25. Goldfinger

Listen to the podcast here: http://notyourmom.libsyn.com/25-goldfinger

Goldfinger (PG)
1964
97% Rotten Tomatoes

It’s a Bond movie, but it’s also a HEIST movie! <Stefan voice> This Bond has everything, gambling, body paint murder, a midget who castrates people with lasers, a golden Pussy…

Sean Connery was 34 in this movie. My age. He looks like an adult, in a way I don’t think I ever will. He looks like he has a stock portfolio, a budding wine collection, and maybe a second property on a lake somewhere. Did you know – Sean Connery had a one-year-old at the time this movie came out, and that son ended up being married to Mia Sara for a while, who played Sloane in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? And they have a kid named Dashiell? Which is the coolest name ever? And he’s 21? Which is closer to the age Sean Connery was when he made this movie than Sean Connery is now?

Okay so you know how Bond villains names are either ridiculous or badass? This guy’s name is Auric Goldfinger. Auric being an adjective that describes something as gold. As in: “the dragon’s cave full of hoarded treasure let off an auric glow.” This is also the movie that features Pussy Galore. I think Ian Fleming was just phoning it in on “name the characters” day. Or maybe it was partially a grudge. But first! Some backstory on our intrepid author!

Ian Fleming was a rich kid, and in the early 20th century, as it does today, this meant that he got an excellent education and many opportunities to meet future leaders and captains of industry. Apparently Fleming’s school performance was unremarkable, and he wasn’t overly fond of the experience. After school, he bounced around aimlessly for a while before being recruited as assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence. He excelled at military administrative work. The man he worked for was not friendly at all, and so Fleming would be sent in as proxy to liaison between different agencies, and he was good at it. I think this is where the eventual James Bond charm began to bloom.

Being a personal assistant in the military was not the same as being a secretary now. Fleming held a naval reserve commission as a commander, and seemed to have some autonomy in planning and scheming, something his imagination no doubt aided. He referenced a book written by a man with a career path similar to his, with a suggestion (from that book) that they essentially borrow a corpse from a field hospital, stick fake messages in its pockets, and then drop it from a plane. No one questions dead bodies in a war zone, right?

At least one operation he was involved in would go on to bestow its name to one of his books: Operation Goldeneye. He’s very inconsistent – Goldeneye is quite lyrical for a military operation, but then there’s Operation Ruthless which seems to be just starkly descriptive, in the more expected military style.

So – using his very exciting military experience (which essentially consisted mostly of sitting in an office and scheming up ways for other people to creatively risk their lives in the field – not to disparage him; he was good at it, and held himself accountable for doing a good job, but it’s interesting that he chose to write the field agent rather than the orchestrator), he decided to finally write the spy novel he’d wanted to for some time. Thus, Casino Royale was born.

Here’s the frustrating thing about the Bond-iverse: you can’t really watch them in chronological book order without a few jarring transitions. The movies tend to be episodic rather than serialized, so it doesn’t really matter what order you watch them in, but the Daniel Craig era changed all that. There have been some off-canon shakeups that I’m not sure I’m 100% behind. It makes everything exciting in a Bourne Identity kind of way, but part of the charm of Bond was that cartoonish circularity, where everything was the same at the end as it was at the beginning, minus some coerced young woman’s virtue, but who cares about that? Hahahahaha!

So here is the order of publication (of the novels Fleming wrote):

  1. Casino Royale
  2. Live and Let Die
  3. Moonraker
  4. Diamond are Forever
  5. From Russia with Love
  6. Doctor No
  7. Goldfinger
  8. For Your Eyes Only
  9. Thunderball
  10. The Spy Who Loved Me
  11. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  12. You Only Live Twice
  13. The Man with the Golden Gun
  14. Octopussy and the Living Daylights

Here is the order of movies:

  1. Dr. No (1962) (Connery)
  2. From Russia with Love (1963) (Connery)
  3. Goldfinger (1964) (Connery)
  4. Thunderball (1965) (Connery)
  5. You Only Live Twice (1967) (Connery)
  6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) (Lazenby)
  7. Diamonds Are Forever (1971) (Connery)
  8. Live and Let Die (1973) (Moore)
  9. The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) (Moore)
  10. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) (Moore)
  11. Moonraker (1979) (Moore)
  12. For Your Eyes Only (1981) (Moore)
  13. Octopussy (1983) (Moore)
  14. Never Say Never Again (1983) (Connery)
  15. A View to a Kill (1985) (Moore)
  16. The Living Daylights (1987) (Dalton)
  17. License to Kill (1989) (Dalton)
  18. Goldeneye (1995) (Brosnan)
  19. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) (Brosnan)
  20. The World is Not Enough (1999) (Brosnan)
  21. Die Another Day (2002) (Brosnan)
  22. Casino Royale (2006) (Craig)
  23. …etc

We would get a very modern Craig, and then some Moore, then some Connery, then Moore, then Connery, then Lazenby, then Connery again… very hard to keep track of what spy tools the technology affords Bond. Although, Q aside, some of the lasting charm of Bond is his ability to get by with just about anything.

Let’s talk about funny British names, shall we? We all get the giggles for Percy, and Basil, and Cecil, but our friends across the pond have a true talent for naming things. Here are some names of real people that Fleming drew from for his books:

  • Hoagy Carmichael, who inspired much of Bond’s described looks (actor/singer)
  • Biffy Dunderdale, who inspired some of his style (spy)
  • Scaramanga (man with golden gun villain) was the name of an school enemy
  • Admiral Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax had the Moonraker villain named after him (Navy bigwig)
  • Boofy Kidd had one of the bad guys in Diamonds are Forever named after him (a friend of his)
  • Goldfinger was a real architect who Fleming hated (more on that later, also he’s not British)
  • One of the producers was a man named Albert (Cubby) Broccoli.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/jun/03/film.hayfestival2005

Auric Goldfinger was named after and inspired by an architect named Erno Goldfinger. Side note – he has living descendants who reportedly suffer from a lot of prank calls. Fleming despised him. Goldfinger was a communist (the bad kind), and a bully. He got a lot of prank calls himself after the movie came out, and he ended up suing Fleming. But supposedly the real reason Fleming disliked Goldfinger was a matter of aesthetics. He didn’t Goldfinger’s style. Fleming’s publisher paid Goldfinger’s court costs and put a note that all characters were fictitious in future editions. Fleming then wanted to change the name of the character to Goldprick (which Mike Myers essentially did in Goldmember), but the movie production had already advanced too far.

