Yes, readers, this is what I have been reduced to. September will soon become October, and it’s still hot as balls outside. I am unwilling to give up on the idea of the possibility of a more temperate autumn, though! So this week I went all the way–from cute magical anime to B-grade horror flicks.
After watching the 2014 Ouija movie, I basically lost all hope of there being a good horror movie concerning Ouija boards ever. (Not that I was expecting that movie to be great, it was just so, so much worse than I could have ever anticipated.) And on starting the 2013 indie film The Ouija Experiment, I didn’t expect anything amazing either. In fact, I almost didn’t watch it until I realized that, shockingly, most of the main cast wasn’t white. While the diversity was enough to initially draw me in, and the movie’s determination to not immediately fall into the typical tropes of Ouija bullshit kept pulling me along, in the end The Ouija Experiment’s casting did very little to save it. In fact, the diverse casting seemed to only exist so the writer, Tony Snearly, had an excuse to whip out a bunch of racist jokes.
Over our summer break, I was reading a book whose protagonists traveled to alternate universes which, frankly, I didn’t like very much. But it did get me thinking about the idea of alternate universes in fiction. Not the scientific concept of alternate (parallel) universes—though that’s often the subject of many sci-fi stories—I’m talking about the alternate universes that result from one thing changing in a fictional story. What if Charles Xavier died before he could found the X-Men? What if Captain America was a Nazi? Undoubtedly, a lot of things would be bad. And unfortunately, this is the kind of alternate universe that we often see in today’s fictional media. However, the idea that one different thing could change everything is so broad that I don’t understand why this kind of grimdark change is the most common. Fanfiction also often deals in alternate universes which diverge from canon, but the changes of fanfiction, on the whole, all tend to be more positive and more emotionally satisfying. Though many mainstream movies and TV shows disdain this sort of happy story, an alternate universe which changes originally negative canon material into positive new story fodder can bring with it a wide range of different emotions than the usual grimdark reboot is capable of.
Pretty much all shows have some drama, because drama means conflict, and conflict means an interesting story, but drama for the sake of drama aggravates me. For example, if you kill a character and give them a big emotional send off that makes sense with the plot, then great. However, if you then somehow magically bring that character back so that the other characters have to go through the drama of killing them again, that is just drama for the sake of drama and it’s pretty stupid.
The second season of Lucifer recently ended and I have to say that it was amazing. However, there was one episode in particular that I both loved and was frustrated with called “God Johnson”. In this episode, Lucifer and Chloe head to a mental institution where a man has been murdered. The main suspect in the case is God—or, well, a man who thinks he is God, and who even legally changed his name to God Johnson. Lucifer confronts Johnson to tell him that the real God is an asshole, but he stops shorts when Johnson calls him by his angelic name, Samael. Thisprompts Lucifer to believe Johnson really is God. Later Lucifer admits himself into the same institution and sees Johnson heal a human, again causing him to truly believe this is really God. I was so excited about this! After the show introduced God’s wife, I was hoping we would eventually get to meet God himself and explore the relationship between God and Lucifer in a more real way. Sadly, though, this episode doesn’t take the direction that I would have hoped. God’s character is not engaged with in the same way that Lucifer’s is. God remains just this impassive, omnipotent, but never present figure. Despite how our media loves to play with religion in its shows, movies, etc., the Abrahamic God appears to be off limits in terms of real character exploration.
Spoilers for theLucifer episode “God Johnson” below.
I very recently started watching Star vs The Forces of Evil (no spoilers, please!) and was amused by an episode where Star needs to undo a spell she’s cast on Marco. She pulls out the wand’s manual, an ancient, crumbling tome filled with the wisdom of ages of wand users to consult, only to realize that all of their notes are so cryptic and poorly organized that it will take her ages to make any sense of them. This got me thinking about magical journals in general. A common staple of fantasy fiction is a magical guide to the world in question, typically in the form of some kind of handwritten diary or log. Sometimes a book is just a book; I can’t imagine, for example, that Newt’s finished version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will be anything but a basic bestiary. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, these books are often most compelling when they serve a greater purpose than simply as a how-to or a reference of some kind. By including these books in a layered way, we can add additional complexity to the stories we tell.
A few days ago the staff of Tumblr (you still have a Tumblr, right? We do.) promoted a post announcing “emoji spells” were “having a moment”. I couldn’t help but think about how unique this idea is, and at the same time, really isn’t. Emoji spells are a series of emojis put together with a similar intent to that of casting traditional spells. They’re popular with technopagans and operate under principles similar to traditional spellcraft, combining specific intentions with sending the spell out into the world multiple times. Instead of saying the words aloud thrice, likes and reblogs (or other forms of sharing specific to a digital platform) charge and cast the spell. Witches have used sigils, or symbols, that are experimental and unique to a specific spell. They turn an intention into a magic image, so emojis are the perfect vehicle for digital witchcraft. The more the emojis are shared, the greater charge they get and the more powerful they become, just as many voices are more powerful than one.
The reason emoji spells get so many reblogs and likes isn’t because there are an overwhelming number of Wiccans and magic-users on Tumblr (although there is a thriving community). It’s because people hope they work, it takes next to no effort to pass on today’s version of the chain letter, and if they don’t work, no one actually thinks any harm will come of it. That’s the key: we aren’t really sure if digital manifestations of religion really count in the same way “real-world” religious rituals and practice do. Even in the Wiccan, witchcraft, and pagan communities, practitioners of techno magic are looked down on. One way to start this conversation is to look at geek culture, and the way geeks have been encountering some of the most important fundamental elements of religion since the dawn of the internet.
Trickster gods may seem like a strange thing to some people. After all, why would you believe in a deity who would mess with you for laughs? Pagan trickster gods may occasionally seem malevolent, but they actually serve an important role. In pop culture, trickster gods are often used to critique the powers that be and question the status quo.