Category Archives: Psychology
The human condition with all its idiosyncrasies is just so dang fascinating.
Twenty Seconds Later
I am not enjoying my life right now.
I’ll just start off with that. Cut to the chase, because, I don’t know how much time I have.
None of us do.
Why waste it with words that, at best, are distracting? Communication is the key; do not mince words, nor leave openings for interpretation, inference, or misinformation. And especially in our fine MAGA country.
That said, this might get wordy.
I started writing this to Radiohead’s best album (in my opinion), A Moon Shaped Pool. The first song, the great “Burn the Witch” has an especially apt line:
“ . . . it’s a low-flying panic attack.”
Yep, that is where I am right now, where millions of people are. Our collective nervous system is working overtime firing off the hormones that stoke the fight, flight, or freeze response. If we stay put, we don’t know the magnitude of the beast we aim to fight. If we choose flight, well, where to go? So, do we do nothing at all?
Ships are not docking. Planes are grounding. Trains might not leave the depot. Public events are being cancelled. Schools, and even the borders, are closing.
And so it goes.
I’m talking about the Coronavirus—specifically, its latest strain, COVID-19. I don’t know about you, but I just call it “The Virus” for brevity.
It’s not like we are being kept completely in the dark. The media is trying their darndest to keep us informed. They are burning the midnight oil to report what this perplexing bug is up to. They turn the mantle over to the scientists to give us the facts while the reported cases increase exponentially, and the mortality rate rises. The statistics are getting more alarming, and all we can be definitively told at this point is to take simple mitigating measures.
Don’t touch your face, disinfect surfaces, cough and sneeze into the crook of your elbow. And the pièce de résistance? Wash your hands frequently for at least twenty seconds. Lather up while singing “Happy Birthday” two times should do the trick. Why not put a cheerful spin on killing the killer before it kills anyone else?
And Twenty Seconds Later . . . I am still freaking the fuck out.
It would be poetic for me to add that I am typing on my keyboard with dried, bloodied hands. That is an exaggeration, as I’ve been wearing nitrile surgical gloves during the day. It is much safer for me to wash gloved hands than furiously scrub my own sensitive skin raw, which would make me more vulnerable to infection. At this point, I don’t care if I look ridiculous.
So, why the panic? The amount of cases as of this writing is only, ONLY in the low six-figures, with several thousand fatalities. That is only, ONLY a bit over 3%. Not too shabby, eh? We’ve encountered worse. More people died from AIDS-related illnesses than will be expected with this virus. Why is COVID-19 getting so much attention, enough to give millions around the globe incentive to modify their daily lives? I can’t speak for other countries, but I certainly can assess the reasons for panic in the U.S. of A.
Stupidity. Incompetence. Avarice. They work together, synergistically. Like Snap, Crackle, and Pop, they are the essential ingredients of the fortified cereal that is a global pandemic.
Stupidity is ignorance with the ability to know better, but ignoring it. A culture should know better than to throw wild animals in cages, stack them on top of each other, and let them fester in their own feces and filth. People should know better than to prepare and consume food around said filth.
Incompetence is just stupidity in practice. And there are many incompetent people. Stupid people who ignore the facts. Stupid people who defend other stupid people. Stupid people who can’t control themselves. Stupid people who can’t be bothered with modifying their behavior, even just temporarily. Stupid people who buy disposable masks en masse hoping it will protect them, despite all the evidence presented to the contrary. Stupid people who build forts with packages of toilet paper.
A government should know better than to punitively silence its experts from voicing the consequences of ignorant acts. A government should know better than to place importance of their party over its people. A government should know better than to feed its citizens falsehoods in the hope that panic will be assuaged and the money will continue to flow into coffers, pockets, and PACs. Avarice “Trumps” ethics.
People should have known better than to vote that government into power in the first place. Yes, I am talking about you, Trump voters.
In fairness, it was either him or the other shitty candidate. Many of the ones who chose death by fried chicken grease are experiencing some serious buyer’s remorse. Good. We all make mistakes, and it is important to acknowledge them. If Mr. POTUS got that memo, he discarded it as he does anything that contains words strung into coherent sentences. It wouldn’t matter since the pathological narcissist is incapable of admitting to anything except how wonderful he is. Who knew our supreme leader is literally Supreme? >>insert sarcastic, long-suffering sigh here<<
In case some of you are still clinging to your party and its specious ideas above all else, allow me to point out a few essential aspects of his leadership style. They might be covered in Art of the Deal, but I would have to read it to confirm. That is a hard pass for me.
Blame everyone but yourself, especially if they don’t worship you. Admittedly, Trump didn’t cause the spread of this virus, but he certainly isn’t contributing to stemming its flow. That would require effort that he just cannot expend. Despite never sleeping, as the force of nature that he is, he just doesn’t have the energy or bandwidth. It would severely cut into his Twitter time and YUUUGE rallies where he can blame Obama, et al, for the policies that make his job so much more difficult.
