Starring the Landscape: The Desert Has No Memory

In 1971, Universal Pictures released Duel, a film starring Dennis Weaver, and directed by, a not yet famous, Stephen Spielberg, from a story by Richard Matheson. In it, a businessman named, conveniently, David Mann, is pursued across the desert by a monstrous truck and the driver who insists on terrorizing him. Mann, who thinks himself a practical, but tough fellow, has to prove his masculinity, not just against the driver of the truck that menaces him for over half the movie, but against his aging vehicle, and the Mojave desert in which this drama unfolds.

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The hot, barren, landscape of the desert has often been used as a backdrop to tell stories of dramatic survival, proving one’s toughness, or realizing one’s humanity. Sometimes its about surviving the people in it, as everyone competes for the bare resources that can be found there. Unlike snowy environments, the desert’s wide-open terrain, with so few obstructions, is perfect for car chases, and creating a feeling of low grade anxiety, the sense that one could get lost in such isolation. The heat heightens a person’s fear, and desperation, creating a unique form of sweaty misery. The desert is for isolationists, the place people go when they want to separate themselves from other people, or to prove their rugged individualism, or in some cases, simply go mad.

In the Western storytelling tradition, the protagonist is the person who is trying to move forward, to progress, to accomplish a goal. The antagonist is whatever that person must struggle against to reach said goal. Through that process, the person undergoes change and/or growth. The desert is an environment that can often be filmed with a single protagonist, as in 2010’s 127 Hours, as a young hiker literally struggles against the environment that has trapped him, or as in the Mad Max franchise, a cast of thousands, and still get variations on these basic messages, because it’s the desert that is the ultimate antagonist.

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The desert tests the worthy, and this is nowhere better illustrated than in the Mad Max franchise, where human beings manage to scrounge a precarious living, several years after a global catastrophe. In Fury Road, when Max is captured by Immortan Joe’s Warboys, they treat him not as a person, but as a commodity, an object. Throughout the movie, while fighting Immortan Joe, his men, and the dry terrain in which their battle takes place, Max grows and changes, reasserting his humanity and proving to others that he is not a thing.

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The desert is home to the poor and isolated, with its lonely trailer parks, ghost towns, and abandoned and ramshackle houses. It’s a place where people go to get away from other human beings. Most Horror movies set in the desert, like those set in rural America, tend to focus on people as monsters, rather than creatures.

The kind of people who live in the desert are often equated with its predators, as they stalk, kill and feed on anyone they regard as intruders into their domain. They are sometimes mutated, and feral, as in the 1977 Wes Craven movie, The Hills Have Eyes, where a vacationing suburban family run afoul of a pack of cannibals who scrounge a living in the Nevada desert by eating those who pass through it. The movie pits family against family, as the Carters attempt to hold onto their humanity while fighting the inhumanity of the cannibals. And in 1987’s Near Dark, a family of vampires preys on desert wanderers, or the occasional lonely farmboy, who just happens to run afoul of the wrong girl of his dreams.

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The desert is vast and unforgiving, and its silence and isolation gives birth to much quieter horrors than trucks and cannibals, as all kinds of rotten secrets hide there, as in the 1975 movie, The Devil’s Rain, which stars William Shatner, as he tries to stop the leader of a Satanic cult from retrieving an artifact of great power. In the 2005 film, Wolf Creek, a young woman must try to survive the landscape, and the serial killer she and her family encounter while camping in the Australian outback, and in the 2017 Netflix movie, Cargo, a father is suffering from a zombie bite, while stranded in the outback, and must try to get his baby to safety before he succumbs to his wounds.

Desert wanderers are not always victims or innocents, and any people one finds wandering in the desert are best left to themselves, as the 1986 movie, The Hitcher, shows. When Jim Halsey picks up a hitchhiker in the Nevada desert, he finds he has picked up a serial killer who terrorizes him for the rest of the movie. It seems the desert is as great a place to be stalked and hunted as the jungle, since that is the plot of several desert set films, from 1995’s Nature of the Beast, which stars Lance Henriksen, to the 2001 Joy Ride, starring Paul Walker, where a group of teenagers is stalked by yet another truck driver across the arid landscape.

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Its best not to live in small towns situated in or near the desert, as they tend to attract monsters of all kinds including large and small desert dwelling insects. In the vast openness of the desert, creatures tend to grow in size to match, often aided by nuclear radiation. In the movie Them! from 1954, giant ants terrorize a desert town, after they are mutated by nuclear testing. A year later, another town experiences a giant spider invasion, caused by nuclear testing, in the 1955 movie Tarantula. Nuclear testing isn’t the only culprit for villainous desert bugs as they sometimes get mutated by chemical waste, such as in the 2002 horror comedy, Eight Legged Freaks, where the tiny town of Prosperity, Arizona gets attacked by the titular monsters, after a truckful of chemical waste, and a local spider farm, collide.

The smaller versions of these desert animals sometimes like to get in on the action, too, as in the 1977, Kingdom of the Spiders, starring William Shatner again, when tarantulas take their revenge against a small Arizona town that burned down one of their habitats. In the 1974 Phase IV, ants in the Arizona desert plan to take over the world, and make humans a part of their new hive mind, after a mysterious comet imbues them with greater intelligence.

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Sometimes other kinds of monsters come from under the ground, as the residents of a small Nevada town discover when an earthquake releases mutated cockroaches, that have the ability to start fires, and being eaten alive was something the residents of the tiny town of Perfection did not foresee after they are attacked by a pack of massive tunnel dwelling worms, that they name Grabboids. The townsfolk have to demonstrate just how self sufficient, and clever, they can be against an underground menace that can appear anywhere, and without warning, all while trying to escape across the barren landscape, to find safety in the next town.

In fact, the desert’s isolation ensures that all kinds of weirdnesses can be born there, and reach a certain level of maturity before they’re even discovered. The strangest thing to come out of the desert to prey on mankind is the sentient tire named Robert, from the 2010 Horror Comedy, Rubber. Robert rolls through the desert landscape telekinetically exploding any humans he encounters, while a choir of onlookers give commentary.

Despite the wealth of material in this post however, movies set in the desert aren’t that frequent. It’s a difficult landscape in which to shoot a film. The temperatures and sand can work against any filmmakers so making anything in such a place is a real feat, but there are a few filmmakers who feel that the sere dry heat and isolation of the desert is worth it. The desert landscape, just like it’s snowy cousin, the tundra, is the type of landscape that is great for showing human survival at the extremes.

Violence Bullying and Being Black in America by Aaron Davis

VIOLENCE, BULLYING AND BEING BLACK IN AMERICA

After hearing about and watching the video footage of Will Smith’s slap-down of Chris Rock, I felt the need to stop what I am doing and write. I see a fair number of occultist and ministerial friends and associates, many of whom are white, talking about it, and decided I should weigh in as an African American man.

I am a Black man, and I come from a place, in upstate New York. I was from one of the projects there, and went to public school through part of middle school. I was and am not a natural fighter. It is an instinct I had to cultivate when I got into high school and became heavily invested in martial arts. Doing so toughened me right up!

But before all of that, I got regular ass-beatings at school. Usually by big gangs of other Black kids. Most times I was on the ground, getting the shit kicked out of me. I have a specific memory of a large group of about twelve kids chasing this white kid I didn’t know and myself. When we both realized we were running from the same people, we stopped running and stood back to back, fending off all those kids until teachers came over to stop the fight. I made a new friend that day. These endless cycles of violence came to a head when a young man many times my size slammed me on the gym floor. I ended up with blood in my urine. When the doc told my mom, I had to admit to her that I was being bullied. Not one of my finest days.

There was this one time, in grade school, however, where I did stand up to my bully. It was a boy around my age who kept hitting, slapping and poking me every chance he got. Teachers were around, but he always did it just out of their eyesight. If I protested too much, I got in trouble and he stood there with cheese grins looking blameless. He belonged to the same gang of kids as the guy who body slammed me.

As fate would have it, one day we were both waiting for our parents to pick us up after school. He kept slapping me in my head. When I was a kid, lunch boxes were still made of solid metal. The kind of metal that has cool cartoon characters on them. The kind of metal that did not easily bend. I balled my fist around the handle of it, and with a loud cry swung for his head as hard as my little body could muster. That kid levitated in the air, spun around and collapsed to the ground, holding his head.

The vice principal came outside and saw the whole thing. I thought I was fucked! But he looked at the kid, then me, and said “Good job, kid!” and walked back inside.
I was stunned. But I began to understand something. I began to see that people around us usually know what’s going on, but choose not to say or do anything. Sometimes they want to see what we will do. If we will come into our personal power. I had to learn about my own power my own way.

Now, some people are going to trip off the fact that I used violence to end repeated violence toward me. But let me be clear: I am not a pacifist. I do indeed believe there are times to catch hands. To put up your fists and fight. Especially if a home is invaded, a person is assaulted, or a bully is left unchecked. It has been my experience that a bully rarely stops from conversation and reasoning with them. They bully because no one stands up to them. They run on fear.

But when someone does stand up, they don’t know what to do. I continued to experience this. Even after I transferred to a local private school, where I was the only Black male most of my years there, the white kids continued to bully, intimidate and humiliate me.
Do you know when that all stopped? When I started taking karate. Not because I became violent (which I never did), but because the martial arts changed how I walked in the world. It changed how I dealt with problem people. A so-called white friend tried to sneak up on me when I was on one knee getting stuff out of my locker. He wanted to test me and try to hit me when he thought I wasn’t paying attention, to prove my karate training wasn’t shit. Imagine the look on his face when I spun around and threw a punch within less than an inch from his genitals. Then a good friend (who was also being bullied) and I started training together and did a karate demonstration at a show-and-tell night. We threw each other around and did other choreographed moves that made it very clear we knew what we were doing. Neither of us had a problem the rest of our high school tenure.

The nonsense even continued into my first year of college. A white kid, who was very drunk, threatened to beat me up. He made it known that he was a second-degree black belt. I told him I had a black belt too. He kept talking smack as he walked away from me. The next week, I was leading the karate class at school, as the head instructor. Who walks into the gym dojo but this guy. I bowed at him and invited him to join us, to show us his second-degree expertise. He went white as a sheet, did an about-face and walked out as fast as his legs could carry him. He never came back. I had to explain to the class what happened and why, because they saw the whole thing. That day many in the class came to understand the power of the martial arts.

I am not saying all of this to toot my own horn. I am showing a snippet of my early-life struggles with bullying and aggression/violence that swirled around me for a solid 18 years, and how I was able to cope with it and to a degree, rise above it. It took the threat of violence, and my posture toward bullies to make it clear that I could follow through against their aggression, for them to finally stop. Where I am from, most of the people I grew up with are dead, addicted beyond repair, or six feet in the grave. Almost all of them. Where I am from, threats, humiliation and violence are serious subjects and nothing to play with.

When I heard about Will Smith and Chris Rock’s debacle, it brought me back to these moments and the choices I made. I do not regret any of them. Most times I was able to stop the violence toward me before I had to raise my fists to end it. But a few times I did have to let someone catch hands (or, as the case were, a lunchbox!). I have understood from those young years that sometimes all people understand is a beat-down, a punch in the face, a kick in the groin.

What little I know of what occurred is that Rock has made it a pattern of shit-talking Jada. Some people are shocked at Will’s response from just Chris Rock’s words. But this is really a moment of cultural education. You see, Black people are big on respect. REALLY big. We grow up being constantly reminded to respect elders, and each other. That the predominantly-white, racist world is hostile enough to us as it is that we don’t need to be adding to it by turning on each other and cutting each other down. Of course, we still do turn on each other, as my own story shows. But we are supposed to strive for otherwise because it is for the good of the collective, the already-embattled African American community.

This is even more so when speaking of Black men’s relationships to Black women. Not only are we taught to respect women, but to also protect them. And no, it is not some sexist, toxic masculinity thing like I hear so many people knee-jerking about Will. It’s not about that. It’s about knowing that our women, our sisters, our mothers, our wives are also in this hostile world that continually denigrates their humanity in ways even worse than our own, ala American Slavery. It goes back at least that far. There are so many places to point to that, that I don’t know where to start. So I encourage everyone reading this who doesn’t know to do the research and learn.

I remember when I was in college, there were several months where white male students on campus thought it would be fun to harass Black women students. The school I went to had a strong party/drinking culture that was equally matched with a strong rape culture. The administration and campus safety’s response and concern was lackluster. We were determined as the Black and Brown community that the assault on Black women would not happen on our watch. The Black men immediately went into action on campus and formed a daily/nightly escort. We met the sisters wherever they were on campus and walked them home, for months.

So, the problem with Rock’s tasteless and baseless joke is that it is not just a joke. It is tapping into some deeper, historical shit that he should have known better than to do. And for anyone who wants to defend what he said as just a joke, I want to point out the fact that Rock actually did a docu-comedy called “Good Hair.” In that movie, Rock explored the phenomena and importance of Black women’s’ hair! He does indeed know better, from his own work. But he made a choice, and made it more than once. So that slap was a long time coming.

Now, I am not Pollyanna. I know that our society seems to have lost its sense of proportionality with violence and responding to violence. Stories abound of bullied kids finally snapping and bringing an assault rifle to school and offing everyone in sight. So something has definitely changed from my day when kids largely used their hands and feet to fight, put someone on the ground and the fight was over. There is a thing, now, about violence having to go to the extremes of ending life that speaks to something deeply broken in America.

I think what I am hoping for is a deeper conversation about being Black in a country that still responds violently to us every day, and then looks at us like there’s something wrong with us when we have enough and take matters into our own hands. I think I am hoping for more honest talk in and outside of the Black community about how we treat each other, and how sometimes, when we become upwardly mobile, we start to take on norms and strange freedoms alien to our culture, like humiliating and disrespecting a Black woman with a health condition for a “good” joke. Let me also be clear, in the Black culture I grew up in, it is not the least bit abnormal to get slapped or punched in the face for disrespecting a man’s woman/daughter/sister/wife/mother. Especially a person’s mother! It is understood that, if you say and do certain things against a sister, you will just catch hands.

I am aware that is not the norm in other cultures, especially Euro-American/European ones. I do not think nor do I believe everyone else in the world needs to adopt our ways. But I do think people need to gain better understanding of how we do what we do, before they judge it, no matter how famous or unknown the African-American who does the deed is. My two cents.

