The Cold War, Explained Through a Sandbox

By Sher

(expounded from a post on The Neverending Story)

The Cold War (like all wars, really) is all very complicated, so if you just imagine a playground, I think we can get through it.

We’re going to jump into this pretty much ignoring Sandbox Scuffle I, when this kid named Franz got hit in the face by a dart gun and had to go home, spawning a group tantrum of epic proportions, never seen before in sandbox history. Suffice it to say that after this point, these kids had all seen scuffles before and were no innocent daisies.

So this Boris kid had previously been kinda friends with this American kid named Chad during Sandbox Scuffle II. Chad and Boris had worked together with a bunch of other kids: Nigel, Gaston, Jax, Maple, Xena, Arjun, and Hai to defeat Adolf, Giovanni, and Haruto, who were being really mean to a lot kids, especially Kunte, Abraham, Esmeralda, and Butch. A lot of other kids who wanted to help buy stay out of the fighting quietly helped as many of the bullied kids get out of harm’s way as they could, but sadly, most of the targeted kids had to be picked up by their parents, never to return to the playground. Chad, Boris, and their friends finally succeeded in banishing Adolf and his friends, though.

When Sandbox Scuffle II ended, Boris gathered his bully forces and decided that Chad was now the greatest threat because Chad was running around telling their friends from SSII that if Boris spread his friends out too far in the sandbox, Chad would help push him back. Chad and Boris weren’t really getting along before SSII, but they pushed it aside in order to get rid of Adolf and company. After he was gone, though, they remembered they weren’t friends.

The problem started because Chad and Boris couldn’t see eye to eye on how play time should work. Boris wanted everyone to have access to the exact same toys, and Chad wanted everyone to compete for a few really awesome toys, which would leave most everyone with really shitty toys. Perhaps more importantly than that, Boris wanted his friends only to say they liked broccoli even if they didn’t, but Chad was foot-stompingly adamant that kids should be able to say they didn’t like broccoli if that’s how they really felt.

Now here’s where these kids both shared great turd-like qualities: they did most of their fighting in OTHER kids’ sandboxes. Their power wheels and toy guns were all still broken from fighting with Adolf, so would try to go places where there were only a few of each other’s friends. Chad would go to Boris’s friends in other parts of the sandbox, who didn’t have as much sand to begin with, to tear down the sandcastles that Boris and the other kid were building together, and vice versa. This means that Boris and Chad didn’t get their sand castles destroyed, but those other kids far away sure did.

Meanwhile, a few kids who were sick of this shit ruining their day decided to say they were going to be friends with both Boris AND Chad, just for the sake of keeping their sandcastles in tact. So now Chad and Boris are running around being all petty and manipulative. If there are kids without clear alliances, they would try and help them with some problem they were having in order to make the kid feel loyal to them. Every now and again Boris and Chad came close to a slap fight, but nothing major.

This manipulation ended up causing more problems for all the kids, because everyone was confused all the time about who they could play with and who they were supposed to hate. One day Chad tried to take Elian’s part of the sandbox, but little know to him, Boris had been secretly trying to woo Elian to his side, and convinced him to stock up on a really terrible weapon in case Boris wanted to use it against Chad (because Elian was a lot closer to Chad’s part of the sandbox than Boris). And we all know, if someone poops the sandbox, no one can play in it anymore. Everyone got so scared, that Chad put Elian in the corner and wouldn’t play with him for the next 50 years just because he stored Boris’s poop for him.

Up to this point, Hai had been kind of hanging out with Boris, giving him tips on how he had managed to win over his own set of friends to play in a way similar to what Boris envisioned, but after this Hai felt like he was one poop away from having to go home and started spending less time with Boris. Conversely, Chad’s friends thought maybe they should do more than just wait for Chad to plan everything out for them. They started being more proactive about messing up all of Boris’s sandcastles.

For some reason, through all of this Adolf’s old turf became the line of demarcation – kids that hung out on one side, Boris claimed were his, and kids that played on the other side, Chad claimed as his. Some of these poor kids really weren’t friends with one or the other, but were stuck where they were because because they wanted to play with friends on that particular side, or else a sand castle they had been working on just happened to be in that spot. The kids on Boris’s side kept slipping away to Chad’s side however, because… well Boris was kind of a shit to everyone. Boris had a tantrum when he found out about this, and built a sand wall to keep people from leaving him. Friends that were separated by the wall were very sad about not being able to see each other.

During all this drama, in come the stomp rockets. Somehow Boris and Chad had both gotten their hands on some stomp rocket kits that Adolf hadn’t been able to figure out, and they were both hellbent on getting them assembled and into the air before the other one. There was a very small sandbox nearby, so small and far away that no one could actually pee on it, but both kids figured that landing their stomp rocket in that satellite sandbox would be a good enough way to mark it as their own and thus establish dominance. Boris got his stomp rocket assembled and airborne first, and would forever throw it in Chad’s face. But Chad ultimately got his rocket all the way to that tiny speck of sand first, and would forever throw it in Boris’s face.

Meanwhile, Chad had figured out how to get more sand into his part of the sandbox, while Boris didn’t have enough sand to go around for all of his friends, so they started talking about leaving his group. Finally Boris’s friends got sick of his shit and overthrew him by tearing down his stupid sand wall. After seeing his symbolic iron first laying in ruins, the fight went out of Boris, and he retreated to his corner to drink vodka and judge Chad forevermore.