Throw your minions under the bus, but most importantly, keep your hands clean while you do it. Poor Mike Pence. This is probably not what he signed on for when he agreed to be his Vice President. Why would Trump put a guy in charge who is well known for bungling a major public health crisis as governor? Simple, Trump is smart enough to see we are on the brink of a shit storm, and he needs to put a patsy front and center when it all hits the fan.
The man—VP Pence—leading this charge, does not believe in evolution, the precise theory that explains why this virus is propagating. He is probably silently cursing himself during his nightly self-flagellation, begging his lord and savior for forgiveness because he is helping save his country when it deserves to burn in Hell for allowing vile homosexuals to marry. Prove me wrong. Have you ever seen him without a shirt on? I strongly suspect we’d be greeted to a fleshy canvas of scars and fresh welts. Bet me. Until he disrobes for our country, the state of his torso is the Schrödinger’s Cat of religious mortification.
Remarkably, he is taking his new role under the bus very seriously. It is too soon to say he is doing a heck of a job, Pency, but he actually seems to be putting forth a valiant effort, complete with admitting his own mistakes along the way. Whatever else his motivation, he is pretty intelligent and knows that this is not the hill he wants his political career to die on. We’ll take it. Still, his efforts could be for naught if his boss keeps flapping his gums. Which leads me to the main play in Trump’s rulebook.
Pander to your glassy-eyed base, and by default, lie. The quantity of Trump’s lies during his three years as president are into the five figures. Yes, there are people out there whose job it is to keep a running total. What would motivate him to stop lying now, since it seems to be working for him? The man certainly seems impervious to consequence. Like an orange Energizer bunny, he keeps lying. No matter how many times he’s contradicted and how defiantly he crosses his arms in response, the pattern will continue. And whom do you think his followers believe in the face of all evidence to the contrary?
The virus is a Democrat hoax? Of course! Fake News? Nailed it! It’s just another flu and will die off in the spring? Whew! The virus is contained? Yay! Wishful thinking? Nah! The Emperor has what now? Uhh. . .? We’re blind? Fuck you!
You can’t cure stupid, ignorance is bliss until the truth bites you in the ass, and greed is anything but good.
And so it goes.
If anyone is wondering why there is a panic, it might be because we don’t trust our government. Nor do we trust those who would re-elect that government. Just a thought. Our hope is that there will be light come November. And Trump will go mad, see the error of his ways, and love his other daughter Tiffany. Oh, the audacity.
Until then, I’ll make like Lady MacBeth, and continue to wash my hands of the whole, bloody mess.
Dust and Detritus
It has been over a year since I’ve written anything, much less posted something on The Purple Pedant. September 24th, 2013, to be precise, was the last entry. Why is that? I could leave that as a rhetorical question. But, I’ve been ushered into the “late 40’s” demographic in the past year, which has made these questions harder to resist, yet more challenging and painful to answer.
First off, when I stated that I haven’t written, that means anything I wasn’t required to write. I’ve been writing theater and concert reviews for the past year. I write policies and procedures at my job. I suppose even emails would count as writing; not all are required. Nor are all the status updates and comments I made and continue to make on Facebook. I believe I just canceled out the first sentence of this paragraph.
Rewrite: I haven’t written anything for the pure joy of it in over a year.
That leaves me with the aforementioned question dangling over my head like a Sword of Damocles. Nothing I say or don’t say will justify my word drought. I could make up something like an impressive story or alibi, but disingenuousness accomplishes nothing. In other words, I am damned either way.
Yet, I am writing now. Why should I complain or hem and haw as I look over my shoulder? Just focus on the present and future. Right? I could most certainly view it that way. But, those who ignore history and all that. It may seem like a melodramatic analogy, but it is an apt one. By all means, keep moving forward, but leave a trail of popcorn just in case you have to backtrack to see whence you came.
I spoke recently to a group of women about motivation. It is a word that vexes me. I am pulled prematurely out of sleep to the sound of its alarm every morning, and lie awake at night with a droning reminder that I ignored it for a good part of the day. It is a maddening tinnitus buzzing deep in my eardrums that won’t let up until I vow to pay proper heed to it tomorrow. Motivation is a harsh mistress; it kept me up most of the night so that I am too tired from lack of sleep to make good on my promise. And so the vicious circle continues.
The intent of volunteering to talk in front of a crowd wasn’t to find a convenient platform to whine and vent. I actually discovered several things about myself in the process. I went up on stage without a script. It wasn’t because I wanted to be real and off-the-cuff, it was because I wasn’t motivated to actually write down what I wanted to say. Not even talking about motivation could motivate me. The irony did not escape me. I had to admit that if I was to get anything productive out of this endeavor. Revelation One.