I just read this on Facebook and this resonated. What happened at the Oscars has larger repercussions in the Black community, amid discussions we’ve been having for decades, that white people do not know about, and this story sums it up very nicely. He touches on a lot of issues that a lot of people are missing in their enthusiasm to jump on the “let’s bash a black man” bandwagon, or their zeal to give advice on how Black men should conduct themselves in public.

There are things happening in our culture, things that white people see us do and don’t understand, but think they do, coming from their deep well of apathy, ignorance, delusion, and propaganda about Black culture. A lot of the things come out of a response to generational trauma, and what happened on that stage is the culmination of many decades of frustration for Will. I feel bad for him, but I’m not angry at him, because I understood it. I understood where that slap came from. And I think Chris did too.

If you’re white none of this concerns you, and none of us are looking to you for your opinion on how we behave with each other. Especially if you don’t know anything about how things work in certain Black communities, then anything you say about this is going to seem like self serving respectability politics, performative, and/or anti-black.

I know white people got opinions and feel some kind of way, but I’m asking y’all to be quiet and listen to what we are saying about this. The arguments about what happened are also going to play out publicly. You can watch it, and read it, but your contribution to our discussion has not been asked for, and is not needed.

Starring the Landscape: The Suburbs – Such A Nice Place To Kill

 

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There are few movies that feature the suburbs before the 1950s. Most movies,  up to that point, were about city-living, because for most people, that was where the excitement was. All the action happened there, and the suburbs and small towns were places to escape from. You couldn’t have a life in those places. At least, not an interesting one. After the second world war, the suburban population exploded thanks to programs like the GI Bill, which allowed white people to buy homes away from the city, and the massive funding of the highway system, which allowed white people to flee the cities, and still be able to reach the places of work they left behind

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While the GI Bill’s language did not specifically exclude African-American veterans from its benefits, it was structured in a way that ultimately shut doors for the 1.2 million black veterans who had bravely served their country during World War II, in segregated ranks.

If you want to discuss themes of conformity, existential angst, boredom, dullness, ennui, and escape from any of those issues, then you need to set your story in the suburbs, with its endless miles of strip malls, identical pastel housing, well kept patches of lawn, and daily rituals of pleasantness. The suburbs, in the movies, are used to represent stability, order, the status quo, and the mainstream. In other words, normalcy. In the ‘burbs, one day is much like the next, the unexpected doesn’t occur,  and change is not encouraged.

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The suburbs are often shown as unexciting places that are meant to be escaped from, or unexciting places into which some excitement falls, and the members of the community must deal with the repercussions, or the members of the community must fight off the encroachment of some thing, or someone, in order to keep the status quo, in order to return to “normal”. Many Horror movies set in suburbia followed the standard formula of something from the “outside”  disrupting stability, and needed to be defeated.

The reason why Horror works so well in suburban settings, is because of the underlying sense of  the suburbs as a safe space,. The suburbs were established as a place  away from the “darkness” (i.e. PoC), and sins of the city, but in horror movies, the suburbs are  invaded by something dangerous, that is either  masquerading as a member of the community, like Fright Night. Sometimes the horror comes from within, when a disruption is caused by someone rebelling against a community which insists on controlling its members through authoritarianism, (The Stepford Wives), murder (Suburbia), or in one particular  short story by Robert R. McCammon, He’ll Come Knocking At Your Door, being sacrificed to nameless gods, in exchange for good fortune. The theme is that the good fortune of living there comes at a price. It can cost the inhabitants their autonomy, their sense of individualism, or their lives.

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The suburbs were created as a way to escape “the other”, (known as “White Flight”.) The suburbs themselves were supposed to be free from the encroachment of the violence, and incivility, and crime that white people were told, by the mainstream media, had overtaken the cities. What the residents did not take into account was that because of the inter-connectedness of American society, the decline of cities would eventually lead to the decline of the suburbs, as well. And, as PoC gained access to the suburbs, during the 80s, which was the height of the Slasher film era, those white people who could afford to leave, ran away to the ex-urbs, (a district outside a city, especially a prosperous area beyond the suburbs),leaving their poor white cousins behind. Since a system had already been set up, so that housing values declined with the “encroachment” of PoC, these white people were now trapped in these supposedly safe, but declining areas, being invaded by the poc they had been told they needed told to escape from, and unable to afford to leave.

In the early years of suburban movies and shows, the suburbs were a utopia, and saw the residents engaged in melodramas, or kids adventures, such as Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and Peyton Place, but as television moved into the 60s, the movies, and shows, started hinting at the darker underbelly, as in the  movies of Douglas Sirk, and shows about non-conformity, like The Addams Family. In these, the suburbs are shown to be a deceptive environment, where dark things could flourish behind its walls, like pedophilia, and domestic violence. It is not the actual environment of the suburbs that produce feelings of horror, and disquiet, but the people who live there. What kind of human beings could live in this  boring, carefully arranged world, with its identical homes, and territorial picket fences? Apparently the kind who are hiding secrets.

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This may seem obvious), but suburban horror is known for being made in spaces where people are, but a film’s tension comes from where people are not. Slasher movies, in suburban environments, focus attention on hidden, dark, out of the way spaces, like abandoned houses, empty schools, and even deserted streets at night. The 1978 Halloween, for example, took place largely at night, and the streets and neighborhoods are curiously empty. There is the sense that other people are around, but they are locked away in the well-lit houses, where they don’t answer their doors to people in distress. Several times, in the movie, Laurie Strode, the movie’s Final Girl, yells for help in the middle of the street, or hammers on doors, to no response. For most of the runtime of the movie, she appears to be entirely alone in this environment, as she frantically dashes from house to house.

And there are secrets here, too. Secrets that eventually come back to disrupt the lives of the inhabitants. This is the premise of The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, in which the sins of the parents are visited upon their children, in the form of a dead pedophile, on which they’d enacted vigilante justice, by burning him alive in a school basement. Their sons and daughters are systematically murdered by this angry ghost. Angry ghosts are also the motivation behind hauntings, in movies like the 1982 Poltergeist, in which the Freeling family are haunted by ghosts in their brand-spanking new, suburban development, which was built on a cemetery from which none of the bodies had been removed. The ghosts in the  Amityville Horror from 1979, go back even further, as the movie posits  that the house was built on  Native American burial grounds. The metaphor here is that the suburbs are not as historically, or emotionally, sterile or pristine as its inhabitants are led to believe. This land has a backstory, and its foundation is built over a dark, and malignant, underbelly.

Sometimes, these stories are cautionary tales, about distrusting people, and usually follow a standard formula of something from “outside” infiltrating this peaceful space, and masquerading as one of its inhabitants, as in 1985’s Fright Night, in which a teenager becomes convinced that his new neighbor is a vampire, or that there is some form of corruption growing within it, like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, in which an ordinary looking menace is hiding in plain sight, or just living in the suburbs itself is the danger, in movies like The Stepford Wives from 1975,  and 2007’s Disturbia.

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A classic “the horror comes from outside” story is Steven Spielberg’s 1976 Jaws. Amity is a small New England suburban town, that is visited by an avatar of death, in the form of a mindless killing machine, a Great White shark. The town’s new Sheriff, Martin Brody, himself an outsider, along with a local boat captain, and a wealthy marine biologist, have to  destroy the shark to restore order, because, according to the Mayor, no tourist will visit a Summer town where they can’t swim at the beach, and without tourists the town can’t survive. The presence of the shark threatens to throw the entire economic system into disorder, and destroy the town. Along with an intrusion from an indifferent outside force, such movies also included  trash talkin’, about cities, as hellish landscapes, filled with crime and poverty. In one scene, Martin Brody explains to Richard Dreyfuss’ Matt Hooper, the reasons why he left the city:

Brody : [Drunk] I’m tellin’ ya, the crime rate in New York’ll kill you. There’s so many problems, you never feel like you’re accomplishing anything. Violence, rip-offs, muggings… kids can’t leave the house — you gotta walk them to school. But in Amity one man can make a difference. In twenty-five years, there’s never been a shooting or a murder in this town.

The idea of the suburbs, as a safe haven from the death and disorder found in cities, didn’t get it’s start in horror films, but it was one of the reasons used to get White citizens to buy into the value of living so far from the it. That nothing ever happened there was part of the appeal. Brody’s postioning of Amity as an innocent, place that is free of danger, is thoroughly ironic, considering one of his kids is almost eaten by the shark.

Because Horror films, (and real life), have shown us that terror and death will come for us all, and cannot simply be escaped by driving further away, across some water, or in the movie, It Follows, in the water.

In It Follows from 2016, several teens living in the declining suburbs of Chicago, are  hunted by an avatar of death that is transmitted via sexual activity. The beautiful, but listless, Jay has already experienced tragedy with her father’s death, but after a sexual encounter with a young man who is not who he claims to be, she finds she is being stalked by an invisible, powerful entity, whose only purpose is to kill her. She can stave off death by having sex with someone else, thereby passing it on, but she will never escape it entirely, because just as in the real world, one cannot pass off death to another to save oneself, nor know the hour of one’s death. The film’s theme is based on the existential angst, that comes to the young, only after they begin to realize their own mortality. 

…and you have no suspicion that death, which has been making its way towards you along another plane, shrouded in an impenetrable darkness, has chosen precisely this day of all days to make its appearance, in a few minutes’ time, more or less…

— — — Marcel Proust — The Guermantes Way

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In Suburban Horror, the suburbs can be infiltrated by something dangerous, that may be masquerading as a member of the community, as in the movie Fright Night, from 1985. Jerry Dandridge is a vampire, able to successfully blend into the suburban environment, by simply conforming to the manner of dress, rituals, and behavior of its inhabitants. He is handsome, polite, charming, and friendly, introducing himself to his neighbors and accepting, and extending, invitations. His house is well taken care of and he causes no disruptions. He fits right in, thereby not arousing suspicion, except from a single teenage boy, that no one believes. Not because no one believes in vampires, but because Jerry laughs at people’s jokes, and wears turtleneck sweaters. Witness the scene when Charlie calls the police to investigate Jerry. The detective visits Jerry’s home and finds no signs of disorder. The lawn and hedges are nicely kept, the garbage is taken out, and the “gardener” says Jerry is away on a business trip. The horror comes from the idea that this “safe” place is harboring a creature that is only pretending to be human. It is especially telling that this movie was released in the 80’s, at the height of the AIDs crisis, as Jerry Dandridge is also a metaphor for another hidden monstrosity, the “predatory gay man” with his pretty face, loyal male hangers-on, and effete European mannerisms, who moves to the suburbs, so he can “infect” the children.

The suburbs are a stand in for conformity and authoritarianism. Sometimes suburbia doesn’t just produce, or expose, darkness, but actually IS the horror. Homeowners Associations, with their stifling and authoritarian rules about the length of the grass on one’s lawn, the color of one’s home, how many Christmas lights can be used, and/or the number of cars that can be parked in one’s driveway, eliminate any forms of individual expression, in favor of suffocating monotony. Obedient wives, toxic masculinity, and forced camaraderie are the norms illustrated in the film, The Stepford Wives. Based on the satire by Ira Levin, the movie takes place during 70’s First Wave feminism, as Joanna, a successful photographer, moves to the well to do town of Stepford Connecticut, with her husband and children. She grows increasingly frightened of her neighbors, and her gaslighting husband, who tells her there is nothing for her to fear. The horror in Stepford Wives is not the death of Joanna’s body, (although that’s part of it), but that she can see the death of her sense of self, through the deliberate destruction of her individuality. By the mid-70’s, the suburbs had received a reputation as the place where a woman’s dreams go to die.

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As more PoC could afford to move into suburban areas in the 80’s, a siege mentality set in, as the residents believed their territory was being encroached upon, which partially accounts for the glut of slasher films released between 1980, and 1989, and all of the other suburban invasion films released along the same timeline, which pictured the suburbs being invaded by violent beings of all kinds, from aliens (Critters), to serial killers (Freddie Krueger), to creatures of folklore (Gremlins), that came there to kill, rape, or create disorder.

What the residents failed to take into account, and still do, was in fleeing the cities, they simply carried all of their pathologies with them, engaging in the same activities, from which, they were attempting to flee. After all, you cannot run away from yourself.

It’s a cheesy old adage, but it’s true. Wherever you go, there you are. What does it mean? It means that if you don’t like yourself, or you haven’t made peace with yourself for things you’ve done in the past, you will be dealing with that baggage forever.

You may even be cursed to make endless movies about it.

Halloween (1978): The Horror of Framing, and Identification

A Frame is a single image of film or video. “Framing” consists of the composition of the subjects (people ,objects) within that image. Based on where the camera and the subjects have been placed,  we know where we are, as the audience, and that can make all the difference in a person views a film.

I have friends who dislike Horror movies. I know! Sacrilege, right? But I get it. I don’t pressure them to watch them, because I understand that such movies aren’t for everyone, but I often wonder what it is about such movies that they dislike, especially when they are unable to articulate this for me. I know for some of them, its the feelings of tension and anxiety that such films produce. But I also think at least part of that anxiety has to do with the nature of the visual media itself. The camera is often a stand-in for the audience. We see what the camera sees, and visual media is carefully composed to manipulate our emotions about what we see. Some people will find it very off putting, not just watching a scene, and being helpless to stop it, but based on how the images are framed, feel as if they are actually participating in the violence. 

I was watching the original 1978  Halloween, and comparing it to the new sequel that came out last year. I was thinking about why the new sequel is so effective, at being scary, whereas none of the other sequels and remakes, outside of  were scary for me, at all.

At least part of the reason the new sequel works is it successfully replicates the framing of the first film in ways that the others do not. This framing has the effect of making the audience a participant in the action. If you remember the opening scene from the original film, we see the suburban setting as if we, the audience, were operating the camera, as Michael stabs his sister to death. Afterwards, the camera switches the viewpoint to that of his parents, we pull back when his parents pull off his mask, as he stands on the front lawn. This is an example of the audience as not just onlookers, which is the viewpoint from which most films are told, but as participants in the actions onscreen. We are not meant to simply watch, but see through Michael’s eyes, as we participate in the killing. That we see the murder from Michael’s point of view can make some members of the audience feel complicit in the act.

