10. Highlander – Kinda Transcript/Kinda Notes

Listen to the podcast here: http://notyourmom.libsyn.com/11-highlander

Highlander (R) – 1986
70% rotten tomatoes

Yet another movie that has us questioning ourselves, because we’re more attracted to the feckless bad guy than the steadfast hero.

Other things we questions – why is Sean Connery playing a Spaniard? Is his costume ANYWHERE near accurate? The second question is hard to answer (for me at least) because most articles I found were either focused on English fashion or women’s fashion. If any readers out there know the answer to this question, we would love to hear from you!

A fellow by the internet handle S John said it best in his Westeros thread called “Things I Don’t Understand About Highlander,” “It’s a bit jarring that Sean Connery, an actual Scottish guy, is cast to play a Spanish/Egyptian guy while a dude with a vaguely French accent is cast to play the Scottish guy.”

Also a fair point by S John – why can there be only one? To which I add: In which case, why were there ever more than one? How did multiples comes about if the magic dictates that there can be only one? Were a certain number of immortal souls just plopped onto the earth, scattered, and told to destroy each other? By whom? For what purpose? Who orchestrated this “prize”??

S continues pointing out the logical fallacies by questioning why on earth James Bond would be training someone he SHOULD be (based on the rules of the magic we’ve bought into) compelled to kill. Another commenter pointed out that Connery is I guess devoting his life to training other “good” immortals so it will be more likely that an “evil” immortal (like Kurgan) won’t win. But still – it seems like it might be a better use of his time to organize better.

I interject here with another logical fallacy – if they are immortal, why are they all different ages? Is aging not arrested at some set point for immortals? If you’re going to tell me that they just age incredibly slowly, then I will call bullshit because that means they’re just elves. And if the prize is mortality, aren’t they all winners in reality? Cause the end game of mortality is death.

Not to arrest the aging of this line of questions, but another commenter, drawkcabi, put it best saying, “I find it’s best just not to ask questions about Highlander, it just is and let it go at that. The more questions you ask, the more questions they lead to, and I’ve always been afraid that you can pick this scab so deep you start unraveling the threads of the universe.” Hear, hear. This thread devolves quickly into questions about the specifics and logistics of what constitutes decapitation (and how would regeneration work if sliced through the torso), queries on the actual accent McLeod has, and the physics of Kurgan’s sword. It’s a nerdly beautiful thing that you should check out if you get a minute. Or hours.

So from here, I’m going to follow some of the threads we’ve just pulled, instead of pulling ever more.

Let’s talk about immortality – mostly in terms of Western lore and characters. Immortality is a fickle bitch. When we see pursuit of immortality, there’s always some type of hidden consequence. When we see immortal figures, they always have baggage associated with it, such as a loss of humanity, or a yearning to be mortal again.

LiveScience compiled a list of the top ten immortals, and I think some of these are good examples of archetypes or tropes of immortals.

Arwen (representative of elves) – she’s a force of good and innocence, and ultimately gives up her immortality for her mortal love.

Grail Knight – an immortal? who guards the vessel of… just healing? Immortality? I was never sure of it’s actual purpose, or whether the grail just kind of fit whatever situation. In this case, the immortality afforded did not seem to altogether stop the atrophy of aging.

Highlander – DUH

Dorian Gray – A moral cautionary tale against pride and vanity. A handsome young man manages to transfer his aging process to a portrait of himself, while he is sustained physically ageless in the way a portrait is.  Essentially a “real beauty is on the inside” tale.

Tithonus – A human lover of the goddess Eos turned immortal by Zeus himself. This is a real “gotcha” in line with tricksy manner of the gods. Tithonus is turned immortal, but not ageless. So while he lives on, he also ages on. Horrifying to contemplate.

Nicolas Flamel – Dumbledore’s friend who supposedly created the Sorcerer’s Stone, which granted eternal life. But apparently only so long as it was in existence, because when the stone was destroyed, so too was Flamel’s immortality.

Methuselah – This one is kind of playing fast and loose with the definition of immortal. Methuselah is a biblical character purported to have lived to over 900 years of age. I’m 100% certain that age was measured exactly the same literal way in the bible as we do now.

Lazarus Long – A character from science fiction, Lazarus is again more of a super long living fellow rather than actually immortal. His 2,000+ years are the result of selective breeding and science.

Dracula (representative of vampires) – The father of the vampires, those who cease aging (and living, technically) once the vampire condition is transmitted to them. This happens in a multitude of ways and means throughout literature and media, but the most common mode of transmission is the bite.

Peter Pan – Is this non-aging because a feature of being in Neverland? It seems that way since one of the movie versions shows a Peter Pan who’s grown up in the time since he left.

I looked through a few other sources and ultimately decided to exclude aliens (yes, this includes the Doctor), gods, and superheroes from the list, because so are immortal as a given that it’s not worth listing individuals.

Immortal/Invulnerable

Immortality is vexingly defined as unending existence or living forever. Applying this concept to humans takes a little bit more work. For instance, let’s just say that there is an immortal human wandering around. (Let’s go ahead and assume for the time being that this person is also invulnerable). What happens when the sun burns out in a few billion years? Or what happens when a runaway greenhouse effect turns the earth into a place uninhabitable by mortal biological creatures? What does an immortal do, wandering an in turns scorched and frozen wasteland, devoid of vegetation, water, air, and animal life? Does he suffer in unending agony? When an asteroid turns the planet into a giant claymore, does he float in space like a rogue satellite for all eternity? It seems that as humans, we still have to put limitations on immortality, lest the overwhelming prospect of continued existence beyond what we can conceive of bring us to our existential knees.

Invulnerability is the inability to be hurt or get sick. Think Luke Cage. These folks may still age normally (or maybe a little left of normal); invulnerability is not the same as immortality.

Favorite quote: “I apologize for calling your wife a bloated warthog, and I bid you good day.” – Connor MacLeod

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

9. Outlander 1.1 – Sassenach

(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 contains notes/transcripts.)

Listen to the podcast here: http://notyourmom.libsyn.com/website/9-outlander-11-sassenach

Episode 1.1 “Sassenach” – original air date August 9, 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!

Here we bring you the first episode (“Sassenach”) in which our unwitting heroine finds herself thrust two hundred years in the past. Leaving the 1940’s, she find herself in a boatload of danger, knowing next to nothing about the 18th century (expect all the bad parts), and having no resources or acquaintances. Will she find a way back home? Will she figure out the underwear? Will she being accustomized to semi-regular bathing?

*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’ve never heard a woman use such language in my life.” – Dougal MacKenzie

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

8. The Beastmaster – Kinda Transcript/Kinda Notes

Listen to the podcast here: http://notyourmom.libsyn.com/8-the-beastmaster

The Beastmaster – 1982
PG Rating
42% rotten tomatoes
Budget was $8M, and didn’t gross much more than that.

Rip Torn is in this movie!!!! – Full disclosure – I haven’t watched this yet, so my commentary may be somewhat lacking tonight.

Okay, so apparently Rip Torn magically takes an unborn fetus out of this lady and puts it into an ox… giving him some witchy ESP that works on animals and making him a hunted outcast. I’m sure this will all make sense as I’m watching, and that Rip Torn has completely plausible motives and this was not just an overly elaborate way to do something that could have been accomplished by much simpler means.

To start off, the cover makes it totally look like this chick is one of the beasts that The Beastmaster masters. She’s crouching down there by his feet with the panther, and has a similar look of generic ferocity.

So, not knowing anything about this movie, I have focused on this animal ESP thing. The Beastmaster is not the only cult hero that can commune with animals. An article in Screen Rant has listed fifteen superheroes can “talk to animals,” but in some cases it’s really more cooperating with or manipulating or having an affinity for animals. We shall commence!

  1. Catwoman (DC; Villain) – so, cannon does not give her any ability to talk to cats; she just enjoys a mutual affinity. A few of the movie and TV incarnations have played with this though, giving her magical cat herding abilities.

 

  1. Professor X (MV; Hero) – this kind of feels like a cheat since he can psychically override just about anything with a brain.

 

  1. Vixen (DC; Hero) – this seems like a fairly racist one; she can channel animal powers, but mostly African animals, since she was born there, but maybe not, since the amulet that gives her this power was stolen from one of the African gods. I’m not sure how that one shakes out.

 

  1. Circe (DC; Villain) – Okay, this one is fairly deep. She based on the Circe from Homer’s Odyssey, who was the witch that turned the sailors into pigs. Supposedly she can communicate with real animals, but mostly controls the humans that she has turned into animals.

 

  1. Moonstar (Marvel; Hero) – She seems to be able to connect telepathically with animals, rather than control them, to see through their eyes and feel what they feel.

 

  1. Beast Boy (DC; Hero) – He can shapeshift into animals (the result of an experimental medical treatment), but cannot communicate very articulately to them.

 

  1. Hawkman/Hawkgirl (DC; Heros) – These two have really complicated and conflicting storylines, and so the ability to communicate with and control birds is erratic, but stems from their alien technology.

 

  1. Koi Boy and Chipmunk Hunk (Marvel; Heroes) – Ummmm. Yeah. Pretty much what you would think.

 

  1. Chat (Marvel; Hero) – The ScreenRant article describes her as a Snow White figure – animals love her and happily do her bidding.

 

  1. Nature Girl (Marvel; Hero) – She can communicate with and command animals, and even plants and demons.

 

  1. Wonder Woman (DC; Hero) – This is an ability based on her being an Amazon – she can easily communicate with and control animals, and is depicted as actual speech instead of empathy.

 

  1. Animal Man (DC; Hero) – This fella has a complicated backstory involving reanimation and an alien force field. He’s got it all – he can shapeshift, control any animal, take on their abilities, and communicate with them.

 

  1. Ant-Man and Wasp (Marvel; Heroes) – Ant-Man uses his helmet to communicate with ants; he doesn’t control them exactly, but they seem to like him and play along. Wasp’s powers come from genetic modification.

 

  1. Squirrel Girl (Marvel; Hero) – Again, it’s all there in the name.

1. Aquaman (DC; Hero) – He can communicate with sea life, and his pet companion is a frickin’ kraken.

So clearly the comic books characters have various and varying abilities as regards animal manipulation. So what comes to mind when you think of animal communication in the real world? Perhaps the most badass talent – snake charming!

