Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Final Fifteen

 Some rights reserved by regan76 of Flickr
I've been feeling a little exhausted lately. I meant to post a 31 Days of October list way back at the beginning of the month, but I am a lazy bum and didn't get around to writing it. So I'm going to just say fuck convention and provide you my suggestions for the last fifteen days in October starting with TODAY.

If you've been doing the 31 Days of October, you're approaching the final stretch. You've almost made it. You're halfway through. So here are some things to get you through those last 15 days.

October 17th: Sleepaway Camp

If you're any sort of horror fan, you very likely already watched a Friday the 13th movie on October 13th--I was lucky enough to attend a drive-in double feature of the originals: Friday the 13th and Halloween. (If that's not the case, swap this one out for Friday the 13th Part 2. Not only is that the first one with Jason as the killer, but it features a cast that's decently memorable. Part 3 may be the first one where Jason gets his hockey mask, but it also features the horrible character Shelley.)

Anyway, why Sleepaway Camp? The movie is definitely hella problematic, but what I find interesting about the movie is not the final twist that everyone always talks about. At least, not the way everyone else seems to think of the twist. It may help that I knew it going in, and that made my reading of the movie much, much different. I would make the argument that the movie is much more interesting to watch knowing the twist, too, so I'm going to spoil it. You probably already know the twist, but just in case you care, here's your warning.


The killer, who is referred to as "Angela" throughout the movie, turns out to have a penis. This is usually the thing everyone hangs up on, and I suppose it is a very shocking twist in a heteronormative and gender binary view of the world. It's majorly problematic falling into a long, historical trope of trans people, or people coded trans, being dangerous, violent killers--Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, etc. Not only that, but the movie reveals that "Angela" was born Peter, and that Peter has been forced to live as a girl throughout their life by their Aunt Martha because she always wanted a daughter.

So why recommend such a super transphobic movie?

Well, for one, because it's basically a Friday the 13th ripoff, and I feel like a horror movie marathon should include at least one classic slasher. However, for another, because this movie was made in 1983, nobody at the time, especially in the mainstream crowd, had much of an understanding of sexuality. Many portrayals in movies conflate gay men that dress in drag with trans folks. Even gay folks at the time didn't really understand trans folks. It was a concept still very much in its infancy, as seen in the documentary Paris is Burning. But because of that, and because of the ambiguous nature of the film, you're left wondering if Angela identifies as a woman, or if their just being forced into the part like the movie implies.

I would argue Angela DOES identify as a woman because she keeps both presenting as a woman and using the name Angela in the two sequels. With that knowledge in mind, Angela becomes incredibly sympathetic, and you actually root for her throughout the film as people are massive dicks to her.


Pick your poison: watch it because it's a classic slasher or because the twist and sequels actually colors the film in a very different way. Either way, worth a watch and a puzzle.

October 18th: The Final Girls

Chase a classic slasher movie with a movie that lampoons that very formula in a very fun way.

The Final Girls follows Max, whose mom is famous for starring in Camp Bloodbath, the fictional slasher movie series in this universe. When her mom dies in a car accident, Max is left grappling with her mother's legacy--her mother resented these movies later in lift, but they're also some of the only things she has left that lets her see her mom and almost be there with her. After a freak accident, Max and her friends wake up in the movie, interacting with the cast from the Camp Bloodbath series, including Max's mom--or at least, her mom's character.

This movie doesn't 100% work as a parody because it's PG-13, and there are a few moments where it feels like the parody aspect gets undercut by that restriction. That's no fault of the writers, as they revealed in an episode of Shock Waves podcast that they wrote it as an R, but the studio eventually came back and asked for rewrites to soften the movie. This doesn't hurt the movie a whole lot, though because this movie has a lot of heart. The story, unlike most slasher movies, is exceptional and touching. Plus, the stuff that it is able to poke fun at, it does very well. The cast is very engaging and very funny.

Would I like an R rated cut of this? Absolutely. But there's a lot here to recommend, some great jokes, a great cast, and a story that's very moving in the end.

October 19th: Absentia

Mike Flanagan has become my favorite modern horror director because his movies are not just scary, but scary good. James Wan may be next level with his ability to wring scares out of nearly every frame of his movies, but Mike Flanagan has heart and soul in his movies. His stories are as moving as they are scary. And he just had Gerald's Game come out on Netflix recently. But I want to take you back to the beginning with his first film.

The movie centers on Tricia, whose husband has been missing for several years. It's been so long, they're going to declare him "dead in absentia," so that she'll finally be able to move on. But one day, he shows up, alive, but somehow different. He seems off. Meanwhile, she also finds herself drawn tot his tunnel near her house, where something strange is going on that might be related to what happened to her husband.

