Update

Hey guys!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, but I just wanted to let my readers know that I’ve recently switched platforms!

Please, go subscribe to my new YouTube channel (link down below). There, I’ll be talking about a lifelong passion of mine: creatures of folklore and mythology. I’ve already done videos on banshees and werewolves!

Thank you very much, and I can’t wait to see you all there!

Follow me here!

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The Love of Monsters

As Halloween approaches, everyone is getting prepared in the fairly typical ways. We’re all fine-tuning our costumes, decorating our houses, and, if you’re anything like me, watching a lot of horror or monster movies.

Personally speaking, I’ve always been drawn to horror movies – or, really anything with a monster in it. And, more than that, I’ve always been drawn to the monsters themselves. I didn’t just love vampires and witches and shape-shifters – growing up, I wanted to be one. My whole life, I’ve been obsessed with these stock characters of film and literature, but it’s only really been recently that I’ve found myself questioning – why? What is it about these characters that draws me – or, more generally, that draws us to them? I mean, there must be something, considering we have a whole day (or, for some, a whole month) dedicated to them.

The stock-answer that many have come up with is simply that we as a species enjoy being scared. Being scared produces adrenaline, which leaves us with a nice “whew-I-totally-escaped-that-killer-even-though-there-was-no-actual-danger” feeling afterwards. But, truth be told, in my case at least, I don’t think that fully grasps where my obsession with these characters comes from. I mean, sure, if I actually met up with a vampire in real life, I’d probably be crumbling to my knees and begging for my life (seriously, it wouldn’t be very pretty), but I’m well aware that the chances of that actually happening are pretty slim. And yet, that doesn’t stop me from turning on Lost Boys or Interview With The Vampire – and not just in October either. I’m talking about a year-round obsession here. A year-round obsession with something that, supposedly, is intended to scare me, but by my 111th-viewing of Lost Boys, it’s sort of lost its initial edge.

So why do we keep going back to these figures?

Well, the next answer that I could think of for this would be that monsters often symbolize for us the forbidden, but I’d even take that a step further – monsters symbolize transgression.

Ever since childhood, the monsters were the only characters that I saw on screen that were allowed to transgress.

Witches, for example, are often represented, not only as strong women, but as unashamedly strong women. Women who keep only female company (interpret that how you will), and who don’t worship the Christian God, and who forego the act of having children. Women who are learned and down-to-earth and free with their bodies and their sexuality. There’s a reason why many feminists identify strongly with witches.

Vampires are often associated with sexuality, due to that whole penetration-exchange-of-fluids thing. Sometimes, such as in Bram Stocker’s Dracula, this sexuality is merely supposed to be interpreted as deviant-outside-of-wedlock-not-for-the-purposes-of-conception-sexuality. Sometimes, such as in Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, this sexuality is supposed to be interpreted as same-sex-sexuality. Either way, vampires are usually allowed to operate under rules that society restricts humans from, and these rules are often sexual in nature, or at the very least carefree and fun, rarely producing any serious consequences (unless you count getting staked through the heart as a serious consequence).

And even for the monsters that are a little bit less fun to imagine yourself as, they still force us to operate by rules that society restricts us from. Stories of possession force the possessed to reveal sides of themselves they never would have. Zombie stories quite literally force us to imagine what we would do if there was no society to restrict us. And good, old-fashioned werewolf stories are, as we all know, supposed to explore the more animalistic side of humanity.

Growing up and watching these movies, the heroes were all pretty much one-note: strong, tough, fearless, quick-witted, white, heterosexual, able-bodied men or emotional, nurturing, white, heterosexual, able-bodied women. They weren’t really allowed to stray much in their character from story-to-story. The monster, however, could be anything. And now that I’m older, I know that the reason why the monster could be anything is because the monster is supposed to be disgusting and terrifying, and through their transgression, they have earned their punishment. But nonetheless, along my journey into becoming an unashamedly feminist, bisexual woman with mental illness, I had these monster movies to identify with.

And, I mean, yes, it’s a shame that Nancy gets hospitalized at the end of The Craft, but isn’t she just so badass before she does?

And, yes, it’s always sad to read about Carmilla being murdered at the end of Carmilla, but until then, she’s fucking awesome!