Critics did not care for Fleming’s books, and as we know, critics always have their fingers on the pulse of the people. Fleming’s books never caught on and Hollywood saw no reason to make movies out of them. The end.

Just kidding, critics are jerks who spend their time ripping things apart because they can’t make their own. If you’re in the mood for a historical hissy-fit, look up Paul Johnson’s review of Dr. No. I might have written the same thing if I was in his time, because concerns about Bond are valid, and he makes digs at the fact that Bond and Fleming are both part of the Establishment. Here are some selected excerpts:

“I have just finished what is without a doubt the nastiest book I have ever read.”

“There are three basic ingredients in Dr No, all unhealthy, all thoroughly English: the sadism of a school boy bully, the mechanical two-dimensional sex-longings of a frustrated adolescent, and the crude, snob-cravings of a suburban adult. Mr Fleming has no literary skill, the construction of the book is chaotic, the entire incidents and situations are inserted, and then forgotton[sic], in a haphazard manner.”

“I have summarised the plot, perhaps at some wearisome length, because a bare recital of its details describes, better than I can, how Fleming deliberately and systematically excites, and then satisfies the very worst instincts of his readers.”

“…the social appeal of the dual Bond-Fleming personality has added an additional flavour to his brew of sex and sadism.”

I kind of don’t disagree with Johnson, but I will still watch Bond, even with all its misogyny, rape, and racism. That’s the mirror you have to look in when you want to enjoy entertainment from a bygone era. You have to be able to suspend your disgust, and pretend you’re a resourced white man who’s entitled to whatever he wants, and who could have it too, if it wasn’t for the goddamn feminists. Just make sure you take those goggles off when you’re done.

Ian Fleming died pretty early – he was not yet 56. But he was a very heavy drinker, and a heavy smoker, and had heart disease as a result of that lifestyle. More Bond books came after Ian Fleming’s written by Raymond Benson.

So should we talk about PTSD?

So of course I found myself on a PSA type website for transitioning soldiers that featured short videos of veterans telling the story of how they started recovering, or how they struggled alone, or how they discovered an underlying issue. They’re very good and give faces to this war that we keep churning.

I think that the ‘public we’ has misconceptions about soldiers and consequences of wartime trauma. Most of us have only a framework of understanding, presented to us by the media we consume. Some of us have more experience if we’ve had friends or family deployed to war zones. Some of us have lived it as soldiers. It’s impossible to really understand it unless you live it. That’s why good veteran therapy is run by veterans. One man says that, “Just because you’ve left the combat zone, it doesn’t mean your war is over.”

I gather from this site that the transition out of the combat zone might be harder than the transition in. One man explains it like this: “Getting out of the military is scary. You have this whole life that you learned. I was in an infantry unit and I have to all of a sudden go be a civilian.” He talked about being alienated, and feeling like he had nothing in common with people. He talks about the intensity that he would pour into ordinary situations, because that was an attribute that made him a successful soldier – taking everything as life-or-death serious. This is a man who had nearly been blown up many times, but he was sure he didn’t have PTSD because he couldn’t think of one specific event, something that would give him nightmares, that would signal to him that he had an issue. Recurring nightmares are often depicted as a PTSD symptom in movies and TV. He said he wasn’t turning his house into a bunker and sandbagging it waiting for an air raid. This is also a common media depiction of people with PTSD. PTSD kind of gets all the attention, and that’s the only thing he was assessing as a risk. But what he actually had was a traumatic brain injury from all the nearly-being-blown-up events. Once he was diagnosed, he was able to start recovery through therapies.

Another veteran talked about the difficulty of switching off certain parts of your brain that get activated. Being in a combat zone is so high stakes. One bad decision and your squad is dead or close to it. This mindset carries over when you go home. He talked about how hard it was to drive; how everything he saw in the road immediately presented to him as a potential explosive. Simultaneously, his friends and family just wanted him to be normal, and so he felt very isolated. Instead of his family being a source of comfort, he felt like a burden. I got the feeling this was an especially hard blow, especially after being part of such a tight brotherhood, where everyone was in the same situation.

Now, I don’t know from personal experience, but I think that the experience of a soldier in the combat zone is different from a high level decision maker who stays clear for the most part. I can’t say that one is harder than the other, but I think they’re probably different. It would have to be, right? In one scenario you carry a lot of risk of personal injury, and in one you don’t. On the ground, you’re looking people in the eye on a daily basis, and you’re all responsible for each other’s lives, really. One person fucks up, and you’re all goners. High level muckety mucks may never see the chess pieces they’re moving around, but they are responsible for a whole lot of lives. I’m sure there are some cold robots out there, but I have to assume the majority of these people know that they’re putting humans on the line, humans that have value, and humans with families and friends who love them.

So here’s what I find a little concerning – the Bond movies, and I assume the books, from which the tone of the movies is taken, has a nostalgic sort of soft spot for World War II. Here’s the paradox of good men who find out they’re good at, and enjoy doing, dastardly deeds. This is a theme that comes up often in movies and tv, but usually it’s confronted more directly. Fleming seems to lack any self-awareness of the circumstances he’s glorifying.

Let’s take a look at the facts – Fleming was not an in-the-trenches soldier; he was running ops from headquarters and thinking up clever spy tricks to gain intelligence or plant false intelligence. These are not socially acceptable activities except for very specific situations, and so not many people have the opportunity to discover that it’s a talent of theirs.

I AM NOT SAYING HE SHOULDN’T WRITE ABOUT WHATEVER HE WANTS, I AM DOING A THING CALLED CRITICAL ANALYSIS WHERE WE TRY TO BETTER UNDERSTAND WHAT WE’RE CONSUMING BOTH FOR PERSONAL GROWTH AND FOR A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE CONTEXT, INFLUENCES, AND MOTIVATIONS OF THE AUTHOR.