The movie is really good. It's a first film, so if you've seen Flanagan's later works, you'll notice this one is a little rougher, but you'll see Flanagan's great ability with fleshing out characters on full display, as well as his talent at unique scares.

If you're buying the DVD, don't let the terrible box art fool you--this is not your typical Redbox horror movie.

October 20th: Goodnight, Mommy

This is an Austrian horror movie about two boys whose mother has come home after some kind of plastic surgery of some kind. She spends most of the movie with her head bandaged. The boys find her meaner and angrier than they remember, and with her whole face bandaged up, they start to doubt whether she's their real mom after all.

This movie is a slow burn that builds up to a harrowing final act. When it gets going it is a goddamned nightmare. Just thinking about some of the sequences in the final act give me shivers. It's fantastic and gives you a lot to think about regarding the relationship a mother has with her children and how that affects how others perceiver her as a woman as well as how she perceives herself.

October 21st: Coraline

Don't let the tonal shift throw you. I'm dead serious here. Building on the concepts that are explored in Goodnight, Mommy, chase that with a fun stop-motion animated movie from Henry Selick and Laika studios.

Coraline moves into a new house with her mom and dad. It's big. It's old. It's mostly empty. The neighbors are weird. And Coraline is bored. Sadly, her parents are both writers working on projects and are too busy to spend time with Coraline, which leaves her to wandering through the house by herself. One day, she finds a mysterious hidden door that takes her to a strange mirror world where everything appears to be almost the same, but slightly better--her parents are friendlier, the colors are brighter, everything is more fun. Just one weird thing: everyone has buttons for eyes. And Coraline starts to get the feeling that maybe this world seems too good to be true because it is.

Goodnight, Mommy and Coraline both explore parenthood--and especially motherhood--in fascinating ways. Both feature kids demanding more from their parents than their parents feel like they can give, leading to friction in the relationship. And both make you wonder: just what does make someone good mother? And what makes a good kid?

October 21st: Dracula (1931)

Let me get this out of the way up front: Dracula is a little bit dry. It's not paced like a modern movie. But I feel like it's important to check in on the classics periodically, to remind you of not just where horror came from, but movies as an art form.

Plus, this movie creeped me right the fuck out as a kid, and that's due to two things in particular: Bela Legosi's amazing performance as Dracula, and the movie's utter lack of score outside of the opening credits.

In movies from just a few years later, they start using score to tell you how to feel, to underscore dramatic moments. In this movie, though? Nothing. If someone gets bitten, the only thing we hear are the people's gasps as they die. That leaves a hell of an impression on you as a kid.

Plus Renfield is amazing. That man doesn't have much screen time, but by God he gives it his all. And that madman's weird whining laugh followed me into my dreams.

October 22nd: Blacula

Fast forward a few decades to enjoy this amazing 70's classic. A lot of blaxploitation movies are cheesy fun, done on the cheap to cash in on the untapped market of movies targeted specifically for black people. That said, a lot of them weren't what you'd call masterpieces. They were done on the cheap and put out fast. It'd be easy for a movie like Blacula, a movie whose name is an obvious pun, to fall into that. But Blacula manages to be not just entertaining, but a very moving movie that tackles race and slavery in the US.

Prince Mamuwalde, played by the extraordinarily talented William Marshall, goes to visit Dracula to convince him that they should unite together in the UN to force a stop of the slave trade. Dracula, however, doesn't agree and thinks that slavery is totally fine. When Mamuwalde reacts negatively to this, Dracula curses Mamuwalde with vampirism and locks him in a coffin for hundreds of years. A gay couple in the 70's reopens the coffin, unleashing "Blacula" on the American public where his thirst for blood, unquenched for centuries, must be quenched.

This movie is actually very tragic. Unlike Dracula, who is presented as charming, but obviously a villain, Prince Mamuwalde is presented as a very tragic hero. He's been cursed with this thirst that he can't help but quench, he's been ripped out of his own time, and he's lost his wife, all because a white man decided that he wanted to take the black man down and put him in his place.

This is a highly recommended, overlooked classic.

October 23rd: The Autopsy of Jane Doe

This is honestly a modern classic. Tense, tightly paced, unique, and scary as hell.

Cops are investigating a strange case--a houseful of people that appear to have killed each other while simultaneously trying to break out of the house. Suddenly, they find the corpse of a young woman, naked and buried in the floor of the basement. She looks like she's been dead a while. They send her over to a father-son coroner business to look into what's going on with this "Jane Doe." As the autopsy progresses, however, they start finding things that don't make sense, such as wounds inside the body with no scarring on the outside to indicate how they injuries could have occurred. Plus, there are some strange things happening in the morgue itself. And then things go really wrong.

