General

Halloween! (repeat and fade)

Boo!

Boo!

The first elementary school I attended (kindergarten through third grade) took Halloween very seriously.  One teacher turned her house into something that wouldn’t have been out of place in Nightmare Before Christmas, and encouraged us to trick or treat there.  She and her husband were in full costume, of course; she dressed up as a witch, and he dressed up as a ghost, except for the year she was a skeleton and he an alien.

Aside from trick or treat, she and the music teacher instilled in us a love of goofy Halloween music.  Her favorite was “Witch’s Brew.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3foTIHscfzs.) Listen, and try to get it out of your head.  I dare you.

The songs the music teacher had us sing proved a bit more difficult to find, but one of my all-time favorites was “The Bat Dance.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0w-RWrlk2fg.) This song was especially dear to me, not only because it was slow and easier to sing, but there were a ton of bats around my house.  We just had to walk up the hill, and it was like the introduction to Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?

Then there was “Do the Igor.”  I never liked this one as much (being hypnotized into dancing creeped me out), but I have to include it because it was a huge presence.  And it has a really kick-ass organ solo. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYsFp-2rMGg.)

Any Halloween mix would be incomplete without “The Monster Mash” of course.  This was a party I always wanted to attend– after all, Boris sent me! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNuVifA7DSU.)  It was a constant nag as a tot that I never did get to do the Mash with my favorite monsters… dancing with Dracula was practically a life goal.  More proof of my incurable weirdness.

Anyhoo, enjoy the music– comment with more, and happy Halloween!

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Think About the Children!

Normally, that phrase really gets my goat, as it’s used in a self-righteous, messianic, moralisitc, and increasingly tedious manner.  So I have a good reason for using it.

Today I had to do some online training related to workplace harassment.  The video segments kept freezing, which gave me time to think.  And I realized that my old middle school subjected the entire seventh grade to something unlike the quid pro quo (this for that) discussed in the training.  It wasn’t sexual, but we did have to do exchange a service above and beyond the call of attending school in order to pass.  The school wanted a new garden, and we were slated to provide the labor to plant it during our science classes.

At that particular school, every April each grade would do a different project to be displayed in the cafeteria over a weekend.  For fifth and sixth graders, it was history projects.  Eighth graders did surveys with graphs, but the thing to see was the seventh grade science projects.  The piece de resistance.  But in April, instead of getting the assignment, we were told that we could not be trusted not to let our parents do the projects for us, and so we would instead plant a garden.  If we refused, we failed science.

Of course, there was too little work to go around to 150 students, so only the huskiest boys were conscripted (sexist), while the rest of us were either herded inside to watch documentaries, or to make posters about the flowers planted to display instead of our science projects.  And, interestingly, no other seventh grade class after us had to do anything like that.  Maybe enough parents were indignant, I don’t know.  But the only indignant parents I can personally acknowledge were my own.  Still, if my mother was required to weed the dean’s garden in order to renew her contract, HR would be all over it.  Why did the principal, assistant principal, and teachers think this was a good idea?  How did heads not roll over it?

Going further back in time, in fourth grade my history class passed around a petition not to have homework over the weekend.  Standardized tests were coming up, and our assignments consisted solely of copying out the pre-test, 3-5 times each, depending on how close to the test we were.  It was a horrible assignment– took hours to complete, and really had no value.  We probably remembered what we wrote down, but we didn’t learn it.  Anyway, I knew we would get into trouble for the petition, so I was too chicken to sign it.

Sure enough, the teacher came back, and poof!  The homework didn’t stop, and every signer had to run extra laps in PE.  Way to teach us about our rights as American citizens… right to petition and all that.  Years later, I asked my law prof if the school could actually do that.  Unfortunately, she said, they could.  The younger you are, the less willing people are to apply the Constitution to you.  What a rotten situation that is!

As an American child, you have no rights, so when the schools try to take advantage of you, you must smile politely and hope that someone who actually has rights will stand up for you.  And somehow childhood is considered idyllic.  Something needs to change.

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A Bit of Halloween Nostalgia

This nostalgia would be aided by some old photos of me in my various Halloween costumes, but unfortunately my dad has them three states away, and probably couldn’t tell me where they were even if I was there anyway.  Anyway, on Friday I’m going with a friend of mine when he takes his son trick-or-treating– he’s going to be Yoda (aww!), and it made me think of some of my favorite costumes: She-Ra, the Bride of Frankenstein, BeautyJuice (because my parents wanted me to be something “feminine” instead of Beetlejuice).

