Showing posts with label Thinking Horror. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thinking Horror. Show all posts

Monday, July 1, 2013

Favorite Freebies on Amazon Part 2 of 2: Horror & Sci-Fi Edition

So last Friday, I talked a bit about my favorite ways of finding free ebooks on Amazon.  I saw that a lot of people visited the site and shared it with others (thank you!).  I hope part 2 is equally rewarding.  In particular, I've focused on Science-fiction, fantasy, and horror.  So enjoy and let me know what you may have found that I didn't know about!

A couple other places that I found that regular post free Kindle books include:

There is of course, the Free Book Collections site on Amazon itself.  There's also Freebook Sifter, which sorts books into categories for you to explore better than the Amazon interface.

There's also these Twitter accounts that are fairly prodigious in their outpouring:
EbooksAddict
FKBT Blog
Free eBooks Daily
Free Kindle Books
Free Kindle Ebooks
Free Kindle eBooks
Free Kindle Fiction
FreeKindleEBooks.com
Kindle Free Books
Hundred Zeros

And here are some more of my favorites "free" purchases that I've found on Amazon, including some very popular science-fiction, fantasy, and horror authors.

SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY
Sentiment, Inc.
Poul William Anderson
Poul William Anderson titles.

Looking Backward 2000-1887.
Edward Bellamy
Edward Bellamy titles.

The Dueling Machine.
Ben Bova
Ben Bova titles.

The Planet Savers.
Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Monster Men.
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Edgar Rice Burroughs titles.

Invaders from the Infinite.
John Wood Campbell
John Wood Campbell titles.

Let'Em Breathe Space.
Lester Del Rey
Lester Del Rey titles.

The Hanging Stranger.
Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick titles.

Northworld Trilogy.
David Drake
David Drake titles.

Rastignac the Devil.
Philip José Farmer

The Misplaced Battleship.
Harry Harrison
Harry Harrison titles.

Operation Haystack.
Frank Herbert
Frank Herbert titles.

Wool - Part One.
Hugh Howey

The Moon is Green.
Fritz Leiber
Fritz Leiber titles.

News from Nowhere, or, an Epoch of Rest : being some chapters from a utopian romance.
William Morris

The Time Traders.
Andre Norton
Andre Norton titles.

The Hated.
Frederik Pohl
Frederick Pohl titles.

Starman's Quest.
Robert Silverberg

Empire.
Clifford D. Simak
Clifton D. Simak titles.

The Big Trip Up Yonder.
Kurt Vonnegut

On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington).
David Weber
David Weber titles.

The Invisible Man.
H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells titles.



HORROR
Famous Modern Ghost Stories Anthology.
Various

The Book of Were-Wolves.
S. Baring-Gould
S. Baring-Gould titles.

The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, Volume 1.
Ambrose Bierce
Ambrose Bierce titles.

The Wendigo.
Algernon Blackwood
Algernon Blackwood titles.

This Crowded Earth.
Robert Bloch

The Dark Star.
Robert W. Chambers
Robert W. Chambers titles.

The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories.
Lord Dunsany
Lord Dunsany titles.

The Screaming.
Jack Kilborn
Jack Kilborn (A.K.A. J. A. Konrath regularly has his titles for free on Amazon).

A Stable for Nightmares or Weird Tales.
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu titles.

The Great God Pan.
Arthur Machen
Arthur Machen titles.

Varney the Vampire Or the Feast of Blood.
Thomas Preskett Prest

Frankenstein.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Mary Shelley titles.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson titles.

Dracula.
Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker titles.

So what are some of the interesting treasures you've discovered on Amazon for free?


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Top 7 Films That Creeped the Hell Outta Me

We’re obviously into “Halloween” season as Boston.com has provided a photo-slide show of the “Top 50 Scary Movies,” a completely arbitrary list that looks to entertain rather than distill a clear and accurate depiction of the best 50 scary movies. While the creators of this show have collected an interesting assortment, it’s just that; a quirky but largely irrelevant collection. They follow it up with the 20 Best Zombie Movies ever made. I’ve watched some 90+ zombie films in my life…trust me, there’s only about 20 good ones (and that’s stretching it) despite the hundreds that have been made. But the folks on the Horror Listserv  (a must for anyone who likes to talk details about horror films) are apt to rip it apart and deliver some 100 more films even better than what Boston.com has.

The most striking and surprising on their scary movies but upon second thought, most agreeable, was Willy Wonka (The original; not the remake). Gene Wilder doing his eccentricity to the fullest; a bunch of Umpa-Lumpas with bad orange fake-n-bake skin tanning, and little children getting their EC Comics-derived “just desserts” and you definitely have something that is rather haunting and dastardly. However, by contrast, the list also included Open Water, a film that hovers in my (completely arbitrary) top 5 worst films ever list.

But we all like lists, so I’ve compiled the Top 7 Films That Creeped the Hell Outta Me. I chose 7, not because it was an especially evil number or to be different; but mostly because it’s 7:00AM and I’ve been up all night. These were all the films my diminished brain could conjure. Bare with me! (And spoilers for sure).
Image from a scene in John Carpenter's The Thing

The Thing (1984)

The concept is haunting and I certainly appreciate its attempt to be authentic to John Campbell’s “Who Goes There.” For me, there are just those scenes when the alien lets loose in unexpected ways that threw me for a whirlwind (and this is a film I didn’t see until my late 20s). I remember my eyes bulging when they go to deliver a second charge from the defibulator to the guy on the table and his chest opens up to chew off the guy’s hands. Equally striking and nerve-grinding, the thud-thud of the soundtrack that apparently is there throughout the entire film but sometimes just played very very low.

Saw 5 (2008)

I’ve been squeamish with the torture-porn run of the Saw films but I believe it is #5 where the last 2 survivors have to push their hands into a saw-blade. Yeah, I writhed in my seat; distorted my face, and fidgeted profusely…and kept watching. But even now as I type and recall it, I keep shaking and making faces.

The Exorcist (1973)

Image of Regan possessed in The Exorcist
A film I didn’t see until its theatrical re-release special 20th anniversary in 2000 or so. Overall, it was a pretty haunting and disturbing film, but ways in which evil played out on the young girl was impressively freaky. Of course, I think I slipped into the realm of the unreal and stopped remembering it was a film when Regan began to stab herself repeatedly with the crucifix, screaming that “Jesus wants to fuck you.” I know for a fact that I was completely disturbed and way more scared than my date. Probably why there was never a second date.