Legend (not that you’ll need it):
Sandbox Scuffle I = World War I
Sandbox Scuffle II = World War II
Franz = Archduke Franz Ferdinand
Boris = Soviet Union
Chad = America
Nigel = England
Gaston = France
Jax = Australia
Maple = Canada
Xena = New Zealand
Arjun = India
Hai = China
Adolf = Adolf Hitler
Giovanni = Italy
Haruto = Japan
Kunte = those with African heritage
Abraham = Jews
Esmeralda = Gypsies
Butch = the Gays
Elian = Cuba
poop = the Cuban Missile Crisis
stomp rocket = the Space Race
sand wall = the Berlin Wall

22. The Neverending Story

Listen to the podcast here:

The Neverending Story (PG) – 1984
82% Rotten Tomatoes

The Neverending Story is perhaps one of the mostly fondly remembered movies of 80’s and 90’s kids youth, but it is without a doubt one of the most fucked up upon re-watching.

So, we start off with Major Dad telling his young son to get over his mother’s death, and man up. This kid is probably 8 years old? He’s clearly depressed and struggling with his feelings. The dad may be as well, but is doing the baby boomer stoicism thing that they feel is far superior but in actually leads to an early death caused by alcoholism and hypertension. Naturally, the sad kid also has no shortage of really dedicated bullies (perhaps because Major Dad named him Bastian Balthazar Bux), and so the daily walk to school becomes a gauntlet through hell.

Ducking into a mysterious bookstore that you would assume he’d have noticed before today, he snatches a book and hides in a criminally underused school attic. This is where the story grabs hold of you with its relatability – all of us losers and misfits found solace in fantasy worlds, whether they were books, fantasy games, or movies. The make believe world full of dragons and fairies and orcs was a lot safer and more comfortable than the real one, fraught with danger of a different kind. EXCEPT THIS ONE IS A HELLSCAPE OF HORROR AND CHAOS.

*Carrie Bradshaw voice* So I had to wonder… what kind of fucked up mind dragged this misery into existence? And how is it still so goddamn lovable?

Cue: Germany. Michael Ende wrote Die unedliche Geschichte in 1979. This is pre-Berlin Wall coming down. The English translation became available in 1983, and the movie we all know and love was made in 1984. Which is still pre-Berlin Wall coming down. SINCE WALLS ARE THE TALK OF THE FASCIST TOWN LATELY, let’s talk about this one for a while.

The Berlin Wall was a large, expensive symbol for the Cold War, which is a very looooong period of continual post-WWII political disagreement between western Europe (and “The West” in general) and eastern Europe. The generally agreed-upon date range is 1947-1991. That’s 45 years of tension and hatred. Unfortunately for Germany, Berlin was the line of demarcation between the two “blocs” or groups of allied countries, basically. After WWII, there were some countries disgusted by capitalism, and capitalist waste, and capitalist greed, and capitalist ego, etc. and with Hitler gone there was a power vacancy. So when the Nazi bully gets taken out, another will soon step in. We’ll call him Boris, and he is a hulking monster, with his back-up bully friends made up of everyone in his periphery. You can kind of understand their position – look on any map. The Soviet Union was HUGE. Russia is HUGE. It looks like it has more land mass than frigging Africa. If Boris is your neighbor, you’re pretty much going to do whatever keeps Boris from invading.

See a more detailed, sarcastic explanation of the Cold War here.

Okay, so the author of The Neverending Story wrote it right smack in the middle of this era when East and West Germany were separated (1961 -1989). You couldn’t just identify yourself as German, you had to also declare which side, and then be assigned with a lot of political baggage which may not be what you believe as an individual. A bad modern example of this is when white people ask non-white people where they’re from. They don’t really mean in what country were you born, they’re asking where do your ancestors hail from. The white person feels like this is a crucial piece of information that will help them understand the person of color, but it rarely has any bearing on the individual standing in front of them.

Within this context, you can kind of understand the father’s stoicism, and his push for his son to have the same stoicism. Germany saw a lot of tragedy during a 60 year span. That’s an entire life cycle – people were born in a war era and died before the cessation of Cold War hostilities in their homeland. There’s no way that doesn’t leave a mark on at least a couple of generations. And it gets worse if you factor in WWI ending only 20 years before WWII started. And things were bad before the official start of WWI. It’s not like these things just happen overnight. Nor does the end of war mean things go right back to normal. So these are three huge political and military events directly affecting Germany, it’s economy, it’s government, it’s outlook on fricking life. Can you blame someone for having a perspective where bad shit happens all the time and you just have to suck it up and move on because life is pain? I think we should all cut Major Dad some slack.

Any arts or literature produced in Germany during this time is pretty much earmarked as either West or East German, because the political and social context is important for understanding what you’re consuming. With that said, Ende was a West German. Not that it was all sunshine and flowers, but it was probably a hell of a lot better than the other side. In the 60’s, post WWII orphans were now adults and figuring how to create communities within a fractured country. It started out as finding your tribe; seeking out the community where you would belong. Later communities, or communes (ironic, right?) were more politically motivated and so became targets of frequent raids or shake-downs. Force begets force, and so eventually a lot of communes became havens for less than above-board military forces. I can imagine it felt to many people like the inexorable force of war would eventually roll over and crush you, no matter how hard you tried to stay out of its path.

