Please enter the text in the image above here:
A few seasonal links for today and tomorrow:
In 1973, Helen was 16 and having a relationship with a girl at school, but they hadn't come out for a whole load of reasons, most of them to do with it being 1973. "In those days, we were like outcasts, so nobody knew, it was a great secret. A few of my friends were really homophobic. We went to this New Year's Eve party, where people were all goading each other to kiss. So we did. It was brilliant, everybody was cheering, we were pretending it was a joke. It was probably one of the best kisses I've ever had."
It didn't make it any easier to come out, though. "We never came out, we split up two years later, the pressure became too great. Most of it on her, because her family had mapped out her life for her, she had to get married. And I did what was expected of me, when I was 18. I got married as well. I had three kids."
I once tried to write an article, perhaps rather straining for effect, describing the experience as too much like living for four weeks in the atmosphere of a one-party state. "Come on," I hear you say. But by how much would I be exaggerating? The same songs and music played everywhere, all the time. The same uniform slogans and exhortations, endlessly displayed and repeated. The same sentimental stress on the sheer joy of having a Dear Leader to adore. As I pressed on I began almost to persuade myself. The serried ranks of beaming schoolchildren, chanting the same uplifting mush. The cowed parents, in terror of being unmasked by their offspring for insufficient participation in the glorious events…. "Come on," yourself. How wrong am I?
One of my many reasons for not being a Christian is my objection to compulsory love. How much less appealing is the notion of obligatory generosity. To feel pressed to give a present is also to feel oneself passively exerting the equivalent unwelcome pressure upon other people... Don't pretend not to know what I am talking about. It's like the gradual degradation of another annual ritual, whereby all schoolchildren are required to give valentines to everybody in the class. Nobody's feelings are hurt, they tell me, but the entire point of sending a valentine in the first place has been deliberately destroyed. If I feel like giving you a gift I'll try and make sure that (a) it's worth remembering and (b) that it comes as a nice surprise. (I like to think that some of my valentines in the past packed a bit of a punch as well.)
“Just because we don’t have Boney M or Christmas advertising in September doesn’t mean we are oblivious to it,” said Gundane who went on to suggest that Africans were a lot like the Irish. “They made it through disasters like the potato blight and the invention of the Protestant church without forgetting Christmas – why did they think we would forget it?”
Gundane said he hoped that his involvement with the song would turn him into an expert on British politics and economics in the same way ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’ had turned Geldof and Bono into the world’s leading experts on Africa.
Neil Gaiman (who's sort of the Goth Terry Pratchett) writes about the evolution of vampires in popular literature:
I think mostly what it has to do with is what vampires get to represent. Dracula was a great novel of sexual seduction, full of repeated sexual seduction and rape and sex. So it makes complete sense that your solid Victorian vampires were fundamentally evil. And you can have that nice big stake hammered through them as a way of putting them to rest. After that, I think the next big, huge, cultural, “somebody’s just written a vampire story” is probably Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. Steve basically wanted to do Dracula again, only in a small town in Maine. At that point you got vampires still sort of representing the “other.” Then Anne Rice wrote Interview with the Vampire, which as a teenager I thought was a rather drippy book. I have to say as a teenager who loved vampire fiction and wanted vampire fiction, I thought they all sort of sat around being miserable.
But I think then the thing that changed everything and that gave vampire fiction a new lease on life and death was AIDS, because you hit the early ‘80s, and suddenly you have something in the blood that is an exchange of blood that kills and is altogether fundamentally about sex. And vampirism essentially came out of the closet as a metaphor for the act of love that kills. Stephen King once said, using the Erica Jung quote, that vampirism is the ultimate zipless f—. And then a sort of continuous transmutation, you had Lost Boys, which is essentially vampirism as wish fulfillment. Finally, of course there’s Sesame Street, which I think may well have created the sympathetic vampire for the world in Count.
A church in West Sussex has removed a large crucifix on the grounds that it was "a horrifying depiction of pain and suffering" which was also "putting people off". St. John's Church in Broadbridge Heath will replace the sculpture of a suffering Christ on the cross with an appropriately sanitised and inoffensive depiction of the ancient Roman torture/execution implement rendered in stainless steel, much like an Ikea saucepan.