Blair Witch Project (1999)

The inability to actually see something clearly is a central part of my dreaming life. My dreams consist of all sorts of crazy shit going on (half the time at least) and me being completely incapable of opening my eyes or control them in any significant degree; so I’m continually battling and trying to see things and make sense of them; with increasing fear that bad things are going on (I’m driving into traffic, the killer is right behind me; I’ve arrived somewhere in the buff, but can’t see that I’m totally naked). Yeah, Blair Witch Project pretty much turned that into an on-screen experience for me.

Mother’s Day (1980)

It was just a strange and freaky movie to begin with. Two hillybilly brothers, living with their decrepit old mother; it was like Deliverance meets Psycho. Most horrific for me was the ending in which after the mother makes a return when the girl believes she has escaped. When I came back to it years late, and I realized the sexual violence involved; it made it horrific in a whole other sense. And they’re making a remake; I should be surprised.

American Psycho (2000)

Image of Christian Bale in the film American Psycho
I’ve seen this film no less than 10 times. And every time I watch it, I get to the end and can’t decide whether I really like it or really hate it. It’s filled with some of the most bizarre scenes and uncanny moments. I’ve since read the book and that doesn’t help me any better. I love Christian Bale because he can be a charming Newsis, a swinging Nazi-Youth member, Batman, and a complete and utter psychopath. His power to play charming, dominant, and axe-wielding executive is not to be missed, disturbing as it is.

I'm Not Scared (2003)

This Italian film was pivotal for me. It was the film that showed me, you could create pitched moments of fear, without gore, without violence, but with a well-developed and delivered plot. I’ve talked about the book by Niccolo Ammaniti elsewhere on here. The film did keep me anxious and uncertain and worried for the two boys and its use of the countryside works well to exhibit a childhood wonderland of exploration but also the danger and “edge of the civilization” that develops in the second half of the film.

QUESTIONS


What are other favorite horrorific movies do people have located in the dark recesses of their minds?  What stands out as a powerfully scary film (or film moment) for you? 


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Author on My Radar: Steven Niles

Since the demise of E.C. Comics, horror comics in the US have always been something in the background; left untouched, unacknowledged, or held tenuously at arms’ length by the publishers.  Sure there was Eerie, Creepie, Dracula Lives and a slew of others that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s; along with works such as Deadworld and the like (In fact, horror comics can be found throughout comics consistently since the late 1940s as showed by The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics edited by Peter Normanton).  Despite this, when I think about horror comics today; Steven Niles seems to be a major modern voice on the horror-comic landscape.  There are others and in fact, I think it’s hard to divorce him from his regular collaborator, Ben Templesmith (an Author on My Radar for a later date) and Robert Kirkman (yet another one for a later date; I should probably get cracking on these things!).  However, I think Niles as a horror comic writer has helped the genre become more solid, marketable, and at times, more mature or sophisticated by rebuilding classic motifs (freakshows, mad scientists, vampires, and walking dead) with interesting twists and a strong use of modern day realistic settings and character approaches/reactions.  It shows that he’s well read in the genre, and can pay tribute to his predecessors.  
Book cover to The Mammoth Book of Horror Comics edited by Peter Normanton

His ability to work with the genre conventions, particularly reoccurring characters (vampires, other undead, mad-scientists, demon gods, etc) and make them real on their own while also providing also sorts of nods and winks to readers familiar with the characters.  His graphic novel, Wake the Dead includes a college-age scientist named Victor, determined to reanimate a corpse with his friends' help...even if it means his friends become a central part of his work.

My first encounter with Steve Niles' work as Remains; which remains by far, my favorite of his writings.  The story is the classic Zombie-apocalypse, we're all waiting to come true some day.  But Niles seeing the emerging trend within modern zombie films, pits not just humans against humans but zombies against zombies.  The story contains the slow-shambling mindless zombie, made famous with George A. Romero's films as well as the fast-paced, high octane and over-achieving zombie, seen in more contemporary films like 28 Days Later (of which he also does a comic of) and the Dawn of the Dead remake.  At the time, I was doing research on zombie films, so of course, it was love at first bite...ahem, sight.

His most famous series that people are most likely familiar with is 30 Days of Night, a story about a group a vampires taking over a town in Barrow, Alaska since it is emerged in darkness for 30 days.  The original mini-series has spawned (ironically) numerous sequel mini-series since its release and of course, a movie.  The concept is unique and certainly, Niles tells a compelling story, but that’s not what made it a success.  For readers of the series, the movie felt shallow and lacking by and large because it wasn’t just story (Niles) but presentation (Templesmith) that made it such a dark, compelling, and horrifying experience.  Templesmith’s art made the book.

He moves back and forth among highly original materials into clearly intertextual pieces and pieces existing in specific continuities.  For instance, Aleister Arcane explores a horror TV show host who is put out to retirement but enacts a vicious revenge on the town reminiscent of the Pied Piper but also invoking the nostalgia of monster-movie marathons on television of the middle to late 20th century.  By contrast, he also worked on several series that blended noir and horror such as Criminal Macabre and Dead, She Said.  He’s also worked on series related to 28 Days Later, Night of the Living Dead, and Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythology.
Book cover to Steven Niles' Remains

Niles has had minimum exposure in the major publishers DC & Marvel.  He has written regularly for a few series in DC (including Simon Dark), but nothing major.  His work has increasingly been published Image Comics and IDW Publishing (the latter being a major icon of horror-publishing within comics).  I don’t tend to think this is a “failing” as some would presume but it make senses given his desire to get real deep into the dark realms of the human psyche.  It’s not exactly where Marvel and DC really like to explore as directly as people like Niles do.  They do horror; but not often to the degree that Niles takes it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Orphan, Or Lessons on How Films Code Our Fears

Recently, I sat down to watch “The Orphan” and while in many ways it is a movie that is all together forgettable; it did stick in my mind for the next day or two.  Initially, I didn’t know why.  I wasn’t giving it a close viewing and wanted to watch it, if only to have in hovering somewhere in my mental library should I ever need it.  But by the next day, I found myself returning to think about the film and what it seemed to offer up.