We can see a lot of this helplessness and loneliness in Bastian. He’s a child; what we think of as an innocent without agency – with almost no control over what happens to him. He’s at an age where he’s aware but naive; he just wants everything to be better, but with no real idea of what better would even look like. He knows you can’t go back in time and bring your mother back, so how do you create for yourself a future where that wound has healed and you feel like a whole person again? As a kid, with no one willing to help you?

In Germany in the 70’s, a lot of the social focus was on squatters. Communal housing projects were organized for young homeless people, a lot of whom were orphans. This was not a government sanctioned thing (the government was busy), so these were namely large groups of people, mostly young, not all of them in poverty, that would go and squat in buildings, opening the way for street folks to join them, with the protection afforded by their larger numbers (police raids were common on squatters; you’d think they’d have other things to do). This was generally an artist thing to do – painters, musicians, poets; dreamers and romantics.

We see a lot of this romanticism and idealism in Bastian as well. He’s skipping school to read a stolen book with a flashlight during a thunderstorm in an attic, for crying out loud. And he’s extremely invested in Atreyu and his quest so save Fantasia from blinking out of existence. Fantasia has seen so much strife for such a long time, it’s nearly crippled under the weight of it, unable to carry on in a such a way (sound familiar?). The Nothing here can be seen as the endless grinding waste of War; the Childlike Empress is the human spirit, the dying light trying so hard to hold back The Nothing, by continuing to remember what is it that makes us worthwhile (her dumb name). So who is Atreyu? Atreyu to me has always represented the action of the individual – the choice we all face of whether to do good, or to lay down and do nothing while bad things happen. Bastian is our inner monologue, questioning our ability, our determination or worthiness. The rest of the cast of characters are the helps and hindrances that we all encounter on our way. Falkor the luckdragon – with his big dumb grin, reminding us of the pure joy of the wind on our faces; that moments of happiness during great tragedy are precious. Rock Biter – who has been overcome with grief and despair for the things he is powerless to fix. Artax – the spirit of steadfastness and loyalty, who bears the crippling punishment of the Sadness so that the self can carry on unhindered by it.

Ultimately, all is lost (nearly) when Bastian fails to act. I mean, Atreyu dies so what the actual fuck, Bastian. YOU HAD ONE JOB. FALKOR TOLD YOU NEVER TO GIVE UP, AND SO YOU FUCKING GAVE UP. GAAAAAAH. It’s a cautionary tale that the success of many can depend on a single player at any given moment; it’s not just about you. Sacrifices may be necessary. It also emphasizes the consequences of that old age: “evil prevails when good people do nothing.” Bastian didn’t literally fire the last shot, but the results are such that he may as well have.

Now here’s where fantasy takes over: the Childlike Empress gives Bastian a do-over. If he can overcome his damning personality flaw that allowed the destruction of all things, then all things can be restored. He must do what he failed to do earlier: he must believe. So he does, and then everything is fine, his bullies get roasted by a dog-dragon and his dad is nice to him (probably). The end.

Now, a lot of people argue that Bastian represents the childlike innocence of joy and freedom, and The Nothing represents the melancholy and social shackles that settle over adults. This is fine – I can definitely see that aspect at work in the movie. But after looking more deeply, part of me wonders if there’s not more to it, given the environment that Ende would have grown up in. Childhood would be short, and losses would be many. Adulthood would not have this dragged-out adolescence that we enjoy, but would likely require a constant calibration of loyalties and demands; always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Or maybe I’m just being dramatic.


Falkor the luckdragon is arguably the most beloved character in the movie. He’s made of clouds and dreams and pearls and warmth, and is really probably the only thing we all remember fondly when we think back on this throat-stab of a movie. Ever encouraging, ever brave, ever accepting of all that is. He’s the unconditional love that keeps the human spirit buoyed and fresh.

Except… and maybe this is for the best, we don’t really know what happens to Falkor when the rest of Fantasia is destroyed. We don’t see him swallowed by the Nothing, but neither do we see him fly away to safety, back from whence he came. Obviously once Bastian fixes everything with his Tinkerbell magic, everything is put to rights, but it still would have rent our collective hearts in twain to have to see such a good and pure creature cease to exist without a trace. It’s too much. If it weren’t for the book, I would say that at this point in the preliminary viewing an executive would have stormed out and demanded the Falkor demise scene be cut, screaming “IT’S TOO FUCKING SAD, KEVIN.” (I don’t know who Kevin is.)

Here’s the best news: there is a place in Germany where you can frickin’ ride Falkor the luckdragon. It’s in Munich and it’s called Bavaria Filmstadt.

Some hilarious further reading to stem your sobbing:

Favorite quote: “Confronted by their true selves, most men run away screaming!” – Engywook

20/21. Wonder Woman – Kinda Transcript/Kinda Notes

Listen to Wonder Woman Part 1 here:
Listen to Wonder Woman Part 2 here:

Wonder Woman (PG-13) – 2017
92% Rotten Tomatoes

What we’ve posted here is not so much notes as it is a list of potential discussion questions for our panel of guests, but we thought it might be useful for some, so enjoy!

Some Historical Context on Wonder Woman

Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman, was created in 1941. At the outset, she comes onto the scene as a New Woman type, a warrior for truth and an enemy of the Patriarchy. But the feminist icon breaks down upon closer inspection, and not even terribly scrutinous closer inspection. She joins the team as a secretary (a normative and unremarkable job for a woman at the time) which is an utter waste of Wonder Woman’s talents, unless I’m completely misunderstanding the role of a secretary. And she still has lots of feminine sex appeal. The creator himself described her as having “all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” Good AND beautiful, y’all. What a catch.

1941 is two years into WWII, and there was a lot of anxiety about the girls taking all the jobs (and performing adequately (shocking!)) while the boys were off at war. Wonder Woman, early Wonder Woman anyway, feels like a compromise. She’s an intelligent, strong, capable woman, but she still knows her place and defers power to the men. This version of her tries to do triple-duty – calming the men re-entering the workforce as well as acknowledging the women for stepping up, and then kindly reminding them to step back down.

Wonder Woman has since been co-opted by feminists and evolved into a symbol of female strength and independence. She’s not perfect, but neither are we.

Discussion Questions

  • How were each of us first introduced to Wonder Woman, or how did we become aware of her?
  • In the opening monologue, Diana references mankind instead of humankind. In such a feminism-aware movie, is it possible that this is an oversight, or is this subtext, as the early 20th century was still very much male-centric? Similarly, Hippolyta uses the same phrasing when telling young Diana the story about the Amazons’ origins, and Ares as well when explaining to Diana how he doesn’t need to take control of men to turn them to violence. 
  • Who got teary-eyed during the battle scenes? An article from The Mercury News states that this is because the movie took these warriors seriously – this army of trained, effective, career soldiers was given as much respect as any male-driven battle scene instead of being treated as getting this one part out of the way to set up the backstory. Does this ring true for your own emotional reaction? 
  • A lot has been said about the use of real lady athletes for the Amazon army. What does it say that this casting decision, which makes so much practical sense, is being hailed as such a feminist act? 
  • What do you feel about the presence of the love story between Diana and Steve? Did it get in the way of the story, or was it important to Diana’s exploration of the world of men?
    • In a scene that we assume leads to sex, did you like that we didn’t see Diana sexualized, or are you disappointed we didn’t see her claiming her sexuality? Were there any other issues with this scene? 
  • My favorite part of the movie is that Diana is fierce, strong, passionate, righteous, and determined – she’s a warrior and a protector, but she’s STILL A WOMAN. And well respected by her male associates, to boot. So many female superheroes or action stars are just male personalities transplanted into female bodies. Do you think this can be a symbol of uniting feminism and shedding the habits of woman-on-woman criticism and judgement? 
  • Wonder Woman was directed by a lady-person, the inimitable Patty Jenkins. Do you feel the same movie would have had the same impact if directed by a man? 
  • If you have seen Justice League, how do you feel the dynamic played out, with WW the sole lady amongst three male colleagues?
    • How are we feeling about the changes to the Amazons outfits in Justice League? 
  • There is a veritable coterie of villains in this movie (Dr. Maru, General Ludendorf, The War, Ares). Each one works in concert with the others to create opportunities for mayhem and wrongness. Diana works against evil not by playing by the rules of war, but by seeking and the root cause (she believes) and destroying it. Can this be seen as a metaphor for the smashing of the patriarchy? 
  • Can we talk about men being necessary for procreation but not pleasure? Thoughts?

Favorite Quote: “I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.” – Diana Prince

What did YOU think of the topics we discussed? We’d love to hear from you!

18. Stranger Things – The Weirdo on Maple Street

(The Stranger Things series of podcasts is not researched or prepared in advance the same way as our regular podcasts. Because of this, our accompanying blog posts will not contain notes/transcripts.)

Listen to the podcast here:

Episode 1.2 “The Weirdo on Maple Street” – original air date July 15, 2016

Nikki and Sher launch another sub-series! We’ll be reviewing all the episodes of Stranger Things, beginning with seasons one and two, which have already aired. We’ll continue reviewing episodes until the end of the series!

Nikki and Sher start a drinking game! Rules will be up soon on our website ( but feel free to play to along!

*Warning – this episode, and all others in the series, will contain SPOILERS. You’ve been warned!

Favorite Quote: “You shouldn’t like things because people tell you you’re supposed to.” – Jonathan Byers

What did YOU think of the topics we discussed? We’d love to hear from you!

19. Outlander 1.6 – The Garrison Commander

(The Outlander series of podcasts is not researched or prepared in advance the same way as our regular podcasts. Because of this, our accompanying blog posts will not contain notes/transcripts.)

Listen to the podcast here:

Episode 1.6 “The Garrison Commander” – original air date September 13, 2014
Starz network

Nikki and Sher launch a sub-series! We’ll be reviewing all the episodes of Outlander, beginning with the beginning, in honor of droughtlander. We’ll continue reviewing episodes until the end of the series!

Nikki and Sher institute a drinking game! Rules will be up soon on our website ( but feel free to play along!

*Warning – this episode, and all others in the series, will contain SPOILERS, both for the television series and for the books. You’ve been warned!

Favorite Quote: “I reckon one of us should ken what we’re doing.” – Jamie Fraser

What did YOU think of the topics we discussed? We’d love to hear from you!

17. Blade

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54% Rotten Tomatoes

I don’t know HOW this movie only has 54% on rotten tomatoes. It’s inconceivable, but I suppose there’s no accounting for taste.

It’s safe to say that Blade was responsible for my sexual awakening. This was my first introduction to vampires. I knew of them, of course, but I had never read any vampire literature or seen any other vampires on TV, unless you count The Count from Sesame Street. One: ah, ah, ah. If I’m remembering my Nikki history correctly, yours was Lestat?

Let’s look at some of the different types of vampires out there. I’m going to summarize from an article in called “The Wild Evolution of Vampires, from Bram Stoker to Dracula Untold” which deals mainly in film and television vampires, and I’m going to add a few of my own observations from modern literature. I ain’t touching video games with a ten foot pole – let’s just leave it at boobs and guns. I may have played around with some of the category names, but I’m essentially summing up Devon Maloney’s points:

The Original: Count Dracula (1897)

It’s not actually the original, but it’s definitely the most popular, and is the origination for how we think of vampires. The cold-blooded, paper-skinned creep Dracula first appeared in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Dracula has been tied to a few different origins, but who cares at this point. Vlad Tepes has his own grisly mythology, even without vampirism in the picture. What Stoker’s original work gives is the core elements of vampire: creepiness, alluringness, eccentricness, sex stuff, and a vaguely threatening pall cast over the whole thing. Well, sometimes overtly threatening. The more I think about mid to late 19th century literature, the more parallels I see with our current times. Everyone was afraid of everything – outsiders, a changing moral code, advancements in science and technology, epidemic diseases, the crumbling class structure. GEE sounds familiar. Maybe that’s why vampires made such a resurgence in the last fifteen years.

The Lesbian Vampire: Carmilla

The actual original! Never heard of this one, but apparently in 1871, this was a “safe” way to explore homosexuality, since vampires aren’t real, and Stoker had already established them as immoral and wicked. The Wired article calls the tenor of the time “moral terror”, and if you’ve spent any time at all reading Victorian literature, you recognize this. Picture our current obsession with celebrity reality TV, now replace it with an obsession over evil, powerful creatures bent on influencing the innocent into a life of sin. I suspect this kind of anxiety had to do with the weakening power of institutionalized religion, but in the late 19th century, no one was even burning witches anymore! Science and medicine were burgeoning into respected and trusted fields, and were just starting to be seen as a source of truth about the world; a position previously held only by philosophy and religion. What’s surprising about Carmilla (apparently) is that it’s not a denunciation of homosexuality – Carmilla is bad, but the text doesn’t condemn the lesbian relationships.

The Classic Film Vampire: Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (1931)

This is notable for being the first horror movie and also for Bela Lugosi’s precedent setting portrayal of a vampire. This movie really freaked people out, and a few years later the movie industry started enforcing the Hays Code (basically the morality police for movies), and so the horror movie genre was watered down almost as soon as it was created. Luckily for us, by the 60’s the Hays Code had become unenforceable and was abandoned. Take that, people who force others to live by their own particular set of religious hang ups. Naturally, chaos ensued, and in the 70’s the rating system we’re familiar with was created, so that people could choose their level of explicit and debaucherous content. (

The Fancy Vampire: Christopher Lee’s Dracula (movies from 1958-1976)

“Hammer movies” was a term I heard often but never understood. If you are like me and had no idea what movie buffs were talking about but didn’t want to seem ignorant so kept your mouth shut, I am here to help you. Hammer Films is a movie studio founded in 1934 that chugged along, making all kinds of movies. WWII pretty much shut down operations, but post-war England (and America) saw an increase in prosperity and for the first time in a long while, people had pocket money and could indulge in entertainment. The movie industry blew up and Hammer thrived. In 1955 they released a movie called The Quartermass Xperiment, a horror movie about alien viruses or something. People lost their shit; they loved it, and so Hammer decided to really go for it in the horror genre. They spared no expense on gore, which pissed of the censors, but titillated audiences. Cornering the market on horror, they produced movie after movie featuring big theatrical baddies and full of gratuitous everything, and also sequels to their features, which all became their stamp on the genre. The golden age of Hammer was over by the 70’s when television became commonplace fixtures in homes. Moping around for a decade, Hammer finally figured out that television was also a thing they could do, and so they were back, baby, but as a TV house now, instead of a movie house. That changed again in 2010 with Let Me In, and they have resumed making horror films once more. We should consult a horror nut to see if they’re as good now as they were then. Christopher Lee’s portrayal of Dracula represents this era of campy and overdone yet marvelously enjoyable horror.

The Teen Dreamboat Vampire: Dark Shadows (1966-1971; 2012)

Dark Shadows was a supernatural soap opera marketed to young people, and from what I can gather the first time vampires were shoved into the pants of pre-teen and teenage girls. As Wired points out, this is the Vietnam era, and a time of relentless political unrest, so this seems like a safe way to work out some anxieties about young people’s experiences with horrifying situations, made light. Armies are made up of young men (true at the time), and those young men knew other young people that stayed behind. Reading letters from soldiers and trying to understand what was happening to them was likely a difficult and emotionally taxing process, so you can see how it would be appealing to a young woman whose lover was suffering an affliction she couldn’t help him out of (being subjected to the horrors of war). She could easily relate to a governess stuck helping a family with a lot of big, unmanageable problems.

The Blaxploitation Vampire: Blacula (1972)

Oh, the 70’s! If you haven’t watched any Blaxploitation, you’re missing out. May I suggest Coffee, starring Pam Grier. I watched it in college in a film class, and I loved it. Speaking of Pam Grier, she was in the sequel to Blacula. Wired suggests that Blacula may be somewhat responsible for inspiring Blade, so we owe him a huge debt of gratitude. But seriously – Blacula, and Blaxploitation films in general, served to point out just how very white movies were. There were no other black vampires in the movies at the time. The vampire genre is still overwhelmingly white, but Blade did establish a solid cultural reference to a vampire of color.

The Genteel, Self-Loathing Vampire: Lestat (1976 (Interview with the Vampire: 1994))

As mentioned earlier, it seems that every time the world experiences a scary change, we also get a rise in supernatural or sci-fi media? I will assume these genres have a built-in helplessness against a big bad enemy of undue proportions. The big baddies in the 70’s was war, civil rights, and feminism. War is never bad for the establishment, but upsetting the balance of power by granting access to women and people of color is absolutely terrifying. Anne Rice, being a woman, contributed some new vampire attributes. They were more powerful, more charming, more able to fit in with society. Lestat and company were not relegated to a creepy cave mansion where they lured innocent victims to seduce/prey on them – they mingled with high society. They could fly, heal, and make do on animal blood when necessary. They didn’t have any of the ridiculous and arbitrary vampire weaknesses like garlic and crosses. In short, they were well-suited to survive and thrive. There were vampires coming out of the shadows and into your face, and maybe they weren’t sooooo terrible. Just like women and black people! Wired points out that Anne Rice’s vampire archetype is more heavily borrowed from in subsequent depictions than Stoker. This marks the beginning of the era of more glamorous vampires. It was only a matter of time before glitter was added. Side note – I think the Vampire Diaries fits into this category as well.

The Angsty Teen Vampire: The Lost Boys (1987)

The 1980’s was undoubtedly the era of John Hughes – teens were very much at the center of the film world. We were all obsessing about the plights of the almost-adults. The Lost Boys preyed on the fears of parents – what if we lose our children? To drugs, to gangs, to predators, to theatre school. Also, this gives the popular kids the malevolent nature that all misfits feel exuding from them. It also speaks to misfits because you have a group of teens living outside of polite society, as well as never having to reach adulthood and deal with grown up life (the title is a Peter Pan reference). It’s a movie for everyone, and helped bring the genre even closer to teens.

The Feminist Vampire Love Interest: Buffy (movie: 1992; show: 2007-2003)

WE GET A LADY HERO?? WHAT?? Oh wait, she falls in love with the bad guys. Siiiiiigh. Way to be a stereotype, Buffy. But it’s not all bad. Buffy is a competent, intelligent young woman who we can take seriously as a heroine. Rather than being an overconfident buffoon who gets in too deep and has to be rescued from her own stupidity, this woman has the skill and ability to carry out her duties. Even though she’s blonde and pretty! GASP! And Joss Whedon is great, so the writing and production were good enough to be taken seriously as well. Much like Blacula, Buffy gives us a female entry in the genre. While she’s not a vampire, she is a presence.

The Human Protector Vampire: Blade (1998-2004)

Blade is half-vampire, called dhampir. He is a Marvel character, and frankly should get more attention all the time. I think he’d work perfectly in the Defenders. Get that bratty privileged Iron First out of there and give us Blade.

So, the comparisons to Blacula are obvious – they’re both black. But Blade is a little more serious. Okay, a lot more serious. I don’t think he smiles throughout the entire movie. He has an incredibly well-constructed back story (I guess vampirism is a virus that crosses the placenta?), the full emotional gamut for his motivations and world view, and he has sophisticated weapons and chemical warfare gadgets.

Even though he’s a halfling, his vampire nature seems to define him more than his humanity, though it’s a struggle he’s been locked in his entire life. He deeply resents his vampire thirst, and has an unmitigated hatred other vampires, which granted, are uniformly evil. He’s cleansing the earth of evil in a subconscious attempt to save his mother. The self-hate coming off of Blade in waves is masterfully portrayed by Snipes – he’s not mopey or pitiful like some Cullens I know. He’s pissed, and channeling all that rage into a productive purpose. And wearing a badass trench while he does it.

The Sexy Progressive Vampire: True Blood (books and movies: 2001-2014)

This universe that Charlaine Harris has created, is pretty much an alternate universe where vampires/werewolves/witches/fairies/etc are a stand in for non-straight, non-WASP societies. The main threat of vampires, eating humans, has been removed by a synthetic blood substitute – essentially tofu for vamps, so now they can re-enter society and confront the prudes with all kinds of not subtle societal issues: vamp/human relationships stand in for bi-racial relationships. Using vampire blood as a way to get high stands in for the opioid addiction epidemic. The politics, my god the politics, stand in for the party politics we all have become so passionately in hate with. All this is set in the deep south, noted for it’s progressive and accepting attitude of a changing moral compass and upsetting of the status quo. So instead of just being a show about shredded vampires, it’s really a story about people treat other people, just with fangs and lots of white makeup.

Also, RIP Nelson Ellis, you magnificent man. You gave us Lafeyette beyond when the books killed him off because you made that character AHMAZING.

