Are you bored? Need a break from ads on Insta and diatribes on Facebook? Rant! can help you out. Take the blah out of life with essential exposés on #coolshit and a bunch of pop psychology nonsense that will inject AWESOME right back into your soggy, social-addled brain. Life’s short. Be happy. Read these babies (first appearing on Pop-culture blog Rant!, which had its heyday in 2016; these days, Andrea’s headspace is full of something new—check out Ourfiresidestories.com!)
Why Shakespeare would like Fleabag
October 9, 2019
“These violent delights have violent ends/ And in their triump die, like fire and powder/ Which, as they kiss, consume” – William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
It’s rude, crude, violent (to head, heart and limb) and tragically romantic – Shakespeare would lurv it…and love it, frivolously, earnestly and always truthfully. Fleabag. Season two especially; there is SO much Romeo and Juliet in there – the star-cross’d lovers whose misadventure piteous overthrows.
It takes only first sight and the fuel of a family feud to incite calamity. (That dinner…yes, that dinner (“Get your hands off my miscarriage – it’s mine!” Pardon the digression…but that dinner!).
Imagine the Globe theatre 1610, three years before it was destroyed by a fire and then rebuilt, and then closed (along with other London theatres) in 1642 as a representative of “lascivious Mirth and Levity” – how apt.
Imagine Fleabag (played by a man, of course); she/he enters the stage and contemplates the merits of anal sex and stealing art from one’s almost mother-in-law. The plebs in the yard hurl astute boos and putrid fruit at Fleabag and her/his vulgar immorality whilst the richies in the seats feign intolerance with stifled giggles and horrified expressions.
And then Fleabag meets a hot priest, falls in love and tragedy renders empathy, tears replacing taunts.
That’s Shakespeare. Unsubtle irony.
We’ve got a family feud and love at first sight. Check.
Sex. Yes but only once (with the priest). Check.
A pure virgin – uh no (understatement)…unless we count the hot priest as sort of virginal. Check (kind of).
Suicide. Perhaps metaphoric? Whilst Fleabag and the hot priest perform hara-kiri on their love (which, like Romeo and Juliet’s is only a few days old, yet, strangely believable) there is hope in the tragedy; the hot priest affirms his true love (God) and Fleabag finds, well, herself but perhaps most essentially, hope and thus life. It’s as if the stars of the lovers crossed to the purpose of betterment.
Sadly, in Shakespeare’s love story, it took the end of life to initiate the end of a destructive family feud. The Montagues and Capulets hating on one another with reckless disregard. A stark reminder that people are pretty lame…and selfish and weird, pondered by Shakespeare in a tale of powerful woe and whimsy and by Phoebe Waller-Bridge with self-reflexive, grief-stricken, slightly sadistic rhetoric. But, in spite of all our brokenness, we’re also good at love, when we’re not being Fleabags:
“Love is awful. It’s painful. Frightening. It makes you doubt yourself, judge yourself, distance yourself from the other people in your life. Makes you selfish, makes you creepy, makes you obsessed with your hair. It takes strength to know what’s right. And love isn’t something that weak people do. Being a romantic takes a hell of a lot of hope.” – The Hot Priest, Fleabag
If that’s not Shakespearean then FUCK YOU “weakie” – in the words of Fleabag (the non-reformed version if there is such a thing).
The Scream – an ode to life
September 12, 2019
Visceral. Contorted. A face echoing a soul in torment. When Edvard Munch painted The Scream was his mind submerged in the existential abyss pondered by Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher he admired so much – whose portrait he painted posthumously and whose words inflicted the pages of books perforating shelves in his home; words fighting to re-centre the universe around the human will?
How excruciating it must be to grapple with an ethic of nothingness – where existence is strangled by futile attempts to impose meaning onto life. Where the highest ordination of being is mankind. Where the individual – flawed, fickle, fallible – is his own God and the only thing to do is live in the moment, for the moment and in search of the next moment.
And when the moment is gone…blackness extends its carnivorous claws, clutching at remnants of life that slowly bleed into nothingness. Does not every fibre of life recoil against this prophecy of doom?
“One evening I was walking along a path; the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord — the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The colour shrieked. This became The Scream.” – Edvard Munch
A colour so magnificent, so provocative, that nature cries out in retaliation to its very existence and in so doing magnifies its presence, as the setting sun bleeds red into the world over which it presides – a sacrament to being. A Promise. A covenant. An ode to life.
An expressionist artist, Munch would converge what his eye beheld in this moment with his own heart, soul and mind (the institutionalisation of his sister, his existential anguish, the exhaustion that comes with years of turmoil and anxiety wrought by living), expelling all the torment and turbulence of being, his innermost dreams and desires, with brush and paint. His voice is haunting, torturous – a scream against that which he perceives to be true but against which is soul recoils.
Perhaps falling into nothingness is easier for some; absolution from the murder of that which must prevail above all else – life. But it shouldn’t be easy; no thing that is unnatural is.
Munch’s The Scream has become an icon of pain, infiltrating popular culture with symbolic extravagance. It’s been adapted and parodied and perhaps diminished by memes, emojis and other reductive forms of expression. But there is great compliment in this form of reinvention – that one image could so beautifully and tragically embody that essence of human pain, boring us hollow, as ghosts, vapours…
…unless we fight, scream, against that which our soul knows to be untrue.
The Handmaid’s Tale exposes June as monster
August 2, 2019
She looks at him, her white bonnet stark against the red of her her dress and the gloom that suffocates the room. She avoids the scorn in his eyes, persisting with the assumption of his guilt and remorse. But she is wrong. His condescension cuts through the overbearing intimacy of the moment:
“I helped Emily because she is unnaturally smart and could be useful to the world one day. If you were smart you would have gotten on that truck.”
She is not smart. She stayed behind for her daughter – to try and be her mother. Only, her daughter already has a mother, he reminds her:
“You met Mrs McKenzie. She’s a lovely woman. She never stole anybody’s husband. Do you know that she organised a thousand food baskets for orphans in Africa back when there were orphans. What did you ever do to help anyone? Except edit esoteric, useless books that no one was ever going to read instead of pick up your sick daughter from school.”
“Useless,” he mutters, as he turns his back on her.
After wreaking havoc with the Waterfords in the Seasons 1 & 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale, Season 3 sees June Osborne enslaved to Commander Joseph Lawrence, making her Ofjoseph. He’s the man who helped Emily escape with June’s baby, and also the man who allows an underground resistance to operate from his home. Sounds like June’s landed peachy. Ha. Commander Lawrence is also an architect of Gilead.
He’s a genius, a philosopher, a humanitarian, all juxtaposed with a righteous indignation that, for a moment, forces June’s indomitable spirit into an abyss. He taps into the fear that she is nothing, useless, temporary. Expendable. Boring. It’s an anxiety born from a culture of excess; a world that lauds intellectualism and adjudicates success by money. Lauded. Adjudicated. Gilead is different but old fears die hard. Commander Lawrence revives an existential angst that is rooted in meaning – worth and identity. It’s brutal and also entirely real.
June is no giant intellect (Lawrence’s words) and, clearly, she’s a shitty mother (putting her inconsequential job above the well-being of her daughter) as well as a shitty human being (stealing another woman’s husband). So inept a human being is June that it’s here that one of Margaret Atwood’s most chilling comments enters into the show; when Lawrence – says:
“How tempting it is to invent a humanity for anyone at all.”
Stop. The. Clock.
It’s a total twist.
Atwood’s original line in her novel (also The Handmaid’s Tale), is said by June (Offred) in reference to Commander Waterford, who she knows is a monster (he’s one of Gilead’s chief enforcers) but has also been kind and gentle to her (in a weird, Stokholm Syndrome kind of interpretation)…it’s an oxymoron that tempts June to impose kindheartedness and compassion onto someone who is a proponent of torture and tyranny. But she catches herself and we breathe a collective sigh of relief on her behalf.
In a fierce move, June’s observation is thrust back at her in Bruce Miller’s TV adaptation whereby Lawrence implies that June is the monster. Here the commander breathes a sigh of relief for almost inventing humanity for his Handmaid (the horror). Just…how? Like, is he even in the same town? It’s sickening. But also quite brilliant – that Commander Lawrence finds June inhumane. Lawrence delivers the line in reaction to June’s fury at the atrocities wrought in the name of Gilead and all that it stands for – but he speaks with a distant calm, almost not directed at June personally because, really, she is merely a symptom of a people, a world, corrupted by mediocrity.
It’s such an intensely brilliant dialogue because not only does it tap into June’s (and society’s) fear of worthlessness but also raises the idea of relativism – a topic in vogue, emanating from a century in which excess has made truth (largely) indiscernible. Commander Lawrence feels justified in his totalitarianism of Gilead; the murder and human rights abuses and that pervade Atwood’s dystopian world. A means to an end and all that. He tells June:
“I think I care more about your daughter than you do. I am saving the planet for her. I am replenishing the human race for her. What are you doing?”
(Well actually, Commander Lawrence, June is currently facilitating resistant action that will lead to the freedom and preservation of many women and children (including her own baby) trapped in Gilead. Hashtag FYI.)
Lawrence does acknowledge that June is good at making friends, good at influencing people and good at intimacy and yet these character attributes are not good enough to redeem her implied apathy. He condemns her for her choices; her very human choices – in Gilead, June’s only redeeming factor is that she is fertile. For which she is rewarded with the privilege of rape. But at least she’s not sent to the colonies, along with all the other disobedient, pointless women in the world.
Has the Commander forgotten that he, too, is human…something that might taint the purity of his ideology? Is he blameless? Or could Lawrence, with the vehement implementation of an autocratic regime, be overcompensating for some or other identity crisis of his own? Who is he to judge? Why does his moral code supersede that of anyone else?
And it’s right about now that a juggernaut of philosophical thinking propels its way in; what is morality and is it absolute? If we apply Handmaid’s Tale to this behemoth of a question, the outcome of relative morality is nasty – it’s Gilead. And Gilead sucks. Do we then deduce that absolutism is the antidote to Gilead; that truth, in the essence of its nature, is the key to the persistence of humanity, according the essence of its nature?
None of it matters anyway. Commander Lawrence is a man.
Clowns trump Trump in American Horror Story
October 11, 2017
Clowns, right? Tormenting towns with grins, games and exuberant exertions of fun and frolic; what was Joseph Grimaldi thinking back in eighteen-hundred-and-something, with that white face and all that slapstick? His persona was doomed from the start. For one, the world has always had something against gingers, and then there’s that whole cavort-around-like-a-crazy-person-wearing-a-supersize-grin-and-a-small-planet-for-a-nose thing. It’s weird. Even so, it’s not entirely Grimaldi’s misguided shenanigans that set the world askew. We’ve got to give credit where credit is due; a large chunk of the blame is usurped by nefarious serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who married ‘killer’ and ‘clown’ in a terrifying ceremony officiated by murder and signed by death, destroying the credibility of all innocent by-standing jokesters in the process.
Gacy’s Pogo, the (killer) Clown, paved the way for Pennywise (It), Jigsaw (Saw), Dandy and Twisty (AHS Carnival) and even the likes of Shaun “Clown” Crahan, crazed percussionist from metal band Slipknot. With these smiling sinners prowling the tunnels of popular culture’s labyrinthine mind, it’s no surprise that Coulrophobia, or fear of clowns, is not something relegated to the pages of a really lame joke book.
In real life, Pogo was not Gacy’s murder-persona (he raised funds for charity as an extracurricular to murder) but American Horror Story: Hotel embellishes the fable of Gacy as clownish killer when, on “Devil’s Night,” he dons the war paint that emanates from the chaos of his person (aka his clown face) and, along with his pals, partakes of pudding – dessert à la serial killer. Forget the piquant of a glorious croque-en-bouche or perfect panna cotta, there’s Stab Fest on the menu this night; murder to the soundtrack of hysterical laughter, as Gacy and the gang (Aileen Wuornos, Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard Ramirez and the Zodiac Killer) chortle and whoop while they make massacre. It’s the sound of psychopaths – freaks, as an antiquated, less politically correct society might say – bunched in a lump of lunacy.
A couple of years ago the BBC reported on a study by the University of Sheffield, which revealed that clowns are universally disliked by children (aged 4 to 16), many of whom find them frightening and unknowable. Stephen King said, “When you put on a clown suit and a rubber nose, nobody has any idea what you look like inside.” Much lurks behind the veneer of a smile – not always something sinister but then again; quite possibly something sinister. Who knows? And that’s it, isn’t it – the inscrutability of the mask and intrinsic unpredictability that emanates there from.
In addition to providing easy satire – with their orange hair, bulbous noses and hysterical laughter, making a mockery of society’s aptitude for façade – clowns are erratic and ambiguous, with killer clowns taking the frenzy to new heights. It’s not difficult to place these painted harbingers of death within the context of chaos – the ironic juxtaposition of fun and felony is illogical; disorganized in its application. Killer clowns lack cohesion; human faces, masked by the fraud of paint and plastic, hide intent – juggling balls one minute and slashing throats the next. Sound familiar? It’s exactly what Twisty the clown did in American Horror Story: Freak Show. So did Dandy, Twisty’s successor. OK, he didn’t juggle…but he did befriend a guy in a bar only to lure him away so he could butcher him to a bloody pulp whilst wearing Twisty’s mask.
Of course, not every clown is a Gacy but Horror banged a very firm nail into the coffin of that probability when it puked evil and retched exaggeration all over the proverbial bozo and his satirical smile, turning trope into terror.
Dandy, Twisty and John Wayne Gacy. These guys are scary because they’re killers – it’s pretty obvious, but the killing takes a backseat to the chaos, which is what really strikes fear and threatens sanity. Killing – death; is not an unfamiliar part of life but chaos, as an accompaniment to killing, imposes uncertainty and denotes lack of control – and in a world that lusts for explanation and certitude, the haphazardness of the jolly, masked entertainer at kids’ birthday parties (already bastardized by horror) is made of the stuff that skulks in the shadows, waiting to creep into our nightmares and send us shrieking down passageways or cowering under tables.
So it makes total sense that in a world ‘gone wrong’ Allyson “Ally” Mayfair-Richards from American Horror Story: Cult is stalked by a posse of killer clowns. The latest blood-curdling offering by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk takes place in the aftermath of Trump’s 2016 election win, which serves as catalyst for phobic irrationality. America’s new president brings out the crazy; inspiring Ally’s pre-existing Coulrophobia to new heights (turning her son into a Coulrophobic, too) and giving cult leader Kai Anderson a platform to woo would-be minions into submission. Focused on using fear to release chaos in order to achieve change (or control – it’s perspective dependent), Kai collects a gang of politically incensed individuals intent on seeing society pay for its misdeeds – whether it’s voting Trump or not voting Trump…or any other form of ethical disobedience as seen from the eye of the beholder.
True to form, Horror appropriates ‘killer clown’ in an almighty extravaganza of barbaric bloodlust, splattering hate and rage all over Michigan’s finest (and not so finest) citizens. Twisty would be proud. In fact, the memory of dear Twisty is invoked from the very beginning; in the mind of Ozymandias “Oz” Mayfair-Richards, who spends many a night reading comic “Twisty the Clown” with a torch under the cover of blanket. Yet Cult abandons the supernatural as a means of petrifying its audience and focuses on a psychological type of horror.
Clowns are scary but people are scarier; because they’re real. Cult’s clowns are flesh and blood: masked maniacs motivated by malevolence. Proponents of chaos. The clown façade donned by Kai’s cult is hideous – reflecting a hideous agenda that’s not entirely far-fetched. Murphy and Falchuck have done a clever thing – merging the metaphysical and the material. It takes a good few episodes for the clowns taking over Ally’s mind to emerge from the subconscious into the conscious realm – as the audience (along with Ally) discovers they’re real…as in; not something that can be medicated away with drugs or therapy. They’re Kai’s crew. And they’re hellish. But there’s a greater point than the labyrinthine extremity of Ally Mayfair-Richards’ mind; what if ‘the mask’ is a fake-haired, fake-tanned face with a scowly-smile, rocking the ruling seat of one of the world’s most powerful nations? It’s an obvious political comment. The metaphor of clown is brutally, insanely, fantastically relevant. And it’s Horror that’s brought the word to the people. Naturally.
Bloodline: it’s gone but it was good!
July 24, 2017
Mothers. Don’t mess with ‘em. They protect by essence…and will come to the party; nukes, knives and nunchuks blazing, thrashing and swinging. Sally Rayburn in particular – the weapons might be metaphoric in the case of this apparently mild-mannered mother but do not be deceived; she’ll manipulate her enemies into submission with ferocious tenacity. Even if her children are killers – brutal, bald-faced prevaricators. Blood is potent stuff; its flow transcending the conventions imposed by reason and morality – as explored in Bloodline; Netflix’s excruciating, now-ended, three-season drama series.
Bloodline is a show about family; about the abuse of power and the fragility of love but it is also a show about decisions. Mostly bad decisions. Like; what happens if, say, you kill your brother, frame a drug dealer and involve your neurotic, substance-abusing siblings in a grand cover-up? And then your mom finds out. Nothing good – that’s for sure.
Harbinger of chaos, oldest brother Danny Rayburn comes back to town and upends the family mojo – it’s nothing new except this time he ends up dead; murdered by brother John (Kyle Chandler at his best). And it’s no surprise, really; Danny is slightly psycho. His passive-aggressive mode of menace is not only intimidating but horrifying; hair-raising. Viewers are putty in the hands of Ben Mendelsohn, whose sentient portrayal of crazy, conniving Danny makes an accomplice out of us as we champion his death; breathing a tangible sigh of relief when dear Dan is departed. But the respite is short-lived. The aftermath of Danny’s death turns Bloodline into a pull-your-hair-out-smash-the-screen-white-knuckle type of ride! No joke. It’s barely watchable but utterly addictive. You’re either crying, cringing or grappling for the hard tac, which is essential for getting yourself through three season’s worth of Kevin Rayburn (played expertly by Norbert Leo Butz) and his cornucopia of dumbassery.
Amidst all the tumult, demented Danny is granted reprieve. As it turns out, he is the victim of a massive injustice – inflicted years ago by father Robert (who dies from natural causes early on in the show) and perpetuated by Machiavellian matriarch Sally (Sissy Spacek). In fact, the reason that John Rayburn knows how to mastermind an almighty cover-up is because his momma showed him how. When Danny is beaten by his dad, who blames him for the accidental drowning of little sister Sarah, Sally coerces her children into the arms of an almighty untruth. They lie to the police about ‘the incident’; resulting in a family secret that lives on for decades. This prophylactic lie saves Robert but destroys Danny and ultimately takes the life of the Rayburn family; the very thing that Sally acts to protect.
Sissy Spacek brings a characteristic fragility to her portrayal of Sally Rayburn, which the audience easily buys into. With her dainty demeanour and delicate constitution, Sally easily gets away with the ‘I was doing what was best for my children’ gig – parents relate. Sally’s plight strikes a chord because although lying to keep a child from going to jail is extreme, mothers and fathers are faced with tough choices all the time. Bloodline is a macrocosmic interpretation of the microcosmic decisions we make every day; presenting an exaggeration version of ‘when things go wrong’. Do we always make the ‘right’ choice – no, there’s no way. And if we dare to think otherwise, Sally Rayburn uses the force of the matriarch to kick the pedestal from under our pious feet; compelling us to acknowledge that, as parents, we mess up; we don’t always do right by our children. It’s a difficult truth to face.
Sally is the glue that keeps the Rayburn family together but she is also its most toxic, pathological element – an idea that is explored in the show’s final season. There’s a court case…Kevin, who has bludgeoned (of course he has) friend and chief detective Marco Diaz to death and framed poor Eric O’Bannon is called upon to testify as an essential ‘witness’ to the violent crime in question. It’s almost laugh-worthy. But Kevin testifies – and lies. John testifies – and lies some more. And then it’s Sally’s turn to extrapolate fact from fiction. It’s her moment to come clean. She doesn’t. Not only does she lie; she is compelling, using tears and a semi-version of the truth to strong-arm the jury into feelings of empathy. It’s a chilling, brilliant performance by Spacek – and exposes Sally as a ruthless, guileful woman rather than a mother reacting to a series of unfortunate events.
It’s no coincidence that, like Sarah, Danny, dies by drowning – taken by the same water that usurped the life of his sister; it’s an eerie invocation of history and brings to the fore a ‘sins of the father’ type of vibe. Although in this case…sins of the mother as well. Not once does Sally suggest telling the truth as an option to John, Kevin and Meg – who do what they’ve been taught; they lie. And as initiator of the first, formative mistruth, Bloodline pits Sally as the reason for the disasters that follow. When Life offers her a chance at redemption, she slaps it in the face. Full on. But those of us who have lived a little will know that Life is no push-over; there are consequences.
When Cane killed Able back in Bible times, God punished Cain to a life of wandering, but set a mark on him so that no man would kill him. Because death is reprieve. Perhaps a life in prison is also reprieve.Bloodline suggests that the psychological torment resulting from heinous behaviour is the worst form of punishment. Kevin’s criminality finally catches up with him and he is caught by the cops (although he’ll probably find a way to screw jail up too); Meg runs away (the best decision of the entire show). John, as killer, and Sally, as enabler, seem fated to lives of suffering. Both become delusional as the pressure of the lie catches up; Sally sees visions of her long-deceased mother. She also tries to sell The Rayburn House hotel but cannot – she is bound to the defunct family (and its premises) that she’s nurtured into being. John, in a crazy Groundhog Day episode, is trapped in an abyss of dream repetition seemingly powered by the re-emergence of not-so-dead Danny. John snaps out of it but the ghost of Danny (perhaps John’s conscience) persists, encouraging John to tell his nephew Nolan (Danny’s son) the truth, which will put an end to the cycle of lies. John cannot un-kill his brother but he can change the course of his family. Will he? Does he?
The decision is yours.
Watch Bloodline at Netflix.com.
GLOW. It’s awesome. Watch it. NOW
July 11, 2017
There’s this thing about guys: they fight and then make friends. Remember Gilgamesh? – Mighty ruler of Mesopotamia, who was so mighty that no man was worthy of his friendship (insert: rolling eyes emoji face). Well, The Epic of Gilgamesh tells of a wild and powerful adversary named Endiku who is thrust into the wake of the king’s indomitable personality and the two men come to blows with immediate effect – beating each other to a bloody pulp until finally the mighty Gilgamesh emerges victorious. And, as if nothing has happened, the two brawlers are buds for life.
Women aren’t made the same. We bitch and bicker, hold grudges and let things fester; wounding friendship, killing comradery. But what if women did like dudes – had a quick box, vented all the pent up angst and anger with a few biffs and bops? Could we end up better friends? According to Netflix’s GLOW – yes, we can!
Kitsch, kinky, crude and crazy-cool – the contrived onslaught put on by the ‘gorgeous ladies of wrestling’ in Netflix’s latest offering is a smorgasbord of awesome. The show is set in 1985 Los Angeles, and is based on a real-life programme that started off as a low budget TV franchise but kabloomed into fame and money with its “porn you can watch with your kids” premise. It’s virile and violent, and thrusts women into the role of men, creating a sort of feminist conundrum; chicks kicking ass (yay!) except…they’re kicking each other’s asses – playing out the fantasy of newbie neophyte Sebastian ‘Bash’ Howard (Chris Lowell) who finances the show with momma’s bucks (not yay). The irony is that in the midst of the pain, injury and brutal physicality of GLOW-training, the women of wrestling find friendship…not in spite of the fighting but because of it.
Show protagonist Ruth (Alison Brie) is a serious actress, a good actress, who can’t seem to get cast, so ends up on GLOW along with her blonde bombshell gal-pal Debbie (Betty Gilpin). Debbie is in a different sort of rut but a rut nonetheless; she’s ditched her role on popular soap opera Paradise Cove to be mom to her new baby, keeping home and husband. But she’s not happy. GLOW offers Ruth a job and Debbie reprieve. The twist is that Ruth has slept with Debbie’s husband (twice) and Debbie has just found out. Now the frenemies have to work together.
Needless to say, Debbie wants nothing to do with Ruth but a little bit of genius on the part of sleazeball, drug addict, B-grade movie director and also director on GLOW Sam (Marc Maron) sees the two women pitted against one another in a microcosmic Cold War showdown: US versus USSR. Good versus bad. Honey versus Ho. Debbie becomes southern princess Liberty Belle and Ruth, Zoya the (motherf***ing) Destroyer; turning Debbie into GLOW’s leading lady, the face of the show.
As Ruth and Debbie are forced to work together to create set pieces in time for filming, Debbie gets to pulverise the woman who has humiliated her and destroyed her marriage, in an acceptable, safe (sort of) context. Society tells us it’s not OK for women to hurt the person who sexed her husband (it’s just not what women do) but if you’re wrestlers taking part in a competition on TV; hey, it’s OK! Debbie gets to chop Ruth, kick her, slam dunk her into the floor, pull her hair, skadoosh her face into the ropes; sure, it might be fake but its cathartic effect is evidenced by the fact that although Debbie and Ruth are not best buds, their interactions take them to a place of tolerance and perhaps even understanding.
As much as Debbie loves to crush and belittle Ruth, the truth is; to be a heroine, Liberty Belle needs Zoya. In a convo with Debbie, men’s wrestling pro Steel Horse says of arch-nemesis Mr Monopoly, “I sell it but he’s the one with the real strength; the real craft. That’s how it is with the bad guys; they’re craftsmen…the heel makes the face. Rick has been making me look good for years.” Ruth has the skill, the badassery, to make soap star Debbie look amazing. Their relationship might be fractious but it is essential to their survival on GLOW, and in life.
It is through the enactment of stereotype so ludicrous, that Debbie and Ruth are, in fact, empowered. Debbie gets to win – she may not have won in her marriage but she will win at wrestling, dammit. And Ruth receives the punishment that she feels she deserves – playing the villain she feels she is. In much the same way, the other ‘gorgeous ladies’ get to purge their personalities and live out fantasies through the characters they play in the show. She Wolf, for example, believes she is a wolf (for reals) and whilst this might be strange in the context of ordinary life, she finds acceptance on the stage of GLOW. Britannica gets to be smart and Cherry Bang and Welfare Queen dish a vengeance beat down to the Ku Klux Klan. It’s through these excesses that the power of healing and friendship is invoked, enabling a motley crew of misfits to become comrades in arms. It’s like women at war, against perception.
On a side note; Ruth may have screwed up by ruining her best friend’s marriage but she’s kind of the coolest character in the show! It is just so easy to champion Zoya! Debbie is all blonde and boobs but Ruth is raw; the kind of unglamorous artist directors have in mind when they vow to cast “someone who’s real” — then change their minds once they see her. As a woman rooting for another woman; the one who walks around with no makeup, bravely exerting her natural self on the fakery around her has gotta get some credit, even if she’s a philandering communist. She’s also freaking hilarious. And as ‘real’ as Ruth is outside of the show, she’s extravagant in equal measure when marching around the ring as Zoya.
Writing for the New York Times, James Poniewozik calls GLOW an insightful story about making art from trash. The lights, lipstick, lingerie, glitter, spandex — hairspray and hate…GLOW is a seismic ode to popular culture. It’s the Dada of the 21st century, which, circa 1915, was the first conceptual art movement where the focus of the artists was not on crafting aesthetically pleasing objects but on making works that often upended bourgeois sensibilities and that generated difficult questions about society, the role of the artist, and the purpose of art. Right? GLOW cleverly uses the exaggeration of the 80s wrestlemania obsession to satirise society and parody the prejudice. There are so many demented things happening all at once: it’s ambiguous and illogical — defying stereotype and impersonating it in the same breath — and as a show within a show about a show, there are so many layers of narrative that the irony almost folds in upon itself…but all of these things make GLOW fun and funny and messy, and entertaining as hell. The gorgeous ladies of wrestling might be the collective wank job of a millionaire perv but their empowerment is personal and like Duchamp’s toilet, GLOW challenges traditional values in art – and in so doing has made itself an unavoidable POP art sensation.
Watch GLOW on Netflix. NOW.
Why mums should avoid mum-led forums
July 5, 2017
If Oscar Hammerstein II converted The Sound of Music into a parody on middle class mums from North London, here’s how it might go:
Cream coloured brioches and crisp croissants from Waitrose,
Smoothies and papayas and fresh fruits that ain’t froze,
Brown paper packages from Planet Organic,
These are a few of my favourite things.
And then he’d probably get fired because his rhyming sucks and he’s clearly too old for this song-writing-for-musicals gig. Hashtag…not happening. Although, in hypothetical Hammerstein’s defence, art ain’t always pretty – neither is truth. A point sure to be debated by the very un-elusive Muswell Hill (etc.) mother and subject of said parody; who’d surely post the question on one of those location-centric Facebook forums whilst sipping a latte and contemplating the next school run (because that’s what middle class mums do):
“Hi all! I have a free bag of lavender if anyone would like it! Also looking for nanny recommendations (only fabulous people, please) and if anyone’s going to IKEA this weekend could they pick up six white mugs; happy to collect from a convenient N10 location. Oh – and what do people give their kids smoothies in; are their special ‘smoothie cups’ that I’ve not heard of? Straws don’t work and the smoothie mixture is too thick to sip – advice please! One last thing: if Oscar Hammerstein II parodied suburban mothers in a song likely to go to theatre, and it was really bad but also really true; would you be offended?”
Sounds nice and friendly. Ha! As long as you’re not talking about vaccines, bottle feeding or admitting that you voted Brexit, hate labour (party and birth) and secretly hope Andy Murray loses Wimbledon. These mumsy -type forums lure you in with offers of free lavender and the answer to your tot’s smoothie-cup problems but as it turns out, middle class mums have an opinion on basically everything – and when offered the opportunity to show it off; they’re like those crazy unmarried American gals from the movies, who rugby tackle one another to catch the bridal bouquet in the hope of securing their fate as a woman authenticated through wedlock. It doesn’t matter who they crush along the way, as long as they come out on top.
Half day jobs and stints as class rep don’t seem to meet the brief when it comes to reminding the proverbial Muswell Hill mum that she is an intelligent, proactive super-human who has ejected a human life (or lives) out of her vagina ( her v.a.g.i.n.a) and has compromised many things to make sure said life grows up to be a healthy, happy contributing member of society. No. School runs and after-school activities and washing and cleaning…and working in between to pay for croissants, brioches and organic fruit send the suburban mother into a state of disillusionment, as her hard-earned identity teeters on the edge of obliteration. And there’s so much guilt – when she’s working, she feels like she should be raising the kids and when she’s raising the kids she feels like she should be contributing to the financial well being of her family. And so she overcompensates in an effort to prove that she is valuable.
It’s no freaking wonder that mum-led forums turn from something theoretically positive into a tirade of opinion; a vortex of vitriol. Another term for such behaviour is ‘cyber bullying’ – kids kill themselves over this. It’s a thing. Unfortunately, youngsters not as hardy as their suburban mums, who remain ironically devoted to the receipt of abuse, as recompense for delivering it in equal measure. Quid pro quo – sayeth the Romans. Living by an unspoken maxim, that she who is able to wreak havoc clothed in the anonymity of technology, must be the recipient of havoc in equal measure. And then integrate herself into her local community as if nothing has happened. I’m a bitch, you’re a bitch – we’re all bitches; and that’s OK because you have no idea who I am.
It’s easy to be brave when retaliation comes in the form of a screen chat – devoid of human context; without the story, the relationship. Words are easy when their purpose is to justify our own being at the expense of others.
We – you, me; the proverbial middle class mum – live in a happy bubble of fabulous, enveloped by the dogma of tolerance we preach at our children but ignore ourselves. It’s all a big, fat, sordid, duplicitous construct; sort of like living in Pleasantville, the town from Gary Ross’s 1998 film. Pleasantville is pure perfection; with no bad weather, a basketball team that never misses a shot and a fire department that exists only to rescue kittens from trees. A wholesome family town where everyone’s nice and everyone’s friendly. Except it’s not. Ross explains Pleasantville as a metaphor for personal repression, which gives rise to larger political oppression; that when we’re afraid of certain things in ourselves or we’re afraid of change, we project those fears on to other things, and a lot of very ugly social situations can develop.
Whether you’re a hardcore commentator, with justice and ethic on your side or a diplomatic bystander hoping to sell your old baby stuff and laugh or ignore everything else, or perhaps something in between; Hammerstein II’s parody is funny for a while but as one Muswell Hill mum said: “I have left the group because its tone and members now offend me more than they entertain me.”
Feminism Defunked: Emma Watson in Beauty & the Beast
February 23, 2017
Live-action remake Beauty and the Beast, due out next month (in case you missed that), is on a rant. Belle, played by Emma Watson, has been given a makeover; not only is she a pretty girl who likes books (Disney made this OK in the nineties – thanks Disney) – no, this Belle has a backstory that makes her more than not-really-a-merchant’s-daughter-but-the-offspring-of-a-king-and-a-good-fairy as in Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s original 18th century version. This Belle invents stuff. She also has a new dress and lower heels. Look out patriarchy! But is Hermoine’s feminist fairytale all that? It is, after all a fairytale, with a protagonist called Beauty.
Not to hate on fairytales or anything – they weren’t always all about pretty princesses and primo princes. Before Perrault, the Grimms and other re-tellers changed the stories to make the lessons more palatable for their respective audiences, they were intimate tales told by communities in villages, around fires; as explanations and metaphors for life and living. In the oral version of Little Red Riding Hood, for example; a werewolf kills grans-wans, whose blood and flesh are later consumed by L’il Red before she throws her clothes into the fire – all of them – because they are no longer useful to her. Big bad werewolf calls our red-cloaked cannibal a slut and asks her to get into bed with him. Li’l Red, using her wit, escapes the he-wolf; telling him she needs to pee, he allows her out but restrains her with a thread to the ankle, which she ties to a tree and bolts like Usain. It’s a coming of age tale – the wisdom of her elder passed down to L’il Red through the symbolic consumption of the matriarch. The girl removes her clothes, emerging from girlhood into womanhood. A far cry from the Little Red Riding Hood who called the huntsman for help.