The basic plot of the film is that a family adopts a young sweet-appearing girl from an orphanage who eventually turns out to be evil, trying to kill the family and others.  Basic horror fare, no doubt.  But there were particulars that spoke to the cultural anxieties and battlegrounds.  In particular, this film is loaded with meanings that suggest and reinforce the fear/anxiety/disgust with the place of young girls in our culture.   Keep in mind, there are lots of spoilers from here on in.

The most evident and complex is the orphan herself, Esther.   Esther is an orphan, supposedly from an orphanage from Eastern Europe.  However, when the mother searches for this orphanage; they have no record of Esther.  

Lesson 1:  By the fact that Esther has no actual origin, she is becomes an “every-girl”; no origin, but just existing.

Eventually, the mother discovers that Esther actually belonged to a mental institute because she had some strange and rare illness that caused her to not age.  

Lesson 2:  Girls in mental institutions are just deranged women trapped in young girls’ bodies.


Poster for the film, Orphan
As Esther’s truer nature reveals itself to the mother, she tries to do everything she can to stop the child but it becomes completely evident, she has no control over Esther.  

Lesson 3:  Parents let their children run wild and are essentially powerless to stop them

 While her mother is powerless, Esther plays the innocent and sweet child to her adopted father. 

Lesson 4:  These girls wrap men around their fingers from the time they embody “Daddy’s little girl” up through “adulthood.”  

And eventually, Esther dawns her mother’s dress, puts on make-up, and attempts to seduce her adopted father. 

Lesson 5:  Girls have a “Daddy complex” and are hypersexualized beings who seduce of older men.   

When she can’t get what she wants, she targets the person and either kills them outright or threatens them into silence; through fear and intimidation.  

Lesson 6:  Girls have mean streak about them that is sociopathic.

Beyond Esther, we see other elements that also explain or hint at what’s wrong with our culture.  Both the mother and father are presented as having significant faults.  The mother had a stillborn baby and is a recovering alcoholic and the father had an extramarital affair (elements of both are blamed on each other).  

Lesson 7:  The reason girls are bad is bad parents.  Reinforcing this point is that the parents are impotent; unable to produce a “healthy” baby.

They are not capable of producing a good child (this also taps into Lesson 3 since their impotence translates into lacking the power to control Esther).  By contrast, the good daughter in this film is Max, the deaf child is friendly yet passive who tries to befriend and please everyone.  

Lesson  8:  Girls are meant to be pleasant and seen; not heard.

Even the brother, Daniel plays his cultural role; interested in video games and fitting in with his friends, he resists accepting Esther into the family out of jealousy, and publically humiliates her at school.  He starts to piece things together about Esther, but is too late and undone by Esther.  

Lesson 9:  The boys of today (men of tomorrow) are slackers and can’t even handle girls.

When taken to the “professional,” a therapist, Esther is considered to be absolutely normal with nothing wrong with her.  

Lesson 10:  Therapeutic approaches to children is clearly part of the problem.

In the climax of the battle, Esther and the mother battle on the ice pond, the same site that we learn she previously failed at performing her maternal duties in protecting Max when she was drunk.  The battle ends by the mother declaring to Esther that, “I am not your fucking mother!” and kicking her hard enough in the face that her neck snaps and she sinks into the hole in the ice.  

Lesson 11:  Some kids real do deserve to be beaten/killed.

And that’s just a preliminary reading; there’s a lot more I could connect and develop if I looked at it further (but given the vitriolic content; I’d rather not).  Granted the above is not a perfect or completely developed analysis, but the elements are there to piece together something that could be further developed.

QUESTIONS

What other themes or elements of The Orphan did you pick up on if you saw it?

What other films attempt to demonize youth in such manners?  How do they go about doing it?

Where else in culture do we see the coding of children as bad/evil/monstrous?

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Case Against Dracula: Circumstantial Evidence and the Novel

I'm a moderate fan of literary-alternative stories.  The stories that retell a story that's been told before.  The most recent and well-known version of this is Gregory Maguire's Wicked (now a series, containing 3 books), which tells the story of the Wizard of Oz, through the eyes of the Wicked Witch.  In doing so, Maguire, makes the Witch, the misunderstood and tragic character while the others are bad or questionable people.  The most literary of these attempts to re-visit a past story is most likely John Gardner's Grendel; the retelling of the epic poem, Beowulf, through the monster's eyes.  Indeed, the act has been described as post-modern by some; reinvent the narrative to favor the villain and there might be some truth in that; and yet, we have other long-ago texts that do this same thing, including Virgil’s The Aeneid, and Milton’s Paradise Lost.  We are enamored with a shift in perspective and the ways an author will tease out a new narrative from the original material.

A retold tale is much like a sequel, a mash-up, a fan-fiction, an adaptation, etc in that it allows us to reengage with a particular narrative we enjoyed.  It can give us “more” of the story or just bring us back to those moments we so thoroughly enjoyed.  But often, the retold tale tries to re-imagine the story in a way that is oppositional to the original text, decentering the hero/protagonist in favor of other a lesser character(s), antagonist or villain.

Dracula Retold

Book cover to Renfield: A Tale of Madness by Gary Reed
This brings me to Dracula.  Given the deep and lasting influence of Dracula as “the vampire” and the instantaneous connection we all make when we hear Dracula or vampire separately,  (although, that could be currently usurped—at least of the time being with Edward Cullen),  a person could argue that all vampire stories are retold stories of Dracula.  While vampire tales do exist before him (Poldoris The Vampyre; Rymer’s Varney the Vampire, and of course, that sexy vixen Carmilla, by Joseph LeFanu—who was inspirational ground zero for Stoker’s Dracula), it seems the weight of each vampire story is held up against Dracula.  Defined in relation or against the Count’s definition.  Thus, Edward Cullen maintains the tall and dark alienated persona associated with Dracula, but does not given into his bloodlust (mostly) and attempts to coexist with humans instead of snack on them.

However, I’m more interested in discussing the most interesting pieces out there that attempt to re-interpret what Stoker has written.  There are four that come to mind, though I’m sure there are dozens more out there.  With these four, they perform some interesting re-interpretative feats.

Renfield:  A Tale of Madness by Gary Reed and Galen Showman (1995)

I mentioned this, mostly because I found it really enjoyable and a great example of getting more out of the story.  This graphic novel retells the story of Dracula, through the eyes of Renfield, who is my favorite character in the book (Mostly because I read this graphic novel before my first thorough reading of Dracula).