All my life, I’ve been plagued by depression, anxiety, and lack of motivation. It doesn’t matter which came first—the chicken, egg, or . . . sperm. They all feed off each other. I get depressed, which saps my motivation. Once I emerge from the darkness, I get anxiety from not accomplishing anything. I lose sleep due to the anxiety and get depressed from fatigue . . . and so it keeps going, like a holy trinity of neurosis. Revelation Two.
I am also introverted by nature. This translates to internalizing everything, including motivation. I am bursting with ambition and have the loftiest of goals . . . in my head. It is externalizing them, i.e., being extroverted, that stymies me. I can tell people what I want to do, but I don’t do what I want to do. Revelation Three. There is no denying the fact that I am middle-aged. Ugh. That hurts to admit, and is also terrifying. Which brings me to Revelation Four.
There is nothing so galvanizing for me than negative reinforcement. I make mistakes that bite me, thus, I am motivated to not repeat them (until I slack off and repeat them). I have more years behind me than ahead of me, and the ones I’ve lived are salted with regret. It is a terrifying prospect of not achieving what I desire and not living this life like I never want to leave it. Why can’t I just bring my passion with me instead of chasing it down like a moving bus that I missed by mere seconds? Sometimes, that is enough to get me going. Sometimes.
Quite simply, I need to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. The path I want to take won’t get forged if I just stand there staring at the map. And sometimes, it is okay to stop someone for help and ask for directions. The other thing that holds me back is my fear of what other people think of me, as well as being perceived as living a fantasy. She wants to be an artist? A musician? A WRITER? No one makes a living that way, much less someone as mediocre and untalented as she is. Diane is an Accountant. That is a realistic profession for an introvert. It is safe.
However, it is desperately boring and stifling, and I need to break free from it. My right brain is elbowing my left brain and jockeying for more space. There is that negative reinforcement again.
I have finally gotten to the point where it doesn’t matter what everyone wants for me. It only matters what I want for me. My closing thought to the Q&A session of my speech was ineloquent but memorable:
The older I get, the less fucks I have to give.
Psychopathy: The game the whole family can play
I didn’t think it was possible, but the Fred Phelp’s clan has sunk to an all new low. It is no surprise that they seize on any opportunity to further their message and vilify the Hell-bound heathens of this world. However, I’ll admit that preying on the tragedy of a young girl’s death, just to prove their point, was not a possibility that came to mind. But yet, that is precisely what they are doing as I write this. Like jackals, they are vomiting on the tragedy of others as they feed on it.
Let’s call a spade a spade with this one: Fred Phelps is a psychopath. He has gotten this far in life because he hides it behind religious sanctimony in the form of Westboro Baptist Church. He has spread his mutated seed to a family bred of pathologies. If his minions were not born that way, they certainly were raised to be like that. Call it what you will: nature versus nurture; psychopathy versus sociopathy—it all results in the same carnage, emotional or physical.
“Thank God for the shooter!” Really? They want to thank a deity for making someone “mentally unhinged” (that is a whole different issue) enough to lay waste to a group of people who were peacefully supporting their beliefs? Again, really? I am compelled to point out that Jared Loughner was also described as a “pot-smoking loner.” Isn’t partaking of the evil weed a sin in the eyes of their god? I am struggling with the paradox there. Oh wait, it’s just hypocrisy. That makes more sense.
Don’t think for a minute that they are completely blinded by their delusions. They are very calculating in their actions. Notice that they only incite violence, not commit it. Because of that, they can build a fort out of the First Amendment as they shoot their vitriol from behind it. That doesn’t make them less nefarious. There are a lot of psychopaths who do not get blood on their hands. Charles Manson is one who comes to mind.
What will it take to stop them? As long as they only speak—sticks and stones and all that—they have a right to air their stench. I argue that it isn’t a fundamental right but a priviledge. As usual, there has to be someone out there to abuse it and spoil it for everyone else. Given enough rope, they will hang themselves. But, at what cost? If we put a gun in their hands to see what they do, while at best a social experiment, risking the consequences is not an option. What must be addressed is, again, what has been hard-wired in this congregation. While they may not be very effective or galvanized individually, as a group, they have tremendous potential. They are a (cross)hair away from being no different than the Nazis.
If you think that is an overly dramatic fear tactic, think about this: About 3% of the population is homosexual. It is a difficult statistic to capture accurately, as society has conditioned themselves to think it is wrong, hence many don’t ask and certainly don’t tell. Based on this number, if the Westboro Baptist Church had their way, they’d surpass the Holocaust by a factor of three. Genocide, anyone?
Joaquin is still in the building
So there it is. It was all a hoax, and an elaborate one at that. Arguably, it trumps whatever Andy Kaufman pulled, and anything Sasha Baron Cohen could ever accomplish.