This is a wonderful movie. The first act is super captivating, even before the supernatural stuff begins. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch are fantastic, and the process of performing an autopsy is fascinating enough to keep you enthralled for a while. When the spooky stuff starts, you're already invested in these characters. There are quite a few twists and turns that make the movie a wild ride, and it all culminates in a very cool reveal.

October 24th: Pontypool

An interesting take on the zombie genre, this one is about a former shock-jock radio host that has settled down and taken a job as a local radio host in Pontypool, Canada. The soft, boring job of listening to traffic reports doesn't sit well with him, and he keeps trying to push the envelope. Suddenly, he starts receiving calls from the town. People are beginning to act strange. They're starting to get fixated on words. And then they turn violent.

This movie almost entirely takes place in the recording booth of a radio station and still manages to keep the tension ratcheting up higher and higher. Being isolated from the violence and hearing the world crumble outside only through reports from people calling in keeps everything shrouded in a veil of mystery and encroaching dread. And the specifics of the zombie virus are so cool, so different, that you have to see it to really get it.

After you're finished with this one, check out the Faculty of Horror episode about it for extra credit.

October 25th: Fido

Another zombie movie! With somewhat more traditional zombies! But don't let this one fool you. On the surface, it's a fun parody of the zombie genre as filtered through the "a boy and his dog genre." But underneath, it asks some very interesting questions about zombies. Are they human? Do they think? Do they feel? Just what makes us who we are as people? Is it really just memories and genetic make up, or is there something more?

In a world in which zombies have been tamed through obedience collars and used as servants, one boy's family finally gets their first zombie. The boy takes to the zombie quickly, naming him Fido, but things go awry when Fido's collar malfunctions and Fido eats one of the neighbors. Suddenly, they have a rising zombie invasion on their hands that threatens to spiral out of control.

Check this one out for a fun, light-hearted movie. And for Carrie Ann Moss looking gorgeous and being fierce.

October 26th: Killer Klowns From Outer Space

This is just legit on here for something fun late in the game. It's goofy. It's nonsense. It's exactly what it sounds like. Alien clowns land and begin terrorizing a town. All of the expected circus trappings are incorporated as silly and sinister alien technology. The creatures are simultaneously gruesome and scary and goofy and fun. Give it a watch.

October 27th: In the Mouth of Madness

You're hired by the publisher of a famous horror novelist to go collect his very overdue latest book. However, before you even begin your journey, strange things start happening. People are way, way into these books. And when you finally track down the author, you find the lines of what is real and what is only a story begin to blur.

In the Mouth of Madness is a bit dated now because the horror publishing genre is nothing like it was in the late 80s and early 90s. In that way, this movie is very much of its time. However, this movie FUCK ME UP as a kid. You will quickly lose the thread of what is real and what isn't. It is a terrifying roller coaster.

October 28th: Frankenstein (1932)

It's a classic. It's an American classic. A scientist decides to defy the odds and explore what makes us human by gathering together the disparate parts of dead humans and assemble his own person together. By some fluke, it works. The creature lives, but Frankenstein may have got more than he bargained for. He's not really ready to be a father, especially to a giant strong man that can snap you in half like a twig and only has a very rudimentary sense of right and wrong.

You should revisit this one because Universal is trying to reboot their Universal monsters universe into a shared cinematic universe (again). However, what people always miss with these movies is that the monsters are not the real villains. They're victims. They're usually thrust into situations beyond their control and then blamed for the outcomes.

This movie is great. Steeped in German expressionism, with a simultaneously unhinged and sympathetic performance by Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein, and a tragic, terrifying performance by Boris Karloff. A classic that still holds up after decades.

October 29th: The Houses October Built

The last three movies I chose are very much steeped in the Halloween spirit. Each tackles things slightly differently.

First, we have a relatively recent movie about a group of people that decide to make a documentary about haunted houses--specifically the sort of arms-race that has developed in recent years as houses try to out-do each other in authenticity, intensity, and scares as these things become more and more popular. They run afoul in one house by taking a camera into the house itself, but once they're back on the road, things start to get back to normal--that is, until they start seeing people from that house pop up in other places. Are they being followed? Or are they just being paranoid? What happens when you continue to be haunted after you've left the haunted house?

Intense and scary, I don't know that this movie is entirely effective examining the thesis it sets out about extreme haunted houses. But it is fun and spooky, and manages to handle the found-footage thing well.

October 30th: Halloween

You may be wondering: why is this on the 30th and not the 31st?