Funny story – I recently got into a debate with my husband about snake charming and whether or not it was a real thing – I was convinced it was one of those overblown racist misinterpretations of a foreign culture during the time that the British Empire was trying to take over the world. We know snakes don’t really hear, and music always factors greatly into portrayals on TV (that same damn tune, which is actually a song called “The Streets of Cairo, or the Poor Little Country Maid”, and is also often associated with the hoochie coochie belly dance (which is often provocative in nature) – partial lyrics are as follows: “Soak your ass in the tureen/If it’s hot it burns/If it burns it’s that it’s hot!” other variations: “There’s a place in France/Where the ladies where no pants/But the men don’t care/’Cause they don’t wear underwear”)

I found a Popular Science article explaining that the music is actually just there for entertainment value; what controls the snake is the charmer waving the flute thingy in the snake’s face. The snake interprets it as a threat and what we see is the snake rising in a defensive pose. The snake sways in response to the swaying of the flute thingy. So, essentially the charmer is using his flute to pick a fight with a snake. Which is still a pretty cool display of evolutionary defensive instincts if you think about it, but it still seems kind of mean. As for my husband, I’m calling this one a draw. The snakes are not charmed so much as they’re provoked, but it is a real thing that happens, so I guess we’re tied.

Sadly, NPR reports that snake charming is a dying art. I’m ambiguous on this one because perhaps the snakes aren’t really having a great time here, but this is also a cultural art with a lot of history, and it’s always sad to see something like that go away, especially if the snakes are treated humanely, which I have no way of knowing. Animal rights activists are venomously opposed to the practice (har, har), but the charmers themselves seem to respect the snakes, the good ones, anyway. There are some terrible people out there who apparently mutilate the animals to make sure they aren’t dangerous, but some insist that their taming methods are humane and the snakes are eventually released back into the wild.

There is a wildlife group in India that is trying to re-purpose remaining snake charmers so that they would be employed removing dangerous snakes from populated areas and relocating them to wilder areas. I feel like that’s a win-win – the snakes are no longer in danger of exploitation, and these artists don’t lose their livelihoods. The article hits it on the head though, and states that the real loss is the charmer’s flute, which the snakes don’t even hear anyway.

So what else, Nikki? What have we personally been exposed to semi-recently? In a giant castle that looked like it was made of Lego blocks? That’s right! Falconry! And horsemanship!

So, when I think of falconry, I automatically think of Samwell Tarly and his ravens, or the Owlery in Harry Potter, or carrier pigeons, sending spy messages during WWII. The reality isn’t quite so sexy, but it’s still pretty cool, albeit extremely nerdy. According to the North America Falconers Association, it takes at least seven years to become a master falconer. There is an apprenticeship involved (as with all awesome trades) and the daily time commitment is intense. You also have to have access to an adequate amount of land. This is not a hobby for apartment dwellers. Falconers are also required to be humane and eco-responsible.

Speaking of carrier pigeons… they have a long history of carrying message for us earthbound humans. There are references to pigeon mail in the bible, and they’ve been used to convey messages during war all over the world throughout much of history, up until recently. And guess what! You can still have messages sent via homing pigeons. Well, sort of. There’s a company in Texas that will take your message, have a homing pigeon fly around with it, then attach it to a letter of authenticity and mail it (via conventional methods) to your recipient. Their website is pigeongram.com, if anyone out there is interested. It’s not terribly expensive, and it’s fairly adorable. Frighteningly for me, there is no statement of humane treatment on their website, but I’m trying not to jump to conclusions. I’m sure their pigeons are very well cared for.

Alright, moving on to horses, my personal soft spot. Tween-age me was 100% Tina from Bob’s burgers. I had horse posters everywhere – a horse Trapper Keeper, horse books, notebooks, I even managed to get myself a job at a stable when I was 12 so I could work for my lessons (cause we was broke as hell) and during that time all my best friends were horses (I’m not even joking). PBS did an article about horse whispering. This really boils down to people who are really good at communicating with horses through non-supernatural means. Just as some people have an uncanny ability to hit a ball speeding at their face with a stick of wood, some folks have a great talent for sending and understanding cues with certain animals. Animals have personalities just like people, and like some people are able to get along with anybody, some people seem able to get along with any horse. The article states that often this understanding is the result of a lot of work, and a compatible partnership between human and horse. People that put a lot of time and effort into learning how to decipher cues from their horses, and send cues the horses can interpret, earn the title of horse whisperer. I think this is true for any animal, and in some cases these skills may translate across different types of animals, but that’s just my opinion.

In the storied comic tradition of heroes or villains rallying animals to help them, we some real world, though less dramatic, examples of that as well. Therapy animals! Animal therapy is one of my favorite things that exists in the world. I always had animals growing up and I’ve always had a love and respect for them. I benefited a lot from horse friends – I had a lot of low self esteem as a kid; we moved around a lot and I was always the outsider. But when I was with our dogs, or with the horses at the stable, they didn’t care about any of that crap. They were affectionate to me without me worrying that it was a cruel trick or pity or a social project. My dog doesn’t care if I get fat or don’t wash my hair. It’s very liberating and a warm, furry emotional band-aid.

Therapy animals have been found to be helpful in everything from rehabilitation to PTSD to social disorders and physical disabilities and depression. http://www.equestriantherapy.com/ claims that horses are the most utilized species of therapy animal, but of course dogs and cats commonly fill this role as well.

Favorite Quote: “I’m Dar.” – Dar

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

7. The Twilight Zone: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” – Kinda Transcript/Kinda Notes

Listen to the podcast here: http://notyourmom.libsyn.com/7-the-twilight-zone-nightmare-at-20000-feet

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet – Aired October 1963
(William Shatner version)

This episode would not be as striking if Bob Wilson had not just had a nervous breakdown. The atmosphere or mood is very intimate – the plane feels like a microcosm of mental illness in society. We have people, all in the same place, doing the same thing, receiving the same stimuli, but one person is having a vastly different experience from the others. The other passengers are calmly sitting, biding their time for the duration of the flight. Meanwhile, Bob sees a threat that no one else does, one that’s trying to dismantle this container that’s keeping him safe while he’s hurtling through the air.

Could a mammal survive flight on a wing?

http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-01/fyi-could-you-survive-flight-strapped-wing-plane

It’s going to be very, very cold. Cases reported of people being outside the cabin area of a plane (ie – in the wing storage, on the wing, hanging out of a door, in the landing gear) well below cruising altitude (this is a critical point), consistently report frostbite as a consequence. Also, incidents where the person survived reported a short time of exposure.

So what would happen if you tried to hitch a ride on the wing of a plane because you really miss your family that lives far away but you can’t afford the exorbitant airfare? (not specific to a 1963 aircraft)

There’s hardly any air

At 35,000 feet, you only have about one quarter of the air that’s available to your poor lungs at sea level, which is a more reasonable altitude for humans.

Your lungs would explode

because the atmospheric pressure would cause the air (a gas) inside the lungs to expand inside them very quickly and forcefully.

You would freeze https://www.quora.com/How-cold-is-it-outside-when-an-airplane-flies-at-its-highest

The temperature at 30-40,000 feet could hit 48 degrees below (in Fahrenheit; 44 below in Celsius) or lower. That’s taking into account altitude; let’s go further and factor in velocity as well. With the wind chill traveling at around 550 mph and cruising 30-35,000 feet, you would experience 182 below (in Farenheit). That’s 119 below in Celsius.

You would be ripped off the plane and go tumbling toward the surface of the Earth and certain death. https://what-if.xkcd.com/66/

I didn’t actually find this stated explicitly anywhere, but I extrapolated from an XKCD article in which the author states that humans can survive 500 mph winds, but winds at those speeds are strong enough to peel pavement back from the road and that volcanic eruptions can blast outward around 700 mph, which doesn’t seem terribly different from 500 mph, considering a 120 mph updraft can lift you up and carry you away.

I know I said I wasn’t using information specific to planes available in 1963, but just to highlight the difference, a DC-7, built from 1953 to 1958, had a cruise speed of around 350 mph or 563 km/h, while a Boeing 747 (in production seince 1963) has a cruise speed of around 560 mph, or 900 km/h.

http://www.wrdw.com/content/news/Four-teens-hold-on-to-trees-during-tornado-411610835.html
On a slightly unrelated note, I found a news story about some local kids who took to the trees during a tornado and held on until their grandparents found them, and then they were able to wait it out in the car. To be fair, this was an EF-2 tornado, so wind speeds were between 111 and 135 miles per hour, or 178 to 217 km/h, which is significant. Trees can be uprooted, small debris can be weaponized, train boxcars may overturn, roofs may abandon their frames, so it’s no joke.

https://www.google.com/search?q=EF-2+tornado&oq=EF-2+tornado&aqs=chrome..69i57.3287j0j1&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

I don’t remember hearing about this, but it was in January of this year, in Barnwell State Park, which is in Barnwell County, South Carolina.

Under what conditions could you survive?

In a spacesuit

<Baseless speculation>

How WOULD one stay on the wing of a plane, given that he or she had figured out how to stay alive (likely in a spacesuit)?

Sher’s idea – perhaps some very strong magnets, but I doubt you’d be able to move about freely like the gremlin does. I can imagine if you just have magnetic boots and are standing, your body would be thrown backward from the force of the wind, and with your feet anchored, you’d probably break your spine, and other things. I think duct tape might work. I know these winds can peel pavement from the ground, but watching MacGyver as a kid has given me and unrealistic and largely untested faith in duct tape.

Actual occurrences of creatures on wings

http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-01/fyi-could-you-survive-flight-strapped-wing-plane
A python was found to have attached itself to the wing of plane that flew from northern Australia to Papua New Guinea and reached an altitude 30,000 feet. Sadly, this brave little reptile did not survive.

What happens if screws come loose on your plane

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/11/27/air-canada-screw-loose-vancouver_n_6233936.html
A passenger on an Air Canada flight took a photo of a screw THAT HAD COME LOOSE FROM THE PROPELLER AND EMBEDDED ITSELF IN HIS WINDOW. Luckily nothing bad happened and the plane landed without further incident. But then I went down a scary rabbit hole and read an article about a PROPELLOR BREAKING OFF AND CRASHING THROUGH THE CABIN. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/11/10/passenger-propeller-air-canada-flight_n_6131600.html Apparently, there was an issue right after take off – passengers heard a loud boom, and the plane made an emergency landing at an airport not far away. The landing gear collapsed (not sure if this part was confirmed), but some passengers reported smelling burning flammable type liquids and seeing sparks. The plane was skidding across the tarmac with a sound like shredding metal, and the propellor “snapped off…and hurtled through the cabin wall,” hitting a woman in the head. Additionally, fiberglass and other materials from the inside of the cabin embedded in her skin. I decided to stop reading about terrifying plane mishaps at this point, and instead focus on the question begging to be ask. When are screws used in a plane versus rivets, versus welding?