The Dracula Tape by Fred Saberhagen (1975)

This book serves as the starting point of a series by Saberhagen about Dracula with him living throughout the 20th century encountering all the changes and differences it brings and eventually coming face to face with the Harkers’ children.  In fact, the story starts with Dracula confronting the Harkers’ grandchildren and providing them with cassette tapes that record the story from his perspective.  He recounts how his acts were misconstrued—either accidentally or purposely by the protagonists as well as his loving relationship with Mina.  

Dracula, the Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt (2009)

This is a “sequel” written in part by the great grand-nephew of Stoker, which attempts to give it some legitimacy.  The story picks up a generation later, when Quincy Harker is attempting to achieve his dream as an actor and stumbles upon Bram Stoker who has written a book called “Dracula” that’s all about his parents.  Dracula, again reemerges as a misnunderstood figure, trying to find true evil creature, the vampire, Elizabeth Bathory who is the embodiment of evil vampires (while Dracula is the epitome of “good”).  This version also has battles and scenes that are evocative of a modern-day superhero narrative and unlike other versions, chooses not to tell itself in the epistolary manner that the original and other texts tend to utilize.
Book cover to The Dracula Tapes by Fred Saberhagen

Dracula, My Love by Syrie James (2010)

Here again, Dracula’s story is retold by Mina; who in addition to aspiring wife of Harker, also is seeking her own origin (being an orphan), and having inner battles about being appropriate in Victorian culture.  Her falling in love with Dracula comes from a series of interactions that she chose not to write in her journal that she submitted for the events, but kept to herself.

Within the pieces discussed above and many other pieces, we find that there are several elements that are continually reconsidered and negotiated due to plot holes, cultural privileging, and reflection on interpretations of the text.

Mina’s Relationship With Dracula

There’s lots of room for interpretation on this one; after all, when Mina is caught in the bed with Dracula and Jonathan is out cold; one has trouble believing her innocence.  Typically, it is cast as a love affair.

What Happened on the Demeter

This interesting tidbit provides lots of food for thought.  Both James and Saberhagen argue that it was indeed a mad man who did it and not Dracula.  Saberhagen has Dracula admit that he was actually stuck within his coffin, unable to escape, while Syrie points out that it would not be useful for Dracula to kill everyone on board and risk losing his precious cargo of boxes of native earth.

Overreliance on Van Helsing and his Knowledge

I think this is the most intriguing element.  If the 19th century privileged knowledgeable people (except when there was a fear of them learning too much or “the wrong things” a la Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll), then the 2nd half of the 20th century has been to challenge, undermine, and be highly suspicious of privileged authorities such as doctors.  And given that Van Helsing is an authority on nearly everything (he has several different degrees and everyone seems to roll over and play dead for him), Dracula the Undead, Dracula, My Love, and The Dracula Tape all open up this line of questioning.  How does Van Helsing know what he knows?

Lucy’s Death

Intriguing because, taken with the bit above about Van Helsing, Lucy’s death falls at his feet.  Since blood types aren’t established till after the publication of the book, many writers are quick to attack Van Helsing for injecting Lucy with no less than 4 people’s blood in a very short period, not knowing their blood type and thereby, quite possibly being the true cause of her death.
Book cover to Dracula, My Love by Syrie James

Dracula’s Death

Obviously, if Dracula is then considered the protagonist, he is spared his death since it is evident that Van Helsing doesn’t know what he is talking about.  Dracula’s death turns out to only be temporarily or even faked.

So going way back to the top, I did name this post as the “The Case Against Dracula” and I’m actually getting to my point here.  What these writers do is pin together various narratives based upon the shortcomings of Stoker’s writings and this is where it gets interesting.  The goal of an author is to lead the reader through a narrative, but at times, the narrator, to create mystery, suspense, curiosity, etc, will not take the most direct route.  In fact, to do so, undoes the darker nature of many stories or transitions the suspense into gore.  It gives away too much; too easy.  Thus, the author tries to let the reader connect events.  In the case of Dracula, not only is the reader supposed to connect facts and understand what’s going on; but Stoker has his characters doing the same thing.  After all, the book is a collection of journal entries, newspaper articles, and letters that become a central part of the story at one point.

Therefore, Dracula has both intentional gray areas and actual mistakes by the author.  A good example of an intentional gray area are the events on the Demeter.  No firsthand account comes forward to say that Dracula drank his way through the crew, but by the fact that it’s included in the collection of writings for the protagonists’ case, leads us to believe that it is.  As for actual mistakes, there are several inconsistencies within Stoker’s writings about the nature of the vampire.

The circumstantial evidence when properly aligned, leads us to believe Dracula is the anti-Christ as Stoker implies through his characters.  However, if Dracula were put on trial, what actual evidence would there be against him?  The baby in the bag?  Harker never sees the baby; only hears noise; and so Saberhagen calls it a piglet.  His actions on the Demeter, again, are never proven.  His murdering of Lucy?  Of Renfield?  Still no dice.    It’s interesting that there are college courses and written works other there that look to apply the standards of the law against the facts in a piece of literature (whether an actual courtroom scene, a mystery, or something other debatable element within a story).  In some ways, that’s what the writer does when he/she first starts to explore the idea of re-telling a tale.

QUESTIONS

What are other stories (besides the ones mentioned) that attempt to reinterpret the text?  (Don’t just name them, actually discuss them if you have firsthand knowledge).

Are there examples of stories where the reinterpretation surpasses (in some capacity) the original?

What other gaps are there in Dracula?  What other alternative Dracula texts are there?

Why would an author tackle a story that’s already been told?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Spreading the Word: Intolerance?

This article sparks some rather interesting albeit for many challenging issues.  At its center is a study that finds devout religious people to be more likely to have more prejudice views of different minorities.  Some of the explanation stems from the fact that as a group such as monotheistic believers fixates on their religion/superior being as the sole one, they often slip into a dualistic mentality of followers and nonbelievers, with the nonbelievers inferior or wrong.  The article goes into a great more detail and is worth checking out.

Articles like these can be hard to digest, process, or accept.  Some may read it and feel that “well, I’m religious and that’s not me, so it must be wrong.”  But it’s not quite that simple.  So often when we read something that paints something we highly regard in a negative light, we are instantly resistant.  Our barriers are quickly drawn up and quite hard to pull down.  To that, I would say, that some of that might actually also have relevance to what the article is trying to get at with regards to challenging our fundamental or traditional beliefs as well.