Well, as much as this movie drips Halloween imagery, the holiday doesn't tie into the nitty gritty a whole lot. Yes, Michael seems to have a personal preference for the holiday--and masks--but at its core, it's a movie about a killer stalking teenagers. It just happens to be the perfect movie about a killer stalking teenagers.

The cast is sympathetic and engaging, the killer mysterious and terrifying, the atmosphere moody and spooky. It is a powerhouse of a movie that will leave you wondering when the Boogeyman could come and visit you.

October 31st: Trick 'r Treat

Now this movie is ALL about Halloween. Halloween is baked into this movie's core. Technically an anthology movie, this movie weaves several stories together throughout Halloween night. A group of girls prepare for a Halloween party, someone plans a murder, a group of kids go exploring a haunted graveyard, someone decides not to celebrate Halloween at all...

The reason I described this movie as "technically" an anthology is because it is so expertly woven together that you forget it's separate stories. Characters ebb and flow, popping in and out of stories. It's almost like a dance.

There's something for everyone in this one--werewolves, ghosts, other monsters, and plain old bad people. This is the perfect movie for Halloween night.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Money Makes the World Go 'Round: A Look at CHEAP THRILLS

**The following contains spoilers for the 2014 movie Cheap Thrills.**

Image from Wikimedia Commons
Cheap Thrills is a 2014 horror movie directed by E.L. Katz and written by David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga. In it, two men Craig (Pat Healy) and Vince (Ethan Embry), are pitted against each other in a series of escalating dares for money funded by a wealthy man and his mysterious, aloof wife (David Koechner and Sara Paxton, respectively).

In researching this movie a little after watching this, I saw this movie billed as a "dark comedy." The Rotten Tomatoes consensus even described it as "darkly hilarious." To be clear, I really liked this movie, but I would not call it "hilarious" at all. It was a mean, brutal, nasty movie. That's not to say the movie is entirely without humor--especially Pat Healy, whose dry reactions to some of the terrible situations he finds himself in resulted in a quick dark chuckle from me. But overall, the tone of the movie struck me as very serious.

The movie offers a pretty solid critique of unregulated capitalism, which is perhaps not the intended message, but when the events of a movie revolve around money and its influence on people's behavior, it's always sort of the subtext. It's an admittedly flawed critique given that this was a commercially released movie subject to the capitalist system--but I digress.

Early on, the movie sets that both men are down on their luck. Craig finds an eviction notice on his door and owes $4500 or he, his wife, and his new baby will be out on the street. We learn that Vince and Craig knew each other in high school and that although Craig comes across as a nebbishy square, he was actually pretty wild back in the day. He's since mellowed dramatically and settled into a relatively normal domestic life. Meanwhile, Vince has fallen into the lucrative job of beating up people that owe money to loan sharks--a job that is both physically dangerous and puts him in danger of running afoul of the law and getting him sent back to prison for a long time.

Vince is kind of a dick. He hasn't seen Craig in five years, and yet feels the best way to greet his old friend is to wrap his arm around Craig's throat and demand money. This isn't a playful light grab either, he really gets in there and works Craig's neck, then laughs and slaps him on the back. Ah, friendship, right?

We can see a breakdown of the promise of capitalism in the trajectory these two men's lives have taken:

Craig has submitted to the capitalist, patriarchal system. He has done everything that should lead to a prosperous life. He's gotten a degree in higher education, but the movie implies that he lost or could never attain a job that fit his degree. Instead, he starts the film working a much humbler job in an auto garage changing oil--a job from which he's laid off at the movie's start due to corporate downsizing. There is no pulling himself up by his bootstraps. His job at the garage wasn't even paying the bills, and with that gone, he is fucked in a very big way, and it was through no fault of his own. Bad luck fucked Craig over.

Meanwhile, Vince is doing okay. He seems to make decent money from his job (beating up poor people), and even offers to help Craig with money, but even he doesn't have $4500 to spare. There's some simmering tension between Craig and Vince in these early interactions, and it gets played out more explicitly later in the film. Vince breaks the rules. He operates outside of the law, and he's a financial success for it, even though he dropped out of high school and never matured out of his wild ways. Meanwhile Craig is drowning, in spite of having done everything he's supposed to do to succeed.

Enter the wealthy Colin and Violet who at first seem friendly and relatively benign. Colin explains that it's Violet's birthday, and he wants to entertain her. His solution is to present an escalating series of dares that each man will complete for cash. There's plenty of examples of this type of guerrilla-style competition in reality TV--such as Cash Cab and Billy on the Street--and of course obvious examples like Fear Factor. Some of the dares are individualized to the specific person, some are more of a competition to see who can complete the dare first.