The Innocent, Self-Loathing Vampire: Twilight (2005-2012)

So, we’ve seen a lot of rebellion against social norms and mores in vampire culture, but Twilight turns that around. These are super beautiful vampire people, but our heroic Cullens are basically a sweater set and and Volvo in humanoid form. Ultra conservative, Edward refuses to have sex with Bella before they’re married, despite Bella’s insistent and repeated attempts to change his mind. Also, the family is very much patriarchal. Dr. Cullen created this family against their will, and then demands that they live according to his strict moral code, which is horrendously difficult as it goes against their nature. Nothing like being set up to constantly disappoint your parents.

BUT – Twilight did serve to introduce vampire lust to an even younger generation of girls. With PG content, it’s not exactly inappropriate, though it is problematic. Edward is essentially a possessive, controlling stalker. Bella is entirely too eager to give up everything about her life and let Edward completely consume her (both literally and figuratively). It’s quite a step down from Buffy, but being an adult woman with an already mature brain when I first read it, I still liked it. But as an adult, I understand the purpose that the fantasy of books serves. I can only hope that young girls know the difference between fiction and reality as far as relationship goals.

The Philosophical Vampire: Only Lovers Left Alive (2013-2014)

This one I have never seen, but from what Wired told me, we are to be sympathetic to the vampires in this. The story is told from the point of view of a vampire couple, always on the run from the humans out to get them and also removing themselves from the temptation of eating them. It’s an interesting idea, and speaks to how long the vampire genre has been around that we’re now feeling bad for the poor, misunderstood monsters.

The Warrior Vampire: Dracula Untold (2013-2014)

This is supposed to be the origin story for Dracula, and by extension vampires in general. And again, we were supposed to be sympathetic to the vampire, and to empathize with him. This movie sucked, and not even Wired has that much to say about it.

Those are the categories of vampires that Devon from Wired identified. Ima add some here:

The Ancient Religion-Affiliated Vampire: Dark Hunters

This is a series of books written by the prolific Sherrilyn Kenyon. They feature an army of immortal revenge-seekers, turned so by the goddess Artemis to fight Daimons, a race of demon-type guys who eat the souls of humans so they don’t expire and die. While dark hunters don’t need to drink blood to survive, they can if they want to, though they would be outcast if they did so. They share most other vampire traits – the sun is deadly to them, though it’s because of Artemis’s feud with the sun god Apollo; they’re pale, and they have super strength and sexiness, gifts bestowed on them by Artemis so they can get the job done.

Most vampires are turned by a bite or some other fluid exchange. The selection process is a little different for dark hunters. If you suffer a terrible betrayal and then die because of it, Artemis will come to you at the moment of your death and ask you if you want to stick it to those that did you wrong. If you agree, her price is your soul and your freedom; you’ll be in her service until such time as you die (for real this time), or you negotiate for your soul back after a few hundred or thousand years of service, which is a difficult and risky prospect not offered to many. If you say yes, you have 24 hours to maim some mother fuckers before you officially report for Dark Hunter duty.

The I’ve Accepted My Fate and Am Cool With It Vampire: The Mortal Instruments

Cassandra Clare has a couple of loosely-connected series set in her delightful universe. She’s got quite a cast of characters; there are nephilim, demons (of ALL shapes, sizes, and substances), warlocks, vampires, werewolves, mermaids, selkies, faries, and on and on. What I like most about her series was the emphasis on individuality. Each type of being has their own community and culture, but they’re as individual as any human. Being a vampire doesn’t make you bad, just as being a nephilim doesn’t make you good. There is a lot of bigotry; those on both sides that would rather an entire species (or all but their own) be wiped from existence than have to continue tolerating them. The vampires in the story have a complicated hierarchy of leadership, but otherwise are no different from humans except for the fangs and the blood and the sun avoidance. It’s aimed at young adults, but Clare’s writing is incredibly thoughtful. Even within the different groups there are characters struggling with LGBT issues, childhood abuse, drug addiction. She doesn’t shy away from anything, and treats all of her subject matter with respect while still being funny and an excellent story teller.

The Detective Vampire: Samantha Moon

Written by J.R. Rain, the Samantha Moon novels are about a former federal agent who was attacked and turned into a vampire. Her marriage crumbles, she nearly loses her children, she struggles to figure out how to manage to still be a parent while coping with the lifestyle changes now necessary. She lives in terror that she’ll someday harm her children. No longer being able to go out during the day, she becomes a private detective so that she can set her own hours. Her psychic abilities and strength definitely come in handy while she’s solving cases.

Rain’s story is different because this woman is a mother, and instead of going off and starting a new life full of drama and adventure, she is firmly tethered to domestic life. This creates a lot of opportunities to reflect on what life would be like if you WERE turned into a vampire since it’s somewhat more realistic.

Vampire literature provides a lot of variations on the theme, but the most common traits that show up in an individual afflicted are: a very strong thirst for blood and harm (of some sort) from the sun. Other traits which vary by author: garlic allergy, no access without RSVP, harm from crosses, holy water, sacred ground, fangs, shape-shifting, super strength, mind control, psychic abilities, healing abilities, coffins?, grave dirt from their homeland… am I missing any?

The blood thing I totally get – these are dark magic creatures, technically dead, and so you can make the logical leap that blood sustains their life force. And by logical leap, I mean within the confines of the supernatural horror genre. But the sun – I don’t get it. I get why Superman has a strong reaction to our yellow sun (which actually isn’t yellow, btw); he’s an alien and his genetic makeup is different. I guess with vampires, it’s to emphasize the “creature of the dark” aspect of vampires and give a physical framework to the social and emotional alienation they experience. And it gives them an excuse to be super creepy. Also, sexy stuff happens in the dark, so I think for writers, everyone wins.

