June 18, 2013
Given the cosmic horror themes my current D&D campaign is about use, I felt it prudent to read up on Bloch, Howard, Smith, and of course Lovecraft. These men built on a fairly recent tradition of cosmic horror that would not really hit until decades later.
Having re-familiarized myself with these works, I feel I should point out how influential they have been in MANY areas of popular culture.
There are, of course, the films that are direct adaptations of Lovecraft’s world. I’ve reviewed Whisperer in Darkness and talked about how “Call of Cthulhu” is good for college courses. Of course, there are also the Gordon films (Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Dagon, and “Dreams in the Witch-House), but there are also the films that borrowed from the central concepts of Lovecraft’s vision.
I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost
Sure, the Ghostbusters, well, uhm… busted ghosts. But the big bad in the first film is Gozer, an extradimensional being that seeks to destroy the world. The dead rising are a byproduct of its impending arrival.
Lovecraft was not a believer in the supernatural, despite modern pop belief in the contrary. His stories, even those that dealt with magic, made it seem more like an advanced form of super-science, an understanding beyond that which we know. The titular witch in “Dreams in the Witch-House” wasn’t a student of potions and astrology. She learned to manipulate space and time as a scientist would learn to mix different chemicals.
H. G. Wells made the concept of alien invasion a reality with War of the Worlds. It’s a classic, but Lovecraft was the one who came up with the idea of aliens as truly horrible, and ALIEN, entities. Name a story in the mythos. Any story. Odds are that the beasties and nasties are not so much earth-bound horrors as they are alien “gods” from other worlds. Even if they are creatures from Earth, they likely have a connection to alien entities. Such a premise has caught on with others.
In Hellboy, for example, the ultimate evil is the alien monstrosities just waiting to be released. In The Thing, the titular, well… thing… is an alien shapeshifter that, aside from its origin, would not be out of place in a fantasy horror story. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, they eventually made vampires into demons that were actually creatures from other dimensions.
Today, you can type the name of any show, movie, or book, and find terabytes of stories written by a host of fans from all over the world. Flame wars can erupt at the slightest provocation.
Well, Lovecraft encouraged such behavior.
What we call the Cthulhu Mythos, the collected mythology of alien horrors, is actually written by several different authors. Lovecraft himself borrowed terms and characters from other writers such as Ambrose Bierce. Years of authors borrowing from each other, building a common mythology, has led to retcons, inconsistencies, and a massive library of stories… and fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s also why some people think things like the Necronomicon are real. So many authors mentioned it that it MUST have some sort of real-world analogue.
There you have it. Lovecraft and others, I’m sure, are the unsung heroes of modern fantasy and horror. I’m not saying they’re the only ones responsible, but Lovecraftian horror had a serious impact on pop culture. It took decades, sure, but we’ve embraced these stories. We often use them for comedic effect, such South Park‘s take on Cthulhu himself or even the Unspeakable Vault of Doom. The truth is that the giants like Stephen King and Clive Barker owe much of their inspiration to the works of the early weird fantasy writers.
And I think they deserve more respect and recognition.
February 22, 2013
Do we really need to change the horror movie?
I just spent the last two articles talking about all the things that need to happen in order for horror movies to be fun and scary again, but do we really need all this?
The point of going to any movie is to be entertained. Do bad, cliché-ridden horror movies still provide that? Yes, in a way. Riffing and watching with a large group can still be highly enjoyable experiences. In fact, riffing the film is the best part of a bad movie. There’s certainly appeal to laughing at the misfortune of dumb kids getting hacked like Thanksgiving dinner or the general mistakes of someone who just didn’t care to make a movie the right way…
I guess this is where we start to veer into the difference between “great film” and “good movie.”
Wit was a great film. Trick ‘r Treat was a great film. The Dark Knight was a great film.
Feast, The Last Lovecraft, and Dredd were good movies.
What’s the difference? A great film stands the test of time. It can reach a wide audience and has layers upon layers of meaning that only get better with each successive viewing.
A good movie is fun. You may not necessarily watch it again, but it did its job.
I want great horror films again. I want the kinds of movies that get the crowd so quiet that you can hear your own heartbeat. I want real terror, not the endless gore of a slow death with no sympathy for the victim. I want to actually care about the victims so that I can feel something. I want horror with layers of meaning.
…But I also love movies that are good just on their own. For example, one of my favorite horror films, Feast, is a straight-up closed circle monster movie where the characters don’t even have names. It’s gory and so over the top it loops around and comes back to “plausible.”
And it has fun with it.
Maybe I’ve been going about this all wrong. Not every movie can be The Shining, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Some of my favorite memories watching movies involved movies that weren’t all that great but were obviously having a good laugh at themselves while we, the audience, laughed too.
Bad movies serve a purpose much like bad writing. They serve as examples. Eventually, the market gets so saturated with the bad that the good comes out. It’s strange. That’s not to say every movie on Netflix Instant should be a must-see, but it does mean that we get more examples of what doesn’t work. It’s like I said regarding drawing with charcoal. When you make enough mistakes and wipe the slate clean, eventually, you get something much better than the original work.
You know what? I changed my mind.
Bad movies can keep coming. They have a purpose. Good movies? Take note and learn from their mistakes.
And now, in celebration of this revelation, let’s bask in the glory of cheese that will be Spiders 3D.
October 24, 2011
It’s the best week of the year, and with Halloween coming up, I thought a whole week of horror-themed articles are in order.
Let’s talk about the must have’s for any Halloween movie viewing marathon.