And truth be told, I think this touches on the reason why many of us enjoy monsters stories: because many of us relate to the monster. Even if it’s just some small part of us, no one feels like they completely fit in, and no one feels universally beloved and valued. Therefore, when we see a character that is literally hunted down for who they are, we can relate. Because many of us have at least felt as though we are expected to shave off parts of ourselves to fit into society’s mould.

Therefore, we take one of two approaches to the monster: we are saddened by their ultimate downfall, or we take comfort from the knowledge that they had to be destroyed for society’s own good, just like those parts of ourselves that we rejected.

But, for me, these monsters will always hold a special place in my heart because of that sense of identity, that shared feeling of being hunted down and hated by society. And I mean, sure, I understand that they went a little too far when they went to the lengths of murder, and I understand that they earn their punishments because of that, but still, it’s all a fantasy, right? It’s still fun to pretend, just for a little bit, that you do exist in the media.

And that isn’t to say that representation isn’t improving in the media. It is, especially as we continue talking about it. And hopefully, in the future, young, feminist, bisexual girls with budding mental illness will be able to see themselves in the media without that exact character being punished for who they are. Hopefully, we will reach a place in society where the hero is allowed to transgress just as much as the monster is.

But until then, the approach of Halloween gives me an excuse to settle down with a good book or turn on the TV, and catch up with my old friends.

Psycho 2 Review

Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho is a horror classic. It features images that have become ingrained in popular culture, such as the famous shower scene, the image of the corpse sitting on its chair in the fruit cellar, and Norman Bates’s evil smile to close off the film. It offers many brilliant performances, many subtle notes, and many reasons to come back to the film again and again. Really, it’s a story that doesn’t need to be continued – a story that you almost don’t want to see continued, because the narrative gaps that are left into the film are all ones that you enjoy filling in for yourself. And yet they made a sequel. Yay?

So, yeah, let’s get that out of the way first: this is a sequel that doesn’t really need to exist. The first Psycho was complete unto itself, no one was really clamouring to see how Norman Bates’s story continued, and although the book that Psycho is based on does have a sequel, this film is not based on it. And considering the fact that the first film was a classic, there’s absolutely no chance whatsoever that this film can compare. But that being said, a lot of horror sequels aren’t really necessary, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be enjoyed for what they are.

And there are quite a few things that this film has working in its favour. Anthony Perkins returns to play Norman Bates, and his performance was a highlight of the first film. He was the awkwardly charismatic man with a secret, someone who you knew wasn’t quite right but you weren’t quite sure how not right until the movie’s end. Well, in this film, all pretense is dropped and we know how not right Norman Bates is. Sort of. I mean, we know the crimes that he is responsible for in the past, but interestingly enough, the film’s conflict comes from the fact that Norman Bates has been released into the public, considered legally sane, and yet murders have begun springing up again, and Norman has begun receiving messages from his mother again. Is he losing his mind again, or is someone working against him?

On the one hand, I like this conflict. I feel like, at some point, it was the makings for a very strong script. I like the idea of humanizing a person who is extremely mentally ill and responsible for terrible crimes. But, at the same time, there is a fine line between humanizing someone and ignoring the fact that they are a serial murderer, and this film crosses that line sometimes. There are multiple points throughout the film where other characters are accused of being “just as crazy as Norman,” and unless they’ve also hacked up women in the shower because they dared to be attractive, I’m going to say that isn’t true. There are simply too many times in this film where it feels like the writers forget the things that Norman is responsible for, and more than that, they forget just how mentally ill he was. They forget about the internalized misogyny that made him want to punish women he found attractive. They forget that his alter-ego “Mother” was not solely responsible for the things he did, and that getting rid of that alter-ego would not completely cure him and make him an average, neurotypical man. And, yes, I know that time has passed since the first film and that Norman has been in mental institutions ever since, but a) the first film established that Norman had been in psychiatric care before and it hadn’t cured him completely, and b) I can only buy that Norman has changed a certain amount, and being replaced with an entirely different character is not enough.

And, not to mention, there are a lot of plots in this film, to a point where I felt somewhat confused about what was going on. Without spoiling anything, there are multiple villains throughout the film and not all of them are working with one another. Norman just seems to attract crazy. A subplot is introduced regarding the possibility that Norman may or may not have adopted, and I’m not really sure what this subplot adds to the universe of the Psycho films. It just feels really ridiculous and unnecessary.