As I said, this theme comes up. If you’ve been watching The Punisher, you might remember the scene where Frank Castle tells his frenemy Micro that he was good at being a Marine and sometimes he’d rather be in battle than with his family. That’s a hard truth to reconcile. How do you abhor the necessity of war – the concept of it, but also take pleasure in the execution of it? I don’t think we see enough of this nuance, but I may not be the best judge because I don’t watch a lot of war movies – I have a hard time with them.

We have a lot of depictions of the reluctant soldier, or the honorable military man who dutifully serves with the idealist goal of ending a war, or the sadist who uses the military for opportunities to be cruel. I don’t think we see, or at least I haven’t seen, the soldier who is passionate about his work and loves what he or she does. That is a goldmine of conflict, both internal and external, with really rich contexts. Most of the time though, we get Jason Bourne, who was essentially job-raped. He’s incredibly talented, but he’s trying desperately to get out of the game. I want to see more characters who are incredibly talented and love what they do. So maybe what I’m saying is that this is some of the appeal of James Bond, and he might be how Fleming channeled his zest and talent for war games into something productive after the war was over.

HOWEVER, and this is something that I can’t really speak to with a lot of competence, is that the Bond world seems to be, at least pre-Craig, kind of a low stakes environment. It’s very black and white – the bad guys are bad, and the “love” interest is playing a double-cross 75% of the time. The reality of soldier or government agent activities, I imagine, is a lot murkier. But Bond remains so glib, and so unaffected. And it’s so very popular, which I think does a disservice to people who are routinely given orders that have them hurting or killing other humans. He’s pushed as the pinnacle of manly representation, which sets an expectation, conscious or not, for how a man is supposed to deal with the very natural and real turmoil involved with being a soldier, whether you like or not. It encourages the idea that a “real man” can go to war and come home and be fine, because they don’t have feelings or give it a second thought. That prejudice still keeps people from getting treatment if they need it. Us ladies have got G.I. Jane, which maybe isn’t a ton better, but still. As I said, the Craig era movies have an added depth to them, which is good. But he’s still a horndog.

WHICH BRINGS US TO

The rapey feel of the Bondiverse. Let’s just take this movie, for right now. James Bond straight up sexually assaults Pussy. They’re in a barn, for reasons, I guess, and they exchange some sassy quips. (Sassy quips are part of Bond canon. Can’t have a Bond movie without them flying around.) She tries to leave, and he grabs her and stops her, several times. Then she starts doing spy moves on him, flipping him around, so he reciprocates. This continues for an absurdly long time, likely because it arouses him that she’s strong enough to get the edge on him. So of course the scene ends with him flipping her onto her back and falling on her like a pig, while she tries unsuccessfully to push him off. He puts his face closer to hers, and she turns away. SHE’S NOT INTO IT. Then he forces his mouth onto hers, and she stops struggling and starts kissing him back. Very unrealistic, very engineered for the male fantasy. I don’t want to say sexual fantasy has no place in movies, but… at the very least, she could be consenting. It’s not manly to have to conquer a woman to get her to love you. It’s a good way to get stabbed while you’re sleeping, though.

Now here’s the thing – I totally get the appeal of this world to a man. 100%. I get it. You may think women have an easier time attracting companions than men do, but I think you’re mistaken. Attractive people have an easier time attracting companions. Why do you think Tarzan was such a popular movie? It was terrible. But it was amazing. We allll use movies to see our sexual fantasies played out by more attractive people, but the thing that strikes me about “female” perspective love arcs is that usually in our fantasies, the guy is REALLY into us. Like, slightly TOO into us. Look at Twilight. Very unhealthy. Look at all those romantic comedies from the 80’s and 90’s where the guy would finally come to the realization that he couldn’t live without Meg Ryan, and do some over-the-top gesture to prove how big his love for her was.

But it’s always like Bond is proving a point, right? It would get boring if the women just fell into his lap all the time. Sometimes you have to remind everyone why you’re The Man, I guess. Again, I don’t think there needs to be some regulatory ethics board that judges movies. Leave that to the internet. But these movies are just so POPULAR. And since it’s rated PG, we can assume a lot of younger viewers out there, male and female, watched this exchange between Bond and Pussy and seeing how much the women love Bond, and how much the men want to act like him, and start to develop ideas about appropriate sexual signals. If these kids had good parents who teach them how to be good humans, it’s probably not a problem, but that not a realistic expectation. Especially for the ‘60’s.

In a Refinery29 article, Lauren Le Vine points out that the Bond girls names often “signal their intended utility and utmost purpose. One need not be a Mensa member to discern what Pussy Galore has to offer the world.” She’s right. Other Bond Girl names: Xenia Onatopp, Holly Goodhead, Honey Ryder, Plenty O’Toole, Mary Goodnight, May Day, Molly Warmflash??? She goes on to give Daniel Craig credit for emphasizing in interviews that Bond is fictional, and his attitude toward women is not to be admired. I’m quoting a quote here: ““Many men admire Bond for his way with the ladies,” the interviewer began (gracelessly). “But let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist,” Craig replied. “A lot of women are drawn to him chiefly because he embodies a certain kind of danger and never sticks around for too long.””

The article goes on to say that the interviewer tried to back-pedal and said that Bond has become more chivalrous, to which Craig said that’s because the female roles have been written better, and they push back. You guys should really read this article because it’s great. I can’t really do anything but keep quoting it because I can’t say these things any better than Le Vine has. She also brings up how Craig himself has been harassed and sexualized in interviews. The Bond-iverse is a horny teenager with word vomit, I guess. But I think part of her point is that the media needs to take responsibility (I mean for soooooo many things but let’s keep this limited in scope) for gluttonously feeding off low-hanging fruit that appeals to people’s basest natures. There’s so much opportunity in this universe – this man, and the team around him, are so highly specialized and talented. They have access to incredible technology, they travel everywhere, but he’s usually reduced to a caricature of Inspector Gadget if he was a sex tourist. With guns. I do think the movies since Casino Royale have taken him more seriously, and tried to make a meal out of the movies instead of just giving us junk food.