All of them had something in common… they were homemade.  Actually, 99% of my costumes were… my parents were very anti-bought costumes.  Getting a witch’s hat for that year was a real struggle.  Oddly enough, they didn’t put up a fight about my Bride of Frankenstein wig.

Anyway, for the next three, I wore the dress from that costume again to be Isis, a Bride of Dracula, and a ghost.  Then I ended my trick-or-treating as a werewolf.  But it wasn’t the last costume; I still dressed up to give out candy, and I’ll dress up again on Friday.  And my costume will still be mostly homemade… wig and make-up bought, of course.

I won’t lament and complain that no one makes costumes anymore, because I know that’s not true.  Most costumes are bought, yes, but I still see plenty of handy people putting their costumes together.  Last year I lost out on  the “Scariest Costume” prize to a Japanese student who probably spent an hour putting the finishing touches on her gaping wounds.  Disappointing, but I can’t deny that she deserved the prize.  It’s certainly better than losing to another Ghostface (as much as I like Scream).

Hopefully there will be more little handmade ghosts and goblins running loose in Ohio (and elsewhere) this Friday.  Halloween is a great community experience, in my opinion, and it would be a shame to see it all vanish inside malls and parking lots, or even worse, into paranoia about the candy.  But that’s another post.

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Thank You, Dr. Luther!

An oft-recreated image.

An oft-recreated image.

I have this picture in my mind of a two panel comic strip with Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the church door in panel one, and at the Diet of Worms in the second one with the caption, “Well, that escalated quickly.”

It’s actually a pretty accurate, if stripped down, version of events… Luther didn’t want to take on the Catholic Church and start a movement when he nailed his ninety-five topics for debate up, but the situation got, shall we say, out of hand.  Nearly 500 years later, here I am in the shaken up, but still quite lively Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).

And for once, I don’t feel like giving a complex history lesson, so I’ll discuss what being a Lutheran means to me.  To start with, I’ll restate the first thing I learned in confirmation class ten years ago.  “Justification by grace through faith.”  Justified means “made right,” so we are made right by God’s grace, even though we don’t deserve it.  Being raised Lutheran in a very fire and brimstone part of the country, meant I knew that I was in the hands of a loving God when most of the people around me did not.  It was an odd, sometimes socially awkward arrangement, but it worked out for the best.  I do not fear death as many of the people I grew up with do, am not waiting for God to drop a brick on the spiderweb of my existence (those Puritans!), and I even have a vague sense of what not to do when talking with someone of another faith or religion.

The Lutheran church gave me a community when I didn’t necessarily have one myself.  I didn’t always get along with everybody, but it was a sense of belonging that helped me grow as a person, and as a Christian because my pastor (and dad) saw to it that I had a good religious education and understood the faith I had been brought up in.  And being a PK taught me something about being assertive.  I did my PK duty usually without complaining, but I also learned to put my feet down and point out that I did not need to do every activity and be part of every project.  And in college, I learned to recognize when the community I had first entered wasn’t working out and how to pick a better one.

None of that was especially theological, but it was important.  Like this one.  I have a professor who is not religious because, in his words, the scientist will admit he is wrong when the priest and the rabbi will not.  Now, that is not entirely true.  Some scientists refuse to admit that they are wrong, and plenty of priests, rabbis, and pastors will admit when they, or their establishment, got something wrong.  In the summer of 2009, the ELCA admitted that they were wrong to encourage the LGBTQ community in their midst to stay in the closet… the bishops and pastors in attendance voted to take a more progressive stance.  History was made, and admittedly, it was not universally popular.  About 5000 congregations left the church, and either went Missouri Synod or just became independent.  One of my father’s colleagues was subject to threats of violence and eventually moved house, but not position.  Yet the ELCA has carried on.  I, a bisexual, can be ordained under the 2009 ruling.  It’s something I may someday do, but the time is not yet right.  Some people still grumble, 5 years after the fact, about that historic event, but I know it was the right thing to do.  We all are welcome in God’s house and family, and those of us who are higher up on the Kinsey scale are part of the church on earth as well.  See this video for more details:( http://vimeo.com/109153388).

Historically, we’ve admitted we were wrong, or that the old man himself was wrong about other things, as well.  (Especially his views on women in leadership positions.)  We’ve had 500 years, more or less, to evolve, shake things up, and, even though we know that by our own doings we cannot please God, do our best to anyway.  We will be loved no matter what, but we also should not be complacent in our grace.  It’s affirming, but not all rainbows, fluffy bunnies, and unicorns either.