After this opening, the camera neatly switches between Laurie Strode’s, and Michael’s, point of view. It is Laurie’s decisions that control the plot, but she and her friends are the ones being acted upon by Michael. The movie is framed in a classic Protagonist/Antagonist plot, of two (relatively) evenly matched adversaries, who play cat and mouse throughout the movie. Part of the movie’s tension is who is going to survive, and the camera shows this by switching between both their points of view. Switching between these two different points of view is a way to keep the audience off balance.

First, let’s have a discussion of camera techniques and film vocabulary, since I am operating under the assumption that a lot of my readers have never really given a whole lot of thought to the idea that what a camera is doing, doesn’t just tell the audience how to feel, or think, but often focuses the movie’s primary themes, and character dynamics.

It is the  composition of the characters, within the Frame, which tells the audience who is of primary importance in the story, and how the audience should feel about what is happening to them.The Director, and Cinematographer are the ones who decide where the camera is going to stand, what it’s going to be doing, and what that image looks like through the viewfinder (the colors, lighting, and depth of field). One of the things that makes horror movies so unsettling is that camera viewpoints can switch at any moment. The camera can be anyone at any time. One of the side effects is that the viewer is not given time to become complacent, or to feel comfortable.

Sometimes we see the world through Michael’s eyes, experiencing the emotionlessness of this character. The way the images are framed, give us a sense of Michael’s height and power, as the camera is often placed slightly above, or at head height during his scenes. When in Michael’s point of view, the camera is always a distant, and unemotional, observer, that moves slowly, and steadily, giving him a sense of relentless implacability. He is framed as a powerful machine, a thing  which cannot be stopped. This is the same camera effect that was used in James Cameron’s The Terminator, to convey that same sense of relentlessness, whenever we see the world through the Terminator’s eyes.

In other scenes, we see the events through Laurie Strode’s eyes, experiencing her terror, vulnerability, and bravery. The camera, from Laurie’s point of view, is handheld, and so it trembles in an uncertain manner, peering slowly around corners, and hedges, through doorways, and closets. In many of her scenes, the camera is below the eye-line, as it angles up towards a sound or image. She is framed as small, timid, and helpless in comparison to Michael.

In the newest Halloween, this is masterfully done by James Carpenter, the director of the original film. In  Michael’s scenes, the camera moves slowly and steadily, contrasted against busy, or frenetic settings, at head height. Laurie, whose mindset is now very different after the trauma of the first movie, doesn’t get a lot of viewpoint scenes, but when she does she is shown, unlike in the first film, as to be equally matched with him, as the camera is at head height for her, too, until the end of the film, when Michael, now in a vulnerable position, is placed below head height, looking upward, towards Laurie and her daughter. The two of them, having turned the tables on him, look down on him from their position of  power.

No discussion of framing would be complete without mention of the film in which it was made especially famous, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho, where we watch the death of the primary character, Marion Crane, from the point of view of her killer, in the infamous “shower scene”. Hitchcock is rightfully lauded for this particular camera technique, as it had never been done in that way before, and it rightfully shocked audiences. I think at least part of that shock is that Hitchcock makes the audience feel complicit in Marion Crane’s murder, as we see it from the point of view of her killer, Norman Bates. But that’s not what makes Psycho groundbreaking. It is the switch from Marion’s point of view, earlier in the film, to a sudden shift to the killer’s, that sets it apart. Marion goes from being the Subject, to being an Object, from the person who commits the acts that determine the plot, at the beginning of the film, and the person with whom we identify, to the person who is now being acted upon. At the beginning of the film, Marion is the Subject, from whose viewpoint we see the world, but while she is killed, she becomes the Object, and WE become her killer. For some people, the sudden shift from one protagonist to another, was simply too much.

What Hitchcock did in this scene is switch Framing. Based on the framing, the audience is meant to think, or feel, a certain way about, or towards, a character, and we, as the audience, had become comfortable with the idea of Marion Crane as the primary character. You’re meant to be as uncomfortable during the shower scene, as with Michael’s murder of his sister, as your eyes are forced to see your victim, and you cannot look away.

In Hitchcock’s scene the camera is initially placed inside the shower with Marion, as she looks outward and sees a shadow. We do not see Marion, in those instances, (she is “out of frame”), because we are seeing things from her point of view. Then the camera is turned, and placed outside the shower, facing Marion. We don’t see her killer now, because we are now in the killers viewpoint. This makes this scene much more intimate than if it was “framed” another way. For example, if the camera had been placed to see both subjects, at the same time, “Framing” both of them within the image, in such an enclosed space, it would have to be placed further away from them, which would have had the effect of placing us, the audience, at an emotional remove, and the scene would feel less immediate.

By placing the camera as the point of view of either character, and switching back and forth between them, we become a part of the scene in an unexpected way. We become each character, rather than an omnipotent third party, who are just watching a murder, as would have happened if the camera were placed at a distance. The moment becomes not just more intimate, but more visceral, than if the camera, or characters, had been placed elsewhere.

Most movies are framed in such a way as to make the audience a third but invisible onlooker, which is sometimes called the “god perspective”, or the “omnipresent watcher”. If the camera is close to the scene, such as when two people are having a conversation, and both of them are seen within the frame, (a medium shot) we feel like a third invisible observer, in the scene with them. If the camera is even further away (a wide shot) than we may feel like we are not part of that scene at all. We might feel like we are spying on the two subjects from afar. If the camera is placed within the scene, switching from the view of one character to another, (the medium closeup, the over the shoulder shot), than we become each character. Where the characters are placed in the scene is an  indication of the level of intimacy between them, and  between them and us.

For example, an extreme closeup of a woman, with the camera panning, (when the camera moves up and down, or from side to side), along her body, places us in the scene with her, as we look at her body. (This is what feminists are referring to when talking about “The Male Gaze”.) Sometimes the scene is meant to be sexually evocative, as the character is may act aware that we are there, and appears to be responding to our presence in the scene with her. But if the camera is across the room, while focusing on her body and legs, then we are no longer in the scene with her, but spying on her from a distance. The character doesn’t know we are there, and acts as if she is alone, which makes us voyeurs, in what appears to be a private moment, such as the scene when Marion Crane first gets into the shower. She is unaware of the camera, and she has not given consent to look at  her, and so, she is as unaware of our presence, as she is of the killer’s.

Contrast that scene, with the opening scene, from the 1976 version of Carrie. The camera is in the shower with Carrie, in extreme closeup. Closer than the Marion Crane scene in Psycho. This is framed as a deeply intimate moment, that we are intruding on, but not participating in. Carrie is supposed to be alone, as she does not react to the camera, and is unaware of its presence. But the scene isn’t without emotion, as shots of her legs, torso, and body, are interspersed with extreme closeups of her face, with its tranquil expression. She is separated from the other girls in the room, and we are intruding on Carrie’s private moment. She is one of the last girls still in the shower, because it is the only place she can find respite from her  bullying classmates. She is enjoying this quiet solitude, before she must re-enter a painful world. Here, we are voyeurs of a different sort, as we are meant to identify with Carrie in this scene. If we were not meant to identify with her, she would be objectified, by not having extreme close ups of her face, a perspective that emphasizes her emotions, and  humanizes her.

Framing can mean the difference between objectification, and identification for an audience.  In Carrie, we are meant to identify with her. It is her classmates, who appear at  a distance, framed as a raucous  mob of water nymphs, scantily clad, and in slow motion,  who are being objectified. In a sense, that is how Carries sees them, as happy, frolicking, young women, whose faces all blend together, and that’s something that will be shown explicitly, minutes later, during the tampon throwing scene, and during the Prom scene, when Carrie thinks they are all laughing at her. She does not differentiate them. They are all the same face to her, and the audience. Focusing the camera on Carrie’s solemn facial expression, during her shower scene, is in contrast to her classmates. We are shown her feelings, and her personhood. We are meant to be sympathetic to her, not her classmates, and for some people it may be difficult to watch a film where one is made to identify with the victim of bullying.

Let’s use another example of framing, in a different film. The 2011, It Follows. Halloween and It Follows, have the same basic plot, where young women are relentlessly stalked by silent creatures that want to kill them. Both movies frame the characters in such a way that we kow they are the protagonists, both films revolve around killing that involves sexual activity, and both involve the survival, at the end of the movie, of a Final Girl.

In It Follows, Jay is being pursued by a monster that can take the form of someone she knows, after she is infected by a virus that allows her to see it. In Halloween, we go where Michael goes, and see what he sees. We are the monster. In It Follows, we mostly don’t see the world from the monster’s viewpoint, except at the opening of the film. For the rest of the movie, we are almost always looking towards the monster, and seeing the world through either Jay’s eyes, or as third impersonal observer. We don’t spend the movie walking in the monster’s footsteps, so we are not meant to identify with It, and hence, the monster is the less important character. Unlike Halloween, in It Follows, Jay is constantly being watched by the other characters in the film, and also the audience, as we observe Jay during some of her most private moments, or we see the monster (always at a distance) from Jay’s viewpoint. Jay is the movie’s focus, and everything revolves around her. This is not like Halloween, where you have two separate, matching, adversaries. The monster has no identity of its own, and is given no point of view. Any identity we see, is given to it by Jay, and everything we see of it, is from Jay’s mind. 

Michael (who is often the audience stand-in) often watches Laurie and her friends from a distance. The camera’s distance from Michael’s victims creates a feeling of emotional detachment in the audience, while closeups indicate intimacy. We don’t get closeups of their faces, because Michael isn’t interested in them as people, only as objects, upon which he acts. We are not meant to identify with Laurie’s friends. However, as a third observer, we do get lots of closeups of Laurie’s face. We are meant to feel what she feels because, the closer a camera is to a character’s face, the more intimate the moment, and some audience members might have trouble with that level of both intimacy, and tension.

Such movies, which are framed from the point of view of the killers, as if the viewers were either ineffectual observers, or participants in the scenes, means the audience is meant to feel the tension and anxiety of the victim, or the excitement, or detachment, of the killer. I’ve never felt the latter, but there are those who watch such movies who find the physical power of such characters, thrilling. I’ve also heard people who don’t like horror movies, accuse those who do, of getting just such a thrill, and that was how I came to the conclusion that some of them were being affected by how  horror movies use framing.That they are uncomfortable with feeling so close.

Perhaps, especially for those who perceive themselves as “good” people, who would never harm anyone, horror movies might be especially stressful, in this regard. Seeing horror scenes from the killer’s relentless point of view is distressing, just as much as being a stand in for the helpless and vulnerable victim, or being an invisible voyeur to violent acts.

NOTE: This post has been heavily edited, to make more sense, than when I first wrote it.

Starring the Landscape: Welcome to the Jungle

The Jungle is the symbolic opposite of the desert and the tundra. The Jungle environment is a stand in for confusion, the loss of civilization, wildness, overabundance, hardship, danger, fear, threat, and powerlessness. The colors associated with jungle environments in movies are greens, black, and red. The kind of horror stories that take place in the jungle often embody all these themes. In fact, many movies that take place in the jungle involve many elements of horror, even if they’re not actually horror movies.

Predator - Shooting Jungle [HD] GIF | Gfycat

The jungle is the opposite of the desert/Arctic, in that it has an overabundance of life, and most of that life is indifferent to ours. So dropping human beings into such an environment automatically makes it horrific, with the jungle itself as an external threat. Jungle movies that contain both internal and external threats are kind of rare, because often just the backdrop of the jungle itself is enough of a threat to human life that it makes the movie horrifying.

In the 2017 movie Jungle, starring Daniel Radcliffe, there is no more threat needed than the act of simply attempting to survive while in the jungle, with no food, no tools, and no resources, or skills. The movie is based on the true story of Yossi, an Israeli traveler who gets stranded, alone, in the Amazon, after a series of misadventures with friends. After several days of trying to get food and make shelter, Yossi is rescued by one of his friends. The movie is filmed much like a horror movie, except the killer is the environment, as Yossi and his companions encounter one challenge after another, from sickness and wounds, to river rapids and hunger.

Blu-ray Review: 'Aguirre, the Wrath of God'

In the 1972 movie, Aguirre the Wrath of God, directed by Werner Herzog, the horror comes not just from the environment, but also internal, as it comes from the weaknesses of other people. In 1560, a group of Conquistadors get lost in the Amazon, while searching for the fabled City of Gold, El Dorado. One by one, they succumb to the dangers of river rafting, sickness, hunger, angry natives, and their own perfidy, until their cruel leader is finally left alone to die in his  madness. The soldiers were not only ill prepared for the rigors of survival in the jungle, but were brought low by their own greed, selfishness, and cruelty.

Writers don’t really need to add more to make the environment more threatening to increase the horror,  but writers will occasionally drop in another external threat, such as in the most famous of these types of film, the 1987 Predator, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a small, heavily armed, paramilitary rescue team, encounter a hostile alien in Central America, The alien possesses advanced weaponry and, one by one, stalks and kills them, until only Arnold’s character is left to outsmart it. The soldiers deal with multiple external threats that make watching the movie especially harrowing. They don’t just have to survive the dangers of the jungle, but the hostile insurgents they came to fight, and the alien, all while attempting to rescue a government official.

Predator - Shooting Jungle [HD] GIF | Gfycat

Alien beings are not the only threats form Outside however. Sometimes the threats are humans, or animals. Since the beginning of cinema, the deep, dark jungles of Africa, and South America have been shown  to be the place where White explorers fear to tread, largely because of cannibals. The most recent one of these is Eli Roth’s 2013 Green Inferno, in which a cast of white plane crash survivors are set upon by a tribe of hungry natives.

https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/the-green-inferno-is-new-low-in-racist-film-making/

http://www.fightbacknews.org/2016/1/23/racism-and-cynical-politics-are-real-horror-eli-roths-green-inferno

The Green Inferno received negative reviews, not just for its gore, but for the tired racist concept of Indigenous people as inherently bloodthirsty and cannibalistic, predators lying in wait for white tourists, or travelers, to happen by, so they can torture and kill them. Among these films were a series of exploitation films, by Italian directors from the 80s, like 1980s Cannibal Holocaust, 1981s Eaten Alive, and Cannibal Ferox, that were devoted to the topic of white people being eaten by natives in jungle environments.

Top 10 Cannibal Themed Horror Movies of the 21st Century - PopHorror

The Ruins, which was released in 2008, follows much the same plot, at least on the surface, when a group of backpackers in the Amazon, are attacked by the Indigenous tribe of that area, after they stumble across a forbidden site. The cannibal narrative is overturned, however, as the natives aren’t simply out to kill tourists, but are keeping them trapped in the jungle, to save the rest of the world from the sentient carnivorous plants the travelers have become infected with.