The dares start harmless--first one to drink this shot gets $25. They quickly become gross if unfortunately common place--Vince and Colin are dared to go up to a waitress and make her angry enough to slap them. Vince proves to be a bit sly and rather than falling into the expected trope of misogyny--the clearly implicitly preferred method by Colin--and just tells her straight up to slap him so he can win the money. Colin later re-establishes patriarchal norms by daring Vince to slap a strippers ass.

Colin's vast amount of money and lack of morals puts him in a position of power. He doesn't honestly care who gets hurt or what trouble is caused as long as he's having fun, and he has enough money to remove any potential obstacles. The first time we see Colin, he's in the bathroom doing cocaine. Later, when the group has begun the dare competition, Colin starts doing cocaine in the open. When a waitress tries to stop him, he pays her several hundred dollars to turn a blind eye--which she does because what waitress would turn down that much money when they typically make less than minimum wage?

Each time that Colin crosses a line and introduces a dare that violates a moral or social rule, there's just enough money to tantalize Craig and Vince to keep playing. Craig is facing imminent homelessness and has to figure out a way to protect his wife and his child. The patriarchal system has a rigidly enforced gender binary system in which men traditionally are the breadwinners and protectors. Failing to provide adequately for your family is not just a problem in all the obvious ways, but demonstrates you are a failure as a Man, and Craig is feeling that pressure to provide. He's been hiding at least some of their financial issues from his wife.

Vince's needs are more self-interested than Crag's since he has no family that we know of that he has to provide for. However, we learn that Vince went to prison at some point, and the prison system is a complex system set up to feed into itself. Once in, it's like being caught in the gravitational pull of a planet--almost impossible to escape. People that go to prison are more likely to go back because 1) the prison system isn't designed to rehabilitate and teach, but rather to punish, and 2) many--really most--employers won't hire criminals, especially felons, which makes finding and maintaining employment next to impossible. All the higher paying jobs have you submit to a criminal background check, and if you fail, you're out of luck, even though ostensibly you have paid your debt to society and should be allowed to reintegrate. Many criminals end up falling back into crime to make money because it's the only way for them to make enough money to be able to live--which is exactly what happened to Vince.

So then Craig and Vince get into a bidding war to the bottom over who will cut off a pinkie.

What the fuck, right? Yeah, this is probably the moment when this movie turns from sinister and uncomfortable to the kind of violent horror you've been expecting.

Colin dares Vince to cut off his pinkie for $25,000. Craig surprises Vince by countering that he'll do it for $20,000. When Vince confronts him about trying--as Vince views it--take money from him, Craig explains that the money he's earned so far will cover his immediate financial issues, but not the actual cause. Getting that much money could provide him time to find another job and build up a buffer rather than desperately flailing from paycheck to paycheck--he was, after all, about to be evicted BEFORE he lost his job.

Eventually, Craig wins the bidding war, cutting his pinkie off for $15,000, and is then dared even more money if he'll eat his finger.

The movie culminates in a winner-take-all scenario when, unbeknownst to each other, they are each dared to kill the other. We aren't aware at first that Craig has been given the same offer--$250,000 to kill his old friend. We only see Colin offer that to Vince. Vince has been set up to be a bastard throughout the movie. He's been in prison. During a breath-holding contest, he punched Craig in the stomach to make him lose. He's the one that cuts Craig's pinkie off, and rather than putting it on ice so Craig can have it re-attached, he throws it aside, which allows a dog he stole earlier in the movie to choke on the finger and die. He's been willing to slap women on the ass, harass people, and he tries to rob Colin and just make off with the money at one point. But at the last minute, even though Vince has been portrayed as the more selfish, crueler, morally weaker one, he can't kill his old friend. It's shocking, then, when Craig turns around and shoots Vince in the head.

Once again demonstrating that there are virtually no obstacles that money can't overcome, Colin calls someone to come clean up his house and dispose of the body. Craig goes home, mutilated, humiliated, but financially secure.

The movie ends in a darkly humorous scene of Craig, bloodied, mangled, and exhausted, trying to comfort his crying baby. His wife comes in, and the final shot is a wide shot of Craig, looking absolutely horrifying, surrounded by the cash he won. The obvious final question is whether it was all worth it? Which is worse--undergoing physical and psychological torture to set yourself up financially, or to lose your home and endanger not just yourself but your wife and child? To add insult to injury, after Craig leaves, Colin gives Violet $20 because even the murder was actually a dare between Colin and Violet. What's more, it isn't even a high wager--only a $20 bet between the two.