For those who don’t know, Joaquin Phoenix appeared on David Letterman February 11, 2009. His visage was puzzling, to say the least. With a full, unkempt beard, dirty hair, and recent weight gain covered by a careworn, black suit, he gave the impression of one who was not in touch with reality. This was after he announced that he gave up acting and was pursuing a hip-hop career. Subsequent performances of his “music” were ignominious, to say the least.
The audience and fans alike were left scratching their heads as they witnessed this brilliant actor go completely off the rails. His soul shuffled off its mortal coil to leave the shell of the man he once was. It was tragic. In our effort to cope, we held onto the slim hope that maybe, just maybe, there was more to the story.
His brother-in-law, Casey Affleck, released a film a year-and-a-half later documenting Joaquin’s downward spiral, and within a week, the world was let in on the joke—one with many players, it turns out. The collective’s conscience breathed a sigh of relief as the ego was left perturbed. We were duped.
While there is comfort in the reality that there was not another talent needlessly destroyed in his prime, it does leave many unanswered questions. The first and foremost is: Why? What was the motivation?
Was it a social experiment? If so, I am at a loss to explain what it was. How important is it to risk one’s career to make a socio-political statement? Perhaps he was turning the mirror on society and its fixation on celebrity. That is a bit of a stretch, but one must admit, we certainly invested a lot of energy and bandwidth into focusing on this spectacle.
Did he get a sadistic pleasure out of raking his fans across the coals? His brother was snuffed out so early in life, and we got to see in Joaquin the actor that River could have become. He was taking that away from us. What a meanie.
He could have been resentful for not winning the Oscar for his stellar work in Walk the Line. That makes a strong assumption that he cares about the accolades. If anything, he reiterated what a tremendous actor he is. His performance on Letterman was realistic, but left enough speculation to keep us guessing. Was he on drugs? Was he succumbing to mental illness? I was going with the latter, as he showed the hallmarks of a schizoaffective disorder. I noticed his delayed response to jokes, his nervous tics and fidgeting, as well as the subtly paranoid look he’d shoot the audience as if to say “what are you laughing at?” And how did he keep in character while faced with Letterman’s rapier humor? Bravo.
That said, Sir Occam’s Razor is feeling pretty sharp with this one. Maybe he just wanted to see if he could do it. And, he did.
The Galvanized Gut Battles the Meek Mind
I was heading outside to take my dog for her evening duty call. I smelled something burning as I passed by my neighbor’s door in our apartment building. I rang the doorbell. No answer. I peeked in the window and saw their dog staring back at me. I stood there stymied momentarily by indecision, and felt I should get a second opinion—my husband’s. I called upstairs, “Could you come down here and tell me if you smell something burning?” He most definitely did. I went upstairs to look for the landlady’s number. He called me downstairs and asked if I saw smoke when I looked through the mail slot. I believed I did, but that may have been power of suggestion. That same suggestion saw the dog look a little panicky. I held the phone in my hand and said that maybe I should call 911. I didn’t act until he gave me the okay.
I had a bad experience with a firefighter one time. It was a false alarm. A massively burnt batch of brownies was the culprit. As the fireman spoke calmly with my husband, I came up and asked him if I made the right call, he answered rather condescendingly as if to say, “No, you wasted our time.”
Because of that and being a bit timid by nature, I am very tentative about sounding the alarm about, well, pretty much anything. This time was no exception, so I bailed on my husband and told him I should take our dog away from the scene in case something happened. “What about our other pets?” he inquired. I did not answer, because I lacked a valid reason. Really, my motivation was to avoid an embarrassing encounter with another misogynistic (or so I perceived) fireman. So, off I went for a slow trip around the block.
I heard the sirens in the distance and immediately started to second-guess myself. What if I was mistaken? These hard-working people came out for this false alarm when there was a real emergency elsewhere. I just wasted the citizens’ tax dollars. As the trucks passed by me, I cringed and looked away, as if I could further avoid the folderol that I created with that one phone call. Of course, this was all about me at this point; it didn’t matter that my husband was there to back me up. I essentially left him to face the music alone.
As I completed my circuitous route, there were throngs of people discussing the scene while craning their necks to see what catastrophe awaited our quiet block. I worked my way through the crowd to my husband. “Our neighbors left their self-cleaning oven running,” he said immediately, “They said it would have caught fire at any time, and it is a common occurrence that is responsible for hundreds of fires every year.” Trying not to look too relieved, I asked, “So, did I make the right call?” He agreed wholeheartedly that I did. Whew! A few of the neighbors thanked me for being on top of the situation and for saving the day. Arms flew in the air. “Woohoo! You’re our hero(ine)! Hip hip, hooray!”