So I say thank you, Dr. Luther, for nailing up the theses and sticking to them all those years ago!  My life would be much poorer without the Lutheran Church (he would be unhappy that we’ve stuck his name on it, though), and I’m happy to sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” once again.  (The music alone is reason to check out Lutheranism… just saying.)

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Equal Opportunity Violence… Not!

Held in the classic "Macbeth" position, of course.

Held in the classic “Macbeth” position, of course.

I’ve been reading a mostly delightful new book on the history of horror lately, but I have to quibble with the author’s constant arguing against the fact that slasher movies do glamorize violence against women, mainly by “punishing” them for stepping out of line, either by having (and enjoying) sex or for some other offense like being somehow “unfeminine.”  And don’t just brush me away as a barefoot feminist critic– George Gerbner the Communication scholar noted in his study of TV that characters outside the dominant group who step out of their box (women, the elderly, and racial minorities) are disproportionately likely to be punished by an attractive white male for their sins.

Back to horror.  One complaint in the book is that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is not subject to the same criticism as Halloween.  Fair enough, I suppose, although Tobe Hooper (to my knowledge) never expressed confusion as to why he was being criticized for punishing the characters in his film.  Carpenter has.  Also, the violence in TTCM isn’t as necessarily gendered as it is in Halloween.  Yes, Michael Myers kills the boyfriend, but that’s just one man as opposed to the three killed by the evil family, plus the creep who runs the gas station, and let’s face it, Leatherface should realistically die from blood-poisoning after he injures himself.  It’s an incredibly nasty film, but sex isn’t really a part of it, the way it is in Halloween.  Also, while it did contribute to the trend of making horror films an ordeal rather than a form of entertainment, the Massacre movie didn’t really prove as influential as Carpenter’s movie.  The author is right, though, that TTCM deserves much more criticism for the torture of the female characters– especially the death by meathook.  No one in their right mind would argue, though, that having Sally survive the massacre makes it a “progressive” film.

I’ve already detailed Halloween‘s misdeeds.  The film does equate female sexuality with gruesome blade violence– the sister, Laurie’s fellow babysitters, and then the boyfriend is tacked on their too, but that’s really more of a ploy to kill Annie.  He’s collateral damage rather than a receiver of moral punishment.  Jamie Leigh Curtis rather ineffectively denies that Laurie survived the film because she was a virgin; her explanation was that Laurie survived because she could use her pent-up sexual energy to fight.  Which is basically saying that she survived the ordeal because she was a virgin.

Friday the 13th isn’t any different because it has (spoiler!) a female villain.  It still strongly equates sex with a violent death, and carries it out.  Arguably, the violence is spread fairly evenly between the genders, but most of the attention is paid to the female deaths.  Most of the men, except for Kevin Bacon and the guy who owns the camp, are dealt with offscreen.  It doesn’t make as much of an impression if they’re not killed on screen (one or two exceptions exist, yes), and there isn’t as much “intimacy” with that crime.  Yes, the owner, Steve, takes an axe in the face, but his death is a plot device.  He is the only person who could recognize Mrs. Voorhees.  Ultimately, the villain is still punishing the teenagers for sex (even pre-emptively) and we the audience are more up close and personal with the female characters’ deaths.

Like TV news, it’s all in how you frame it.  So yes, the movies are sexist.  They delight in torturing and killing the female characters.  I avoid them because none of them are that good as movies, although you can certainly argue with me there, and I don’t like any of them besides. Gothic horror is more my cup of tea, anyway.  I’d say I’d avoid the aforementioned films because of their misogyny, but I’m a feminist who loves film noir and horror.  I’d watch them anyway, and take the opportunity to critique, criticize, and discuss.  Which is what I’m doing right now.  Cutting off and burning bridges isn’t always the way, and I think it’s perfectly fine to trot out these museum pieces again every October (or whenever you prefer to watch them), as long as you do with with your eyes wide open in regards to their content.  Cover your eyes at the gory bits, but don’t claim because one female got away from the killer that it’s a breakthrough, progressive movie.  To do so would be about as ridiculous as calling Margaret Thatcher a feminist icon.

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The Mummy, the Heroine, and Trivia

"No man has ever suffered as I did for you."

“No man has ever suffered as I did for you.”

I’ll admit it right here and now.  I’m horribly jealous that my brother down in Virginia gets to see one of the best, least-known Universal monster movies on the big screen… The Mummy (1932).

After countless, not so good remakes (early 1990s, I’m looking at you), it’s easy for the original to get swept under the rug with the rest, but to do so would be a mistake.  It has a lot of surprises, and packs quite a punch.