But that being said, I went into a film called Psycho 2. I was prepared for ridiculous and unnecessary, and that is exactly what I received in abundance. I do not feel let down by the film that I saw, not in the least, and as much as I’m aware that it was a bad film, it still held my interest all the way through. I got the impression that the writer behind this film watched the first Psycho and thought: “This is good, but what if it was more sympathetic toward Norman, and what if the women were all the villains instead?” and that choice was simply so befuddling to me that I wanted to keep watching. And by the time the film ended, I felt like I had thoroughly enjoyed myself.

So the way I see it, when you come across a film called Psycho 2, you know what you’re getting into. You know that it’s probably going to be a little over-the-top, a little ridiculous, and considering it was a sequel to a horror film made in the 1980’s, a little gory. And as long as you expect that, rather than the brilliance of the first film, you will not be disappointed. You might even have a lot of fun with it.

The Value of Uncomfortable Art

As a writer, one question that I frequently find myself questioning is what, exactly, can and should be put into fiction.

And as consumers of media, I think this is a question that comes up often, as well. For years, people have made the claim that violence in fiction is dangerous, because it teaches impressionable people to act violently, and therefore, it should be avoided at all costs.

I’ve had people – particularly very spiritually-inclined people – tell me that I should avoid violent or negative media, like horror films, because they create negative energy in the consumers, that then turns into negative feelings, uncontrollable anger, bouts of depression – things like that.

And as someone who is very concerned about women’s rights, I’ve been told repeatedly not to watch this movie or that movie or support the interest in this character and their story arch because it’s sexist, or it promotes harmful stereotypes, or it delivers a message that ultimately oppresses women.

And I understand all of that. I totally support you if you personally do not want to partake in this movie or that genre, or if you are offended by the message that you read into this narrative. But does that mean that the story should not have been written in the first place? Just because somebody says that this narrative is (quote-unquote) ‘bad’ – or, hell, just because the majority of people say it’s bad – does that necessarily mean that it is wrong?

This isn’t a question that can necessarily be answered in only one way, because there is no right or wrong answer. There are only opinions. And while one person might say that a story shouldn’t be written if it includes violence or if it demeans a particular group of people or if it supports immoral behaviour, I personally disagree.

Personally, I believe that anything and everything should be used if a story if the author wishes it to be so.

Let’s use the example of violence here (because it’s the example that I think will get me in the least amount of trouble). Violence exists in our world, and it has long before the invention of film or visual media. That is just a simple fact, proven by the very existence of war and history textbooks. And while I don’t want to get into any factual discussions about the correlation between rates of violence and rates of violence in the media, I will say that art reflects life. Violence exists in fiction because violence exists in reality, and it works the same way with everything else that we see as a negative in art.

We tell sexist or racist stories because we are a sexist and racist culture.

Some stories support immorality because some people support immorality.

Whether we like it or not, it’s there, and leaving it completely unexplored and ignored is as good as shutting our eyes and covering our ears and going ‘la-la-la, it’s not happening’. That’s not to say that you need to immerse yourself in it. If you’re uncomfortable watching a horror movie, then good – don’t watch horror movies. But at the same time, you cannot deny that there is some value to what they do.

Because, in my personal opinion, the negative aspects of society need to be confronted and explored if anything is ever going to be done about them, and art is one of our safest (and, let’s face it – more fun) vehicles of being able to do that.

I’m going to use a specific narrative as an example – the storyline of Harley Quinn in DC Comics, and her abusive relationship with the Joker. As a feminist, I have two choices when approaching this storyline – I can either look away because watching a woman being physically and emotionally abused by a man makes me uncomfortable, or I can keep watching and use it as an excuse to better understand this issue without actually going out and putting myself in an abusive situation. I’m not saying that either choice is a bad one, I’m just saying that there is an opportunity to take this narrative – one that reflects a very uncomfortable part of our society – and learn something from it. Something that you can then take into the real world and use to help or better understand someone who is actually dealing with domestic violence.

Uncomfortable art has value. It raises questions, makes you think, forces you to think about things from another perspective. Maybe it doesn’t always do this – there are most certainly some films or books or music that uses violence or sexuality or controversy for the simple sake of being shocking or appealing to a certain crowd. Some horror films hold up the violence against certain people as nothing more than something to take pleasure in. But even that has its place, even if its place is nothing more than simple, barbaric enjoyment, and if we say that that form of uncomfortable art shouldn’t exist, then what’s to stop us from saying that the uncomfortable art that we can learn something from shouldn’t exist either? Where do we draw the line, and how can we say which forms of uncomfortable art can or cannot teach someone a valuable lesson?