Though it’s easy to either blindly accept or reject what the article has to say about some kind of pre-programmed bias, I think it’s more useful to step back and ask several different questions about what inherent biases you might be operating under or influenced by.

Do I do that?  And this might be the hardest one of all since it requires a degree of reflection, self-awareness, and honesty that many of us have trouble attaining or maintaining.  If you answer is an immediate and resolute “no” without thinking, reflecting, or running over in your head the various times you’ve had negative encounters with any person of any type, I think you might be not really digging as deep as such a question asks.  Getting outside our heads is an impossible task, but also a good exercise to better understand one another.  In this case, looking at how you act towards not just specific minorities, but particular social situations; such as the waitress who is slow with your order or gets it wrong, or the person at the coffee shop getting you the latest fashionable coffee drink, or the person doing your nails, or the person in the beat-down car in front of you, not moving as fast as you’d like them.  We often say these are situational circumstances that tick and tweak our negative response, but how much quicker are you to be triggered when the person doing it is part of some “Other” group to which you don’t identify, know about, or feel hostile to?

Another question to ask is what the culture at large (or my particular sub-culture) has to say about something.  In this case, I’ve included the two videos below.  One is of Pat Robertson blaming the major earthquake that struck Haiti in winter of 2010 on Haitians making a pact with the Devil and suffering the consequences.  The other is Jerry Falwell and Robertson again, discussing the destruction on September 11, 2001 to be the fault of feminists, gays, and other people of “alternative lifestyles.”  In both, the rhetoric of the minority as being dubious and troubling is pretty loud.  Both illustrate in some way; how cultures shape and influence, direct us to “right” and “wrong” answers.









It’s also useful to try to make analogies or comparisons with other situations of that may not always be equal in comparison, but help you to frame where your biases fit.  I often step back from any situation where I feel that a person is not doing the “right thing” and ask myself, if I am sure that I’m angry/frustrated/annoyed at the proper thing.  So let’s take the case of the coffee.  If I’ve gone into a store and ordered it.  If the order is taking a long time; and I get annoyed, I may find myself feeling negative toward the server.  But I step back and ask, am I always angry waiting this long?  Is it because of how I’m interpreting his actions?  Do I feel that she isn’t being nice enough (and yes, I intentionally switch the gender-pronouns to show what else might be having an effect in the situation)?  Is it because I’m tired?  Running late?  If I’m running late, then I’m much more aware and conscious of time, than this person may be and their lack of expedient delivery of my coffee might not be a slight towards me, but it can be hard not to think of it as.

All of this brings us back to the problematic “Other”  (Problematic in the sense that we find problem with the “Other”—not that the “Other” is inherently problematic of its own accord).    The one who is not me and whom I have trouble identifying and connecting with.  Within history, these differences have been the source of anger, resentment, violence, destruction, but we still are challenged by and fearful of outsiders of many different sorts.  The general answer to why there’s such problems around the “Other is just that we fear strangers, but I think articles like this help us to better understand why and how we fear others.  

THOUGHTS?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Moral Quandaries...from Outer Space


Poster for film, District 9 by Neill Blomkamp

This post from the NY Times posits some interesting (albeit not entirely new) ideas on the concept of human and potential-alien encounters.  The author, Robert Wright is drawing upon a quote of Stephen Hawking, the work of Peter Singer, and his own (which he promotes just below "too much" but it did evoke a scene from "The Critic" for me).  The discussion also seems to come in a year following two rather influential and powerful films impressed audiences throughout the world.  The first is District 9, directed by Neil Blomkamp.  Though the film was not as widespread, it was certainly well-received (made over $100 million) and had a compelling and intriguing premise about the types of aliens we might expect to encounter when they come here.  By contrast, there was Avatar, which of course, became the highest grossing film ever (until another film beats it…probably by James Cameron…probably in about 10 years).  Again, here we see an interaction between human and sentient alien life and the troubles of humans to be something other than what they’ve tended to be (though the disregard of non-sentient life in this film is also telling).

One element of the discussion is the debate about history:  Have we actually learned from it?  What are we to expect in the future when we encounter alien life or alien life encounters us?

What constitutes alien life?

If we encounter alien life, the first question that will challenge many of us is "what constitutes alien life?"  We may say that it seems obvious but for many, "alien life" will not mean much if it's single-celled organisms.  Many would not blink in acknowledging or bothering with deeper ponderings about these life-forms.  After all, the majority of us don't recognize them here, unless they're in our way.  The underlying assumption about "alien life" is that it's sentient.  Although even then, we would do well to consider in some ways the Prime Directive from Star Trek.  Although in this case, I don't mean it in regards to prevent sharing of technology but rather, to prevent interfering with their natural evolutionary growth.

Image from film, AvatarActually, I take that back.  That's a question that I don't even know how to come at it.  Do we interfere with any life that we can't actually communicate?  What gives us the right?  What's our larger goal in this?

Like Wright, this may sound like one big mind game, but it may someday have sincere consequences and speak to the kind of "Earthling" we will potentially be as we explore the universe.

This question of what will life look like comes to me from two different angles.  The first is insightful and challenging documentary, Earthlings where its opening sequence explains, that though humans assume (and so much of science fiction proves me right here) that "Earthlings" refers to humans; it actually refers to all life forms from Earth; and that's a lot of life forms.  Who will the aliens choose to engage with, should they come here first?  That also reminds me of the moment in Ishmael by Daniel Quinn when Ishmael points out that the first primordial creature to crawl out of the water, probably thought of himself as the big-cheese (or big fish?) because he was at the height of the evolutionary chain and in hindsight; he's not.  That is, as the current self-proclaimed head of the herd, we too think certain things are self-evident--like humans will be the species aliens choose to contact.  We base that on "civilization"; our ability to alter the physical earth to suit our needs.




But what if the aliens have other criteria?  What if they are looking for the most populous?  Then they might consider ants, plankton or beetles.  As JBS Haldane once quipped, “The Creator would appear as endowed with a passion for stars, on the one hand, and for beetles on the other…”  Or maybe, the aliens will look to plankton.  These are all what we consider lower-intelligent creatures but we presume that
1.  Aliens are looking for intelligence.
2.  That humans are intelligent in the ways that are important to aliens.
3. That the interaction/contact is how we perceive interactions on a human level; they might different significantly).