Though the movies are improving, they’re still very problematic, but that has not stopped us from eating them up.

Matthew Mokhefi-Ashton writes that it’s the formula we love. He says that people are comfortable getting more of what they know, and we know James Bond brings us “a cocktail of girls, gadgets, violence, and exotic locations.” He says the reason that the films have failed to change the Bond girl trope, as they have been promising since the 70’s, is that they haven’t yet been moved from plot device to actual character. They don’t add anything to the movies except exposition, or function as damsels in distress; no matter how competent they are, they need saving by 007, and when he fails, his motivation for getting the bad guy is recharged. Also, Mokhefi-Ashton says, stealing the bad guy’s girl emphasizes his superior sex appeal.

Jumping off from his article, I wonder what Bond movies would look like if he had a female partner over a number of movies. We know what this COULD look like – Mr. and Mrs. Smith had two great spies, who were both great characters, and had a relationship, to boot. The focus of that movie was more relationship based obviously, but it was very popular, and so it’s not a matter of us needing to see such a masculine dominance in spy movies. I think it’s just the industry’s unwillingness to try something new with Bond. It’s easy to just keep churning out more of the same.

Moving on!

Goldfinger is the third Bond movie, but really the first one that enjoyed widespread success. Coincidentally (maybe), it’s also the first one that featured a lot of gadgetry. Apparently the crew had a lot to do with the gadgets in the car itself, an Astin Martin DB5. It took six weeks to trick it out, if you’re interested in a DIY project, which we do not recommend.

Another change was the laser. When the book was written (1959) lasers weren’t a thing, and Goldfinger’s murder attempt involved a circular saw. Lasers were cool and new during filming however, so they switched it out with the help of some Harvard nerds consulting. That’s how new lasers were – they needed smarty pants consultants.

Other production tidbits – Goldfinger surrounds himself with many variations on gold, including women, who are mostly blonde. There’s a lot of yellow and metallic gold in the costumes as well. One woman is even murdered with gold skin paint; supposedly the paint clogged her pores so her skin couldn’t breathe. However, it’s unlikely this would have killed her unless she was in a situation where she could overheat; since she wouldn’t be able to sweat, she wouldn’t be able to regulate her body temperature. So, that would be an appropriately stupid and needlessly theatrical way for a villain to commit murder in the genre! I dig it.

So we said that Goldfinger was the first Bond hit. Accounting for inflation, it grossed around $850 million worldwide. There was a lot of hype and marketing surrounding the release. One of the producers orchestrated pictures of the actress who played Pussy with Prince Philip, so they could get her name out of the way. The film (back when we used real film, kids) was packaged in gold canisters, and delivered by models wearing gold outfits (hey, human trophies! I mean women!). Honor Blackman, who played Pussy, wore a gold finger on her pinkie. People ate that shit up then, just like they do today.

We talked earlier about this film’s relationship to architecture. WELL I HAVE BIG, AND COINCIDENTALLY TIMELY NEWS. A futuristic home designed by the real Goldfinger is up for sale, and The Sun claims that it reeks of Bond villain, due to the nearby golf course (a very common rich asshole hobby), and glass windows, convenient for spying on neighbors and checking your perimeter. It’s duly private as well, with greenery keeping others away. If you check out the pictures of it, it does look very Bond villain-esque – it’s very modern, and has a bunch of extra shit that’s not necessary.

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

Hellboy

Listen to the podcast here: http://notyourmom.libsyn.com/24-hellboy

Hellboy (PG 13)

2004
81% Rotten Tomatoes

Hellboy is a Dark Horse comics character, introduced in 1993. He’s much beloved, but not terribly popular with the masses. That’s fine. More Hellboy for the nerds. Speaking of nerds, Hellboy was directed by Guillermo del Toro, who directed Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, Blade II, Cronos (also starring Ron Perlman), Mimic, The Hobbit movies, and a berjillion more. And no he is not related to Benicio del Toro. I checked. Guillermo hails from Mexico, and Benicio was born in Puerto Rico. Both beautiful countries, but very much separate places. From what I can find, they’ve never worked on a movie together, which I assume would be like crossing the streams in Ghostbusters. That would be bad, but it would be so worth worth it.

Ron Perlman – I’m not sure if I’m madly in love with him or if I want him to be my protective uncle. It’s very confusing. If you don’t know who Ron Perlman is, you probably shouldn’t be listening to our podcast because you wouldn’t like who we are very much. Just in case you need a primer, Ron Perlman has had an impressive career of doing really cool stuff. He was in the original Beauty and the Beast tv show, Sons of Anarchy, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, etc. He’s been a voice actor on Adventure Time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Family Guy, Archer; he’s done voices for Call of Duty: Black Ops, some of the Fallouts, some of the Halos; the list goes on and on. He’s one of those actors who’s always working.

A lot of his more popular roles, for some reason, feature him in a lot of heavy prosthetics. I think this has to do with his big hulking frame and his incredible talent. He’s 6’1” and built like a wrestler, but he’s a terrific actor who can play not only humorous and violent, but vulnerable and complicated. This all adds up to him being able to play monsters that have depth, and complex emotional stories. That’s a special niche. This is not to say that Ron Perlman is himself monstrous – he’s got a very affable, pleasant face. At least to me. He has a gravelly deep voice that makes you feel warm and fuzzy, unless you’re on the wrong side of it. And he’s sooo goooood. He disappears into his roles; he’s so engaging and sincere.