So if you are personally offended by a particular piece of art, for whatever reason, and you don’t want to take part in it, then don’t. But don’t deny that it has value. Uncomfortable art exists because life is uncomfortable, and if we’re ever going to learn to deal with that, then we need to open our minds to other perspectives.

Free Virtual Reality Experience

The posters looked innocent enough, really.

Colourless posters, produced from a black-and-white printer with the image of a smiling woman wearing some sort of contraption over her eyes. FREE VIRTUAL REALITY EXPERIENCE is written over the poster’s top in large, white letters, and other than that, the only real information given is a date, time, and location.

It’s the promise of a virtual reality experience that makes me hesitate before the poster. Now, I don’t know a whole lot about virtual reality – my ability to keep up with the latest technologies has always been abysmal, but I will say that I’m very interested in what virtual reality is capable of, particularly as a video game fan. So when I see the poster, only one thought crosses my mind: “when else am I going to get a chance like that?”

And besides, who can argue with a price like free?

So the day comes, and I make my way to the location, really not all that sure of what to expect. I wonder if it’s going to be busy. I wonder if someone will have to assist me with the equipment. I wonder how long it’s going to take. I don’t really wonder about the things I’m going to see.

When I get there, I’m the first of five people to arrive. They’re still setting up the equipment, so we wait outside in the hall, watching as a camera crew unpacks their equipment near us.

“I hope you guys don’t mind,” one among the camera crew calls to us, “but we’re doing a project on virtual reality. Is it okay if we film you?”

Nobody has any disagreements.

Then, finally, a representative of the event walks out into the hall – a small, pretty Asian woman with a quiet voice, only a little bit older than I am.

“Now, we only have four headsets,” she says, “so we can only take four at a time.”

As I was the last person to arrive, I’m more than happy to let everyone before me go ahead, but I follow them into the room anyway, curious to see the equipment for myself. It’s hard to say if they lived up to my expectations, simply because I didn’t really have any expectations. Still, they look like nothing more than goggles with cell phones set into the fronts, the audio coming out through regular headphones.

I watch as those who came before me walk up to their own headsets, each of them provided with a single person to assist them. That’s when I hear the explanation of what we’re actually here for for the very first time.

I don’t mean to overhear it – it wasn’t said to me. Rather, it’s said to the young man next to me, the one who’s being assisted with his headset.

“The video that you’re about to watch contains some very graphic content. Are you alright with that?” the woman assisting him asks, as she’s already sliding the heavy goggles over his eyes.

“Um…” the boy says, “what kind of graphic content?”

“You’re going to be experiencing life from the perspective of a pig in a slaughterhouse. Some of the images are going to be very disturbing, so if you want to stop at any point, you can. But if you make it all the way to the end of the video, we’ll give you five dollars.”

I freeze, dread coming slowly upon me, and all I can think is, “what have I gotten myself into?”

At that point, as the headsets turn on around me and all I can hear is the muffled, quiet sound of pigs squealing, I consider leaving. I consider turning around and walking out, because they can’t stop me, can they? They would have to understand if I said that I couldn’t handle it, that the idea of personally watching a pig be slaughtered is just too much for me. They’d just have to…

But then there’s that other part of my mind, the small, excited child that says, “but… but… virtual reality… when else will I get this opportunity?”

So I sigh and give in, and I wait for my chance to watch the pig slaughter.

At that point, a few more unsuspecting victims have trickled into the room, and I try to explain to them what’s going on in a whisper. It isn’t long, however, before the Asian woman with the quiet voice approaches us and asks us to wait out in the hall.

“The video’s almost finished, and some of them might start to cry. We want to give them as much privacy as possible.”

I smile understandingly and step out into the hall, all the while wondering, “what in the hell have I gotten myself into?”

Out in the hall, I talk to a couple of my fellow victims, admitting to them that I’m a bit nervous about this.

“Yeah, I am too,” one of them says with an awkward little laugh, “but I can’t imagine it’s too bad. It’s probably just like those videos on the internet… have you seen those videos on the internet?”