There is always an element of racism involved in such movies, as the natives, often people of color, are  depicted as hostile, primitive, and cannibalistic, and  whatever religions they practice are also demonized. The local natives in such films are often shown to jabbering hysterically  in foreign languages, ignorant, uneducated, and not in charge of their own fates. The pagan religions they practice are associated with the jungle landscape, and represent the wild outer reaches of civilization, where human beings can survive, but not without the assistance of unknowable animal or eldritch gods, who  are depicted as greedy, bloodthirsty, and requiring ritual sacrifices of animals and people, or involving arcane and mysterious rites of appeasement, as in the 1987 film The Believers, where a man is terrorized and cursed by the members of a Santeria cult, after he stumbles across a plot to sacrifice his son to a pagan god, to prevent World War 3.

Cannibal Ferox (1983) – Balls Out and Balls Off - YouTube

In film after film, South and Central American religions like Voodoo and Santeria are  associated with cults, jungle tribes, primitivism, a lack of education, gullibility, zombies, and Satanism. In fact, the term Witch Doctor comes directly from such movies, differentiating itself from the European witch model, by combining  pagan religious rituals with medical and scientific experiments, as in the 1988 The Serpent and the Rainbow, supposedly based on the true story of Wade Davis, where a medical doctor, gets zombified by the local Witch Doctor, while researching the zombie myth. With rare exceptions, the only time Black people (or Indigenous peoples) appear in such films is when they’re the villains.

When attractive looking White people, (because let’s be honest, urban Black people are not traveling to the jungle for any reason, and we never star in these films as the victims), are not being eaten by humans in the jungle, they are being chased and eaten by the many dangerously large animals that live there. Every year since America’s environmental awakening in the 70s, Hollywood has  produced a host of movies nature’s revenge movies, involving people being chased by giant snakes (Anaconda 1997), giant bears (Grizzly 1976), giant crocodiles (Primeval 2007) or giant pigs, (Razorback 1984) as a punishment for their hubris in believing they could conquer such an environment, or for not paying proper respect to it.

Indominus Water Scene GIF | Gfycat

The premise of “Lost World” films is often based on revenge for the hubris of white colonizers, where there is some part of the world that is so unexplored, or uninhabitable, that it is still available for exploration and/or  exploitation by white men, which nature duly rebukes for their trouble. The latest movie featuring a lost world plot is the 2017 Kong: Skull Island, wherein a group of military specialists get stranded on an unknown jungle island during the Vietnam War. They encounter the titular ape, and get picked off, one by one, by a menagerie of dangerously massive animals like spiders, pterosaurs, and to make the setup complete,  horrific underground monsters.

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

But the most famous of these giant animal movies, upon which the new version is based,  is the 1933 King Kong, in which an intrepid group of explorers get stranded on a jungle island that’s been lost in time. They get hunted by everything from hostile tribesmen, to dinosaurs, to the actual ape himself. The Jurassic Park franchise of the mid-90s, is just a scientific way to upgrade the Lost World myth to the modern world, with humans being hunted through  dark jungles, by ancient creatures, while still addressing the same issues of economic exploitation. The dinosaurs are a scientific version of King King, (only without the elements of racism that mar the original  film.)

The jungle is where human beings go to kill or be killed. That’s its only purpose. There’s no compromising with it, anything can be imagined in such a place, and a person can only exist in there on its terms, which makes movies set in jungles the most exciting and terrifying adventures to have.

Starring The Landscape: This City Is Horrible

There are two different stories in horror: internal and external. In external horror films, the evil comes from the outside, the other tribe, this thing in the darkness that we don’t understand. Internal is the human heart.

John Carpenter

 

city gif on Tumblr | Night city, City lights at night, City aesthetic

When I was a child, the very first city related Horror movies I remember, were Godzilla, and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, two stories about larger than life monsters destroying the biggest things humans have ever built — cities. These movies made an indelible impression on a little girl who lived in the city, and loved dinosaurs. It explains my love of Kaiju stories, from Godzilla, to Cloverfield, to Pacific Rim, and how movies about the destruction of cities have often moved me the most.

I grew up watching these films during the Cold War, between Russia and America, under the constant threat of mutual nuclear annihilation. I remember having nightmares about that, and avoiding movies and shows where it was depicted.

The underlying tone of most of these films is apocalyptic, with many of them indirectly referencing atomic energy. The destruction of entire cities, by some ravaging creature that was caused by atomic bombs, was often a stand-in for nuclear holocaust, natural disasters, or mankind’s hubris. These movies were terrifying, but still invoked awe and wonder, for something greater, whether that was a giant ape, a massive venom spewing dinosaur, or a fifty foot tall woman. They also provided a sense of comfort, as order, and the status quo, were restored at the end.

The stories are all about scale. The monsters are larger than life, meant to distract our attention from the city, and have the side effect of making us realize the more important things in our lives, like our loved ones, or unaccomplished personal goals. The monsters are often huge and unknowable things, that are impossible for any one individual to overcome, much like the city itself.

The monster must rival the size of the city. In 1953, New York got destroyed by a rampaging beast, awakened in the Arctic, by an atomic bomb. It was one of the first atomic age horror movies, and it set the stage for the destruction of New York, by similar beasts, like King Kong, the Cloverfield monster, and Godzilla, for the next fifty years, albeit with different motives.

Best Godzilla 1998 GIFs | Gfycat

After Godzilla in 1998, New York was destroyed again in 2008’s Cloverfield, where the lead character, who has planned to move out of the city, realizes what’s most important to him is his ex-girlfriend, when the city is invaded by some giant creature, of unknowable origin. He sets out to rescue her, in an effort to let her know how much he values her. The live action scenes of the two of them trying to escape the destruction of the city, by the rampaging creature, are juxtaposed against the live action footage of their lives during happier times. Here, the horror comes from the contrast of their human connection, with the disruption of order represented by the monster.

In 1954, long before he reached New York, Godzilla (Gojira) trampled Tokyo for the first time, and that film is an example of true urban horror, tragic, and awful, channeling the real citizen’s pain and bewilderment, after the nuclear bombing of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki nearly ten years before. None of the many Godzilla films that followed captured that level of intensity.  Godzilla even became an endearing and protective father figure, in a series of zany comedies, which featured other monsters. It was almost like the Japanese were healing themselves of their trauma, through film.

That is until the Fukushima disaster of 2011, a real life horror, in which a massive, earthquake-driven, tsunami, caused a meltdown of the nuclear facility in Fukushima on the same day. Nearly 16,000 people lost their lives, and the entire city of Fukushima had to be evacuated. Five years later, Shin Godzilla was released, and successfully captured all the horror and tragedy of those two events , becoming yet another example of Japan reliving its worst nightmares, through the medium of film.

 

 

As in suburban settings, there are three types of Horror stories about the city. someone or something invades the city, which brings about the city’s destruction (external), something insidious is growing within the city or its people, (internal), and destroys its citizens, or it’s the setting itself that is the horror. Movies like Dracula, Blade, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Train to Busan, are examples of these, although they have different goals. One is about the xenophobic fear of disease and contagion from outside the city, or growing within it, one is about the dehumanization of city life, and the loss of individual selfhood, and another is about human connections during its destruction.

Francis Ford Coppola’s version of the Dracula myth was released in 1992, and by that time, most of its original xenophobic themes had been papered over with themes of sexually transmitted disease, and romance, but there are still remnants left behind. Dracula is an outsider, from the Middle East, who brings the plague of vampirism to the busy streets of London, which, in the Victorian 1880s, was in the midst of an industrial revolution. In the real world, talk of outsiders bringing disease, has once again reared it’s ugly head, as the British government threatens to separate from the European Union, while its members speak out against illegal immigrants from places like Iran, Pakistan, and Iraq. So it’s quite a coincidence that there happens to be a yet another version of Dracula, this time set in modern day London, airing on Netflix right now.

Body Snatchers Point GIF - BodySnatchers Point Epic - Discover ...

Contagion is also one of the themes present in the movie Blade, and its sequel, Blade 2, as New York threatens to be overtaken by a plague of vampires growing within the city of New York, and is also the theme of several alien invasion films, where “sentient diseases” are passed on to unsuspecting human beings through non-consenting fluid exchange, in movies The Invasion, a remake of the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, a movie which is not as effective a story, without the sounds and images of the city of San Francisco as the backdrop. The setting is contrasted against the funny, quirky, Dr. Matthew Bennell, and his close friends. One of the other messages of the movie is how the city encourages social isolation, and dehumanizes the inhabitants, as much as the alien invasion.

In fact, the nature of city life, makes it nearly impossible to tell who has been reborn as an alien, and who has not, and that is the point. The people of San Francisco are so separated from one another, that no one really knows any of the people around them, so it’s impossible to notice if anyone has changed, even after multiple people tell the lead characters that their friends, lovers, and spouses, are not who they say they are.

The individual stories of the invasion victims are tiny, compared to the size of the city, and only heightens the pointlessness of their struggle to tell the world that an alien invasion has occurred. City people are so good at not minding the business of others, that by the time Dr. Matthew Bennell has noticed that people are losing their humanity, it’s too late to do anything about it. The city and the invasion are too huge and implacable for one person to make a difference.

The theme of dehumanization is also captured in movies like Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later, and Train to Busan, where a select group of individuals run a gauntlet of ravenous, once human, creatures, while trying desperately to hold onto the last shreds of their own humanity, both literally and figuratively, as civilization collapses around them. The focus of these types of stories are on the humans attempting to survive a chaotic environment, rather than the inhumanity of the monsters. The audience is drawn into the story through the kinds of decisions they make, which determine what kind of people they are. The audience is meant to identify with them, and place themselves in their shoes, thereby illuminating their own character.

 

 

Zombie movies are  a way to tell an intimate story in an oversized location. Many horror movies set in cities tend to focus on small dramas that happen during its destruction. In Train to Busan, the lead character, a callous business man, who cares more about his job than his family, learns to reconnect with his neglected young daughter, the people around him, and his own conscience, as he tries to protect her, during a zombie apocalypse. The zombie apocalypse is used as a backdrop to tell the story of a man regaining his humanity in the face of everyone losing theirs.

Sometimes, city dwellers themselves are monsters, and the the city is shown as a darkly cynical place, a cutthroat “urban jungle”, where people prey on one another, and no one can be trusted. City living is badmouthed in other movies. There are people who will rape or kill you at a moment’s notice, something which was not entirely an incorrect observation, especially during the 60’s and 70’s, when New York city was a much seedier, and more pornographic place, and Times Square in particular, before its gentrification and cleanup. Now, Times Square is clean and neat, but in the 70s, it was rife with strip clubs, open prostitution, porn theaters, and drug use. The frantic sights and sounds, river of traffic lights, buzzing of neon signs, sleek fashions, inclement weather, and constant chatter of people, are the hallmark tropes of city living. Cities are shown as cold, fast, sleek environments, often at night, using cool blues, and hot reds, which serve as  visual shorthand for lusts, and desires, but also  the emotional disconnect of the characters.

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 The movie Candyman was loosely based on a combination of African American urban legends, and the lives of the Black citizens of the Cabrini-Green housing projects of North Chicago. In the years since its creation in 1957, crime, gangs, and administrative neglect, created horrifying living conditions for its residents. Now add an immortal monster, that preys on their pain and sorrow, and what is depicted is an insidious horror, The Candyman, who was created out of  Black anguish, and white racist hysteria.

Much of Cabrini Green was eventually torn down in the 90s, and the last few buildings were destroyed in 2011. In 2020 Jordan Peele will release the spiritual sequel to the 1992 original film, which will tackle themes of displacement, and gentrification by affluent white residents, who of course, are not immune to the horrors of the city, no matter how much they tell themselves that they are improving it with their return.

Seven: The Brilliance of David Fincher's Chase Scene | Den of Geek

In 1995s  Se7en, Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Pitt, she a schoolteacher, and he a cop, move back to the nameless every-city featured in the film. Unused to the grit, and callousness, she tells Morgan Freeman’s William Somerset, “I hate this city…the conditions here, are horrible.” And she is right. In Se7en, it is always raining, everything is gray, and littered with garbage, and the only warmth to be found is in Gwyneth’s character, and the home she has made for her and her husband. Throughout the movie, Somerset gives several speeches about the apathy of the people who live there, and how easy it is for human beings to not care about each other. The two people who claim to care the most about the city’s plight, are on opposite sides of the law. One is a serial killer, whose only solution seems to be causing more misery, by killing its weakest inhabitants, and the latter is Somerset’s hotheaded partner, who is eventually broken by his interaction with the former.

Cities can be a visual shorthand that represents the dehumanizing future that comes with technological progress. Got a horror story involving robots (The Terminator), or virtual reality, (The Matrix), then the best way to tackle so many sub-themes at once, is to set it in a city. Movies that question humanity, (The Fly), and reality (The 13th Floor), through technology, are almost always set in cities.

Movie of the Month - Dark City (July 2017) - Movie Forums

Just the name of the movie, Dark City (1998), invokes images of tall buildings, trash strewn alleys, crime, and permanent darkness, all of the shorthand that’s been used in Film Noir to indicate the horror of city living. Film Noir comes out of the German Expressionist cinema of 1920’s Berlin, and the American movies released in the 40’s, are based on that concept, while also referencing the crime and pulp fiction novels of the 30’s. In Film Noir, a person’s fortunes can turn on a dime, and human beings are the monsters, and with their suspect motivations, and weaknesses of character, they often bring about their own demise.

Dark City contains several monsters, including the actual  city itself, as it grows and transforms, at the whim of its alien masters. This is a literal parallel to real life cities, where, unlike the country with its bland stability, sites and markers come and go, the city grows and changes, and no where is there a fixed position.

In Dark City, a nameless man is pursued by strange men in black, for a series of murders he doesn’t remember committing. He spends most of the movie in pursuit of his memories, while discovering that the city itself is a lie. As the story progresses, we are introduced to alien possession, superpowers, and multiple themes about identity, alienation, and existential dread, which would be more difficult to impart, if the movie were set, for example, in the desert, which is representative of a different type of isolation.