There’s lot of concern around how humans will act; regardless of the alien life we encounter.  On an individual level, we look at one another and hold one’s history as a means of understanding their present and future.  We are obsessed with each other’s history.  Whether it’s a job history when applying for a new job, your relationship history explained to a new partner, or a criminal history when it comes time to sentencing, we look at a person’s past as a barometer for future interactions.   So when it comes time to weigh in on the chances of positive human encounters with other life, we have to consider how the dominant human cultures have encountered other human cultures and even nonhuman cultures.  After all, if the alien species doesn’t have a recognizable face (meaning something we can register and process as a face), we’re apt to have trouble with accepting it on some level since our facial-recognition mechanisms are part of what allows for empathy.

Why do I say “dominant human cultures” instead of just human cultures?  It tends to reason that the dominant human cultures at a given time may also be the more likely to be sending forth people to other parts of the universe (although even then “dominant” might need some tweaking since it implies an all-arena dominance whereas we’re recognizing some countries/cultures dominate in certain ways: militarily, religiously/spiritually, scientifically, financially, etc.  There’s often overlap, but it doesn’t always mean one has dominance in all ways.

It’s a curious idea for sure; not expecting to have answers, just more questions.

QUESTIONS

For history students; what are some examples of more positive first encounters between different human cultures?  What about positive encounters between human/nonhuman species?

In what concrete ways have we learned from the past that might help us in positive future relationships with alien species (sentient or not)?

For my popular culture and monster students, what sense do you make out of all the alien-human movies, comics, books that have come forth in the last century?  How do you think they engage/help us with dealing with the potential encountering of alien life?  Do they help and in what possible ways?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Sequel, Remake, Redux Edition

So often I hear a great many people complain about “Sequel-Mania” or the number of remakes being made of movies that aren’t even old (at least to the person making the statement).  Even the Washington Post wasted ink on the subject ; believing it is detrimental to the creative world.  The elitism can be heard in a great many of these arguments.  People just don’t have fresh ideas and aren’t as creative as they “used to be.”

Bahhh.  I don’t buy it.  In fact, I remember watching the first X-Men movie when it came out and I knew that I only enjoyed it as much as I did because I knew there would be sequels.  If X-Men 1 was all there would be, I would have been deeply disappointed.

As Thomas Foster  reminds us, there is only 1 story it and keeps getting retold time and time again.  So the fact that sequels are abundant is not entirely surprising.  More importantly though, I think the Washington Times and others miss the point.  Yes, studios and even publishers look to launch series and a strong influence is the financial benefits.  Yet, such arguments undermine the fact that the audience wants more.  No matter how much we enjoy a story, we look forward to the next installment.  We want to know what happens next.  We can accept “happily ever after,” but we never seem to want to put it to rest.  And this is nothing new!  This is why L. Frank Baum wrote so many books about Oz; why Sir Conan Arthur Doyle had to bring back Sherlock Holmes; it’s why the Illiad followed the Odyssey which was later followed by the Orestia and then the Aeneid.   We are drawn towards serial storytelling and some films (not nearly all by any means) can offer that.

It’s also why we see so many alternative tales; stories about previously written stories told through the eyes of different characters or retold in new ways.  We get The Dracula Tape as Fred Saberhagen’s attempt to recast Dracula as a good guy.  Gardner’s Grendel providing the contemplative monster due to be killed by Beowulf.  Tad Williams delivered Caliban’s Hour to show us what The Tempest looked like through the monster’s eyes.  Wicked gets to the heart of the Wicked Witch’s dilemma in the Oz books.  That’s the tip of the iceberg.  We also have authors who have written sequels to older books such as Stephen Baxter’s The Time Ships as the sequel for HG Wells' The Time Machine or Dacre Stoker’s sequel, Dracula the Undead to his great grand-uncle’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  We love continuum; getting to know characters and finding out where they go from there.  This explains the extensive publishing of Star Wars books, Twilight, Spenser, and Inspector Poirot.

Recapturing the Past

This desire for recapitulating our characters into new settings is also at the cornerstone of the remake industry.  Indeed, remakes are very akin to those twice-told tales through different viewpoints; only it’s the director’s different viewpoint instead of the character’s.  We’re always curious to see what will be the new way the old information is re-presented.  I’ll admit I can be pretty harsh in this regard; I’m still doubtful about seeing the recent remake of Nightmare on Elm Street.  After all, I grew up watching Freddy Krueger (now paging Dr. Freud!), for anyone but Robert Englund to be Freddy is sacrilegious.  But the remake is a solid deal for creators and viewers alike.  Creators work with what is likely to be a guaranteed money-maker (in addition to the film, merchandise will be substantial for most remakes—I’m sure this Halloween, they’ll be more Freddys’ out than there have been in a while).     But also, because of the insular audience, directors/writers have an opportunity to be playful, provocative, think out of the box about what they want to do with it.  It’s kind of like getting a replacement car that is the same make and model but can be customized very differently.

The Intertextual Existence of Beowulf

One of the more successful and appealing examples reworking a text is the 2007 CGI Beowulf.  Now, while many see this as an abysmal film (which was me at first), I came to appreciate the dynamic influence and development that created this film. There’s this intriguing mixture of influence that produces the film and to lack this knowledge, often means you miss out on its significance.

Background:  Beowulf was an ancient epic poem written sometime in the later half of the 1st millennium.  In modern times, Beowulf was often criticized for its overabundance of monsters in its 3-act poem.  Along comes J.R.R. Tolkien (of Lord of the Rings fame—though before he wrote that) who delivers a speech call  "Beowulf:  The Monsters and the Critics"   The speech revolutionizes how the monsters and the entire text is understood within modern literary circles.

JRR Tolkien - Beowulf, The Monsters and the Critics



Given his extensive knowledge of Beowulf, it becomes clear that Tolkien is indeed influenced by Beowulf, invoking some of the battle with the Dragon into his book, The Hobbit.  Fast forward to the late 20th century.  Neil Gaiman, English creator/writer of fantasy has inevitably been influenced by both Beowulf and Tolkien.  Gaiman is given to write the script for the CGI version of Beowulf and sure enough, he plays around with the plot in different ways, but at key times in the film, actually evokes Tolkien’s influence.  But not his fantasy influence, but his influence on the importance of monsters in Beowulf.