The oral version of our favourite cloaked kid does, however, make a comeback in Angela Carter’s A Company of Wolves (1979), where Li’l Red and her werewolf live a symbiotic relationship of subservience and sovereignty – dare we say “gender equality”? A couple of years later, Roald Dahl turned L’il Red into a gun-wielding wolf-killer; a hyperbolic salute to female empowerment. If fairytales are a reflection the society in which they are told, as literary history suggests, what dirt does 2017’s Beauty and the Beast have to dish? No longer impeded by the corset of her 1740 publication, will Beauty be liberated from the shackles of gender stereotype in a tale of transformation? Whilst ‘remake’ might suggest ‘duplicate’, with a real life feminist on board, change must be inevitable…come on! – The possibilities are endless. Except they’re also not. Because “Somewhere along the way toward female liberation, it was decided that the most effective method was for feminism to become universal…that for something to be universally accepted, it must become as banal, as non-threatening and ineffective as possible,” writes American, writer, editor and critic Jessa Crispin, in her new book Why I am Not a Feminist. As banal, as non-threatening and ineffective as…a fairytale princess, perhaps? Sure, Watson has the clout of fame to help smash her point across but, in this case, it comes in the guise of happily ever after, which is as far from the feminist story as it can get. Women haven’t yet won the day, have they?
Feminism has become an aesthetic; in a sort of ‘girl power’ is cool, I-do-what-I-want kinda way. It’s great that we can get jobs, wear pants and have hairy armpits – or none of the above – if we so choose (even with a little judgement on the side). But feminism is not a free for all. It’s more than doing what you want because often, what you want comes at the expense of other women. Feminism is about women’s rights as much as a woman’s right. Crispin writes, “Once we are a part of the system and benefiting from it on the same level that men are, we won’t care, as a group, about whose turn it is to get hurt.” Feminism is much more than doing what you want, wearing what you want and looking how you want. Freedom – yes. Equality – of course. But also community, attitude and progression, all of which are in a state of stagnation. Trump is president after all, right?
Crispin argues that the decline of feminism is apparent in how easy the label is to claim. The fact that popular culture is full of celebrities who identify themselves as feminists has pushed it into the mainstream; marketing it as an ideological puff-piece, transforming feminism into merchandise. Anyone seen BiebSon – the doll version of Beauty and the Beast’s Belle, which looks more like Justin Bieber than Emma Watson. Not even the profiteers can get it right! Talk about lost in translation. A ‘feminist’ princess masquerading as a man – such awful irony; it’s an ode to feminism defunked. If Beauty and the Beast says anything, upon first glance it says this: that lots has changed since Villeneuve wrote her story almost 300 years ago but not enough. Women do have license to invent things these days but are there enough of us doing it?
Feminism is not marketable, cordial or self-centered. It’s about you but it’s also not about you – it’s about everyone and everything. It’s about action as much as perception, ethics and ideals. It’s about the system. And the system is not right. Emma Watson might be depositing Maya Angelou books all over the tube but unless her embodiment of fairytale’s Beauty is something that screams – not whispers; “the world is not right for women”, she runs the risk of the banality. Crispin challenges us to think big; to go where we dream. To fight. As much as Angela Carter used fairytale genre to reflect the gender relationships of the time, she created a feminist utopia; something for which to yearn, strive and act. That’s where we want to be; where we need to be. This is not the time to be iffy.
Sources: “THE CASE AGAINST CONTEMPORARY FEMINISM” by Jia Tolentina, The New Yorker and “Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto by Jessa Crispin review – it’s time to get radical” by Suzanne Moore, Theguardian.
Santa Clarita Diet – get your fill TODAY!
February 9, 2017
There’s a new diet in town. Admittedly, it’s high risk but will save you money in the long run. Preparation requires sharp knives and a blender (flavour is best enhanced in smoothie form) and for bulk storage a deep-freeze is recommended. Meals are an acquired taste – being dead helps. But not to worry if you’re not…dead; the Santa Clara diet transmits to non-zombies through ‘aura osmosis’ – like, when the person next to you is really happy and smiley, and it rubs off on you. Right? This diet is Viagra for the soul. That said, it’s worth knowing that too much smoothiefied corpse, whilst invigorating, can be dangerous too; definitely watch out for the ‘feral stage’ and keep an eye on your limbs. Also – sex; delicious but possibly deadly. Oh, and a pink killsuit – super stylish when out on the prowl.
Santa Clara Diet, Netflix’s new black comedy/horror/satire (take your pick), is a riot of fabulous! Sure, it’s not perfect but what is perfect in this screwed up world we call home. Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore play Joel and Sheila Hammond; married realtors trapped in a life of broken toasters, alarm clocks, insipid sex, neighbourhood gossip…yawn…and a bunch of other boring suburban humdrum stuff. Sound like Desperate Housewives? Add a splash of Dexter and you’ve got it! Because boring Sheila turns a whole lot less boring when she dies and comes back à la zombie – à la hungry zombie. Raw meat suffices in the beginning, until she goes and eats fellow realtor Gary, who tastes so freaking yum that dear Sheila is forced to get her serial killer on in order to satisfy her craving for human flesh. Sadly (or happily – because it leads to much hilarity) Sheila and Joel are not as skilled as dexterous Dexter. But practice makes perfect, as they say, and Joel does, quite successfully, kill Dan-the-annoying-neighbour with a shovel – albeit in broad daylight and with no plan at all, but still. Luckily Sheila has a hankering for fresh cadaver, even hairy ones.
The show is as unsubtle as it comes – which has many critics hatin’ but this is also exactly why Santa Clarita Diet headbangs its way to the front of the stage. Screw subtle. Blood, guts, gurg, gore…the occasional human hairball. The show offers the kind of satire that would show up at a Justin Bieber concert dressed like Slipknot – without apology. Victor Fresco, show creator, offers a rant against monotony and mediocrity. Rather than get a baby sitter and try out some new restaurants and dinner menus, or take a trip overseas and sign up for a Tai Kwon Do class, Fresco turns his protagonist into a self-gratifying stepford cannibal, drawing on horror’s familiar metaphoric exaggeration to tell us that indifference sucks. In fact, it’s a point so void of inference that it’s as if Fresco wants to get it out the way and get on with the show. In episode 1, Eric Bemis (Skyler Gisondo), neighbor and expert on all things zombie, quips, “But we’re the real so-called zombies aren’t we? Consuming everything we want without any regard for consequences. As we destroy the earth so too do we destroy ourselves.” Trope out the way, Sheila is free to live out her Id; after all she doesn’t feel dead or undead; quite the opposite, in fact – totally alive. Irony, smashed right into the center of our cringing faces.
It’s also ironic that it takes death and zombification for Sheila to become emboldened enough to embrace her inner woman. It’s a well-timed dig at the patriarchy, misogyny, sexism (all of it) that pervades modern society. Nice. Well done. Um…except that by using the Id (the pleasure seeking part of our brain that requires ‘instant and always’ gratification) as a metaphor for feminism, ‘womanhood repressed’ is reduced to hyperactive instinct. In other words, a woman taking control at work, sex or in conversation is not to do with character or strength of personality but rather Id unchecked. Freud is always reductive though. Drew Barrymore’s stepford cannibal might be philosophically ambivalent but it’s nothing worth burning bras over, after all; our current world is filled with distasteful irony. As we (br)exit the world of Santa Clara and its crazyass diet, and trump on into our own everyday there emerges a truth; that sometimes all you can do in life; is laugh.
The dark side of Beatrix Potter
July 29, 2016
CELEBRATING 150 YEARS OF BEATRIX POTTER
Beatrix Potter’s pastoral protagonists have captured the imagination of children since 1902, when her first story, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was published. It chronicles the adventure of a tenacious rabbit who incites a voracious villain and finds himself participant in an epic escape. Peter, brother to Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail did what children do best – not listen! In spite of momma rabbit’s eager warnings, Peter lurches into farmer McGregor’s garden, lured by the likely leaves of a luscious lettuce and other voluptuous vegetables, and maniacal McG comes after him with the subtlety of a chainsaw-wielding-psycho lumbering after a teen horror star. Not even the fact that only a couple years prior papa rabbit was caught by the ferocious farmer and made into a pie by demon-farmer-wife Mrs McGregor is enough to deter the rambunctious rabbit. But boys will be boys, right? – Even ones who have sisters with names invoking images of bonny bunnies bouncing blithely on marshmallow clouds. Do not be deceived.
Innocence is a mask that envelopes Potter’s prose, deluding readers with poncy expression (“Peter was most dreadfully frightened”) and frivolous fantasy – often entirely nonsensical, like Squirrel Nutkin’s lunatic rhymes:
Old Mr.B! Riddle-me-ree!
Hitty Pitty within the wall,
Hitty Pitty without the wall;
If you touch Hitty Pitty,
Hitty Pitty will bite you!
Seriously? Except while you’re busy contemplating the inanity of Hitty what-the-hell Pitty, Squirrel Nutkin is captured by Old Brown (the owl), who has been the recipient of Nutkin’s cheek for an entire 50 pages (illustrations included) of book, and has the squirrel in a no-joke-of a throat hold. Potter surmises, “This looks like the end of the story; but it isn’t”. Old Brown hauls the little squirrel up by the tail and carries him inside, intending to skin him Ed Gein style but Nutkin pulls so hard that he breaks his tail in two; but manages to escape.
Potter’s tales adopt the cautionary tone of the fables, fairytales and fantasy that she loved as a child. Her apparently frivolous fiction attempts to make palatable the consequential horrors arising from poor decision making, as evidences in The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. At its most literal, the story suggests that cheeky children are likely to die or encounter loss of limb. It’s horror hyperbole at its most perturbing; one simply cannot deny the morbidity of the metaphor.
The blackened fingers of the macabre reach deep into Potter’s fiction. The Flopsy Bunnies were to be decapitated and skinned before being turned into a delicious batch of rabbit tobacco by the infamous Mr McGregor. Jemima Puddle-duck (the dummest duck in the history of ever – a “simpleton” in the words of Potter) is cajoled into attending a dinner party with a smart-looking, well-spoken ‘gentleman’, who so happens to be a fox. Dear Jemima fails to realise that she is to be the main course at said dinner and even agrees to bring a basket of sage, thyme, mint, two onions and parsley (at the fox’s request) – the perfect herbs for stuffing roast duck. Jemima is rescued by a good-natured Collie but her eggs are gobbled up by a litter of hungry farm puppies. The story is a total ‘stranger danger’ alert for little listeners, reminiscent of Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood – the moral at the end of which reads:
Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say “wolf,” but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.
The familiarity is uncanny.
Then there’s The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, alternately named The Roly-Poly Pudding, in which a curious kitten called Tom (The Tale of Tom Kitten) undergoes some serious torture and torment at the paws of two sadistic, snuff-sniffing elderly rats. It’s a classic example of black comic genius. Tom makes a wrong turn in an old house and ends up in a rat lair, and before he can make head or tail of the situation, his coat is pulled off and he is rolled up in a bundle, and tied with string in very hard knots. The kid(cat)napper rats (named Samuel and Anna Maria) then decide to turn terrified Tom into a roly-poly pudding. ‘Borrowing’ ingredients and implements from the house (butter, dough, a saucer and a rolling pin), the rats smear Tom with butter and roll him into the dough while their victim bites, spits, mews and wriggles in justified protest. Undeterred, old-man rat Samuel Whiskers says to his wife, “Will not the string be very indigestible, Anna Maria?…His tail is sticking out! You did not fetch enough dough Anna Maria…I do not think it will be a good pudding. It smells sooty”. The punctilious tone of Potter’s words, which was typical of the relational conventions prescribed the ‘polite society’ that governed the early twentieth century, lends itself to much hilarity. And the story ending – an unlikely ode to feminism: Moppet and Mittens, Tom’s strapping sisters, grow up into two ass-kicking rat catchers – hanging up the tails of their victims on the barn door as testament to their achievement and as a warning.Uh…yup, pretty gross.
Samuel and Anna Maria are poignant horror rapscallions but they don’t come close to the gravitas of arch villain Mr McGregor, who invokes a humdinger of a chase (worthy of Jason, Freddy, Ghostface…any of horror’s stalwart villains) that takes us back The Tale of Peter Rabbit. So…McGregor spots Peter rabbit chowing down lustily on some veg and the enraged farmer gives chase. Peter loses both his shoes and gets stuck in a gooseberry net but has no time to wallow in his rapidly rolling tears because McG sneaks up with a sieve, which he intends to “pop upon the top of Peter” – Stephen King Dome style. But Peter escapes, hiding in a watering can that so happens to be filled with water (fail). The rabbit attempts to quieten his shivers whilst McG turns over flower pot after flower pot until poor Peter eventually emits an unavoidable sneeze. But you know horror villains – supersonic hearing and all…so McG thunders on over, readying himself to “put his foot upon Peter” but misses as the rabbit leaps out of the window. Horror villains also never die and as soon as Peter sits down to rest – damp, out of breath, trembling, frightened and with not the least idea which way to go – McG resurfaces (of course he does), coming after the rabbit with a rake. Peter is quick – never stopping to look behind him until he gets home to the big fir-tree. But McG has the final word; hanging up the rabbit’s little jacket and the shoes as a scarecrow to frighten the blackbirds (or rabbits).
(Scarecrows, Dark Night of the Scarecrow, Night of the Scarecrow, Psycho Scarecrow, Scarecrow Killer…right?)
Thanks to a dose of mom and chamomile tea, Peter doesn’t come off too badly although he does miss out on milk and blackberries for supper – the consequence of disobedience. Divert from the path and trouble awaits – it could be a chainsaw, an acid-dripping Xenomorph or a rabbit-eating farmer. Make no mistake, Potter means business:
“He went back towards the tool-shed, but suddenly, quite close to him, he heard the noise of a hoe – scr-r-ritch, scratch, scratch, scritch. Peter scuttered underneath the bushes.”
This sentence could easily come right out of The Babadook. Except it’s Beatrix Potter! Provincial princess. Animal loving conservationist – Beatrix Potter! – Who takes that which is ‘innocent’ or seemingly innocuous and imbues it with terror-invoking strangeness, placing her readers at the mercy of her formidable words. Yet the perhaps-strange thing is; kids don’t seem particularly upset by all the villainy and violence that goes down in Potter’s tales. And isn’t this the very thing that makes her stories so accomplished; so loved? Potter’s creatures intrigue, teach and entertain young readers, who as adults, will revisit the stories with their own children…appreciating the unexpected dark humour, marvelling at the innate horror and wondering why their little ones aren’t having nightmares when they sure as heck should be!
How Scream changed the world
July 14, 2016
GHOSTFACE, SKULLS AND DEATH REVITALISED
Twenty years ago Casey Becker answered the phone and the world was never the same – Casey’s world (quite literally…dying sucks balls – especially at the blade of psychotic serial slasher) but also the world at large. In 1996, as Santa was readying his sleigh and giving Rudolph a pep talk, Scream was spicing up Yuletide with a pinch of terror and a cup of fear. And audiences ate.it.up! Wes Craven’s horror satire expanded the blueprint of the genre, with its oxymoronic critique of convention – venerating preceding horror behemoths with an insolent insight that skillfully fortified horror as a poignant reflection of society and culture in the world of cinematic art. Argh…”but that’s just film” – right? Surely it takes more than one slasher flick to change the world? Surely?
Scream incited the mass marketability of death by taking one of time’s most ancient symbols – the skull – and morphing it into pop-culture pastiche, successfully (if not purposefully) turning it into…something else. Reeking of death and man’s mortality, the skull secreted malevolence for centuries until modern culture came along and messed with its implied malice; infusing said skull with bows, bling, fashion, fuchsia and a myriad of fabulous pop culture accessories – resulting in a slow but succinct change in allegory. This cultural immersion had been going on for some time prior to Craven’s film, with the likes of: McLaren and Westwood’s skull-inspired punk gear in the ‘70s, Christian Dior’s Poison perfume ad in 1985 and the increasing familiarity of the luminous, smiling skulls used to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. Scream, in the mid ‘90s, was in the right place at the right time – with the right imagery for a restless generation feeling stupid, contagious and looking to be entertained; Cobain (as lyrically enigmatic as usual) said it and Ghostface brought it…‘it’ being revolution, entertainment and attitude.
The dire anguish of a soul encapsulated on a once-human face, distorted and contorted to resemble a ghostly skull – a ‘ghost face’ deconstructed to the barest of expression; the most primal of emotion. The mask was fearsome. But also hella cool and entirely unmistakable. Ghostface was conceived in the early ‘90s and was in circulation as a Halloween costume for several years before Scream producer Marianne Maddalena stumbled upon it by accident in 1996 while scouting locations for the first film (so the story goes). The mask was in the Santa Rosa house made famous by Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, draped over a chair in one of the vacant rooms. Maddalena immediately took it to Wes Craven and we all know what happened then…Sidney Prescott’s life went to shit. For Craven, the success of the Scream franchise hinged upon the mask – no other mask would have done the trick – according to the Hollywood Reporter. “No way. No way,” Craven insists. “I knew it in my bones that [Ghostface] was a unique find, and I had to convince the studio that they had to go the extra mile to get it”.
Although original mask creator Sleiertin-Linden denies the assumption that Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream, was the primary inspiration for the design (bearing in mind that Alan Geller, Sleiertin-Linden’s former boss, adamantly disputes that she created the mask, insisting the mask is his creation), the melting mouth and drooping eyes are undeniably reminiscent of the famed artwork. Plus…Scream…The Scream – come on! Craven does indeed cite Munch’s The Scream as one of his favourite works of art, and has said, “It’s a classic reference to just the pure horror of parts of the 20th century, or perhaps just human existence”. Ghostface taps into a relatable psychology, similarly to Munch’s tortured figure – the agony of a haunted soul encapsulated in one moment; a singular mien. Who cannot relate? Studies performed by Harvard neurobiology professor Margaret Livingstone on macaque monkeys show that the brain is more likely to respond to faces that are exaggerated, like The Scream’s distended mouth. Livingstone says, “That’s why I think a caricature of an emotion works so well. It’s what our nerve cells are tuned to”.
So it makes total sense, then, that the ‘Scream Emoji’ was approved as part of Unicode 6.0 in 2010. The icon is a screaming face with two hands holding the jaw and cheeks in fear, with wide eyes and an open mouth. The Samsung version of this emoji shows a ghost escaping from the mouth. If caricature is what our nerve cells are after, one can’t get more caricatured than this – the infinite scream articulated in Munch’s painting, in Craven’s film, represented in less than ten lines/shapes. It might not be art (exactly) but then again, technology wasn’t the first to mass market an image. Munch did it – once The Scream caught on in the European art scene, Munch made a lithograph of the concept so that he could sell black-and-white prints at will. And then in 1984 Andy Warhole got hold of Munch’s ghostface, reprinting The Scream with his trademark tinge; smutting up the original with brilliant colours, to maximum effect.
Warhole’s screen print, commissioned by the New York-based Galleri Bellman, awakened to consciousness (like Westwood, Dior and later Craven) the parody of the skull – reinterpreted with an effrontery representative of an evolving society. Just over a decade after Warhole’s brazen image hit the art circuit, Scream took horror to the masses; forcing it into mainstream, and Ghostface has consequently become one of the world’s most recognisable horror symbols…and ‘the skull’ a pop-culture icon. No longer were skellies (in the ’90s and noughties) the thing of pirate ships and metal musos but the hollow eyes and gaping mouths of the figurative dead had worked their way back into the consciousness of the populace – and it’s been no du jour thing. Two decades after Scream, skulls are as rife as ever; lurking around every corner in fashion, art and the Monster High Dolls populating bedrooms and doll houses.
In 2006, a New York Times article entitled The Heyday of the Dead articulated how the skull has lost virtually all of its fearsome meaning, suggesting a disconnect between the symbol for and the actual meaning of mortality. In western culture, the death ethos has been eroded and replaced by an attitude of defiance; death denying – thanks, in part, to a horror film and two killers named Billy and Stu. The irony. The twenty-first century has seen perceptions of death significantly altered; rather than disdained as an icon of fear, society has turned the skull into an emblem of insurgence. Horror – the kind encapsulated in the classical medieval skull (forcing us to face our fallibility), Munch’s melancholic art work and the exaggerated, mass market appeal of Craven’s Scream mask – has revitalise death as something not to fear but to live in spite of. It’s a beautiful thing.
Sources: Mentalfloss.com – “14 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘The Scream'”; The Hollywood Reporter – “MTV’s Terrifying Mistake? Wes Craven Explains Why the Original ‘Scream’ Mask Is Too “Perfect” to Scrap”; Taylor & Francis Online – “The proliferation of skulls in popular culture: a case study of how the traditional symbol of mortality was rendered meaningless”
Five NOT Kickass books for kids
March 3, 2016
I like to indoctrinate my children with books that I like – you know; ones with awesome humour, great illustrations, exceptional storytelling and nostalgic prowess…books that will enhance my children’s natural brilliance because, of course, they are all naturally brilliant. And momma knows best.
But on the occasion my 6-, 4- and 2-year old stumble across books that they like better and because, as you may have noticed, I am a liberal minded individual; I allow them to indulge…even at the expense of my sanity.
Like John Snow, those medieval guys knew nothing because there is nothing quite like the torture of reading a NOT kickass book…over and over and over again! Every day. Every night. All the time. Gimme the rack, rather – or that one where goats lick the skin off your feet.
And so, if you see a hint of the ensuing pages lurking, waiting to pounce from under the safety of birthday wrapping or from the anonymity of the library shelf – take them and slaughter them…immediately.
One Mole Digging A Hole (Julia Donaldson): A story about various animals doing garden work. Kill me now. The book is simple, perfect for a 2-year-old, but its easy learnability (my son knows it by rote) turns it into an annoying obsession. The biggest mistake parents will make with this jihadi of a book is to underestimate its modest countenance. Take it from one who knows; ‘One Mole’ comes straight out of the pits of Mordor…no matter where I hide it, my son will find it – and it will attack my mental state with the fervour of an overeager terrorist. Its only redeeming feature is that it’s short.
Blue Kangaroo (Emma Chichester Clark): A little girl throws a pink-themed party, which offends her blue kangaroo. Blue Kangaroo goes upstairs and sulks. Little girl realises her cuddly is missing – finds him on her bed, wallowing in the throes of depression. And so she changes her pink outfit to something blue. Problem solved. The only way to make this book remotely entertaining is to substitute ‘Kangaroo’ with ‘Quagga’ and ‘blue’ with…pretty much any other adjective (although ‘putrid’ is my favourite), turning something soppy into something sensational.
Anything Disney: How to ruin a film: re-tell the story in ten pages…*ehem* Disney. Screw character development and clever wordplay…cinema’s already sold the book. And the worst thing about reading a list of events that your children already know is that your children already know them, which makes a casual ‘page skip’ virtually impossible.
read it yourself Rapunzel (Ladybird): If there was an award for a book mentioning the word ‘lettuce’ the most times in the fewest pages, this book would win – to the detriment of the story’s fluidity and enjoyability. The good news is: your child will never ever forget how to read, write or spell ‘lettuce’ – a handy word to know in the life and times of being 6.
Squirrel Nutkin (Beatrix Potter): At the risk of a good lynching – this book is genuinely cray…as in: once there was a squirrel who liked to harass an old brown owl with random, seemingly offensive, unfunny rhymes…
Old Mr. B! Riddle-me-ree!
Hitty Pitty within the wall,
Hitty Pitty without the wall;
If you touch Hitty Pitty,
Hitty Pitty will bite you!
Uh-huh! Beatrix, dear – what were you smoking?
Eventually “Old Brown carried Nutkin into his house, and held him up by the tail, intending to skin him…” – don’t blame you, dude; sucks that Nutkin got away! You’d have done the world a favour.
Warning served! The plague is preferable to any of the above.
…p.s. Julia Donaldson – you’re awesome! Seriously. You too, Beatrix!
Talking terrorism…fairytale style. UNICEF campaign inspires conversation.
March 2, 2016
Dark, deadly and equivocally dreamy, fairytales are truths told under the guise of fiction in an effort to make the evils of the world more palatable. Maniacal monsters, ghouls, goblins, witches and wolves offer a figurative illustration of the corruptive force that life hurls in the direction of its denizens. But perhaps more sinister than these archetypal genre badasses are the moms and dads who will lovelessly cast their daughter into the cinders or relinquish their children to the woods because they cannot feed them – a point that, in modern society, seems far closer to home than the hellion over the hill. Life has its behemoths and it’s not always the stranger lurking in the gloom. This is the reality of fairytales.
That ‘happily ever after’ thing; sure, it happens but not usually without cost. Cinderella got her prince in the end, so did Aurora and Snow White but at the expense of home, security, friend and family and not without suffering (OK, bar Aurora; all she did was prick her finger and sleep for 100 years…and wake up looking freaking awesome – biyatch). The Little Mermaid got her wish to walk on land with the humans she so longed to be with but every step she took felt as if she were treading upon knife blades so sharp that blood would flow. She also gave up her voice – as in had her tongue cut off – and couldn’t even talk to the prince she had fallen for. And then after all that, she died.
These are the stories we tell our children. And so we should. Life ain’t easy and if Snow White and her posse of princesses can drive that message into the psyche of the world’s future, then God save the sovereign.
And yet still, in spite of the gore and guts spewed up by the story tellers of old, we prefer to focus on the ‘happily ever after’ – perhaps in a subconscious effort to placate a rather stark picture of parental abuse and misdemeanour… “don’t worry” we tell little Suzie, “Hansel and Gretel manage to find their way home and their parents welcome them with open arms” – after near cannibalisation and starvation and only because they had treasure…but we’ll leave those bits out. Fairytales might use fantasy to invoke the stark ambiguity of the human condition but rather than pull punches they expect us to take the cue; to use Hansel and Gretel’s abandonment and consequent effort to survive as a door to conversations about the reality of life: poverty and hardship; that moms and dads make mistakes and that some parents, some people, are just crap; perhaps even a discussion about the irony of happy endings – what happiness means, anyway. The possibilities are endless.
UNICEF recently took the cue, with the launch of a brilliant new campaign that uses the fairytale genre as a vehicle for social commentary. The initiative, entitled “Unfairy Tale” features a two-minute spot telling the story of a seven-year-old Syrian refugee. Malak and the Boat…a journey from Syria starts under the hope and beauty of a starry sky and Malak, a real, live girl, cast in animation, narrates her own story, explaining her fears as she climbs into a small boat with her family and sets off on a journey across the water. The initial magic of the moment dissipates as the sky turns dark and stormy – ominous. Cold water splashes into the boat and the tempestuous sea not only highlights the danger of the voyage but Malak’s fear as she escapes her home into the unknown. A giant octo-squid thing emerges from the depths and towers over Malak as the little girl imagines that “the boat might go down.” And then the sun comes out but Malak is left alone on the boat. Bittersweet survival.
The spot concludes with the message “Some stories were never meant for children.” Even though the campaign uses the fairlytale genre to make a point – that Malak’s story is wrong; that children were never meant to be driven across an ocean on a tiny boat, persecuted by the country of their birth – it also calls fairytale out on its fantasy, arguing the fallacy of the genre conscripted happy ending. Malak is safe but at what cost? In so doing, the campaign poses a challenge to parents…
What do you tell your children about the grim reality ensnared in the tragic charm of Malak’s story. Do you tell them that Malak made it to shore and was reunited with her parents (see Malak’s full story HERE), ignoring the subtext…that some countries are at war; that some governments don’t protect their people. That people get hurt; that children die – washed up on sea shores of foreign lands. Do you tell them about terrorism? That Brandon-from-church is to undergo ‘terror drill’ training at his London school so that the he and his reception-age classmates will know what to do if a jihadi decides to bomb the city. That sometimes people with guns attack people at gigs and restaurants. That sometimes men and women, moms and dads, neighbours, friends and family strap explosives to their chests and blow themselves and other people up?
Hells NO. Right?
But is this irresponsible? Can parents preserve the innocence of their children in the face of obvious threat? This is the world we live in, after all. Perhaps Malak’s Unfairy Tale story offers a solution? A safe way to let our children know that bad things happen but the human spirit can triumph in the face of adversity. A dose of hope and realism in a single shot.
UNICEF is set to unveil a second film, “Ivine and Pillow”, in March 2016 as part of its #NoLostGeneration campaign to mark the five year anniversary of the Syrian conflict. All stories will roll out across UNICEF’s global regions in French, Spanish and Arabic translations.
Making a Murderer. Hillbillies are people too.
February 8, 2016
There was once a man – a hillbilly kinda guy – who lived and worked on a used car lot with the rest of his family. Stuff went down: trailers, trash, poverty, alcoholism, delinquency, incest, abuse, gross food…a lot of general weirdness but not rape and, well, maybe not even murder – neither of which is any compensating factor because the man was sent to prison anyway.
If you haven’t yet heard the tale of Steven Avery, poor you must be living in a vortex of confusion as everybody else in cyberspace plays super sleuth in an effort to find out what the freaking hell happened. The story of Steven, which, sadly, is no tale at all, hit screens in an epic way when Netflix rolled out a ten-part documentary series (on December 8, 2015) following the life of a man wrongfully convicted of rape back in 1985 – when Coke changed its formula, Route 66 was decommissioned and Like a Virgin took over the radio. Making A Murderer offers a brief account of Avery’s 18-year imprisonment at the hands of a dishonourable sentence – meted out by what appears to be a careless investigation at the hands of a biased sheriff’s department with a malicious agenda. The series then jumps 18 years, when improved forensic techniques clear Avery of all charges and he is released – a free and innocent man.
Avery decides to sue Mantiwoc County, Wisconsin, for damages – in the millions – and looks set to win until a young woman, Teresa Halbach, is murdered and Steven Avery is arrested and charged with the crime; dashing all hopes of retribution. It’s all very suspicious. Viewers are led through an investigative labyrinth that includes a load of trial and interview footage, which might sound duller than a Justin Bieber concert but, in fact, the viewing is scintillating. Filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos have expertly edited a total of 700 hours of video footage into a ten hours worth of brilliantly told story. The show lures viewers in with the hook of injustice and in the process, turns mild-mannered after-dinner recreational television into a cultish obsession before you know you’re obsessed.
The plot is intricate, the saga immense and viewing is by no means easy – it’s frustrating, infuriating, gut-wrenching, emotionally draining (all of that and more) but undeniably entertaining. Society’s taste for sensationalism is pinpointed in the documentary as the media frenzy around Avery’s murder trial calls into question the objectivity of a jury exposed to an onslaught of opinion before the trial has even started. We sit on a comfy couch (a pedestal), with coffee and a biscuit, and watch the trauma of a man’s life unfold; we comment, criticise and extrapolate opinion from the safety of a world far-removed but in so doing, we involve ourselves in the tragedy of Steven Avery. By including its audience, the show also implicates its audience – imbuing us with culpability and responsibility. We may not have written the article or reported the news but we bought the story. Murder is hot. We’re curious about it. Interested. Intrigued. Especially when it’s bloody.
But when the narrative reads like a Shakespeare play…the violence; the villainy;the heroism; the tragedy…resistance is futile! Making a Murderer was designed to grab our attention and hold onto it like a rabid dog. Talking cue from the good bard, we are presented with a story where nothing is as it seems. Making a Murderer smashes stereotype in its smug little face; audience sympathy is awarded to the hillbilly criminal and his low I.Q nephew Brendan Dassey, who is also roped into the murder charge after being intimidated into a series of contradictory, nonsensical testimonies linked to what happened on the day of the crime. Defence attorneys Jerry Buting and Dean Strang become the heroes of the story and abhorrent prosecuting attorney Ken Kratz is the villain – an identity propounded by the post-trial revelation of a sexting scandal. Kratz also admitted the abuse of prescription drugs and that he was being treated for sex addiction. Who’s the hillbilly now?
The telling of Avery’s story, apart from directing the audience to a serious point about the American justice system and its seeming failure, is a clear reminder that ‘a suit’ is not always an indication of morality. Appearances can be deceiving; it’s a simple point but not something that we buy into on a regular basis. Casting out eyes beneath the surface in a quest for truth, depth and meaning is contrary to human nature, which makes social context one of the easiest ways to dehumanise another person. We expect guys like Avery to rape and murder – because their mom’s their aunt and they work in used car lots…OK – so perhaps there are stats that show links between crime and poverty or crime and lesser intelligence but ‘bad’ does not always have big eyes, ears and teeth; the wolf sometimes dresses like granny and sends the wrong person to prison.
Was Steven Avery made into a murderer by a corrupt justice system looking to cover its ass or by 18 years spent in prison, as an innocent man (that’s gotta do things things to a man’s mind)? Innocent or guilty, what seems certain is that the evidence presented at Avery’s trial was not enough to warrant a conviction. And the temperamental testimony that forms the crux of the Brendan Dassey conviction is flimsy in equal measure. In fact, Dassey is arguably the most catastrophic figure in the whole tragic story. Watching investigators use mental acrobatics to pummel the guy into a confession is torturous. The manipulation. The bullying. The ensuing confusion. There is no way of actually knowing what’s right, what’s real, and what’s not. Making a Murderer is a stark reminder of just how much is wrong with the world – not only because justice is a joke (and not just in Wisconsin) but because our perceptions are often so damn wrong, and somewhere along the way this stopped being a big deal.
Why The Walking Dead could help you survive a terror attack
December 1, 2015
The zombie apocalypse – right? You know the one. It happens seasonally in millions of homes across the globe, transporting viewers into a world asphyxiated by the fetid fumes of the living dead; a place where survival means RUN (fast)…also acquire a weapon that can carve through bone and brain and learn martial arts but mainly the first part.
Or else the zombies will get you.
And then you’ll be a zombie.
Which would suck.
The UK’s National Counter Terrorism Security Office (Nactso) also says RUN…then HIDE and TELL. And whatever you do, don’t play dead – like zombies, guns and bombs smell life.
If Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani rocks up at your party, the person you want to be friends with is the guy or gal who’s spent six seasons watching Rick Grimes and his guerilla posse evading death-by-mastication. This person would have located all the exits upon immediate entry into the building – any building. This person will know, when sitting in gridlock and the zombies are coming, whether to ramp the kerb and drive into oncoming traffic or lock the doors and duck for cover. This person will know where the best hiding place is and how to get there with a hoard of man-eaters licking at your heels. This person knows how to mask dread with determination.
This person has practised.
Call it indoctrination, instinct, obsession…all of the above – whatever; what matters is that this person will know how to escape.
Contemplating near and certain death within the safety of a fantasy apocalypse (as Walking Dead fans do when stuck in a queue or waiting for dinner service) allows for the mind to go where it needs to without the confusion of panic to debilitate chances of survival so that when there is real reason to panic, like Pavlov’s dog; the brain has been conditioned to deal.