As I pulled the confetti out of my hair, the realization hit me that my fear of rocking the boat had potential terrible consequences. Why was I willing to risk the safety of myself and those around me (being a gas/electric oven, it probably would have exploded) to avoid embarrassment? While misery loves company, it is sadly part of human nature.
We are social beings, and with parental and societal influences, we grow to be very aware of our surroundings and how we come across to those around us. This is not to say that our perceptions are accurate. They do tend to be skewed by our own insecurities. This is a daily battle, and for some it is more challenging. Freud’s model of the psyche states that, basically, the id is awareness of the self, super-ego is awareness of society, and the ego is awareness of reality. For these purposes, the id is our instinct towards self-gratification; the super-ego is our desire for perfection; the ego acts as the mediator to apply common sense to the situation and please both attributes to the best of its abilities.
Apparently, my id and super-ego were duking it out, and the ego intervened to save the day. The ego happened to be my husband. If you knew him, you would appreciate the glaring lack of irony in that statement.
However, I am not alone in experiencing cognitive dissonance when it comes to action or inaction in social situations. We look to each other for cues on how to act, as I did. A mother could be violently disciplining her child out in public. While we stare in horror, we are also looking at each other for affirmation that our response is valid, as well as waiting for someone to intervene. If it doesn’t happen, then nothing will be done. This of course is not always the case; there are plenty of healthy egos that tell their id and super-ego to suck it. Still, how many of you have been in a situation and were afraid to be the first to act?
That gang mentality goes both ways. Most famously, it was studied in The Stanford Prison Experiment. If operating alone, most healthy individuals would not bully and terrorize innocent people. Yet, when put in a group and one acts aggressively, it becomes much easier, if not compelling, to follow suit. Socially unacceptable behavior is more palatable if part of “the gang”, allowing us to fade anonymously into the crowd. We also feed off each other, and it is intoxicating. Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop there.
We hate to be wrong, and we shudder at the idea of there being witnesses to our lack of perfection. The super-ego wants to be right all the time, and punishes us with shame and guilt if we don’t live up to that unrealistic goal. Hence, the reason I fled the scene. I couldn’t undial 911, but I could make myself scarce just in case I acted imprudently. That was my id attempting to save face. Social acceptance is a very tempting and persuasive mistress, and we are very motivated to achieve it at the expense of other needs and wants. Studies have shown that men would rather experience close to their maximum level of physical pain than be publicly rejected by an attractive woman who they are sexually interested in. If you had a choice to be punched in the stomach or to be openly lambasted for a dissenting view, which would you choose? A surprising number of people would choose the former.
I may have painted myself into a corner with the title, or perhaps created a circular argument. The gut could be instinct, which is the id. What about the cliché that we should listen to our gut if the id is so self-serving? As the title suggests, the head would be the super-ego. Is that where emotions originate? It is difficult to think rationally when emotional. Then what is the ego? Is it an outside influence, or is it a culmination of our experiences? Call it what you will, the majority of the time the same one is declared the victor.
And the meek shall inherit the earth.
The Dexter Defense
Showtime’s Dexter is one of my favorite programs of all time. It is superbly written and acted, entertaining, intelligent, horrifying, comical, and most significantly, plausible. My toes curl in anticipation for the start of every season.
I figured it was only a matter of time before life imitated art. An Indiana teen was accused of strangling his 10-year-old brother to death. Andrew Conley, who was 17 at the time, felt that he “had to do it”. What was the impetus for this gruesome crime? You guessed it: Dexter made him do it. He so identified with the character that he finally acted on his compulsion that he felt since he hit his teens. Perhaps faced with life in prison, he grasped at straws there. Yet, I found out after reading the article about the case that this wasn’t a first. A 29-year-old Canadian filmmaker murdered a man in 2008 based on one of the storylines in the show. A filmmaker. He of all people should appreciate that despite the aforementioned plausibility of the idea, it is still indeed, fiction. What gives?
This is not an isolated incident. Since the concept of cinema was actualized, people have found their inspiration to act on their already existing pathologies. Yes, the desire to do the dastardly deed was latent, awaiting something or someone to stir the beast from its slumber. Even before that, troubled souls found ways to rouse their demons into action. How many Jack the Ripper copycats were there? Who knows, maybe Emperor Nero’s insane act of locking helpless citizens in Rome’s colosseum (or so the story goes) to force them to view his godawful performances led even the gentlest of characters to violent responses.
Call this human behavior what you will, for this writing I will coin it somewhat topically: The Dexter Defense, and it is a flimsy one, at best. While not historically apt, as evidence of this spans centuries, it is a good representation—an almagamation, if you will—of how far some people would go to make excuses for their actions. Plus, I really dig the alliteration.