There are two key scenes where this plays out. The first scene is after Beowulf has (to his belief) killed Grendel.  Grendel’s mother attacks Herot Hall and thus, Beowulf is told he must slay the mother.  His response is:  “How many monsters must I slay? Grendels mother, father, Grendes uncle? Must I hack down a whole family tree of demons?”  The second scene occurs in the final third of the film when they flashforward 50 years when Beowulf and his army are fighting the Frisians.  One of them tries to attack him but is subdued.  Beowulf responds with “You want your name in The Song of Beowulf? You think it sould end with me killed by some Frisian raider with no name?.”  These two quotes taken together serve as the lynchpins of Tolkien’s discussion on the nature of Beowulf and its relevance.  The first being that once Beowulf fights a monster, he must continue fighting monsters for the epic to work.  The second, reinforcing the first in that, the “Song of Beowulf” would not be a song if in the final act he is slayed by some no-name warrior.  It needs to be a monster.

The other added influence here is that the presentation of Grendel (and you’ll have to watch this in full to get it) is highly invocative of Smeagol/Gollum from the Lord of the Rings films.

So what does all this mean?  The easy answer:  a whole lot of nothing.  The more relevant answer is that retelling tales is not a simple act of getting more money or people being lazy.  It’s a creative process in itself that can be influenced in a variety of ways that are just are curious and creative; often paying homage or evolving from the original source material but also adjusting and responding to the times in which the newer version is being delivered to.

QUESTIONS:

What are some of the ways sequels, remakes, new-vantage point stories that successfully develop/adapt/retell their story?

What other reasons are there for these reconfigurations/sequels?  What else are we drawn to with regards to sequential storytelling?

What are other some great examples of the mixing influential pieces that have gone in to making a particular sequel/remake?

How do we evaluate the creativity of an author/creator who has utilized a previous text into an different-point of view piece or sequel?  Examples?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Enlightened Evil...Definitely Maybe

6 Enlightened Ideas Brought to You by Evil Empires is an interesting entry from Cracked.com.  It reveals as the title indicates compelling ideas that we generally appreciate in the modern world from some rather unlikely sources.  Thus from Nazis we get anti-smoking campaigns, childhood education from the Aztecs, egalitarian society from the Mongols and the Soviets, cultural diversity from the Akkadians, and essential elements of modern government from the Persians.  


But one paragraph I think is particular striking here:  " We put this on the list at great risk to our future political careers. You really can't say anything good about the Nazis without it getting taken out of context in a campaign ad, and obviously pointing out that, say, Hitler's soldiers were well-groomed doesn't excuse their many, many, many atrocities.”


Indeed, it’s quite hard to say positive things about a people whom we use as our epitome of “evil.”  You quickly draw the comparison of being a “Nazi” yourself.  However, I think the core of the site’s post is clearly revoking this idea.  To avoid any doubt, let me first say.  Yes, the Nazis and other groups talked about committed horrible acts.  I’m not refuting that in the least.  


Yet, that’s not the point of the post.  Reducing any of those groups into a strict category of “evil” misses what the post has to offer or rather exposes the issue that humans tend to categorize everything into “good” (could also be read in evolutionary terms as “nonthreat”) and “evil” (“threat”).  The Nazis are a great example.  In hindsight, we see them as evil.  In fact, they are the monsters we tout out every so often for our different stories whether it’s Indiana Jones fighting them, Edward Norton aspiring to be one of them, or Nazi Zombies (the movie Dead Snow  and also present in mini-games in the Call of Duty video game series).  

Monstrosity Over Humanity

In doing so, we’ve emphasized their monstrosity and ignore their humanity.  We think of them as a class of monsters that did horrific acts that invalidate their humanity.  When we discuss the Holocaust and other events surrounding World War II, in common talk, we say “Nazis.”  Not Germans; Nazis.  And yet, they didn’t rise up out of nowhere and become a force for the world to reckon with.  They were first humans and gained support from the people they ruled over.  That is, their message (scary as it is to believe) spoke to the people.  And ordinary people were needed to ultimately run the smokestacks of Auschwitz.  Some books have looked at and considered this at some length including Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher R. Browning and Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen.


People—not inhuman monsters known as Nazis—were committed to the cause and that’s hard to swallow for many because if “ordinary men” can commit these acts and people consider themselves “ordinary” that means those people are not too far removed from these same evil acts.  Of course, there is truth to this; after all, the Holocaust was supposed to be the last genocide, yet the 20th and now 21st century is speckled with additional genocides.  


But we’re not comfortable equating ourselves with such evil (I already have enough trouble looking at my face in the mirror-hahaha); thus we think of them as a separate category and have trouble finding anything about them redeeming (for it will just remind us of their and our common humanity).  Thus this post reminds gets to the heart of the issue in that, we cannot completely remove all human elements from such groups that we have seen as inhuman.  While it is easier to see Nazi Germany or the Mongol Empire as completely evil, it denies the complex course of events that allowed them to become the power they did or what the ways in which they may have influenced us (beyond serving as a negative role model for much of history).

QUESTIONS:

What are some other examples of deriving positive results from what are seen as negative/evil/malicious groups/societies/civilizations?


Do we have examples of civilizations/groups that were once considered "evil" and now are considered less so (or even "good")?  Or the reverse (civilizations that were considered "good" and now considered either "less good" or "bad/evil"?)?  


What does it mean anyways when we discuss groups/societies/people/cultures/nations in such terms as "good" and "evil"?  What kind of context are we talking about?  Should we be suspect of such contexts?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Vacation of the Mind Part 4: Fearful Insights

The next book for me to enjoy during my vacation is the only nonfiction book in the lot.  I’m a big fan of nonfiction of course, but I think mostly for this trip, I was looking to step into other people’s shoes.  Not “escape” as we so often refer to the act, but more just enjoy the new vision other authors’ worlds gave me.  However, I did happen to listen to one compelling nonfiction audiobook on my mp3 player that has left me with a better critical angle to approach informational sources (or maybe just refreshed my already developed sense?).

The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't--and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger by Daniel Gardner

The book is a rather interesting look at how our sense of fear is so often misguided.  We get distracted, mixed messages, or not sufficient information to judge something as a legitimate threat while at the same time, rarely take a step back to view the broader context for something we deem a threat.  As Gardner says, our “gut” (or instinct—which in itself is antiquated since it was developed for the world of serious and deadly threats of the wilderness; not what is by far an extremely less threatening modern world) is constantly flummoxed by the information it receives and doesn’t often give “mind” (or abstract thought—the latest developed piece of equipment humankind has been working with and therefore, the least removed from our emergency response question) a chance to impose order before reacting.  We are continually reacting to perceived threats that aren’t real and this happens in large part due to a feedback (and amplifying) loop within society among officials, media, and the public. 