Boing Boing Gadgets' John Brownlee has an interesting account of playing a robot in an evangelical Christian school play as a child. An evangelical Christian robot, of course:
The play centered around Colby, a sentient Christian super-computer who — for some reason — had set up a secret neighborhood enclave for the Christian kids in the neighborhood. It was called Colby's Clubhouse, and inside, it was a Jim Jones phantasmagoria, in which a dancing, singing Christian robot led a gaggle of Bible-thumping kids in elaborate dance numbers, pausing only occasionally to recite scriptures. The main dramatic arc of the play concerned the arrival of new kid Eddie in the neighborhood: he cracked wise about Jesus, never read the Gospel, and was dismissive not only of the Colby Gang's impromptu hymnals but openly professed an admiration and affinity for that year's hot R&B supergroup, the New Kids on the Block. Eventually, Eddie is shown the error of his ways through the tireless proselytizing of the Colby Gang... as well as the direct intervention of Colby himself, who bluntly informs Eddie that he's going to hell if he doesn't mend his ways. Eventually, Eddie breaks down, falls to his knees, and welcomes Jesus into his heart as his Lord and Savior. At that point, Eddie is welcomed into the Colby Gang as an honorary member, presented with his very own pastel-colored, self-identifying t-shirt, and takes part in the exiting performance of the play's title song, "God Uses Kids." Curtain and applause.Of course, in retrospect, the play looks a lot more disturbing:
At the beginning of the play, Eddie moves into a new neighborhood. He's alone, depressed and friendless. Worse, he quickly discovers that none of the kids in the neighborhood like to play video games or watch movies or listen to records or play with action figures or throw the football around — you know, normal kid stuff. All they ever want to do is sing about Jesus. Raised non-secularly, poor Eddie finds himself ostracized from his newfound peers from the very start, and understandably compensates by adapting the defense mechanism of a smart aleck personality. He acts out. He differentiates himself through cynical non-conformity, but is soundly hated for it.
That's all bad enough, right? Poor Eddie. But consider what happens next. Eddie is invited to the neighborhood clubhouse. Hoping for the acceptance and friendship of the neighborhood's unseen but popular alpha dog — the mysterious but charismatic Colby — he goes, but instead of meeting another kid, the door is locked behind him and a giant metal monster lumbers out of the shadows. Its eyes spit sparks; its servos gnash like rusty teeth. It grabs Eddie by the arms and in a shrill falsetto scream that reverberates with metallic soullessness and the sounds of gears grinding, it inexorably begins to paint Eddie a picture of hell straight out of Bosch. Mewling, fleshless bird things with scissors for beaks. Oceans of boiling feces in which billions bob and drown. Bodies crawling with insects and scabs that never heal. Forced sodomy by impossible geometric shapes. The sound of infants screaming forever and ever and ever and ever. Eddie's mind breaks... as, in fact, had the mind of each and every member of the Colby Gang's under the same nightmarish duress. It is the initiation. He's been accepted. One of us. One of us.And then, of course, there is the theological question of whether an evangelical Christian robot would have a soul, which John's teacher couldn't quite satisfactorily answer.
Theory of the day: the political tone of a time is reflected in the theme of its undead-themed horror films; to be more precise, conservative periods include zombie movies, whereas progressive periods feature vampire movies:
One answer: These gore-flecked flicks are really competing parables about class warfare. “Democrats, who want to redistribute wealth to 'Main Street,' fear the Wall Street vampires who bleed the nation dry,” Newitz argued, noting that Dracula and his ilk arose from the aristocracy. “Republicans fear a revolt of the poor and disenfranchised, dressed in rags and coming to the White House to eat their brains.”Whilst that could be reading much into it, zombie films can be equated with leftist critiques of conservative societies: George Romero's original films are widely regarded as critiques of post-war American consumerism, meanwhile other films make the connection even more explicit (the British zombie film Dead Creatures, for example, is essentially a Ken Loach film with zombies). Not sure what Shaun Of The Dead would be, though; Blairism, perhaps?
This page has some interesting-looking tutorials on how to use Photoshop (or the GIMP, for the penguinheads) to transform your family and friends and/or random celebrities/supermodels into hideous, decaying ghouls.
Scary Mary: Disney's Mary Poppins re-edited into a trailer for a hypothetical horror movie.
This is clever: Stanley Kubrick's The Shining reedited into a trailer for a romantic comedy, à la Nora Ephron.
Update: here is a New York Times story about the trailer, which was produced for a competition, and got its editor the attention of people in the industry. And other entrants in the competition include: Titanic as a horror movie and West Side Story as a zombie flick.
LiveJournal user icon of the day:
(Note: for the full effect, make sure you have animated images enabled.)
Salon has an interesting piece on H.P. Lovecraft, cosmic horror writer and abuser of adjectives:
Lovecraft's narrators routinely rave about the "hideous," "monstrous" and "blasphemous" nature of their revelations. Wilson went on, again quite reasonably, to observe, "Surely one of the primary rules for writing an effective tale of horror is never to use any of these words -- especially if you are going, at the end, to produce an invisible whistling octopus." That octopus crack is a particularly low blow, since the most celebrated of Lovecraft's stories and novels partake of what has been dubbed the Cthulhu Mythos, an alternative mythology involving an enormous and malevolent being whose tentacled head resembles a cephalopod.