The thing to remember when trying to pick horror movies for mass viewing is that everyone is going to have vastly different tastes. Some people want gore. Others want something scary but funny. Maybe others love the suspense. With that in mind, this list is going to include a little bit of everything. It’s not a “The Best Horror Movies EVAH!” list. It’s what I think works when you have to satisfy a lot of tastes.
Genius inventor Jigsaw traps people in elaborate traps designed to metaphorically make them face something about themselves. This is usually a dark secret or a vice that makes them inadequate in the killer’s eyes.
Okay, so the sequels could have done without basically turning into a series of more and more elaborate scenarios that missed the whole thematic point of the original. So what if pretty much the point of the movies after the third one was to show how sadistic the writers could be?
The original movie is AWESOME. It barely shows any blood (unlike the sequels), and it’s more concerned with the characters actually finding a way out, unlike the rest of the series where we just get a sickening countdown until someone dies because, let’s face it. If you’re in a Jigsaw trap, you’re dead. Most the gore is implied, making this, surprisingly, a good intro to novice horror watchers. Trust me. They don’t show anything you wouldn’t see on a graphic episode of CSI.
This is it. The gore-fest. The standard. Every movie with exploding bodies or dismembered body parts wishes it has the kind of humor, shock, and lasting power this movie has enjoyed.
Herbert West is a medical student with a secret. He’s working on a serum, his “reagent,” that can bring dead flesh back to life. His goal is to wipe out death, to make humans immortal, but the tests aren’t promising. Anyone brought back suffers from violent personality and animal-like hunger. That’s not going to stop the good doctor from trying, though.
This has to be not only one of my favorite horror movies, but also one of my favorite horror films. Not only do we get Jeffrey Combs at his hammy best, but the film is very much aware of what it is: a horror comedy. And it does it well. The gore is over the top. The humor is dark. The whole movie’s like finishing an onion blossom by yourself. It’s fried and you know it can’t be this good, but damn if it’s not tasty.
I showed this to a friend who is very squeamish about gore, and while she shrieked and yelped, she admitted she had a great time with it. It’s just so over-the-top that it works.
“Halloween” and “Halloween H20”
Okay, so this one’s two films instead of one.
Halloween is the classic story of horny teens getting offed by a masked killer on a meaningful holiday. Michael Meyers is one of the templates for every slasher after 1977. The films that came out afterwards? It gets crappier and crappier until the last few movies where the writers decide to throw in something about a Celtic curse and some psychic powers. Needless to say, those last few movies are… not good.
If you watch only the first movie, the 1977 film that made Jamie Lee Curtis one of the undisputed scream queens, then jump twenty years to the unfortunately named Halloween H20, you get a decent storyline that actually has plot.
H20 still has the trappings of the slasher genre, but it’s smart enough to bring back Curtis as a more mature, grown up version of her original character. Think about it. She survived one of the most traumatic nights of her life and evaded a serial killer that is the stuff of legend. What would something like that do to a person? That’s pretty much what H20 is about, and it leads up to a climactic battle that caps off a 20-year old rivalry.
Just ignore the movie that came after this one, too. Trust me. It’s better if you don’t know.
Monsters attack diner. Diner Patrons fight back. Monsters start killing off patrons one by one. No one has a name.
Feast is both a parody and homage to horror movies. Every character is designated by a convenient subtitle like “Hero,” or “Harley Mom,” or “Beer Guy.” We even get a little leaning-on-the-fourth-wall subtitle telling us everyone’s chance of survival. Some of these estimates are clearly sarcastic.
The result is a movie that is actually a lot smarter than it looks. The patrons are very much aware of how screwed they are and they aren’t all dumb. In fact, they’re quite mortal and when I say anyone can die, I mean ANYONE. No, really. Just try and guess who makes it out and who actually bites the dust and when.
“In the Mouth of Madness”
Let’s say you got that one guy in the crowd that wants something a little meatier, something more psychological. Bust out some Sam Neil.
A prominent author (lovingly modeled after Stephen King) has vanished as his new book is due to hit the shelves. A series of strange murders tied to his books has the publisher worried, so they send a private investigator to find the elusive writer. The journey takes our investigator on a trip into a town that should be fictional, a town filled with beings and situations that cannot possibly be real. All the while, our hero and the audience have to wonder… Is it all real, or are we seeing things through the eyes of a madman?
The movie never really concerns itself with fully explains where the eldritch abominations from beyond time and space came from or why they chose to come through books and other media. It doesn’t explain why the author is seemingly the avatar of alien monstrosities. It doesn’t even bother showing you if things are real or just a dream.
It’s just going to throw weirdness after weirdness and you and you’re going to accept it. Why? Because it’s cool…
It just is. Trust me.
There are MANY more movies out there you could use. Of course there are: The Thing, Nightmare on Elm Street, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Psycho, The Shining, etc. These are just a few of the ones I think would be good for a party. If you just want to do some drinking games with dum kids getting killed, any old slasher film will work. I recommend something from the 80’s or somewhere between 1999 and 2009. Most of the schlock came from these years. The more obscure, the better.
Just remember. There are no bad movies. Just movies you can make REALLY funny with the right crowd.
To show you how to properly riff, here are Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy doing what they do best.
September 12, 2011
It’s that time again. This weekend was spent watching horror movies, and seeing as how we didn’t get to play the horror RPG I set up, I’m in a bit of a horror mood this week. Let’s add to the wonderful list of clichés that need to die, shall we?
Hillbillies in Texas
Let’s sit for another vocabulary lesson, shall we? The term “hillbilly” is a derogatory term to identify someone born in mountainous, rural areas of the country, specifically the Appalachians and the Ozarks.