Sidenote – So I was looking up pictures of him as a young man, and there was one where he’s got a little girl clinging onto his back, and in one of the comments a person said how this would have made an awesome Bioshock movie and I, in terms of instantaneous mood swings, became elated at the perfection of Ron Perlman as a Big Daddy, and then furious that the timing hadn’t worked out, and then deeply depressed that this movie would never exist. The image is from, I think, a 1995 movie called The City of Lost Children. I mean I guess he still could – the Big Daddies are kind of cyborgs who are mostly metal…

MOVING ON

 

What I find hilarious, laughable, ridiculous, is that all these Nazis, in a desperate move to turn the war back in their favor before they’re defeated, put all their energy and resources into opening a portal to hell in order to unleash an army of demons on the allied forces – but all they manage to conjure up is a baby demon. A baby. A li’l tiny red baby demon. How disappointing that must have been for the Nazis. More importantly – how was that baby in hell if it had a human mother? I’m missing something the comics can probably fill in.

Lucky for us, the Allied forces (Professor Broom to be specific) rescued baby Red from the Nazis and raised him to be a tortured good guy with a love of cigars and cats. Now, as any supernatural kid raised in the human world will tell you, there’s some angst there. He’s not like the other kids. Not just the human kids, but he’s not like the merman kid, either. It’s hard to conceive of the absolute loneliness that comes from being the only one of you, and half EVIL DEMON at that. Especially with the way he looks, there’s no chance people won’t make a snap decision about him.

But we get to skip all that and go straight to adulthood. Hellboy is a crusty, stoic loner who would very much like you to leave him alone to smoke and drink in piece. In del Toro’s hands, his curmudgeonly attitude is charming, but if you’d plopped this character down into a movie like Sin City, he would be moody and dramatic. So I think a lot of credit goes to both Perlman and del Toro for striking a balance of duty and vulnerability, and snark and sincerity. Abe Sapien is pretty much the polar opposite of Big Red, and we need them both.

And it’s important to point out that Hellboy is not at all mean, he’s walled off for sure, but he doesn’t have a narcissistic self-destructive personality where there’s a martyr or victim complex. He’s got some pretty significant issues, but he keeps doggedly doing what needs to be done, even though he gets beat the fuck up in the process. In this way he reminds me a lot of Constantine. Also a grump, and also made extremely lovable because who can hate Keanu? He’s like the best person on the planet. He’s going to be reincarnated as a thousand dogs. He might be a thousand dogs reincarnated, such is his lovableness. And they’re both wise-asses. And they both have lady problems.

Now raise your hand if you thought his fully grown out horns were sexy as hell. Yeah, me too. Why are we so attracted to demonic figures? Trying to find the answers to this question is maddening. There are a number of rabbit holes that skirt around the issue, but none that really stare it in the face. Google thinks the best match is “why are women attracted to bad boys?” and when you click on a couple of those links it gets gross pretty fast. There are a number of sites out there listing the attributes women find attractive, and saying that all we want is money or power, and here’s how to project that confidence and assholery. I assume these are men who get rejected a lot, and so are pitching the blame onto women, instead of developing a decent personality and sense of humor. These are probably the guys who cry about the friend zone, as though women owe them sex and aren’t actual humans you could just be friends with.

The whole “women like bad boys thing” is not new, and honestly it’s not wrong. But… and let me be perfectly clear here, this phenomenon is generally limited to eye lust. Or lust in general. Sure, James Dean looks good in that leather jacket, smoking a cigarette, and being all “fuck tha police”. But we know what happens if we settle down with that guy. You get Marlon Brando from a Streetcar Named Desire. He’s hot, but he’s a dick. Not worth it.

https://thedebrief.co.uk/relationships/dating/dark-triad-attracted/

https://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/psychopath/psychopath-vs-sociopath-what-s-the-difference/

Apparently there’s something called a Dark Triad of personality traits. This collection of traits have their roots in Machiavelli’s The Prince, but show up everywhhhhhhere in literature (now and throughout history) as well as film and tv and real life. Women have these traits as well, but we see them most often in men. Here are the traits: narcissism, which is an extreme self-interest and self-love that goes way beyond healthy self-esteem; Machiavellianism, which is essentially manipulation of other people to get an outcome most beneficial to oneself; and psychopathy, which is a lack of conscience and empathy. Psychopathy is different from sociopathy in that sociopaths do have a conscience and empathy, but they’re shriveled and weak, like atrophied muscles. You would almost be right if you said they were the same, but psychopathy is a more severe form.

BUT SHOULDN’T WE ABHOR THESE TRAITS? Well, sociopaths and psychopaths aren’t necessarily evil people – some of them might just be very socially awkward people. You’re actually more likely to be charmed by a psychopath. They can go full hog into manipulation; lying and telling you what you want to hear to without any emotional baggage. Sociopaths will struggle a little more with this, especially with people they care about. That’s really the hallmark of the triad – manipulation. All of these traits stacked on each other equals a person you absolutely cannot trust, but who designs situations in which you really want to trust them. They’re attractive to us because they’re smooth as melted butter over a well-worn river rock. They’re confident because they love themselves so much, and after a few forays into manipulation with positive results, they exude even more confidence, which is reassuring to others. They’re often ambitious – because of the narcissism they believe they deserve greatness – and so you become quite convinced that they ARE in fact the next big thing. If a man like this has you in his sights, you feel special, even magical, because you know he can have any woman he wants. Aaaaaaaaaaand because of this we tend to overlook their terrible, awful behavior, believing that since we are so special to have been chosen, we are the ones who can change them. Well, some of us. The rest of us see right through these assholes, and try so hard to get our friends to see the light. TO NO AVAIL.

Spratt (the author of the article referenced), says that these men are often very hard to call out on their lies, because their self-deprecating sense of humor protects their ego by essentially giving them plausible deniabilty – “whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? Oooooobbbbbbbviously I was joooooooking. Of course you haven’t caught me in a liiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeee.”

She goes on to state that nurture may play a greater role in creating a dark triad personality than nature. Childhood difficulties such as absent parents or abuse play a great role; it seems to be a response to not being valued by others, so they over-value themselves, take care of their own interests ahead of all others since that was the model they saw of adulthood.

So that’s the Dark Triad – what I’m going to call the worst case. But the spectrum varies from damaged with a heart of gold to outright psychopath (lacking empathy and a conscience). A better way to look at them (and what they say about us) is their alignment, which marks out good or evil, and chaotic or lawful.

