The other week I had pure freedom to loaf around, so I firmly planted myself on the couch and hit the Netflix hard. Luckily for me, Into the Badlands, a show that had caught my eye before, was finally available. I’d only seen trailers online before for this post-apocalyptic show (brought to us by AMC, continuing their move from movies to original programming like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead). About two minutes in, I was hooked. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was quite this excited and engrossed by a new show, which is saying a lot. How is it awesome? In every way possible. Let’s take a look!
The other week, I went to Steel City Con, the Pittsburgh Area’s valiant attempt at a comic con. Lots of vendors, bunch of B- and C-list TV celebs, usually two or three A-listers (last year I got autographs from Shannen Doherty AND Holly Marie Combs!!!), and of course: tons of passionate, weird, lovable pop culture junkies, God love ’em. As I went through through my loot, I realized I had had a gay ol’ time. My two biggest gems? Action figures of Willow and Tara, and All New X-Men #17: aka newly-out Iceman’s first, big (I’m talking full-page panel) gay kiss. This is exceptional, you guys: Iceman has been part of the X-Verse since its very beginnings in 1963, one of the original five X-Men. So how did we get to this place fifty-four years later? It’s the long line of the quirkiest comic team family expanding its inherent diversity. Let’s take a look.
Hello there, good readers! I am back to the blog after a whole year hiatus; much has happened in my life, but in summary the two most important forces to have influenced my new life are Prozac and Protestantism (I’ve always had a thing for alliteration, I guess). I’m jumping right back in with a good ol’ OMPCR. One of the most hotly debated topics in Protestant Christianity (indeed, all Christianity) is the idea of predestination—in particular in relation to “chosen-ness”. The two biggest names in the Protestant Reformation in fact came to their own interpretations of predestination via studying the teachings of St. Augustine of Hippo, revered by Catholics as one of the greatest teachers of the faith: however, as usual, Luther and Calvin could not reach a common consensus (Luther went for single predestination, whereas Calvin advocated for double predestination). As Western Christianity celebrates Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday, today, I thought it a great time to look at the idea of a Chosen One embracing their destiny—today the Western churches proclaim Jesus entering into Jerusalem to begin the culmination of his destiny as Messiah through the trials of Holy Week leading to the resurrection of Easter. Let’s look at some other Chosen Folk and see how they are both chosen and choosing.
I’ve talked a little before about how Charmed, with three women characters being the most powerful magical forces for Good, could have been a truly feminist and women-powered show. While it did well on some parts, like showing a diversity of life choices for women when it comes to balancing careers, love lives, and battling the forces of darkness, there was often an overarching male-dominated power structure, known as the Elders, pulling the strings in the sisters’ lives. You want so badly to root for the Charmed Ones as icons of female power, not as examples of female pawns in male power games. So, finally, I have finished watching the last season. Is there redemption? Yes, I believe there is. Follow me as we explore gender in the eighth and final season of Charmed. Spoilers for Season 8.
Happy Women’s History Month! I figured what better time to bring up an old, dark current in human history—a question as absurd to our modern sensibilities as it was ubiquitous to earlier generations: Are women evil? Now, I’m not going to attempt to go through an exhaustive historical catalog of theological and philosophical sources that have answered this question (unfortunately, often in the affirmative). But let’s turn to one particular stream of thought: Gnosticism. The religions under the umbrella of Gnosticism are characterized by a dualistic cosmology that pits the physical, material world against the heavenly, spiritual world, the former being seen as profane and corrupt, the latter being seen as good and holy. Unfortunately for women, they were seen as by nature being more closely tied to the passionate, material world, whereas men were seen as being more closely tied to the rational, spiritual world. Can’t sum it up better than this line from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas: “Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Let Mary [Magdalene] leave us, for women are not worthy of Life.’ Jesus said, ‘I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’”
Though Gnosticism never won out as a normative expression of Christianity, some of its dualistic thinking about gender and sexuality continued to inspire later thinkers in church history. For this post, I want to focus on just one iteration of the idea: the haunting, psychosexual nightmare of a film by Danish screenwriter and director Lars von Trier, entitled Antichrist. I remember first reading about the film on some internet click-bait page of “the most shocking horror movies” or something like that; and it is indeed shocking. A quick list of adjectives I’d use to describe the film include: brutal, savage, delirious, perverse. Yet the cinematography has a sinister, aching beauty that makes it a morbid pleasure to watch for fans of artsy horror films. With a cast of just two main actors (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, of all people) in incredibly intense performances, and backed by a research team that includes consultants on subjects from theology, anxiety, and misogyny to “mythology and evil”, horror films, and psychotherapy, it is an unexpected, unforgettable look at the age-old question: Are women evil? Spoilers below.
Welcome back, dear reader. You might be thinking, “That last The Witch post was so long; this guy has more to say?!” I do, in fact. While I tried to walk the reader through the muddled plot of the film in that post, this one will be a more personal, philosophical response to the film. I fear most people will leave the film simply saying to themselves, “That wasn’t scary enough!” and then shrug and forget about it; however, I also think there will be a sizeable portion who will lose sleep trying to ask themselves, “What does it all mean?!” I certainly fall into the second camp, and it is with particular urgency I ask myself that question. As one of the people in the world seeking to claim a connection on some level with the word “witch”, it is important to me to try to decipher as much as I possibly can, to pick the film to the bone for every last scrap of meaning, since the word “witch” is being flashed before the public imagination. It’s important to me to ask what it means that the film goes with the late medieval and early modern conception that witchcraft and Satanism are one and the same. Heck, the film was even endorsed by the Satanic Temple. Is the devil truly inextricably linked to witchcraft? Are witches damned, and if so what does that mean? Let’s take a look.