As long as Rick Grimes is alive and engaged in Zombie Evasion 101, Sheikh Abu had better watch the shit out.
Green Eggs and Porn
June 16, 2015
“Like this chick I’m talking to; she’s 18, she looks like she’s 12 – with Double-Ds.” – Riley (talent scout)
It’s bedtime; my two daughters, 5 and 3, are sitting snugly on my lap listening to the cadence of my voice as I exuberantly impart the plight of Sam-I-Am who is trying, with great effort, to convince ‘Mr Grump’ (tall, droopy ears, back hat, yellow fur – that Mr Grump) on the merits of green eggs and ham – “Would you? Could you? In a car? Eat them! Eat them! Here they are.” As enthralling as Dr Seuss might be for the sixty-third time this year my mind wonders… and I am suddenly very conscious of the moment; that right now my girls are wrapped up in my arms, safe and secure. It won’t always be like this.
“Every day a new girl turns 18 and every day a new girl wants to do porn,” says pro-pimp Riley (of plain face and little personality) in Hot Girls Wanted – a new documentary that has been a breakout talking point since featuring at Sundance and Cannes this year. The film, which had its commercial debut on Netflix on May 29, tells the true story of five girls who’ve upped and offed to Miami, Florida, to do porn. They weren’t kidnapped and sold on the black market as sex slaves; they’re not flashing flesh in support of a vile addiction or to put themselves through uni; they’re not homeless and turning tricks to fund their next morsel of food. No. These girls chose. They chose!
Finally, after pages of cajoling, debating, convincing and pestering, Daniel tries the eggs – and, true’s nuts, he likes them. Green eggs – who knew? Apparently they’re delicious. My daughters look up at me, sparkles in their eyes, smiles on their faces and ask for another story. Time is short. I agree.
All it took was an internet connection and an ad on Craigslist reading “Hot Girls Wanted” (listed under the ‘TV Shows and Radio’ jobs) and hey presto! the girl next door is doing porn; girls who weren’t even born when the internet came out. Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, the names behind Sexy Baby – a documentary examining the use of erotic images of children in mass media – had intended their new film to focus on guys at college who consume porn online but when they began investigating what the young men were watching – teens copulating on camera; they changed the film’s focus to the professional “amateur” porn world and the steady stream of 18-to-19-year old girls entering into it.
The film was shot over several months, following a group of wannabe Linda Lovelaces who’d signed with a Miami-based agency called Mofos. After relocating, the girls are offered bed and board in a vacuous suburban home – brown carpets, white walls and a couple of dogs. But neither the deadpan landscape nor the messy suitcases, obscenely large dildos and vaginal douching kits littering the road to porn princess-dom are enough to deter the wannabes from the pull of fame and fortune. Well, not initially. It’s all just so easy. And so much more rewarding than a minimum wage job or tertiary education; when its $900 in five hours or $8.25 an hour, as Rachel, an 18-year-old from Oswego, Illinois, plainly puts it – it’s a no brainer. Act now. Think later. Pacify the need.
Instant gratification has been hailed the god of modern society, so really, should we be surprised, or shocked, that kids will do what it takes to make a quick buck? Nonetheless, the pressure is on for the ‘hot girls’ trying to sex their way to a lucky break. Faced with the pressure to ‘make it’ and to cover a myriad of ad hoc expenses, the girls are confronted with the option to do niche videos, which pay more. Hot Girls Wanted cites a popular trend in porn as the forced blow job. Sites like “Facial Abuse” feature extreme oral sex aimed at making a girl vomit. Recent research shows that nearly 40 per cent of online pornography depicts violence against women. Graphic banner ads for sites like “18 and Abused” often appear prominently on mainstream porn sites. In 2014, abuse porn websites averaged over 60 million combined hits per month. More hits than Disney.com.
“Please mummy, one more story. How about Little Red Riding Hood? But not the one we do at school, where granny gets locked in the cupboard. That’s not real – you told us so. Read us the one where the wolf eats granny all up.”
The film offers no answers. But it does make every parent in the known universe wish desperately for a desert island pronto – sand, sun, sea and no one else! Possibly the only light in a very dark tunnel is that girls doing amateur porn have a six month shelf life – at least there’s that. With “teen” the number one searched term in internet pornography and more people visiting porn sites than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined, Bauer and Gradus’s film suggests that parents are not over reacting. In fact, parents should be freaking the hell out!
But why watch the film? It’s not like we don’t know that the internet is a demon in disguise; a Pandora ’s Box that will unleash a tornado of pain at the mere mis-click of a button. Subjecting one’s self to the vicarious delusion of one’s own daughter compromised by the exploitation of a degenerate society that, more and more, turns the other cheek, is pure sadism. But sometimes, surrounded by a self-induced bubble of myopia, a slap in the face is what we need. The film’s alarmist tone has an agenda; to judge without judging but also to terrify viewing parents into a heightened state of awareness, inciting them to initiate the necessary, age appropriate conversation with their child – whilst the Mileys, Kims and Rihannas of the world cavort in the background, competing for attention.
“It’s all about the guy getting off. The girl’s just there to help. As long as you’ve got boobs and a vagina and an ass…they don’t really care about who you are,” says Rachel.
I tuck my girls into the asylum of their Frozen bedspreads, smack their foreheads with a sloppy, mummy kiss and turn the light off, saying a prayer as I shut the door.
All statistics referenced in the above article are quoted from “Hot Girls Wanted”.
For more information on what you, as a parent, need to know about pornography online, visit www.internetmatters.org
Jem goes to cinema – truly outrageous!
May 29, 2015
“Jem! No one else is the same, Jem is my name!”
A pair of super-swish, star studded earrings; a purple lady with creepy eyes (who’s also a hologram); and a very rich, dead daddy – that’s what it took for Jerrica Benton to scream success. Just a bit of magic, money and mortality – you know; thrown together in a recipe conjuring the “glamour and glitter, fashion and fame” to which every human born with a vagina aspires. Obviously.
That’s quite some lesson right there – that without a stack of silver spoons, a big-ass butter dish, a Wiccan for a neighbour and a dying dad with cash stashed in the Caymans, Destination Dream is doomed. And it’s preached by an all-American-girl-scout-captain-of-everything-with-the-hunkiest-boyfriend-in-town-plus-a-freaking-hologram-machine-and-superstar-alter-ego-called-Jem, who was likely to have it all anyway by virtue of being a cartoon character. Lucky for her, she rocked eighties fashion like she knew the zombie apocalypse was descending at dawn – a compensating factor that allowed Jerrica Benton to peddle her stereotype for not only three seasons of series but in mind and memory for many a proceeding year.
All it took was a pair of killer heels, a minuscule wrap-skirt-dress-thing and a cacophony of pink for style to sideline suffragette-sense. Feminists freaked out. Parents compromised. Daughters got their dolls. And Jerrica-cum-Jem became a pop culture sensation – girls digging Jem for her fad, ignoring her parochialism. Until a man named Scooter came along and burst the bubble.
Scooter also happens to be Justin Bieber’s manager (’nuff said) – one of the peeps responsible for turning Jem and the Holograms into a “live action remake for a whole new generation.” So now, instead of awesome eighties Jem, who conscripted girls to context but looked suave-and-sassy doing it, we have Jem à la Britney-Miley-Demi-blah-di-blah telling the world that women are weak wannabes.
In the new film (due out 26 December, 2015) Synergy, the hologram computer that transformed eighties Jerrica into Jem, has been replaced with Photoshop. A click of a button and problems are stripped away – right? Benton (played by Aubrey Peebles – yawn) says in the film’s latest trailer, “At some point we all wish we could become someone else,” which is true, and part of life – but Photoshop; fixer of faux pas, harbinger of happiness? Not even a man with as unfortunate a name as Scooter could punt such poppycock, which means that the film is sure as sugar likely to offer an insipid attempt at a metaphor (God help us)…One Direction will play in the background, probably that The Story of My Life tripe, as Millennial Jem, in a moment of sudden epiphany, realises that she needs to stay true to who she is; that fame and Photoshop are not the answer. Vomit. It’s all a bit…lame.
The mediocre message of eighties Jem is way more palatable, not only because her dress is dope but because she is a fantasy – the catharsis she sells is rooted in imagination; she pitches an escape from reality, rather than a real solution to a problem. The ‘button click’ and ‘earring touch’ that it takes for Jem’s identity to transform (something to which we can all relate) is undermined by the show’s supernatural undertone. Jem is a drawing and purple hologram people who grant wishes do not exist (yet) – so suck it up, and deal with life. Work hard, have a good attitude and aspire to something other than glitz&glam. This girly-girl crap is so boring. And yet, there is no such hint in Scooter & co’s film promos, and by detaching the fantasy from the fiction, the solution to Jem’s problems – that all-changing click – is offered as a real option. An antidote to a mediocre life. Also known as ‘placebo’.
Better the devil with pink hair than the one that looks like Taylor Swift. Thanks.
Peaky Blinders – Gangsters will be gangsters
February 24, 2015
These days it’s dawgs with hoodies and not-quite-hidden daggers, bellowing ‘bruv’ as they lope across the street with a one-walk-one-jive jaunt that oozes equal measures of miscreant and menace. But back in late-eighteen-hundred-and-something it was razor wielding peaks that ruled the streets. The ‘Peaky Blinders’ were a real crew, making mayhem in and around the passages of Birmingham in the late nineteenth- early twentieth-century. Gang members rocked flat caps – aka ‘peakys’ – with razors supposedly sewn in to the front of their peaks; making it easy to blind, batter or bruise any accosting enemy or offending citizen, as legend has it. It’s an idea ripe for plucking and plucked it has been, with skill and style that make it difficult to overlook as ordinary.
Prime propagator of the ‘less-than-ordinary’ is one Thomas Shelby, leader of the Peaky Blinders; a gang whose ambitions form the crux of a historical drama series set in the aftermath of World War One. Peaky Blinders, written by Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things), is a vivid reminder that gangsters will be gangsters regardless of whether they’re brandishing oversized jeans, Nike shoes and a pitbull or overcoats, three-piece suits and a race horse; there’s always turf…and if it belongs to you (said gangster) – not because you paid for it or won it or because your dead granny bequeathed it to you, but because you said so – you’ll spill whatever blood is necessary to protect your piece.Gangsterism has nothing to do with the notion of ‘fair’; it’s a literal assertion of will under the guise of brotherhood and in the name of a cause (even if it’s a dumb one, relatively speaking of course). But is this not something of which we are all guilty – asserting ourselves on the world, staking claim on that which we perceive to be our own (money, power, relationships, the street corner), and often to the detriment of those around us?Perhaps that’s why we are willing to grant Thomas Shelby reprieve.
No man, woman, child, communist, IRA supporter or any ‘other’ walking the streets of Birmingham is left untouched by the gangster guile of Shelby and his slightly psychotic brethren and yet we root for the Peaky Blinders like a bunch of Green Street Hooligans. Steven Knight has done a very clever thing; he’s positeda hero who boasts the prefix ‘anti’ with unparalleled swagger. The Peaky Blinders gang is led by a manwho has been pulped-up as a decorated war hero; a man who is spat back into society with little understanding, gratitude or support after participating in what is now known as one of the bloodiest battles in human history – the Battle of the Somme, which saw more than one million men wounded or killed. Thomas Shelby, played by Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, Inception), returned from this war with very little regard for any authoritative establishment – government and church in particular. So he becomes a gangsterand in so doing turns into the ultimate anarchist, tapping in to society’s intrinsic urge to disobey its proverbial parent? Sure, the gang wants to get rich but Thomas Shelby, who has chucked his medals in the mud, is raging against the machine and his fire is Greek.
The ‘Peaky’ leader’s grand scheme is to make his fortune by controlling racecourse gambling first in Birmingham (season one) and then in London (season two). Shelby adopts a ‘means to an end’ type approach – break the law to become legitimate and stay legitimate by breaking the law. Thomas Shelby follows the same path as Walter White (Breaking Bad), Dexter Morgan (Dexter), Jackson Teller (Sons of Anarchy), Bell and Barksdale (The Wire), who all display the traits of conventionally bad men but still manage to activate audience empathy, in part because they are frank about their badness. Whether fate, life, character or sociopathy is the primary force at work, there’s no pretence and little moral justification on the part of these vicious vanguards and consequently, they exude a freedom that piques our jealousy. They’ve been to confessional and have decided that they’re OK with doing it the Michael Jackson way, “Bad, Bad – Really, Really Bad.”
In obvious contrast to Shelby’s bad-boy likeability is a Northern Irish police chief (played by Sam Neill) who is blatantly detestable. Knight has purposefully pitted his protagonist against a man who stands on the right side of the law, who has morality on his side, but is, in fact, the ultimate pain in the ass. Inspector Chester Campbell is a hypocrite – perhaps the root of his loathsomeness; a man corrupted by his arrogance and definitely someone who should not be casting any stones. He’s also not a war hero. And he knows it. To make matters worse, the woman he loves is in love with his nemesis, Thomas Shelby – and there is just no competing with this icy-eyed bad-boy. If there was a coffin and some nails, they’d all be banged in. Hard.
The power struggle between Thomas Shelby and Inspector Campbell pickles our perceptions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in an effort to make us question our own moral constructs. Peaky Blinders asks who is worse – the product or the producer? Thomas Shelby is argued as a criminal created by context – would he have turned to gang life had he not been shipped off to war and thrust back into society with barely a spare thought? Not likely. Yes, he did have a choice, just like the kid living in Baltimore, Maryland with his drug addict mum and dad, no money and no hope had a choice (DeAndre, anyone?) Whilst Michael Jackson was cavorting around an underground parking lot jamming it up to Bad, he also managed to facilitate the words “We Can Change The World Tomorrow/ This Could Be A Better Place/ If You Don’t Like What I’m Sayin’/ Then Won’t You Slap My Face”, as Thomas Shelby so dares the government. And so far, there’s been no slap.
That time when Rick Grimes ate that guy’s throat…
January 13, 2015
It’s the Zombie Apocalypse. Everything’s gone all Lord of the Flies only it’s Jack en masse and a billion times worse. Forget an impugned conch, smashed glasses, a piked pig head and a dead boy with spears in his gut. In this world, not only are zombies roaming the countryside chowing down on every person they bump their rotten corpses into but human beings, driven by fear and self-preservation, have equated man with monster and there is no mercy. Everyone’s a savage.
So when a group of hungry, horny paedophile-types accost you, your pals and your kid son, bind your hands and, well, get down to business; making a meal of a man’s jugular is an obvious thing (what else did God give us canines for?). In a world where the dead walk and the living walk faster, Rick Grimes did what he had to, to protect son Carl from certain death-by-psycho. And, in the words of Torrance Shipman (aka Kirsten Dunst); it was “like awesome, like wow, like totally freak me out…right on!” We cheer the carnage and beg for more. What kind of crazy-ass people are we? Which is exactly what The Walking Dead asks.
More than the visceral barbarism of Rick’s onslaught, most shocking is that we, the viewer, root for for the rampage; we revel in the brutality and stick our head all the way in hoping that we can taste a little blood too. There is no euphemism. And yet our very visceral response to a child under fire is mediated by the bonos mores of social convention. When innocence is intimidated and injustice threatens, our reaction is bound by a code of moral conduct; the thing that keeps society from tipping over into complete and utter chaos. We set up meetings, write letters, fill in forms, converse in quiet but really, launching one’s self into the throat of the articulated felon and ripping a giant gaping hole that gushes lifeblood over everything within a five-metre radius is where the mind of every person who has ever bared responsibility for a child and taken it an iota of seriously will go. And then reason takes over and the instinctual yearning for a proverbial knife in the head (or some such violence) is quashed.
Until something triggers the sequestrated unconscionable fathoms of thought that we have banished to the recesses of our mind, shamefully locked away for the sake of sanity. Something like a Zombie Apocalypse and Rick Grimes exacting a beat down. The genius thing about the horror genre is that it enables us to face that which is entirely unpalatable in the normal hum-drum of everyday life. Horror provides a safe zone – oh what diabolical irony! Through metaphor and hyperbole, the genre gives us permission to access the darkness intrinsic to our nature. Deep down, we want to hurt the people who hurt our children; to punish them for making our babies cry. It’s ugly but it’s true. What wouldn’t a parent do to protect a child? It’s an abyss of awesome that will terrify anyone who dares to get in there and confront the fallibility and corruptibility that defines that crazy condition called ‘being human’. The challenge has been set. Who’s in?
Are skulls really about death?
August 19, 2014
“That skull had a tongue in it, and could sing once…”
A cranial puzzle that enshrouded the musings of a mind, a teardrop that once enlivened its bearer, an abyss that articulated thought, cavernous sockets providing a gateway to a gaping maw that, even in death, alludes to something rather than nothing…
…death, danger, machismo. Evil. Fear. Caution.
It’s easy to be philosophical about skulls but the fact of the matter is that before pop culture defiled one of symbolism’s most iconic metaphors (with pink bows and heart shaped glasses) they were pretty much as scary as crap – ominous in their blatant attachment to death. A bleak reminder of human mortality. What better object than a skull, once sheathed in living matter – sharp in its contours, unforgiving in its glare, relentless in its presence – to burden itself with society’s reverent trepidation?
By nature humankind fears that which it cannot comprehend. And death, intrinsically enigmatic, is equivocal in its ability to attract and repel with simultaneous force. Rather than ignore the beastly object, we render it artistically, we rant and rave about it, we tattoo it on our arms and emboss it on our clothing. We can’t ignore it; it is, after all, a part of us.
So be it.
A more interesting question than “Are skulls really about death?” (yes, they are) is, “So, what’s the big deal? Death, right? We all do it.”
Obviously…the thought of death sucks (unless it’s perceived to grant a reprieve in some way) – it will probably hurt, you leave behind loved ones, you might never get to wear that kickass pink dress you bought last weekbut, ultimately (a small fyi), we’re all gonna die.
What happens after is what really matters.
It makes the most sense to suppose that the fear invoked by a skull is fuelled by one’s perception of the afterlife. Surely, if Heaven is part of a person’s ideological dogma, death is not something to fear. Right? Heaven (or whatever utopia) presupposes the continued existence of a soul. So death might hurt but, considering eternal life, it’s a brief moment in time. Yet the great irony is that often those who have the biggest gripe about skulls are those who, in fact, believe in an afterlife. Religion – it’s a bitch.
The problem is that skulls, along the way, have become synonymous with evil. So they have a bad rap. But it’s important to remember that although skulls will never detach from the deathly aura that imbues them, they are, after all, mere objects (inanimate in nature); it is human beings that wield them with evil intent.
Arguably, skulls have been unfairly vilified.
Luckily, not only is Popular Culture an iconoclast but it loves a good villain. Pop Culture, with its mass production, its sequin, gold beading and bountiful bling has looked death in the face and said a big “Fuck YOU! I’ll chuck some glitter on you and see how you like it!” And, as it turns out, skulls look quite good in pink. Rebelling against its own ideology, society, through Popular Culture, has undermined its aversion to death by caricaturing its most applied weapon. Using skulls to pelt mortality into the gut of humanity with unbridled, unashamed force, is no longer relevant.
Well, that’s not quite true. Not everyone subscribes to the doctrine of Popular Culture, and, in certain contexts, skulls can be truly fearsome (fear the reaper…and all) but times have changed – ideology has evolved and so too have the symbols attached thereto.
“Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.” – German Proverb
Dexter Finale – Kudos to a great ending
REMEMBER THE MONSTERS
October 2, 2013
He wrapped her up in a white sheet, her innocence, in the web of his arduous actuality, palpable, and took her out to sea. Engulfed in a metaphoric storm, he buried her in the depths of the waters, purifying her soul, and offered himself to fate in pardon for his sins.
In true horror style the slasher defies certain death in a supernatural feat of all odds. To source a new victim? Or in servitude to the gods – as penance for past crimes? Sentenced to a lonely life of contemplative torment – a pain induced suffering invoked by acknowledgement, acceptance, guilt and regret; emotions of the humane. Not anything a psychopath would comprehend.
And so the question that has been the crux of an eight-year story, and was the focus of the final season, is brought to climactic culmination in the finale: is Dexter a psychopath?
Unlike Jeff Lindsay’s written series, in which Dexter remains consistent in his pathology, the TV adaptation has presented darkly dreaming Dexter in a different light; a normal boy moulded into ‘crazy’ by a traumatic experience. The series explores Dexter’s journey into the realm of humanity. With each passing season Dexter’s status as psychopath is further and further complicated as typically human emotions creep into his character; exemplified by his love for his sister, his son and Hannah. And finally, guilt and remorse. Dexter starts to feel rather than merely emulate. Dr Vogel, a necessary plot device in season 8, notices Dexter’s emotional ambivalence – questioning the feelings he thinks he has developed:
Dexter: I’d never kill Debra; she’s my sister. I love her.
Vogel: What exactly do you love about her?
Dexter: What do you mean?
Vogel: When a psychopath speaks about love, it isn’t the same thing as it is for typical people. So, what do you love about her?
Dexter: I don’t know. I love having steaks and beer with her and until recently that fact that she was always there for me, she looked up to me.
Vogel: But none of that is really about Debra, it’s about what she does for you. (Season 8, “What’s Eating Dexter Morgan”)
But ultimately it’s an annoying little idiom that speaks louder than Vogel’s opinions – rendering her words as dead as she finds herself: Dexter in a moment of tragic illumination invoked by the demise of his sister Deb acknowledges:
As much as I may have pretended otherwise, for so long all I wanted was to feel like other people – to feel what they felt. But now that I do, I just want it to stop. (Season 8, “Remember The Monsters”)
…and (Dex to Deb):
I would change everything if I could. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” (Season 8, “Remember The Monsters”)
Realising that he is a little more than bad company, Dexter sacrifices his own happiness by letting Harrison and Hannah go.
But it’s Deb who makes the biggest sacrifice – a martyr for the cause of Dexter’s self-realisation; the consequence of tragic love. Deb’s love for Dexter proves stronger than her moral compass, and it is this love – the love of a sister and a friend, and a romantic love unrequited – that saves Dexter. Through Deb’s death, Dexter achieves enlightenment.
Whether intentional or not, Dexter the TV show evolved into an epic drama chronicling the relationship between Dex and Deb, and the ending was always going to come down to the two of them.
It had to.
But much like Dexter Morgan in the finale’s parting shot, many viewers have been left unsatisfied, angry with the world, wtf-ing their way through a Dexter-less day.
The question is why?
Is it because Dexter’s future is left uncertain – will Dexter cope with his newly acknowledged emotion in the only way he knows how (through murderous release) or will he find his way back his son and lover, a changed man? – throwing faithful fans into a vortex of unbearable speculation-driven torment? Were viewers expecting a ‘do or die’ scenario – Dexter goin’ down guns a-blazing or fleeing to certain happiness?
The fact is; life isn’t like that – it’s not black and white, this or that. The human condition is not easily solvable, measured or defined. It cannot be neatly packaged or easily boxed. And a show about that very condition should thus end accordingly; with complication. A great ending is not rendered ‘great’ by pandering to audience sensibility, it achieves greatness by conjuring something that is true to the story…true to the character…true to the mythology.
Dexter’s redemption is uncertain, his future debatable and his character yet unfathomable.
And it’s real.
The Walking Dead: best show alive!
July 8, 2013
Fumbling around in a mindless, ravenous hunger for human flesh, groaning and grunting without point or purpose, zombies exist as Horror’s most manky metaphor. Void of intellect, passion, power, psychosis, sexuality, romance, reason, method or madness, zombies represent humanity at its most contemptible.
The concept of a ‘zombie nation’ has always been difficult for the world to swallow. Through the brain-addled ‘living dead’, Horror implies a scenario in which thought is contrived and action is manipulated. In an effort to expose the great human UnaMind – the weaknesses of human nature and the moral corrosion of society – Horror talks in a language of excess; so severe, so visceral, so literal that it is largely unpalatable but never invalid. Under the guise of the impossible, truth is exposed… and the truth ain’t always pretty. So we ignore it, giving zombies the visual and intellectual cold shoulder; blaming the ‘guts and gore.’ It is much easier for us to deny our intrinsic need to identify, to familiarise, to conform than to acknowledge our shortcomings, more specifically; our penchant for lapsing into a state of ‘virtual amoeba.’
And then came The Walking Dead.
Frank Darabont’s TV adaptation of the same-name comic has imbued the zombie-horror with a profundity of prestige and power.
It forces us to look.
But why? How?
The show’s context is not atypical: set in a post-apocalyptic world overrun with zombies – moms, dads, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbours, aunties and uncles who have succumbed to a mega virus for which there is (obviously) no cure – survivors are forced to adapt to their new surroundings in a do or die approach. The narrative is recognisable. The guts and gore is plentiful, and executed with great skill and mastery – enough to alienate the averagely squeamish.
Yet The Walking Dead is watched, and not only by horror fans.
So what is it? What has this show got that zombie films do not? What is the ‘something’ that draws in the gawking masses?
The answer is: time.
Time has nurtured a show that has divulged the human condition in a manner so true and so tragic. Its voice is powerful.
Some of the best TV series produced over the last few years are shows written in ‘novel form’ – The Wire, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones (to some degree), Sons of Anarchy are examples. With this type of script the characters drive the intensity of the show – plot is used to pace episodes but, more importantly, functions as a tool to expand on and develop character. Story arcs are long and dialogue between characters is important. A further characteristic of ‘novel format’ is that series often have to be reviewed in retrospect. Characters do not flesh out in the space of a single episode; it can take seasons. Viewers are required to invest in the long term. Series as a genre affords the time to do delve deep into personality and motivation.
The Walking Dead protagonist Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln), aka sheriff’s deputy, perfectly illustrates the intricate character progression inherent in the ‘novel form’ series. In season 1, Rick wakes up from a coma in a world he does not recognise – chaos reigns and death lurks around every menacing corner; the season focuses on Rick’s coming to terms with the zombie apocalypse as he searches for his family.
The second season focuses on Rick’s rise to power – as leader of a group of survivors, which includes his wife Lori and son Carl, he operates in contrast to ousted leader and best friend Shane (played by Jon Bernthal), and what starts out as petty warfare turns into something seriously homicidal. Rick, desperately clinging onto a pre-zombie cop-code, becomes a caricature of good and moral thinking whilst devilish Shane has been turned by zombie-land into a personification of immorality. In the midst of this ethical power struggle is a zombie war that escalates in juxtaposition to the ascending animosity between Rick and Shane. The zombies operate as an outward manifestation, a symbol, of the moral decay that is taking over the few human beings left on earth. Zombies describe a pestilence of the soul. As the season progresses Rick is, time and time again, thrust into situations that challenge his moral code. And he is forced to change. In “18 Miles Out” (season 2, episode 10), ever-altruistic Rick is prepared to cut his losses and leave Shane for dead and ultimately he is forced to kill his pal when Shane pulls a gun on him (“Beside the Dying Fire”, season 2, episode 13) – who then turns into a zombie. Shane’s moral decay rots him inside and out: the message is clear.
But Rick turns out to be not so clear. And this all comes to a head in season 3. Everything that has happened to Rick up until the start of the season incites a brutal internal struggle and in the name of self-preservation, he withdraws emotionally and opts to run his group with bitter ruthlessness. Over the course of seasons 1 and 2, Rick morphs from mild-mannered law enforcer into a zombie-slaying badass who will do what it takes to protect the group over and above himself – kill, lie, steal whatever. The change completes itself during the course of season 3 but what happens when a man is forced to defy the essence of his character? – He freaks out a little, is all. And then Lori dies and Rick descends into an abyss of insanity, albeit temporarily. Forced to compromise his moral integrity on so many occasions and faced with the reality of loss and regret, Rick struggles to forge an identity that is compliant with the horrors of zombie-land. Rick has to work his shit out not just for his own benefit but for the sake of the group.
It takes three seasons for all this fleshing out to occur. And Rick is just one character.
Zombie-land does not pander to passivity; it forces change. Sometimes change is slight – some characters merely become exaggerated versions of themselves (Merle, for example) – but for others it is acute (as with Andrea). The show’s uncompromising context offers the perfect petri dish for the study of human nature – to what lengths will we go to survive in world enveloped in utter loss and complete devastation. And don’t we all want to know what we would do? – The show offers us insight and answers.
The Walking Dead exposes the recesses of the human heart, mind and soul.The show is a meditation on the human spirit – how we can be utterly shit a lot of the time and yet simultaneously magnificent in our tenacity and magnanimity. The zombies’ reign of terror merely amplifies our contradictions and embellishes our complexity. And it is as entertaining as hell!
“The world as we know it is gone but keeping our humanity? That is a choice.” Dale
Too old to headbang?
April 29, 2013
I am a headbanger. A hair-whipping, brain frazzling, metalheaded headbanger.
And then I turned thirty.
And ‘am’ became a tentative ‘sometimes’.
I went to a metal gig soon after my thirtieth birthday; thrashed my head around in the maniacal, and not unaccustomed manner, that said head has come to expect… and gave myself some or other version of concussion.
No friend, I wish I was joking.
I left the gig: saw stars, felt brutally nauseous, thought I was going to pass out but managed to not spew the whole tube ride home (it was no mean feat)… until I hit the station escalator – the longest escalator in the world, of course. Blasting chunks into my hands and jersey, I tried to act normal – H.A. H.A – as I watched pieces of dolmades embed themselves in the grooves of the less-than-impressed metal stairs that were carrying me to the beautiful anonymity of the outside. After lurching my way toward the exit, I ditched my woollen gurge bag on the side of the street and carried on in a merry-I-have-not-just-purged-my-insides-all-over-London way, contemplating wtf!? every second of the ten-minute bus ride home.
My body had failed me.
Or maybe I’ve just got too much hair?
Since that day, I have tried headbanging at home, in secret, just to see what will happen – at least if I concuss myself again no one is there to see my shame and my very fragile street cred will remain mostly in tact. But I’ve got to be honest; it’s a little challenging. The truth of the matter is: I have lost my metal mojo. Two kids and a whole lot less clubbing later, I am out of practice. I mean, I know how to bang and thrash – the music demands it – but afterwards…
… afterwards, I expect to suffer.
In a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2008, researchers concluded that headbanging to a typical heavy metal tempo could cause mild traumatic brain injury or concussion, and neck injury, particularly as the tempo of the music and angle of movement increases – if the range of movement of the head and neck is greater than 75 degrees, you’re screwed.
Fuck that shit.
No one ever said life was easy. ‘Specially not for a metalhead.
Am I too old to headbang?
Will I stop?
Read more about the BMJ research at ABC Science – “Head-banging hammers the brain”
(Photo Credit: DIVINE EDGE)
The Following: the good the bad and the very very stupid
April 16, 2013
The Following is great; protagonist and ultra-suave-sexy-drunkard-antihero-with-a-damaged-heart-and-a-death-complex Kevin Bacon (aka Ryan Hardy) is cool (more than cool), sadist-serial-killer-weirdo Joe Carroll is sufficiently creepy and lady-love-damsel-in-distress Claire Matthews is accurately pretty and even a little badass. A cult formed by the unassuming evils of modern technology, led by a psycho and united by a debauched interpretation and literal enactment of Edgar Allan Poe’s dark romanticism is both current and interesting. That’s the good.
The bad and stupid are pretty much synonomous: Joe Carroll will NEVER GET CAUGHT.
Not because he is a mind so dark and brilliant that he can evade the authorities with his pure genius (which is totally tolerable).
Because the FBI sucks. It sucks a lot. It sucks so many balls that it’s hard to count.
America should be overrun with serial killers if Fox network’s latest offering is anything to go by.
Bad guys always get away and people always get killed because: there are never enough agents, phones never have signal, the boss never believes the guy who is always right (Hardy), no one ever gets there on time, there’s always a tracking device that duh! no one notices and everyone has crap aim – you’d think that a cult responsible for a massacre of death and destruction would deserve to be taken more seriously, perhaps?
Here’s the thing: although Claire half throttling Emma to death hit the spot (the please-can-someone-kill-Emma-because-her-face-is-stupidly-annoying spot), the audience needs a pay-off at some point SO… it’s time to get y’all half-baked asses back to Quantico and sign up for ‘How to catch the bad guys 101’. In the meantime, here’s a handy tip:
Don’t leave killers untended especially when their hands are badly tied and you HAVE NO BACK-UP – for the love of God!
Tyler Durden: girls always love a badass!
Rant!’s DELECTABLE DUDES OF DISCOURSE Series
Rant! swoons unashamedly over literature’s hottest hunks – and it’s all subjective of course.
April 4, 2013
Tyler Durden is the alpha male; the leader of the pack, the originator of Fight Club, the commander of Project Mayhem. He is testosterone epitomised, anarchy personified, defiance exemplified and carnal to the core. He looks, tastes, smells, shits and breathes Attitude.
The brain-child of author Chuck Palahniuk, Tyler Durden is described by his creator in novel Fight Club as:
…funny and forceful and independent, and men look up to him and expect him to change their world. Tyler is capable and free…
…An idea adapted by Jim Uhls, in David Fincher’s 1999 film adaptation, as follows:
I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not.
Tyler Durden IS badass.
Chuck Palahniuk is famed for his grotesque and exaggerated portraits of American society and in Fight Club Tyler Durden is the dregs of civilization. A projectionist, waiter and entrepreneur, Durden sabotages companies and abuses clients; he inserts subliminal porn into movies, pees in food and steals left-over drained human fat from liposuction clinics to supplement his income through soap making and create the ingredients for bomb manufacturing. A working class deadbeat, a terrorist and an extremist. Engaged in a war against consumerism, it is through guerilla activity that Durden actualises his principles:
Only after disaster can we be resurrected. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.
A philosopher and a freedom fighter!? Even dregs can be heroes.
Maybe self-improvement isn’t the answer, maybe self-destruction is the answer.
Not only is Fight Club a way to unify the masses, to forge a weapon to fuck with the system, but it is a symbol of Durden’s penchant for carnage. And Durden’s metaphoric hara-kiri is brutally erotic.
Women love him. Women crave him. Women want to have his babies (and Marla his abortion). Over and over again.
Not in spite of the fact that he is so utterly despicable but because of it.