It is said that there are a million stories in the naked city, and whether they are small and intimate (Rear Window, American Psycho, 1408), or huge and bombastic, (War of the Worlds, Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman), that’s a promise for many more lives and cities to be destroyed, and more themes to be explored, in the foreseeable future.

Let’s hope we can survive them all.

Jaws (1975): The Danger From Outside

In an earlier post, I talked about setting horror movies in suburban towns, and how the foundation of the horror stems from the setting being invaded from outside, or possessed of horror from within. I used Halloween as an example of the horror coming from outside the town of Haddonfield, in the form of Michael Myers, (actually this is a little more complicated, because Michael was born in Haddonfield, and is essentially haunting, and hunting, his birthplace), but Jaws is also a good example of this. Jaws also makes the interesting point, that the town of Amity, in which the film is set, is so  inert, that its salvation can’t come from any of its own inhabitants, but must also, like the threat, come from Outside.

Jaws movie GIF on GIFER - by Kekasa

The very first thing we learn when watching the movie is that the waters surrounding the island of Amity are are invaded by an external force, the shark, who takes its first victim, a young woman named Chrissie. The shark is not evil, but it doesn’t have to be, to be the focus of the horror. In fact, that the shark is indifferent to humanity is what gives the horror so much depth. The shark only has to upset the status quo, and the status quo, is that nothing happens in Amity that is worthy of note. The mayor of the town makes this point several times, and the new Sheriff has a short monologue in which he makes this point as well. Nothing exciting happens in Amity.

The next thing we learn is that there’s a new Sheriff in town, Sheriff Martin Brody. We learn, in the first real dialogue of the film, that he and his wife just moved to Amity a few months ago, Brody is often  reminded ,by the citizens, or the mayor,  that he is new at the job, that he is an outsider, or that he doesn’t belong, and Spielberg often shoots scenes with Brody separate from, or in isolation, against the other characters on screen.

Kyle Brody GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

 

Both Brody and the shark are framed as dangerous to the inhabitants of the island. The shark is a physical danger, but Brody represents a more direct danger to the livelihoods of the islanders, as he attempts do his job of protecting them from the shark. He wants to close the beaches, something which the citizens don’t want, as that would directly impact their ability to make a living off the Summer tourists. The citizens of Amity have to choose between two external threats, but the shark is a danger the islanders do not wish to acknowledge, and Brody is something they can control.

Throughout the movie, Brody is constantly reminded, by the town’s mayor, that he is an outsider who doesn’t understand the needs of the people of Amity. Later, Brody calls in another outsider, Matt Hooper of the Oceanographic Institute, and the two of them team up with a resident of Amity named Quinn, but it is on Brody to save the town. Only another outside force for good can restore the order to which Amity had become accustomed. 

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Quint is a fisherman who lives in Amity, but he cannot save the town, as he is one of those anti-social town residents that doesn’t like his neighbors, and who probably don’t much like him. Quint is first introduced by one of the most annoying sounds in the world, as he drags his fingernails along a blackboard during the town meeting to discuss the shark attacks. That one moment, that sound, is all you need to know about Quint’s character, and how the people of the town view him. Like the town itself, (as represented by the Mayor), he is too beset by his weaknesses of character. He has inner demons of his own, that motivate his hunt for the shark, many of them stemming from his short stint on the U.S.S. Indianapolis, which is actually a true story.

                                  *******

https://www.history.com/news/uss-indianapolis-sinking-survivor-stories-sharks

“There were a lot of sharks,” he says, his voice nearly a whisper. “So many. I’d see them swimming below me.”

Quint’s reason for wanting to hunt the shark are mercenary. He wants to get paid, and wants the glory of being seen as the town’s hero, so all his motivations are entirely self-serving.  Although its his home, Quint feels no real responsibility to the town of Amity, and is willing to exploit his neighbors fear of the shark, or monetary disaster by closing the beaches, for his own ends.

Jaws' is a prescient fable for the coronavirus era

Mayor Larry Vaughn is ineligible, because he is a deeply fearful man, who is too scared of the townsfolk’s anger, and his fears of re-election, to go against their desires. Several times he reminds Brody that he is not from Amity, and that he doesn’t know what the town needs,  citing himself as the only person who knows what’s best for the town. He constantly undermines Brody’s authority, refuses to take the shark attacks seriously, and even encourages beachgoers to get in the water, despite the danger of shark attack. He saddles Brody with the impossible task of protecting the town, within the parameters that he sets, where Brody is not allowed to make the townspeople angry, but cannot protect them by closing the beaches. The only time he makes a correct decision is when he orders the beaches closed, after yet another shark attack, and only because his children were on the beach, too. He only makes the correct decision out of fear, after it hits too close to him.

jaws gifs | WiffleGif

Hooper is also ineligible for destroying the shark, as he has no interest in Amity, at all. He doesn’t live there, and can also be seen as sympathetic to the shark. He is interested in the shark for science. He is not interested in killing it, but he comes along on the hunt, because he empathizes with Martin Brody, with whom he has formed a close attachment.  Hooper is also the polar opposite of Quint, who both hates and fears  the shark, and whose agenda is to kill it to assuage his inner demons.

Of the three shark hunters, Brody is the only one who doesn’t approach the hunt from a selfish perspective. What Brody wants is to do his job and protect the town, with tremendous guilt as a secondary motivating factor. His failure to save the lives of several inhabitants of the town, including a young boy, who died because he was not firm enough in putting his foot down about closing the beaches, weighs heavily on him. Earlier in the film, while talking with Hooper, he mentions why he left New York, saying that he felt helpless there, and that in Amity he could make a difference and save lives. Except, he didn’t, and he accepts the full blame for the deaths that occurred under his watch.

10 Horror Movies That Had the Balls to Kill a Kid - Bloody Disgusting

In the end, it makes perfect sense that Brody would be the one to kill the shark, and to do so alone. From the beginning of the film, Brody and the shark are set up as parallels, and  adversaries. We are reminded, so often, that Brody is not from Amity, that it takes on a level of importance.The opening scene is the arrival of the shark to Amity’s waters, and its subsequent attack on a female swimmer. The scene just after the shark’s attack on her, is between Brody and his wife, about moving to Amity from New York, and the second conversation that Brody has, about not being an islander, is on the beach with the young man who reported the shark’s first victim as missing. In most of his conversations with Mayor Vaughn, Brody is reminded that he is new in town, and doesn’t know how things work there.

 

 

Jaws is an example of the Man vs. Nature conflict narrative, in which some of the tension is provided by the main protagonist having to overcome challenges to achieve his goals. The primary conflict is between Brody and the shark, and Brody’s goal is to destroy the shark, thereby saving the town. Three of the challenges he must overcome, before he can accomplish this goal, are external, the Mayor who undermines his authority ,and ability to do his job, and the townsfolk who look to him to save them from the shark, without it affecting their livelihoods, and one internal challenge,  his fear of water.

Jaws GIF | Jaws movie, Shark, Horror lovers

Several times, Brody’s fear of the water is referenced by the other characters in the film.  One of the beachgoers mentions that everyone in town has noticed his fear of the water, and his wife discusses it with Hooper, when they’re having dinner. 

 The thing that makes Jaws an  immensely satisfying movie, is that most of Brody’s challenges get resolved by the end. He has stood up to Mayor Vaughn, forcing him to take his side in closing the beaches, and defying the will of the townspeople. He has destroyed the shark, protecting the citizens of Amity, and done so by overcoming his fear of water.

jaws 1 | Tumblr

It is made clear to the audience, several times in the movie, that Brody is an Outsider, which is the one challenge left unresolved. In an earlier beach scene, Brody’s wife is told that she and her husband will never be considered islanders, because they weren’t born on Amity. They will never belong, no matter what they do, or how long they live there, and that will not change by the end of the movie. This is also one of the primary themes, and the shark’s arrival is narratively equated with Brody’s earlier move to the island.

After Hooper is believed to have been killed by the shark, and Quint is eaten, it is down to Brody, alone, using equipment brought aboard the boat by Hooper, to dispatch this external menace.

Killing the shark, and protecting the town, doesn’t make Brody an islander, but by eliminating the threat to the town, Brody, who was treated as an Outside threat by the town, as much as the shark, will be seen as less of one. By killing the shark,  he proves he can be trusted with Amity’s welfare, and  eliminates, in one action, both of the town’s perceived external threats

 

#STOPARUGINGWITHWYPIPO

This was posted on Medium.com. , and I have the author’s permission to post some of  this here. I want this to start trending. I am sick and tired of watching videos of people arguing with Karens and Chads on my social media.

Stop doing that shit!

I’m tired of it, and it needs to stop. It has long ceased to be funny by simply calling these people by new funny nicknames.

I do not understand why anyone would stand there, and  argue, word for word, with anyone who just started asking them random personal questions. I don’t even accept this kind of questioning of my behavior from my own family, I sure as hell ain’t gonna accept it from some random nosy white person. The policing of Black bodies from white people with absolutely no authority, whatsoever, to do so, has got to stop, and whenever possible, y’all need to tell these busybodies to step the fuck off and get out your face!

Fuck that noise!

 

It’s Time for a New Movement,

You Don’t Owe an Explanation to Anyone

Police are investigating after Black woman says she was followed by a man accusing her of…

Police in a Massachusetts town have opened a criminal investigation into a report that a Black woman was followed by a…

Most Hated Film Tropes

All movies have tropes, sometimes the use, misuse, and overturning of those tropes is what makes a movie worth watching, but they all have them, because that’s what usually determines the film’s genre, for example. Certain things have to occur for something to qualify as Horror, Fantasy, or a Western. I don’t have problem with tropes in general, but some things I am really, really, tired of seeing, or is a sign of lazy film writing.

 

The Magical Negro

A magical negro is usually a Black man or woman with some type of inexplicable superpower, (but sometimes not), who shows up to help the White protagonist deal with some problem they’re having in their life, often without reciprocation from the white protagonist. These magical people are never selfish, deciding  to help any nearby White people maximize their love lives, for example, rather than using their considerable powers to make their own lives better, or save themselves from harm.

Part of the reason this idea is so offensive to me, is not necessarily because the Black person has superpowers, but that they use those powers in service to White people, rather than relieving their own oppression (if they’re shown to have any backstory at all).  They don’t have families, they’re never seen around other Black people, they never discuss their own problems, they have no lives of their own.  Most of the time their origins are mysterious.

A classic example of this trope is John Coffey from The Green Mile, a giant Black man, with no past, and no future either, as he is sentenced to be executed for a crime he didn’t commit, yet nevertheless, spends much of the movie solving the problems of the white prison guards in his orbit, rather than trying to solve his own. I get that he is a Christ metaphor, but watching this movie is very distasteful for me.

Some other classic examples include Oda Mae from the movie Ghost (a Black character with no life or backstory of her own,  beyond helping the ghost of the white protagonist reunite with his wife) There are  movies where the trope is done so well, that I’ll give it a pass, like Red from Shawshank Redemption. A character that just manages to skirt by, with this trope, are Will Smith’s Hitch, as his being a love talker for hire is the entire point of the film and he gets an entire storyline devoted to his own love life.

But my least favorite character, in all of filmdom, is the character of Jezelle, from the movie Jeepers Creepers, a psychic nobody, who takes time out of her busy schedule of doing, we don’t know what,  to provide exposition and aid, to two White, twenty-something, strangers, who are being chased by the movie’s monster. Her only purpose in the movie,is to show up and psychically help these strangers, rather than use her abilities to keep herself safe from the monster. In fact, using her abilities brings her into direct interaction with the monster, in a way that would never have happened if she’d just stayed home, because her pronouncements don’t change their futures, and puts her life in danger.

 

 

 

The Black Guy Dies First

Its not so much that they die first, so much as they never make it to the end of any horror movie.

Black or any other characters from minorities are often said to be the first ones to die within horror films.[1] While it is not necessarily true that these characters die first, a larger percentage die at some point in the movie.[7] Complex did a survey of 50 horror films that starred black characters, finding that only 10% had black characters that died first in the film; however, a great deal of those characters still died at some point in the movies.[1] On top of their imminent death, these characters are also notably given a lack of character development, especially in comparison to white counterparts.[1] According to Valerie, in her breakdown of the development of black characters in horror, black characters stand a greater chance of survival if they are teamed with a white woman by the end, if the entire cast is black, or if the villain is a black person. However, Complex also reveals that black characters who survive the film almost certainly die if there is a sequel.

—– https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism_in_horror_films

A great example overturning this trope is Tales From The Crypt: Demon Night, which stars two, totally bad ass, Black women, one of whom does not make it to the end to the film, (although she does go out like a BOSS), and Jada Pinkett, who  not only becomes the Final Girl, she also gets to be the hero, who defeats the monster. Examples of the first sort are far too numerous to mention. You can pretty much count every slasher movie made in the 80’s and 90’s.

Keep in mind, however, that Night of the Living Dead showed us that even if the Black person is the star of the movie, that is still no guarantee they will survive it.

My most hated version of this trope though, is the movie Logan, where an entire Black family gets introduced, only so they can be killed, a few minutes later. Now, I get that the point of their deaths is to illustrate that Wolverine is, very probably, one of the most toxic characters in Marvel history. Death follows him around like a lapdog, so much so, that anyone who interacts with him, on even the most superficial level, will meet with a quick, and pointless death. If not by him, then through someone associated with his sordid past. In fact, everybody in this movie dies, from the Mexican gangbangers at the beginning of the film, to Charles Xavier, to Laura’s surrogate mother, and Logan himself.

In fact,  Logan is full of dead  PoC, solely because they had some kind of interaction with Wolverine, whether benign or negative.

*Sigh*

Movin’ on…

 

CPR Only Works When You Shout At the Recipient

Gob, I hate this one!

I absolutely hate this trope. I have always hated this trope. Its a stupid trope, meant to create a false feeling of suspense, when a major character dies onscreen. Its often used wrong anyway. CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) is not even meant to bring someone back to life. You don’t just give a person CPR and they wake up and start breathing, as if they just had a nightmare. It’s also meant to last longer than the couple of minutes they show you onscreen. You are not simply restarting a person’s heart. You are doing the job of the heart by keeping their blood circulating, so that the brain continues to receive oxygen, thereby lessening brain damage, until the heart can be restarted.