The book in large part brought me back to two of my favorite, influential and thought-provoking books that I read a while back:   Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media by Michael Parenti and The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things by Barry Glassner.  What Gardner, Parenti, and Glassner do so well is help the reader to deconstruct the numerous messages and pressures directed at a person (usually through mass media, culture/society, or government).  Additionally, they remind the reader that even the most positive-seeming groups (a cancer-research advocacy group, for instance) is still most likely going to manipulate the message (and in doing so, evoke our fear) for the largest effect; to motivate the receiver (the person reading/viewing/listening to the message).  Playing on the emotions can in itself be problematic since there is a continually diluting effect the more a message is used.  The starving child of the 1980s “Feed the Children” campaign   is less effective now than it was then.  A good example is the Plastic Pollution Coalition’s ad campaign of animals suffering the hazards of our plastic pollution.  Human’s extensive pollution of the earth is indeed horrific, but in the video below, by putting it to Queens’ “Who Wants To Live Forever,” it becomes too much.  That is, the languid melody preys on emotions even further than is necessary.  


The commercial is playing on our heart-strings and demanding we act now by using emotional content without much factual content .  It provides no substance for us to contextualize what we’re seeing.  Exactly how many animals of all the animals living in the world right now die by plastic?  What are other devastating means that animals die by human hands (and this question is one of comparison:  After all, if ten times more animals die by human design—say for the purpose of human consumption; then animal death by plastic seems irrelevant)  Their need to manipulate instead of inform also speaks to other issues of humankind with regards to planning, changing, and conscientiousness, but alas, they must compete for our heart-strings as much as others who want our attention (and the potential  revenue that comes with that).  It’s asking us to react; not to think.

Like the others, Gardner’s prose pushes the reader to step back and ask critical questions of the information and challenge the often blatant and underlying assumptions.  It’s worth everyone’s time to take a look at this as it provides compelling insight and means of addressing the things that each one of us fear or just are wary of.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Buzzing for Appeasement

Well, the French have reminded us that Miligram’s test still holds true even today.  In some ways, it’s not entirely surprising; in other ways, it makes us deeply uncomfortable with “human nature.”

So what’s the break down here?  We as a human species seem to be in large part (though not entirely) easily given over to authority, so much so, that we’re willing to put to death other people when told to by authorities or motivated by self-interested outcomes (winning the game show).   In this case; the mixture of prize (read: resources) and authority (read:  acceptance from higher powers) wield dubious results for what we generally deem “humanity.”   That shouldn’t come as any surprise to people who look at the ways in which our evolutionary instinct still influences us today in a variety of ways.  Take food (though not mine; I’d have to shock you!).  Humans have a natural tendency towards fatty, sugary, salty foods.  In our evolutionary history, these are rare, comparatively, but they supply a lot for a body that lives off the land with little but animals skins, handmade tools and unstable shelter (the world that humans lived in for the vast majority of their existence) for protection.   Because of that evolutionary record, whenever we come across them, we’re apt to feast on them; our body desiring and our food-processors in our brain not sure when they will come again.  Therefore, it’s no surprise that even after we get our fill, we continue to fill upon them and we see the rise of obesity in modern industrialized societies with an overabundance of such foods.  (It’s worth noting that “such foods” in the modern food industry gives us the salt, fat, and sugars but rarely the same ranges of vitamins, minerals, and other useful nutrients; therefore, it works against historical precedence).  But the food isn’t all here.  We have an overabundance of industries, sponsored celebrities, and other authorities encouraging the consumption to eat said food.

Ok, so we’re evolutionarily programmed for certain preferences and to privilege certain outcomes.  No surprise there.  But our evolution doesn’t dominate us, right?  Our supposed greatest attribute as humans is our adaptability; the possibility of using conscious thought to think through, predict, and speculate outcomes of our actions; to not just be in the moment but to see long term pictures.  Realizing this bigger picture and a desire to procure it, we become communally invested with other humans.  This builds an insular network and range of habits, rules, and acceptable behaviors.  We tell ourselves that we are imbued with moral integrity from our family, culture, and spiritual upbringing, we’re able to overcome instinct, pre-modern approaches to the world or any real external influence.  The video proves us wrong to some degree.

The most interesting part was that not just the contestants’ actions but also, the crowd chanting “Punishment.”  It seems to be a call back to the gladiator days of the Roman Empire that crowds always seem to want blood.  Stephen King perceived the same with his novel, Running Man and certainly the film Series 7:  The Contenders followed suit with a phenomenal satire of bloodlust and human nature.  Below is a preview of that film; I highly recommend seeing the entire film.



This train of thought reminds me of a recent conversation with a student.  The student recommended the documentary: Whale Warrior, though warned about some of the graphic violence of humans on animals.  This brought to mind another documentary called Earthlings; also with a significant amount of human on animal violence.  Granted, some would see no difference between this and the animal on human violence made so popular by FOX and other shows famous slew of TV specials “When Animals Attack” captured best by a top 10 list on Discovery Channel website (http://animal.discovery.com/videos/untamed-uncut-animal-attacks/).

Our natural tendency towards violence is troubling.  I’m not sure I would say we’re worse than our ancestors; after all, the Inquisition could still teach the writers of the Saw series a few things.  However, it’s still disappointing to see our tendency towards violence of both human and nonhuman lifeforms.  We still seem to get immense pleasure from violence and continually find ways of promoting this through clear visible forms:  sports (hockey; football as key examples of orchestrated group violence), films (Saw and other torture-porn films), television (The Chair or The Chamber) or even other circumstances as well.  Granted, some of those forms are more extreme than others and undoubtedly, we need some sense of exertion for ourselves, but our propensity to take it too far is still a challenging issue.    

QUESTIONS

What other times and places do the ideas discussed herein play a role in history?  What do the lessons herein show us about particular events in history?  How does it explain

How do authors grapple with this issue of group condoned/enacted violence?  What are some of the ways that it’s rationalized or denounced?

Who are the monsters in these cases?  The crowd?  The person pressing the button?  The authority figure (game show host)?  The show’s creator for showing us how low humans can go?  The viewers at home enjoying the show?

Is this the sole product of Western (and/or American) culture?  Or is the group mentality something part of all humans; in some ways replicable?