Are planes riveted or screwed or welded?

I didn’t know how to even Google this, so I reached out to Nikki’s friend Robin. You remember Robin, he’s the one who callously immolated Pocket Sher in California. Robin is an airplane mechanic, so he should know about this.

It was fun asking him this question and then seeing the little “typing” dots bounce and then stop for a while, and then bounce for a while and then stop, and so on and so on.

<any errors are entirely my fault, not Robin’s>

Robin says that it varies a great deal, but the underlying principle of flying machines is efficiency, so you want to save weight where you can do so safely. However, given that, the screws on the wing of a plane generally secure access panels for maintenance and such. The wings of the plane are securely bolted and riveted to the fuselage, and are under a great deal of torque. Torque is rotational force, and from what little I understand, functions within a delicate balance of aerodynamic forces to make flight possible. So it’s extremely unlikely that the gremlin could a) stay on the wing, and b) detach the engine or the wing itself. But if he could, he would disrupt those delicate balances and make a safe landing much more difficult.

The Gremlin

This thing is ridiculous – the internet calls him an oversized teddy bear, but when I first saw it many years ago, I thought it kind of looked like the missing link, back when we thought there was still a missing link. It’s neanderthal-ish and ape-ish all at the same time.

There’s a wiki fandom called Villains Wikia that compares the gremlin from the 1963 episode to the one in the 1983 movie, starring John Lithgow and Dan Akroyd. The movie gremlin has more monster-y properties. I can’t bring myself to say scary, because it’s still ridiculous. Villians Wikia notes that the original gremlin seems more curious than nefarious. The movie gremlin seems like a condescending douche, to be honest. And bites a gun in half. The tv gremlin almost seems like he’s exploring the plane the way a child takes apart a toy they love. And then Bob shoots him. http://villains.wikia.com/wiki/Gremlin_(Twilight_Zone)

Which brings me to my next point. Can you even open an airplane door during flight?

According to a Slate.com article, no, at least not on modern planes. At cruising altitude, there are three to four tons of force pushing on the plane. So you would have to pull with slightly more than equal force to open the escape hatch, which opens inward. The doors, which open outward, are designed so that when they are closed, they fit onto a frame that has to be pulled inward to open, so same deal.

But what about a plane in use in 1963? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0734600/trivia?tab=gf&ref_=tt_trv_gf According to IMDB, the plane is actually an accidental amalgam of a Convair 240/340/440 and a DC-6 or DC-7. In the same Slate article, it states that the locking mechanisms in the DC-10 eventually stopped carrying passengers and switched over to freight after a locking mechanism failure on a cargo door caused a horrific crash. Since the DC-10 comes after the DC-7, it stands to reason that Bob Wilson actually may have been able to open the airplane door. Someone else can ask Robin if it’s possible, and then we’ll know for sure.

Favorite Quote: “There’s … a man … out there!” – Bob Wilson

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

6. Hocus Pocus – Kinda Transcript/Kinda Notes

Listen to the podcast here: http://notyourmom.libsyn.com/6-hocus-pocus

Hocus Pocus – 1993
30% rotten tomatoes
Set in Salem, Massachusetts

History of Salem Witch Trials
http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h2229.html
http://www.history.com/topics/salem-witch-trials
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/a-brief-history-of-the-salem-witch-trials-175162489/

Salem is very likely most famous for the witch trials at the end of the 17th century. Salem, like all US cities, was stolen from native inhabitants. Rather than appropriating the native name, in a twist ironic racism, the settlers decided to name it after the Hebrew word for peace.

The witch panic began in 1692. Ultimately 19 people were hanged, and one person, A 71 YEAR OLD MAN, was crushed to death, and a handful died in prison, because 17th century prisons sucked. Many more were incarcerated, but ultimately released the next year. All told, about 200 people total were accused. The Salem Witch Trials were, thankfully, the last time US citizens were hanged for witchcraft, according to this article. I feel that wording is significant – they do not state that no one else was put to death for witchcraft, only that they weren’t hanged.

The hysteria (a word I vehemently object to) began with a gaggle of teenaged girls. They claimed they were possessed by the devil and accused other women of witchcraft. I believe this was a deflection tactic of some sort. Anyhoo, the first woman to be hanged was named Bridget Bishop. The trials at first were the talk of the town, but as it always does with the public, over-exposure turned the tide of sentiment. The government, in addition to releasing the imprisoned citizens, annulled the guilty verdicts and provided restitution to the families of the victims. Yes, victims.

Salem is now a popular tourist spot. Part of this appeals to my macabre love of grisly horror, but another part of me feels immense guilt at the capitalization off of such human suffering and miscarriage of justice. We complain a lot of the failure of the justice system today (and much of that is absolutely warranted – people of color, women, the poor, are routinely shat on in the courts), but clearly this is not a new phenomenon. This is how sensationalism creates a fever pitch and blood lust for entertainment can supersede reason and rational consideration of actual facts.

BUT I DIGRESS.

SO, witchcraft was a big thing for a long time. Religion has long been used a form of social control. Oh wait… did I think that out loud…

Moving on… In my experience as having grown up in the bosom of the church, I was constantly bombarded with such impossible conundrums as “if you love Jesus enough, you’ll keep temptation at bay” and also “the devil sometimes tries to trick you by sounding like what Jesus would want you to do” and so when you ask questions like “well if you’re pure of heart you should just know the difference.” Now not only is this an intensely frustrating unsolvable logical problem, but it also establishes the person being at fault for any wrong doing regardless of intention or naivete. Because even if you were trying to do the right thing but a wrong thing happened, you’ll be blamed because a true Christian would never have been led astray. Which means that you’re not a true Christian. You’ve either willingly or unwittingly allowed the devil to take root in a corner of your heart. And this is how you can argue against rational explanations for coincidental occurrences. It’s impossible to disprove the existence of something that’s unprovable. You can’t disprove the existence of Jedi anymore than you can prove it, though you can come up with a multitude of arguments for or against, in the same way you can’t prove or disprove the idea that Goody Putnam sent her familiar to the neighbor’s house to ruin their best milking cow. Just as a side note, there actually physically exists in Vermont a round church. It’s round so that there are no corners in which the devil can hide (according to one legend. Other possible explanations include having no exterior corners around which vagabond can sneak up from and attack). I’ve been there. It’s charming and beautiful, but creepy and sad.

Back to the witches. The witch anxiety was most active in Europe from the 14th through the 17th century. Most of this anti-witch sentiment was focused towards women, but also some men, and also came across the Atlantic with the settlers. In America, the Salem Witch Trials represent the last blast of this type of irrational mass paranoia, which may have been exacerbated by displaced angst over some immediately prior battles in the area between French and English forces. There was also a lack of resources, and a lot of infighting amongst local families and authority figures. Naturally, rather than dealing with their problems like sane adults, they decided the devil was at work dividing their community and creating these problems.

So when a couple girls, who were up to no good, started makin trouble in the neighborhood, they threw one little fit, and the town got scared, they said, you’re in league with the devil and his unholy horde down in hell.

But in all seriousness, these gals were younnng. 9 and 11. They exhibited bizarre behavior – contortions, screaming tantrums, and speaking in tongues, sort of. A doctor, the local voice of reason, said it was supernatural. Big, scary, intimidating male town officials leaned on the girls to disclose the cause of their distress. So, naturally, they selected three disenfranchised women for whom much love was not likely lost. Two of these women denied all claims, but one woman clearly saw where this was headed and just played along. This catalyzed a proper witch hunt and people just lost their shit. I think the whole town was in court as a person of interest or a person with interest for months. People had lost their shit. A four year old girl was questioned! A tiny kid! What clearly happened is that people that held grudges against others decided this was a great time to get some pure, uncut comeuppance. There was one fella who rose to the top of the illiterate masses (I’m sorry, that was uncharitable), the ignorant masses, was the minister Cotton Mather, who lobbied to have unsubstantiatable evidence, such as dreams. His son, named Increase (never mind about him rising to the top – I take it back) uttered what we now consider the golden rule of the justice system: “It were better that ten suspected witches should escape than one innocent person be condemned.” This kinda sounds like innocent until proven guilty. BONGBONG. So what would happen next if this were a reality show? That’s right! Mather’s wife was accused of witchcraft. The governor steps in at this point, releases the witches…. I mean innocent citizens… and also gets rid of the special court that was created to deal specifically with the witch infestation. I mean mismanagement of tweenage hysterics. Was this the end? No. The governor substituted a different, albeit saner, court. They didn’t allow the rapture evidence, and so only three more people were condemned. The governor came back, because apparently if you want something undone right, you have to undo it yourself. He pardoned everyone accused who hadn’t already been murdered by the governing body. After a time, some folks involved in sentencing came to their senses and admitted THEY WERE THE HYSTERICAL ONES. Jokes. But they did apologize and admit that it was ridiculous, and the general court came and shamed them and put the town in time out. But those dead folks were still dead.

I think most of us are probably most familiar with Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem Witch Trials, The Crucible. For some reason, it remains a high school drama club favorite. The play was written in 1953, and Miller was canny enough to see the similarities between the Salem Witch Trials and the McCarthy Hearings. Just substitute communism for witchcraft, but no one was hanged, just blacklisted, ruining their careers and lives.

One theory about a potential medical cause for the girls’ behavior is fungus ergot, which can contaminate crops, can cause symptoms exhibited by the girls.

Favorite Quote: “Oh look, another glorious morning. Makes me sick!” – Winifred

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

5. Big Trouble in Little China – Kinda Transcript/Kinda Notes

Listen to the podcast here: http://notyourmom.libsyn.com/big-trouble-in-little-china

Big Trouble in Little China – 1986
82% rotten tomatoes
Directed by John Carpenter: Halloween, Escape from New York, Vampires. Assault on Precinct 13

John Carpenter himself described Big Trouble as an “action adventure comedy kung fu ghost story monster movie.”

Kurt Russell is totally doing a John Wayne accent

“HAULIN’ ASSSS!” HAHAHAHAHA

Straw hat/lamp shade

Apparently San Francisco puddle water cures magical eyeball laser beam injuries.

Question for Nikki – how the hell does Hollywood get so much water for filming rain scenes?