This means that those murderous clans in Texas, or Utah, or wherever the hell else the movies are set, are not “hillbillies” in the strictest sense. Of course, this kind of mentality, that someone from a rural area is inbred or otherwise genetically deficient, is insulting for a number of reasons, but I’m personally taking offense to the old idea of giving these groups in all these movies the same no-names back-story.
They get cut off from “civilization” and a few decades later you have a nice clan of inbred cannibals, because if there’s one thing a group of people who survive out in the wilderness can’t do, it’s hunt, right? I mean, how many people raised in rural areas of the country do you know can hunt? It’s ridiculous, right?
Seriously. The guys from Wrong Turn and Texas Chainsaw Massacre probably have yearly family reunions.
With Friends Like This…
I’ve had friends from all walks of life. Some were Christians, some agnostic, others pagan. Some were conservative, others liberal. Some were straight. Some were gay. Some were bi. A few had a higher education. Some didn’t. And yet, when together with them, you could always tell we were all good friends.
If I have to watch another group of “friends” that look like they’re about to kill each other every five minutes, I might scream.
Most horror movies already have the cliché of “young friends go on the road, trouble finds them.” That would be bad enough, but the movie feels it needs to lump in a mix of personalities: the jock, the nerd, the slut, the innocent girl, etc. Instead of having a story draw everyone in, we get everyone in a car because they apparently know each other and they have nowhere else to go.
I’m serious. Watch the interactions in any movie that features more than three people traveling somewhere. They can’t stand each other.
And I know that friends can bicker and argue, but the groups of friends that go into these trips to an island, or a party, or the haunted mansion where a hundred people were killed by a lone sociopath so it should be a prime Spring Break vacation are so utterly incompatible as a “group” that I find it easier to believe the serial killer really can teleport.
Horror Goes With Soy Sauce
Lovecraft is one of my favorite writers. Just search for him on this site and you’ll see. If he didn’t invent the tentacle monstrosity or the abomination lurking beneath the water, he sure set the groundwork for it. Virtually everyone from Stephen King to Guillermo del Toro has, at some point, used Lovecraft’s monsters as a template for their own horror shows.
And now, can we please move beyond the need to have every inhuman alien or creature look like a Japanese entrée?
There’s a reason tentacles and slimy things unnerve us. They’re not something we see every day. We’re land-based animals that still fear the unknown, and tentacles and goopy aquatic adaptations are some of the strangest things our animal brains can see. That’s what makes this terrifying.
It also means everyone and their mother does it. I’ll admit something, though: this cliché would be very difficult to undo or break away from. You can only design something to make it look alien so much before it becomes either ridiculous or unrecognizable as a life form. The horror of the strange yet familiar is what tickles all of our brain.
Still, if someone found another way to make truly alien beings appear alien and terrifying, I’d appreciate it.
In a video game, it’s not uncommon for your ninja guy on a mission of vengeance to call out his attacks as he does them. Think Street Fighter or any other fighting game. It sounds and looks cheesy right?
So why have we accepted that vampires get weird eyes or otherwise turn animalistic when they’re about to attack?
There’s some justification for this one. At least in the case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon thought it would be disturbing if high schoolers continually stabbed and killed human-looking villains all the time. Not having to have them dispose of the bodies is another reason for why vampires “dust” when they die.
However, pretty much any time a vampire is going to go for broke, the eyes turn a different color, sometimes the fangs grow out, something. If these are supposed to be stealthy killing machines, why the theatrics? It’s much scarier NOT knowing when the monster is going to attack.
Personally, if you’re shooting for straight horror, nothing’s scarier than a guy who could live next door just casually chewing on someone’s neck or severed arm. It would be hard to pull it off, though.
The scene, not the severed arm.
Michael Myers Syndrome
Any fan of horror should know this one without me even spelling it out. A killer is on the rampage. Dumb college kids are dying left and right. As the killer approaches the Final Girl, we can only wonder what combination of events and motivations led this killer on a murderous spree…
Oh wait. We can’t.
A lot of killers get something akin to a back-story. Freddy was a child murderer. Jason’s mother was killed in front of him. Michael Myers… uhm…
Even the ones that get something like a back-story quickly abandon it in favor of killing and slashing for the sake of murder. At the third sequel, does anyone really care whether or not Jason’s mother went on a killing spree that ended in her death and pushed her son to become a violent killer? There’s nothing wrong with having the antagonist be the star of your show. Having the bad guy be front and center, exploring his or her emotions, is a great way to tell a story from an unconventional point of view.
Let me put it another way. Either the bad guy’s interesting, or the heroes are interesting. One or the other or both.
Most horror films can’t do even one.
And you can be sure I’ll be avoiding as many of these as possible when I finally run my horror game this week. See you tomorrow!
September 9, 2011
Anyone who’s ever gamed with me more than once knows I like to mix it up. When the players are looking for a rogue Star Destroyer, they discover it’s actually an old derelict found and mostly patched up by the Hutts. Great! The guns work just fine, though…
Oh, so you’re in the Nine Hells in search of an artifact needed to seal a planar rift in the kingdom? Awesome. And you made a deal with a devil to fight in a tournament for it? Okay… and on the opposing team is one of the player character’s mom? Uhm, okay, things just got complicated.
It’s been a long few days, but while looking through my old files, I dug up this little “Welcome Packet” for my players in a modern horror campaign. We were using the d20 Modern system, Shadow Chasers setting, and I wrote this as an in-game packet they get upon entering service with Department-7. Basically, the heroes are pseudo-government agents tasked with finding and containing supernatural threats. Think X-Files, but with more magic and no aliens. And more shotguns.
Anyway, I thought it would give a glimpse into why so many of my players develop an slightly stronger paranoia than the average player. Some of these are Murphy’s Rules of Combat, and the others were adapted from an old list I found in a forum many years ago. I take no credit for much of this, just putting it together.