As an artist with little exposure, my only concern about creating something that could stir a violent response is offending my potential audience. Imagine successful entertainers with far-reaching influence doing the same. They not only have to deal with possible rejection, they also may consider the likelihood that there will be impressionable people who take their art just a wee bit too seriously. Does that mean they should keep it to themselves, or should they expect a modicum of objectivity from their viewership? Should the sins of a few ruin it for everyone else? While the collective intelligence can decrease as the group expands, can the actions of a few leaven the whole loaf?
While Doris Day’s beautiful rendition of Secret Love was somewhat marred by the rumor that Calamity Jane had syphilis (I don’t believe it!), my history need not go back that far. Where the tendency to attribute malevolent influences from music became prevalent is with the recording technique of embedding subliminal messages in music, called backmasking. The Beatles popularized it (really, was it “cranberry sauce” or “I buried Paul”?) and other bands like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC followed suit. A law was passed forcing record labels to add a warning message that this technique was used. It is akin to adding the Surgeon General’s warning on cigarettes. We all know they are horrible, but does that stop the addicts?
Who can forget the inspiration Charles Manson got from The Beatles’ Helter Skelter? As far as their songs go, it isn’t one of their best, albeit an interesting cacophonous experiment. I personally wouldn’t even put it in their top 20. Never mind that the song was not violent, per se, nor could any rational person infer evil intent from it. Yet, the song is now inextricably bound to the Manson murders, so much so that the infamous book about this nugget in history shares the title. Lest we pin the blame on Paul McCartney, we must realize that Manson was born with violent inclinations. While it can be argued whether he was a psychopath or a sociopath, the seeds of nature and nurture were planted long before that. What nurturing mother punishes her son by forcing him to go to school wearing a dress? While he was definitely genetically hard-coded towards a pathology, his abuse as a youth set the stage. The song played as a convenient excuse.
Arguably, the most notorious case in recent memory involved the heavymetal band, Judas Priest. In 1985, two Nevada teens made a suicide pact after listening to their music all day while drinking beer and smoking pot. They went to a playground at a local church and aimed shotguns at themselves. The one died instantly, the other survived and was left with a severely disfigured face. He died several years later, even after numerous surgeries. The parents brought the case to trial in 1990. Rob Halford had to experience the ignominy of singing the offending lyrics from the album Stained Glass in court, and was specifically instructed to sing it in the same style as he did on the record. The prosecution claimed that it wasn’t just the words, but also how they were conveyed. The court ruled the band not responsible. The teens’ mental state was compromised with chemicals and existing depression. The album only reiterated an idea they already entertained. Still, the lack of precedent doesn’t keep others from attempting the same scapegoat defense.
How many books have been destroyed in an effigial attempt to banish violence from our society? What, outside of a waste of resources, does it accomplish? Even Reverend Terry Jones’ recent showboating plans to burn the Quran were misguided. Yes, there are many fundamentalists who take a literal and/or incorrect interpretation of the work and wreak horrible havoc on those with dissenting opinions. My own views of religious persuasion aside, burning a book that can easily be reproduced and not abused by the majority, does nothing but incite further violence. It is laying the blame on the printed word instead of the individual. Sticks and stones and all that.
Mark David Chapman claimed that he re-enacted scenes from Catcher in the Rye when he fatally shot John Lennon. While Holden Caulfield was a dark character experimenting with rebellion, I personally focused on the symbolism of watching children on the carousel grab the brass ring that gave me hope that there was salvation in his future. How did Chapman devise such sinister machinations from this classic piece of literature?
Really, unless bookmakers can create a technology that will cause the reader’s hands to blow off if the story is not acted out, there is no one to lay blame on but the criminal. There are a bunch of Humbert Humberts running around deflowering nubile girls because they are compelled to do so, not because they were inspired by Lolita. Who reads about pedophilia and thinks, “Hmm, interesting concept, I think I’ll give it a whirl,” and then later blames Nabokov for corrupting them with his beautiful literature? Ridiculous.
It only takes a modicum of common sense to intuit that thrusting two fingers at someone’s eyeballs will never end well. Yet, impressionable people tried that after watching The Three Stooges. It doesn’t matter that upon closer scrutiny, it is obvious that Moe Howard aimed at his brother Curly’s eyebrows. We are just such curious creatures that sometimes, we can’t help ourselves.
Filmmakers recognize this, and in fear of the consequences that could arise in our litigious society, they make allowances for that via disclaimers. The Mythbusters remind the audience every episode that they are professionals and since the average viewer is not, they are ordered to “not try this at home”. Does that stop everyone from trying to blow up Buster, as an example? Of course not, but it does remove the show’s culpability. My question is this: Should they be held responsible when their efforts to entertain result in criminal acts?