<history of chinatown> PBS article (http://www.pbs.org/kqed/chinatown/resourceguide/story.html)

Chinatown is in San Fran and covers about a square mile and a half, with a population of over 100,000.

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Opium-Wars So – Britain went to war with China over opium (twice – the second time France helped out). Essentially, China was trying regain and restrict control of the opium trade, which Britain had been openly smuggling via India (in which they also had a military presence). Opium is what we now would consider a narcotic. In various forms we know it now as heroin, morphine, and a multitude of opiate pain-killers such as percocet and vicodin. In 19th century it was used flat-out as a recreational drug, and also as a cure-all. Laudanum was the most common preparation of opium. It also contained alcohol (mostly alcohol) and some herbs. It was casually sold and used, and was taken for everything from headaches, coughs, period discomfort, a tranquilizer, (yikes) a soporific (sleep aid) for babies and young children as well as adults. It was in demand and Britain knew they could tax the holy hell out of it. They needed a way to grease the wheels of trade a bit. Since they were used to getting their way through military might, that seems like the most logical place to start.

THE WARS

-The first one (1839-42)- Opium had been the cause of social and economic disruption due to widespread addiction, and so the Chinese government was confiscating and/or destroying it when they could. Hostilities naturally increased, and minor skirmishes began escalating. Britain’s arrogance played a role in those escalations. A Chinese villager was killed by some drunk British sailors, and the British government refused to turn the men over to Chinese government for legal processing. (rude). Later, a Chinese blockade of the Pearl River estuary (a by-way Canton) was destroyed by British warships (rude). The blockade resistance got Britain’s attention, and they deployed more soldiers, and after long, unsuccessful negotiations, said fuck it and went ahead and occupied Canton and started taking over. Cause Britain, that’s why. Peace negotiations – these are bullshit terms:

-China had to pay a huge indemnity to Britain

-Give Britain Hong Kong

-Increase the number of ports that Britain could use

-Give British citizens the right to be tried by British courts

-And give Britain special preference as a foreign nation and trade partner

-The second one (1856-60)- Britain wants increased trading rights in China, so they pick BULLIES – they know that with the turmoil, both economic and geographic, that China can’t win. So they basically pick a few fights so they can justify a new war that they’re guaranteed to win, which means they can negotiate another bullshit peace settlement. Chinese officials went on board a British ship and arrested some Chinese citizens who were on board, and Britain claimed that they lowered the British flag. I guess that was all the provocation necessary, because a little while later, British ships began bombing Canton (why does anyone still live in Canton at this point?). China burned down some foreign factories in Canton in retaliation.

France, taking a page from Britain’s playbook, decided they could benefit from getting in on the action as well. A French missionary had been murdered in China earlier in the year, so France decided this was a good enough reason for a military alliance with Britain. With the predators come the parasites, I suppose. Together, they recaptured Canton, and later on forced the Chinese government into negotiations. More bullshit terms:

-Foreign envoys would be provided residences in Beijing

-Opened yet more ports to foreign traders

-Gave foreigners legal right to travel the interior of China

-Gave freedom of movement to Christian missionaries

-Later on, importation of opium was legalized. That was probably the biggest blow.

A short time later, the Chinese fired on the British who were on their to Beijing to have the treaty with the terms just referenced finalized. The British suffered heavy casualties from that assault and were successfully driven back. China refused to ratify the treaty and the fighting resumed. But alas, France and Britain called for reinforcements, and with a huge force, they captured and plundered Beijing. Later in the year, China submitted to the treaty and its terms, and additionally they were forced to cede the southern part of Kowloon Peninsula to Britain. (It’s next to Hong Kong). Aiding Britain in the Opium Wars were all the peasant rebellions and natural disasters. The Chinese government was stretched thin.

So what’s this got to do with Chinatown?

Well, after the first Opium War, China also suffered a famine after several natural disasters. The peasants rebelled, naturally. If you’ll recall, the Gold Rush was currently on in the American west, so a lot of Chinese citizens who felt like they had nothing to lose pulled up their stakes and headed for the sea.

Americans responded to them with typical race arrogance. When the Gold Rush went bust, the Chinese workforce threatened mainstream society, they were driven away from the gold mines and ended up concentrating in the area that we know now as Chinatown. By the mid-1860’s many Chinese men who hadn’t had any luck with gold rush found work building railroads. (http://www.history.com/topics/inventions/transcontinental-railroad) The most ambitious endeavor being the transcontinental railroad, that would connect the western US to the east coast. One railroad company started work in Sacramento (this lot would include many of our gold rushers) and another railroad company started near the Iowa/Nebraska border. The two companies moved toward each other. Presumably the Nebraska end to connect to existing railroads in the east. This was dangerous work. The efforts were often beset by Native Americans who were none to thrilled about this iron atrocity scarring their lands and bringing more white devils. There were a lot of explosives in play to blast through mountains and rock obstacles. There are a ton of sweaty dudes swinging sharp instruments around. There were a lot of opportunities for injury, and this labor was physically brutal. Nevertheless, the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, and this now displaced workforce would again go out to find new jobs, many of them likely returning to Chinatown where they had friends and maybe family.

Over the ensuing years, racial tensions escalated (they were called the “Yellow Peril”) and in 1882 Congress passed Chinese Exclusion Act, which denied Chinese immigration into the country.

<side note: There is a book called “Yellow Peril – The Adventures of Sir John Weymouth Smythe, written in the style of old pulp fiction books in !!!1978!!! and set in the late 1930’s. The Village Voice called it a “porno-fairy tale-occult-thriller”. Here’s the description:

“Starring – A dashing and virile British secret agent, a sensual and willing Eurasian beauty, a certifiably mad scientist, plus assorted American gangsters and Rabbi avengers. Featuring – Bangkok opium dens, Berlin cabarets, steamy jungle sex scenes, erotic torture chambers, and of course the ultimate weapon. Extra added attraction – One up-and-coming young Nazi Satanist named Hitler.”

And the best part is that you can still buy it on Amazon. Just $5.>

This was (up until the near future) the only government action ever to exclude immigration based on race. Additionally there was an anti-miscegenation law prohibiting Chinese men from marrying white women. They would not have had the right vote, the right to own land, work in government, bring their families over, or have much in the way of civil liberties. By 1924, all Asian immigration was prohibited, any Asians currently residing in the States would be denied citizenship, and were subject to the anti-miscegenation laws. These conditions persisted until the 1940’s, when the US allied with China during WWII. WWII unfortunately made conditions worse for Japanese inhabitants, who were rounded up and placed in concentration camps for the duration of the war.

Naturally, when the government and mainstream society fails to take care of or offer basic human respect to a group of people, those people will stick together and take care of each other. That’s where we get places like Chinatown, which turn into microcosms of economics and self-government, and also some not-so-nice institutions.

<sex tourism> (https://www.americanhistoryusa.com/chinatown-sex-slaves-human-trafficking-san-francisco-history/)

So – what do know about depriving a group of people from legal and economic rights? The opportunists swoop in to prey on a vulnerable population. We’ve learned so far that Chinese men who came over to find work found themselves unable to bring their families after the exclusionary immigration act was passed. Now we have a large group of people, most of them frustrated young men, living in a defined geographical area that’s not well-off economically or socially, and who are legally prohibited from marrying whites and there are not enough Chinese women to go around. What’s that a good formula for? PROSTITUTION. Some of these women ended up creating their own empires (kudos, I guess…), but more were victims of a beastly and debasing trade. Gangs set up brothels in highly male concentrated areas, and to feed the supply demand, began trafficking women from China all the way to Chinatown. They used the same ploys then as they do now; either deceit or force. Apparently it didn’t take a lot of effort to get them past officials and into the country. In the world of sex trafficking, not a whole lot changes.

Once in the States, they were treated like animals; they would be auctioned. The most attractive women would go for the highest price, and may be bought by individuals or brothels for an ill-defined period of indentured servitude (on paper), but really functioned like outright slavery. The least attractive women would be sent to the worst fates. Of course. These women would be kept in cages that lined the street, or be sent to the mining towns, which was apparently worst of all due to how badly they were treated by those men.

The main gang responsible for the trafficking and pimping was called The Tongs, after their leader, Hip Yee Tong. As usual, the women were beaten or humiliated for even minor offenses, and often were drugged to keep them compliant. Escape was unlikely; they had nowhere to go. They likely didn’t speak English, and the white Americans were in the grip of xenophobia against Asians. Any skirmishes with the law were handled with bribery. It’s all a familiar story.

There was no health care provided for these women, who were nearly guaranteed to contract STI, most likely syphilis. Syphilis can stay latent for several years, but once symptoms cropped up, the Tongs, who had no use for a sick prostitute, would turn them out and leave them to beg for their living. Conditions like this persisted into the early 1900’s, and as we know, sex trafficking has not gone away. This has been and is still reality for some women.

<chinese gang wars in chinatown> (http://www.sfchronicle.com/crime/article/Chinatown-gang-feud-ignited-one-of-SF-s-worst-8348992.php)

Lest Chinatown be satisfied with just the Tong gang, we actually have quite the history of violence. Gangs continued operating criminal underworlds throughout the years (as they do). In recent-ish history, we can pinpoint the end of the mostly unmitigated operation of gangs. In the early ‘60s when Asian immigration was opened back up, an us-vs-them mentality cropped up between “american-born Chinese” and those “fresh off the boat”. As an answer to being endlessly harassed by the native-born Chinese, the new comers formed a gang (of course – that’s how men solve their problems) called Wah Ching. No innocent daisies, these men had lived hard lives in Hong Kong and were no strangers to violence. Eventually these hostilities turned to larger ones as the street gangs “ganged up” against established crime syndicate running Chinatown called Hock Sair Woey. So – one guy (Joe Fong) who was Wah Ching ends up joining the syndicate, allying the Wah Ching to the syndicate, and then later leaves the syndicate. The syndicate retaliates by drive-bying Fong’s best friend after chasing him down through the streets of Chinatown. Fong creates his own gang, the Joe Boys.

A feud was born – there was a period of revenge killings, which of course only served to keep the feud going. Also, they were fighting for control over Chinatown’s criminal enterprises. It’s basically the plot of the first season of Gotham. A common theme seems to be victims being chased down before being killed. This might be common for any gang killing, I would not know, but it’s certainly at play in Big Trouble.