In Movieland, if CPR isn’t working but dammit-you’re-not-gonna-lose-them you can always just start hammering your fist into their chest. Preferably whilst shouting. This is called a precordial thump and should only be performed once by a highly trained medical professional in front of witnesses when there are no other alternatives – any other time and you’re just giving a corpse a beating.

          ———  https://whatculture.com/offbeat/11-common-movie-tropes-that-would-actually-ruin-your-life?page=4

And screaming epithets has never worked on an unconscious person. That’s just ass-stupid.

I really hate this trope!

 

 

The White Savior

https://shadowandmovies.com/what-is-the-white-savior-trope-green-book/

This is probably the most irksome trope for PoC, because it’s literally everywhere, but now so much has been written about this, in the past five years, that it has actually become a part of everyday film criticism, whereas before it was something only recognized by a handful of people.

 

My most hated version of this trope, and the first time I truly noticed it, was when Mississippi Burning was released, in the 90s. The movie starred Willem Defoe and Gene Hackman, and I hated, hated, hated that movie. It is a classic White Savior film. I hated it because its such a blatant piece of utter bullshit, because it is very well documented what the FBI got up to during the Civil Rights Era, demonizing and interrogating the intentions of MLK, and the protesters (COINTELPRO). MB centers two White FBI agents in the middle of a story about Black people fighting for their rights. Everything about the movie is just wrong. its the Green Book of the 80s.

For a full list of resources see:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COINTELPRO#U.S._government_reports

Now the definition has evolved to include any heroic white character in movies dealing with Black oppression, or during slavery, which slotted a whole new group of movies into the White savior category.

 

Image result for white savior gifs

List of Associated films:

12 Years a Slave Hidden Figures, Avatar, Blind Side, Gran Torino, The Matrix

 

 

The Sissy Villain

Yes, the image below takes place in a children’s cartoon, and depicts not only the Sissy Villain, but sexual assault by an animal like, predatory, gay coded (creature?). The Sissy Villain isn’t always this bad, but GOOD LORD! This was in a children’s cartoon! There are, on occasion, good depictions of this trope, like Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid, who was based on the transgender actress Divine, and the cross dressing Dr. Frank N’ Furter, from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, who is beloved by audiences.

Where this trope is especially insidious though, is in children’s cartoons, like Scar, in the lion King, and Him, (the above character), from the Powerpuff Girls. But this type of villain is also spotted in movies with British villains, where the villain not only has a British accent, but is succinctly spoken, sometimes with effete mannerisms, as in the movies, The Patriot, Die Hard, and  Skyfall. The Sissy Villain has a  strong homophobic element involved in their depiction, as they are often contrasted against the manly, masculine heroes.

They can be found in far too many historical, and action films, basically, wherever the manly hero is found. Sometimes the Sissy Villain is shown as predatory, and  a way to make the villain seem even more evil, such as Jame Gumb in Silence of the Lambs, and Jack Randall from Outlander, who is not only the villain, but  a rapist. Actually,  whenever it seems Hollywood needs a villain, who is predatory, deceptive, and shady, they  just code them as gay, (and often British).

 

 

 

 Cop’s Nagging Wife/ Wet Blanket Wife

Actually there are several different versions of the Wet Blanket Wife, but I want to focus on a very specific version of her. The Wet Blanket Wife, is always ready to sacrifice other people’s lives, so her husband/boyfriend/significant other, can stay home with the kids, or go to one of their children’ s musical recitals, or have a dinner party.

A perfect example of this is the scene in The Incredibles, where Frozone’s wife insists that he is going to ruin their evening, if he goes out to engage in superheroics. Don’t take this the wrong way, the scene is still very funny, but hiding inside it is the insidious trope of the Wet Blanket Wife, who  seems more concerned with their dinner party, than the lives of the citizens being endangered by the movie’s villain.

Or take the movie Red Dragon, where the Wet Blanket Wife’s complaints are ostensibly legitimate. After all, Will Graham nearly lost his life while doing his job, as a criminal profiler. She wants him to stay home, and not endanger his life by going back to his job profiling the latest serial killer, that’s destroying whole families. On the surface I get it, but the way its framed in the movie, makes her whiny and unlikable, and  completely uncaring of the deaths of the victims.

The Wet Blanket Wife lives in cop films, however. She can be found wherever a police officer, or detective has been accused of neglecting his family because he loves his job too much, or not coming up with the alimony for that month, or just never being there for her. and the kids. This trope was famously lampooned in the movie Hot Fuzz, but takes place in far too many other action movies involving detectives.

 

 

White Women are Virgins/Women of Color are Whores

At the same time, our American culture has a long history of sexualizing women of color and holding up white women as paragons of sexual purity. Women of color are lower than pure-minded white women: spicy, sexually imaginative, animalistic. Although it’s natural to desire the superior white woman sexually, only white men are good enough for her, and they must spend their manhood proving their worth. This mindset lingers in our collective unconscious and is expressed in myriad ways. It gets a lot more nuanced than that, so I’d encourage those of you who haven’t to read up on this.

          ——– https://thenerdsofcolor.org/2016/04/08/white-virginwhore-of-color-daredevilproblems/

The above definition says everything I wanted to say about this trope. This trope can very easily be found in the TV series Daredevil, on Netflix, where the oversexualized, and violent Elektra, whom Matt is very attracted to, is contrasted against the blonde, and innocent looking, Karen Page, who is so pure that he feels unworthy to be with her, and who must be protected from harm. Note, that Elektra receives no such masculine protection.

This trope can also be found in the first season of HBO’s Westworld, but to a purpose. Maeve, a Black woman who owns a brothel, is portrayed as sexy and sassy, while her compatriot Dolores, is at first set up as pure and virginal. She is the kind of female character who is protected by white men, while Maeve is the type that is exploited.

https://tvgeekingout.wordpress.com/2016/11/07/westworld-analysis-dolores-and-maeve/

 

The Faux – Medieval World Settings

Yeah, this one is especially tired.

No matter where in the world these stories are set, or how much worldbuilding a creator may work really hard to put into their work, the end result always appears to be set during Medieval times, with that level of technology. There’s always taverns, beer, wenches, and sword fighting. In some cases, sometimes the wheel has not even been invented! Its not that it matches any particular country or even government system, so much as it looks vaguely like Feudalism, with its associated social hierarchy. I call these, Lord of the Rings ripoffs.

As I mentioned  in an earlier post, I didn’t find my way into Fantasy through the usual channels. I started out reading Horror, than switched to Scifi , and eventually made my way to Urban Fantasy, so I don’t have the same level of reverence for LOTR, that other people do, and frankly, I found all the hype for these types of stories to be deeply tiresome. I don’t hate the genre, (I enjoy the films), but I have no patience for High Fantasy dramas most of the time, and even when I do come across something I like, there’s not as much emotional engagement in it for me. High Fantasy set in other countries (Japan, the Phillipines, Africa) don’t bother me though.

Summer Playlist: Talkin ‘bout a Revolution

I was initially going to call this “The New Shit”, but changed my mind, after I encountered a lot of new music that was protest related.

What’s happening today, is indeed a revolution, and every revolution has a soundtrack. In the sixties, the songs revolved around the war in Vietnam, and racial civil unrest. In hindsight, I should have expected this, as there can be no revolution, without Art!

There’s a lot of songs out there, that were written by white folksingers, during the Vietnam War, but plenty of Black musicians wrote stuff, too. I tried not to choose songs that readily come to mind when considering protest songs. I tried to choose the  kind of songs that people might know, but probably don’t think of as revolutionary. 

Here’s a list of revolution songs by Black artists, both past, and present, and maybe even the future. Some of y’all might not have come across these yet, as most of these will not see radio play, and and some of them won’t be offered on conventional streaming apps, either. On the other hand, many of them are available on YouTube, but you can’t research what you don’t now, right?

 

(Say it Loud) I’m Black and I’m Proud – James Brown

This song was groundbreaking for its time. I’ve found that there’s two different types of revolution songs, songs of grief, and songs of defiance. This is definitely the template for the latter type of song. It is defiantly and unabashedly Black.

Songs like these are important, because they are declarations of worth. They remind people of why they’re fighting, and what they’re fighting for, and  if its one thing a bully hates, it’s when their victim gets back on their feet, and declares their worth!

I’m Black and I’m proud is not any different from saying Black Power, or Black Lives Matter.

 

 

F*ck the Police – NWA

This song was incredibly shocking for its time. Not only did it get banned, but it sparked a wave of censorship against Rap music, which did nothing to actually stop Rappers from speaking truth to power, but it did spur music companies to begin focusing solely on Rap music that had no consciousness to it, and only talked about Black crime and partying.

If you’re wondering why conscious Rap music fell out of favor, then the censorship wars of the mid-eighties certainly played a role. White suburban parents did not want their children listening to songs about questioning and disrespecting authority, and so they did what White parents have always done,when it came to art they didn’t want their children exposed to, like Jazz, and  Rock.

Declare it immoral, and use that as an excuse to ban it!

 

 

Redemption Song- Stevie Wonder 

Here, Stevie does a cover of the song originally written by Bob Marley. Its not that I don’t like the Marley version, but I’m a huge Stevie Wonder fan, this version has always been my favorite, and I’ve always loved when Stevie got political.

Or you could try:

You Haven’t Done Nothing

Its Wrong

Misrepresented People

Blowin’ in the Wind

Heaven Help Us All

Village Ghettoland

 

Fight The Power – Public Enemy

I thought about featuring the official song video for this selection, but decided to go with the opening credits for Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, which is what launched this song into everyone’s consciousness. This was a lot of mainstream white people’s first introduction to political rap, like Public Enemy.

I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to Rap music when I was growing up. I didn’t have favorites, or closely follow certain groups, although I certainly knew who PE was. I knew about who and what was hot, because it was the music that everyone around me listened to, so it was always in the background, while I explored other musical tastes.

I’m not going to say this type of music didn’t influence my thinking, because it most certainly did, but I didn’t realize how much so until I was older.

 

 

 

Talking About a Revolution- Tracy Chapman

I talked in my last post about my regard for tracy Chapman’s music. This is another of her many political songs, which still gives me chills many years after I first heard it. This song, along with the last song I listed, is from her first, self titled, album, which was released in 1988.

You can try:

Across the Line

If Not Now, When

Freedom Now

Subcity

 

Hell You Talm ‘Bout – Janelle Monae

This song was released a few years ago, to minor acclaim. Not many people paid a whole lot of attention to it, outside of the Black community, but this song gives me chills every single time I hear it. It is, in the end, a raucous litany of the dead.

 

 

 

This Is America – Childish Gambino

This song became a nine days wonder when it was released a few summers ago, and has not lost its effectiveness. People are still puzzling about the video’s many images and their meanings.

 

https://time.com/5267890/childish-gambino-this-is-america-meaning/

“The central message is about guns and violence in America and the fact that we deal with them and consume them as part of entertainment on one hand, and on the other hand, is a part of our national conversation,” Ramsey tells TIME. “You’re not supposed to feel as if this is the standard fare opulence of the music industry. It’s about a counter-narrative and it really leaves you with chills.”

 

 

Black Excellence – Buddy

I have no idea who Buddy is, but this is one of my new favorite videos, for its celebration of Black history, and I just love to watch good dancing!

 

 

Glory – Common/John Legend

This is one of my Mom’s favorites, but mostly because she’s a big John Legend fan. This song is from the movie, Selma, by the Black female director, Ava Duvernay. I have not been able to bring myself to watch the film. I probably never will. I’ve had my complete fill of movies of Black people overcoming trauma, whose stories I already know, anyway.

The other day, my mom said something very intersting to me. She said, about the current protesters,  “At least they’re not singing We Shall Overcome. I’m sick of that song.” Remember, my mother grew up doing the civil unrest of the  fifties and sixties, and was a member of the local chapter of the Black Panthers, just before I was born. 

I get the distinct impression that  the white people who are talking about today’s issues the loudest, are 1). the kind of people who have never protested for anytihng in their lives, and have 2). not lived with this nearly their entire life. 

My mother is seventy years old. She’s been actively fighting to uplift Black people since she was a teenager! She is not unhappy to see young people picking up where she left off, after her unofficial retirement.

The other day we were talking about her mom, and how she passed just before Obama became the first Black president, and how she would have loved to have seen that. My mom said she was glad to have lived long enough to see that, and to see what’s happening today. 

So yeah, all those white people bitching and whining about the current uprising, can sit down and shut the whole hell up. They’re nattering ignorantly at a people for whom fighting for their rights is a generational lifetime profession!

 

I Just Wanna Live – Keedron Bryant

This is one of my favorite current protest songs. Its also one of the saddest because Keedron is only twelve years old.

There is almost no discussion about the levels of trauma our children are  going through, and not just police brutality, but the presidents behavior, and their constant exposure to the ignorance of online agitators, who are always quick to insist how little their lives matter.

Our kids need to see this. They need to know this. Sadly, they’re the warriors of our future. They’re  going to need to know how to fight this battle, and unfortunately, teach their kids because the battle to be treated as human beings is never going to be over.

 

 

Black Parade – Beyonce 

I want to end on a high note though. On Juneteenth of this year, Beyonce dropped one of the Blackest songs of the year. This is a song of joy, and celebration, and well, there’s definitely some bragging involved.

And then, at the end of this song, she also dropped a list of Black owned businesses. 

I love this song! I’m not the fighter/confrontational type. That doesn’t mean I won’t beat your ass, though. It just means I won’t enjoy doing it, and will be embarrassed at my loss of composure, afterwards! I don’t do things the way my mother did them, but I contribute in the way that I can, in a way that works for me,which seems to be Beyonce’s manner of approach too,  and that’s by celebrating, and uplifting, every opportunity Black people get to shine.

I’m no badass. But I can happily cheer on a badass.

Summer Nostalgia Playlist: Black Women’s Edition

 I thought for quite awhile what header to put on this intro. I thought maybe I should put some facts and figures about the women in these little song blurbs, but I finally decided, to hell with it, Im just gonna say why I love these songs, and why the music of these Black women have been an integral part of my life.

I hope you learn some new things, and most of all, ENJOY!

Oh, and:

Happy Juneteenth!

 

Big Mama Thornton

I did not hear this song until I was an adult and I heard it, in, of all places, a Tom Cruise movie. I wondered who the singer was, because I was diggin’ it,  and I’d always liked the Elvis Presley version of the song. It turns out that Big Mama is the original singer of Hound Dog. Well, now she tore it up, and as far as I’m concerned, this is the only version worth listening to.