John Fowles The Collector was made into a movie in 1965 about a man who kidnapped and imprisoned a woman he was obsessed with, and held her until a relationship developed. She died, and he blamed her for it and looked for better ways to hold a woman captive and improve the experience for himself. Robert Berdella, a.k.a. The Kansas City Butcher, credited the movie version for planting the seed of fantasies about his subsequent acts. While he admitted that it just laid the foundation for the feelings that were already there, it seems fiction always must play as fodder.
Supposedly, Mark David Chapman’s obsession with killing John Lennon was assuaged temporarily by watching the movie Ordinary People. It was an emotional movie that inspired a lot of people in different ways. There hasn’t been an issue with crediting positive influences to any art form. Should there be a double standard applied?
But of course!
Don’t shoot the messenger
There is a precarious balance that faces artists in providing necessary escapes in entertaining ways and with giving fodder to disturbed viewers. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, humans are fascinated with violence and the ability to inflict it on others, thus determining their fate. It gives us the control that we feel we don’t have over our own destiny. Most of us are content with experiencing it vicariously, and there are plenty of opportunities out there to do so. From slowing down to check out car accidents, restraining ourselves from asking a soldier if he or she has killed people, flirting with road rage, and more to the point of this writing, immersing ourselves safely in pure fantasy. It’s there, and we are drawn to it. Like screaming at the plants, it shouldn’t hurt anyone, and it is a great stress-reliever.
We are born with a survival instinct, and it is manifested in a fight or flight response. When crimes are committed, we want to know why it happened. This provides an opening, and some are inclined to take it to save their own asses. In the movie Primal Fear, Edward Norton’s character faked a stutter and dissociative identity disorder, i.e., multiple personalities, to avoid the death penalty. That is not a stretch by any means, nor is blaming actions on works of fiction. Remorse can result in sincere apologies, attrition, retribution, as well as accusation. Apparently, the first three are more daunting and difficult than sitting back and pointing the finger. It is a convenient and alluring escape hatch. The fight is owning up to one’s actions; the flight in laying blame on outside influences.
The show Dexter is a brilliant tour de force. The actors, writers, and directors succeed where many fail—they make an otherwise reprehensible character not only sympathetic, but also likable. We root for him, even though in reality, it would be the opposite. If faced with that character in our world, we’d be horrified and humiliated that we were so duped. We know this to be true, so we are free to embrace this alternate reality. Leave it to a few bad apples to spoil it for the rest of us.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I must gaze at Piss Christ, then punch a priest for bastardizing religion. That is what Andres Serrano wanted me to do, right?
Creatures of the trite
Women have the potential for very active and intricate sexual fantasies; I readily argue that they are more inventive than most men are inclined to entertain. They can be so complex to the point where they are near impossible to choreograph in reality. Making love in a rainstorm is easy to replicate. But, can you plan the clap of thunder to be in synchrony with the rip of your negligee as it is torn in half and pulled from your drenched but flawless skin in the throes of passion? Oh yes, and, the lightning should illuminate the sky and cast the perfectly pulchritudinous lovers in a chiarascuro of sensual artistic display. While a beautiful, poetic symphony of primal lust, chances are good: it ain’t gonna happen just like that. Being female, I admit that I have stopped mid-daydream and wondered outloud “What the hell am I thinking?” before I continue with my elaborately scripted internal drama. Why? Because it is fun and takes me away to a better place than Calgon ever can. We need that stress-relieving escape on occasion. Plus, it is the cheapest form of entertainment. It costs nothing to let one’s mind wander for a spell. Not to be guilty of solopsism, but I am quite confident that no other woman with a pulse can cook up what I have going in my prurient little mind.
Then, there are more base fantasies that are appealing to many. Okay, I will just come out and say it: the rape fantasy. Admit it ladies, you’ve considered it and chances are good that you have asked for it. How many have actually enjoyed it, though? I suspect that for the majority it has gone anywhere from disappointment to a traumatic experience. Losing control is good to explore, to a point. The fantasy allows us to forgive ourselves for enjoying it like the little whores we are. We have no choice because we are forced to do so. But, “rape lite” isn’t all fun and games, even when consensual. “I don’t care that I said you shouldn’t take no for an answer, when I say no I mean NO!” Objectively, I can picture myself crying my way out of that bag. So, I am content just imagining that there are men out there who want me so badly they will take me by force if need be. Preferably, on a beach with the backdrop of a gibbous moon.
But, this isn’t about me. Because, the fantasy I am honing in on for this post is not one shared by yours truly. Try as I might, I have no desire to be saddled with the burden of being the object of obsession of not one mythical monster, but two of them. Not only that, a war to the death is waged in my honor. Yes, I am talking about a vampire and a werewolf. In the unlikely event that this would happen to me, I’d torch the first with the cross he made me bear with his creepy, undead love, and impale the other with that same cross—silver, of course. Hey, it’s my world and I can MacGuffin it as I damn well please.