The Golden Dragon Massacre – 1977

The Hop Sing Tong gang (ehhh, Tong, ehhhhh?) was a syndicate gang and ally of the Wah Ching (I guess – I’m confused). The top dog in the Hop Sing Tong was Jack Lee, and he owned the Golden Dragon restaurant. The Joe Boys botched an attempt at a takeover of a lucrative Wah Ching fireworks enterprise, and a young Joe Boy was killed in the skirmish. Two months later, the Joe Boys tried to get revenge by attacking the packed Golden Dragon restaurant – about 100 people were dining, among them several Wah Ching gang members. Three gunmen entered the restaurant – one with a semi-automatic, one with a sawed-off shotgun, and one with a long-barreled shot gun. Two men went to the upper level and one stayed on the main floor. They were looking for specific targets, but the man on the lower level was spooked by a terrified customer and opened fire. Upon hearing the gunfire, the men on the upper level started shooting as well while patrons panicked and tried to flee. The shooting lasted about a minute (all this is according to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle article) and the the gunmen fled in a vehicle. Five people were dead or dying, and another eleven were injured. Among the victims were a young couple who advocated for the disadvantaged, one of the waiters who was a talented violinist and husband and father and two young men who had just started college. None of them were affiliated with either gang.

This massacre motivated officials to finally crackdown on the gang violence in Chinatown, via a gang task force. The three gunmen were ultimately apprehended, and the Joe Boys dissolved. There is still a gang presence of course, but as big or as bold and it used to be.

<stereotype of magical asian>

There’s a great Cracked.com article called “Hollywood’s 6 Favorite Offensive Stereotypes.” They are: 6) The Magic Negro (think John Coffee, The Green Mile), 5) The Gay or Effeminate Psychopath (think Buffalo Bill, The Silence of the Lambs), 4) The Latina Maid (think Jennifer Lopez in Maid in Manhattan), 3) The Mighty Non-Whitey (Eddie Murphy, Trading Places) (black guy turns white world on it’s head with his jive-talking blackness), 2) The Wise Old Asian Asshole (any kung fu movie), and 1) The Cowardly/Incompetent Black Sidekick (Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element).

While these are all delightfully shame-inducing, we’ll be focusing on number 2. The magical Asian or is so common that we don’t even notice it most of the time. To be fair, we (white people) do this to just about every non-european culture. We have a lot of magical Native American or First Nations tropes in addition to the two already mentioned. I would love to give us the benefit of the doubt and put this down to our relative youth as a nation and our belief that people who have existed in a place for a long time must have a special connection to that land, but… even in our own European based cultural stories the magical creatures are “other” – the fey, the auld ones, what have you. So I think we’re just assholes.

This character, as Cracked points out, is always an unbelievable asshole. He can help the main character, but has a sadistic need to see him humiliated and put through hell first. He will have a generic Asian accent and bad grammar. He’ll be a superior talent, but socially or economically “beneath” the white lead.

Stereotypes always say more about the offender than the offended, so what does this one say about us? Cracked thinks it may be lingering anxiety over WWII, but I think that’s not the whole picture. This stereotype was in place before WWII. They also mention our insecurity over Japan’s growth in the technology and electronics sectors. That’s likely, but probably more related to the “good at math asian” stereotype.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MagicalAsian

The wise old asshole is a subcategory of the larger Magical Asian stereotype. This is a character whose sole purpose is to let the white character benefit from his wisdom and experience. This help may manifest as kung fu skills (likely, because most asian characters know martial arts in some capacity), traditional medicine, general low-grade sorcery, and an innate understanding of the workings of the universe by happy accident of being asian. He’ll speak in proverbs and probably talk about chi while meditating and trimming his bonsai tree.

In addition to making Asian characters geographically and culturally generic, we do the same thing to Asia itself. A lot of our superheroes visit the mystic East and come back with special powers or magical gadgets. Dr. Strange gets his groove back in Nepal – or finds his groove, really. (speaking of Dr. Strange – I was actually happy that they cast Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One for exactly this reason – and also her androgyny and ageless appearance seemed to fit the character. But then I realized that it doesn’t change Asia being a magical location. Stephen Strange’s comment “when western medicine failed me I went east” – wtf does that mean? is that supposed to mean all of Asia is devoid of MRI machines and surgeons, do they just use acupuncture? anyway) Dr. Doom (my personal favorite) was mentored by a Tibetan monk. Batman is hanging out with Ra’s al Ghul in Bhutan (Ra’s al Ghul is himself Middle Eastern), because I guess there are no dojos in Gotham in which to learn ninja skills. The problem with this is that Asia is reduced to a place that white people visit to make them better. It’s the same way the magical Asian character functions – to benefit the white lead, or oppose him.

I could list a lot of examples of the magical asian stereotype, but I think we’re all familiar enough – and I think it’s more interesting to look at how this stereotype might be changing. There’s a website called thenerdsofcolor.org and it might be my new favorite. Mallory Yu published an article (https://thenerdsofcolor.org/2017/01/23/rogue-one-subverts-asian-male-stereotypes-and-thats-important/) about the asian characters (two east Asian, one south Asian) in Rogue One (maybe the greatest movie ever for smashing typecasting). Yu breaks down the three characters:

Chirrut – played by Donnie Yen

While we first see him in robes with a big stick, we’re anticipating more of the same stereotypical behavior. Yu points out that if he had been the only Asian character, this might have been the stereotypical case, but he’s not. He’s got a distinct, relevant backstory. He’s not an asshole, nor is he mystically wise. His wisdom and religious devotion stems from his sensitivity to the force, in a Yoda-ish way. Also, his excellent fighting skills are HIS. The other characters all have their own strengths, and we’re not subjected to a montage of Chirrut teaching Jyn the secrets of kung fu only to have her somehow surpass him in ability after ten days of training even though he’s studied for years but she’s white and on a quest so she must be special.

Baze Malbus – played by Jiang Wen

Baze turns the stereotypical Asian masculinity on it’s head. He’s not wearing a gi and doing roundhouse kicks – he’s more like Rambo. He’s got his gun, and nowhere do we see any martial arts coming from him. So maybe all Asian DON’T know karate! He rocks a beard, he’s gruff, and has that manly-man sense of humor. But he’s also got a fondness for Jyn, and in that we see a glimpse of his big heart – which we see a lot more of in a sadder scene later in the movie. (The internet is abuzz with speculations about Baze and Chirrut being a queer couple)

Bodhi Rook – played by Riz Ahmed

Bodhi is us. He’s terrified – he stood up for his principles and defected, but now he’s reeling from the consequences. He’s one of the first people to support Jyn, and we see romantic engagement between the two of them. One major trope is that the Asian guy hardly ever gets the girl, but Bodhi got the girl! Or she got him – I’m not really sure how that went. They could have turned him into the cowardly/incompetent sidekick that constantly needs rescuing, but he remained a vital member of the operation. He remained scared, but was never cowardly.

I think the most important thing Yu points out about Rogue One is that in a movie about hopeful rebellion, you have a leading cast of non-white men as the heroes – a woman, a Mexican, two East Asians, and a South Asian. And they’re all goddamn heroes – they’re the ones we’re rooting for.

(White men are fine guys, it’s just that … they’re everywhere. There’s all kinds of people out there, and while naysayers will say that political correctness is ruining this country – the media has an enormous influence on us. When we see the faces of our heroes changing and see every color and genital combination portrayed with all kinds of personalities and histories and dreams and goals – then we can start putting away our bullshit prejudices).

Back to the racist movie…

Favorite Quote: “I know, there’s a problem with your face.” – Jack Burton

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

4. Conan the Barbarian – Kinda Transcript/Kinda Notes

Listen to the podcast here: http://notyourmom.libsyn.com/conan-the-barbarian

Conan the Barbarian – 1982
70% Rotten tomatoes

Conan the Barbarian was created by a man named Robert E. Howard and first published in 1932 in a pulp fiction magazine called Weird Tales. Pulp fiction (http://www.vintagelibrary.com/pulpfiction/introduction/What-Is-Pulp-Fiction.php) is named so because it was printed on cheap pulp – it’s kind of a precursor to counter-culture interests. It was where non-mainstream creativity found a home. Science fiction and hard-boiled detective fiction has it’s roots in pulp magazines. World War II kind of killed pulp magazines; there was paper rationing, and also the realities of wartime tend to make the fantasy and make-believe lose their glamour. It’s interesting that the rise of pulp fiction coincides with comic books, but comic books persisted beyond war time and have maintained a popularity, albeit only recently mainstream. The common denominator here is that they provide an escape and an outlet and a sense of belonging for people who feel like they’re on the periphery of “normal”.

<“Barbarian” culture>

What is a barbarian, exactly? Today we would use the term to refer to someone who behaves with no regard for humanity, usually in a brutal way. For example, third world warlords or sex traffickers. They achieve their typically greedy means, usually through violent misuse of other people. Or we also refer to seemingly dumb, yet physically powerful men who proposition uninterested woman in a very ungentlemanly manner.

http://www.livescience.com/45297-barbarians.html – Owen Jarus

Historically, the term comes from Greek, and was used to describe people who didn’t speak Greek. This is likely an example of in-fighting within a huge culture; there were many dialects of Greek in use at the time, so it’s kind of the equivalent of a cockney englishman calling a highlander a barbarian. Which likely happened. Both would be speaking English, but the dialects are sufficiently different enough to create an imagined division between two arbitrarily geographically separated peoples.

Later, when the Roman Empire rose to disgustingly potent power, they appropriate the word and used it to refer to anyone who was a foreigner. More proof (as if we needed it) that xenophobia is not a new concept. Although it likely would have been more merited back in the day when invasion and pillaging were still pretty common. The Huns, the Goths, the Saxons are all examples of what Rome considered Barbarian groups. The Huns were a group of nomadic group of people ranging from Eastern Europe to Central Asia, most famously led by Attila. The Goths were a Germanic people (visigoths in the west; ostrogoths in the east) and feature heavily in ancient history (who had a hand in the fall of Rome, gnuk, gnuk), and were renowned for their bellicose (they likey the fight) nature. The Saxons, also Germanic, may or may not be entirely distinct from the Goths. Ancient history is a bit fuzzy on fine details. They also enjoyed skirmishing and raiding. We can probably assume that these groups all behaved in the way we’re familiar with thinking about Vikings. Raiding, pillaging, battling, various versions of Valhalla, etc. There were likely a lot of alliances and fallings out among the Barbarian groups in any given region. They for sure had at least one thing in common, which was being a nuisance to the Roman empire.