So we have the chaotic good (bad boys): Often considered anti-heroes. These are pretty much all the rebel-rebels in the rebel forces in the Star Wars universe. They are rule breakers, like the bad guys, but they do it in the confidence that the rules they’re breaking are merely a hindrance and not really meaningful. They’re on a mission to do good, and rules be damned if they get in the way. They follow their own set of moral guideposts, not society’s.

Examples: Constantine, Jon Snow, the Punisher, the Crow, all of the Watchmen, Khan (from his perspective, he’s doing good for his people), Wolverine

And then there are the chaotic neutrals (bad at friends): These are truly independent characters with no ties or loyalties to anyone but themselves. They will throw you under the bus; they will work both sides if they’re getting something out of it. They’ll lie, cheat, and steal, but they generally don’t hurt people unless they have a reason. Whether they do good or bad, it’s because they feel like it that day. The next day may be completely different.

Examples: The Winter Soldier (eventually), any pirate, Deadshot, Dexter Morgan, Jax Teller, Snape, Zach Morris, Sherlock Holmes, Eric Northman (even though he holds a position of authority within an established bureaucracy, comments are made constantly about how he goes rogue, so I’m keeping him chaotic), Han Solo, Jack Burton, Marv (Sin City), Mal (Firefly), Wolverine (he’s very mercurial)

Chaotic evil (bad guys): Essentially out for destruction, and extremely self-interested. Seemingly evil just for the sake of being evil, as though it’s as arbitrary a trait as hair color. He rules his small band through fear and force, and is violent and unpredictable. Also, they have the best quips.

Examples: Negan, Kurgan, Joker, Damon Salvatore from season 1, Anton Chigurh, Hannibal (some put him in lawful evil, but he doesn’t dominate or orchestrate a large power structure – he’s an independent agent), Loki

But that’s not really what I’m asking. If we want to get philosophical:

Here’s Christianity in a nutshell, at least biblical Christianity, and most centuries after that: women caused the fall, women are evil, they’re weak, they’re temptresses, their brains are dumb, but we keep them around because we made being gay a sin. Adam is the poor, self-sacrificing hero and I’m the villain in the story.

As a woman, it’s hard not to feel that antagonism, and we’ve all had those accusations hurled at us at some point or another, used in an argument for female inferiority. It sucks.

Here comes satanic imagery. Well… I mean… there’s no question who the villain is here. The big red guy with the horns and tail. (Yeah, I know, it’s a stretch.)

But that’s still not what I’m asking – I want to know why I look at Hellboy, or Satan from Legend, or the gargoyle devil guy from Fantasia and lust.

Let’s go back to the bible. I know, I know. But we won’t respect it very much, okay? The fall of Lucifer, we have been taught, was brought about by his pride. He was God’s right-hand-man, the second-in-command. All the hyphens. And then along came Adam. Lucifer didn’t want to be less valuable to God than humans, and because of this pride, God and Satan waged war on one another, one which Lucifer and his army lost. I should say, it’s suggested that a third of the angels were on his side; that is not insignificant. All these pious, godly angels thought Lucifer’s arguments had merit.

Lucifer and his minions were then cast out of heaven, and Lucifer fell to earth in a blaze of beautiful self-righteousness. I’m embellishing, but you get the point. Now – Let’s flip that perspective a little bit. Lucifer just wanted daddy to love him. He had been with God through a lot, and he felt that he was being cast aside in favor of the new puppy. He just wanted to feel valuable and loved by his father. Can you really blame him for being upset? God is kind of an ass in this story. He basically used Lucifer, then iced him out after he created humans, WHO HE GAVE FREE WILL, then said Lucifer was declaring war by demanding he not be neglected, and THREW HIM OUT OF THE HOUSE.

Lucifer is often painted as petulant and vain, but viewed through the lens of the Christian doctrine, Lucifer’s story can be seen as social control for the masses back in the early days (and… the present). Know your place, defer to those closer to God in the hierarchy, take what you’re given and like it, otherwise YOU’RE JUST LIKE SATAN KING OF ALL THAT IS EVIL AND BAD. So UH OH – now Satan is a brooding, misunderstood figure doing the best he can under impossible circumstances. Classic bad boy material. Good job, organized Christianity. You just turned Satan into a sexy, sympathetic figure.

Let’s talk Satanism. Contrary to popular belief, Satanists don’t worship Satan – they just really like blasphemy. But more than that, they’re for intellectual freedom, and that feels like a direct dig at organized religion (at least Christianity) where you’re beholden to the rules of this sky-man, interpreted by humans and corroded down through translations over history. Often, society paints Satanists as evil-doing sex fiends who follow the cult of Anton LaVey, but really a lot of their organized activities revolve around protesting oppression, which are kind of their missionary quests.

The major difference between the LaVeyan Satanism and The Satanic Temple (TST) is that TST is atheistic, and also more engaged in scientific evolution (accepting that scientific understanding will change over time, and beliefs may need to change with it). Anton LaVey, from what I understand, was a drama queen, much like L. Ron Hubbard. TST has taken all the ridiculous stuff out and kept the more Humanism stuff (they differ from Humanists because Humanism doesn’t place such a major emphasis on individual sovereignty and non-conformism).

So if they’re atheist, why call themselves Satanists? They are named for Satan because, “Satan is symbolic of the Eternal Rebel in opposition to arbitrary authority, forever defending personal sovereignty even in the face of insurmountable odds. Satan is an icon for the unbowed will of the unsilenced inquirer… the heretic who questions sacred laws and rejects all tyrannical impositions.” (https://thesatanictemple.com/pages/faq)

Satanism revolves around the following seven tenets (https://thesatanictemple.com/pages/tenets). They’re pretty badass, and essentially you don’t have try too hard if you’re a decent human:

  • One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
  • The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
  • One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
  • The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo your own.
  • Beliefs should conform to our best scientific understanding of the world. We should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit our beliefs.
  • People are fallible. If we make a mistake, we should do our best to rectify it and resolve any harm that may have been caused.
  • Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written of spoken word.