And if you have time, check out this little quiz I put together on Facebook a few years ago. I’m curious what you guys get.
From: Director Lewis Alanor
The Ten Commandments of Shadow Hunting
Shadow is a mysterious and little-understood property of the world, either a realm or a subset of our own where creatures of myth and magic reside. Throughout the ages, Shadow has come and gone like a tide. Over the last two hundred years, we seem to be in “high tide.” Agents of Department-7 should mind these commandments in order to maximize their time with the agency, as well as extend their own lives.
1) Keep It Secret
“How can we expect another to keep our secret if we cannot keep it ourselves?”
-Francois Duc de la Rochefoucauld
We hire unique individuals for Department-7 because they have shown their resilience at interacting with the supernatural and strange. Though we have other field agents knowledgeable in Shadow lore and its denizens, most people will be outright driven mad by the sights and horrors of the world beneath the one they see.
Additionally, agents for various cults and hostile organizations live everywhere, and we cannot be sure who they are until they strike. As such, keep all connections to Department-7 a secret. Do not pass along the knowledge of Shadow to the uninitiated.
For this reason, we demand you keep your true motives concealed from those who should not know. Of course, there may come a time when a small number of local law enforcement may need to know, though be careful. Most will think you are insane when you start talking of Shadow. Be prepared to many breathalyzer tests.
2) Stay Together
“An army is a team. It lives, sleeps, eats, and fights as a team. This individual heroic stuff is pure horse shit. The bilious bastards who write that kind of stuff for the Saturday Evening Post don’t know any more about real fighting under fire than they know about fucking!”
-General George S. Patton
Put simply, trust your teammates and work as a unit. No one agent can do all the things needed to combat Shadow, but a team can bring a myriad of resources together. Some are adept at occult studies. Others are trained military personal. Still others know how to run a good con. All skills will come in handy. Make no mistake about it. You never know what you’ll need on the field.
3) Act in Haste, Repent at Leisure
“Fear not for the future, weep not for the past.”
-Percy Bysshe Shelley
Before doing something irrevocable, make sure you have no other choice. Ammunition may be replenished, but life cannot. Time is limited, so act when you must. Cry over fallen comrades later.
4) Always Have a Plan
“What I plan is driven by those earlier failed.”
Even a bad plan is better than no plan at all. While a bad plan may get everyone killed or committed to a sanitarium, the lack of a plan always will. When investigating a Shadow manifestation, every member of the team should have a clear idea of what will be expected of him or her during the investigation. If possible, a backup plan should also be available. When possible, a backup backup plan should also be on the table. If one member of the team is especially important to the success of the investigation, make sure he or she is safe at all times; don’t leave them alone in the cellar, don’t take a nap while they read some awful eldritch book, and don’t let them experiment with strange talismans.
“I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.”
-President Woodrow Wilson
Before risking an encounter, make sure someone has scouted the area. Doing a bit of research into local history can be quite effective. Careful survey of all the evidence is vital. Remember: knowledge is power. One of the surest ways to be killed by Shadow is to run in with no information about possible escapes, numbers of hostiles, and other such vital information.
While those silver bullets might be toxic to certain creatures, they’ll do next to nothing against the more ancient evils of the world.
6) Know your tactics and weapons
“Cannon to the right of them,/ Cannon to the left of them,/ Cannon in front of them,/ Volley’ed and thundered.”
-“The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Tennyson
A firearm is a useful tool, handy in opening jammed locks, an excellent way to signal a comrade, or useful in attracting the attention of local authorities. When confronted with unruly locals, nonchalant display of a firearm can often effect quick cooperation. A gun has a wide assortment of uses; no Department-7 team should be without one. Shotguns and submachine guns are available upon request. C4 and other demolition packs may be given at the Agency’s discretion.
Also be conscious of other methods of combat, such as hand-to-hand and perhaps knife-fighting.
However, keep in mind the enemy may also have firearms, and in larger calibers. They are also not shy about massive collateral damage or friendly fire. Local law enforcement also rarely enjoys firefights in the middle of town.
7) Know Your Enemy
“Theory should be study, not doctrine.”
– Carl von Clausewitz
Use all forms of media as research tools. Books, movies, and the television news can all give clues and information about the weaknesses, powers and whereabouts of the enemy. Know the sign of Shadow creatures, but do not expect that something which worked on the late show will work against real-life monsters. Folklore is filled with varying accounts of the types of creatures you can expect to find, but don’t rely on hearsay. Always keep an open mind.
8) Things Are Not Always as They Seem
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
Many people and creatures of Shadow know they must stay hidden. Despite their power, they are too few in number to act freely. As such, be wary of anyone you encounter over the course of an investigation. Almost anyone could be a worshipper or agent of Shadow.
Don’t trust your own eyes. The power of illusion is rare, though not unheard of.
Never trust someone close to the case. They’re close to the case for a reason.
However, be wary of dreams and portents. The psychic turmoil of Shadow can touch anyone. Chicken entrails and tea leaves, however, are always unreliable.
9) Never Give Up
“One who has health has hope, and one who has hope has everything.”
Inexperienced agents commonly give up when it appears victory is impossible. Dedicated scholars never cease action, no matter how hopeless matters seem. Never overlook the obvious, recheck your data, and do more research. If things still look bleak, try random approaches to defeating the menace. No matter how bad it seems, it can get much worse if you give up. Don’t go poking sticks into wasps’ nests unless you are prepared to finish the job. Our brothers and sisters in arms are all that stand between Earth and Shadow.