If you want to get into a historian-nerd brawl, you can always introduce the topic of why the Roman empire ultimately fell. There are lloooooots of theories. The likeliest is that Rome’s borders became to vast to adequately protect from the constant pecking at from these Barbarian tribes. Hubris, y’all. Something to be learned here? Arrogant dismissal of outside cultures as being worthy or relevant? HMMMM… Other theories revolve around the rise of the eastern empire, too much military spending, reliance on slave labor, government corruption, christianity, NONE OF THESE SOUND FAMILIAR…

So……. is Conan a Barbarian? Supposedly Conan exists in the fictional Hyborian Age, which is around 10,000 BC (after Atlantis but before accepted ancient history), BUT the dude running things decided that the research into ancient history would be too difficult, so he based a lot of the movie off of the medieval period. Nice. God bless the 80’s. To be fair, Edward likely chose a fictional time setting for a similar reason – there is a freedom of movement and literary license when you can just make shit up. (Side note – Edward had an apparent bromance with H.P. Lovecraft – <make fun of Nikki>).

Conan may pre-date what we consider the barbarians as Rome saw them, but in spirit I’m not sure he fits the bill. He has a noble purpose for one, and though he does love battle and warring, he seems to be more intent on emancipating people than oppressing them. It could be that Edward created a romantic character based on the best aspect of the barbarians, which is the rejection of the established governance system under which only a select, small percentage of the population can prosper.

<Horned helmets> http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/did-vikings-really-wear-horned-helmets

Horned helmets make us think of Vikings, mainly because of a nineteenth century artist who decided it looked cool on them, but there’s never been any archeological evidence to suggest that the vikings had horned helmets. HOWEVER, artifacts have been found of northern european cultures predating the vikings who had lots of junk on their helmets. Horns, antlers, other decorative items that have nothing to do with animals. They’re not practical for battling, however, and were probably used more for ceremonial purposes. (get caught on stuff, make the helmet too heavy or unbalanced, no purpose (stabby, but not unwieldy)).

Why man bangs?

Mom dies (wasn’t raped!)

Narrator sounds like Aku

Update – It IS Aku!!!

<Arnold’s body building days> http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/bodybuilders-through-the-ages-36952418/

Billed himself as “The Austrian Oak”. He started making movies, and unbeknownst to me, Conan was not his first (har har). It was actually his fifth. I’m starting to feel like this is a significant number, after learning that both Bruce and Brandon Lee had their biggest hits with their fifth movies. It’s probably just about the time that most actors hit their strides and has no significance beyond that. Regardless, at the time Conan was made, Arnold still had one foot in the body-building world, as evidenced by his MASSIVE body. As big as he is in Conan, the pictures of him as a body-builder are absolutely terrifying. It is grotesque in a way. What is body building, even?! I originally thought it was a call-back to the ancient olympians, but nooooooooo it grew out of circus sideshows – the strong man. The most famousest, who likely kicked it off as a desired profession, was named Sandow, and he was Prussian and flexed for Thomas Edison’s new-fangled motion picture camera, cementing both his fame, body-building as a thing, and the flexy-posing thing. Right on his heels was a body-building LADY who was Austrian (whhaaaat??). At 6 feet and 220 pounds, she was more like an Amazon. Her routine involved juggling cannon and tossing her 160 pound husband around like a baby. Holllaaaaa – her popularity and early appearance in the field may be why we saw so many lady body-builders and wrestlers in the 80’s and 90’s, and still have lady wrestlers through today. There aren’t as many as men, but they’ve been present in the profession for a long time, in a way that’s different from other physical professions, and seems especially significant for one that seems so obviously engineered for dudes. Abbye Stockton really helped break muscle-y women out of being a circus side show by appealing to the average woman and opening a ladies-only fitness gym. Eat your heart out, Curves! She was itsy bitsy – 5’1”.

Aside from Arnold, who do you feel is the most famousest body builder? LOU FUCKING FERRIGNO. Trivia – a childhood illness caused him to lose most of his hearing, which is why he got into body-building (bullies). 6’5” 285, baby. Get them bullies.

<the wheel of pain>

Was this task literal, or allegorical? There’s a surprising amount of internet chatter about this issue. But first: WHAT IS AN ALLEGORY?? Allegories are the clusterfuck that brought you down in your literary theory class in college. It’s a story that uses symbolism and/or imagery and/or metaphor which can reveal a hidden meaning that usually ties to a complicated and obtuse social or political issue. Cause THOSE never need context.

You know how I like to give movies too much credit…

It’s a giant fucking WHEEL being pushed around by slaves who are probably more expensive to maintain than donkeys, and for what purpose?? Is it a food mill? Is it a giant whetstone? Is it a primitive generator powering a primitive boombox for the off camera orgy? Or is it symbolic of something MORE? Are we watching an oppressive and arrogant culture making their slaves stronger than themselves by delegating the hard work of LIVING? Is the mindless toil what makes him strive to create a meaningful life for himself? OR IS IT JUST A FUCKING WHEEL? I HATE ALLEGORY.

Most awkward sex scene ever

Valeria looks like Steve Perry… or a wrestler. Sandahl Bergman – was a dancer and a fitness enthusiast. Not a wrestler.

Why isn’t that giant ruby better guarded?

How did we end up here? What is happening? How is a battle with a giant snake so quiet? Wouldn’t it be a basilisk at this point? Is this native music? Why is this chick swaying so much? Is there going to be an orgy?

YOU’RE SWEATY BUT YOU’RE KEEPING ALL THE FURS ON! GET RID OF THE FURS!

WHERE THE FUCK ARE THEY?? WHO IS THIS KING??

WHERE DID HE GET THE MAIL ARMOR?

<snake imagery> http://www.dreammoods.com/commondreams/snake-dreams.html

In dreams – snakes are complicated because they represent either the positive or the negative: fear, hidden threats, the subconscious mind (anxieties or desires), sexual temptation, callous person, transformation, healing, creativity. In christian mythology (yikes) the snake pretty clearly represents temptation, but also deceit and selfishness. The ouroboros is the snake that eats itself. It can represent rebirth, unity of all things, and the endless cycle of creation and destruction, the cycle of life and death (the ciiiiiiiiiircle of liiiiiiiiife). Sometimes it’s represented in the shape of a circle, and sometimes in a figure eight, or infinity, shape.

In movies and television, the ouroboros is often used as a vehicle driven by an antagonist who’s meddling with things they shouldn’t be, usually mystically speaking. IMMORTALITY! FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH! SACRIFICING UNWILLING HUMANS TO ACHIEVE THESE ENDS!

In literature, the snake is a much used symbol, but it’s not limited to the common slithery serpent. Dragons are snake-like, as are sea-serpents and human hybrids like Medusa. These creatures generally do not have humanity’s greater good in mind. Think Voldemort’s life companion Nagini, Smaug, the dragons in Game of Thrones who feast on village children. But – they can also be used to symbolize fertility (they’re pretty phallic), temptation (garden of eden), or healing – think of the medical symbol, the rod of asclepius (NOT the caduceus, which is the symbol of Hermes – a winged staff with two snakes winding around it, and is a herald’s staff in general). The rod asclepius has but one snake, and lacks wings. Asclepius was a Greek god of medicine and healing. Moses and Aaron also had magic rods that could turn into snakes and perform miracles, so … the bible is confusing. So are snakes. Unequivocally – Thursla Doom is a bad guy, and a snake, so it seems safe to assume that we’re going with the negative connotation here.

Why is there chamber music in the mines (is it really chamber music?)?

Favorite Quote: “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.” – Conan

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

3. The Crow – Kinda Transcript/Kinda Notes

Listen to the podcast here: http://notyourmom.libsyn.com/the-crow

The Crow – 1994
82% on rotten tomatoes
Stars Brandon Lee
Is that Ernie Hudson?? (Ghostbusters; Winston)
$51M

The Crow may be the epitome of 90’s angst. Misunderstood guitarists. Tragic love story. Lots of eyeliner. Lone vigilante who can help everyone but himself. Real life tragedy. It has everything for the morose of heart.

Artistic Info

The director wanted to film the movie in black and white (coloring the flashbacks only) but due to restrictions had to settle for muted color scheme.

Music: Burn, by The Cure, written specifically for this movie. Even though it was a fan favorite, they did not often play it live, because they promptly forgot about it. The 90’s were a crazy time.

Parkour – not new, so shut it hipsters.

Production was riddled with accidents:

-A carpenter was burned by running his crane into live wires

-A grip truck caught fire

-A sculptor crashed his car through a plaster shop (may have been intentional)

-A crew member put a screwdriver through his hand

-Brandon Lee cut himself on breakaway glass (very hard to do)

-Brandon was killed by a mis-loaded blank (apparently there was a piece of bullet tip lodged in the gun from a previous firing, and then a blank was loaded on top of it.

The Curse

-What IS odd is that Bruce essentially played out his son’s death in Game of Death. He plays an actor who pretends to be the victim of a prop gun/real gun switcheroo.

-Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee’s father, similarly died in an on-set tragedy 20 years previously. (http://www.thelastdragontribute.com/does-bruce-lees-game-of-death-reveal-what-really-killed-brandon-lee/) There are quite a few coincidences:

-They were young: Bruce was 32, Brandon was 28

-They were both filming their fifth feature film at the time of their death, and both just before the release of their biggest films. Bruce died while filming Game of Death, but Enter the Dragon was about to be released (it should be noted that Bruce was born and died in the hour and year of the dragon (7-9 AM, 1940 was a Metal year, making him a metal dragon (metal dragon characterized by force and power)) (http://biography.yourdictionary.com/articles/how-did-bruce-lee-die.html).

-Bruce died in Hong Kong after taking medicine for a headache. Admittedly, it sounds like a weird thing to take for a headache (Equagesic), but he was at a colleague’s home going over a script, and accepted the medication from her. He had a severe allergic reaction to an ingredient in that painkiller, which caused a fatal cerebral edema.

-He may have been the victim of a hit by the Triads (Chinese gang)

-He may have been the victim of a hit by the Mafia (Italian gang)

-He died of a delayed reaction to a Dim Mak strike that he may have received earlier that week

-A mirror that was on the house meant to ward off evil had been blown off the day before Bruce died.

-There is some hullabaloo about a curse on Lee’s family that got his older brother in addition to himself and his son (ancient Chinese curse?)