The movie is harrowing and sometimes extremely hard to watch. There were parts that made me squirm from discomfort. That said, as a microcosm to play out many of the issues that already plague the workforce and unregulated capitalism as a whole, it was fascinating. There have been lots of movies that have involved people being put in impossible life-or-death situations and being forced to do things that are morally reprehensible or physically unbearable. The Saw series, The Belko Experiment, Circle (2015)--not to be confused with the 2017 Emma Roberts/Tom Hanks movie--and House of 9 are all examples of this type of scenario. But all of those are involve everyone being expected to murder each other on the threat of death. This movie is unique in that Craig and Vince aren't being held under the threat of any violence, mutilation, or death. They are told repeatedly that they can leave any time they want. But if they do...what are they going back to? And they do so with the knowledge that they could have done something to change their circumstances if only they'd stuck it out a little longer.

Every step of the way, the movie's mission statement is "Money makes the world go 'round." The only people able to escape the consequences of their actions are Colin and Violet because they have enough money to throw at any obstacles to make them disappear. Ultimately, everything Vince and Craig endure is just a game to them because when it's over, they go back to being unbelievably wealthy and carefree. The scars, both literal and metaphorical, are born by those that can't buy their way out of trouble and can't turn away from a chance to become even a fraction of what Colin and Violet are, even if it costs them everything in the end.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Let's Talk About Confederate Statues

This is a photo I took of our very own Confederate statue in the middle of downtown Bentonville. A petition is currently being circulated by a local activist group to have this removed--which I have signed, obviously. Arguments for this statue's continued existence are because this guy was an Arkansas governor. If you zoom in on the picture, though, you'll notice that it doesn't say "to the Arkansas Governors." It says "to the Southern Soldiers."

In this post, I want to talk about the current debate in the US about tearing down the monuments to the Confederate States of America that are scattered all over the United States, both in the North and South. Specifically, I want to address the idea that the statues should be left up to remind us of a dark moment in our history that should never be forgotten. The argument goes that these statues are warnings of where we've come from.

This is a load of bullshit, and I would like to demonstrate why. But first, let me address some common myths about the Confederacy. It's not the point of the post, but will help provide context both for these statues as well as how our country views the CSA since the South continues to lie and miseducate about the Civil War.

Why Secede?

First: what was the point of the Confederate States of America?

Many argue that the South attempted to secede over states' rights. Or taxes. Or tariffs.

This is patently not true, but the easiest way to disprove this is to let the Confederates tell you themselves, in their very own Constitution:

“In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.” 
“1. The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.” 
“4. No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”

So, you could make the argument that the Confederates seceded over states' rights. But the question is, what rights? It was the "right" to own slaves. To own people. To brutalize black people and use them for free labor under the threat of violence and death.

Was Slavery On Its Last Legs?

Slavery was almost the entirety of the Southern economy and the threat of emancipation and abolishment terrified them because it would have meant ripping away the very foundation of their economy. But then again...maybe they shouldn't have had slaves in the first place, y'know?

There's also a claim people float that the South was in the process of freeing slaves anyway. James Lowen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me and Sundown Towns--the latter of which I read a few years ago and is FANTASTIC, tackled this myth and the previous in a great article a couple years back:
"Slavery was hardly on its last legs in 1860. That year, the South produced almost 75 percent of all U.S. exports. Slaves were worth more than all the manufacturing companies and railroads in the nation. No elite class in history has ever given up such an immense interest voluntarily. Moreover, Confederates eyed territorial expansion into Mexico and Cuba. Short of war, who would have stopped them -- or forced them to abandon slavery?"

Memories and Stories Cast in Stone

I want to preface this with a note: I am not an art student, nor a historian, nor an art historian, nor an engineer or a graphic designer. I'm just a dude with a blog who lives not far away from his very own Confederate memorial and who has Thoughts.

Carving something into stone (or molding it from brass or bronze) is a very difficult, very permanent process. Historically, statues weren't erected for nonsense. You won't find a statue from ancient Rome of some guy picking his nose. Statues were made to memorialize things of importance--to preserve them and have them last throughout time. Peasants didn't have monuments and statues erected in their honor--king's did.

"King Wenceslas" - Photo  Some rights reserved by Nan Palmero of Flickr
That's not to say that statues and monuments have to be uplifting. Plenty of statues and monuments depict dark, terrible, or scary things. For example, below is an art piece from Switzerland called "The Child Eater Fountain." This is a surprisingly not an uncommon depiction in art, although specifically what this statue is depicting is a bit of a historical mystery. Some theorize it's a depiction of Kronos eating his children, which is what I thought of when I first saw it. Others theorize it's just a depiction of a local ogre-like fairy tale to keep kids in line. Another theory is that it's an anti-semitic sculpture because, sadly, people have been terrible forever.

My point of using this statue (besides that it was easy to find under creative commons license) is that there is no ambiguity: the depicted creature is bad. They're eating babies. Eating babies is never good. The design is very straightforward.

By Andrew Bossi; sculpture by Hans Gieng (de) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
However, these statues of Confederates soldiers aren't depictions of cartoonish, terrifying, child-eating monsters. The Confederate monuments and statues have a very particular look about them. Namely, they try to mimic the statues and monuments of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and other important historical figures in our country--which themselves are intentionally mimicking the style of ancient Greek and Rome.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, How Many is a Statue?

Let's look at a few pictures for a moment.

  Some rights reserved by Marc Flores on Flickr
This is a statue of George Washington. He was the first president of our country, general of what would become the Army of the United States. He was obviously a very important figure, not just for his leadership in the Revolutionary War and secession from Britain, but also in his leadership of our country for our first eight years.

He even established the tradition of a president stepping down after two terms. 

Fun fact, we call the leader of our Executive Branch "president" because he turned down the idea of calling the position "king" since we had just fought a war to get away from a "King George."

That statue is a fitting tribute to a great man. There's a conversation that can be had about the fact that he owned slaves, as did most of our Founding Fathers, but there's no questioning Washington's legacy and importance in US History.

It's really common to depict kings, soldiers, and generals on horseback--for a lot of reasons. Horses are generally ridden into battle, which makes the rider look like an active leader as well as like a courageous warrior.

Depicting a figure on horseback also makes for a dynamic, interesting statue.

Horses are often considered noble creatures.

And, of course, it makes the person on horseback look taller because they are literally above everyone else.

Below, I placed the statue of George Washington next to a statue of Confederate General "Stonewall" Jackson. Explain to me the difference between the two statues.

Left:   Some rights reserved by Marc Flores on Flickr | Right:  Some rights reserved by rjones0856 on Flickr
How is the statue of Stonewall Jackson on the right depicted any differently than George Washington on the left? If I'm to believe that the Confederate statues are a warning, how is the Jackson statue a warning? In what does it indicate a warning, or any negativity? Both men are sitting atop horses, are placed on pedestals, are sitting up straight, their heads held high, their eyes gazing forward as they survey the horizon.

Let's look at another statue.

Left:  Some rights reserved by Jim of Flickr | Right:  Some rights reserved by Eli Christman of Flickr
Look at these pictures of Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Confederate Army. These are different photos of the same statue from different angles. Again, just like in the previous pictures of Washington and Jackson, what is the indication that this is meant to be a warning of some grave past mistake? Lee is portrayed as classically empowered: astride a horse, straight back, head held high. Even his face is carved in a gentle, sensitive manner. He doesn't look evil. He looks thoughtful and kind.

Let's talk about something else: all three of these statues--in fact, many of the Confederate statues --are all literally placed on pedestals. This is a very, very common way to display statues since they are meant to be memorials, after all. It's where the phrase "to put up on a pedestal" comes from in the first place.

But what does that phrase mean, again? According to Dictionary.com, it means "to glorify or idealize."

The only types of figures we generally put on pedestals are figures we want to elevate to higher status--both literally and figuratively. For example, look at this statue of Abraham Lincoln from Scotland that commemorates the Scottish soldiers that fought alongside the Union in the Civil War.

 Some rights reserved by Ronnie Macdonald of Flickr
Abraham Lincoln stands nobly at the top of the monument--again, back straight, head high, eyes gazing into the distance. Meanwhile at the BOTTOM OF THE PEDESTAL, a recently freed slave is gazing up at Lincoln in what is supposed to be deference and praise, but honestly looks like suffering and subjugation to me. Either way, it's very clear from the placing of the two figures who has the power and who does not. The placement of those figures is basically symbolism 101.

Compare that Lincoln memorial to this memorial depicting slavery in Zanzibar, Tanzania, Africa.

By David Berkowitz [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Here the slaves are all chained together. They're prisoners both of their chains, and their lack of limbs which could be interpreted as a lack of personhood.

Rather than being placed on a pedestal, these figures have actually been dug into the ground. They have a sort of anti-pedestal going on, reflecting, among other things, their severe lack of power as well as the cellars that they were kept in.

The "Lost Cause" of the Confederacy

All of these myths that continue to be perpetuated about the Civil War--that the North forced the South into conflict, that the South just wanted states' rights, that the war was really about taxes and tariffs, that Robert E. Lee was actually a kind man and not a racist at all, that slaves were actually happy, that a lot of Southern folks fought to defend their land against the cruel war-time tactics of the North--ALL of this stems from a misinformation campaign that began not long after the war ended by the South. The myth of the Lost Cause was an attempt to recast the Confederacy as this scrappy underdog standing against the crushing, unstoppable juggernaut that was the United States Army.