10) Be Prepared
“Once a man’s will is set, he need no longer rely on others or expect anything from the world. His vision encompasses Heaven and Earth, past and present, and the tranquility of his heart is undisturbed.”
This goes much further than just bringing along extra rope or ammunition. Before starting an expedition, do research on the subject, find out any legends about the area which may give helpful clues; with access to ancient tomes, you may stumble across a vital clue. When ready to confront the menace, consider the hardware needed. Take anything which sounds even remotely useful, but does not burden or impede movement. Spare handgun magazines are lighter than carrying a gun for every scenario. Remember, you must try to blend in as well as be an efficient Department-7 Agent.
Other rules suggestions from various agents throughout the years are also important, though more specific than we would have liked for the purposes of this list. Some go a bit far and forget about the subtlety Department-7 agents are expected to show. However, learn and abide them.
- If the enemy is in range, so are you.
- Incoming fire has the right of way.
- Keep your affairs in order, just in case.
- Don’t look conspicuous: it draws fire.
- There is always a way.
- The easy way is always booby-trapped.
- Try to look unimportant; they may be low on ammo.
- Professionals are predictable; it’s the amateurs that are dangerous.
- The enemy only attacks on one of two occasions: when you’re ready for them, and when you’re not ready for them.
- The enemy diversion you have been ignoring will be the main attack.
- Don’t draw fire; it irritates the people around you.
- If it’s stupid but works, then it isn’t stupid.
- Never enter a dark room with anyone braver than you.
- Anything you do can get you shot. Including doing nothing.
- Make it too tough for the enemy to get in and you can’t get out.
- Explosives are equal opportunity weapons.
- A good citation on your record just proves you were smart enough to think of a plan, stupid enough to try it, and lucky enough to survive.
- If you’re short of everything but the enemy, you’re out in the field.
- The important things are always simple.
- The simple things are always hard.
- When both sides are convinced that they are about to lose, they are both right.
- If in doubt, empty the magazine.
- Overkill works.
June 6, 2011
I’ve fought the good fight here on Randomology. I’ve battled the nitwits and the stupid, the racist and the close-minded. I’ve pushed back against those who would hijack education, the Constitution, and twist the idea of progress into something awful. I’ve ranted against those who likewise hijack religion in the name of ratings or fame.
But when you go after Sesame Street, you better believe I will FUCK YOU UP. I grew up with Sesame Street. Sesame Street helped me learn English. I loved the Muppets growing up, and if you grow balls big enough to go after Jim Henson and this pure, fun, educational part of my childhood, I will personally rip your spleen out through your knee.
Behold the wisdom of going after puppets. No, really. Just watch the video and see how these guys can see the Mongol-like invasion of progressivism in… Elmo teaching kids letters.
Now, maybe you watched the video, but maybe you didn’t. That’s fine. Let me go over a few of the more… interesting points they try to make regarding Sesame Street and the media in general.
0:36-0:51 Sesame Street was created to cater to poor black and Hispanic children who didn’t have reading material at home.
…And? What’s wrong with originally catering to sections of the population that traditionally lag behind in education? I would think this is a good thing. Blacks and Hispanics usually lag behind in education, and this isn’t a stereotype. Research throughout the years have shown this. This is due to a number of reasons, everything from inadequate resources to troubled home life.
And yes, I myself am Hispanic, and while I didn’t have these kinds of problems, the show helped me.
0:51-1:26 Sesame Street’s website tells parents to use gender-neutral nouns, give dolls to boys and trucks to girls, and just this year, an openly gay boy was crowned prom queen in a school in Virginia, so this is a “direct assault on this country’s moral foundation.”
Okay, this string of accusations has three parts, so let’s go through each individually.
First of all, using gender-neutral pronouns isn’t some subversion of morality. It’s the inevitable result of both genders being equal. Do these two clowns have something against equality? Even MLA and APA handbooks say you should use gender-neutral nouns. However, this being Fox, I doubt they’d know the standards of journalism.
Second of all, could someone please tell me where on the Sesame Street website these evolutionary throwbacks found that little piece of information?
And third of all, this thing with a gay man being voted prom queen? How exactly does Sesame Street link back to this? This is really the point of the clip where the discussion goes into generalities and strawmen, but let’s pretend that this has nothing to do with Sesame Street. Let’s say they’re just outraged that the media in general is saying that a gay man can be prom queen.
I guess these are the kinds of people who would also be upset over two lesbians going to prom. The school voted and the kid won. Fair and square. And it was an affirmation that the student body embraced this young man’s decision. Just watching him and how proud he was of his friends and family speaks volumes.
1:37-2:14 “The values of young people today scare me because we’re robbing them at earlier and earlier ages of their childhood. They know more. They do more.” Our shows used to be more wholesome, and parents aren’t monitoring what their kids are watching.
The children! They invoked the children!
And if you too would like to know how you can tell people to stop using children as a shield for their own ignorance, just click here.
So many things wrong here… What, exactly, is Sesame Street taking from our children? Just read that quote again. The panel is actually mad that children are LEARNING. That’s right. They don’t want children learning things like reading and math or about other cultures. God forbid little Timmy learns that in Mexico, they use a lot of spices and have different kinds of limes.
As for the whole “wholesome” shows thing… as much as I loved I Love Lucy and similar programming… Lucy smoked while she was pregnant. Everyone smoked. Aside from Ricky, name another visible, independent minority. Please. Show me the episodes where they addressed things like racism, inequality, and the rights of women. Show me when the Cleavers had to deal with an unwanted pregnancy.
And don’t even get me started on The Honeymooners.
Yeah, the shows were “wholesome,” and I’ll admit they were funnier than half the crap on TV right now, but don’t hold them up as ethical and moral beacons.