There are a host of contemporary female authors I suspect fancy the idea that deadly monsters would lust after them. They fulfill that wish via the characters they create in their books. Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse, Stephanie Meyer’s Bella Swan (you can look, but don’t touch), and the lesser known Richelle Mead’s Eugenie Markham of her Dark Swan series. In all fairness to the last one, the mythical men who are insane with lust for the heroine are not monsters, per se. They are a faerie king and a supernatural dude who can turn into a fox at will.
What stands out about all these characters is that none of them are particularly remarkable. While they all have a supernatural power, it does not extend to their attractiveness and desirability to justify such insane desires from creatures that don’t exist in the first place. Anita Blake dresses down in black jeans and Nike sneakers, and she sleeps with stuffed penguins. Sookie is a virginal waitress from a small town in Louisiana. Okay, Bella Swan has no power outside of apparently having scrumptuous blood and a great rockstar name. As for Eugenie, she is on the path towards obesity and heart disease with her daily breakfast of Poptarts.
Only two of the book series mentioned have been brought to film. This gives the viewer (meaning me) the opportunity to see what all the fuss is about with these characters. Alas, I am left more confused than before. While both Kirsten Stewart of the Twilight movies and Anna Paquin of Sookie’s True Blood are very good actresses and were cast well according to the authors’ descriptions, I fail to see the mind-scrambling allure. Yes, they both are cute. There are a lot of cute girls in this world, thus, there are plenty in the pool of potential conquests from which vampires and werewolves may choose. Why them? I’m just not feeling it. I am having to work hard enough to suspend disbelief that monsters exist and want to copulate with us mere mortals; don’t make my job more difficult by making said mortal of choice the naïve girl next door.
If I were a vampire, while recognizing time is on my side, I wouldn’t be wasting it with a wide-eyed country boy or an angst-filled teenager with a droning inner dialogue and a maddening tendency towards dramatic, ellipses-filled pauses; I would be glamouring the glamorous. If I had the power, I’d use it to full advantage. Jude Law would be my pet, and I am pretty confident I’d grow tired of him fairly quickly (relatively speaking considering we are talking about vampire years). I can think of an extensive list of hot bodies that I could plow through. I can imagine that your average red-blooded male, given the opportunity to become a sexy monster, would be hitting it with Jessica Biel. I’m just saying.
This is not me being shallow, it is reality (again, relatively speaking) and just plain objectivity. After years on this earth spanning centuries, I do believe there would be a “been there, done that” attitude. What stopped a journey of two lifetimes in its tracks to focus on these inexperienced girls? I suppose it could be argued that they opened themselves up to otherwise ostracized characters and accepted them for who they are. Maybe monsters crave some normalcy. Should we have to think that hard about it, though?
As for the other two book series, if they are brought to film, I cannot fathom any actress filling those shoes. It would be impossible to pull off. Laurell K. Hamilton’s writing has gotten spectacularly bad, and her character is reduced to an impulsively murderous nymphomaniac. Yeah, that’s hot. While I enjoy Richelle Mead’s writing for what it is, and the Dark Swan series is a page-turner, I hit a speedbump every time Eugenie takes a break from her artery-clogging diet and fighting otherwordly demons to have wildly passionate sex with one of the many creatures obsessed with her.
As for why the subject matter involves mythical monsters, it is simply because that is what sells. We never get enough of that stuff. They are sexy, and apparently these women find them very sexy.
All kidding aside, this is what could happen when the female psyche collides face-first with reality. Another way to put it is that a woman’s desire to be viewed as a sexual being is marred by society’s standards of what is attractive. I do admit that I suggested that a woman would have to be a 10 in order to attract the attentions of Dracula and Wolfman. That said, I do not think that society is right in putting the burden on women to be sexy. I am attacking the ludicrous level that some women will go to in order to cope with the low self esteem that can result. Writers are at an advantage. They are given a convenient and marketable means for that wish-fulfillment. As I implied in the beginning of this post, fantasy is healthy for everyone and can enhance creativity. It should not be damaging personally or professionally. It can get in the way of the quality of life or what comes out of it. In these cases, the work suffers. I cannot speak to their personal life, but I suspect it is a challenge for these authors to compartmentalize and not get carried away with the fantasy.
With Stephanie Meyer’s work, this is what happens when one uses her “art” to preach the benefits of abstinence. Her vampires sparkle beautifully when exposed to the sun, and the wolves go shirtless to make it easier to change form. Yeah, right. But what about those tight jeans? Where did they go? At least the Hulk kept his on, albeit torn to shreds and disproportionately shorter. It just makes no sense.
But oh, how romantic. This small town girl living in a lonely world is embraced whole-heartedly by men who must resist the urge to literally eat her alive.