Gentle reader, if you follow the blog closely enough to be somewhat familiar with the various authors, you might know that I consider myself something of a witch. Though I have at times tried to elucidate my spiritual leanings with descriptors such as “eclectic post-Wiccan shamanic neo-Pagan, with influences from Hinduism to Hellenism”, I find “witch” rolls off the tongue a little easier. Something about the richness of the word “witch”, the dark, damp, fertile history of the word, is one of various things that first brought me to Wicca so many years ago. Though at times I waver closer to or further from the word, I find it difficult to imagine a time when I no longer have any connections whatsoever to this potent word and its associated practices. So when I first saw word of The Witch spreading around the interwebs, my interest was piqued. The Wiccan Boom the 1990s promised me never came to pass, so there’s been a dearth of witchy media since Charmed went off the air, except for the recent fiasco that was Witches of East End. This was the first time I’d seen a movie with such an explicitly witch-themed title getting press and interest since The Craft. On top of that, even Stephen King voiced his approval on Twitter! Of course I had to check it out.
And check it out I did. I was hesitant to write a post about it after my first viewing; it conjured up (pun intended) so many thoughts and feelings, I worried I wouldn’t be able to make anything resembling coherence out of the juices of my mind grapes. But after a couple of days of processing, a second viewing, and hours of bouncing ideas around with my fellow author MikelyWhiplash (including the possibility of whether or not Taylor Swift is a witch), I think I just might be ready to tackle this haunting work of cinema. Did I like it? Hard to say: it is visually a macabre pleasure to watch, and I think it’s important for bringing witches back to the popular imagination. Enter with me the world of The Witch. Verily yon wood be filled with witches, and also spoilers.
I’ve talked before about religious themes and undercurrents in Hannibal, so I’m returning for a second helping *food double entendre*. What I want to talk about today is the aspects of mysticism present in the show. Now, colloquially speaking, “mysticism” can be taken to mean almost anything that is vaguely spiritual—Tina the Tarot card reader down the highway may say she is a practitioner of mysticism; any New Age guru with their own faux-Indian merchandise and platitudes can claim they’re a mystic. However, in modern academic discourse, those paths and traditions termed “mysticism” have a meaning tied to transformative experiences related to a transcending of the self, typically with an end goal of a special kind of union with divinity. Examples range from the Christian ecstatics like St. Teresa of Ávila and St. John of the Cross, to the practitioners of bhakti traditions in Hinduism like Ramakrishna, to the Sufi mystics of Islam, such as Mansur Al-Hallaj. Since the focus here is union with the divine object of devotion, for clarity’s sake, let’s call this strain of thought “unitive mysticism”. I believe we see examples of this particular religious/spiritual impulse in the show Hannibal, particularly in the cases of Will Graham and Francis Dolarhyde. Will and Francis are drawn to lose themselves in the identities of their objects of devotion, Hannibal and the Red Dragon personality, respectively. Join me after the jump to delve deeper.
Spoilers for the whole series after the jump.
So the whirlwind first season of Ryan Murphy’s new brainchild Scream Queens drew to a close this week, a little over two months after it began. Shorter seasons are becoming the norm on television, but it still seemed to go by especially quickly. You may remember from my last post about the show that despite some problematic issues, I was a fan of this quirky horror-comedy mash-up, in particular the absurdist humor and spectacular comedic delivery from the actors. Yet as I delved into the second half of the show, I felt its charm quickly petering out. Was it just end-of-semester grad school stress and not feeling well which made me less receptive to this odd show, or was the writing going downhill fast? Let’s take a closer look after the jump. Major spoilers ahead.
Another fall has brought us another season of American Horror Story. Ever since I heard each season of AHS would have a different setting, I’ve been waiting for Hotel: what is more perfectly terrifying than a spooky hotel? And yet despite this, I found myself having some reservations about this season (get it? Reservations? Hotel?). Now, every year there is a neat mix of old and new faces in the repertory cast of AHS; that’s a huge part of its appeal. However, this year is dominated by less familiar faces. Of course there is brand-spanking new headliner Lady Gaga, but most we have at least seen at least briefly before. Some, like Chloe Sevigny and Finn Wittrock, had sizable roles in a previous season, while others, like Wes Bentley and Matt Bomer, had such small, almost cameo roles, so they feel pretty much brand new. Sure there’s a few good ol’ reliables like Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, and Denis O’Hare, but I’m definitely missing the underused Taissa Farmiga and Jamie Brewer and the inimitable Frances Conroy and Jessica Lange. I just didn’t feel the same warm, fuzzy “the gang’s all back!” feeling I usually do when a new season starts. On the other hand, this season has sort of felt like a fresh start for the show, and all the new blood is certainly a part of that. Let’s take a closer look at AHS: Hotel so far, seven episodes into the fifth season. Spoilers after the jump.