2:15-2:26- Artists are liberal, and artists make these shows, so…
Now, our former Miss America got cut off, but if you listen carefully, it sounded like she was going to make a case for “Artists make and write these shows, artists are liberal, and therefore, since we know liberals are evil, these shows are evil.”
I got news for you, Spray Tan. Artists made those shows you and the Right-Wing Brigade were pushing up a few minutes ago. Yeah, artists tend to be more liberal and open minded. We have to be.
But the politics or personality of the artist have no merit on the aesthetics of the art itself. Let me put it another way.
I hate Michael Bay. The guy is a diva who is full of himself and can’t take the blame for his own mistakes. On the other hand, The Rock happens to be one of my favorite 90’s action movies. Not surprising, since Bay made it before he apparently replaced his blood with pure testosterone and diesel fuel. Likewise, H. P. Lovecraft created tales of morbid and alien terror, yet he was an unapologetic racist. On their own, though, the stories created an entire sub-genre: Lovecraftian horror.
Oh, and may I just say that, when you want in-depth commentary on the state of the media, education, and child psychology, your first choice for a panelist should ALWAYS be a former Miss America, right?
Was a former Playmate not available?
2:27-2:54 If you look at tyrannies, the first thing they do is go after the family and religion. Then, government can become the family and religion.
Again, this has nothing to do with Sesame Street, but let’s ignore that.
How is the media going after family and religion? Can we get examples? Specific shows and incidents? No. All we get are generalizations. The fact is that if you want to make the case for the media destroying families and religion, it’s not because television is preaching against it. It’s more likely that parents aren’t paying attention or being involved with their kids. Religion does not address the issues it needs to address.
I would never raise a child just on Sesame Street, or any other show or book. That’s called bad parenting, so stop blaming the television for parents not doing their job.
2:54-3:15 Liberals think they’re so great, that their morality is so good, and they want to spread their message. They don’t even teach the basics in school like reading, writing, and math! They don’t even use their own money to get their message out.
Yeah, we like to think we’re right. We want to get our message out. So does the right. This is really just Hannity mad that liberals have the balls to say what they believe. I’m serious. He’s just ranting that the Left has the gall to try and spread its message as though it’s some instant thought-converter.
Oh, and that crack about teachers not teaching reading, writing, and math? Well, we’d like to, but your hero, George W. Bush, butchered the educational system and my own state has raped history into submission.
And Hannity, how much of YOUR money do you spend to get your message out? How much does Beck spend? Beck was crying about this Israel trip of his costing a few million dollars even though he is worth $80 million. Even if he spent only 10 million dollars, he could fly more than 2,000 people there for free.
The rest of the video is just ranting against how liberals supposedly don’t have their own charities, how there’s apparently between rich liberals and the American elite that involves some weird word-play on Hannity’s part, and Sesame Street is never mentioned again.
There are legitimate concerns about children’s programming. I know this, but at least make a substantial argument. I’m very protective of Sesame Street because it really did play a big part in my childhood, although seeing the raging liberal that I am today, I may have proven the panel’s point.
Sesame Street is one of the best educational tools for young children. Combine it with good parenting, and kids get a lesson at home they might not otherwise get. It’s a great tool for learning English for foreign-born kids, and it’s evolved throughout the years to show a more multi-cultural, open society.
And if anyone goes after Sesame Street, Oscar, Gonzo, or any of the Muppets without some actual justification, I will go after them with extreme violence. Napalm may be involved.
Well, let’s hit the links, shall we?
- Penny Arcade made a pitch for a movie on their comic, something they do from time to time, but it looks like this one may actually get made into a movie.
- There are a series of videos released in anticipation of The Dark Knight Rises that seem to show Gotham in a panic, something about chaos in the streets, and a weird chant. Ideas?
- A student made a short film, got an A in class, but when he posted the videos on Youtube, he got suspended. It gets a little weird after that.
- I don’t remember 8th grade field trips including a trip to Hooters…
- Leslie Nielsen gave us one final joke… on his tombstone.
- And finally, because this is a short set of links, let me give you the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. See you Wednesday!
March 23, 2011
Teachers have been getting a bad rap for years. I’ve already outlined how educators don’t get the kind of pay people think they do, but there’s another reason it’s easy to blame teachers for failing education and make them scapegoats for everything from union trouble to state budgets.
We’ve set up a system where teachers are unfairly judged and given expectations no person could possibly match.
Let me give you a few examples.
If police were held to the standards of teachers, we would fire them after five years if their respective districts didn’t lower crime. Fresh out of the academy, these police would be required to make sure crime dropped by significant levels. Their tools to make sure communities don’t eat each other?
Drills. They would teach people what to do in an emergency, so, when the time comes, they know a few options that are limited to standard responses. Police would not really patrol or investigate. They would go around and make sure everyone knew the drills and, if anyone didn’t, that citizen would be arrested for endangering the community.
Police would host seminars and workshops to make sure everyone knows the proper responses to fire, shootings, and car accidents and that’s it. People would complain that there are many more emergencies than these and a set of general, adaptive skills would be more beneficial than just practicing the equivalent of stage directions, but the police would have none of that.
Teachers have to teach students in order to pass mandated testing. The mandated curriculum leaves little for actual critical thinking skills, questions, or improvisation. This is what people mean when they say “teaching to the test.”
How long did you remember the information in a test after you took it?
If doctors were held to the standards of teachers, every doctor would be mandated to treat twenty to forty patients a day. Doctors would have one year to make sure each patient met certain guidelines: cholesterol, body fat, and blood pressure. These doctors would have to make sure their patients all had the appropriate levels of these three things, and we would declare said patients healthy at the end of that year.