There’s really nothing I disagree with in those tenets. I get to decide what to do with my own body? Hell yes. Scientific understanding of the world should shape our beliefs? Fuck yeah. Make your mistakes right? WHAT A CONCEPT. The thing I love about these tenets that I find is missing in Christianity is the emphasis on individual agency and responsibility. It’s basically my mantra of “don’t be a dick” but with more details, whereas Christianity is more “don’t be a dick because god said so and you might go to hell if you are a dick and also you should make everyone else not be a dick in the exact same way you’re not a dick.” Satanism is like “if you want to come not be a dick with us, that’s cool, otherwise bye.”

Bustle did an article on six women who’ve joined Satanism. One woman joined for the community of non-theistic, like-minded people. One joined because of Satanism’s emphasis on educating yourself. One woman said it’s a refreshing change from her Christian upbringing, which taught her to keep her head down and take the abuse. She says that Satanism’s core beliefs empowered her. “[Satanism] teaches you that you deserve everything the world has to offer…and you should never feel guilt or shame for getting these things.” Another woman joined for the strong social justice support for issues that affect LGBT persons and reproductive rights, while another woman enjoys the support for gender equality. The last woman interviewed said that Satanism offers encouragement and support for finding your way, whereas her Roman Catholic upbringing gave her only restrictions and guilt.

Notice that none of these women joined because they’re drawn to evil or lust after Satan. So maybe this is still not the answer I’m looking for.

Now, comic book stuff that’s not really addressed in the movie:  Hellboy is important. His destiny is to bring about the apocalypse. Well. Says Rasputin anyway. And as a distant relative of King Arthur, he’s also technically the ruler of England. Well. Says Morgan Le Fay, anyway. Neither of these are terribly reliable sources, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if the fire and brimstone ever come.

Also in the comics, he’s even more crusty and anti-social, from what I understand, and the demons he fights know what he is (the end of all things), so that comes up a lot more in the comics, but it’s said that the first Hellboy movie was based on some of the actual comics but didn’t stick too closely to them. I haven’t yet read any of the Hellboy comics, but the internet gives me the impression that the comics are kind of like episodic detective stories, with this supernatural-hell element being the focus of their investigations. The comics don’t reveal a whole lot about Hellboy’s personal life or past, so when del Toro adapted it for the screen, he had to fill in a lot of context and motivation for the characters that’s necessary for a unified story told over an hour and a half. And the creator of Hellboy, Mike Mignola, worked with del Toro, and so the movie still has the look and feel that he wanted, as far as possible. This is why you never hear me bitching about the differences between movies and books, or comics. They have to be different. It’s one thing if a movie based on a book just plain sucks, but if it doesn’t suck, don’t knock it just because it’s not exactly like the book. You wouldn’t want to sit through a twelve hour movie, would you? We have a culture where everyone who has no experience doing a particular thing loves to shit all over it. Stop shitting on things!

SHOULD WE TALK ABOUT THE NEW HELLBOY AND HOW WE’RE SCARED/EXCITED?

It’s coming in 2019. At first I was pissed because Hellboy stands as a perfect movie. But then I saw the cast – Chief Hopper (David Harbour) will play Hellboy. And then I found out that Milla Jovovich and Ian McShane will also be in it and I decided not to be pissed anymore. And then I saw a picture of new Hellboy and it looks amazing, so now I’m excited. Cautiously, but excited. Also it’s supposed to stick closer to the comics, but I don’t know what that means, really. AND I REALLY DON’T WANT CHIEF HOPPER TO HAVE A SMALLER ROLE IN THE NEXT STRANGER THINGS SEASON. So I’m really conflicted.

Favorite quote: “I’m fireproof.” – Hellboy

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

The Neverending Story

Listen to the podcast here: http://notyourmom.libsyn.com/22-the-neverending-story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LET’S TALK ABOUT SOMETHING FUN.

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

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

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

Some hilarious further reading to stem your sobbing:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/jamiejones/times-falkor-the-luck-dragon-gave-us-eternal-hope?utm_term=.alqvBYgb6#.rfJy631qL

https://www.buzzfeed.com/adambvary/the-neverending-story-why-adults-should-never-watch?utm_term=.sxM9VWm4l#.ssKgjQveJ

http://www.dorkly.com/post/75705/reasons-the-neverending-story-is-a-psychological-horror-show

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

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

Blade

Listen to the podcast here: http://notyourmom.libsyn.com/17-blade

BLAAAAAAAADE (R) – 1998
54% Rotten Tomatoes

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

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

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

The Original: Count Dracula (1897)

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

The Lesbian Vampire: Carmilla

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blaxploitation Vampire: Blacula (1972)

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

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

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

The Angsty Teen Vampire: The Lost Boys (1987)

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

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

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

The Human Protector Vampire: Blade (1998-2004)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Warrior Vampire: Dracula Untold (2013-2014)

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

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

The Ancient Religion-Affiliated Vampire: Dark Hunters

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

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

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

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

The Detective Vampire: Samantha Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, life.

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

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

The Fifth Element

Listen to the podcast here: http://notyourmom.libsyn.com/12-the-fifth-element

The Fifth Element (PG-13) – 1997
72% Rotten tomatoes

Directed by Luc Besson, a Frenchman. He also directed Leon: The Professional and wrote on the Transporter and Taken movies. Plus a ton of others. This fella is prolific. And perhaps a prodigy. He wrote an early draft of The Fifth Element as a teenager. By all accounts he was an extremely creative child, and found film as a way to express all aspects of his creativity. This skill may have come from his early years travelling the world with his parents, avid scuba divers. All that aquatic exploration may have shaped his imagination from an early age. His latest venture is the space opera, Valerian, which I’m frankly not too excited about, but I’ll guess we’ll see.

The elements (https://www.homesciencetools.com/a/four-elements; http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/webprojects2002/tubb/elements.htm)

The fifth element referred to in the title is life. It’s a combination of the four classic elementals: earth, water, fire, and air. These elements were designated by, like so many other things, the ancient Greeks. They decided that these elements made up everything in the universe, and these four things were all essential for life. Aristotle, always a rebel, argued for a fifth element, one he called aether, that supposedly composed stars. The elements led scientific thinking for millenias. All four elements were present in everything, but in different proportions. A good example of this is taken from a bunch of ancient Greeks arguing this theory, courtesy of http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/webprojects2002/tubb/elements.htm:

You take a stick and burn it.