It turns out that Elvis appropriated a lot of Black music, so now I make a point of finding out if there was an original singer, if I like one of his songs..

 

 

Sarah Vaughn

I only sort of like this kind of soft jazzy music, when I’m in a very particular mood. Kinda sweet, and melancholy, and tired, but just a tiny bit happy, too, like I just spent a whole lot of money doing something I love all day, and I’m exhausted, happy I had the experience, but sad I’m now out of money. I heard this song in some movie as a child.

What movie, I don’t know.

 

 

 

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

I came across this video on YouTube a few years ago. I’d known about Rosetta through my Mom, who is also a huge Blues fan. I find  the incongruity of someone dressed like my grandma, in a church coat, riffing on an electric guitar, deeply funny.

Also, the song is hitt!

 

 

 

 

Koko Taylor

Koko is another one of my Mom’s favorite artists. I only like some of her music, but this song is one that stays on my playlist, and gets regular play. Most of the time I find her music to be like watching a soap opera. There’s a lot of romantic drama in it, that I don’t much care for, but this song is very cool.

 

 

Jessye Norman

When i was a little girl, I caught one of Jessye’s performances on TV, in what I have no idea, and decided I was going to become an opera singer. I loved to sing, I sang in school, at home, around the house, in the yard, and I wasn’t bad, but I found another madlove (drawing and painting), and eventually gave up on the idea of becoming an opera singer, when my voice changed, after I hit puberty.

 

 

Roberta Flack

I don’t know when i first heard this song. I was a child, so it must have been on the radio. A lot of people probably don’t get that, back in the day, kids just listened to whatever their parents listened to, (because the Walkman, Spotify, or MP3 players, and such didn’t exist), and then, as they got older, they branched off into their own musical tastes. So I ended up with a thorough grounding in Classic R&B, and Blues,before moving on to Rock and Techno!

Also, I’m a sucker for blatantly romantic songs like this.

 

 

The Staple Singers

The Staple Singers, headed by the great Mavis Staples, is one of my all-time favorite singing groups. I’ve loved this song sine I was a kid, but my favorite movie moment, for this particular song, was from the movie, Children of a Lesser God.

 

 

Minnie Riperton

Before Mariah Carey, there was Minnie Riperton. I feel like there’s not a lot of people who know about her, but this is probably one of her most famous songs, because of those incredible high notes she keeps hitting out ofhte park throughout the whole song. Trust me, everyone tried to hit those notes when we were young girls. It is absolutely impossible for me to hit them now.

 

 

Deniece Williams

Deniece Williams was really hot in the 80s. She had a bunch of songs, but like I said, I’m a sucker for a treacly romantic song, especially when its sung with such a beautiful voice. This song is one of my big favorites, and great for singing in the shower. Still ain’t hitting them high notes though!

 

 

 

Tracy Chapman

Here’s another deeply romantic song, from someone I discovered in the early nineties. The first song I ever heard by her was called Fast Car, which is arguably one of her most famous. After I heard it, though, I bought every one of Tracy’s albums, which were a heady mix of romantic, and socially conscious songs, that appealed to my twenty-something self.

If you have never heard of her, you need to get in on this. She sang all of her songs with this same amount of passion, and yes, she’s singing to a woman!

 

 

 

Queen Latifah

Okay, I have a confession to make. I chose this song for this list, because when I was a teenager, and this song came out, I sang it really, really loud, in the house, everyday, and just replaced her name with my own name, because our names are almost exactly alike!I have two younger brothers,and I’m not sure if they remember this phase of me telling them I’ve had it up to here, and that I was their queen! Hopefully not!

This is for those of you who, for some strange reason, do not know that Latifah was a rapper first, and an actress later, and she made the transition so effortlessly, that people barely noticed she did it. We just accepted her as a actress, without asking a single question!

 

 

 

Monica

The first song I heard from Monica was not The Boy is Mine, it was, Just One of Them Days. Yeah, I liked her right away, child that she was, but she grew into a phenomenal singer, who covered one of my favorite treacly romantic songs, Misty Blue, which was originally sung by Dorothy Moore.

 

 

Next up: This is the New Shit: Summer Playlist!

 

The How and Why: Kimberly Jones

Kimberly Jones lays it out of my thoughts on these issues! Tying together economics, Black history, protests, riots, looters, and racism, in just six minutes.

 

What she’s talking about:

Black Codes

 

Black Wall Street

The opening scene of the first episode of HBO’s Watchmen is taken from this history.

 

Rosewood

(This is also a 1997 movie starring Ving Rhames, and directed by the  Black director, John Singelton)

 

 

The Red Summer of 1919

 

Note: As a librarian, I understand the need for research, but I also understand that some information won’t be found, unless you know certain key words. In other words, you have to know what you’re looking for, to be able to find it. This playlist is a 101 of early Black History, just after the Civil War, and following this information will take you into some interesting territories.

A lot of Black History in America is well documented, but not taught in schools. In order to find it, you need to either  stumble across it by accident, or someone who already knows, needs to tell you, otherwise how would you know what to look for. So its not so much that things are undocumented, but that things are hidden.

So I encourage you to use the key words in the headers for these videos to find out more.

 

 

The Strong Black Woman

At The Take, they’re examining the movie trope of the Strong Black woman. This stereotype is a conflation of The Mammy and Sapphire stereotypes, always angry, telling it’s like it is, emasculating, and strong beyond reason, in her ability to overcome suffering. The Strong Black Woman is a stereotype created by black women as a way to counteract the nastier stereotypes, but it has backfired, because it is often the only recognized narrative of us.

What the stereotype ignores is that our ability to be strong is often based on our ability to endure suffering, whereas for white women, it’s often an ability to act like white men do in movies, kicking ass, shooting guns, and not needing a man. Often, when Black women protest this stereotype, it’s because so much of it consists of not needing a man, which is often used as an excuse to not write romances for Black women. The SBW isn’t a bad thing, but when it’s the only image that’s presented onscreen, it becomes an issue.

One of the side effects of this superwoman stereotype is that so many people have bought into it, that it affects our lived experiences, and our vulnerabilities are ignored. Suicide rates among black woman are never discussed, we receive less medical care because it is actually assumed that we don’t feel pain, our strength is often exploited as a benefit to others, our mental health, and inner emotional life is never explored.

This is slowly starting to change, with more nuanced portrayals, especially in TV. We’re finally getting the message out to all women, that it’s okay to be vulnerable, to be soft, to cry, how hard it is to live up to this impossible stereotype, and that taking care of our emotional health isn’t a selfish act.

This is why diversity in storytelling is so important, because with more Black female representation, the lone black woman, who don’t need no man, doesn’t have to stand in for all Black women, in the way that Scarlett Johansson had to be a stand-in for every white woman, in the MCU.

Accents in Movies: Depicting Class

In the 1991 Jonathan Demme film, Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter, in one of the film’s most cringeworthy scenes,  properly deduces that Clarice Starling is “poor white trash”. Working from his own collection of  stereotypes, the observation of her good bag, cheap shoes, and Appalachian mountains accent, he correctly guesses that she’s not more than one generation out of the coal mines. Clarice’s accent, as much as her womanhood, marks her as “other”.

Everything about her, from the opening running scene, in which she is ogled by a pair of classmates, to the elevator scene where the height differential between herself and her classmates makes her stand out, to the soft Southern accent, with which she replies to her supervisor, it is shown that Clarice does not belong there. Although later, Clarice uses her accent to gain the trust and compliance of a roomful of rural professionals, who are suspicious of her presence, as a woman in an all male environment, and as a member of the Federal government. She uses her accent to show that she is actually one of them, from the culture in which the idea of the Wise (or Conjure) Woman is important, and respected.

When you watch that scene again, take note of the strength of the accent, and her use of words. She says to the men, “We’ll take care of her. Just go on now. We’ll take care of her.” And they unquestioningly obey her request, much as they would, if their mothers, or grandmothers had said it. She has successfully conveyed to the men, that she is one of them, a member of their social class, who knows how these things are done.

Image result for clarice starling gifs/elevator

Clarice is a pretender to social class, which is a nice parallel to the film’s antagonist, Jame Gumb, who pretends at being a transgender woman. The only person who is not fooled by Clarice’s  pretense at urban sophistication, is  Lecter, who has a distinct, upper class, European accent, reminiscent of the Lithuanian nobility, from which he came. To  less discerning characters, like Chilton, or the room full of cops that she orders around, Clarice can pass as a member of the middle class. The moment she speaks, people assume she isn’t, but to someone like Lecter, her lack of breeding is clearly evident. Both her, and Gumb’s, (his is Southern Californian), accents mark them as outside the mainstream. Except for the three primary characters, Lecter, Gumb, and Starling, all of the other characters in the film, including Clarice’s Black roommate, played by Kasi Lemmons, all have the  Standard American accent.

The American Standard is the king of American accents, it is the default, so common it goes unnoticed, and the most well favored. It’s also called the Central Midwestern accent, used in places like Northeastern Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan to the far north, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, and is the accent most often heard from news anchors, public announcers, and even AI programs like Siri, and Alexa. There are other accents in those regions, that coexist along side it, but the American Standard is the one which is preferred.

 

https://www.stagemilk.com/american-accent-guide/

It is also somewhat of a constructed concept. What I mean by that is that nobody grew up in Standard America. The sound we’re talking about is what is called a prestige dialect. Most countries (and most languages) have a prestige dialect which is exactly what it sounds like: the speech sounds most commonly identified with status within a given society. Linguistically it’s not simply status but also clarity, intelligence, socioeconomic influence and general power. 

Image result for decorative scrolls

Unlike Clarice, I have this privilege. I call this Accent Privilege, in the sense that my regular speaking voice doesn’t have an accent that is noticeably different from that of the mainstream, Midwestern accent. This happened by sheer luck. I just happened to be born into one of the regions where this is the most prevalent accent. People often judge others on how they speak, and if you have no noticeable accent,  that judgment is favorable most of the time. My accent marks me to others as being intelligent, educated, and/or middle class. My words are treated with either trust or suspicion, based on who I’m talking to. White people consider me “safe”, and are reassured by my ability to be clear and articulate, but I was often asked by my Black classmates, why I spoke like a white person, as the Midwestern accent is heavily associated with Whiteness. I did not grow up as a member of the middle class. Like Clarice Starling, I’m pretending to a social class I was not born into, but which people assumed I did, and my accent helped to sell it, because, like her, I’m barely one generation away from the cotton fields.

But I do also engage in what is known as “Code Switching”, where people from other cultures, or just different regions of the country, speak differently, in different spaces, often “switching” back and forth, between their normal speaking voice, and American Standard.  Why? Because many people are often uncomfortable with, and disrespectful, and suspicious of other languages, and vernacular English, like AAVE (African American Vernacular English). When I’m in my home, I speak the way my family speaks, and since the majority of them are from rural Mississippi, we speak AAVE, but I don’t speak at work that way. For one thing, my job involves answering phones, and a certain mode of professional speaking is required for that type of job. It would be considered “unprofessional”, and in the minds of some people, low class, for me to answer the business phone, as if I were at home. I don’t talk to my supervisors, the way I talk to my mother, for example, (and neither do most people, regardless of whether or not they have accents.

Now, when I’m talking about accents, for the purposes of this post, I mean the entirety of a person’s manner of speaking, including word usage, because only certain types of accents are associated with the use of certain types of words, for example, the use of the word, “y’all”.

 The mainstream Midwestern accent is the default accent used in almost all of American television, and movies. Having a Midwestern accent means a person gets treated as trustworthy, their words are given more weight,  given the benefit of the doubt,  assumed to be educated,  to have a good job,  and to be non-violent. In America, sounding like an American, means having  “no accent”, but that wasn’t always the case.

In the early part of the 20th century, the Mid-Atlantic accent was what was used, until it fell out of favor, in the fifties, for a more “natural” sounding speech pattern.

 

Of course this is an accent, too, in the same way that “White” is a race, but this “lack” of accent (just like whiteness) is so ubiquitous, that most people don’t  notice it.

The way someone pronounces their words, is used in movies and shows, not just to reinforce stereotypes, but as a  form of shorthand, to show a person’s character, and social class. Filmmakers use accents to show audiences that a character is good,  evil,  smart, gullible, suspicious, or trustworthy.  Turn on any American TV show, watch any movie, and chances are, those with Midwestern accents will be the majority of the characters, and probably  will be  the protagonists, heroes, or in positions of authority. They will also almost always be White.

You will not find  a lot of characters in mainstream media with deep Southern accents, Western twangs,  Texas Drawls, Valley Girl speech, Arabic, Southeast Indian, or Caribbean  accents, unless they are also shown as poor, incompetent, corrupt, or played for comic relief. In other words, characters never just have accents. There is always a reason for the accent, and some  point about that person is being made.

For example, the accent, in mainstream media, is used to indicate if someone is considered an American citizen. For the past twenty plus years, the Simpsons,  has had the running gag of an immigrant named Apu, a stereotypical character from India, who has  a strong accent,  is the father of a small multitude of babies, and runs a convenience store. This character is meant to be funny because of how he speaks, not necessarily because of anything he does, as his very existence in Springfield, (the setting of The Simpsons), is meant to be comedic. His accent also paints him as a perpetual foreigner. Asian Americans are especially susceptible to this stereotype, as no matter how many generations they’ve lived in America, they are often still assumed to be from somewhere else. And if they have an accent then doubly so.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual_foreigner

The perpetual foreigner stereotype is a racialized form of nativist xenophobia in which naturalized and even native-born citizens (including families which have lived in the country for generations) are perceived as foreign because they belong to minority groups.

I spoke, in an earlier post, about the use of accents in the movies of the Coen Brothers, where everyone’s speech patterns and accents are used as indicators of people’s socio-economic status, the status they aspire to be, or simply framed as comedic.  In The Ladykillers, Tom Hanks broad Southern  accent is associated with television conmen, corrupt religious authority, and the Antebellum era of Georgia.  His accent gives the audience ideas about the  type of man he is. The audience doesn’t know he is a grifter and conman by his deeds. We know this by the long association, that has been made in mainstream media, between his accent, and untrustworthiness. All we  need is to hear is his caricature of a Southern accent, to understand that he is unreliable, and also that  the movie is meant to be a comedy.