Consent, or Why Being Turned Into a Vampire is Often Rapey

Occasionally we will see people who beg to be turned into vampires. Based on some of the later depictions, it actually sounds like a pretty sweet deal if you don’t mind avoiding the sun and slurping pig blood. There are times I have thought those are perfectly reasonable sacrifices to make in order to gain strength, beauty and healing. Plus all vampires seem witty, if they’re not mopey. But the vast majority of vampire shows and books and movies are people who are desperate NOT to be turned into a blood-thirsty ghoul. Similarly, most depictions of vampires turning a human are of women. Now, we know that men are turned vampire, because… well because there are male vampires. But we choose to depict stories of women being forced to submit to the big strong man with the teeth. Or we see a woman desperate for Mr. Teeth to turn them into a vampire. The act of biting is often a metaphor for sex – seemingly the forbidden kind. “Oh nooooo, society doesn’t want us to be together, this is so hot!” or “That girl left her house after dark, of course she was abducted and bitten.”

Ah, life.

Favorite Quote: “There are worse things out tonight than vampires.” – Eric “Blade” Brooks

What did YOU think of the topics we discussed? We’d love to hear from you!

16. Stranger Things 1.1 – The Vanishing of Will Byers

(The Stranger Things series of podcasts is not researched or prepared in advance the same way as our regular podcasts. Because of this, our accompanying blog posts will not contain notes/transcripts.)

Listen to the podcast here:

Episode 1.1 “The Vanishing of Will Byers” – original air date July 15, 2016

Nikki and Sher launch another sub-series! We’ll be reviewing all the episodes of Stranger Things, beginning with seasons one and two, which have already aired. We’ll continue reviewing episodes until the end of the series!

Nikki and Sher talk 80’s nostalgia, the lovely heft of old technology, and .

*Warning – this episode, and all others in the series, will contain SPOILERS. You’ve been warned!

Favorite Quote: “Mornings are for coffee and contemplation.” – Chief Hopper

What did YOU think of the topics we discussed? We’d love to hear from you!

14. Outlander 1.4 – The Gathering

(The Outlander series of podcasts is not researched or prepared in advance the same way as our regular podcasts. Because of this, our accompanying blog posts will not contain notes/transcripts.)

Listen to the podcast here:

Episode 1.4 “The Gathering” – original air date August 30, 2014
Starz network

Nikki and Sher launch a sub-series! We’ll be reviewing all the episodes of Outlander, beginning with seasons one and two, which have already aired, in honor of droughtlander. We’ll continue reviewing episodes until the end of the series!

Nikki and Sher look up Angus’s kilt, talk about camping, wax nostalgic about their horsey days, invoke Chris Hardwick’s hypothesis of age divination, discuss advanced modern feminism (and its paradoxes, re: bloody men) and accidentally thought-stalk an unwitting man.

*Warning – this episode, and all others in the series, will contain SPOILERS, both for the television series and for the books. You’ve been warned!

Favorite Quote: “The highlands are no place for a woman to be alone.” – Geillis Duncan

What did YOU think of the topics we discussed? We’d love to hear from you!

13. Outlander 1.3 – The Way Out

(The Outlander series of podcasts is not researched or prepared in advance the same way as our regular podcasts. Because of this, our accompanying blog posts will not contain notes/transcripts.)

Listen to the podcast here:

Episode 1.3 “The Way Out” – original air date August 23, 2014
Starz network

Nikki and Sher launch a sub-series! We’ll be reviewing all the episodes of Outlander, beginning with seasons one and two, which have already aired, in honor of droughtlander. We’ll continue reviewing episodes until the end of the series!

Nikki and Sher bring you commentary on “The Way Out.” We talk about the absurdity (or not) of Claire’s immense borrowed wardrobe, the intricacies of horse grooming, and Geillis’s weird clothes, among many diversions and much laughter.

*Warning – this episode, and all others in the series, will contain SPOILERS, both for the television series and for the books. You’ve been warned!

Favorite Quote: “Why are you two drunkards still takin’ up space in my kitchen? If you’re not workin’ here, be gone wi’ ye!” – Mrs. Fitzgibbons

What did YOU think of the topics we discussed? We’d love to hear from you!

11. Outlander 1.2 – Castle Leoch

(The Outlander series of podcasts is not researched or prepared in advance the same way as our regular podcasts. Because of this, our accompanying blog posts will not contain notes/transcripts.)

Listen to the podcast here:

Episode 1.2 “Castle Leoch” – original air date August 16, 2014
Starz network

Nikki and Sher launch a sub-series! We’ll be reviewing all the episodes of Outlander, beginning with seasons one and two, which have already aired, in honor of droughtlander. We’ll continue reviewing episodes until the end of the series!

Nikki and Sher are super jealous of the gorgeous view in “Castle Leoch” (both topographical and manly), talk about bear attacks, get incredibly hungry, and discuss a few of the quirks of smaller characters.

*Warning – this episode, and all others in the series, will contain SPOILERS, both for the television series and for the books. You’ve been warned!

Favorite Quote: “Just try not to get flogged or stabbed today.” – Claire Randall

What did YOU think of the topics we discussed? We’d love to hear from you!