Oh, My Pop Culture Occultism: Esoteric Traditions in Foucault’s Pendulum

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Umberto Eco, via WAMC

Earlier this week, I talked about the political implications of Umberto Eco’s 1988 novel, Foucault’s Pendulum, particularly with respect to the conspiracy-minded thinking that it dissects. But there’s also a significant spiritual dimension to the novel, as its focus on esoterica and the occult represent a real history of discontent with mainstream religion that stretches back nearly a thousand years.

The book generally side-eyes occultists, both past and present, and doubts their claims to supernatural powers. But it is very clear that such figures and groups really existed, and many of them authentically aspired to the powers they claim to have obtained, and their claims were very widely believed. New Age philosophies and other countercultures linked to the esotericism generally have a reputation for being peaceful and loving, but it’s one which has not been earned.

Eco by no means condemns the occult in general terms, but he does call attention to the potential for such beliefs to generate abuse and hatred. The large-scale rejection of Christianity by the alt-right in the United States, and the ongoing links between various neo-pagan subcultures and neo-Nazism, show the need for continued study.

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My Life as a Zucchini: A Sad, Beautiful Garden

Here on this blog, we’ve unintentionally managed to cover just about every animation nominee for the 2017 Academy Awards in one way or another. Not that I particularly care about the Academy or their opinion, but after giving some page space to Kubo and the Two Strings, Zootopia, and Moana, it felt kind of strange to just ignore the other two films and my artsy ass can never resist delving into productions by lesser known studios. So I set out to tackle the first of these two films: My Life as a Zucchini (or Ma Vie de Courgette in the original French). Distributed by Gebeka Films and premiering at the 2016 film festival in Cannes, the quirky stop-motion film tackles a surprisingly dark subject, and does it well. However, as with most things, this doesn’t mean it was devoid of problems.

Spoilers below and trigger warning for mentions of child abuse. Continue reading

Get Out: It’s Not What Was Said, but How They Said It

I don’t have to tell you, dear readers, that Jordan Peele’s Get Out is good; all other film review outlets have done that for me. But allow me to say that if you haven’t seen this film yet, do so as soon as you can. If you’re worried that this film is a Boo! Haunted House sort of horror, then let me soothe your fears. Get Out is absolutely a horror film, but it’s horrific more in its realism than in any sense of gore or otherworldly fiends (though there is gore to be had). More than horror, though, the film is clever in its message. Like Zootopia, Get Out relays the message that racism continues to be damaging in its persistence in modern-day culture, but unlike the Disney flick, Get Out doesn’t lose its message due to a lack of direction. Instead, Get Out focuses on exposing the subconscious racism that lingers in a portion of its audience. Get Out sets itself apart by subtly—and then not-so-subtly—showing that white people who consider themselves progressive can be just as racist as the blatantly racist, and that this liberal-coded racism can perhaps be some of the most damaging racism of all.

Spoilers below.

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La La Land, Racism, and the Real History of Jazz

(image via Variety)

Hollywood loves few things more than it loves itself. I grew up watching old musicals with my mom, and many of them were super meta: musicals about actors putting on a show. Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney headlined a whole host of these films, enshrining the “Show within a Show” trope. My dad put it well, when I auditioned for a play in middle school: “Just don’t think you can solve the world’s problems by putting on a show.”

La La Land may not be trying to solve the world’s problems, but it’s certainly trying to save a few people. It won a stupid number of Oscars and was mistakenly announced as this year’s Best Picture (Moonlight actually received this year’s honor). But for all its adulation, La La Land is currently on the receiving end of accusations of racism. And those accusations are well-founded: as Refinery29 points out, one of the two main plots is about a white manic pixie dream boy saving real jazz from the silly Black sellouts. Ouch.

Is La La Land actually racist? The truth is a bit more complicated.

Spoilers abound below the cut.

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Sexualized Saturdays: Dark Skin Shouldn’t Be a Signifier for Sexual

Black History Month is moving right along, and while everyone is out there quoting Martin Luther King Jr. or incorrectly talking about Frederick Douglass, I think it’s important that we look at issues surrounding our Black women, as well. Luckily, we’re slowly but surely getting more Black girls and women in our media! Unfortunately, from looking at depictions of Black girls and women in media, such as last year’s scandal over Riri Williams, it’s easy to see that Black (and darker-skinned) women tend to be more sexualized in nerd media than their white (and fairer-skinned) counterparts. This creates a culture where darker bodies are seen as inherently more sexual, and thus more acceptable as targets of objectification and sexual violence.

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Throwback Thursdays: Tank Girl, the Hero We Deserve?

Advisory: Potentially NSFW content.

Geek culture has evolved. Over the last few decades, a push for greater inclusiveness and better representation has gained major ground as our generation’s penchant for nostalgia simultaneously breathes new life into dusty classics. One of the more excellent byproducts of all this dusty life-breathing has been the tendency to reexamine some of our favorite classic female characters and expose them to modern feminist criticism. In the midst of it all, however, I feel like one of the most unique ladies in comics has remained largely confined to “cult status”: Tank Girl.

This foul-mouthed, sexually liberated, substance-abusing, interspecies dating, ultra-violent, post-apocalyptic badass has been around since the late punk days and has given us some of the most incredible and incredibly fucked up stories I’ve ever read. She has been able to retain such a consistent emotional energy throughout decades of artists interpreting her that she nearly seems to have some level of real-world agency; at times she almost feels real. I, and many of her fans, see her as a sort of pop culture meta-demigod-thing: “Tank Girl, goddess of anarchofeminism and blowing shit up.”

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You really don’t want to make her mad.

Tank Girl is, in many ways, the comic book equivalent of the punk and riot grrrl musical movements. Born a decade after the Sex Pistols but a few years before Bikini Kill, Tank Girl’s pages radiate a sense of anarchistic artistic resistance to the inequality born of extreme commercialism and the emotional damage caused by rigid and oppressive social norms. Tank Girl is regularly portrayed literally destroying systems of oppression, often going to ludicrous extremes to avenge minor injustices (such as the mafia buying up all the good beer to sell everyone crap at inflated prices) and occasionally committing major injustices in the process, highlighting and mocking the fragile nature of these systems along the way.

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Black Features Shouldn’t Mean “Other”

Happy Black History Month, dear readers! This month has always meant a lot to me on a personal level. Being a Black person, I’ve witnessed erasure of our achievements, dismissal of our problems, and omissions of us from opportunities. These types of slights often expand into nerd media, where representation is already scant. In that spirit, I want to discuss an issue that makes the existing representation troubling. We need to stop giving non-human characters Black traits to code them as “other”, as alien from the protagonist and audience. These characters, rather than just being another character in a group, are specifically different or strange.

pearl_bismuth_garnet Continue reading