The truth, however, is that hardly any reader finds Cthulhu frightening. In fact, by all indications, the public is very fond of the creature. You can check in regularly at the Cthulhu for President site ("Home Page for Evil"), purchase a cuddly plush Cthulhu or behold the adventures of Hello Cthulhu, a cross between Lovecraft's "gelatinous green immensity" and the adorable, big-eyed Sanrio cartoon character. Sauron never inspired this kind of affection.
At root, all of Lovecraft's phobias seemed to come down to an elemental dread of the human body: the tentacles and gaping abysses with their obvious genital associations (hence Stephen King's comment), reproduction's disorderly tendency toward mutation and of course the horror writer's primal muse -- the death and decay that lie in store for every living thing. If not all of us share the specific racial and sexual manifestations of that dread, we all feel some version of it. Lovecraft, in his fiction at least, abandoned himself to it with a kind of warped gallantry.
Strange Horizons Magazine has published a list of scifi plot submissions it sees too many of; these range from generic poor writing (boringly linear plots, deus ex machina plot twists and vaguely Mary Sue-ish pieces about writer's-blocked creatives) to clichés (AIs loose on the net, dystopian futures, cultural misunderstandings with aliens leading to interplanetary incidents) and terribly clever things which everybody else has thought of, like tech support calls for magical items or humans described from alien perspectives as vermin or monsters. (via bOING bOING)
And here's the one for horror stories. Not surprisingly, serial killers feature several times in the list.
Staplerfahrer Klaus, a German factory safety video that seems to have been inspired by Peter Jackson's early works, or possibly a comic splatter-horror film masquerading as a factory safety film. Includes forklifts, chainsaws and the sort of daggy/groovy incidental music that they seem to make only in Germany. If your browser doesn't play Windows Media inline, you can grab the WMV file here.
Mori's Uncanny Valley is the phenomenon in human perception of human-like entities that accounts for people feeling revulsion when they see zombies in a horror movie. Put simply, the theory postulates that the relationship between similarity to human appearance and movement and emotional response is not a straight line; instead, there is a peak shortly before the appearance becomes completely human -- and then response dives into visceral horror, as the not-quite-human object enters the realm of moving corpses, blasphemous abominations and Things That Should Not Be, looking too human, yet somehow loathsomely unnatural. First postulated in the 1970s, the Uncanny Valley theory is behind advise to make all human-like agents/robots look slightly stylised, just enough to appear distinctly non-human and not trigger the sensations of horror.
Via the story of the guy who mistook his girlfriend for a robot -- or rather made a lifelike animated head modelled on said girlfriend's head, and wired with cameras, motors and software. David Hanson, the roboticist in question, is not an adherent of the Uncanny Valley theory, or believes that he can cross said valley and come out at the other side. (via jwz)
A tutorial on doing realistic blood-splatter effects in Photoshop, a skill no-one should be without. (via MeFi)
Bizarre: Commuters on a train in Finland got a shock when the train's television screens began showing graphic videos of animals being slaughtered. The video tape turned out to have been the conductor's home video, which was accidentally shown to passengers. What happened to the conductor is not mentioned. (via onepointzero)
A documentary titled The American Nightmare looks at how 70s/80s cult and horror filmmakers were influenced by the upheavals of the era:
George A. Romero, it turns out, got the idea for 1968's ``Night of the Living Dead'' from the civil rights movement. Wes Craven (``Last House on the Left,'' 1972) and John Carpenter (``Halloween,'' 1978) were traumatized by the carnage they saw on TV of the Vietnam War, while Tom Savini, who worked as a makeup artist on many of these films, learned his trade as an actual army photographer in Vietnam. Tobe Hooper was shocked by the violence of consumer behavior in response to the oil shock, and came up with ``The Texas Chain Saw Massacre'' (1974) after experiencing an epiphany during a sale at Sears (``It was so crowded and I just had to get out, and suddenly I saw this chain saw''). David Cronenberg (``Shivers,'' 1975) and John Landis (``An American Werewolf in London,'' 1981) were spooked by the sexual revolution.
Judging by that, the morass the world is stumbling into should lead to some interestingly edgy cinema. So much for the prophesied New Norman Rockwell Era... (via a certain mailing list)
A fascinating piece on voodoo zombie drugs. Yes, they really do exist, and can really turn you into a zombie (if they don't kill you, that is).
The particularly heinous and voodoo twist delivered by tetradotoxin is that this apparently dead person is fully conscious. It is difficult to imagine being pronounced dead in a room full of grieving relatives and you are without the slightest ability to communicate. This is not to mention the pure terror of being buried alive without the ability to render understandable objection. If the victim survives burial or some other horrible fate, the return to the living occurs within a few hours to a few days.
Please enter the text in the image above here: