itself as having a hidden, esoteric identity. Saying that “If you’re a really clever one / And you know what it is to see” implies, much like for members of the queer community, the Babadook’s true nature is “closeted” barring a select few “clever one’s.” Indeed, many of the Babadook’s monstrous lines mirror the queer community: “You can’t get rid of the Babadook” resonates with Queer Nation’s slogan: “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it!” and “The more you deny, the stronger I get” speaks to the inner struggles of queer individuals before, and as, they come out.
The terror of the Babadook is the terror the cultural hegemony has of queer communities “coming out.” The queer community is often accused of “forcing” our lifestyle, politics, sexuality onto the god-fearing masses and in this too does one find community with tall, dark, and Babadook. The visual aesthetic of the Babadook, just like the monstrous at large, is layered with anti-queer rhetorical flavor. Not to say that the Babadook is anti-queer, but to say that the anti-queer uses the anti-monstrous horrific as a playbook. Mr. Babadook constantly demands to be let in and violently forces itself into the lives of everyday people. Viewed from the position of the anti-monstrous/anti-queer, the Babadook only differs from the queer with its bold and in-your-face style—I mean—visible inhumanity. It is only natural that a people viewed as inhuman claim the inhuman as their own.
On the surface, to identify with the monstrous appears counter productive, but the monstrous “might be understood by some queer people as a position of sociocultural/textual power” (Benshoff 259). The aggressive, assertive, and powerful way the Babadook seeks to make itself known, no matter how horrifying, resonates with a silenced community. As Bonshoff plainly writes “some lesbians might find pleasure in the image of a lesbian vampire avenging herself upon straight society, so might some spectators rally around the queer psycho-killer” (211). A community of forced outcasts may likewise find solidarity in a monstrous misfit. As a 90’s queer with an uncanny ability to predict 2014’s Horror sensations might have said: “We’re here. We’re Babadook. Get used to it.”
Benshoff, Harry Morgan. Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film. 1996. University of Southern California.