-Being born in the hour and year of the dragon made him desirable to the Chinese Illuminati. Lee (supposedly) rejected their advances, and so they battled him in his dreams. I guess we’re calling this a curse. A badly written Critical Eye (ha) article http://www.criteye.com/2015/09/18/the-unsolved-mystery-surrounding-the-death-of-bruce-lee/ (no author mentioned) posits that “The underlying characteristics of such a curse would invariably ensure entirely plausible explanations for its target’s demise, however sinister the intention, and would create the required circumstances for this to occur, that conveniently masquerade as unfortunate mishaps and accidents.”

What is the actual curse: “The Curse of the Dragon” http://mysticinvestigations.com/paranormal/bruce-brandon-lee-dragon-curse/

[The curse began retroactively in advance of a broken prophecy. Bruce Lee was prophesied to serve as a major player, and enforcer in the Li family dynasty from which his bloodline originates. The Li family rules over the Chinese, or Far Eastern Illuminati who joined forces with the main global, or Western Illuminati that is headquartered out of Europe. The link between the two Illuminati groups is the secret Order of the Dragon (secret, eh?), which worships Chinese Demons, some of which are considered earthly gods. Bruce, being born in the year and hour of the dragon, was a special individual with amazing talent. If allowed to live, he would have theoretically been the most powerful human on Earth who didn’t wield magic nor was supernatural in nature, and would like have become a Traveler, essentially a free agent in the fabric of the universe]. Naturally the illuminati did their best to recruit him, and when he failed to heed them, they called on the Triad to threaten him (to no avail). In the illuminati tradition (I guess), a person of such importance would be cursed rather than killed. A demon was called upon to haunt the child Bruce in his dreams (demons are not bound by time the way that mere mortals are) (I guess). Bruce did not succumb to the demon and kept fighting him in his dreams through to adulthood. Once demon realized that Bruce was destined to die shortly, he turned his attention to his son, Brandon (all this happened on an alternate plane in dream land, whilst everyone was sleeping – not sure how everyone knows this, but you know). Dream Bruce was enraged and attacked and finally destroyed the demon, which we assume is what ultimately caused his mortal death (I guess). Even though Bruce destroyed the demon, the curse had taken on a life of its own and continued for Brandon. “The curse works like fate in a way, causing a series of unfortunate coincidences that lead to things like bad drug interactions…and…[misfired guns].”

-There have been several movies made regarding the deaths of Bruce and/or Brandon, one of which was made the year before Brandon’s death and included and interviews with him.

-Unsolved Mysteries featured this tragedy in an episode. No word if there was an update.

Regardless of the supernatural or mundane circumstances surrounding these men’s death, they are tragic, and we lost an incredible amount of talent. There’s no telling what the martial arts movie genre would look like now if Bruce had continued making movies, and with Brandon’s career unfolding before him, we’ll never know if he would have made an incredible Marvel character.

The Comics

The Crow is a character developed by James O’Barr and first introduced in 1989. The literal crow is a supernatural spirit who brings people back from the dead in order to exact their vengeance, essentially turning them into vigilantes for a time. Eric Draven (a man who has no use for shirts) was killed, along with his fiance, on the eve of their wedding. The crow brings Eric back, and he becomes our new reluctant hero. Vengeance ensues.

Premise reminds me of the Dark Hunter novels.

“I know pain at the molecular level…it pulls at my atoms…sings to me in an alphabet of fear…I am the boiling man…come to break the bones of your sins, meat puppet.”

The Painted-On Smile

The Crow’s face paint features an exaggerated smile and a lot of black concealing the eyes. We’ve also seen this style on The Joker, whose appearance is based on the character of Gwynplaine in a 1928 movie version of Victor Hugo’s The Man Who Laughs (this is debated, but if you look at a picture of the Gwynplaine from this movie, it’s pretty obvious). It’s frigging sad. A boy is brutally disfigured by a jerk of a king so that he can “laugh forever at his fool of a father.” Said father had been killed by the king because he’d refused to kiss his hand. Presumably there was no love lost for the king, and apparently with good reason. While the comic books have the origin of Joker’s appearance as the result of toxic chemical exposure, The Dark Knight’s joker teased us about a maybe more sinister mishap, which might be a modern callback to The Man Who Laughs.

The painted-on smile gives us a concrete contradiction in a character made of contradictions. The Joker has a cheesy, almost simplistic sense of humor, but proves deadly serious in his intentions; he is the opposite of batman in every way except his passion. The Crow is dead, yet alive; a force for good, though using evil means. He looks at the comedy/tragedy masks before selecting the comedy to paint on his face, the contradiction apparent in the tragedy of his life. <side note: the masks themselves may have had a practical purpose and served as a useful exaggeration so that the audience farther away knew what the character on stage was feeling> The vigilante in general is a contradiction – they seek to rid the world of evil by donning evil themselves.

The face paint is reminiscent of the jester, which is likely the origin of the harlequin

Symbolism of The Jester: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/640914.html (Beatrice K. Otto)

The jester has a unique and versatile role. Most depictions of the jester in literature are as a grandly theatrical entertainer. Especially in Medieval and Renaissance literature, the jester is often one of the only characters capable of speaking truth without consequences, because they use they do so within within the safety net of mockery and humor. There is a lot of discussion about the truthiness of jesters and the function it serves. Using humor may also make their statements more palatable than outright honesty. Some say that king and nobility would have considered them valuable counsel because they are lower status and likely without political machinations driving their ambitions. This may be the most important quality of the jester – he is one of the masses. He voices the perceptions and frustrations of those living under the consequences of the court’s actions and decisions.

The jester shows up in The Man Who Laughs. Because of his disfigurement, Gwynplaine becomes a carnival side show, and yada yada yada, eventually a court jester discovers the truth of his noble lineage (wooooooow, truth) and convinces the queen to restore him. Not for altruistic reasons, but to win favor with the queen and to keep Gwynplaine and his lover apart. The truth is not always helpful.

The Jester as an archetype in modern media (Alex Hurst (https://arielhudnall.com/2015/09/06/archetypes-jester/)

Early psychiatrist Carl Jung developed 12 archetypes used in fiction. The jester, as Hurst states, “is at peace with the paradoxes of the world. He uses humor to illuminate hypocrisy, and also level the playing field between those of power and those without.” She states that The Jester “invites others to partake in a creating a self-deprecating form of satire.” The Jester will pick at asinine conventions and unnecessary pomp and ceremony.

The jester is generally wrapped up in the journey itself and does not care much about the greater problem of the story. We see this in The Crow when Eric crashes Top Dollar’s cocaine and gun party, saying that he’s only there for Skank. He’s not trying to solve all of the problems in Detroit, only the ones that brought him to this path.

All of Jung’s achetypes have a shadow (this a negative of the archetype; it does not boil down to good vs bad – that would be too reductive a way to look at it). The defining characteristics of the Jester are embracing fun and games, wit and humor, and living in the moment. However, for the shadow jester, these can be displayed with cynicism and bitter irony. Eric Draven cracks jokes while he’s breaking bones, he uses a playful symmetry in how he disposes of his victims, but it’s not humor in earnest.

Other examples of jesters as an archetype in fiction:

Beetlejuice, Genie (in aladdin), the Weasley twins, C3P0, Merry and Pippin, Gambit, Jim Carrey (all of his characters), Fat Amy, Harley Quinn, Jack Sparrow, Leslie Chow (The Hangover), and of course The Joker and The Crow firmly represent the Shadow Jester. Some of these can also fall into other archetypal categories as well (especially shadow jesters, which can often fall in with the Outlaws).

The major uniting factor between the medieval and modern jesters, and the good and the bad jesters, is the ability to strip away the veneer of placation that we construct over truths, whether they’re ugly or just ridiculous. Jesters will bring those truths out in the light and force us to examine them.

Crow v. Raven

Raven is larger and more solitary, preferring to travel in pairs; wedge-shaped tail; make a croaking sound; bigger bills. Crow is smaller and travels in larger flocks; fan-shaped tail; makes a cawing sound. Ravens aren’t typically found in the southeast. Both birds are part of the Corvidae family, known as the most intelligent of the birds, and of animals in general. They have demonstrated  self-awareness, tool-making, and their brain-to-body mass ratio is the same as great apes and cetaceans and very close to humans. Their diet is extremely varied – they can eat just about anything, including carrion.

Scroll to the sound files; hours of fun, guys: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/similar-species-crows-and-ravens/

Mythology: The rhyme you hear Shelly reciting (one for sorrow, two for joy, etc.) is the divination rhyme, used for counting gatherings of crows or magpies (magpies being less common in the US). (the number of birds is supposed to tell your future). There is a lot of variation in the lyrics, as with most folklore. One common version goes thusly:

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret, never to be told
Eight for a wish
Nine for a kiss
Ten for a bird, you must not miss.

Since Eric is followed by the single crow, I think it’s safe to say it’s “one for sorrow”.

Favorite Quote: “CAW” – Supernatural crow

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

2. Mad Max: Fury Road – Kinda Transcript/Kinda Notes

Listen to the podcast here: http://notyourmom.libsyn.com/mad-max-fury-road

Mad Max: Fury Road (R)
Released: 2015
Directed by George Miller
Big stars: Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy
Box Office $379 mill
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Critical Reception: Overall excellent… but reviewed by dudes (one said gets boring).
Awards: 6 Academy Awards (for peripherals), 8 Critics’ Choice awards, 4 BAFTAs

Series background:

Mad Max (1979)

Dir. George Miller, starring Mel Gibson, Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toecutter)

A highway policeman harasses mean people without resources doing what they can to survive. A biker gang is involved – one of them is killed by Max’s friend, and they seek revenge. Max now quits the police force, but his wife and son get murdered (of course – don’t forget manly men, women make you weak and vulnerable) and he becomes a justified revenge seeker himself (mixed messages here) and I guess we’re supposed to root for him? No one wins here. True to apocalyptic form. (Why the hell is there so much driving when the fuel is so scarce?)

The Road Warrior (1981)

Dir. George Miller, starring Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence (meh)

Now Max is a hero – ironic since he’s lost everything and is now ultra-violent and preys on his targets (even though they’re bad people). He’s helping a small village of people hoard valuable resources from people to have nothing. Also, he has a dog now.

Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

Dir. George Miller/George Ogilvie, starring Tina Turner, Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence

The future is truly bleak. Pig farts are a major commodity in the imaginatively named “Bartertown” and a murder dome is the main entertainment. The title suggests we’ll either see or reach beyond this murder dome, but the loudness of TWO MEN ENTER, ONE MAN LEAVES makes me suspicious that there’s a deeper metaphor for Max, who’s been hiding inside a shell. This fight may represent the struggle within himself to move beyond the pain of his past and reclaim who he once was, but also being unable to unsee the world as it has since presented itself to him. This may be giving the movie too much credit. I think that Max will probably just vanquish his enemies, destroy the town, and move on, without really finding a viable solution to the environment that birthed the murder dome in the first place. Not before being banished to the desert, killing his horse, reclaiming his monkey, and meeting a woman representing an oasis of sorts.

Fury Road (2015)

Another post-apocalyptic or dystopian movie.

What is apocalypse: a great disaster, or in religious context the end of the world, but the ancient Greek translation of “apokalypsis” is “an uncovering” or a disclosure of knowledge.

What is dystopian: a scenario where everything is bad, unpleasant, corrupt, or totalitarian.

Apocalyptic Dread

Source: Apocalyptic Dread: American Film at the Turn of the Millennium by Kirsten Moana Thompson (2007)

The 1990’s (a farewell to the 20th century) saw a lot of natural disaster movies, monster movies, and alien invasions. Religious theories, mistrust of technology, growing understanding of our ignorance of the universe, all contribute to what Thompson calls “apocalyptic dread.” She notes that there was a plethora of science fiction films during the cold war era (arguably this was also the space era), demonic films abounded in the seventies (an era of loosening morals). This trend increased with social conservatism during the Reagan era, and rose to a frenzy pitch leading up the new millennium, and then again after 9/11.

How our fears play out: Apocalypse movies are a way to play out our fears about limited resources due to real life threats of climate change, over-population, or a pestilence or natural disaster that we can’t forestall wiping out crops or supply chains.

The threat of the collapse of society (for whatever reason) brings additional danger – aside from the reliability of resources obviously being disrupted, societal collapse means that we can no longer rely on other people to behave in a predictable way. We assume that under those circumstances people will do whatever is necessary for themselves to survive, even if it’s at the expense of others.

These two prospects are interchangeable as catalysts for the apocalypse – scarcity of resources could bring about societal collapse as easily as societal collapse can bring about scarcity of resources.

We can also play out our fears about:

-evil governance, whether by an actual government or just a powerful corporate state – The Hunger Games, The Matrix, Blade Runner, Divergent

-the convergence of science and biology, as in Resident Evil, The Island, Blade Runner, Surrogates

-anarchy/radical crime or justice changes: The Purge, Judge Dredd, Minority Report, Rollerball, Tank Girl

Does this fixation on post-apocalyptic society distract us from the actual apocalypse – which is our middle-aged sun blowing up in a couple billion years? Or the ever-increasing likelihood of the plot of Idiocracy?

THE ANTIDOTE?

Juxtaposed against, or sprinkled amongst, the apocalyptic landscape are the antithesis – superhero movies. Relentless optimist and refusing to give in to cynicism, superheroes prop up our struggling faith in humanity (ironic in cases in which the heroes are themselves not or no longer strictly human) and give us a swift kick to the seat of our gumption and get-to-it-iveness. They face down unspeakably bleak odds with a disgusting self-assuredness that “this is the right thing to do” even if it means making a heart-breaking sacrifice – it’s all for the greater. This theme is opposite to what we see in the PA/D movies, but they could be essentially the same. The dystopian movies always have a hero forged in the fire of necessity, and superhero movies always present a villain or situation bent on destroying the world or life as we know it. The difference seems to be that in the superhero movies it’s just a threat, but the post-apocalyptic/dystopian movies, the superhero never showed up – all the bad stuff already happened, and we’re just looking for someone to mitigate it or put everything back the way it should be.

Also different – in superhero movies the average citizen tends to give up his or her accountability and agency. We just maintain as best we can under the guy in tights and a mask shows up. The opposite is generally true in PA/D. Some plucky little nobody ends up finding the “no longer give a fuck” button on their self-preservation module and decide they ain’t gonna take it any longer.

I think the unifying meta theme here, the real anxiety, is that one of these days, the hero we blindly rely on will fail us, and we’ll have to find out if we’re made of the stuff of mere survivors, exploiters, or architects, building a new future. I think we’re really afraid of what our complacency has done to us.

SURPRISINGLY FEMINIST

The Mad Max franchise represents a touchstone example of the “macho” movie genre – lots of violence, vehicles chases/crashes, explosions, guns everywhere – falling from the sky, behind every bush, under all the rocks. So it’s the last place you’d expect some strong feminist moments, and they’re probably all the stronger for their unexpected arrival.

Jessica Valenti breaks down the finer moments in a 2015 Guardian article (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/27/sexists-are-scared-of-mad-max-because-it-is-a-call-to-dismantle-patriarchies).

-Max hands the rifle off to Furiosa because *gasp* he recognizes that she’s a better shot, and his ego is not worth risking everyone’s lives over *double gasp*

-The women cut their OWN chastity belts off (I’m going to ignore the fact that they were wearing them to begin with – the fact that they weren’t killed as martyrs or depicted as semi-willing participants is enough for me right now) rather than having a man liberate them

-There’s a matriarchal motorcycle gang whose mantra involves shooting men specifically.

Valenti states that the root of the film’s feminism is not that “Theron’s character gets to engage in as much violence as any other action lead, but because the world director and writer George Miller has created shows the horror of sexism and the necessity of freedom from patriarchy.” She herself quotes Laurie Penny that typical thinking dictates that in the event of the apocalypse, eventually “the so-called natural order will reassert itself … and hot babes will go crawling back to the kitchen.” “What’s threatening about Fury Road is the idea that when the earth burns, women might not actually want men to protect them. Men might, in fact, be precisely the thing they are trying to survive.

There was even a article on feminism in Fury Road written by a dude! Kyle Smith (http://nypost.com/2015/05/14/why-mad-max-fury-road-is-the-feminist-picture-of-the-year/) writing for the New York Post notes (correctly) that Mad Max is actually the supporting role to Theron’s leading. He states that feminist criticism that women are not in enough super hero or leading roles in action movies than men is reductive. I have to agree – not because I don’t think women should be more represented in action roles, but because I think it’s far more important to have quality versus quantity (at least as a step in the right direction). What’s most important is the interaction between the leading females and the leading males. Max treats Furiosa as a valued and respected peer. He’s not constantly shoving her out of danger or telling her wait in the car. She’s an active participant in making her own destiny. She’s not told her choices and desires are secondary to the males motivations (oh wait, yes she is. I was daydreaming). She’s not as strong as Max and she’s not as a good a fighter – but she has OTHER – NOT TRADITIONALLY MALE DOMINANT TRAITS THAT MAKE HER JUST AS SUITED TO SURVIVE. Smith notes that in a weak attempt at quantity feminism, the lady superheros are depicted to have fighting skills on par with the men. I would add that many leading action females still are depicted as using their bodies to distract, betray, or otherwise get the better of men. This limits women to a just a different shade of men. There are going to be really strong women out there that can duke it out men, but not every action heroine is going to be just a man with boobs; nor should they be. It’s not perfect, but Fury Road at least shows women a heroine who we can believably see ourselves as. Smith states that “… Fury Road is the rare action blockbluster that fully acknowledges the importance of women.” I would add it acknowledges the importance of women as women.

Now, the movie is not perfect, by any means. Tracy King (http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2015/05/no-mad-max-fury-road-not-feminist-masterpiece-s-ok) points out that “Because most Hollywood films are so bad at dealing with female characters, Mad Max: Fury Road stands out for trying.” She draws parallels of the most basic aspects of the relationship between Max and Furiosa with Pretty Woman. But Pretty Woman, being a chick flick, received no feminist war medals. Also, exacting revenge on a horrific rapist using your hard earned position could also describe Showgirls, a movie utterly reviled by most.

However – the enslaved women’s mantra, King asserts, of “who killed the world” indicates that men engineered the instruments of our demise. We have to assume the inverse is true – that women were not present in those engineering and military industries. Is that plausible? Clearly women aren’t pacifists in this universe – they’re riding around on motorcycles and shooting at men.

King also warns against giving too much praise to the movie, for fear of making it the acceptable standard. She lists the following fatal flaw that we do not want to see replicated ad naseum:

-The movie is still named after a dude – yes it’s a franchise based on that dude, but still.

-The brides are played by models – so even enslaved women have to have a thigh gap, apparently.

-The pregnant women are just models wearing bellies. There is no other discernable change in their bodies. Anyone who’s been pregnant or been intimately acquainted with a pregnant woman’s body knows that there are a myriad of changes involved. It’s not just a swollen belly. We already have unattainable body standards for women, we don’t need to heap more on pregnant women.

-A patriarchy that into chastity (to the point of belting the women) would have them covered burka-style.

-She shouldn’t have had her plan tabled by Max’s plan. (I don’t think this is what actually happened – he suggested an alternative to her, and she accepted after consideration).

-Furiosa should have been the one to give closure to the plot.

-The seeds… this is a tricky one. King sees this as reinforcing that the highest value of a woman can only be her reproductive ability. Smith saw this as an additional differentiation of the men and the women as groups – the women know the value of the seeds in establishing an new and sustainable society.

-The movie was written and directed by men.

-Most troubling – Furiosa’s role was still framed by the greater picture of Max’s story. It’s still about him – his feelings, his future, his direction. What we’re watching is the effect Furiosa is having on Max. What her journey means to and for him.

So yeah. Not perfect. But it ain’t nothing.

Andy Lee Chaisiri (https://www.quora.com/Why-is-Mad-Max-Fury-Road-being-called-a-feminist-movie) also brings up the point that boys are conditioned to believe that dying for the cause is a great purpose to fulfill, and brings up the violent nature of the motorcycle gang. These arguments I find weaker. A) we’ve spent thousands of years solving men’s problems. Not into it any more. B) boys have been brought up into war for thousands of years. This is nothing new. In many, many cultures over many, many years, boys have grown up with swords in their little fists. C) The Many Mothers are protecting themselves from the threat the men pose – they’re older and have presumably been successful at keeping themselves out of Immortan Joe’s harem, so… keep on keeping on, ladies. The point that Chaisiri makes that I do agree with is that men and women working together is what’s going to bring about a workable new society. Certainly, this dynamic imperfectly balanced in the movie, floundering on its fledgling legs, but the beginning of a system which views everyone as equals is not going to spring into being perfectly made.

Favorite Quote: “Ahhh, mediocre.” – Immortan Joe

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