But, the doctors would cry out, these are not proper indicators of health! There are so many other variables that must be taken into consideration-
And they would be hushed because, say the hospital administrators, after that year, that patient is no longer your responsibility. These are the standards we’ll use, and you will stick to them.
The doctors would cry out that the patients have red meat, smoke, drink, and don’t exercise and only really work at health and act healthy during check-ups. And the hospital administrators would get after the doctors for the health habits of patients at home.
Teachers can teach as much as they want, give homework and encouragement, but students are ultimately responsible for studying and preparing themselves. It’s a two-way street. Teachers “give bad grades” like doctors give “negative prognoses.”
If the military were held to the same standard as teachers, they would be given a very specific timetable for all major operations. Wars would last no more than a few months and, at the end of that time, whether done or not, the military would pull out of a foreign country. All goals would have to be achieved, and if the military failed, they would be reprimanded and defunded until they got it right or were all fired and replaced with fresh new recruits.
And, in order to balance the budget, soldiers would have to buy their own ammunition. Sailors would need to purchase their own life jackets. Marines would need to buy scopes for their own sniper rifles.
Teachers face penalties if they don’t live up to expectations, but the penalties schools receive for unsatisfactory testing end up crippling the school and make it harder to teach as classes swell and funding disappears. Many educators have to buy their own supplies, out of pocket, to have a proper class.
Am I saying teachers are not to blame for any of the educational problems in this country? Of course not. Teachers have to live up to their end of the bargain. But as we cut benefits, pay, time, and force teachers to become little more than machines to spit out test answers for students in a curriculum that bears no relation to real life, we have to ask ourselves…
If we think of teachers as nothing but babysitters, why do we heap all these duties and responsibilities on them? And if they’re not teachers, but mentors and guides, why do we make it so hard for them to do their job?
- This looks really gimmicky, but damn if I don’t want to at least try vampire wine.
- Amazingly, it looks like people are happier working in the military than working for Disney. Who knew?
- You know me. I loves me a good a drink, so here are some literary lines you can toast to.
- If you’re watching a movie, always be careful of little girls. Especially when said girls are trained assassins whose only purpose in life is to kill and main government operatives.
- Ladies and gentlemen… lesbians. That is all. You may go about your day now.
- Now, I’m not a video gamer, although I play Wii with friends once in a while, but I can’t imagine ever being so obsessed over a game that I do this and land in the hospital.
- Billy Corgan celebrated his birthday this week, so let’s go over a few things you may not have known about this musician.
- Everyone has listened to or watched the “Friday” song and music video, but guess what? As much as I hate it, there are people with even worse lyrics. Beiber and Gaga are among them.
- I’m all for gender-neutral inclusion, but you really can’t do that sort of thing with classic literature.
- It’s one thing to Photoshop an image to correct mistakes. it’s another to give the woman way more bust than she was willing to show.
- What do children think of the Lovecraft Mythos? Check out these Lovecraft-inspired children’s drawings.
- And finally, just because I really need something so utterly cute that it will make this week feel better, I give you a puppy dancing salsa. See you Friday!
November 22, 2010
Cthulhu does not sleep! He simply couldn’t get his clay joints moving.
I recently used the 2005 silent-film Cthulhu in class. For those of you who haven’t seen it or don’t even have a desire to watch an adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s work… watch it.
Seriously. It’s a very entertaining movie and, unknown to me at the time, one of the greatest tools I’ve ever used as a teacher. I was originally going to use clips from the movie to just teach sentence structure, comprehension, and critical thinking in English. Instead, I found out that silent films actually offer us teachers a few interesting opportunities.
What Did He Say?
Since we gained access to the internet and videos in class, teachers have had the opportunity to use dialogue and real-world applications in lessons. This is invaluable, especially when you’re trying to teach English or any other language. Nothing helps more than hearing and seeing someone use it.
Silent films don’t have spoken dialogue, but they do have narration and occasional speech cards. As the movie progressed, we paused and rewound and we didn’t have to strain to make out any accents or anything similar. In fact, pausing the title cards gave my students the chance to actually read out what the characters were saying and made it feel like an interactive experience.
It was like a weird Rocky Horror show with tentacles.
My First Horror Movie
Call of Cthulhu has some very nice music. It’s the kind of soundtrack you’d expect from the depths of madness and despair brought forth from the unnamed eons of the past… and it’s in the same style as 1920’s silent films. It’s big and bombastic and although there’s some blood some bleeding eyes, cannibalized corpses, and the handiwork of cultists, it doesn’t have the gore factor of modern horror movies.
This is part of what made it so appealing to many of my students. One student in particular had voiced her opposition and revulsion at horror movies, and as the plot unfolded, she was one of the ones paying the most attention. When the lights came back on, she was laughing and giggling along with several other girls.
Black and white film gives us something we’ve been missing for years in the horror genre.
When all you have is acting, lighting, and music to drive your point home, you have to try and hit real fear. You can’t rely on a gore shot or a special effect. You have to actually create the emotions in your audience, and horror is one of the more exhilarating, so not only did they get to watch a movie, but they get a jolt that keeps them awake.
Once Upon an Eon…
Storytelling, real storytelling, is a rare thing. I don’t have cable and frankly, I don’t miss it too much. Call of Cthulhu has the distinction of being one of the many Lovecraft stories that were at one point considered “unfilmable.” It’s set in the 1920s and uses a style usually unknown to many modern audiences.
And that’s what makes it so refreshing.