 

In Raising Arizona, Hi, a criminal recidivist,  his two  best  friends, both prison escapees, and a murderous biker, all talk in what I call “downspeak”, where they talk as if they were  college educated, but with the Southern twang that is meant to indicate their social class, and criminal status. This is what I meant by the association of word use and accent. The humor comes from the incongruity of Hi, and his companions, using words not normally associated with their accents. Not only that, but Hi’s word use can also be seen as aspirational. He talks the way he wishes to be seen by others, which is smart, educated, middle-class, and therefore a reliable narrator, but we  laugh at the way Hi speaks, because his accent marks him as a member of the trailer park class, no matter what words he uses.

Accents are especially interesting  when it comes to Black characters. Blackness, throughout most of film history, has been  almost always associated with buffoonery, poverty, criminality, and a lack of education.  So  it is interesting that even though the largest population of Black people in the US, live in the South, Black people in Popular media, rarely have Southern, Californian, or even Texan accents, and those times when they have  a Southern accent, it represents childlike helplessness, that they have wisdom above their station, or in the case of Black women, that they are deeply religious.

In the 1986 movie, Crossroads, starring Ralph Macchio, and Joe Seneca, we can contrast Willie Brown’s poor, Mississippi Delta accent, with Eugene Martone’s middle-class, New York accent, something which Willie never lets Eugene forget throughout the film. They’re both musicians who specialize in playing the guitar, but one of them was born into poverty and plays the Blues, a style of music that is dismissed as “primitive” by Eugene’s music teachers, and the other was born in one of world’s most cosmopolitan cities, and plays Western European Classical music, which is sneered at by Willie, as not being “real music, that comes from the heart”. In this movie, it is Eugene who is out of place, as his accent is commented on by the other characters in the film, and marks him as being from a different socio-economic class.

The Northern Blaccent, where a person speaks AAVE, but speaks it with a Midwestern accent, is often representative of  the “thug”, or gang banger stereotype, and appears to be a universal Black accent,  not closely associated  with any particular region of the US, which means that no matter where the movie or show is set, the accents of Black characters in Popular media, tend to remain consistently Midwestern. Once again, this is not a hard and fast rule, as exceptions can be found, but it is a pattern, and the idea that Blackness alone, is so associated with criminality, violence, and unreliability, to such a degree, that none of those qualities need be further indicated by a strong accent, is disturbing.

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When a Black character speaks SAE (Standard American English) onscreen, without an accent, then it connotes all the same qualities that it does in the real world, respectability, and safety. A decade after the demise of the Mid-Atlantic accent, used by White actors, Black characters were still using it. The use of AAVE in movies and shows, did not reach full use by Black characters until the mid seventies, after which it became associated with Black youth culture, and the Blacksploitation movies of that era. The use of AAVE, in mainstream media, came about as a result of the resurgence in Black Pride, when young Black people dismissed respectability politics, in favor of more natural manners of speaking.

Actors like Sidney Poitier, and other actors during, and after, the Civil rights Era, had a distinct, clipped, educated,  Mid-Atlantic accent, which was meant to show that he was a fine, upstanding Black man, to be respected. The purpose of this manner of speaking was meant to counteract the “Coon” manner of speaking that had been heard in most mainstream films, featuring Black characters. His tone, and speech, are meant to convey authority. This was a man who could be liked and trusted, and  this was illustrated in the 1967 movie, In the Heat of the Night, in which a Black Philadelphia cop, Virgil Tibbs, is sent to a small town in Mississippi,  and works with the town sheriff to solve a murder.

Poitier’s voice is deep, firm, and commanding, because sometimes, the tone and timbre of a person’s voice are important, as well. In this scene, notice the difference in his voice, compared to that of the white sheriff, whose voice is of a higher register, and a more casual tone. The Sheriff’s accent is a soft Southern drawl, his tone holds just a touch of ambiguity, because while he is assured of his own authority, he is uncertain of Tibbs, but like the plot of every cop film of the 80s,  the two men begin  to respect each other, as they are forced to work together.

 

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In Hollywood films, the accent that receives the most negative depictions, outside of the Northern Blaccent, is the  Southern Twang. White people with Southern twangs from places  like Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and the Appalachians, are often depicted in films as toothless, criminal, incestuous,  “rednecks”, “trailer trash”, and “hillbillies”. They are often shown as uneducated, overly religious, violent, poor, and gullible members of the lower classes, (they often populate Horror movies set in rural America, like The Texas Chainsaw massacre, and Deliverance, which is something I’ll be speaking about in a later post.) We are meant to laugh at them, disdain them, be afraid of them, or disgusted by them. The audience is almost never meant to think of such individuals as their equals. Contrast this attitude with that of earlier in the twentieth century, before television, when such people were often held up as admirable examples of Americans, who were the “salt of the Earth”. They weren’t respected, but at least were not blatantly denigrated in most media depictions of them. They were shown as ignorant, but level headed, uneducated, but sensible. Over time, with the advent of television, which was aimed at a middle class audience, the depiction of white poverty became almost entirely negative.

Also on The Simpsons, there is another recurring character named Cletus, The Slack Jawed Yokel, and his theme song and  vignettes are every stereotype of rural poverty, which pretty much sums up how this character is meant to be seen, but because this is a white character, no one thinks of it as being especially mean-spirited, despite the fact that the people writing the show, don’t share the socio-economic background of the character. We are meant to laugh at him, and his antics, not sympathize with him. (TBH, many of The Simpson’s recurring characters are  collections of various tropes.)

We can more clearly see this stereotyping at work, in the 1993 movie, Kalifornia, between  two couples who share almost nothing in common, beyond having white skin. The don’t share income levels, background, or education. Early and his girlfriend, Adele, both speak with a Twang which, outside of their dress and demeanor, indicates their low social and economic status, compared to Brian and Carrie, who speak with the “accentless” accents of the Midwest. Brian and Carrie are both urbane, educated, middle class, and look down on, and mock Adele and Early as “poor white trash”. When the two couples meet,  Carrie expresses reservations about Early and Adele, and finds them funny. Throughout the movie, she regularly expresses disgust, and embarrassment, for the couple’s mannerisms, speech, and lack of boundaries.

Early is a murderer, with a long criminal background, and  on parole, while he and Adele inhabit a trailer, they cannot afford. Adele, while sweet, and good-natured, is also  dimwitted,  gullible, and easily manipulated by Early, who is physically abusive towards her. Adele is  more open with her sexuality. She isn’t slut-shamed in the film, but her manner and dress is distinctly different from the cool, modestly dressed, and sexually aloof Carrie, who Early covets as being beyond his ability to acquire. Carrie’s hair, makeup, and clothing, all indicate that she is a member of the middle class, while Adele’s childlike hairstyles, and lack of makeup, indicate her lack of sophistication. This is actually pretty typical of Hollywood versions of White people with strong Southern accents, but there are at least two exceptions to this, as well.

 

The Texas Drawl, for example, which is commonly given to hyper-masculine, and  heroic White men, like John Wayne, and the Southern Belle, a white woman of at least middle class status, who is  depicted as either  a simpering, or  fiery, damsel in distress, like Scarlett O’Hara.

In genre movies that take place in Fantasy and Science Fiction settings, the Midwestern accent is still dominant, even if there is no reason why a story set in Medieval England, or Outer Space is filled with Midwestern American speaking people, outside of being the actors hired for those roles. Most of the lead characters in Game of Thrones have either staunch Midwestern, or upper class British accents, when there is no reason for such a class station to be alluded to at all, in such a setting. If the characters in a world based on Medieval European history, can have modern British and Midwestern accents, and not be argued as historically inaccurate, than why not any of the many twangs, drawls, Indigenous, Asian, or even Eastern European accents? Why are posh British accents always used to denote the upper classes and nobility even in fantasy settings?

In the Lord of the Rings movie franchise, Viggo Mortensen is a multilingual actor, of Danish heritage, who speaks with a pronounced American accent in the movie. Of all the accents he could have chosen to use, why use that one? The Hobbits all use a variety of English, and Midwestern accents, that are meant to sound casual, but are still “low class” English, or Midwestern standard (and sometimes both in the same character). Although the movies are shot in New Zealand, none of the primary actors have Kiwi accents, which for the Hobbits would be just as valid as the English and Midwestern accents they’re using.

All of the members of the nobility, for example, including the fantasy creatures, regardless of the region of Middle-Earth, or the culture they’re from, like the elves, and dwarves, have English accents. Now I do understand that many of these accents are the natural voices of the actors hired for the roles, but what is never taken into account by audiences is that, that too, is a choice the creators made. The creators of the movies took the time to have the actors speak invented languages, and they could have easily taken the time to make up accents, but chose not to, which probably means, just like the audience, they didn’t hear it either. They could have taken the time to use different accents, for different cultures, or regions of Middle Earth, but didn’t.

Contrast that decision with the accents used in the movie Black Panther. Yes, the accents are all over the place, but according to some of the countries referenced by dress and custom in the movie, the actors accents are not the real accents of any particular region, or tribe, and as a result, many Africans found the accents funny. The Wakandans do speak something like the real language called Xhosa. The bottom line is someone thought about how the characters should sound, and made a deliberate choice that all the members of the fictional nation of Wakanda, would have a certain accent, while it seems no particular thought was given to the accents of the characters from Lord of the Rings. The actors just all used their natural voices there.

When The TV series The Witcher was announced, there was a great deal of argument about adding people of color to the cast, saying that they didn’t belong in a story based in  Polish folklore, because that would not be “Historically Accurate”. This is an argument I’m getting especially tired of hearing,for stories set in Fantasy settings, that involve elves, dragons, and magic, especially since none of those same  people complained about any of the characters lack of Medieval Polish accents, or the lack of any of the languages of Poland. It’s not accurate for any of the characters to have either American or British accents, but no one complained about them. No one complained, because they are not meant to notice that the  “accentless” accent, of Midwestern America, is actually a very specific, and just as contrived,  accent, aimed at a specific audience the films.

Would we take any of these films as seriously as we do, if all the characters spoke like Cletus, from The Simpsons?

In Star Wars, most of the characters (even robots) have either British or Midwestern accents, as well, and there is no particular reason why no one has a Blaccent, or speaks like they’re from Georgia, Pakistan, or Indonesia, although in Science Fiction, this is changing, as in some of the films, most notably in Rogue One, the actors of color all kept their original accents, from places like Mexico (Diego Luna), and China (Donnie Yen).  At least part of the reason we don’t often hear other types of accents in genre films is those types of actors are rarely chosen for those roles,  the disrespect and mockery of accents outside of the Midwestern standard, and  the fact that British accents are the only accents that generally don’t receive mockery in American culture, (although men with such accents are sometimes coded as villainous gays.)

Asian accents on television and in movies are often subject to ridicule and satire. Starting with Mr. Yunioshi, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, to Long Duk Dong, in Sixteen Candles, Hollywood has a long, and sordid, history of mocking Asian accents, often using White actors. Asian characters may be stereotyped as  smart, or  “model minorities” in comparison to Black characters, but they are still shown as being less American, through depictions of broken English, ignorance of American culture, and mock languages, like the sing-song noises directed at Asian Americans, even if they were born in America.

Any non-American accents will receive mockery though, no matter what the the race or culture. I’ve caught myself mocking the Australian accent of Steve Irwin, Michael Caine’s Cockney accent, or laughing at fake Irish and Scottish accents. All accents that are considered by mainstream media to be comedic, or just of the “lower classes”.

All this means is that all accents are unworthy, and that the only one that should be respected (or just never noticed at all) is the accentless accent of the Midwest. And let’s be absolutely honest, not even all Midwestern accents are considered equal. The Northern Midwest has its own distinct sound, and is often used in movies as a form of comedy relief.

Here, Amy Walker talks about some of the more common American regional accents.

 

Essentially, the Midwestern accent  is as  ubiquitous, and invisible as whiteness. It is an accent without an accent, it is everywhere, and because its so pervasive, no one can hear it.

Hi Everyone!

I am currently, like a lot of people, in a lockdown city, here in the US, due to the C- 19 pandemic, and I’m not working. Unfortunately, now is also the wrong fucking time to have either the flu, or allergies, both of which are currently kicking my ass, but I am otherwise okay. I live in a predominantly Black neighborhood and although we rarely panic about anything, yes, people are buying lots of toilet paper.

My Mom and I went shopping this weekend, and while there was a very mild air of excitement, kinda like what’s felt before a National holiday, most people were quite calm, and polite. I saw only one woman wearing a face mask, and one guy with rubber gloves. The handful of white People I saw had amassed lots of toilet paper, while the Black customers seemed like they were just buying food for their unexpectedly early, out of school children. Schools will be closed here to the end of the school year, but the kids are still going to be fed, because otherwise the school lunches, that were bought in advance would go to waste, so that’s good. Voting has been postponed til Summer, movie theaters are closed, and I have no idea when I’ll be back to work, although thankfully, I’m one of those people with fully paid leave.

I’m thinking of donating to people without paid leave, so if anyone knows any organizations that will do that, then please hit me up on Tumblr with the details.

I have no intention of talking about the pandemic on this blog, mostly because reliable information can be found everywhere else, and I really don’t have strong feelings about what’s happening. It is what it is, I’m gonna roll with whatever happens, and my white noise about it isn’t going to be helpful. I’m going to continue to post what’s in my queue, talk about movies and shows, and try to be entertaining, with an occasional deep thought.

Newest Post on Medium.com

My latest post on Medium.com is up and running. Its a little different from what I usually post here, as its something a bit more personal. The post was prompted by a writer on Medium by the name of Elle Beau, and her question was what did the world teach you about how to be a woman. Her question was prompted by an article titled How to Be a Lady, calling  out conflicting narratives of how the world wants women to behave.

Head on over to :

What the World Taught Me About Womanhood

I Ain’t Never Gonna Be A Lady

If you have a Medium membership, just click on my name, and it should be the first article that pops up. Head on over, read it, and be sure to give it a few claps, if you like it! You can give applause by clicking on the tiny hands at the bottom of the post. You can also follow specific themes and writers, so that their latest articles will always show up on your dash ,and you can save articles to read later. (It is possible to join Medium for free. You can read all you want but the number of articles available offline is limited. A paid membership costs about 5.0 a month, for a lot of extra perks, including the ability to write your own posts.)
While you’re there,  check out some of my other original posts, and let me know what you think!