The raw animalism invoked by bare-knuckle brawling seems to incite some sort of lust pheromone in women, and there is, in fact, a biological reason; an explanation why male barbarism – the act of bruise-and-battery – is so damn hot. Journal Nature Communications states that women rate guys with high levels of testosterone and stronger immune responses as more attractive. Research also suggests that women are not to blame for their bad boy lust; when ovulating a woman’s hormones influence who she sees as a good potential father, a woman will specifically pick ‘sexier’ (more badass) men over obviously more dependable men. Researcher Kristina Durante, of The University of Texas at San Antonio says, “When looking at the sexy cad through ovulation goggles, Mr Wrong looked exactly like Mr Right”. It goes back to the days of the cavemen; in modern society, proving one’s worth means getting a job and perhaps a house but in the days of the Neanderthal is was about strength – hunting mammoths and building the furniture.
Women are attracted to the alpha male; the man who reigns supreme over all others; the man who rules Fight Club. The proverbial Tyler Durden.
Here’s the catch; Tyler Durden is an alter ego; he’s only one half of a whole. Durden’s charisma is juxtaposed with the insipid vacuity of Palahniuk’s unnamed narrator, the protagonist in Fight Club who suffers a rather severe case of Dissociative Personality Disorder. Mr Unnamed exists as a zombie, drifting through life working a job he hates for shit he doesn’t need – neither a ‘Mr Right’ nor a ‘Mr Wrong’ but a Mr Boring. Fight Club, initiated by his alter ego, brings Mr Unnamed to life:
You aren’t alive anywhere like you’re alive at fight club. When it’s you and one other guy under that one light in the middle of all those watching. Fight club isn’t about winning or losing fights. Fight club isn’t about words…There’s grunting and noise at fight club like at the gym, but fight club isn’t about looking good. There’s hysterical shouting in tongues like at church, and when you wake up Sunday afternoon you feel saved.
Fight Club is a religious experience. It’s a way to connect; lost souls without purpose congregate but with unifying intent, to fight. And the rules of the club forge a community. Fight Club undermines the notion of the mediocre and the mundane; it activates Life.
And women want to live! So although Mr Boring is also Mr Wrong, women gravitate to the Tyler Durden side of Mr Unnamed; the side that fights – for ideas, for life and for pleasure.
Neurologist and father of Psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud believed that sex and aggression were the two principle motives of human psychology. He referred to these drives as Eros (love) and Thanatos (death). Eros represents the life instinct, sex being the major driving force, and Thanatos represents the death instinct (characterised by aggression), which, according to Freud, allowed the human race to both procreate and eliminate its enemies. Although the nature of each instinct is somewhat paradoxical, Psychoanalytic theory suggests that life and death are symbiotic; the survival of the species is dependent on the enactment of both sex and aggression. Freud, in light of his personality theory, would not be surprised that women flock to men who exude the most primal of human impulses.
When Durden aka Mr Narrator beats and gets beaten on, he is engaged in the enactment of self-actualisation. He fights to feel, and so he fights for Life; if Freud is right, and life is synonymous with sex, then no wonder women want Tyler Durden. His sex-appeal emanates from his severely executed will to live. Yet also at play in Durden’s desire to fight is an unyielding instinct that gravitates toward death and compels him to exert himself on the world with a barrage of force; by imposing himself on his fellow man through violence – by undermining strength and annihilating ego – Tyler Durden fights for identity. Destruction initiates a revival of self.
Then the alter egos become one and the hero culled for the sake of sanity (a questionable sanity at that). And if there’s anything girls love more than a badass, it’s a martyr.
Blame it on the hormones… but when it comes to sex – the stuff made from pure pheromone – it matters not whether it’s with a banker or a builder (pack leader could be either!) as long as it’s with a FIGHTER; a man who will to kill to live…
…even if he’s insane. Even if IT’S insane.
Black Sabbath & Philosophy – a MUST READ for fan and foe alike!
February 8, 2013
Black Sabbath; oldass has-beens or transcendent musical icons? Whatever your flavour, there is no question of the band’s significance to metal music. Sabbath has been called a ‘pioneer of metal’, even a prototype for metal; pretty impressive for a bunch of guys with the small-time dream of escaping the prosaic life offered by home-town Birmingham and its mundane-as-hell factory work. But whether Sabbath intended to change the future of music or not, is not the point; they did. And they did it well.
Black Sabbath & Philosophy: Mastering Reality, part of the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series, offers a philosophical perspective one of the most influential bands of the modern era. It’s a compilation of carefully substantiated opinion penned by a host of authors (fans) and edited by series editor William Irwin (professor of philosophy at King’s College in Pennsylvania and originator of the Philosophy and Pop Culture series).
Face your demons with Sabbath and Existentialism, meet the band through the mind of Schopenhauer, find out what Nietzsche would have written had he been a Sabbath fan, consider the ethical implications of a band’s duty (to fans) to maintain a steady line-up, add in a little ‘war theory’ a note on stereotyping…
…and, of course, Ozzy; what is Sabbath without Ozzy? In Black Sabbath & Philosophy, James Bondarchuck says “It’s Not Sabbath Unless Ozzy’s the Singer (But it’s Fine if You Disagree)” and Wesley D Cray says “Fighting Words: Sabbath Doesn’t Need the Ozzman”. Perhaps Metaphysics can solve the problem? The debate gets super interesting when the same philosophy is used to substantiate opposing arguments.
And if you’re tired of the hackneyed mind-spew that claims ‘metal is less-than’ “The Dark Art of Metal” (Chapters 7, 8 and 9) will give you the philosophical tools to argue your pop/indie friends (if you have any – blagh!) into an abysmally deep ditch. Hell freakin yeah!#ThanksAristotleandPlato. The book’s discussion on why metal is art, what makes metal metal and what makes Sabbath metal? gives kudos to just why metal is (irrefutably) the best genre of music in the world.
If all this ‘philosophy nonsense’ sounds a bit pie in the sky for you; the metal fan who believes that music is ultimately about how it makes your feel and that over-intellectualising kills the heart and soul of the feeling. You’re right. But music has a mind. And “Black Sabbath & Philosophy” brings the mind to the masses. It’s a book written by fans, for fans. It surmises ideas that you’re already thinking, without realising that you’re thinking them. “Black Sabbath & Philosophy” is the stuff you talk about whilst waiting for a gig to start, listening to music with your pals, arguing over dinner with beer in hand and temper in fist – the stuff you talk about until 2am in the morning and still never agree on. The stuff that makes being human awesome!
Metal is genius. It’s rife with philosophy, ideas and attitude and to deny this is to distract from the force of that which inspires our souls to life. As postured in Greg Littmann’s essay “The Art of Black Sabbath” (Chapter 7 in “Black Sabbath & Philosophy”), Aristotle said that good music makes you think. When art is released into the world, mind and philosophy grab hold and interpretation endeavours to demystify the mystery, and so equivocation is born. Art’s penchant for relativity is what makes it as volatile as it is attractive. And if we’re talking volatile, none is so volatile as metal.
Metal invokes that which no other music dares: raw human emotion. Song and lyric wrestle with the heart of man: its anger, its ugliness, its brutality and its barbarism but also its potential for magnificence…and what happens when beauty is adulterated and hope is gone. Metal is unscrupulous in its exposition of reality and thus renders the most provocative, excruciating, socially acute poetry cited by popular culture.
Black Sabbath & Philosophy, an ode to Sabbath, is as controversial in ideology as is its muse; its philosophical meditations, meanings and musings inspire disagreement and provoke dissension. It’s a total mind fuck…
…Sabbath would have it no other way.
You can buy “Black Sabbath & Philosophy: Mastering Reality” on Amazon – CLICK HERE – and definitely check out the other books in the series; they’re an absolute riot. Visit Andphilosophy.com to find out more!
Sons of Anarchy Season 5 KILLED AWESOME. Twice.
December 7, 2012
Sons of Anarchy: just when you think you’ve got the show figured out, it rears its psychotic head and kicks you in the ass. Hard.
And that’s exactly why it’s so damn good!
Season 5. One word: IN-freakin’-SANE!
From Opie’s brutal jail death, Tigs watching his daughter burn alive and the murder of Rita plus one to Otto’s tongue massacre, a pitbull bloodbath – and a Latino gangster who goes down Cujo style, Jax’s Machiavellian orchestration of Pope’s death, a little drug de-habilitaion and Tara’s exit to prison (for a little intimate “fisting” according to the ever-eloquent Gemma)… not to mention the usual raucous and mayhem that runs rampant if the not-so-charming Charming. Feeling stressed, harassed perhaps? That’s the genius of ‘Sons’: artful, addictive, cathartic and raw to the bone.
But it’s not all about the razzmatazz of pushing boundaries, pissing off censorship and intimidating those of a more sensitive predilection; the extremity has a point. Sutter does not do gratuitous. The life of SAMCRO, as portrayed in the mythology of the show IS extreme; painful and pathological. Consequently, things happen epically.
Sutter is brave beyond brave. He says a philosophical “eff you” to ratings (although he gets them anyway) by refusing to pander to the audience tendency to demand that stuff work out, a ‘happy ending’ – a notion relative to the individual. But Sutter even manages to screw with relativity. We want Jax to be the changed leader, or perhaps no leader at all, we wish that Gemma would learn to back the fuck off, we hope that someone will just deaden Clay already, or perhaps absolution is more your mentor, we beg Tara to escape, to save the boys… we want justice, retribution and penance but also love and happiness. We want the characters to learn – from their mistakes and the mistakes of those who have come and gone. But is life like that? Do we learn? I mean really, do we?
Sutter suggests not.
History’s echo, the never-ending cycle of repetition, is something deeply engrained in Sutter’s rhetoric. Arguably the show’s most interesting conversation is the one that debates free will versus destiny – Shakespearean in its delivery and implication. Jax’s dad tried to change SAMCRO and got killed for his efforts. The journals he left for Jax planted some big ideas but as Jax realises in season 5, “you can’t sit in this chair without being a savage.” Or can you? Ex-VP Bobby seems to think so. Jax’s actions suggest that the means justify the end but the problem is that Jax’s end is ambiguous.
Sutter has created an important parallel between Jax and show newbie Neron Padilla (‘Nero’) played by genius Jimmy Smits. Both men are gangsters trying to exit The Life. In a poignant conversation with Nero (in season 5’s finale), the two leaders, by inference, acknowledge the futility of not only their ability but their desire to leave the game. Power is attractive, and Jax has not only tasted power but prestige as well. As it turns out, he’s a great outlaw. Pity he sucks at being a husband and a father. The point is; will Jax ever be in a position (practically and emotionally) to give up SAMCRO? Or will he perpetuate the cycle of chaos. Jax writes letters to his sons, containing the stuff that he can tell no one else – we assume, in the hope that his boys will both learn and change what their dad knows is inevitable. The déjà vu is intrinsically horrifying.
Season 4 ended with a snapshot of Jax sitting at the head of The Table, the new leader of SAMCRO, with his ol’ lady symbolically behind him – protecting her man. Season 5 repeated the snapshot but Tara has been ousted by Gemma, who has her arm around her boy this time, and Able has been included in the frame. The comment is poignant: a family legacy. Jax replaces Clay, Tara replaces Gemma and in a putrid Hamlet/Gertrude scenario Gemma supplants Tara as Jax’s ol’ lady (all a little Freudian!? – but point taken). Sutter instigates the idea that Jax is there to stay – and it is by choice as much as circumstance as decision and destiny join hands in a twisted alliance. That said; nothing is certain with Sutter or ‘Sons’ – perhaps the perceived inevitable is a ruse? Perhaps not.
So, in a reductive summation of Season 5: Gemma sucks, Clay’s screwed, Jax has learnt a whole lotta nothing… and Life’s a bitch. The thing is, the reason ‘Sons’ is such a successful show is that it is never EVER reductive. The writers have written characters who people not only relate to but care about. The fact that Jax & co exist in so deplorable a world, one enveloped in danger and heartache creates the opportunity for the aggrandisement of the idiosyncrasies that define the human condition, which is exaggerated and compounded in a labyrinth of complexity. People are never just black and white. Gemma is utterly reprehensible but she is also admirable; ruled by her insecurities she confuses selfishness with love and yet strength permeates her being. The characters in ‘Sons’ evoke acute feelings of love and hate, and neither response is mutually exclusive. In fact, they are violently symbiotic.
Only a show that boasts the severest of skill and the greatest of heart can keep people not only watching but hoping, hoping against the odds. The rest is silence.
To find out what Kurt Sutter has to say about ‘Sons’ Season 5 (6 and 7!), check out Collider.com.
Marilyn Manson: preaching to the converted. Is there a point?
November 2, 2012
In the nineties Marilyn Manson redefined the term ‘shock rock’; in the name of art and to make a point. Extreme in his theatrics, Manson became shock rock; as a god-like personification of ‘the anti’ he moulded himself into a character of mythic proportion, and fact and fiction served to deify the allegory. A symbol of chaos enforced by theatre extreme, Manson elicited the attention he set out to achieve. Adulation and abuse set the stage for the deliverance of an almighty message, which erupted with arguable genius.
There is a philosophy that says that best way to get people to realise their metaphorical blindness is to shock them into recognition. In the name of art Manson transformed himself into the “god of fuck”; the antithesis of society’s defined morality. Infamously, he wiped his ass on the American flag, tore pages out of the Bible, facilitated some on-stage fellatio et cetera et cetera in an effort to change the way people think and challenge popular doctrine – Christianity in particular. In his 1998 autobiography The Long Hard Road Out of Hell Manson says that the purpose of his life “…is to make Americans realise they don’t have to believe in something just because they’ve been told it all their lives.”
Manson argues that only through human experience can human beings determine their own morality; being human is about leading a guiltless existence as an individual. Manson’s mantra is all about self-belief and self-reliance, and his persona is a rant against hypocrisy, which can only be transcended through acknowledgement.
And ten/twenty years ago, Marilyn Manson had a point. He was relevant. His debasement forced the masses to double check their state of ethics. The irony of the hate brandished by those rioting against Manson merely fueled the flame and imbued him with validity. But that flame has since dwindled… yet onward Manson marches, preaching to the converted. No longer the arch antagonist – the Apocalypse personified, the Anti-Christ bred in Fort Lauderdale, Florida – Manson’s drug-addled person offers a watered-down version of his former self.
But artists evolve, right? It is their entitlement. Art is not static. Yet Manson still raves against fascism on his Nazi-esque platform and tears pages out of the Bible. And there is no reaction. Perhaps Christians have cottoned on to the fact that God is much bigger than an act of hate – no matter the perversity of the action. Perhaps people have accepted Manson’s mantra and are no longer inclined to absorb the bullshit that they’re fed? Or perhaps society has merely weakened in the face of its own depravity? Whatever the case, it’s as if concert goers are attracted to Manson for the man (the idea) that once was; like an old dinosaur bone.
Whilst Marilyn Manson was ravished by the hedonism of his art and intellect, the world changed and Manson lost the plot. It is the ‘myth of Manson’ that propels him forward and keeps him in the consciousnesses of the collective he warred against for a decade. And he seems to be quite okay with that.
Horror, art and defining ‘the aesthetic’
October 8, 2012
Born into art but tainted by the revulsion that is intrinsic to its very nature, horror is deemed ‘untouchable’; impure, contaminated, debase – less than. Enveloped in all that disgusts, horror is a chaos of murder-masochism-mayhem that defies the ethics of an ordered society. It exists as an outcast, an exile; demonised, shunned, scorned and abhorred by fan and foe alike. But repugnance is no disqualifying factor. When the (apparent) bedlam of a world enveloped in the psychosis of masked maniacs and marvellous monsters is commandeered by thought, skill, imagination, heart and intellect, not only is horror art, but great art.
The likes of bloody corpses and rotting flesh challenge the notion of ‘the aesthetic’ prescribed by artistic classification, in much the same way that Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Pop Art, Dada, Expressionism, De Stijl – modern art in other words – challenged the ordinance of the classical academy. The art of the twentieth century (in particular) has altered the principles of the aesthetic, the definition of which has been amended by context and social change. Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce was a proponent of the idea that ‘expression’ is central to the definition of artistic aesthetic in the way that beauty was once thought to be a fundamental component thereof. Art reflects the society of which it is a part, and it only makes sense that the terms used to define art evolve along with that which influences its character.
Another important philosophy to emerge in the twentieth century was articulated by Eli Siegel – American philosopher, poet and founder of ‘Aesthetic Realism’ – who said that reality itself is aesthetic.
And reality isn’t always pretty.
Dali, Bacon, Munch, Giger, Andersen, Shakespeare, Stoker, Shelly, King, Lovecraft, Poe… they all knew/know it. But what of cinema – Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Ring, Hostel, Midnight Meat Train, Alien? Why is it so difficult for society to acknowledge the artistic aesthetic of the horror genre, in relation to film specifically?
Philosopher David Novitz has argued that classificatory disputes in relation to ‘what constitutes art’ are more often disputes about societal values and where society is trying to go than they are about theory proper. And by implication, society’s vilification of the horror film is a case of moral indignation, rather than philosophical expulsion.
But if ‘realism’ and ‘expression’ are accepted as core values of the aesthetic, then horror, film included, is an integral member of the artistic fraternity. Horror is unquestionably expressive. As an occasional satire and certain metaphor, horror offers insight into a fractured psyche, a broken world. Serial killers and the supernatural function as symbols for, and expressions of, human pathology. Horror uses hyperbole to reflect the human condition and thus exists on a dichotomous platform that hinges on an ironic representation of reality; fantasy is a reflection of real life. Like the folk stories of old, horror is a cautionary tale, a warning – divert from the proverbial path (whatever it may be) and trouble will follow.
Horror is easily intellectualised but its success is not rooted in the notion of critical thought. Horror is primal, it invokes fear. Known for his violent depiction of a screaming pope to crucifixions, animals and carcasses, ancient Greek figures and distorted, emotionally charged portraits of his close friends and lovers, Francis Bacon said “I’ve made images the intellect would never make.” Through abstraction, Bacon tells the truth of human existence; he speaks of its desperation, its hopelessness – the tragedy of the human condition. His art is magnificent in its ability to disgust and intimidate, as it lays bare man’s sin. Bacon exposes a soul in torment and documents the degeneracy and corruption of which man is capable.
As an attack on all that is virtuous and chaste, horror relies on its audience to be morally minded. For an audience to be ‘horrified’ it must deem itself ‘righteous’, or ‘other’ to what is depicted on screen; if said audience is ethically vacuous, horror will not succeed. It aims to frighten, to subdue, and it presupposes an audience conscience. Yet, as much as horror expects the audience to distance itself from its subject matter, it also knows that its audience will identify with the obscenity inherent in the artistic expression, even if on a subconscious level. Horror reveals man’s innate sinfulness and in so doing it functions as a ‘safe’ way to expel demons, to live vicariously. It is equivocal in character; repellent and simultaneously attractive. Steven King said that “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones” – we also watch/read/view horror for the same reason.
In a Philosophical Enquiry into our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Edmund Burke distinguishes between the sublime and the beautiful – terms often used synonymously in relation to artistic aesthetic – arguing that the sublime induces a sense of being dwarfed or even horrified. Film is a confrontational medium. It’s not encased in a book cover or housed in a gallery. Arguably, just as one can close a book and exit a museum, so too can one ‘switch off’ a film if it offends one’s sensibilities. True, yet there is something severe and compelling about watching a horror film – it’s a visceral experience. Horror offers a debauched exposé that renders its audience uncomfortable, to say the least, but one can’t help but look – attracted by the obscene.
The blood spatter, the dagger placement, the scream decibel, the alien appendage, the demon voice, the leather apron, the missing limb, the spilled intestines – all of it… is loquaciously rendered in the medium of film, in the name of art. Needless to say, film, as with all art, is evaluated on its technical merit (or lack thereof). And so the term ‘art’ is imbued with complexity; art is classified according to its medium – film is art, and horror is film thus horror too is art – but that does not make it art, or artful. The aesthetic is prescribed a value, as determined by the superiority of the artistic execution.
Richard Wollheim distinguishes three approaches to assessing the aesthetic value of art: the Realist, whereby aesthetic quality is an absolute value independent of any human view; the Objectivist, whereby it is also an absolute value, but is dependent on general human experience; and the Relativist position, whereby it is not an absolute value, but depends on, and varies with, the human experience of different humans. Aesthetic value is unavoidably subjective – even if Objectivism is the prescribed school of thought. Art cannot exist independently of ‘human view’ because a) it is humanly created and b) it will be prescribed value by a human mind – a mind that cannot escape the societal context that has forged its personality, its identity, making it innately subjective.
Therefore, as much as horror is aesthetic by virtue of its artistic medium, its aesthetic value is articulated with bias. Such is the nature of art. But value should also be determined by art’s ability to evoke a response. Man is an emotive being, guided by his emotional core as much, if not more, than his mind. To recoil – to recoil with blatant hostility – is to reciprocate, to engage with art. Horror’s very point is that it cannot be ignored. It forces its audience to look, to think and to acknowledge. Horror exists as a caustic imitation of life; an exaggeration that confronts the notion of ‘humanity’ and is a description as well as an admonition. It is sublime in its ability.
“There are moments when even to the sober eye of reason, the world of our sad humanity may assume the semblance of Hell.” ? Edgar Allan Poe
Seven Deadly Sins by Corey Taylor
October 2, 2012
Slipknot; modern metal’s most masochistic machine. Driven by eight masked maniacs and fuelled by a million-maggot fan base.
But is it possible to like a band and loathe its frontman? An improbability made entirely probable by one of Autobiography’s most unlikeable narrators, Corey ‘Blowhard’ Taylor, whose tell-all tales are well… who gives a shit? He sure as hell doesn’t.
Taylor sings a recognisable song; badass ‘rock star’ scarred by a crappy childhood, turned less badass after abandoning a hedonistic lifestyle and coming to terms with the past. Pretty much. (It’s easy to be facetious about a life when it is so pretentiously presented). In an effort to turn a cliché into something less familiar, Taylor writes his story through the philosophical filter of the seven deadly sins. His grand point is that the ‘seven deadly’ are not in fact sins at all, and the singer uses the tools of Life Experience and Bombastic Philosophising to prove it.
Sadly, Taylor’s misguided rants expose a pompous verbosity that alienates both fan and foe alike. The guy lays claim to the fact that he has wanted to write a book all his life – something really great and different (chapter 1), and while his writing in itself is good, he seems to have very little understanding of the author-audience relationship. Disaffect your reader and he’ll be reader no longer. And as much as Taylor’d like the world to think that he doesn’t care whether his book is read or not, the mere fact that his writing exists as a book and not a personal diary ferreted away in an old box under the bed, refutes such an attitude.
The Slipknot hero attacks (organised) religion and hypocrisy with an almighty fervour; an ironic matter of fact considering the preaching that goes on in the book. Seven Deadly Sins is no mere rant; it’s a dictator’s manifesto. The singer claims to not give a fuck about what we think about both him and his ideas but he tries ferociously hard to impress personality and philosophy upon his reader. For someone who is enraged by the intolerance of the über-religious (and anyone who likes God – even a little), Taylor presents himself as a man equally dogmatic – but hopes to get away with it under the banner of ‘being right’. Sound familiar? Taylor says “I watch the world without presumption” and in almost the same breath “you are all sad, starving, exhausting, sorry lumps of aberrant cell reproduction”; so Taylor observes the world without agenda (impossible) and then forms and opinion that is not presumptive (likely!?). The contradiction impedes the validity of Taylor’s point, all 253 pages of it.
Metal is by nature intrinsically abrasive, and as one of the fraternity’s most iconic ambassadors the world’s readership expects a book wielding words of violence and vitriol. And Seven Deadly Sins complies with robust enthusiasm… but with an added arrogance and hedonism that is utterly repellent. As long as Corey Taylor is having fun – fucking, singing and… nope, that’s it – then life is peachy.
The equivalent of an intellectual bully, Seven Deadly Sins is boastful, blustering and consequently boring. Fail! EPIC fail.
Sons Of Anarchy
May 31, 2012
Is there anything you love so much, you’d protect it, no matter the cost; the damage it did to you?
A town called Charming controlled and protected by a gang that calls itself a ‘club’. It’s a beautiful irony that solicits the substance of one of television’s most awesome series. Kurt Sutter’s Sons of Anarchy follows the life and times of an outlaw motorcycle club – the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original or SAMCRO for short – that has dealings with a superfluity of (interchangeable) ally and rival gangs and is immersed in a deluge of illegal activity including arson, gunrunning, murder, kidnapping, drugs, blackmail and porn. Four seasons on (with seven envisioned and six certain), Sons of Anarchy is clay in the hands of a group of talented artists who are moulding the series into a mythology that exposes the bloody, misshapen core of the human condition.
Sutter has created a show that boasts an intriguing synthesis of severe hyper realism and fiction that is pulpy to the max – the result is an extreme context that serves as a platform for a human drama that is blatantly agonising and vividly gut-wrenching. The show’s passions are raw and the tension is compelling, working from the inside out – relationships drive the show’s energy and the plot serves to antagonise these relationships. It’s a show about family and how life – racism, patriarchy, misogyny, chauvinism, abuse, corruption – affect family; family in its entire context, family by blood and by brotherhood. Sons poses moral questions rather than issuing answers and certainties, and so it provokes rather than instructs. The show is based on the premise that people are complicated and life is very rarely elementary.
Jax (Jackson) Teller (Charlie Hunnam), the show’s protagonist, exists at the heart of a gripping moral dilemma. Son of the club’s (now deceased) co-founding member John Teller, Jax has grown up in the club but struggles with its lawless sense of misdirection. The axis around which the story revolves is; Jax’s allegiance to the club. Involved in the club’s violence and crime, and yet consumed by his father’s vision for a bona fide botherhood (a family), Jax is plagued by self-doubt and questions the club that has informed his very existence.
This leads to headstrong confrontation between Jax and club-president/surrogate father Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman), who is a symbol – a physical manifestation – of SAMCRO; as the show progresses and Clay’s moral fibre disintegrates, so too does that of the club. As current VP and future club-president Jax wishes to invoke change and when this becomes probably impossible, he wishes to extricate himself. But SAMCRO is in his blood and his soul is entwined with that of the club. Personified and existing as a character in its own right, the club will not let Jax leave in spite of his best efforts. Sons ponders Jax’s ability to exist according to the moral code laid out by his father, to which he subscribes, in the midst of a climate of reckless degeneracy that is both emotionally and physically debilitating. Embroiled in an existential struggle to establish his principles and his identity, JAX brawls against the ideology of SAMCRO in an all-consuming battle for his soul, and the soul of his club. Ultimately he chooses to act with a means to an end (a better end for both the club and Jax); does this mitigate any choices or decisions – the show contemplates?
Jax’s love-hate relationship with SAMCRO is complicated by the love he has for his brothers in the club. Intrinsic to the biker club culture is a real sense of camaraderie, which embodies the soul of SAMCRO in Sutter’s story. And yet amidst this camaraderie is an insane labyrinth of lies and deceit. The club is at war with many an external enemy – the local police, the FBI, white supremacists, Mayans, Mexicans, the RIRA, African-Americans, Russians – but no fight is so poignant and as destructive than that which rages among the members of the club itself. Bloodshed, betrayal, hypocrisy – it’s all there. The brotherhood that exists for the protection of its members is inescapably destructive. The club functions according to a unique set of principles that are external to those that govern society; it has forged a world in which men kill each other’s families, fuck each other’s wives and sit next to one another under the banner of friendship. And make no mistake; the friendship is as real as it is fickle.
And what’s a show without a love story? Especially one embroiled in tragedy. Whilst club chaos reigns, Jax negotiates a true romance with Doctor Tara Knowles (Maggie Siff) – Jax’s high school sweetheart – who has re-emerged on the scene after escaping Charming and SAMCRO years ago. But first loves die hard and Tara and Jax are unavoidably attracted. One of the show’s most interesting themes is the notion of fate. Just as Jax appears to be fated to be president of SAMCRO, his relationship with Tara is destined. The star crossed lovers, no matter how bruised and battered their relationship, cannot be forced apart by Life and its grandiose complexities. Not in a sappy Romeo and Juliet kind-of-way but in an unforgiving, perturbing, harsh reality kind-of-way. Their love is bitter-sweet; it’s as sorrowful as it is beautiful. Jax and Tara are victims of situation but by no means denizens of martyrdom.
As one of the show’s strongest female characters, Tara is pitted against Jax’s mom – SAMCRO’s matriarch; Gemma Teller (John Teller’s ‘old lady’ and now Clay Morrow’s ‘old lady’). Each woman, passionate about Jax, wields a feminine power to be reckoned with. Highly educated Tara bears a strength that is amplified by Jax’s love for her. She lives by a strong ethical code that is repeatedly challenged by the lecherous, debaucherous circumference enveloping the SAMCRO way of life. Gemma (Katey Sagal) is street-wise, fierce, intrusive, manipulative and violently protective. She has spent years forging her role within SAMCRO and, after a rough start with Tara, teaches Jax’s girl a thing or two about how to be a biker’s ‘old lady’.
Tara and Gemma’s volatile presence in the show elicits some important themes surrounding the role of women in society, and the role of women in a sub-culture like a motorcycle club. Rape, abuse, porn, prostitution and infidelity all find their way into the life of SAMCRO, which has an interestingly ambiguous attitude toward all of the aforementioned. The distinctly different manner in which Gemma and Tara engage with the violence, disrespect and bigotry doled out by the club ethos is social commentary at its most acute. Hard-ass Gemma surrenders to the biker creed whilst Tara learns to understand it but fights it nonetheless.
SAMCRO comprises violent, criminal men who are revealed to be not all that bad. In fact; antihero these men might be – Jax in particular. They murder in the name of the game, use evil to fight greater evil, and then go home to their families who cherish them with boisterous love and adoration. It’s a fascinating portrayal of the human condition, which is a strange, tormented, convoluted amalgamation of good and bad. The characters are never static – they regress, progress and are difficult to gauge. Surprises are constant and the show, without fail, calls on viewers to interrogate their assumptions with a critical voice.
Sons of Anarchy takes a while to find its groove but once that first season kicks in, the show is unstoppable. The tension escalates and the characters demand not only attention but investment. Sons of Anarchy is a story-teller’s tale; it’s about relationship, humanity (and the lack thereof). It’s irreverent, funny, disturbing and magnificently scripted. It’s a well-built, charismatic series that challenges perception and invokes discomfort. Whilst forcing thought and conjuring emotion it entertains…
…and isn’t that what television is all about?
Fairytale’s heroic huntsman
Rant!’s DELECTABLE DUDES OF DISCOURSE Series
Rant! swoons unashamedly over literature’s hottest hunks – and it’s all subjective of course.
May 3, 2012
The Huntsman – Oh baby, baby! A patriarchal symbol of machismo and chauvinism. Muscles bulge under the woodland attire of this axe-wielding, wolf-slaying henchman of the forest. Yet, much like Little Red Riding Hood and to the horror of many a feminist, ladies swoon over his chivalric manliness. What’s not to love about a hero?
It is of course the Grimm huntsman who is the object of female society’s devilish desire. In the earliest known oral version of the Little Red Riding Hood tale, the girl saves herself (sans huntsman). In Perrault’s 1697 variation, the girl is eaten – a consequence of choosing the ‘wrong path’. But the Grimm version (1827); it’s trés romantique. The moral of the brothers’ interpretation is ‘never fear, for man is near’. If, yet again, you choose the ‘wrong path’ dear girl – if you disobey your mother – rather than suffer an abysmal fate, you will be saved, rescued, admonished by masculine supremacy. Isn’t it lovely to be vindicated for one’s bad choices by the lofty prowess of a man? Patriarchy saves the day! – Cringeworthy yet distastefully tantalising.
What makes the huntsman so attractive is his image as arch protector. It’s an idea in literature that transcends the fairytale (and the nineteenth century audience for whom the Grimms wrote), from Greek myths and Arthurian legends to Georgette Heyer romances and modern day comics. Yet the very notion of ‘fairytale’ seems to emphasise the utopian idealism associated with the concept of ‘the alpha male’. Perhaps the seductive charm of said alpha is rooted in his implied fantasy – he is unachievable, his heroism a fallacy, a mere…fairytale. Mankind is known to yearn for and pursue that which it cannot have.
But why take the beast out of the man? What about an equal? A man who is both supreme and subservient.
Angela Carter’s bad boy huntsman is where the sex is at! The huntsman in A Company of Wolves is so heart-palpitatingly delicious, so beastly, so… manly, so REAL that the attraction is inherent in his accessibility. The cardboard-cut heroism of the Grimm huntsman is replaced by Carter’s ambiguous hero. In “A Company of Wolves”, man and wolf become one. A werewolf is Carter’s metaphor for the assimilation of ‘the good’ (the alpha male huntsman) and ‘the bad’ (the wolf, who symbolises the aggressive masculinity that was deplored by ‘polite society’ in decades of old and not so old). Carter acknowledges man’s propensity for two natures, and acknowledges woman’s love for both Jekyll and Hyde.
The values of ‘polite society’ say “Fear and flee the wolf; for, worst of all, the wolf may be more than he seems” (Carter, A (1979) The Bloody Chamber, The Company of Wolves). In A Company of Wolves, Carter uses tales within a tale to establish the lore encompassing the werewolf:
- The hunter jumped down after him, slit his throat, cut off all his paws for a trophy. And then no wolf at all lay in front of the hunter but the bloody trunk of a man, headless, footless, dying, dead.(Carter, A (1979) The Bloody Chamber, The Company of Wolves).
- A witch from up the valley once turned an entire wedding party into wolves because the groom had settled on another girl. (Carter, A (1979) The Bloody Chamber, The Company of Wolves).
- They say there’s an ointment the Devil gives you that turns you into a wolf the minute you rub it on. Or, that he was born feet first and had a wolf for his father and his torso is a man’s but his legs and genitals are a wolf’s. And he has a wolf’s heart.(Carter, A (1979) The Bloody Chamber, The Company of Wolves)
- Then her second husband came in with wood for the fire and when the first one saw she’d slept with another man and, worse, clapped his red eyes on her little children who’d crept into the kitchen to see what all the din was about, he shouted: ‘I wish I were a wolf again, to teach this whore a lesson!’ So a wolf he instantly became and tore off the eldest boy’s left foot before he was chopped up with the hatchet they used for chopping logs. But when the wolf lay bleeding and gasping its last, the pelt peeled off again and he was just as he had been, years ago, when he ran away from his marriage bed, so that she wept and her second husband beat her. (Carter, A (1979) The Bloody Chamber, The Company of Wolves)
In A Company of Wolves, grandma applies an ‘old wisdom’ that says: “We keep the wolves outside by living well” (Carter, A (1979) The Bloody Chamber, The Company of Wolves). In other words, abiding by the guidelines set by society, the mores and values of cultural context, keeps the proverbial wolves at bay. Sadly, this philosophy did not work for poor grandma in Carter’s tale – an allusion to the fact that as time passes, society evolves and change is rendered. The wisdom of elders is consumed, considered and adapted to suit the time. Carter’s Red Riding Hood illustrates this point.
On her way to grandma’s, the girl hears “the freezing howl of a distant wolf” (Carter, A (1979) The Bloody Chamber, The Company of Wolves) but comes across a man on her path; “a very handsome, young one, in the green coat and wideawake hat of a hunter, laden with carcasses of game birds” (Carter, A (1979) The Bloody Chamber, The Company of Wolves). He is initially portrayed as the traditional Grimm-type hero huntsman: “he offered to carry her basket, she gave it to him although her knife was in it because he told her his rifle would protect them.” (Carter, A (1979) The Bloody Chamber, The Company of Wolves)
And then the wolf gets to grandma’s, where all is revealed:
Off with his disguise, that coat of forest-coloured cloth, the hat with the feather tucked into the ribbon; his matted hair streams down his white shirt and she can see the lice moving in it. The sticks in the hearth shift and hiss; night and the forest has come into the kitchen with darkness tangled in its hair. He strips off his shirt. His skin is the colour and texture of vellum. A crisp stripe of hair runs down his belly, his nipples are ripe and dark as poison fruit but he’s so thin you could count the ribs under his skin if only he gave you the time. He strips off his trousers and she can see how hairy his legs are. His genitals, huge. Ah! huge.
The last thing the old lady saw in all this world was a young man, eyes like cinders, naked as a stone, approaching her bed. The wolf is carnivore incarnate.
The huntsman-wolf (werewolf) mourns his own condition:
That long-drawn, wavering howl has, for all its fearful resonance, some inherent sadness in it, as if the beasts would love to be less beastly if only they knew how and never cease to mourn their own condition. There is a vast melancholy in the canticles of the wolves, melancholy infinite as the forest, endless as these long nights of winter and yet that ghastly sadness, that mourning for their own, irremediable appetites, can never move the heart for not one phrase in it hints at the possibility of redemption; grace could not come to the wolf from its own despair, only through some external mediator, so that, sometimes, the beast will look as if he half welcomes the knife that despatches him. (Carter, A (1979) The Bloody Chamber, The Company of Wolves)
But Carter challenges the myths of old; not in their truth (werewolves do roam the world in metaphoric form) but in society’s attitude toward said ‘myths’. Carter, with great empathy, declares that the wolf need not mourn the very condition that defines his being; he is not to blame for his characteristic maleness – his sex, his aggression.
In a recollection of the oral tale, Carter’s Little Red Riding Hood is a representation of womanly strength. Rather than the huntsman coming to her rescue, Carter’s girl saves the huntsman (werewolf) by helping him to accept his ‘condition’. The girl (figuratively) invites the wolf in (rejects her grandma’s advice), and confronts his nature by treating him as equal. She embraces him as ‘carnivore incarnate’ and as ‘tender’ lover:
She saw how his jaw began to slaver and the room was full of the clamour of the forest’s Liebestod but the wise child never flinched, even when he answered:
‘All the better to eat you with.’
The girl burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody’s meat. She laughed at him full in the face, she ripped off his shirt for him and flung it into the fire, in the fiery wake of her own discarded clothing. (Carter, A (1979) The Bloody Chamber, The Company of Wolves)
See! sweet and sound she sleeps in granny’s bed, between the paws of the tender wolf. Both tender and aggressive. She embraces the man for all that he is. (Carter, A (1979) The Bloody Chamber, The Company of Wolves)
Whether it’s Carter’s reality or the Grimm fantasy that renders fairytale’s huntsman one delectable dude of discourse, the truth is; a man (wolf or werewolf) in leathers is irresistible to the fairer sex.
(Photo Credit: Chazz Jogie Illustration)
Of Hannibal and House
September 27, 2011
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.
Thomas Harris, one of literature’s greatest contributors, created a character who transcends the written word, who lives beyond film, who, in the imagination of the masses, has assumed an existence that surpasses definability and embraces interpretation.
Harris has never given an interview. His novels have become prolific without the assistance of personal publicity, which merely emphasises the legend that is Hannibal ‘the cannibal’ Lecter. Cinema and Anthony Hopkins gave Hannibal Lecter to the world… and so was birthed an icon of popular culture. In retaliation to the world’s appropriation of the infamous flesh eating serial killer Harris, wielding the weapon of authorial right, reclaimed his brain-child in a sequel so horrific, so ferocious, so unacceptable… and so utterly genius. Hannibal provides insight into Lecter’s predatory nature; it offers a psychological reason for his evil, and simultaneously ‘busts the myth’ of a man made supernatural by the plethora of literary sources that inform his being. Lecter is Satan, Serpent, Beast, Monster and Vampire – a compound of evil. And yet the Doctor, in Hannibal, is shown to be fallible, susceptible to the context of his life. A victim of vile predation, Hannibal Lecter becomes the vilest of all predators.
In his novels, Thomas Harris attempts to establish a connection between the criminal and those who place themselves in the opposing category. Harris uses Clarice Starling to suggest that forces of good have within them possibilities of harm; just as “The best laid schemes of mice and men / Go oft awry”, so too do their best intentions. Lecter and Clarice, although initially on polar sides of the moral spectrum, are hunters in common… and ultimately Starling succumbs to the long arm of evil that is offered by a drooling Lecter. In Hannibal, Clarice becomes Lecter’s lover, turning murderer and cannibal. This ending was so unpalatable to a euphemistically peeved reading majority that director Ridley Scott’s filmic interpretation paints Clarice Starling in a far more favourable light – her descent into the abyss of moral decay is avoided and so Harris’s acute social commentary undermined. Although Clarice’s moral demise was a shock to most, it was elegantly forecast. Her predatory nature, the same nature that forms the essence of the human species, succumbs to an evil that is provoked and nurtured by Hannibal Lecter during the course of Silence of the Lambs.
There are many references that allude to Clarice’s impending psychological disintegration but none so poignant as this: when looking into Frederica Bimmel’s closet, Clarice suddenly realises what Jame Gumb is doing with the girls he is abducting, she has a moment of ecstasy, “Starling put her head back, closed her eyes for one second. Problem-solving is hunting; it is savage pleasure and we are born to it.” In Hannibal Rinaldo Pazzi has the same realisation when he catches ‘Il Mostro’ by making the connection with Botticelli’s Primavera: “In that moment when the connection is made, in that synaptic spasm of completion when the thought drives through the red fuse, is our keenest pleasure. Rinaldo Passi had had the best moment of his life.”
Written by David Sexton, In The Strange World Of Thomas Harris says of Thomas Harris “Harris offers his readers the pleasures of problem-solving and making connections, of hunting. He takes pleasure himself in discovering these patterns and then making a world of them. Truly, he is a thriller writer.”
And then there is Gregory House…
… completely other in context but utterly the same in psychology.
Like Hannibal and Clarice, Gregory House is a predator; a hunter. He prays on illness. Hunts the solution. Prizes the puzzle above all else. And House’s diagnostic obsession is by no means altruistic in nature. His ‘search for the cause’ is motivated by an entirely selfish desire to satiate a need… the same need that is identified by Harris through Hannibal, Clarice and Pazzi. The manifestation of said need is relative to the individual – solving the case, diagnosing the illness, killing and eating the socially defunct – but the nature of that need is the very same. It evokes “savage pleasure” and is brutal in its implementation. For House, Life is no matter; being right is all that matters. Solving the problem is paramount. Repeating those ‘best moments’ is a driving force.
House, like Lecter, has been invented with a Holmes-inspired genius that provides an impenetrably accurate insight into the character of the human condition. House, a self-proclaimed misanthropist, detests weakness (in its relative conceptualisation) as does Hannibal. To both men, people are mere players in a vastly unfair game called Life – death is part of the game and is a mere trifle. Breaking the rules, spitting on social constructs; it’s all just part of the game. Anything is acceptable if it satiates the need to solve the problem.
Both House and Hannibal, although unrivalled in their intellect, are made fallible by their experiences. In Hannibal, the reader learns that Lecter’s four-year-old sister Mischa was cannibalised by a band of deserters in the Lithuanian countryside during World War II. House has daddy issues and a leg that stabs chronic pain through his receptors every second of every day. Hannibal’s medicates with human flesh, House medicates with Vicodin. Life staged its game, and two fearsome competitors were forged. Hannibal Lecter’s vice appears to be more of an incumbency on the rest of society but don’t let House fool you; he may not eat people but he is just as capable of destroying lives in the name of satiating the need. He is not only addicted to Vicodin but is addicted to diagnosing the illness – it makes him a great doctor but also one that is consistently volatile. House’s need destroys his personal life to such an extent that his professional life is at stake – and it is his professional life, a tangible symbol of his exceptional mind, that gives House his worth. Only able to practice medicine within the confines of a specialised environment comprised of a select few who will tolerate his obnoxious brilliance, House destroys the very fragile perimeters of this construct. In the name of the need. To satiate the need. Ironically, House requires this construct in order to practice medicine, to solve the puzzle. He is ultimately the architect of his own demise.
Hannibal Lecter arguably destroys his construct (that which allows him to operate, to kill) by being caught. But the Doctor lives largely in his mind and merely bides his time… he will escape. He does escape.
Will House? Pazzi did not. Nor did Clarice.
Comparing House and Hannibal is almost not the point. The two men are different and similar in many aspects. What is most relevant is that the two characters represent the human condition; they are extreme examples of man’s insatiable desire to understand and to solve that which it cannot. These men are warnings as well as illustrations. They are characterisations of society and its members. They are reflections of that which is in us all. And it is disturbing. Deeply disturbing.
Reference: “In The Strange World Of Thomas Harris”, David Sexton, 2001
Mercutio rocks, Romeo sucks. Fact.
Rant!’s DELECTABLE DUDES OF DISCOURSE Series
Rant! swoons unashamedly over literature’s hottest hunks – and it’s all subjective of course.
August 7, 2011
Forget Romeo: his swooning, wistful, melancholic martyrdom is sleep-inducing. Mercutio’s where it’s at, ladies. Centuries later readers continue to misinterpret Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a play in which the great English bard is sardonic to the max. Shakespeare uses the fantastical extremity of indulgent love – packaged in romance, tragedy and fate – to undermine its very existence. He mocks Romeo and Juliet and criticises their emotional hedonism. Mercutio is the embodiment of Shakespeare’s vitriol.
Mercutio’s wit punctuates Romeo and Juliet with jokes, puns and teasing yet the joviality more often than not masks an intense bitterness. Mercutio’s seemingly frivolous words are not merely the essence of comic relief; his acrimonious speech serves to make a point: love is suspect. Mercutio’s obscene language and crude sexual humour reviles the purity and sanctity of Romeo’s passionate love for Juliet. In a duel of wits between two friends, Mercutio ridicules Romeo’s sentimentality;
Why, is not this better now than groaning for love?
now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo; now art
thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature:
for this drivelling love is like a great natural,
that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole.
Love makes Romeo something unnatural, someone he is not. One minute he is pining after Rosaline and the next he is head-over-heels for Juliet. His fickle feelings make his claim to love doubtable. Unlike the play’s other characters, most of whom blame their circumstances on fate, Mercutio dies cursing all Montagues and Capulets. Mercutio believes that specific people are responsible for his death rather than some external impersonal force. In retrospect, Mercutio draws attention to the pathetic notion that all else is to blame for play’s tragic outcome; that decisions made are mere putty in the hands of fate. And thus a new spin is placed on the notion of ‘tragedy’; rather than the death of the ‘star-crossed’ lovers, whose self-sacrifice is rooted in four days of intermittent acquaintance, the play’s tragedy is embroiled in the ignorance and self-centredness that guides the nature of this love-induced suicide. The point is moot but Shakespeare’s contempt for love is unquestionably unavoidable.
The question begs; why is Shakespeare’s malevolent love-hater so utterly delectable? Because he speaks his mind and is mastered by none. Romeo; a tragic hero to some, is putridly prosaic to others. Mercutio is exciting and funny, and real, and exists in the play as Romeo’s antithesis. Mercutio is volatile, his name stemming from the Roman ‘Mercurial’, meaning “having an unpredictable and fast changing mood.” Mercutio is bold, fierce and fearless. He is the quintessential bad boy (and gals always love a badass), cajoling Romeo to forget about Rosaline, his unrequited love, by attending aka crashing a Capulet party. He is loyal and generous of spirit. He is the life of the party and his charisma is delicious! Romeo’s self-indulgence and sentimentality leave him with nothing to give. He is consumed by his own being. Occupied solely with his own emotional existence, he thinks of consequences only when it is too late… and then blames fate; Rome refers to the Mercutio’s death as “this day’s black fate” and after slaying Tybalt calls himself “Fortune’s fool.” It’s an almighty cop out, a lame excuse that is embraced by Romeo but avoided by Mercutio. He dies angrily and unfairly, and Shakespeare’s audience empathises with the calamity of the lively character’s end.
And then there is the controversial Queen Mab speech; so beautiful in linguistic artistry and consequently so completely out of character for its bawdy speaker. So much so that many scholars have argued that the speech was added to the script during the printing of the Second Quarto and was not, therefore, a part of the play as it was originally written. Perhaps the very point is that the Queen Mab speech IS so out of character; Mercutio’s voice thus adopts a new tone, a greater depth. The speech portrays Mercutio as clever, whirling and entrancing. In the encompassing scene he spins wild puns left and right, seeming to speak them as freely as others breathe, Mercutio is established as a friend who can, gently or not, mock Romeo as no one else can. He is both artfully and artlessly intelligent.
Mercutio is a man of excess; he takes things too far and sometimes gets away with it, sometimes not. But his passions are of another sort than those that move Romeo to love and Tybalt to hate. Romeo’s and Tybalt’s passions are founded upon the acceptance of two different ideals trumpeted by society: the poetic tradition of love and the importance of honour. Mercutio believes in neither. Mercutio is able to see through the blindness caused by wholehearted acceptance of the ideals sanctioned by society: he pokes holes in Romeo’s rapturous adoption of the rhetoric of love. Mercutio understands that the ideals held by those around him originate from less high-minded desires than many would care to admit. Romeo’s love is not selfless, and his suicide is not noble… at least that’s how Mercutio would see it. Romeo cannot live without Juliet (or so he supposes) and so HE kills HIMSELF to avoid pain – it’s entirely selfish. Forget the romantic ‘love in death’ utopia. Shakespeare scorns it.
What’s not to love about Mercutio? His mind is alluringly brilliant, his wit is charmingly abrasive, his dependability is enviable, he claims to be none other than he is and he dies a tragic death to defend his friend’s honour – he is the ultimate tragic hero. It is Mercutio’s antagonism toward love that makes him so scintillating a character; swooning women want to to make him believe, to make him love. Mercutio is a challenge. A beautiful, beastly challenge.
What True Blood is really about
August 3, 2011
So what is True Blood actually about? Sex, sex and more sex is the obvious answer… but only if you don’t look closely enough. To minimise the power of The Skars and copious amount of vamp porn that incriminates Alan Ball’s masterful television adaptation would be a mistake. That said; sex is only part of the show. Charlaine Harris’ southern vampire mystery series is an orgy of metaphoric language and Ball’s interpretation elicits and embellishes the satirical tone of Harris’ novels. The supernatural world of Bon Temps, Louisiana is a microcosmic representation of the world at large. True Blood is social commentary at its most scathing and unrelenting.
The most obvious subtext in the show is that of sexual taboo, a theme evoked by the mere presence of the vampire. Symbolic of a carnal desire entrenched in essence, the vampire expresses the part of the human psyche that is repressed and denied by the necessary boundaries prescribed by social mores and values. In True Blood, the vampire has ‘come out’ but even so, is not free to express its nature, which is to lust, hunt, feed and fuck. Tru Blood, synthetic vampire blood, is an attempt at helping the vampire to curb its nature; it is the remedy for the creature’s instinctual behaviour but, of course, is never as good at the real thing. Tru Blood to a vampire is like prison to a human being – a way to correct incorrect behaviour, to rehabilitate offenders. The nature of such incorrect behaviour is irrelevant to its correctors. The vampire must deny its nature in order to assimilate successfully into the human world. Just as humans must follow a prescribed code of conduct, so too must vamps. It’s not easy for either species.
The vampire’s struggle to fit in invokes ‘the plight of the minority’; minority denoting any smaller group struggling to fit in to what society deems normal. The vampire represents any racial minority and ‘sexual deviant’ (homosexuals in particular) as well as the dorks at high school, the loner who listens to metal, the kid in the chess club – pretty much anyone who battles to belong (subjectively or objectively). The vampire struggle is symbolic of the age old struggle of humanity to conform to morals of society. And so the scourge of the vampire (were and shifter) becomes universally understood.
The vampire also exposes attitudes; the racist and the bigot especially. But, of course, it’s not all that simple. Vampires are hard-wired killers and thus have a right to be treated as outcasts. They are feared and therefore loathed. And it isn’t a fear based merely on misunderstanding, it is a fear premised in the perception of an undeniable sense of danger that a vampire oozes from every dead pore of its being. Vampires are inescapable lethal; do the world’s citizens then have a right to mistrust and mistreat vamps? It is an act of self-preservation after all. Does society welcome child molesters and serial killers into its community? Certainly not. Are such criminals excused because it’s in their nature to molest and kill? No way. So how is a vampire different? And do people deserve a second chance; the benefit of the doubt? True Blood forces such ideological issues to the surface of consciousness.
Just as the human word has a prescribed mode of conduct so too does the vampire world. Lust, hunt, feed and fuck are acceptable to vampires but there are hierarchically written rules to which they must submit; vampires bow to an authority, a king, a sheriff. Sookie, drawn into the vampire world by her love for Bill and then Eric, is a human (albeit one with supernatural ability) who is forced to comply with and understand vampire rules and authority. But not only is Sookie an outsider trying to fit into and understand the world of the vampire, she is also an outsider in her own world – her telepathic ability makes it difficult for her to ingratiate herself with her peers. Sookie is an outcast on all counts. She doesn’t even fit into the world of faedom as her human sensibilities prevent her from succumbing to faery authority. The larger observation seems to be that members of different, sects, groups, sub-cultures, ethnicities etc. are not always comfortable existing within the framework that has forged their identity. The show thus implies that identity needs to be created in spite of labels rather than because of them. It’s idealistic and far-fetched but strangely hopeful.
True Blood exposes many of human kind’s less favourable attributes; our propensity for addiction being the most poignant. Vampire blood (aka ‘V’) is intoxicating and the strength, power and euphoria invoked by the red drug are ultimately soul-destroying. Jason and his season 1 girlfriend mess with V, Lafayette sells and uses (but is well versed in the dangers of the drug and is thus not entirely enslaved to its properties) and in season 4 poor Andy Bellefleur is horribly addicted to V. But addiction need not be so literal; sex, power and greed are all addictive – Eric Northman is hooked on all three. Pam says to Eric: “…you are a Viking vampire and a god and you bow to no one. If someone crosses you, you rip out their liver with one fang.” Eric’s ego is what makes him desperately attractive to lovers of both the book and the show; he exercises his will without shame or excuse – an attitude that is not permitted in the human world. It makes Eric HOT but pecs and penis aside, loving him is hard work. After all, Sookie only falls for the Viking vampire when he is stripped of his ego. Relationships in True Blood are perceived as complex. Love is a primary theme in Ball’s show and the creator explores the mess of emotion that complicates the bond between friends, families and lovers. The show’s glam sex often masks epic ideas including betrayal, forgiveness and martyrdom – just dig a little deeper to see what’s beneath the surface.
The writers of True Blood are expertly versed in the art of audience manipulation. Bill betrayed Sookie, they broke up but their feelings aren’t resolved and they are unquestionably in love even though they have abandoned their relationship. But True Blood season 4 is all about Eric and Sookie; so how do the writers cajole the ‘team Bill’ stragglers to cheering for ‘team Eric’? They turn Bill into a politician; an ass-kissing, smooth-talking, bullshitting puppet of a politician. Other than turning the audience into Bill haters, the ‘politics’ story-line adds an even greater sense of depth to the show. It adds a new dimension to True Blood by exposing the great masquerade of man. Politicians are renowned for masking truth – there is a public and a private persona; it comes with the job. But, in all honesty, this is not characteristic unique to politics. People, in general, are all bullshitters. There is a vast difference between what is lived in public and what is revealed in private, and plenty of skeletons hidden in that proverbial closet. Hypocrisy is entrenched in the condition of being human. It is inescapable and there is no point denying it, which leaves us with the responsibility to change. Change our very nature? Or embrace it as the vampires embrace their own immoral essence? It’s a conundrum.
Religious hypocrisy is the most annoying. The show makes definite and very unsubtle comments about religion. Set in America’s great Bible belt, True Blood draws on the Voodoo culture of the south and the fanaticism surrounding extreme, evangelical Christianity to suppose that religion is merely a mask that hides a multitude of sins. Hypocrisy unveiled.
Alan Ball’s series affords viewers the essential opportunity to relate to its characters, to its themes and to the raw emotion that is the heart of the series.
There is an interesting ‘book versus show’ argument developing on the blogosphere and fans who have both read and watched the life of Sookie Stackhouse unfold are polarised in opinion. Many are contemptuous of Alan Ball’s interpretation of Charlain Harris’ novels, construing True Blood a shallow rendition punctuated with shock value and cheap laughs. The argument stands: ‘the shock value and cheap laughs’ are exactly what gives the show its depth. It is with a great sense of humour and sharp wit that Alan Ball has used True Blood to make some very astute observations. And he has done so without sacrificing the elements crucial to entertainment; suspense, drama and human complexity. The beauty of the True Blood series is inherent in the fact that it is not a carbon copy of the book. Ball has exaggerated the elements of the book that work well visually, and, with great writers on board, has managed to artistically render into being his reaction to Harris’ funny, sexy story. Artistic license is essential to the integrity of social commentary and an artist’s right to satirical interpretation. To ignore True Blood’s mastery is to miss the point of the show’s vast metaphoric language.
The Midnight Meat Train
May 23, 2011
Crimson pools mirror a mess of mangled, mutilated corpses that swing from hooks embedded in the roof of a passenger train. The driver chortles and the assassin smacks his rapacious lips as the insatiable appetite of the roving slaughterhouse screams its fury through the impeding darkness of the underground tunnel. Clive Barker wrote the story and the story became a film; The Midnight Meat Train (2008) – directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, scripted by Jeff Buhler and produced by Tom Rosenberg. Don’t let the B-grade bluntness of the film’s title deter your eyes from circumspection; Kitamura’s filmic translation of Barker’s sickening story is a sophisticated spectacle of cinematographic scintillation, style and symmetry.
The film’s premise: a bloody butcher massacres unsuspecting commuters, turning the midnight train into a meat wagon of cadaverous carnage. The puzzle: the same bloody butcher has been slaying travellers for 100 years and the police appear to cover his tracks.
Leon (Bradley Cooper), a photographer waiting for his big break, lives with his waitress girlfriend Maya (Leslie Bibb) in New York City. Through a contact Leon meets Art Gallery owner Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields) who criticises his work, asking him to delve deeper into the psyche of the city landscape and its denizens. Affected by Hoff’s critique, Leon goes out on risky late night shoots in a bid to capture the illusive essence of his city subject. As he delves within the recesses of his mind to unearth the courage required to take the risk that will ensure the photo, a psychological terror lurches itself into being with each passing moment. In one hectic heartbeat, the photographer’s quest for artistic expression takes him from casual observer to obsessed stalker. Leon’s photographic journey conspires him into contact with Mahogany; late night traveller and mass murderer on the midnight meat train. Leon’s suspicions lead him on a deadly detour of cat and mouse; the stalker becomes the stalked and Leon is confronted with his destiny on a hellish ride with murderous Mahogany for company.
Vinnie Jones plays Mahogany with gripping gravitas; he is like Jason Vorhees minus the mask, Leatherface void of chainsaw. Jones massacres his way through the film with menacing manoeuvrability. He speaks not a syllable until the very end but manages to horrify his audience with a brutal bloodthirst that is birthed into being by the unashamed decimation of his fellow man. Jones’ gargantuan presence emanates an air of mystery that is both attractive and repellent. He slits and slashes with intent and purpose. Kitamura renders guts and gore with artistic elegance and symbolic sass. Every red splash is placed with precise perfection and the stylised aura of the spilled blood reflects the tragedy of life lost. Light and shadow heightens tension and colour contrast agitates terror.
The horror provoked by Mahogany’s fierce physicality contrasts with the horror of Leon’s emotional and intellectual descent into darkness (both literal and metaphoric) – a darkness to which Leon’s fate seems inevitably fused. He dreams prophetically of his own suspension in the train of terror and is later tattooed with a crude mark of destiny. The protagonist’s inner turmoil is expertly lived by Bradley Cooper who renders his character with great depth and empathetic understanding. The psychological intensity of the ‘back and forth’ between Mahogany and Leon is terrifying. With symbolic death as the backdrop, the two characters have a memorable face off (more like Leon hiding from Mahogany’s calculated slashing) in a meat factory amidst the unperturbed aura of slaughtered cattle; a scene that exists in poignant contrast to the grotesque extravaganza of carnal evisceration that occurs betwixt the pendulating human carcasses suspended in the meat train, at a later stage in the film.
The sly sense of dread affronted by the contrasting elements of psychological warfare and brute force finally culminates in a climactic punchline that is sadly underwhelming. The midnight meat train turns out to be a monster sushi bar that operates in the dead of night for government-potected creatures living underneath the train lines. The ‘rabid monsters/conspiracy’ plotline smacks incongruous within the film’s context. The introduction of fantasy seems to undermine the psychological tension that Kitamura has taken care to tease into being with fastidious finesse. Here’s the deal: it’s not the mish-mash of narratives (realism and surrealism) that makes the ending disappointing, it’s that expectations are met rather than defied. Monsters are supposed to eat people but people aren’t supposed to kill and consume one another. So the whole ‘meat eating monster’ thing is expectedly primal and in some ways acceptable. But Vinnie Jones slicing and dicing passengers on a subway train is beautifully barbaric and totally unacceptable – and so the two narratives conflict. Rather than defying comprehension, the punchline renders the plot utterly comprehensible, and thus disappointing.The film’s surreal narrative is not, however, completely fallacious. The mystique permeating the enigmatic train driver and the mythology enveloped in Mahogany and the midnight meat train is alluring, and complements the psychology of the narrative. And in spite of the film’s illogical finale, the end to The Midnight Meat Train is an action packed blood fest that blatantly defies any breath of relief that may form on the lips of a hyper-tense audience.
Incongruences in narrative philosophy don’t detract from the film’s sheer excellence. The Midnight Meat Train is driven by the momentum of Creative Energy and fuelled by the mechanism of horror. In true Barker style, The Midnight Meat Train is no mere slasher flick; in a brave assimilation of the real and the surreal, horror is afforded the opportunity to operate on a plethora of plains that render viewers forcibly aghast and agape. Logic is thus rendered redundant, in true horror style.
Gregory House: ethics deconstructed
May 19, 2011
A Holmes-inspired misanthrope who is both brilliant and flawed, Dr. Gregory House is the theatrical personification of the modern doctrine of relativism. By twisting aspects of the Hippocratic Oath that he has sworn to uphold, House forms his own moral identity and applies it with an admirably unyielding consistency. House saves lives; not because he cares, but because it is the right thing to do.
He applies a rather loose version of the Hippocratic Oath, especially with regard to the following statements (taken from by Dr. Louis Lasagna’s modern version of the physician’s code of conduct):
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.
I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.
I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given to me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.
Warmth, sympathy, understanding… ‘I know not’… respect for privacy… humbleness and awareness of frailty… not playing God… treating a person rather than an illness – not exactly House. The doctrine of relativism is humanistic in its application; it denotes the liberal acceptance of philosophy, ‘anything goes’, and is thus largely popular in the culture of modern society; a culture that prefers to shy away from the supposedly dictatorial nature of conservative ethics. But relativism becomes more complicated when one is granted the massive responsibility of saving lives – of preserving the human race. Does the practice of medicine allow for ‘relativism’? Is empathy an inflexible prerequisite for the act of saving a life? Houseian ethics suggest not.
Void of compassion and social grace, Doctor House will do what is necessary to solve the diagnostic puzzle and defeat the illnesses that plague his patients. House criticizes social etiquette for lack of rational purpose and usefulness, and as a strong nonconformist has little regard for social approval. He displays sardonic contempt for authority figures and shows an almost constant disregard for his own appearance, existing in a permanent state of stubble, jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers. He avoids wearing the standard white lab coat to prevent patients recognising him as a doctor (his God-like propensity for arrogance makes this act of anti-lab coat subversion humorously ironic). He manipulates, lies and deceives in the name of his moral code, which is to preserve life. The end justifies the means…
House’s blatant disregard for social etiquette makes him deeply attractive. He is the archetype Byronic hero; the quintessential antihero; the baddest of boys. We love him because he is fantastically fallacious. His flaws are best encapsulated in the sarcastic discrepancy inherent his self-actualised moral code. He bears a great distrust for the human race; in fact the principle on which all of his diagnoses are founded is that “everybody lies” – a theory that is proved true time and time again. Yet in spite of House’s blatant disdain for humanity, which is hugely overrated in his opinion, he places high esteem in ensuring the survival of the human race. A genuine misanthrope? Perhaps not?
No matter how rude, contemptuous and utterly infuriating House is, he saves lives and consequently provokes respect and tolerance. He bears the tone of a modern day ‘knight in shining armour’ who, rather than acting out of love for those he saves, acts out of love for the self-prescribed task of saving. He acts with single-minded intent and is so clear in his conscience that guilt is a nonentity. And we are jealous and in love. Not with House the man but with House the philosophy. He lives with a reckless defiance that frees his intellect from the trappings of social convention. He practises relativism to the nth degree and more to the point gets away with it. Why? Because he is needed. The very Hippocratic Oath – the pledge that signifies House as a physician – rather than inhibiting the practise of a self-prescribed moral code, enables it. House gets away with the enactment of extreme relativism because he is A Doctor.
House’s audience lives vicariously through his arrogance; an attitude that humanity conspires to reject in the name of social propriety. We wish to exert our collective ego on the norms and values that restrain our behaviour in the name of order and functionality. Chaos is dangerous, so we act accordingly. We can’t all be doctors.
Right and wrong do exist. Just because you don’t know what the right answer is — maybe there’s even no way you could know what the right answer is — doesn’t make your answer right or even okay. – Gregory House
I ate my way to Renaissance Centrefold
May 18, 2011
I eyed the bakery box longingly, but I was all too aware that my jeans were feeling tight. I felt like a martyr as I poured a bowl of Special K and sprinkled Equal on the cereal and added some 2 percent milk. When Sam looked as though he wanted to make a comment, I narrowed my eyes at him. – Sookie Stackhouse, Dead Reckoning
Unlike Sookie Stackhouse, I am no martyr – which has done nothing to satiate the burgeoning bulge of my voluptuous ass. I would have gobbled it up and swallowed it down in the name of deliciousness rather than hunger – and more than one most probably. Self-discipline is clearly not my most prominent character asset.
A baby and 29 years of living has made my body a little… soft. I would like dimple free thighs and smaller bingo wings but I don’t do much to assist the change. Which begs the assumption that I must be okay with the way I look; curves and all. This also leaves me little room for complaint. And complain I do. But my words are hollow. With an attitude of genuine appreciation I have come to accept the pattern of the pear that permeates my person.
Don’t get me wrong; I am as vain as any other, and am totally invested in my appearance – clothes, accessories and make-up are three of me bestest friends. All I’m saying is that I have come to terms with my body shape. Simply stated; I like to indulge. I’ll not give up red wine and coffee because it’ll stain my teeth, I’ll not stop at one chocolate because it’ll make my jeans a little tight and I will have the extra cupcake even at the risk of an extra kilo. It’s just not how I roll.
I sometimes look at Posh the lollipop and think that it would be nice to be skinny. And I probably could be skinny if I tried hard enough. But I like my lifestyle. I like what I eat; the fish, salad and vegetables as much as the pastries and cocktails. What it comes down to is that I love food. I’m healthy and active and I LIKE TO EAT – my body is a testament to my passion for decadence.
The artists of the Renaissance revolutionised the depiction of the human form by investing their paintings with a deep admiration for the embrace of life’s pleasures. The two-dimensional, flat figures of the Middle Ages were replaced with voluptuous, sexy women who were not inhibited by their bumps and bulges. Now here’s something interesting; many artists of this period acknowledged that nude paintings were rarely based on real models; often the same facial type was repeated in various paintings. In an essay entitled Perceptions of beauty in Renaissance art , Neil Haughton writes “Indeed Renaissance portrait artists tended to avoid realistic interpretation, emphasizing instead the positive attributes of their subjects, both physical and political.” I love this notion because it suggests that ‘fat’ was the Renaissance ideal – in modern terms at least. The doctrine of Humanism caused artists to move away from religious and mythological subject matter in favour of the human spirit as a subject for evaluation and representation. A Renaissance woman’s physique is a symbol of self-gratification and satisfaction. Perhaps I am alive in the wrong era?
The corollary seems to suggest that chubby chicks are content and bony beauties are not. Which is, of course, not true. It is however undeniable that society is obsessed with looking thin; it is an engrained doctrine that permeates every aspect of existence and turns us all into food martyrs to some degree or another. The practice of ‘moderation’ is good, and necessary, but a little carpe diem magnanimous hedonism is good for the soul.
Just eat the damn cookie!
April 13, 2011
The Countess Elizabeth Báthory, wielding the weapons of benevolent blasphemy and ferocious finesse, bludgeoned her way out of history into the cultish reverence of modern society. Since her physical death in 1614, writers and artists have embraced their imagination-inspired, craft-condoned right to creative license by liberally adding and subtracting to and from the Báthory story, thus forging a personality who defies certainty and defiles sanctity. Consequently, the dark allure of the infamous ‘Blood Countess’ confronted twentieth century society with a legend shrouded in mystery; a legend that has rolled over into the naughties with rebellious momentum.
With ravenous relish, popular culture has embraced the gloriously gruesome image of Báthory bathing in the blood of her 650 virgin victims, whose liquid life was thought to have inscribed beautiful youthfulness onto the countenance of the vain Countess. And, of course, when blood and murder are involved there must be a vampire lurking in the shadows. Read the logic: Countess Báthory was Hungarian, Hungary conquered Transylvania in the 9th century, Brahm Stoker’s Dracula came from Transylvania (aka Hungary) – so popular culture therefore concludes that Countess Elizabeth Báthory was a vampire who not only soaked her soul in blood but also fed on its redness. Sensational! Pop culture, in an attempt ‘truthify’ the hyperbolic horror of the Báthory legend, has included the ‘Countess Dracula’ in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most prolific mass murderer. Exaggerated extravagance… or perhaps not? The beauty of Báthory lies in the mystery.
A mystery that Art has complicated and elaborated since the sixteenth century.
Báthory, the 2008 film directed by Slovak filmmaker Juraj Jakubisko, offers a ‘fact behind’ the fiction interpretation of the Countess Elizabeth Báthory. The film describes the Countess as a woman who ultimately fell victim to her enemies’ aspirations for power and wealth. Jakubisko’s film is based on the rather-dull-but-most-likely-true theory that Báthory was set up by György Thurzo, the Palatine of Hungary, who was charged with investigating the accusations made against the Countess. The film paints the greedy Thurzo as the architect of a grand conspiracy that set Báthory up as a murderess. Báthory claims that Elizabeth’s accusers were tortured, paid and conveniently murdered, thus escaping accountability. And it’s all perfectly plausible…
…in other words, dull.
Although plausible is usually synonymous with boring, the film would only be considered mundane by the masochistic many who prefer ‘Báthory the serial killer’ to ‘Báthory the victim of a grand conspiracy’. Popular culture is, by and large, endeared to the descriptions of the savage torture that emerged during the ‘Báthory trial,’ atrocities that included: severe beatings over extended periods of time, often leading to death; the burning and mutilation of hands, faces and genitalia; the biting of flesh from faces, arms and other body parts; death by being frozen alive; surgery on victims, often fatal; the starving of victims; and sexual abuse implemented withe the use of needles. The fact that these descriptions, although mostly consistent, were based on hearsay, is made redundant by the charm of sensationalism. Murder is cool and an enigmatic chick murderer is way cool. Ten murders a month for six years is not too far a stretch of the imagination; Báthory did have lots of peasants at her disposal after all. And people are mostly fucked in the head. Hope springs eternal for this virulent viewer… but not in the form of Juraj Jakubisko.
Anna Friel is cast as the enigmatic Erzsébet, who, in spite of her character’s ‘afro bob’ hair-do (which is very distracting), invokes Countess Báthory with charismatic charm. Erzsébet is portrayed as a woman who was unfortunate to have been born at the wrong time in history. As a female living in a male-dominated society, Elizabeth was too weak to face the odds pitted against her; not even her aristocracy afforded her protection from the likes of government rank and misogyny. But Jakubisko does not completely debunk the preferred Báthory legend; in the film Erzsébet beats the occasional peasant, brandishes a sword as aptly as any man, survives the ingestion of deadly poison, and murders a servant in a violent rage. Jakubisko shows the Countess to have a strange fascination with cadavers, and throughout the film there is a subtle psychosis that resonates through Friel’s performance. Erzsébet is shown to be fun-loving, intelligent and vulnerable but also strong-willed and dangerous. Susceptible to the psychological trappings of narcissism, the Countess succumbs to the frailty of the human condition and gives in to her heart’s desire, at the cost of the ruination of her reputation. An interesting theory.
The film boasts a pan-European cast, including Franco Nero from Italy, Karel Roden from the Czech Republic and Hans Matheson from Scotland as Merisi Caravaggio, the Italian painter. Countess Báthory has a sexy, strained and somewhat sadistic affair with the tumultuous Caravaggio – a relationship that has been fabricated by Jakubisko in order elicit an intrinsic tenderness within Erzsébet. Through her interaction with both art and artist, Countess Báthory exudes a sagacious sensitivity; a rather unique perspective on the Báthory temperament, which accentuates the director’s attempt to show her in a different light.
For the audience that can forget about the aggrandizement of lesbian lust, voluptuous vampires and murderous massacre, Báthory will be nothing less than intriguing. Draped in a miasma of atmospheric goth, the film successfully disquiets the spirit with uncomfortable ease. Primarily a dramatic gothic saga, Báthory moonlights as a murder mystery-cum-crime story, which is intensified with political intrigue and some occult-inspired horror. The contentious genre overlaps are magnificent and serve to emphasise the ideological and theoretical inconsistencies attached to the mystery of the Countess, making the film’s textual mish-mash a metaphor for the legend of Báthory.
Through cinematic medium and the assimilation of ‘reality’ and fantasy, fact and fiction, Juraj Jakubisko has created his own legend. Although Báthory disallows the obsessive bloodlust prescribed by the avaricious appetite of popular culture, the film does not destroy the inscrutability of Countess Báthory but instead propagates it. Rather than defining her life, Báthory is a mode of artistic discourse that contributes to the question that is intrinsic to the ideological survival of the ‘Blood Countess’. And so the legend lives on…
The sculpted studs of Sookie Stackhouse
Rant!’s DELECTABLE DUDES OF DISCOURSE Series
Rant! swoons unashamedly over literature’s hottest hunks – and it’s all subjective of course.
March 18, 2011
When it comes to delectable dudes of discourse, no novel is permeated with as many hunks of burning love as Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire Mysteries series. Harris has applied every studly stereotype to her male characters; Bill Compton, Eric Northman, Sam Merlotte, Alcide Herveaux and John Quinn (to name but a few) have been sexed up with supernatural scintillation. The satire that forms the heart of the ‘Sookie Stackhouse novels’ demands that Harris’s male characters subscribe to a soap scripted semblance in order to make poignant the writing’s raging ridicule. But are Harris’s magnificent men able to transcend the literary genre that is so crucial to their composition? Can they be defined as complex characters with whom readers can engage and relate in spite of their gorgeous get-up?
Bill, Eric, Sam, Alcide and John all have one thing in common: Sookie – they have either loved or lusted the lovely lady. The men on the periphery of the whirlwind that is Sookie Stackhouse are Sam, Alcide and Quinn, who come with a mass of supernaturally charged emotional baggage, which, in itself, makes each character totally complicated. But because the men are all shelved by Sookie, readers are never given the chance to absorb the allure that exists beyond surface level superficiality.
Sam is sweet. As Sookie’s closest friend and boss he is always dragged into the drama. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed bar owner is kind and supportive, and protective in a big brother kind of way. Sam is portrayed as a happy-go-lucky, an attitude girls love, but just under the surface there appears to lurk a deep melancholy. Whether it’s unrequited love, loneliness or just ‘a shifter thing’ that is the cause of Sam’s sadness, of all Harris’s hunks he is the easiest to get along with.
Alcide Herveaux and John Quinn are Sookie’s booty calls. Vulnerable, hurt and on the rebound Sookie finds comfort in the arms of warm weres. She feels an instant attraction to Alcide, a werewolf, who is green-eyed, black-haired, big, rough, roguish, and in possession of an irresistible animal magnetism. The flirtation between Sookie and Alcide is fleeting but intense nonetheless. Quinn, a weretiger, is built, bald, scarred and his deep purple eyes are the colour of pansies. His six and a half feet-muscular frame is commanding and his presence oozes charisma and confidence, and Sookie wastes no time in helping herself to some of that! What makes these two dishy dudes so delectable is the primal nature of their seductive sex-appeal… and that’s all that readers are privy to ponder.
The two phantasmagoric fellows who dominate the life of Sookie Stackhouse and who live most vividly in the imagination of Charlaine Harris are Bill Compton and Eric Northman. Both vampires are omnipresent in the Southern Vampire Mysteries – Eric explicitly, Bill implicitly.
Bill is introduced as the romantic hero in Harris’s first novel. His brooding good looks set Sookie’s heart racing with instantaneous effect:
He was a little under six feet…He had thick brown hair, combed straight back and brushing his collar, and his long sideburns seemed curiously old fashioned… his lips were lovely, sharply sculpted, and he had arched eyebrows. His nose swooped right down out of that arch, like a Prince’s in a Byzantine mosaic. When he finally looked up, I saw his eyes were even darker than his hair, and the whites were incredibly white.
Bill is Sookie’s first love… and first loves are never forgotten. Readers are easily seduced by vampire Bill’s gentlemanly disposition, politeness and the uncharacteristic respect that, even as a vampire – a predator by nature, Bill affords the human race. But early on Bill is revealed as a great betrayer, which leads to the dissolution of his relationship with Sookie. Bill makes a mistake and pays dearly for it – he is banished from Sookie’s life – and although he only appears throughout the series as a shadow, Bill’s presence is impenetrable.
In spite of his horrendously poor judgement in matters of the heart, Bill’s love for Sookie is genuine and he is devotedly loyal to her. In Dead and Gone he tells her;
I have always loved you, and I will be proud to die in your service.
And Sookie believes him. There is an endearing humility about Bill that is best demonstrated in the way he loves Sookie from afar, realising that true love requires him to let her go. In so doing Bill denies his vampiric nature, which is driven by self-gratification. And it is this denial that makes Bill so captivating a character; rather than embrace his vampirism, as does Eric Northman, he lives in constant conflict with the vampire traits that define his ‘existence.’ Bill is a tortured soul. He is a noble, complicated being. He is a self-inflicted martyr. And there is something deeply seductive about tragic love.
Bill’s betrayal of Sookie makes way for Eric Northman, the 1000-year-old Viking vampire whose six-foot-five-inch frame is described as;
…handsome, in fact, radiant; blond and blue-eyed, tall and broad shouldered. He was wearing boots, jeans, and a vest. Period. Kind of like the guys on the cover of romance books.
Eric boasts all the classic stereotypical attributes that, in accordance with the connotations of Lord Byron’s byronic bad boy, incite unashamed aphrodisia and covetousness – he is confidently arrogant, cold, calculating, cruel and aggressive; all badass qualities that bewitch and beguile. And he is an ex-Viking – there is something terrifically enticing about rape and pillage. He is also fantastically funny, intelligent and has a great propensity for love (or so it would seem). This oxymoronic state of being is what hypnotises ladies into spellbound submission. Eric is a cold-blooded killer and a gentle lover, he embraces his vampirism and lives life with a carpe diem authority – he is attractively dangerous and, in many ways, is the archetype vampire cliché.
The relationship between Eric and Soookie dominates much of Harris’s series. They are in love but the reader is never quite sure whether this love is really real. Eric and Sookie share a blood-bond, which occurs when a human and vampire exchange blood enabling each party to experience the emotions of the other. A blood-bond evokes an instantaneous connection; a fact that renders Sookie apprehensive about her feelings for Eric, which she doesn’t always trust to be true. She wonders whether her love has been manipulated into consciousness, especially when the blood-bond itself has been engineered into being by the opportunistic Eric on more than one occasion. Sookie is cognisant of Eric’s is duplicitousness but is powerless against the blood-bond. Or is she? Harris forces the reader to forget Eric’s equivocal evil with the evocation of a tight ass and hot sex.
Although there appears to be no ‘Bill versus Eric’ competition for Sookie’s love, with Eric the clear winner, Dead and Gone ends with Niall telling his granddaughter;
The vampire is not a bad man, and he loves you.
But Niall disappears before Sookie can find out which vampire he meant. Niall’s cryptic message opens up a door for Bill to battle Eric in a duel for Sookie’s love as prize, or perhaps the blood-bond that unites Eric and Sookie will serendipitously dissipate in some conveniently constructed plot move… in which case, who knows what may happen?
With all these yummy men to choose from one would think that Sookie Stackhouse would be the envy of all and sundry. But the gorgeous guys falling over Sookie’s doorstep seem to provoke severe pain, physical, mental and emotional, which makes her life, in fact, not all that enviable. Okay, that’s a lie. The whole damsel-in-distress-knight-in-shining-armour routine is so worth a little pain. And perhaps that’s one of Charlaine Harris’s most interesting social observations; that society’s pursuit of self-gratification comes at a price. Harris uses chiselled abs and glam sex to distract her reader from character, honesty and authentic intimacy – the superficial overwhelms that which is genuine to such a degree that it becomes difficult to distinguish what is real and what is not. Choices made come with the tacit responsibility of accepting consequences. Harris ponders the aftermath of a carpe diem lifestyle and wonders whether a mediocre existence is the necessary outcome of accepting reality. The question is open ended. The point is moot.
Erik: Gaston Leroux’s phantasmagoric Phantom
Rant!’s DELECTABLE DUDES OF DISCOURSE Series
Rant! swoons unashamedly over literature’s hottest hunks – and it’s all subjective of course.
March 12, 2011
Look! You want to see? See! Feast your eyes, glut your soul on my cursed ugliness! Look at Erik’s face! Now you know the face of the voice! You were not content to hear me, eh? You wanted to know what I looked like? Oh, you women are so inquisitive! Well, are you satisfied? – Gaston Leroux (The Phantom of the Opera)
Mystery is magnetic. Human nature tasks the individual to dig and delve until understanding and comprehension are achieved, in matters of love especially. Gaston Leroux, in his novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra (The Phantom of the Opera), gives life to a tragic tale of love lost involving one of literature’s most enigmatic men. The Phantom of the Opera was first published as a serialisation in Le Gaulois from September 23, 1909 to January 8, 1910 – forcing suspense-driven readers to wait for each instalment to uncover the story’s plot and characters, and so amplifying the tone of alluring mystery lurking in the subtext of words written. The Phantom of the Opera hides in the shadows of the Opera Populaire as a ghost of existence whose actuality is delectably dubious and therefore enticingly attractive.
Leroux’s heroine, singer Christine Daaé, first encounters the Phantom through his beautiful, unearthly voice, which moves Christine beyond what words can describe. She believes the Phantom to be the “Angel of Music” who, according to stories told her by her father, is the personification of musical inspiration – a muse. Sadly, the Phantom’s appearance bears no resemblance to his voice:
Jammes yelled these words in a tone of unspeakable terror; and her finger pointed, among the crowd of dandies, to a face so pallid, so lugubrious and so ugly, with two such deep black cavities under the straddling eyebrows, that the death’s head in question immediately scored a huge success. – Gaston Leroux (The Phantom of the Opera)
Christine, unprejudiced by appearance, is wooed by ‘The Voice’ and its mysterious owner. Her intrinsic curiosity overwhelms any sense of foreboding and she is ultimately kidnapped by the Phantom who, unbeknownst to Christine, has fallen desperately in love with her. Christine, although in love with Raoul, cannot help but be captivated by the romance of a man whose desperate love has driven him to extreme measures in a bid to win over the object of his desire. The Phantom’s actions carry with them a long-passed tone of courtly love and Christine begins to find herself attracted to her abductor. But the Phantom’s plans are foiled; Christine’s capture leads to the unmasking of the Phantom, and the man behind the mask (Erik) is revealed. The mystery is de-mystified and so the Phantom’s allure dissipates. What replaces attraction is pity; a pity that transcends Erik’s deplorable nature.
As Christine is confronted with Erik’s physical deformity she symbolically comes face to face with his character, which is as corrupt as his appearance. He is an obsessive control freak, a bitter extortionist, a jealous manipulator and even a murderer. And Erik absolves himself from responsibility by blaming mankind for what he has become:
If I am the phantom, it is because man’s hatred has made me so. – Gaston Leroux (The Phantom of the Opera)
Although the Phantom is morally debauched, he has a propensity for great love, which manifests in his appreciation for art and beauty. Erik’s love for Christine is reflected in his voice, in the sound of music, but his own thinking has reduced him to nothing more than a masquerade; a masquerade that masks a deep hurt. It is love that ultimately saves the Phantom from himself. He kidnaps his beautiful songstress for a second time but after Christine’s kiss, the first he has ever received (not even his mother kissed him), Erik is overcome with emotion and he lets Christine go to live her life as she pleases. His act of unselfish love brings him a great happiness that shines through his misery for one brief moment:
I tore off my mask so as not to lose one of her tears… and she did not run away!…and she did not die!… She remained alive, weeping over me, weeping with me. We cried together! I have tasted all the happiness the world can offer. – Gaston Leroux (The Phantom of the Opera)
The seductive enchantment of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom is enveloped in the mysterious presence and tragic melancholy resonating from the author’s anomalous creation. He is an oxymoron; a phantom made of flesh and blood – a being whose very name renders him without a soul and yet his human nature imbues him with a great aptitude for both love and hate. He calls himself death and yet he lives, he exists as man and apparition; he is an incongruity:
You must know that I am made of death, from head to foot, and it is a corpse who loves you and adores you and will never, never leave you! — Gaston Leroux (The Phantom of the Opera)
He is phantasmagoric.
Ben Mears: King’s murderous moralist
Rant!’s DELECTABLE DUDES OF DISCOURSE Series
Rant! swoons unashamedly over literature’s hottest hunks – and it’s all subjective of course.
March 8, 2011
Ben Mears: the ultimate selfless hero and most delectable of discourse dudes.
Mears is the protagonist of Steven King’s 1979 novel Salem’s Lot, which uses horror to turn the tired cliché of the ‘tragic love story’ into something bold and belligerent. When vampires run the show, there can only be one ending: calamitous catastrophe and, as master story teller, King is the expert of all things experientially cataclysmic.
Ben Mears is a successful writer who grew up in the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, Cumberland County, Maine (or “The Lot”, as the locals call it). He returns home after 25 years to lay some demons to rest by writing a book about the Marsten House, an abandoned mansion, after a bad experience inside it as a child. Mears is tall, black-haired, lanky, and agile-looking, with what King describes as “finely-drawn features” – and he attracts the attention of Susan Norton, a young college graduate, with whom he strikes up a romantic relationship. Not only does Mears fall in love, he joins a team of locals in an effort to fight the spread of the vampires, whose numbers increase as the new vampires infect their own families and others – all in a day’s work.
As lives and relationships are destroyed by the curse of the vampire, a tone of tragic and desperate despair grasps Salem’s Lot by the throat and resonates with inescapable and unfathomable depth.
The town knew about darkness. It knew about the darkness that comes on the land when rotation hides the land from the sun, and about the darkness of the human soul. These are the town’s secrets, and some will later be known and some will never be known. The town keeps them all with the ultimate poker face. – Stephen King (Salem’s Lot)
The novel’s love affliction materialises when Susan is captured by Barlow (the vampire leader) before Mark has a chance to rescue her. Susan becomes a vampire but is eventually staked through the heart by her lover, Ben Mears. Unlike the usual ‘tragic love story,’ Ben Mears’ killing of Susan is no Romeo-and-Juliet romantic liebestod-esque love-in-death act; it’s brutal and barbaric. Ben stakes Susan through the heart; with destructive force he pierces the organ that has come to represent the spirit of all things romantic and the embodiment of love’s life – the act is deeply symbolic. As Susan’s heart is destroyed so too is the hope of their love and the romantic notion of ‘love preserved’ is thus undermined.
Perhaps Ben and Susan’s love defies death in the sense that Ben does not stop loving Susan after she has ‘turned’ and even after he has killed her. But Ben does not join Susan in death; he chooses not to martyr himself for love and in so doing their love is arguably tainted. King thus paints a picture of imperfect love. He imbues the ‘tragic love’ of Ben and Susan with an innate realism that unabashedly defies the perfect romance inherent the act of ‘love united in death.’
But Ben contextually choosing life over love is no cop out. The writer has been charged a purpose that transcends his love for Susan. Ben is commanded to love mankind – his purpose is to protect ‘The Lot’ (and potentially the world) from falling prey to vampire evil. Ben Mears, in killing Susan and protecting his own life, succumbs to his higher purpose and in so doing the tragedy of lost love is rendered all the more tangible.
By killing Susan, Ben inflicts separation upon himself and is left alone, which, in the context of King’s novel, is the epitome of torment, pain and suffering:
Alone. Yes, that’s the key word, the most awful word in the English tongue. Murder doesn’t hold a candle to it and hell is only a poor synonym. – Stephen King (Salem’s Lot)
Ben rejects the peace of death and the vague torment of hell in favour of alone, the most horrific state of being in which to exist, and in so doing he commits the ultimate sacrifice. Although Susan and Ben’s love is not perfect, the tragedy of its discontinuance is still agonising. By acceding to a torturous existence of aloneness, the gravity of the choice Ben has made, what he has given up, is made all the more poignant. King’s protagonist, unselfishly, takes the moral high ground. Mears is not granted the comfort of joining Susan in death; his actions force him to exist within the memory of his love – a love that will remain unfulfilled and never-nurtured for all time.
The act of moving forward at all became heroism. – Stephen King (Salem’s Lot)
The players in the game of ‘tragic romance’ are often described as hopeless victims of fate. In Salem’s Lot Stephen King does afflict Ben and Susan with an iota of ‘star crossed lover’ syndrome and Ben Mears is also existentially apportioned the seemingly inescapable title of small town saviour. But within the bounds of fate’s prescriptions Mears has a choice, albeit a choice enveloped in tragedy no matter the path chosen. In a confrontation with destiny, Ben Mears makes his choice and becomes a tragic and reluctant hero.
Mr Rochester: Byron’s bad boy
Rant!’s DELECTABLE DUDES OF DISCOURSE Series
Rant! swoons unashamedly over literature’s hottest hunks – and it’s all subjective of course.
March 5, 2011
Girls always like bad boys; it’s an ironic unpleasantness that has embedded itself deep within the female psyche. The nobility and chivalry of the courtly lover is more often than not scorned by women, who would rather swoon over the delectable dude who dishes the damage; the delectable dude whose ‘unpleasantness’ induces orgasmic euphoria in adulating admirers.
All things considered what’s so wrong with a flawed fellow?
Lord Byron pondered this very question and consequently birthed a romantic anti-hero, based on the poet’s own duplicitous actuality, whose character has been replicated in art (in the broader sense) so extensively that ‘Byronic hero’ has become the familiar term used to describe a man existing in opposition to the immaculate idealism of the courtly lover. In discourse, Lord Byron’s ‘bad boy’ is implicitly described as arrogant, cunning, adaptable, cynical, disrespectful of rank and privilege, emotionally conflicted, having a distaste for social institutions and norms, having a troubled past or suffering from an unnamed crime, intelligent, perceptive, jaded, world-weary, mysterious, magnetic, charismatic, seductive, introspective, self-destructive, socially and sexually dominant, sophisticated, educated and treated as an exile or outcast. Literature has cast many characters in the role of the Byronic lover, particularly in the fiction inspired by Romantic Movement and the Gothic fiction of the early 19th century, but none so aptly fits the role of Lord Byron’s model hero than Mr Edward Rochester.
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 masterpiece, imagined one of literature’s most popular romantic characters – the dark and dubious Mr Rochester, who is a classic example of the Byronic bad boy. Mr Rochester is an oxymoron whose state of being simultaneously attracts and repels; an anomaly represented in the man’s physical appearance and best described by Jane Eyre in the following passage:
Most true is it that ‘beauty is in the eye of the gazer.’ My master’s colourless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth,- all energy, decision, will, – were not beautiful, according to rule; but they were more than beautiful to me: they were full of an interest, an influence that quite mastered me,– that took my feelings from my own power and fettered them in his. I had not intended to love him: the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously revived, green and strong! He made me love him without looking at me. – Jane Eyre Chapter 17, pg. 153
The reader never doubts Jane’s love for Mr Rochester, which is an unselfish love that attenuates human imperfection. But 150 years after the publication of Jane Eyre, Mr Rochester has come to have many lovers; he lives and breathes in the imagination of countless adoring female admirers.
The ultimate question for Brontë’s readers is whether Mr Rochester has captured the hearts of women worldwide becauseof his Byronic temperament or in spite of it. The ‘because’suggests that swooning readers would have fallen in love withany character fitting into the ‘flawed fellow’ mould of Byron’s anti-hero criteria – for this reader Mr Rochester exists merely as a ‘bad boy’ fetish transcendent of context. The ‘in spite’ suggests a deeper, more sincere attraction – a sense that Mr Rochester is not defined by his Byronic temperament but, rather, possesses qualities that co-exist with, and even have the potential to supersede, the Byronic mould – for this reader the love for Mr Rochester exists within the context of the story.
Mr Rochester is Jane’s social and economic superior yet they are intellectual equals and Jane is shown to be his moral superior. And, in fact, by the end of the novel, because Rochester has been blinded by the fire and has lost his manor house he has become weaker while Jane has grown in strength – Jane claims that they are equals, but the marriage dynamic has actually tipped in her favour. Mr Rochester is humbled by circumstance – his new found humility and the regret he shows for his former libertinism and lustfulness suggestively exclude him from the Byronic mould. Perhaps “exclude” is incorrect; Mr Rochester’s ‘bad boy’ temperament co-exists with other character traits that emerge in certain contexts. Mr Rochester is thus shown by Brontë to be a complicated, ambiguous, contradictory human being who develops as a character when faced with life’s very hard lessons. He is more than Lord Byron’s ‘bad boy’ lover.
Although the poetry of Lord Byron revolutionised the traditional ideal of the romantic lover by making him more real, the Byronic hero has the potential to reduce a man to the state of mere ‘bad boy,’ a label which consumes and dictates said hero’s character and identity unless a skilled artist and an insightful reader are charged with describing and discerning the discourse, respectively. That said, the beauty of art is its ability to stir and evoke on a deeply personal level, and individual interpretation, although often errant, is never wrong because, by the intrinsic nature and definition of art, independent thought and feeling is not only encouraged but expected. Therefore, dear reader, own Mr Rochester as your mind and soul decree.
‘You have saved my life: I have a please in owning you so immense a debt. I cannot say more. Nothing else that has being would have been tolerable to me in the character of creditor for such an obligation: but you: it is different;-I feel your benefits no burden, Jane… I knew,’ he continued, ‘you would do me good in some way, at some time;–I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you: their expression and smile did not… strike delight to my very inmost heart so for nothing… My cherished preserver, good night!’ – Mr. Rochester, Chapter 15, pg. 133
For love and metal
LYRICAL LOITERINGS OF A LISTENER Series
Thoughts, ideas and reactions inspired by song lyrics.
March 1, 2011
The oxymoron inherent in the term ‘love metal’ is a concept that Ville Valo has been selling to the world and, more specifically, to ‘defenders of the faith’ for close on 20 years. Metal music, synonymous with testosterone driven aggression, is the antithesis of love, which is associated with gentle romance and sentimental tenderness. Marrying the philosophical connotations of love and metal seems ludicrous but HIM’s fusion of melancholic melody and metal muscle makes sense of the apparent contradiction. The band’s musical and lyrical content reminds listeners that the violent opposition between love and metal is rooted in the same core emotions, namely passion and obsession, which makes two seemingly antithetical ideals not all that dissimilar.
The ethos of HIM is rendered in the band’s trademark symbol, the Heartagram, which has been described by Valo as a “Modern Yin Yang” – the heart, a symbol of love, being the Yin and the inverted pentagram, a symbol of metal, being the Yang. The implication is that one element cannot exist without the other – the Heart ‘Yin’ and Metal ‘Yang’ provide a sense of balance to HIM’s music. Valo has said that “the Heartagram stands for HIM as a band, as an entity, and for ‘love metal’ in general. Valo writes words of love and expresses them through metal music and in so doing the singer and his band have birthed the genre of love metal, which is wistfully and veraciously captured in The Sacrament.
I hear you breathe so far from me
I feel your touch so close and real
And I know
My church is not of silver and gold,
It’s glory lies beyond judgement of souls
The commandments are of consolation and warmth
You know our sacred dream won’t fail
The sanctuary tender and so frail
The sacrament of love
The sacrament of warmth is true
The sacrament is you
I hear you weep so far from me
I taste your tears like you’re next to me
And I know
My weak prayers are not enough to heal
Oh the ancient wounds so deep and so dear
The revelation is of hatred and fear
You know our sacred dream won’t fail
The sanctuary tender and so frail
The sacrament of love
The sacrament of warmth is true
The sacrament is you
The sacrament is you
The sacrament is you
The sacrament is you
The sacrament is you
You know our sacred dream won’t fail
The sanctuary tender and so frail
The sacrament of love
The sacrament of warmth is true
The sacrament is you
The sanctuary tender and so frail
The sacrament of love
The sacrament of warmth is true
The sacrament is you
The religious metaphor that forms the premise of The Sacrament is both woeful and poetically beautiful. A sacrament in religion is a ritual or practice that is a tangible symbol of an intangible reality; a visible sign of an invisible absolute. HIM’s song is a love letter by Ville Valo to an unnamed love, to which he says “the sacrament is you.” Within the context of the song, the woman, Valo’s love, is the tangible symbol of an invisible reality that denotes a passionate love – she is a symbol of that love, she is ‘the sacrament.’ Valo worships at the altar of love in a church “not of silver and gold.” He subscribes to a religion that dictates commandments of “consolation and warmth.” Valo’s religion is love; a love that transcends “judgement of souls” and is therefore, by implication, perfect, requiring no absolution from a divine God. Valo thus alludes to the fact that the love spoken of in the song is itself divine.
But the sentimentality of Valo’s words is undermined by an implicit tone of tragedy, which, ironically, enhances the song’s romance with an inflection of ‘star-crossed lovers.’ The lines “I hear you weep so far from me/ I taste your tears like you’re next to me/ And I know/ My weak prayers are not enough to heal/ Oh the ancient wounds so deep and so dear” suggest that the lovers are torn apart by distance or death, or perhaps even hurt. Yet Valo does not cast love as an insipid character. Inherent in The Sacrament is a tone of hope and idealism; love vanquishes distance, death or pain. The utopia of lovers united is described as ‘a sacred dream that won’t fail.’ Valo speaks of a dream but not just any dream, a “sacred” dream; a dream that is anointed and incomprehensible, a dream that inspires devotion, respect and subservience. This “sacred dream” is also described as a “sanctuary tender and so frail.” The dream of lovers united is a safe place, a sanctuary, which is threatened by an inconsistency provoked by human fallibility. If the hope and love that propels the sanctuary wanes then the dream is destroyed.
Although the inherent imperfection of human nature renders the sanctuary errant, love’s unfailing character comes to the rescue. The Sacrament alludes to the divinity of love which in turn implies that love is consistent because it transcends human fallibility. Within the fragility of the dream of love is a sense of intrinsic strength that is emphasised by the deliverance of the song. The intensity of Valo’s pensively deep, doleful voice exudes a force of innate vitality that is enhanced by the melodic metal and rock distortion of the accompanying music. Through the expression of metal, love is rendered audacious and vivacious.
Ville Valo says of hearts; “I love hearts. They are symbols for life, love and humanity” and HIM’s music testifies to the ethos of the heart. It is sacrament to Life.
RANT!’S TOP TEN BADASS FILM CREATURES Series
In no particular order, Rant! articulates and analyses cinema’s most horrific creatures – from all genres of film.
February 9, 2011
Jurassic Park – authored by Michael Crichton and directed by Steven Spielberg – is a cautionary tale exposing the dangers of biological tinkering; when human knowledge is combined with greed and complacency, and is untempered by wisdom, ethics or the oversight of a responsible organisation, the results are calamitous. And what better metaphor for unbridled destruction than the fearsome force of nature also known as Tyrannosaurus Rex – additionally operating under the pseudonym ‘Tyrant Lizard’ and better known by its peers as ‘KING badass Tyrant Lizard.’
Steven Spielberg’s epic cinematic adaptation of Crichton’s novel is the director’s highest grossing film to date. Jurassic Park was ground-breaking in terms of computer generated imagery and it introduced audiences to a prehistoric world like never ever seen before. Dinosaurs roamed the plains of the Jurassic Park with unparalleled realism – in cinemas, Brontosauruses breathed down the necks of the front row, Pterodactyls reached out to the back seats with their wing span and T-Rex ran at the audience with fearsome, predatory determination.
T-Rex roamed the North American continent 67 million years ago. The fearsome creature bore a gargantuan skull with a massive mouth full of bone crushing teeth. Boasting excellent binocular vision, T-Rex crashed through the jungle eyeballing tasty treats, although ambush was the creature’s preferred method of attack. The planet-sized head of the carnivorous beast was balanced by a long, heavy tale that could be used to thrash any potential prey into delirium. In contrast to the bipedal carnivore’s powerful hind limbs, the creature’s forelimbs were small, though unusually powerful for their size, and carried two clawed digits – perfect for slicing and gouging. Pretty darn horrific.
Yet in spite of T-Rex’s brutal ferocity, the film’s pesky little Velociraptors almost rival Tyrannosaurus Rex in badassness… but not quite. T-Rex is, after all, one of the largest land carnivores of all time, standing 46 feet long and 20 feet tall in Spielberg’s film. And in case confusion abounds; Spielberg allows the tenacious T-Rex to stamp its authority by pulverising a Raptor, which involves grabbing said Raptor in its jaws and crushing it with unyielding might – badassness decided.
Glee: Frank-N-Furter tells us to FEAR NOT
8 February, 2011
You know, Halloween is fast approaching. The day when parents encourage little boys to dress like little girls and little girls to dress like whores and go door to door brow-beating hard working Americans into giving them free food. Well you know what, western Ohio? We’ve lost the true meaning of Halloween: Fear. Halloween is that magical day of the year when a child is told their grandma is a demon who’s been feeding them rat casserole with a crunch garnish of their own scabs. Children must know fear; without it they’ll try frenching a grizzly bear and will consider living in Florida… Moms, skip trick-or-treating this year and instead sit your little toddlers down and explain daddy’s a hungry zombie and before he went out to sharpen his pitchfork, he whispered to mommy that you look delicious. — Sue Sylvester
Fear: the discipline wielding weapon of subliminally dictatorial governments and their mass media cohorts. Fear is a bridle of control intent on debilitating, confusing and coercing. Fear is relative to age and experience. When we are babies we fear separation. When we are children we fear the proverbial monster in the closet. When we are teens, we fear… pretty much everything; friendless-ness, dorky-ness, awkward-ness, virgin-ness… life in general – so much so that pushing boundaries often comes at the expense of the conformist attitude that is required to get through High School. And, the resulting non-conformity is a sure sign of friendless-ness, dorky-ness, awkwardness and virgin-ness (because life is that reductive when you are sixteen). Unless, of course, the non-conformists (and a couple of wannabes) band together for a higher purpose, aka the Glee club – then the ‘loner, nerdy, virgin’ outcast kids become a version of ‘okay’ within the context of a group.
The Glee club pushes the High School boundaries of what is acceptable to the herd, which opens Glee members up to a world of slush-in-the-face. Glee’s Rocky Horror episode was a great reminder of the importance of pushing boundaries, which comes with a fair warning from our favourite Coach Sue to the Damien Hirsts of the world:
Just because you’re free to say whatever you want doesn’t always mean you should. Artist are free to push boundaries to make art but when pushing boundaries is their only aim the result is usually bad art.
Art, of course, is entirely subjective, openly relative and therefore entirely debatable… but that is an argument for another day. Back in 1975, The Rocky Horror Picture Show aimed to provoke, bewilder and accuse. Through comedy and parody, Richard O’Brien’s musical stageplay drew attention to society’s rather frigid perceptions of sexuality – homosexuality, transsexualism and sexual deviance in general, to be exact.
On a different day and in a different time, Glee performs a similar function. A parody of the whole High School Musical phenomenon, Glee explores popular culture and modern society from the perspective of a group of High School kids who are being moulded by the very society on which the show comments. Political correctness is shown to be a farce and soppy High School melodrama is juxtaposed with the conundrum of conformity within the High School context. As with ‘Rocky Horror’, Glee appreciably reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously.
The Show encourages us to adopt a ‘Rocky Horror’ attitude to life – to push boundaries and FEAR NOT the consequences. And Glee says that if you are afraid to take that risk alone, then join a group and shun mediocrity en masse. And if you are still afraid, violence is a great way to assert identity and eschew the sheep. In the words of Becky;
Give me some chocolate or I will cut you!
Cujo is a BADDOG!
RANT!’S TOP TEN BADASS FILM CREATURES Series
In no particular order, Rant! articulates and analyses cinema’s most horrific creatures – from all genres of film.
February 8, 2011
The perversion of the innocent is one of horror’s most successful gimmicks, and is a modus operandi at which author Stephen King is appreciably familiar and beautifully proficient. One of the best ways to terrify an audience is to take what people love and turn it into a monstrous beast. Remember Cujo? – The lovely St. Berndard that was scratched on the nose by a bat and infected with rabies. Well, Cujo didn’t turn out to be so lovely. In fact, the demon dog from Castle Rock, Maine, turned out to be one of film’s most horrific creatures. In his novel, Cujo, Stephen King – to the horror of all animal lovers – turns every man’s pet into a blood thirsty fiend. The writer transcribes from thoughts to words the horrific evolution of mild mannered dog to murderous horror creature.
King’s Cujo was released in 1981 and was rendered into cinematic being by director Lewis Teague in 1983. The film recalls a three day struggle between Mom Donna and son Tad (who are trapped in their broken down Jag), and a rabid Cujo. The siege of the stalled car so happens to occur in Castle Rock’s hottest summer, and hunger, thirst, and fantastically unrealistic escape improbabilities conspire to unhinge Donna’s sanity. The psychological tension elicited by claustrophobic entrapment, ensuing panic and an agonizingly intense battle of wills between maniacal dog and protective mother, is convincingly visualised in Teague’s film interpretation.
For the character of Cujo the film used five St. Bernards, a Rottweiller, one mechanical head, and a man in a dog costume. Cujo hovers on and around Donna and Tad’s car prison with intent to kill; with blood drenched jowls and a psychotic look in his eye, the dog is certainly one badass BAD dog!
It was possible that one of them might call him BADDOG. And at this particular moment he certainly considered himself to be a BADDOG. – Stephen King, Cujo
Teague was commended for following the book’s plot line so closely but the director deviated on one of the novel’s most crucial events. In King’s story, Donna finally decides to get out of the car and attack Cujo with a baseball bat in an attempt to save herself and her son. She manages to kill the dog but Tad dies while she is beating Cujo to death. In the film version Tad survives, apparently because the producers though the death of a child would be too traumatic for audiences. Um… isn’t that what Horror is all about? Trauma inducing terror?
Tad’s death is essential to Cujo because it accentuates the unnatural horror that forms the premise of King’s tale. The child’s death is a sadistic anti-climax. Donna massacres Cujo, a once cuddly carefree animal, for nothing… her son dies in spite of her efforts, which, again, is a perversion of the natural order of things; dog turns into psycho killer and child dies – life is not supposed to work that way. But remember; in the world of horror, life works in any badass way the creative mind pleases.
Horror gives imagination the license to act out its most warped hallucinations… and don’t pretend you don’t like it.
Gollum plays a tricksey game
RANT!’S TOP TEN BADASS FILM CREATURES Series
In no particular order, Rant! articulates and analyses cinema’s most horrific creatures – from all genres of film.
February 7, 2011
One of the central themes in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is that size and social significance do not always dictate level of impact. Sam and Frodo are Hobbits – seemingly inconsequential in character, and small in stature, and yet the two creatures save Middle Earth from certain annihilation. The Hobbits serve to illustrate that the ‘ordinary man’ can make a difference. Of course, Sam and Frodo do have a great deal of help in their quest to destroy the Ring. In Peter Jackson’s superb interpretation of Tolkien’s mythology, Gandalf prophetically advises Frodo that somehow Gollum has a part to play in the fate of the Ring. And the wise wizard is proved correct when, ultimately, it is Gollum who takes the Ring to its death.
Perhaps Gollum is the unsung hero of Lord of The Rings? The point is moot but irrespective of where sympathies lie, the fact is that the creature is unequivocally and infinitely as badass as beastly nuisances come. Other than the fact that the freaky little fiend has some sharp teeth and can deliver quite a bite –sadly, Frodo’s digested finger and many carefree river fish no longer live to tell the tale – Gollum does not have the physical prowess do pack much of a punch. What makes Gollum deadly dangerous is the creature’s mental instability and proficiency in the art of manipulation. Gollum wages mental warfare.
The creature is corrupted by the Ring’s evil and as the force of the Ring causes Gollum’s mind to depreciate, his countenance becomes something monstrous – hating the sun and its warmth, Gollum takes refuge in a cave under the Misty Mountains, and his appearance adapts to his dingy environment. Gollum’s physical degeneration is an outward symbol of his co-existing mental disintegration. Previously a Stoor Hobbit of the River-folk, who lived near the Gladden Fields, Gollum was originally known as Sméagol – he was later named ‘Gollum’ after forming a habit of making “a horrible swallowing noise in his throat,” sounding much like g-oll-um. Over time, Sméagol turns into Gollum; a small, bulbous-eyed, slimy creature who is able to slip through the shadows unnoticed.
Gollum’s mind is as slippery and perilous as his appearance. The creature’s enslavement to the Ring forces him to pursue it for the rest of his life after losing it to Bilbo Baggins. Gollum’s deranged obsession manifests in a severe case of Dissociative Identity Disorder. The creature’s multiple personalities pressure him to slip obscenely in and out of reason; an inconsistency reflected in his speech. Gollum communicates in an unusual manner, usually speaking in the first person plural when referring to himself and using the singular form of verbs. He also uses his own versions of words similar to the original words. He usually adds -es to the end of a plural, resulting in words such as “Hobbitses” instead of Hobbits or “birdses” instead of birds. A scene in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, which poignantly reveals Gollum’s sad madness and debilitating torment, reads as follows:
Gollum: We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little Hobbitses. Wicked, tricksy, false!
Sméagol: No. Not master!
Gollum: Yes, precious, false! They will cheat you, hurt you, LIE.
Sméagol: Master is our friend!
Gollum: You don’t have any friends; nobody likes you!
Sméagol: I’m not listening… I’m not listening…
Gollum: You’re a liar and a thief.
Sméagol: Go away!
Gollum: “Go away?”
[Gollum laughs as Sméagol begins crying]
Sméagol: I hate you, I hate you.
Gollum: Where would you be without me, g-oll-um, g-oll-um? I saved us! It was me! We survived because of me!
Sméagol:[stops crying] Not anymore.
Gollum: What did you say?
Sméagol: Master looks after us now. We don’t need you anymore.
Sméagol: Leave now, and never come back!
Sméagol: Leave now, and never come back!
[Gollum screams in frustration]
Sméagol: LEAVE! NOW! AND NEVER COME BACK!
[Gollum is silent]
Sméagol: [looks around] We told him to go away… and away he goes, Precious! Gone, gone, gone! Sméagol is free!
The creature’s mania, although comical at times, is menacing – as Sam and Frodo come to discover. Gollum becomes the Hobbits’ accomplice and companion on their journey to destroy the Ring. He is a tangible representation of the Ring’s destructive power, which is a very real threat to Frodo who carries the Ring and is constantly battling against its unyielding evil. Frodo is cognisant of the likelihood that he will end up like Gollum, and for this reason the Hobbit is sympathetic to Gollum’s condition. Frodo realises that the Ring may enslave him just as it has enslaved the creature whose very existence is driven by an intense lust for a Ring that is no longer in his possession. Gollum will do whatever it takes to satiate his parasitic yearning for the Ring, including murder;
Master betrayed us. Wicked, tricksey, false. We ought to wring his filthy little neck. Kill him. Kill him. Kill them both, and then we take the Precious and we be the master.
And for this reason the Frodo’s compassion is seemingly unwise. Whilst the Hobitt’s empathy is unabashedly annoying, albeit understandable, Tolkien’s reader and Jackson’s viewer are made aware that fate is running its course – Gollum must be tolerated for a reason that is systematically revealed.
Gollum lies and cheats, and he is calculating. Gandalf says of Gollum;
Gollum is a liar, and you have to sift his words.
The creature weaves an intricate plan to lure Sam and Frodo into Shelob’s web of death with the intention of taking back the Precious – a plan which includes temporarily destroying the bond of trust implicit between Sam and Frodo. Gollum is deceptive and manipulative, and yet strangely impulsive. It is Gollum’s insanity, his inability to reason (he will never give up the idea of the Ring on behalf of the greater good), which qualifies the creature as formidable, as opposed to any physical threat he may pose. That said, his grip is described by Tolkien in The Two Towers as “soft, but horribly strong” as he wrestles with Sam – it is assuredly Gollum’s craving for the Ring that amplifies his strength.
Gollum has a great propensity for violence and treachery and yet the creature, who is portrayed as a victim of the Ring, invokes sympathy. Gollum’s ambiguous nature is expertly rendered in Jackson’s film by the voice and actions of Andy Serkis, who acts the creature with great mercy – true to Tolkien’s imagining. Gollum’s vulnerability is demonstrated in Tolkien’s description of the creature in the chapter “The Taming of Sméagol”, after he has been captured by Sam and Frodo:
For that moment a change, which lasted for some time, came over him. He spoke with less hissing and whining, and he spoke to his companions direct, not to his precious self. He would cringe and flinch, if they stepped near him or made any sudden movement, and he avoided the touch of their elven-cloaks; but he was friendly, and indeed pitifully anxious to please. He would cackle with laughter and caper if any jest was made, or even if Frodo spoke kindly to him, and weep if Frodo rebuked him.
Despite the creature’s beguilement, Gollum’s fate seems unfair – he is, arguably, fortune’s play thing. Interestingly, Tolkien provides a not-so-pleasant-but-all-too-true explanation for Gollum’s plight. In the chapter “The Shadow of the Past”, Gandalf reminds Frodo that life isn’t fair:
Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. . . . even the very wise cannot see all ends.
The fact is, the story needs Gollum in order to survive. But sentimentality aside, Gollum is a little too tricksey for comfort. As one of fiction and film’s most remarkable characters, Gollum translates into being the age-old struggle between good and evil. It is an imposing struggle that bears many casualties. As with Gollum, human beings are dangerous in their capacity for deception. The ability to invoke terror and death is not always reliant on a brutish appearance; a brutish, selfish, capricious mentality is often more damaging.
RANT!’S TOP TEN BADASS FILM CREATURES Series
In no particular order, Rant! articulates and analyses cinema’s most horrific creatures – from all genres of film.
February 6, 2011
Anaconda, Luis Llosa’s 1997 adventure-action-thriller, got rubbish reviews but exacted retribution by becoming a box office blast; debuting at #1 in the US, where it remained for two consecutive weeks, and even spawning three sequels.Clearly, critical acclaim is not an essential ingredient for the procreation of a badass film fiend!
Anaconda‘s plot can be précised as follows: do-gooder scientists embark on search for native tribe; doo-gooder scientists adopt the help of enigmatic stranger; enigmatic stranger is a baddy; baddy has ulterior motives; baddy pisses off snake (a rather large snake); snake seeks vengeance; do-gooders get caught up in fight for survival. Premise of plot: when you look for trouble, trouble will bite you in the ass. The originality astounds.
Anaconda is easily mocked but the fact is: a vengeful, hungry, behemoth of a reptile, slithering secretly in nature’s undergrowth in search of prey, is pretty damn horrific – a great way to magnify fear is to magnify the object of that fear. So, “well done” Luis Llosa; against the odds, Anaconda does terrify.
On a more serious note, what Anaconda is a great example of is nature fighting back. The film’s mammoth creature serves as a great metaphor for nature’s wrath. Human kind has invaded the natural world for aeons… and then we get pissed off when nature retaliates. Not so long ago, wildlife officials in Florida, USA, began issuing permits to snake experts in a first-ever state-sanctioned python hunt, in order to contain the expansion of the pesky constrictor. The number of pythons in the region has exploded in the past decade to potentially tens of thousands, and scientists believe the snakes were introduced when pet owners freed their snakes into the wild once they became too big to keep. They also think some Burmese pythons may have escaped in 1992 from pet shops battered by Hurricane Andrew and have been reproducing ever since. So typical! Human invasion screws up the natural order; nature reacts accordingly and what happens? Man gets pissy and nature is consequently raped every which way.
In the film, the distinction between the J-Lo (and her cronies) and Jon Voight is diminutive – the motivation for their respective behaviour is different but each party is invading a space that does not offer welcome, rendering both ‘goody’ and ‘baddy’ equally immoral. If you hunt a snake it’s going to strike back – perhaps not in so exaggerated a manner – but retaliate it will. And instinct is not inappropriate. Nature was here first and the laws of fairness dictate nature’s supremacy. But, sadly, we know this is usually not the matter of fact – global warming, extinction and deforestation are a few of many examples that serve to illuminate nature’s extreme disadvantage. At the film’s end, Ice-Cube beats the anaconda with an axe until it is finally slain. Nice. But the point couldn’t be truer.
Kill it until it’s Dead with a capital D.
Jaws wreaks mental havoc
RANT!’S TOP TEN BADASS FILM CREATURES Series
In no particular order, Rant! articulates and analyses cinema’s most horrific creatures – from all genres of film.
February 3, 2011
The plethora of horror that lies in wait on the ocean floor, ready to nibble, gnaw or gnash at the unassuming flesh of dangling limbs, creeps stealthily around the mind of most carefree holiday goers when wading in the cool blue waters of the ocean… da dum da dum da dum da dum. Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) is considered the father of the summer blockbuster and also one of the first ‘high concept’ films – its impact on cinema was nothing less than monumental.
Based on Peter Benchley’s trashy action novel of the same name, Jaws bears testament to the genius of the Spielberg imagination, which saw the potential to both thrill and terrorise with one of man’s most primal of fears: Shark Attack! And what do great thriller/horror directors do? They exaggerate. A shark attack is bad enough but what if a monolithic great white is prowling the waters, intent on killing? Only bad things can happen – skinny dippers become a tasty meal; a small boy becomes an h’orderve; boats become food platters; swimmers turn into a lunch buffet and hunters become a decadent feast.
Without excessively overthinking a film that is all about action, suspense and ENTERTAINMENT, Jaws functions as a poignant metaphor for fear. Spielberg’s film begs the question; what prowls beneath? The murky water of the ocean is synonymous with the deep dark recesses of the mind, both of which harbour unspoken fear and terror, no matter the nature. The film’s protagonist – the colossal Jaws – is a tangible symbol of an unnamed fear that is too terrible for contemplation. Jaws is a predator, a ravenous carnivore, a vicious killer. And much like the infamous Great White, Fear has the power to destroy, dominate and devour.
In the film, Quint and his team tackle the shark head on. They Bring It! – with figurative guns blazing, and Jaws is obliterated at the expense of the team leader. If we run with the metaphor, the suggestion is that facing our fears head on does not necessarily guarantee a happy ending but is usually for the greater good.
Who ever said thrillers were meant to be comforting?
WTF to do?
CONTEMPLATING CONSUMER ETHICS
February 3, 2011
Lately I have been thinking a great deal about my moral responsibility, as a human being and as a consumer, to shop ethically. And not only that; the long fingers of unyielding obligation, to preserve what is left of a disintegrating planet, have been scratching at my conscience – I have a daughter and it would be nice if the world she inherits is not overwhelmed by landfills and melting icebergs.
I’m not sure if it’s Hugh’s Fish Fight, which is commanding lots of media attention at the mo (and rightly so), or society’s increasing understanding of the importance of organic, free-range and fair-trade products, that has spurred some serious overtime thinking on my part? Either way, I do know that over the last couple of weeks I have had three separate conversations, spontaneously evolved, about the great conundrum of consumer ethics, which suggests that I am not the only one who is contemplative.
What I realise, more poignantly than ever before, is that every individual, with conscious intent or subconscious behaviour, has created his or her own personal brand of moral obligation. And yet most of the time, the modern lifestyle that dictates our actions undermines our efforts and renders our ideology hypocritical and inconsistent. The fact is; we live in a world of mass production and mass consumption. It sucks but it is what it is. If we all joined together and fought the system to disband monopolisation and
excess, life would be peachy. But ‘keeping it real’; that ain’t gonna happen. So let’s work with what we’ve got – a broken system. Within that brokenness we do our best to preserve, and to fix what is damaged. Or do we?
Does living in a broken world absolve us from responsibility – I mean, if it’s alreadybroken…? Not a chance. Who broke it in the first place? And just because our ideas are often philosophically flawed, does that mean we don’t try? No. It doesn’t. I think that the best way to make a difference is to start small – commit to buying a couple of eco-friendly, fair-trade and/or organic products on a regular basis. And then build on that. Sounds doable right? But here’s where my thinking hits a snag; how far do you go – where do you draw the line? What is considered a reasonable limit? There are people out there who fight the ‘animal anti-cruelty/save the planet’ battle in extreme measures – veganism being an admirable option. But then if your philosophy tells you that it isn’t okay to slaughter animals and you are able to live a lifestyle in protest against the commodity status of animals and the use of animal products for any purpose, surely water, electricity, cars etc. – all the elements that contribute to global warming – are also out of the question? We’ve got to save the polar bears right?
I do want to save the polar bears but I also want to be clean. I try not to waste water unnecessarily, I fit energy saving bulbs in my house, I don’t leave the lights on unnecessarily (high five to me) – but I do slip up and I know that more is required of me. I am honestly not really sure what I am saying here, other than it is unlikely and impractical for us to go and squat on a piece of dirt and live off the land. We are to blame for moulding our society into the consumer capital that it is but if we want to be extreme, if we want to be consistent in our ideology, we have to go all the way, as in squatting, subsisting, dirt…
I guess the point is that only a select few are really willing to sacrifice life as we know it. So, to compensate the earth for our selfishness, we pick matters that are important to us; some of us avoid all meat and animal bi-products but shower three times a day, some of us buy free range meat but then eat ‘whatever’ meat at restaurants, some of us vote to save the fish but chow down on a battery bred chicken. Some of us install eco-friendly bulbs but use plastic bags and disposable nappies, some of us will always buy fair-trade bananas but genetically engineered apples make their way into the same trolley and some of us buy eco-friendly washing powder but use Fairy to wash the dishes because it cleans better.
It’s all just so weird and difficult to negotiate. I tell myself that every little effort helps – and it probably does. But every day I realise more and more that I need to do better.
Pan’s Pale Man
RANT!’S TOP TEN BADASS FILM CREATURES Series
In no particular order, Rant! articulates and analyses cinema’s most horrific creatures – from all genres of film.
February 1, 2011
The exquisite complexity of Pan’s Labyrinth encapsulates the equivocal nature of the oral folk tales passed down from generation to generation in a society that has long since vanished. Intrinsic to Guillermo Del Toro’s film is a sensitive and empathetic understanding of the intricate nature of fairy tales, which are traditionally imbued with enchanting beauty as well as violent horror. Fairy tales were initially used to teach lessons about social conduct to the children listening around the proverbial camp fire. Over the years, as well as an artistic reflection of society, fairy tales have become a vehicle for social commentary. And with great compassion and insight, Del Toro uses the art of cinema and the folk tale genre to explore the human condition and the dangers of ideology. The film is a dual narrative – set in the historical context of the Spanish Civil War and Ofelia’s private world – that aims to expose the ability of the individual to feel terror but also to inflict terror.
Fantasy is Ofelia’s dark refuge rather than a place of escape, and her alternate reality is home to a myriad of intimidating and fearsome creatures; child-eating ogres, a freaky fawn, vile toads and meat-eating fairies are some of the beings that populate Del Toro’s ‘other world’. But none is as unsettling as the Pale Man. Although Del Toro’s story is entirely original, his educated background in mythology informs the rules and creatures of the labyrinth. The feast from which one should not eat is lorded over by the Pale Man, and is a recurring reference in mythology. From the biblical notion of the ‘forbidden fruit’ to Persephone eating the prohibited fruit of the Underworld, a pomegranate to be exact, and C.S Lewis’s inversion of the ‘forbidden banquet’ in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, fruit and food hold great symbolism in mythological realms. Usually associated with decadence, gluttony and temptation, those who partake of the ‘forbidden banquet’ will face dire consequences. Adam and Eve were banished from The Garden of Eden and Persephone was bound by the shackles of an eternity in hell. Del Toro writes and directs for an intelligent audience that has a vested knowledge in mythological as well as historical references. When Ofelia is confronted with a gorgeous feast of delectable delights, viewers already know that if the little girl surrenders to temptation, the consequences will be dire in deed. And Ofelia is finally seduced by a luscious grape, which she plucks and eats, thus awakening the Pale Man – the ensuing tension is claustrophobically intense as the audience holds its breath, willing the little heroine to escape whilst damning her for giving in to the feast’s allure.
Whilst imagination and preconceived ideas actively make the Pale Man all the more horrific – the figure itself is deeply terrifying. Sitting motionless at the head of the table, the creature imposes its corpse-like stature with fear-inducing grandiosity. The Pale Man seems to be mummified in a cast of death, like a skinny zombie without the gore. The creature’s two eyes are embedded in each of his hands rather than his head, which means that the figure moves with its arms reached out, not only to grab, but to see as well. German and Scandinavian folk tales often portray persons or monsters representing the dead as blind or at least very near-sighted, and often also as child-eaters – a reference possibly alluded to in the characterisation of the Pale Man.
Pan’s Labyrinth employs some computer generated imagery in its effects, but mostly uses complex make-up and animatronics. So the Pale Man is acted – Doug Jones, who played the part, said that he had to look out of the Pale Man’s nostrils, and the character’s legs were attached to the front of a green leotard which Jones wore. The Pale Man’s movements are stilted and almost clumsy, as one would expect from a being that has been asleep for a long time and has limited vision, and yet the creature is aggressively menacing. In retrospect, the fact that the Pale Man is acted (rather than CGI) seems to embellish the freakish oddity of the creature’s demeanour. Goya’s painting Saturn Devouring his Sonbears some influence on the character of the Pale Man who, like Saturn (Cronos in Greek Mythology), is also a child eater. The composition of the scene in which the Pale Man chomps the head off of Ofelia’s guiding fairies is poignantly reminiscent of Goya’s unforgivable interpretation of mythological cannibalism.
The Pale Man is the consequence of bad behaviour – of falling into temptation. He represents an unknowable, unnamed, incomprehensible fear that scratches the surface of our minds when we play the ‘what if’ game, almost like a conscience. Within the context of a film that requires the participation of the mind to propel the fear aroused by Del Toro’s bad ass hellion of horror, it is the Pale Man’s illusive nature and minimalist appearance that make the creature so disturbing a fiend.
Under The Dome
January 7, 2011
Under The Dome is a ratcheting ride of epic proportion. The modern master of storytelling, Stephen King, has imagined yet another transcendent tale of expertly crafted psychological drama. The horror in Under The Dome has a decidedly human ancestry and although the supernatural plays its characteristic part in King’s story, it remains second fiddle to the monstrous beast that King renders synonymous with human condition.
Under The Dome is the story of the small town of Chester’s Mill, Maine, which is inexplicably and abruptly confined by an invisible force field, and so sealed off from the rest of the world. William Golding’s Lord Of The Flies runs amuck in the town of Chester’s Mill. As Golding, King explores what happens when a society is cut off from accountability; law and order is rendered redundant by greed and power-lust, and chaos ensues. When food, electricity and water run short, the normal rules of society are replaced by a new social order, which is instituted and commanded by the corrupt and villainous Jim Rennie. King, always a champion of the underdog, places Dale Barbara, a young Iraq veteran, in opposition to Rennie. A band of intrepid citizens join Barbara in an attempt to fight the evil that is all too rapidly seizing their town by the throat, and also to discover the source of The Dome before it is too late. In true thriller style, the only man remotely capable of stopping Rennie is placed in jail for a large portion of the story, and the fate of Chester’s Mill is left to unravel without hindrance.
The nature of The Dome is enigmatically anomalous and the belated discovery of its origin is as passionately rewarding for the reader as it is dauntingly hopeless for the town’s inhabitants. The premise of King’s ideas is genius and The Dome serves as an equivocal informant on the feebleness of human nature. The Dome annuls the external locus of control that government and state have over Chester’s Mill and in so doing the town’s sense of accountability is annihilated yet, ironically, The Dome forces personal accountability – the acknowledgment and recognition of behaviour and actions.
The novel’s greatest success is the acute sense of claustrophobia that is felt with growing intensity as the reader becomes increasingly invested in the lives of the Chester’s Mill residents. As time runs out and The Dome metaphorically closes in, the reader feels as chokingly confined as the story’s participants. King’s character renditions are superb – he cajoles (and sometimes shocks) the reader into caring and the resulting emotional expenditure means that hate, love, pain, anger and joy are experienced in extreme measures. The Dome’s claustrophobic atmosphere forces the reader into an introspective state that is not entirely comfortable. The ‘walking in another’s’ shoes’ idiom runs riot in Under The Dome, and regret is personified into one of the novel’s most poignant characters. As town residents reminisce about past experiences, mistakes in particular, The Dome’s claustrophobic entrapment becomes mental as well as physical. The Dome’s power is fuelled by something so familiar that Barbara and his gang are crippled by a debilitating guilt. This guilt forms the bars of a mental prison, and the emotive and intellectual entrapment felt by the characters osmoses to the reader, who undergoes the same tormenting psychological journey, and evolution, as King’s characters. With guilt comes the potential for self-pity, which is another vicious prison warden whose overwhelming envelopment of the soul has the potential to elicit self-destruction. It will take a true visionary to save lives in Chester’s Mill.
King’s novel is a scintillating read that challenges the status quo. Under The Dome forces engagement, not only with the story but with the reader’s own state of being. The novel has, strangely, been compared to The Stand – perhaps because of its length and apocalyptic intensity. To gain an unadulterated experience of Under The Dome it is best to read it within its own context, without relating it to The Stand upon first encounter. The novel performs at break neck speed and conscripts the reader into an existence under The Dome – an experience that will not easily be forgotten.
Passenger: the other I
December 3, 2010
Chino Moreno’s lyrics are disturbingly surreal and strangely abstract. Each Deftones song is an abyss of dark symbolism and perverse ideology that requires endless scrutiny and considerable contemplation to elicit even an iota of comprehension. Inherent in Moreno’s lyrics is an ambiguity that leaves emotive responses and intellectual interpretations relative to the individual. The lyricist challenges the boundaries of ‘safe’ thought and delves into the subconscious in an uncomfortable manner. Passenger is a song of melancholic lamentation that offers a metaphoric representation of the ‘alter ego’ as a passenger. This passenger can be categorically denied, marginally recognised or pathologically pursued. Perhaps all of the above.
Here I lay
Still and breathless
Just like always
Still I want some more
Who cares what’s behind
Just like always
Still your passenger
Chrome buttons, buckles and leather surfaces
These and other lucky witnesses
Now to calm me
This time won’t you please
Roll the windows down
This cool night air is curious
Let the whole world look in
Who cares who sees anything
I’m your passenger
I’m your passenger
Drop these down and
Put them on me
Nice cool seats
There to cushion your knees
Now to calm me
Take me around again
Just don’t pull over
This time would you please drive faster
Roll the windows down
This cool night air is curious
Let the whole world look in
Who cares who sees what tonight
Roll these misty windows down
To catch my breath
And then go and go and go just drive me
Home and back again
Here I lay just like always
Don’t let me go
Take me to the edge
Beneath the subtle beauty of Deftones’ rendition of Passenger lurks a haunting familiarity. The song’s reference to a “passenger”, lying “still and breathless” reminds me of Dexter Morgan, the serial killer we love to love. Jeff Lindsay’s character – mild-mannered blood spatter specialist by day/manic murderer by night – refers to his murderous alter ego as a “Dark Passenger”. And Dexter cannot kill without his passenger on board. The killer’s other half is satiated and silenced only by the spilling of blood but as the words of the song say, “Still I want some more”, more is never enough. So do I think that Chino Moreno contemplated serial killers when he was writing Passenger? Unlikely. But what I do think is that the lyricist has tapped into a greater metaphor – that of the so-called Dark Passenger.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella entitled The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde applies a theme that has been adapted in many ways and on many occasions since the story’s first publication in 1886. The book uses the sci-fi/horror genre as a tool to delve into the ambiguous nature of human beings; within a single person there is both an apparently good and an evil personality, quite distinct from each other. By drinking a potion, the good Dr Henry Jekyll undergoes a physical transformation into the violent and dangerous Mr Hyde – Jekyll’s Dark Passenger. Jekyll and Hyde are a metaphorical representation of the duality of human nature – its equivocal character that comprises both ‘good and evil.’ When that ‘evil’ is ignored and suppressed, it is merely projected onto others, or perhaps internalised and manifested in pathological behaviour.
The English translation of the Latin “alter-Ego” is “the other I” – a second self or second personality; a persona within a person, who is often oblivious to the persona’s actions. The term was coined in the early nineteenth century when Dissociative Identity Disorder was first described by psychologists. But the Dark Passenger doesn’t have to be as literal as Dissociative Identity Disorder. In my mind, Deftones’ “passenger” is a reference to ‘The other I’ – the part of one’s self that remains hidden. Perhaps hidden so well that it manages to avoid recognition. And I am not talking about those dirty little secrets that skulk in that proverbial closet. I am talking about human nature. Nobel Prize winning author William Golding said that “man produces evil as a bee produces honey.” The author, disillusioned by the horrors of World War Two, used the writing of Lord Of The Fliesas a vehicle to expose the potential for evil as an inescapable characteristic of the human condition. Human nature is subject to original sin – which is Golding’s version of the Dark Passenger.
The sinister thoughts and desires that remain dormant – the Dark Passenger – and are unique to each individual but the same in terms of their nature, are harnessed by the individual conscience but also the collective conscience of society. Both consciences keep those unnamed, shameful desires in check but what if we are void of conscience? Or what if conscience suffers a momentary lapse? Mental, spiritual and intellectual chaos, according to William Golding. In Lord Of The Flies, the boys on the island rationalise murder for the sake of survival and maintenance of order. Ironic. The destruction of moral integrity (disorder) is used to instil a sense of moral integrity (order).And of course the sense of ‘order’ achieved is a mere farce. When the children are left to their own devices, void of a social conscience, chaos erupts in volcanic magnitude. If the social constructs that manage the behavioural boundaries that keep society in check, and work in conjunction with the collective conscience of its members, are corrupted… well, the world becomes a rather dangerous place in which to exist.
So what choice to we have but to acknowledge the ‘evil within us.’ This is not to say that we enact that ‘evil’, whatever it may be – lust, greed, sloth, gluttony, envy, pride, anger – but this ‘evil’ cannot be ignored. Human beings are far too complex for that. Our ambiguous nature requires admonition and acknowledgment rather than deception and divergence. The condition of being human requires that we take responsibility for our very nature. It is not an option. It is a necessity. A necessary act of conscience that will ensure the survival of both the collective and the individual.
The rise of the Great pop-culture Pumpkin
January 5, 2010
Not only are pumpkins tasty and deliciously orange, they are magical, mysterious and mystical, and no one knows this better than Linus van Pelt (aka Blockhead). In It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, Linus spends time sitting in a pumpkin patch on Halloween night, as he has done for many a year, waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear. ‘The world according to Linus’ states that on Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch it deems to be the most “sincere”. The Great Pumpkin then flies through the air to deliver toys to all the good little children in the world but is likely to pass by anyone who doubts its existence. When writing to the Great Pumpkin, you don’t ask him to bring you anything specific: you wait for whatever he brings you. According to Linus, the Great Pumpkin gives away toys because it has a moral obligation to do so.
Many symbolic references can be read into Charles M. Schulz’s Great Pumpkin mythology – Linus grapples with his minority belief in the existence of an entity that is called into question by the majority. But to over analyse the story detracts from its magic and humour. There is something so hopeful and endearing (and hysterically funny) about a little boy sitting in a pumpkin patch waiting for a Great Pumpkin to arise. Linus believes, to the core of his being, in the sincerity of his pumpkin patch; “I don’t see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one. You can look around and there’s not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.” Linus’s absolute devotion to the sincerity of his patch encapsulates the modern spirit of the Halloween festival, and, surprisingly, Charles M. Schulz is even able to insert a little moral into It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown: the value of genuineness and goodwill. When Charlie Brown derides Linus for believing in something that isn’t true, Linus bites back with an answer so ironic and yet philosophically sound:
Charlie Brown: When are you going to stop believing in something that isn’t true?
Linus: When YOU stop believing in that fat guy in a red suit and the white beard who goes, “Ho, ho, ho!”
Linus’s shrewd observations don’t stop there:
Linus: Well, that’s nothing compared to the fury of a woman who has been cheated out of trick-or-treats.
Linus:I’ve learned there are three things you don’t discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.
[Lucy scoops out the innards of the pumpkin] Linus: Ohh. You didn’t tell me you were gonna kill it!