In truth, most of these monuments in the US started going up around the 1900s--just long enough after the war for a lot of people that fought in the war to start dying off and for everyone else to look back on the war with somewhat of a degree of separation. The pain wasn't immediate anymore, the conflict starting to haze with time.

Statues began being erected again in the 1950s and 1960s in reaction to the Civil Rights Movement as an attempt to intimidate the black population into silence rather than speaking out. It's why the arguments around Confederate statues and flags have begun resurging in response to Black Lives Matter and our current political environment, which so conducive to white supremacists.

Perhaps you think that I'm reading too much into these statues, that these statues of Confederate generals in and of themselves are harmless and I'm being too artsy fartsy reading symbolism into someone standing on a pedestal or sitting on a horse. Maybe you maintain that we can just add a plaque that says "actually the South was racist" and completely change the way the statues are perceived.

What about the statues that depict the Confederates as literally blessed by angels and gods?

 Some rights reserved by Spencer Means from Flickr
The above statue is titled "To the Confederate Defenders of Charleston: Fort Sumter, 1861-1865." The statue is described as a Confederate soldier and his wife, but the Confederate has been depicted as a Greek warrior similar to Achilles or Hercules. Meanwhile, his wife is depicted in the style of a Greek goddess, similar to Athena. She's bestowing a blessing on him as he heads into battle to "defend" Fort Sumter from the Union.

So, now the Confederates are literally being placed on the level of Greek heroes and their cause was blessed by the gods.

 Some rights reserved by Ron Cogswell from Flickr

Above we have a statue that depicts a fallen Confederate soldier from Louisiana. He has been wrapped in the Confederate flag, and a literal angel--"the Spirit of the Confederacy"--flies above the fallen soldier, sounding its horn to honor his sacrifice.

Like...I mean...c'mon, y'all.

But What About Our History???

So we have soldiers that fought AGAINST the United States and FOR slavery being depicted as Greek heroes and blessed by divine beings, meanwhile, slave rebellions in the US are memorialized like this:

Photos by Mike Stroud, November 15, 2008 from the Historical Marker Database
This is a single sign in an empty field that commemorates an attempted uprising by our enslaved people. Why are we not valorizing these fallen heroes and other important black heroes? Why are town squares not built around Martin Luther King, Jr, or Malcolm X, or Harriet Tubman? Why instead are they built around literal traitors to the United States.

Hey, maybe build a monuments to people like Erastus Hussey, who was an abolitionist, one of the founders of the Republican Party (before the parties' beliefs flip-flopped), and someone that helped slaves escape through the Underground Railroad.

Look at how awesome this statue below is! Erastus and Harriet Tubman are sneaking people into his store to keep them safe. THOSE are heroes. THOSE are people this country should be proud of. THOSE are people worth having town squares built around.

And for the record, the figures below are valorized using the the same rules as the Confederates statues I showed above. Harriet Tubman and Erastus Hussey are both standing tall, heads high, staring into the distance, shielding the slaves huddled in the back while they scramble to safety. But notice that this statue isn't placed on a pedestal like the ones above. Interesting...isn't it?

 Some rights reserved by Battle Creek CVB from Flickr
In summation, slavery is America's original sin. It is the cancer that we never fully dealt with. From almost the moment that the Civil War ended, white supremacists have been spreading misinformation to muddy the facts about the war and to misrepresent why we fought. Erecting monuments to the Confederacy honors people that were traitors to the US, who defected for a racist, brutal, horrifying system.

Attempting to argue that statues of the Confederacy are a warning is disingenuous, at best, as everything about the design of these statues valorizes them and promotes the depicted individuals into near godhood. A simple plaque stating "actually, they were bad" would not be enough as the entire design would contradict th plaque. It would be the weakest Band-Aid to stick on the problem without actually dealing with the issue...which is the problem the US has had all along: not actually dealing with the problem of racism and slavery in a meaningful way.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Millennials Didn't Create Superhero Movies

I had a bit of a rant tonight on Twitter about superhero movies after some guy 1) said superhero movies ruined Hollywood, and 2) that it was somehow millennials fault.

I decided to make that thread into a Twitter Moment because I've never made one before, and I've always wanted to go one one of those really cool multi-tweet thread things with the links and the "I have something to say."

Please enjoy below. (I've never made one of these, nor have I ever embedded one before, so I have no idea how it'll look.)