Monster of the Week: The Shunters of 'Society'

Monster of the Week: The Shunters of 'Society'
The joy of Shunt... Wild Street Pictures

High Society isn't just another world. It's another species entirely.

Yes, as explored in Brain Yuzna's 1989 documentary, things are not what they seem in the ivory towers of suburban America. Our social betters are actually a very ancient species of flesh-crafting, shape-shifting organisms.

(By Screaming Mad George)

Their fleshly powers grant these sadistic one-percenters a host of horrifying abilities, most notably the Shunt: an orgiastic ritual in which they strip down and meld their flesh with a human victim -- as well as each other. With sadistic glee, these socialites quickly reduce their meal to a writhing mass and absorb all the precious nutrients.

Do these county club skin dancers even have a true form? The sculpture to our right, crafted by the great Screaming Mad George, suggests they might not.

As otherworldly as they seem, the Shunters are seemingly terrestrial -- and not without their natural world counterparts...

Plasticity of the Flesh

Human flesh is more mailable than you might think.

The Italian Method

Cut yourself and the wound will heal. Press two cuts against each other long enough and the wounds will grow together. That, after all, is the basic principle behind a skin graft.

It's an old technique. The Indian surgeon Sushrutha performed the first rhinoplasty back in the 5th century C.E.

Also known as a nose job, the procedure saw a strip of skin peeled down from the forehead and over the damaged nose. A "pedicle" of flesh keeps the graft anchored to the forehead, at least until the graft takes hold. Finally, the pedicle is removed.

The 16th century Italian Method used the same logic, walking skin away from the forearm -- temporarily sewing the patient's face to their arm in the process.

For a drastic demonstration of how effective these reconstructive techniques can be, scroll through these photos of a 1920s facial reconstruction process. If you're reading this article, I assume you can handle it.

At any rate, the point is that we call it all "plastic surgery" because our flesh benefits from an innate plasticity. Keep that in mind when studying the Shunters.

Science of the Shunt

We could really dive down the rabbit hole discussing plastic surgery and tissue transplants, but it wouldn't really do us much good when it comes to understanding the Shunt. After all, these upper-crust flesh fiends don't merely toy with their own flesh, they merge with the bodies of others.

See the males?
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There's nothing in the natural world that matches their stomach-churning abilities, but the Shunters do share some interesting characteristics with our oceans' anglerfish.

These fascinating Lophiiformes exhibit a remarkable gender divide. Quite distinct from the bulky, lantern-lit female anglerfish, the male is essentially a tiny heat-seeking sexual missile. Equipped with gigantic nostrils, the male swims his entire mobile life in search of a mate. If he's lucky enough to find one -- and most are not -- he bites onto her abdomen and hangs on.

And that's where it gets all Shunty.

As explained in this excellent Mental Floss article, the two angler fish fuse. Their flesh grows together. Their blood vessels connect and the male becomes a mere part of the female's body, sustained by her systems. His eyes, fins and some internal organs all atrophy away leaving him a flap of skin -- a mere mindless thing -- on the female.

This way, the male and his reproductive systems are always there when she needs them -- a necessary adaptation in the dark, lonely world of the deep ocean.

Evolution of the Shunt

Did the Shunters's bizzare flesh-melding abilities originate as a mating adaptation? The upper crust amounts for such a small percentage of society, making their breeding game as lonely as that of our poor anglerfish.

Just look at the genealogy of your average European royal if you don't believe me. In fact, according to a controversial 2013 study published in the journal Heredity, members of the Spanish Habsburg family may have actually evolved to mute the effects of their frequent inbreeding.

In the natural world, mating adaptations sometimes evolve into something else. We see this in the unnatural world too. We also see things like this:

The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is... weird.
Wild Street Pictures

The Shunters have largely kept to the shadows of their penthouses and spas in recent years, but they still pop up from time to time. In 2010, British rockers Klaxons outed themselves as Shunters in their totally NSFW music video for "Twin Flames," directed by Saam Farahmand. Look it up. I can't link to it here.

Monster of the Week is a - you guessed it - regular look at the denizens is of our monster-haunted world. Sometimes we'll focus on the cultural aspects, but mostly we'll look at the possible science behind a creature of myth, movie or legend. Be sure to explore the Monster Gallery as well as the Monster Science video series.