Linus’s interpretation of Halloween renders the Great Pumpkin a symbol of hope and expectation. Popular culture has changed the evil associated with the ancient festival of Samhain; where costumes were worn, jack-o’-lanterns were lit and bonfires roared in an attempt to ward off the evil spirits on All Hallows’ Eve. Whatever Halloween folktale, myth or legend you choose to put your faith in, the traditional jack-o’-lantern has become synonymous with fun. The Halloween associated with popular culture has produced some beautifully artistic pumpkin carvings that would most certainly assure the sincerity of any pumpkin patch. The imagination and frivolity of monsters, ghouls and goblins can be celebrated and de-mystified in the spirit of enjoyment and merry making. It is a shame to let the spirit of the Great Pumpkin pass by unheeded on Halloween night.
Linus: I’m doomed. One little slip like that could cause the Great Pumpkin to pass you by. Oh, Great Pumpkin, where are you?
Linus: There he is! There he is! It’s the Great Pumpkin! He’s rising out of the pumpkin patch!
Dawgs will be dogs
October 27, 2009
Whilst walking home on Friday night, I was fortunate enough to witness three guys perform a stealth operation right in front of my very eyes: one was the designated tip-tagger, and the
other two were lookouts. Once the deed had been done they bolted down the street as if the armed forces were breathing bullets down their necks. I shook my head and then laughed out loud as I considered how bored and unstimulated one must feel to find the act of signing a rubbish bin so enthralling. The whole adolescent, gangster-wannabe thing seems just a tad…um…pointless. If I wanted to mark my territory I would find a more attractive way of doing it. Challenging authority through art or intellect seems to be far more useful than vandalising public property with some lame-ass signature. But dawgs will be dogs – at least urine wasn’t involved.
Of course, a little graffiti-experimentation in the pursuit of greater knowledge should always be tolerated. It seems that a vast number of teens in the UK are particularly interested in the following question: What size would a penis need to be to be detected by Google Earth? After using logic to ascertain that the average appendage will not be picked up by roaming satellite, teenager Rory McInnes, inspired by the 6m penis crafted onto a Southampton school playing field with weed killer, attempted to answer the question by painting a giant phallus on the roof of his parents’ West Berkshire mansion in the hope that it would be picked up by Google Earth. Conclusion: pretty big.
The subversive essence of graffiti, although inherent in its very nature, has been largely undermined by its tacit reclassification as an art form. Graffiti may still serve as the vehicle for a political statement or social comment but tagging merely serves as an annoyance that provides municipal workers with jobs unvandalising the vandalism. There are taggers out there who have embraced the spirit of modern urban graffiti and tag for art’s sake – for the sake of aesthetic and commentary. One of my favourite places in London is the urban canvas that sprawls the walls of ‘graffiti tunnel’ in Waterloo. The ever-changing graffiti appearing on the tunnel walls reflects the transient and cosmopolitan nature of the city to which the canvas belongs.
Graffiti remains an integral part of popular culture and makes a poignant statement about the society of which it is a part. A tag is a manifestation of the attitude of its creator. It is the abstract identity of its owner. Sometimes it’s easier to mark one’s identity by signing a rubbish bin than to self-express via personality, art or intellect.
THE GENIUS OF TARSEM SINGH
August 5, 2009
Salvador Dali said “I have Dalinian thought: the one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous”: a philosophy perfectly understood and applied by film director Tarsem Singh, whose cinematography encompasses the terrifyingly impressionable hyper-realism of surrealist art. The director’s images are intensely vivid in a subconsciously unrealistic manner. Each shot produced is a work of art – precisely crafted and coloured to reflect thought, tone and emotion within the context of the scene. Singh’s images are provocative as well as evocative. The magnificence and sheer opulence of the director’s art is most beautifully pictured in The Cell (2000) and The Fall (2006), both of which poignantly register Singh’s creative genius.
The Cell delves into the subconscious mind of serial killer: a concept that lends itself to the potential for alarming imagery. With the digital developments of modern film, the medium is the perfect vessel for Singh’s obtuse imagination. The twisted inner-mind of Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio), the film’s murderer, is rendered with a sensitivity that in no way undermines the brutality of his actions. The ugly reality of the killer’s conscious existence is juxtaposed with the dark tragedy of his inner turmoil. The trauma that Stargher suffered as a child is uncovered as psychotherapist Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez), explores the killer’s past by entering into his subconscious in a desperate attempt to discover the whereabouts of his most recent victim. In so doing, Deane unearths the reasons for Stargher’s psychosis and bids to save his soul. Singh renders even the most horrific and the most grotesque portions of Stargher’s mind stirringly beautiful. The director pictorialises the subconscious fight between good and evil and what manifests on screen is a dark and disturbing rendition of psychosis.
Singh draws on the surrealist manner of using symbols and motifs to
convey meaning. The director’s penchant for horses, water, Escher-inspired mazes, Dali-esque landscapes, and reflections, which are so prevalent in The Cell, reappear in The Fall. Singh uses symbols to represent his exploration of the human mind. The two films suggest that the director’s particular interest lays with the inner-workings of those who are mentally unstable, and children. In The Cell, upon entering Stargher’s subconscious, Catherine Deane is confronted with Stargher as a young Carl – a symbol of the innocence and goodness that has been corrupted by a deplorable childhood and thus formed the violent man he has become. Deane battles to save young Carl in the hope that his goodness will prevail over the crazed warrior king that dictates the killer’s mind, but in the process Deane is forced to kill the older Carl, and thus young Carl also meets his end. Singh renders Stargher beyond saving and thus comments on the long-term effects of an abusive childhood: Carl Stargher is shown to be the oppressed who becomes the oppressor – the victim who becomes the victimiser.
The Fall offers a more positive exploration of a mentally unstable mind than that offered by The Cell. The Fall focuses on the emotional torment of stunt man Roy Walker (Lee Pace), who is injured in a stunt accident whilst trying to commit suicide upon the discovery that his lover is in love with another. Walker ends up in hospital with damaged legs and as his body recovers his mind rests on the brink of falling into a deep abyss. He befriends a child named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), who is recovering from a fractured arm, and tells her sumptuous stories. Being an opportunist by nature, Walker seizes the opportunity to use Alexandria’s wonderment to fulfil his ultimate goal, which is suicide. The little girl will do anything to hear the next instalment of the tale, including stealing morphine from the dispensary against her better judgement. The film focuses on the relationship between the unlikely pair as it follows Walker’s grandiose tale of valiants and villains from Alexandria’s perspective – as she imagines it. The child draws on her world as a frame of reference as she imagines the tale’s players: Luigi – an explosions expert; a Native American Indian; A runaway slave; an East Indian swordsman; a masked bandit; and Charles Darwin – all on a quest to kill oppressive Spanish Governor Odious for individually inflicting atrocities on each one of them. Alexandria casts Walker as the masked bandit and certain individuals at the hospital pop up in the story as well, including the dreaded X-Ray man who multiplies as the army of Odious in her mind, and the beautiful nurse who feature’s as the masked bandit’s love interest/nemesis. As the story progresses, the lines between reality and fantasy start to blur as Walker imports his recent experience into the tale. The outcome of the story becomes the integral to Walker’s future in reality. Alexandria becomes the true hero of the story as her childlike innocence and vitality penetrate Walker’s psyche and he stands up to the villain in the story, which is symbolic of his ability to overcome his attitude of self-pity and victimisation in reality. Walker is, essentially, villain unto himself. So the broken man is rescued by the innocent child – through Alexandria’s ability to imagine. Although positive in tone, the darkness inherent in The Cell rears its head occasionally. Images including the horse hanging in the children’s ward, as well as Singh’s representation of Alexandria’s subconscious state after falling and hitting her head, serve to remind the viewer of the intrinsic danger that is present in the film – that Roy Walker runs the risk of descending into an emotional abyss. The audience is left with the notion that the mind is resilient and yet impressionably fragile.
“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision” (Salvador Dali). Tarsem Singh is an artist who is able to unshackle the imagination of his audience through his own brilliant interpretations of character. He emphasises the importance of creativity that is not imprisoned by circumstances, adulthood and self-doubt. His art is often uncomfortable and its beauty partly lies in its ability to unsettle the viewer’s sense of normalcy. It is also unsettlingly stimulating and artistically magnificent – his images will sear themselves onto the retina and the mind for aeons.
Dorian Gray Syndrome
July 17, 2009
What you seek is nowhere; but turn yourself away, and the object of your love will be no more. That which you behold is but the shadow of a reflected form and has no substance of its own. With you it comes, with you it gostays, and it will go with you. (Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.433)
The beautiful Narcissus was divinely punished for his exceptionally cruel despisal of those who fell in love with him. He was thus caused, by the gods, to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool. Unable to obtain the object of his love and not being able to break away from the beauty of his own reflection, Narcissus pined away alongside the pool and, succumbing to his sorrow, finally perished.
Myths are allegorical representations of ancient society. Much like fairytales and folklore, myths served to maintain models for behaviour as well as social structures and institutions. The myth of Narcissus teaches society of the dangers of self-love, which leads to sorrow and even death – literal and figurative. This is certainly the case for Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, who sells his soul in payment for the preservation of his youth and beauty. Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray can be considered a modern myth – a cautionary tale of supernatural horror, similar to the legends of old. The author’s biting wit allows for an acute social commentary on the plague of narcissism that has laid claim to soul of society.
At the outset of the novel, Dorian Gray is a tabula rasa. The young man’s encounter with artist Basil Hallward and socialite Lord Henry signifies the launch of his descent into a life of debauchery and hedonism. When confronted with his own beauty through the eyes of the two men, Gray is loath to part with it and he thus wishes to remain as untainted and lovely as the masterpiece that Hallward has painted of him. He wishes that the portrait could age in his stead. A supernatural force grants his wish, and Gray’s sins and age are manifested in his portrait. He is free to live a life of decadence and immorality without paying the physical cost. He is immortal. Gray’s initial vulnerability makes him excellent clay for Lord Henry’s willing hands. Lord Henry moulds and manipulates Dorian Gray with ideas of pleasure-seeking and hedonism by maintaining that intense experience is the key to true beauty, even when the experience itself is something sordid, ugly, or grotesque. Gray’s life is punctuated by momentary happiness but it is fraught with pain and anxiety, much like Narcissus.
In an ode to the life of Dorian Gray, society has spawned what is known as ‘Dorian Gray Syndrome’ (DGS), which “denotes a cultural and societal phenomenon characterised by an excessive preoccupation with the individual’s own appearance accompanied by difficulties coping with the aging process and with the requirements of maturation. Sufferers of Dorian Gray Syndrome are heavy users of cosmetic medical procedures and products in an attempt to preserve their youth”. The terrifying Madame Zhou, from Gregory David Roberts’ autobiographical novel Shantaram, is a prime example of someone affected with DGS. The Bombay brothel owner, who is deeply feared by all who know her, never reveals her physical identity and speaks from behind a screen. Her signature is a photograph that displays a youthful image of unchanging beauty. The mystery surrounding Madame Zhou is described by an acquaintance in Shantaram: “I’ve spoken to her, through the screen. I think she’s so incredibly, psychopathically vain that she, she sort of hates herself for getting older. I think she can’t bear to be less than perfect. A lot of people say she was beautiful. Really, you’d be surprised. A lot of people say that. In her photo she hasn’t aged past twenty-seven or thirty. There aren’t any lines or wrinkles. There’s no shadows under the eyes. Every black hair is in its place. I think she’s so in love with her own beauty, she’ll never let anyone see her as she really is. I think she’s…it’s like she’s mad with love for herself. I think that even if she lives to be ninety, those monthly photos will still show that same thirty-year-old blank” (Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram Ch. 13)
The desire of society to remain forever youthful is by no means a modern concept. It is deep-rooted in ancient philosophy and practice, and this is perhaps the reason that self-love is so utterly crippling. Narcissism has had centuries of practice and it seems to have finally gripped society by the throat and is squeezing out every last breath of life. The ethereal eternal fountain of youth has been replaced with Botox, anti-ageing pills and creams, and plastic surgery – some costly but more convenient options to the time consuming hunt for that ever-elusive elixir of life. Oscar Wilde’s Lord Henry personifies modern society – a predator in the guise of an ally that lurks in the background eagerly awaiting its chance to distort the moral fibre of weak and insecure minds. There exists the idea that, like Dorian Gray, we are blank slates awaiting the infiltration of ideas that will manipulate our decisions and actions. In an age when few people are inclined to take responsibility for their own actions, it is easiest to jump on the band-wagon and blame the media. A media industry created by society for society – “Of the people, by the people, for the people”, in the wise words of Abraham Lincoln. Tangible irony. We are caught in a self-created and self-propagated web of inescapable narcissism. And yet the futility of it all seems, conveniently, to elude us – after years of obsession and time-consuming beautification processes, we get old and die. Life is spent trying to curb the inevitability of old age, instead of being lived. Dorian Gray’s attempts to “cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul” (Oscar Wilde, The picture of Dorian Gray Ch. 16) are unsuccessful. When faced with the portrait of his soul, Gray beholds that “in the eyes there was a look of cunning, and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of the hypocrite”, and he stabs the picture, in a bid to destroy it. In so doing, he ends his own life. Gray’s soul is united with his body. He becomes the disfigured image in the painting and when his death is discovered, the portrait is found unharmed, showing Dorian Gray as a beautiful young man, and on the floor is the body of an old man, wrinkled and disfigured, with a knife plunged into his heart.
Narcissism is understood to be compensation for poor self-esteem – an explanation that renders the likes DGS acceptable. Perhaps this is a desperate attempt by society to understand a behaviour that is inherently part of human nature and thus cannot be explained. And yet social behaviour indicates that society is consumed by a culture of self-loathing. Self-loathing ignites the desire for perfection and this, in turn, results in narcissism. Yet there is a distinction between the narcissism associated with DGS and the self-respect which denotes a healthy self-love. The ability to love oneself is a sign of self-respect as well as the admission that life is precious, and it is necessary in order to love others. If one is void of love, “blank” like Madame Zhou, how can one love another? In a world where so many are desperate for love, for generosity of spirit, there are so few who are able to give it. American screen writer and independent film director Todd Solondz says “Narcissism and self-deception are survival mechanisms without which many of us might just jump off a bridge”. This, in itself, is a narcissistic view, albeit true. In this dog-eat-dog world, society teaches us to look out for ourselves. And so we have developed self-preservation tactics, which exclude the unconditional and selfless nature of love, and embrace narcissistic values at the expense of other people.
Therefore, in a world monopolised by narcissism “If this girl can give a soul to those who have lived without one, if she can create the sense of beauty in people whose lives have been sordid and ugly, if she can strip them of their selfishness and lend them tears for sorrows that are not their own, she is worthy of all your adoration, worthy of the adoration of the world.” (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray Ch. 7)
Warning: only for the twisted
May 1, 2009
In between mouthfuls of the most amazing shrimp burritos and swigs of wine, last night’s dinner party conversation developed into a discussion about the Camden pin-cushion, who sits at Camden Lock making himself a prime target for happy-snappy tourists who, without fail, succumb to the oddity of this human anomaly. Mr Anomaly demands … sorry suggests a donation for his image to be immortalised on camera. I guess it’s a version of entrepreneurship. From piercings and tattoos the conversation naturally progressed to body modification, scarification, limb amputation and that crazy German cannibal called Armin Meiwes. Meiwes published a classified ad on the internet that read as follows: “looking for a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed”. Yes, someone did respond. His name was Bernd Jürgen Brandes. I say was because he died. What follows is a précised version of the story of Meiwes and Brandes, based on journalists’ reports compiled from the viewing of a two hour videotape made by the two men when they met on March 9, 2001 (which has not been released to the public):
Meiwes starts his meal with an attempt to bite off Brandes’ penis, which doesn’t work so well – not the penis, the biting. Meiwes merely manages to burst both of Brandes’ testicles with his teeth. The solution is to remove the member with a knife. Good choice. The amputation is successful. Brandes tries to eat some of his own penis raw, but thinks it too tough and, in his own words, “chewy”, so he gives it to Meiwes to sauté. Meiwes adds some salt, pepper and garlic to the penis but, not being a very good cook, burns it. Understandably, this is not very appetizing so Meiwes chops it up into chunks and feeds it to his dog. As Brandes spews blood from his groin, Meiwes reads a Star Trek book, whilst intermittently feeding Brandes copious amounts of alcohol and pain killers (30 sleeping pills and a bottle of schnapps). Then he kisses him and kills him in what has been called The Slaughter Room – specially designed for the purpose of slaughter. Meiwes kills Brandes by stabbing him in the throat. He then hangs the body on a meat hook and tears hunks of flesh from the corpse. He stores the body parts in his freezer, disguised under some pizza boxes. He also tries to grind the bones into powder to use as flour. Over a period of ten months Meiwes consumes up to 20 kg of flesh accompanied by potatoes and a pepper or wine sauce, served on good crockery. When Meiwes runs out of tasty human, he once again runs some internet ads in search of another meal. Unfortunately a college student in Innsbruck reports him to the police and he is convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 8½ years in prison. This sentence is ultimately changed to a life sentence.
Feeling slightly ill? Perhaps a tad peckish? Whatever your state of being at this precise moment, your reaction to the grim tale of Meiwes and Brandes says far more about you than it does about the fucked up people in the world. A story of cannibalism is certainly not needed to remind us just how sucky people are. Marilyn Manson was so inspired by this story that it influenced the choice of title for his latest album Eat Me, Drink Me. Manson said “Although I can’t relate to the relationship those two had, I found the story very compelling in a romantic way. I think a lot of people wouldn’t look at it as romantic, but it was to them in some sick way, and it is to me in some sick way, too”. Feel free to attach your own psychological analysis to Mr Manson’s comment; the artist expects it I am sure. Reactions are telling. The mere fact that you decided to read this editorial says a lot. The title displays a clear warning, which aids in separating people into three different groups. The first group of people would have taken heed of the title’s warning and avoided this editorial all together. The darkly twisted nature of the human condition is scary for this group, members of which choose to retain a sense of purity and incorruptibility. The second group contains those who have succumbed to their curiosity. Members of Group 2 feel that they shouldn’t read on but just can’t help themselves. Reading the sick tale of cannibalism and murder results in an all-consuming guilt. This group experiences the most turmoil – the internal battle consistently fought in an attempt to remain in the world but not of the world is sorely compromised by human nature, which is always attracted to life’s vices. And then there is group 3. The third group views the world’s craziness through the tinted glasses of black-comedy. This group acknowledges the inherently dark specs (or globules) that are part of the human condition. They embrace the twisted. This does not denote acceptance but merely lack of fear, which manifests in the form of a challenge that seeks to undermine the subversive.
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is as twisted a representation of the human condition, as is the story of the German cannibals. Golding’s tale is analysed and accepted whereas the tale of Meiwes and Brandes is feared and ignored. Fiction is far less scary than fact. Ironically it is the likes of Miewes and Brandes, an inescapable and deplorable evil, that Golding speaks of. It is okay to read about the disintegration of society on an island inhabited by a group of stranded, lonely children. Why? Because they are only children and their behaviour is thus excusable – they’ll grow out of it. Live and learn. That’s what society tells itself. Yet it is for this exact reason that the tale is so twisted. Children murdering children. Golding allows the children to be rescued before the atrocity of cannibalism is able to ensue but the void he leaves for our imaginations to wonder in is almost worse. Who can tell what lengths Jack would have gone to, to ensure his kingship on the island? How would Jack’s band of boys have followed up the murder of Piggy and Simon? Golding lets our imaginations decide and there is nothing more cruel or dangerous. The author, disillusioned by the horrors of World War Two, exposes the potential for evil that is merely a product of the human condition, which is subject to original sin. Golding believed that “man produces evil as a bee produces honey”.
Essentially, we all have a little twist in us. Some twists are twistier than others and for that there are consequences. There is a line. There has to be. Otherwise, as in Golding’s novel, chaos erupts and society disintegrates. While society busies itself with the construction and destruction of behavioural boundaries and people become further consumed by the moral struggles of existence, a sense of humour goes a long way to making life’s darkest moments more bearable.
The charge of the Wildebeest
March 26, 2009
If anything is going to bring out the animal in me it’s the damn 259. Everyday I catch a bus to and from work. Sounds simple. It isn’t. When my bus arrives at the bus stop outside Kings Cross Station, there is a mass charge for the door, which reminds me of the Great Wildebeest Migration on the African plains. Those massive herds charging for that narrow river crossing. What happens? The weaker of the species are crushed by the brutes who will stop at nothing to reach the other side of the river. It’s called survival of the fittest.
People are like Wildebeest – as they migrate from the pavement to the bus door, the fight for survival is on. Stamping and snorting, they push and shove to ensure themselves a space on the bus. My question is: what would happen if they did not get a space and had to (heaven forbid!) wait for the next bus? Judging by the behaviour of the masses, life would come to an end. Now, as a civilized human being, I find this situation extremely difficult to negotiate. As the masses clamber for the bus door, I feel the need to charge through them biting and beating those who get in my way. This desire is aggravated by the biyatch behind me, whose pram is biting my ankles. I play a scenario in my head which goes something like this: turning around, ripping the woman’s head off and launching it at the crowds of people in front of me in the hope that it will knock a couple out in my bid for prime seating position on the bus. You will be glad to know that I have not turned into a psychotic mommy killer…yet. As I remember the poor shop attendant at Wal-Mart in America, who was stampeded to death on Black Friday by crazed sales shoppers, I restrain my animalism and merely stand my ground without barging my way through the crowd. I wait my turn. The life or death situation of getting on the bus, reminds me every day just how strong the human survival instinct is. And how scary it can be when provoked. The survival instinct overrides all others.
In recent article published in the New Scientist entitled Why do some people kill themselves?, studies conducted by suicide specialist Thomas Joiner show that:
People who kill themselves must meet two sets of conditions on top of feeling depressed and hopeless. First, they must have a serious desire to die. This usually comes about when people feel they are an intolerable burden on others, while also feeling isolated from people who might provide a sense of belonging.
Second, and most important, people who succeed in killing themselves must be capable of doing the deed. This may sound obvious, but until Joiner pointed it out, no one had tried to figure out why some people are able to go through with it when most are not. No matter how seriously you want to die, Joiner says, it is not an easy thing to do. The self-preservation instinct is too strong.
Interesting. Maybe this talk of survival of the fittest makes me sound all Freudian? Here’s my problem with Freud and his theory. It would appear, judging by my bus experience, that this survival instinct is fuelled by aggression. In terms of Freudian psychology, aggression represents the death instinct and sex (libido) the life instinct. These two instincts are in constant conflict – they are opposing drives. Freud believed that the aggression (death) instinct needs to be controlled. If it is not controlled, psychosis will result. Hence the model of the Id, Ego and Superego. The Id is our pleasure drive, the Superego is our internal voice of authority and morality and the Ego, which is governed by the reality principle, mediates between the two opposing forces. Not only are the sex and aggression drives battling for domination within the Id, the Id is battling for domination against the Superego. Our brains are a regular WWF competition. So that’s Freud’s personality theory in a nutshell. My reductive explanation reflects the reductive nature of the theory. According to psychoanalytic theory, the craziness of humanity is a result of individual fixations in the psychosexual stages of development or as a result of a base aggressive instinct that is not adequately controlled – too much control results in passivity, too little control results in murder and other types of psychopathological behaviour. According to Freud we require the perfect balance of control. Yes…that’s me laughing out loud. Sadly not all of our Egos are that well functioning. Freud claims that we control aggression by repressing it (I don’t disagree) – repression is a coping mechanism. So as my Id (aggression) battles my Superego (civility), my Ego stops me from using pram-lady’s head as a bowling ball but allows me to relieve my aggression through a fantasy. It’s called Catharsis. So the solution to the world’s problems, according to Freud, is to have violent fantasies. Sounds a little risky. So what the hell is the guy saying? Repressed aggressive urges cause psychosis and acting on ones aggressive impulses is psychotic? It’s a catch twenty-two.
So amidst the mumbo-jumbo of contradictions and incoherencies that I have just spewed out, what am I saying? Freud made some good points…but not too many. We are wildebeest…but not actually. We have the animalistic instincts of sex and aggression…but not only. Survival of the fittest (our animalism) is moderated by our morals, our conscience and our ability to reason (our humanism)…unless you Ayn Randify your moral code. So is it immoral to survive and achieve? Is aggression wrong? No on both accounts. It’s all about balance. Noooo biggy. Aggression is a base human instinct which is required for life rather than death. Aggression does need to be controlled and needs a cathartic outlet, otherwise chaos ensues (let’s pretend it hasn’t already). Some people’s aggressive instinct may remain largely dormant until a catalyst awakens its true potential – like getting on a bus or shopping at a sale.
Art and Objectivism
A brief discussion of Art, Life and Spirit in The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand) and Faith of the Fallen (Terry Goodkind), in accordance with Objectivist ethics.
February 9, 2009
The soul of an artist is revealed through his Art, and the soul of an individual is revealed through his response to Art. Dominique Francon of New York and Kahlan Amnel of the fantastical world of the Midlands (Aydindril) are characters created by different authors, existing on different planets, but are fictional representatives of the same entity – Life. Ayn Rand, in her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, explores the theory of objectivism – a theory she devoted her life to creating, developing and teaching. The influence of Rand’s revolutionary literature, particularly The Fountainhead, and the ethics of objectivist thinking are poignantly apparent in Terry Goodkind’s fantasy novel Faith of the Fallen – the sixth in the eleven-book ‘Sword of Truth series’. The parallel between the aforementioned female protagonists, is drawn through the artistic representation of the Spirit of each character.
In The Fountainhead, Rand explores the notion of Art in relation to objectivist theory, which states that Art is the recreation of one’s reality according to one’s values (self interest and reason). Dominique Francon’s countenance, as she poses for artist Steven Mallory’s sculpture, is described as follows; “her body standing before him straight and tense. Her head thrown back, her arms at her sides palms out, as she had stood for any days; but now her body was alive, so still it seemed to tremble , saying what he had wanted to hear: a proud, reverent, enraptured surrender to a vision of her own” (The Fountainhead p323). The statue of Dominique Francon is commissioned by architect Howard Roark who himself has been commissioned to design a “non-sectarian cathedral” (The Fountainhead p326). Rand leaves no room for religion in her objectivist thinking but honours and revels in the individual. Religion stands in opposition to the ideals of reason and capitalism, two of the core values of objectivism. Religion requires the individual to surrender to a higher power and in so doing negates the concept of individualism. Rather than the individual existing for the sake of God, Objectivism requires the individual to exist for his own sake. Ethically, man is an independent being who, in accordance with capitalist ideology, should be free to choose his own profession, to create and to achieve (as far as his abilities and reality allow) without interference from Government, or any such institution. Roark, thus creates a temple of the “Human Spirit” (The Fountainhead p308), which is an ode to Life, an ode to the individual – an ideal which is represented in the sculpture of Dominique Francon. Rand’s exultation of the individual is also reflected in Roark’s temple, which extends horizontally rather than vertically, boasting “not the lines reaching to heaven, but the lines of the earth” (The fountainhead p322). It is a place “where one would come to feel sinless and strong, to find the peace of spirit never granted save by one’s own glory.” (The Fountainhead p322). Howard Roark states, “No man can live for another. He cannot share his spirit just as he cannot share his body.” (The Foundation p666).
Goodkind draws on Rand’s representation of Life and Spirit in Faith of the Fallen. Protagonist Richard Rahl sculpts a statue of himself and his wife Kahlan whilst imprisoned by Sorceress Nikki. Life, the title of Richard’s sculpture, reveals his dedication to the sustainability of Life, an entity and ideal that he values above all else. Life is based on a smaller statue entitled Spirit that, earlier in the novel, Richard made for his wife Kahlan. She carries the figure around with her during her separation from Richard and and looks upon it to remind her of her strength and desire to live. How she, as Richard, values Life above all else. The statue, not meant to look like Kahlan, represents her spirit; “her robes flowing in a wind as she stood with her head thrown back , her chest out, her hands fisted at her sides, her back arched and strong as if in opposition to an invisible power trying unsuccessfully to subdue her, a sense of …spirit”(Faith of the Fallen p187). The statue represents Kahlan’s “individual nobility” (Faith of the Fallen p187) and “strength and vitality” (Faith of the Fallen p187) – that which all mankind should strive to achieve. Similarly to Steven Mallory, Richard is later commissioned to create a statue “to the glory of the creator…a monument to man’s evil nature, doomed to the misery of his existence in this world, wicked of character, cowering in humiliation, as His light reveals man’s hateful body and soul for what it is – perverted beyond hope.” (Faith of the Fallen p586). Richard, as Roarke and Mallory, rejects the Christian view that man is innately sinful and instead glorifies the essence of man as pure and noble – as dictated by objectivist ideals. He uses Spirit as the inspiration for Life which represents the essence of Kayhlan’s Spirit. Richard’s statue artistically embodies the core values of Rand’s characters in The Fountainhead – Dominique Francon and Howard Roarke, and in Rand’s subsequent novel Atlas Shrugged – primarily exemplified by Dagny Taggart, Francisco D’Anconia, Hank Rearden and John Galt. Life is described as follows: “The two figures in the center posed in a state of harmonious balance. The man’s body displayed a proud masculinity. Though the woman was clothed there was no doubt as to her femininity. They both reflected a love of the human form as sensuous, noble and pure. The evil all around seemed as if it was recoiling in terror of that noble purity. More than that, though, Richard’s statue existed without conflict; the figures showed awareness rationality and purpose. This was a manifestation of human ability, power and intent. This was life lived for its own sake. This was mankind standing proudly of his own free will” (Faith of the Fallen p651).
Both artists, Steven Mallory and Richard Rahl, are saved through their art. Mallory has been denied that which is most important to his being, to his life – his work, which is his ability to create according to the ethics of reason. Through Roark’s commission, Mallory is resurrected: “Mallory changed; there was no uncertainty in him, no remembrance of pain; the gesture of is hand taking the drawing was sharp and sure, like that of a soldier on duty. The gesture said that nothing ever done to him could alter the function of the thing within him that was now called into action. He had an unyielding, impersonal confidence” (The Fountainhead p317). Creating is essential to Mallory’s being, to Mallory’s existence. Life is attained through the act of creation as is suggested in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged whereby individuals, through the unyielding and absolute love of their work, create and thus exist – Hank Rearden creates a metal set to revolutionize industry, Howard Roark designs and creates buildings, Dagny Taggart creates railways, Fransisco D’Anconia is the ultimate entrepreneur – creating opportunities at every turn, John Galt creates a motor that converts static electricity from the air into kinetic energy. The process of art is creation and creation is life. It is the highest achievement of man. Roarke says that man faces a choice, and the decision will result in life or death: “The choice is independence or dependence. The code of the creator or the code of the second-hander. This is the basic issue. It rests upon the alternative of life or death. The code of the creator is built on the needs of the reasoning mind which allows man to survive. The code of the second-hander is built on the needs of a mind incapable of survival” (The Fountainhead p667). Richard Rahl too, creates to sustain life. As Mallory, Richard is required to create a statue reflecting the nature of mankind in relation to a higher being – known in the Midlands as ‘the Creator’. Richard attacks his task with “great violence” (Faith of the Fallen p602). He “knew precisely what he wanted to accomplish. He knew what needed to be done, and how to do it. He was filled with a clarity of purpose, a course to follow. Now that it had begun, he was lost in his work…This work was his singular purpose, in which he strove for perfection” (Faith of the Fallen p602). Richard’s Art allows him freedom within the confines of his entrapment. Richard represents the individual, who, through work, will achieve freedom within the confines of the values of a society which embraces the ideals propelled by socialism and communism in place of capitalist/objectivist ethics.
The statues of both Richard Rahl and Steven Mallory are rejected by “the Order”, which is symbolic of the evil inherent in society and the institutions that safeguard its ethics. Mallory and Roark’s respective representations of Life and Spirit are viewed as blasphemous attacks on religion because both temple and statue are seen as “a symbol of man’s quest for something higher than his little ego…It is not the house of God, but the cell of a megalomaniac” (The Fountainhead p318). Richard, before he even starts sculpting, knows that his representation of man’s relationship to the Creator will earn him a death sentence. As expected, Richard’s ode to Life is called a “wicked perversion” (Faith of the fallen p667). Rand entices her reader to reject religious principles in favour of glorification of the individual. Goodkind embarks on a similar quest. The protagonists in both novels struggle against an evil that threatens Life – the freedom to create, to excel, to achieve and to be happy. Happiness is achieved through independence, and independence is achieved through work as stated by Howard Roarke, “the degree of a man’s independence, initiative and personal love for his work determines his talent as a worker and his worth as a man. Independence is the only gauge of human virtue and value…His moral law is never to place his prime goal within the persons of others. His moral obligation is to do what he wishes, provided his wish does notprimarily upon other men. This includes the whole sphere of his creative faculty, his thinking, his work” (The Fountainhead p668). Richard Rahl and Ayn Rand’s protagonists fight a war against mediocrity. They fight a war against religion and institutionalism, which limits and contains any form of individual thought and excellence. Roark states that “All that which proceeds from man’s independent ego is good, All that which proceeds from man’s dependence upon men is evil” (The Fountainhead p667). Rand claims that unless man embraces the doctrine of reason, and in so doing acknowledges a reality that exists objectively, he will only succeed in killing consciousness (the ability to think and reason) and in so doing man embraces evil. Richard Rahl functions according to reason and ultimately conquers the evil emperor Jagang with the use of this tool. Goodkind suports objectivist ethics by stating that good will triumph over evil if reason is used as the primary weapon. In The Fountainhead, Rand describes a society that is unable to think and reason and thus exists unconsciously. Rand’s protagonists will experience a moment of revelation which occurs when they realise that the evil nature of unconscious existence manifests in the form of killing (figuratively) those who choose to think. It is a drastic and intense realisation, the emotion of which is encapsulated in a scene from Faith of the Fallen when Richard’s statue is unveiled to sorceress Nikki, and she is faced with the innate knowledge of the truth of the ethics proposed by what is essentially objectivism, the ethics required to Live, the ethics of Spirit: “she collapsed to the floor in tears, in abject shame, in horror, in revulsion, in sudden blinding comprehension…In pure joy” (Faith of the Fallen p643). The greater point that both Ayn Rand and Terry Goodkind make is that only once this truth (the truth inherent in Ojectivist ethics) has been acknowledged, will an individual be able to live with integrity.
Art is a doorway to the revelation of truth. Through Art, an individual is able to reveal his soul and claim his soul. Art is Life and Spirit.