While the term “Lovecraftian” is easily used by those of us who know of the man’s work or even derivative works, this weird mix of science fiction and horror is a breath of fresh air for a large chunk of the population. Now apply that to a student who is new to American culture, let alone American fiction.
You end up with an experience he or she won’t soon forget.
Bugs Bunny and the Great Learning Era
I learned to speak English thanks to Bugs Bunny. My mother, after a certain point, forbade me from watching television in Spanish. I had to watch it in English, and that included cartoons. My students learned new vocabulary and applied it to the movie they watched, making it stick more than just memorizing. They remember names, plot, and got to interact with the lesson.
My uncle used to say I’d grow up to be a cartoon base don how I talked.
And this is how you teach a language. It’s how you teach anything worth teaching, Make the students interact with it. Make it interesting. Most importantly, don’t let them know they’re learning.
Links tomorrow, then a break until Monday for the holidays. Thanks for reading, and have a Happy Turkey Day. And don’t forget the Big Guy is coming soon…
November 15, 2010
I am a nerd. Pure and simple. I make no apologies for being able to cite Star Wars, being able to spot physics mistakes in movies, and playing D&D on a weekly basis. I embrace technology. Whenever a new development makes it possible to do something once confined to science fiction films, I get a little tingle.
Except this time. I saw the following video and felt a creepy, cold, snake coil around my neck.
A singing hologram. Hundreds of audience members singing along. A hologram that makes it possible to have Roger Rabbit-like scenes in real life.
Did I mention that, despite the live band, this is a recording?
There’s a theory called the Technological Singularity. It states that the rate of technological progress has been steadily growing and, at one point, we will in fact create machines that can think and create faster than we can. At that point, humanity’s history will end. Progress will be out of our hands. In essence, we will cease to matter.
I saw that video and instantly thought of the Art Singularity.
Never heard of it? It’s a theory I have. The number of people who create art is increasing each year. This means more possibility for new types of art, new creations, and a greater opportunity for others to get their work out. However, it also means the art world is flooded with many people and works that are, quite frankly, copies of other works. I don’t have to tell you that most works that find mass appeal do so without actually having anything behind them. Twilight, boy bands, reality TV, most pop music, and others are nothing more than candy filler, carefully calculated to appeal to the lowest-common denominator.
see more Lol Celebs
And maybe it’s me, but it seems like things are getting more and more artificial. Eventually, we will have “art” that is nothing but a machine creating beats and images designed to appeal to the masses.
It’s not that I don’t think popular music and movies and art were never calculated to some extent. As much as I want this to be a free expression of everything I want to say, I do edit these posts and make sure I say what I want to say as best as I can.
But I don’t do it to appease a demographic. I do it because I want it to sound good. I want to say and I create something that speaks to the reader and is appealing.
I saw that hologram singing, saw the crowd singing back and reacting… and it was a recording. She doesn’t exist. The talent belongs to a computer programmer who wrote the code, to an engineer who designed the holographic technology, and to a composer who wrote the music.
And we will likely never know their names.
I’m probably building a slippery slope here, but I think we don’t appreciate real artists, if we ever did within my lifetime. We focus on the end result, the bands and the flashy glitter on screen, and we don’t really appreciate the artists and designers who created the end product. Who can name a single writer in Hollywood? Who designed the graphics in the latest video game?
The Art Singularity is making art more and more artificial, more and more the result of mathematics than heart.
A few years ago, I met a writer who imagined a future where traditional art was eclipsed by “pop art” that required no talent and appealed to the attention-deficit audience of the day. Traditional artists protested by going to parks, street corners, and other public places and painting or drawing the most beautiful images they could create.
The artists then set these works of art on fire and used the ashes to make black paint they then used to recreate the original. Why? Because something made by a person has imperfections, bits of the artist’s personality, and is unique in that it will never be reproduced exactly. There will only be one. Ever.
Machines and pop art mass-produce these images and cheapen the process.
Look, I’m all for new technology and finding new and better ways of creating. I have nothing against using Photoshop or holograms or whatever else comes along. I’m just afraid that one day we’ll just have machines spit out whatever we want to see. Art isn’t just about showing us pretty things.
Art is about showing us the things we don’t want to see. It’s about seeing the artist and learning about ourselves in the process.
And now that we can expect the Robot Apocalypse to include the takeover of the art world, let’s get some links goign to soften the blow of our impending doom.
- To anyone who thinks that models need to be a size double-zero, please take a look at these models. They probably represent more women than the waifs on fashion magazines… but they look damn good. Ladies, take note. Thin, large, black, white, blonde, whatever. You’re beautiful.
- Ever wanted to eat some Koopa steaks? What about filet de Yoshi? Here’s a handy guide for your next 8-bit culinary adventure.
- Speaking of pop stars, Justin Beiber has a documentary on his life coming out. The kid can’t even buy beer and he has a documentary? Thankfully, some intrepid souls went and made their own parody trailer. Personally, I’d rather see the parody.
- Mila Kunis talks about her sex scene with Natalie Portman in the upcoming The Black Swan. You know, I like Kunis better since That 70’s Show ended. Her character got on my nerves.
- Households with lesbian parents have a surprising amount of child abuse… Zero. Take THAT, right wing!
- Europe does a lot of things better than the good ol’ USA. They have more interesting beer, for one. They also have commercials like this that manage to put a different spin on something as established as Star Trek.
- I’ve been using The Call of Cthulhu film in my ESL class because we can use the subtitles. The HP Lovecraft Historical Society is also working on a “talkie” adaptation of “The Whisperer in the Darkness.” Check out the trailer and see what you think.
- And finally… I want this movie to be good. I really do. The music is creepy, the visuals look good, and it’s got Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez. I. Want. It. To. Be. Good.