I say that I have, but omit the part where I always turn them off or look away before they’re finished. I may watch a lot of horror movies, and I may have laughed at a lot of very gruesome scenes in film, but all of that is just fantasy. You aren’t actually watching people die there, you’re just seeing the collective talents of a group of artists all aiming to make it look as real possible. But this… this is real…

A girl from the group who went in before me walks out then, not looking at anyone. She’s all alone, walking fast, and though her head is kept down low, I can tell that she’s crying. And for the very last time, I think, “what in the blazing Jesus have I gotten myself into?

The Asian woman with the quiet voice steps into the hall and invites two more people to come inside. So I follow her without a second thought, claiming a chair and a headset as she gives me the same spiel that I’d already heard her give the boy before me, ending as it did before with, “and if you make it to the end of the video, we’ll give you five dollars.” It’s at that point that I realize what this is: not a test of strength, not a chance at experiencing a wonderful new technology, but a challenge. If I can make it to the end of the video, then I get a shiny five dollars that, realistically, will probably go toward laundry – but free laundry!

And so, promising myself that no matter how bad things get, I’ll make it to the end of the video, I press play.

The video starts in a modern farmhouse, showing us the pigs in their tiny, inhumane pens. Its a terrible image, but it’s one that I find difficult to focus on, because my mind is simply too preoccupied with fears of what’s coming next. And, on top of that, I’m just so enthralled with this technology that I’ve never used before but always wondered about. I turn around, and the screen doesn’t end – behind me, there’s just more farm, as though I’m actually in the environment. I look down at where my legs should be, and there’s just a pig standing where I am. I am a ghost, a floating consciousness hovering above the scene. I don’t get over the shock of it until about the same time that the scene changes.

The video’s narrator explains to me that we’re now in the slaughterhouse proper, and he describes briefly the sort of images that I’m going to see, but I don’t think my mind fully processes it. I don’t think I even realize that that was what he was saying, until two pigs enter the room and I watch as they receive electric shocks to the back of their necks. “Oh,” I think, “that’s what he was saying.”

I watch as the pigs convulse, horrified to realize that they’re still blinking, that they still haven’t died. A man pulls their twitching bodies from their pen then, and stabs each of them in the sides. As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of horror movies, so of course, that’s the first thing that comes to mind as I watch the pigs continue to twist and writhe, spilling endless sheets of blood, so much that it’s almost impossible to believe that there was even that much blood in them. I’m struck by how pink and fleshy they are then – like little people, I think. With their backs turned to me, lying on their sides like that, they can almost be mistaken for people.

My hands are shaking, I realize. They’re still gripping the goggles, still grounding me to the fact that I’m not actually there, but they’re shaking.

That scene is the longest part of the whole video, dwelling on the image of the pigs’ bodies long after they stopped twitching, when their little sides are just barely rising and falling with their cruel and unfair breath. Thankfully, that scene was also the worst part of the video. After the pigs are dead and they can no longer feel any pain, the rest of the video is dedicated to skinning them and preparing the meat – which is difficult to watch, don’t get me wrong, but only because I’ve been privileged enough to not have to do that part for myself. Really, it’s no different than what would happen on a family-owned farm, or after a hunting trip, or in any scenario at all where you plan to eat meat and therefore, must prepare it. The worst part of the video is over. The poor creatures are dead.

When the video ends, I pull off the goggles, and the Asian woman with the quiet voice is there to greet me. She asks me if I made it all the way to the end of the video, and I tell her that I did, upon which she wants to talk to me about it. It’s a very odd experience, because on the one hand, I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t know what to say that will do what I just saw justice, and anything I can possibly do to describe it feels like an understatement. But at the same time, just ignoring it feels wrong too. It just feels like one of those things that should be followed with respectful silence and thought, rather than discussion.

At some point, I wound up with a plastic cup of warm tea and a soft, vegan cookie to help calm me down (and, of course, the shiny five dollar bill that I definitely earned). I’ve found myself in a group of people, first discussing what they saw on the video, then discussing veganism (the overwhelming consensus being that it’s the only acceptable diet, and though I’d consider myself a socially-conscious omnivore, my brain is still too frazzled to argue at this point), and then somehow, they started discussing drug use, particularly the use of mushrooms. I don’t really have anything to contribute to this conversation, my only personal experience with intoxication being a very brief dabbling with alcohol, but I find it interesting to just sit there and listen to their perspectives, to get to know people who I might not have even met otherwise. In that moment, despite the graphic video and my brain that still can’t process anything more difficult than “I got my money and a cookie, yay”, I feel completely at peace, completely satisfied with this environment I’ve found myself in.