  • Since the stick burns, it obviously contains fire.
  • A dirty residue is left behind once the stick has burnt, so the stick also contains earth.
  • The residue is damp, so water must be present.
  • The burning stick gives off smoke, and thus air is in there too.

When the Middle Ages rolled around and people couldn’t box everything into these four properties, alchemical science was founded, which added three more elements to the original Aristotelian four: quicksilver, brimstone, and salt. Alchemy is a real shit show, and never did anyone ever good, but it makes for entertaining reading and script writing.

Back to Aristotle and his dusty cave. The elements were also used to describe the different temperaments of people. This is where Hippocrates got the principle of the humors, the forces of the human body responsible for health and well-being. Balanced humors meant a healthy person; an imbalance resulted in illness or disease.

This all sounds like malarkey, but the Greeks turned out to be kinda sorta right. The modern states of matter are solid, liquid, gas, and plasma, which if you stretch you can say equate to earth, water, air, and fire, respectively. They also thought the nature of change was due to compelling and repelling forces, which is kinda sorta what happens at the atomic level, buutttttt it’s another stretchy one.

Enough about bad yet historically important science. Let’s fast forward to the future science fiction! There’s a lot of futuristic stuff going on in The Fifth Element. We have flying cars, gnarly weapons, a boat load of aliens, suspicious architecture, flashy clothes and weird half masks, and lots of space travel. I have a favorite on that list. Yep. The weapons.

Racism

I don’t know if you remember, but when we did Big Trouble in Little China, we discussed some racist characters that often show up in movies. One was the cowardly/incompetent black sidekick, and the example given was Chris Tucker’s character in The Fifth Element.

It’s a pretty pervasive problem in Hollywood. This is no surprise. Straight white men have been dominating the screen since the beginning. As a matter of fact, one of the first films ever, D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) is extremely racist. The movie depicts black people as animalistic: violent and hyper-sexual, and it’s overtly sympathetic to the Klan and seems pretty pro slavery. It depicts anti-miscegenation, which also came up in Big Trouble in Little China, not surprisingly, because it’s a predictable result of a racist system. The point is, racism in entertainment is not a new problem. But you would think that 100 years later we would have come to our senses, right? OF COURSE NOT. The #oscarssowhite was in reaction to predominantly black movies not being given consideration for Oscar nominations, as well as men and women of color not receiving acting nominations at nearly the same proportional rate as white actors, especially for the biggest categories. In 2015 and 2016, there were NO people of color nominated in the four biggest Oscars categories. Hopefully this Twitter campaign will have helped to bring awareness to diversity in Hollywood, and the 2017 award for Moonlight, Mahershala Ali, and Viola Davis (who won in the supporting categories) won’t be just an empty placation gesture. According to The Guardian, Halle Berry is still the only non-white woman to have won for Best Actress, and only 7% of the Best Actor winners are men of color.

So what does this have to do with Chris Tucker? Well, he’s an example of how people of color are pigeon-holed into particular roles. The same Guardian article lists the stereotypical roles typically available to people of color. Some of these overlap with the cracked.com list we used in Big Trouble, but there are some new ones here.

  1. The magical Negro – again, John Coffee in the Green Mile, Whoopi’s character in Ghost, etc.
  2. Thug – these are either aggressive characters (Boys in the Hood), or they’re the kids with potential that live in a bad environment (Dangerous Minds)
  3. Superhuman Athlete – Typically found and nurtured by a white guys: Cool Runnings, Jerry Maguire, Creed
  4. Super rich evil Arab sheikh – always out to nab white women. Or kill them.
  5. Awkward de-sexualized Asian – Kal Penn in Van Wilder, any movie with nerds
  6. Mammy – This is a woman who is a servant in a white family’s home, who appears to have to life or ambition of her own except to counsel and nurture these white idiots and their drama: Gone with the Wind, The Help, It’s a Wonderful Life
  7. Jaded older police office – Like… any movie where Morgan Freeman is a cop. Or Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon.
  8. Eternal sidekick – “limited usefulness” and whose help is often accidental, this character’s only purpose in the movie is to entertain the audience, often at their own expense, while they move the white lead forward.
  9. Sassy confidant – basically the black friend in any romantic comedy.
  10. Terrorist – We all know what this is.

The thing I find most interesting when I’m watching a movie that has a mostly white cast is WHY. Nothing about Leeloo’s character makes it necessary for her to be white. Same with Korbin. Same with many, many, many characters in many movies and TV shows. Why is there such a preference to cast white actors? I think it has something to do with the idea that white movies are for everybody, but if you have a “black” movie, then only black people are going to go pay for a ticket to see it.

Feminism?

So, you would think that in the 2200’s things would change a bit. Well, they have. Cross dressing seems to be totally acceptable, but it’s combined with stereotypically flaming behavior, and this gets Ruby Rhod alllll the … ladies? So it seems that acceptable gender norms for men have expanded. What about the ladies??? Oh. They’re still reduced to sex objects. Cool. Speaking of stereotypes, we have a few here. There are the sexy secretaries, the nagging mother, the diva. Leeloo is the female that breaks the mold, and she is supposedly the perfect woman. But what does that mean? Thigh gap. Gorgeous. Preternaturally intelligent and athletically gifted. Empathetic. Speed reader. Polyglot. Looks good in orange. But…. also treated and depicted as a child, as Sarah Hensel points out. She’s infantilized at every turn. Granted this is complicated, since technically she is kind of a newborn. But she’s also sexualized. It’s a little gross.

Favorite quote: “Bzzzzzzzz. Bzz bzz bzzz.” – Ruby Rhod

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

 

Highlander

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!

The Beastmaster

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!

The Twilight Zone: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”

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!

Hocus Pocus

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!

Big Trouble in Little China

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.”

History of chinatown:

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!