The movie opens with the mummy of Imhotep (Karloff) being discovered by Dr. Muller and his impatient young assistant.  Imhotep was buried alive for sacrilege, with the Scroll of Thoth in his tomb.  The young man reads the scroll aloud, and the mummy walks!  The poor man cracks up spectacularly after, and when questioned about what happened to the mummy can only gibber, “It went for a little walk!”  A few years later, the very old Ardeth Bey (Karloff, naturally) leads Mullen and his new assistant Whemple to the tomb of the princess, Ancke-es-en-amon.  She becomes the Cairo Museum’s main attraction, and at night Bey slips in to read the Scroll of Thoth over her body.

But she doesn’t rise from the dead.  Not quite.  Across town, however, the beautiful biracial Helen (Zita Johann) falls into a trance and walks to the museum, but cannot get inside.  Realizing that she now carries his beloved’s spirit, Imhotep turns his attention to her, and makes it deadly for those who try to stand in his way.  But rather than kill them with his hands, he uses sorcery, and those scenes are quite intense.  We hear a dog’s death-cries offscreen, and Helen describes it perishing under the claws of a cat.  Another archaeologist dies from a heart-attack when Karloff clenches his fist.

Eventually he kidnaps her, dresses her as the princess, and shows her (through excellent flashback) their tragic love story.  Imhotep and the princess were lovers, but Ancke-es-en-amon died young from an illness.  The bereft priest tried to raise her from the dead via unholy means, was caught, buried alive with the scroll, and the slaves who carried the deed out where killed, so none would know his grave.  (Trivia time!  This was the first impaling shown in an American film.)  He now tries to turn Helen into a living mummy like himself, but she rebels and calls on the goddess Isis for help.  The goddess destroys Imhotep as Helen is reunited with her love interest, the young British archaeologist, Whemple.

It’s a very powerful and tragic ending… Karloff’s face registers the hurt his character feels, as well as his anger at being damned.  That’s more pathos than the monster, or even villain, usually gets.

Helen’s very existence is also interesting.  This was 1932, but she is half-British (white) and half-Egyptian (black).  She is played by a white actress, but ends up with a white hero, which is unusual, to say the least.  Jim Crow laws were in full-swing, and interracial marriage was illegal.  Helen is treated as an equal by the white British upperclass, and gets the guy.  Hollywood is still very uncomfortable with the idea of interracial romance and interracial sex, so it’s that much more surprising that during the 1930s that Helen’s British heritage seems to be presented as dominant (no one brings up the “one drop” rule) and that she winds up with Whemple, especially when the rest of the movie is remarkably dated in terms of its views on race and “blood.”

If you have the ability to see The Mummy on the big screen, take it.  This poetic, nightmarish film deserves more recognition than it gets, and even provokes thought.  That’s more than you can say for a lot of movies, regardless of their genre.

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Donations– A Short Story

(Instead of my usual prattling, I thought I’d post a piece of my fiction.  Please do comment, critique, etc.)

Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Hudson reached the nearly empty shelf at the same time.  Mrs. Jones, about fifty years younger with two kids in tow, looked from the two cans of corn to her tennis shoes, embarrassed.  Mrs. Hudson fidgeted with her coat and smiled.

“Go ahead, dear,” she said.  “It’s just me.”

Nodding, her lips tight in embarrassment, the younger woman picked up the undented can, and carefully placed it in her basket.  She turned to her children, “Come on kids.  Let’s go weigh in, and we’ll go home.”

Mrs. Hudson picked up the dented can, and settled it in her own basket—it was still too light, but the pantry shelves were almost empty.  Squinting around the room, she went back to the produce section and picked up the bag of grapes that she, and probably all the other food bank recipients had ignored earlier, hoping this would make her basket heavy enough.

As she walked over to the counter, she passed Mrs. Jones, who smiled wearily at her and said, “Have a good week.”

Mrs. Hudson, nodded, her eyes on the children, both of whom now held a doll.  The little boy was clutching a plump red-haired doll in a green playsuit, while the girl had a blonde doll with a yellow and white blouse, purple bloomers, and a bright red lollipop sticking magnetically to its tongue.

“Hi, Jill.”  The speaker was an elderly man in a collar, with white stubble adorning his face.  “How’s it going this week?”

She shrugged and offered him her basket, “Not bad for an old fossil like me, George.  How’s Ruth?”

“Doing better, her hair’s coming back.” He made a note of the scale’s readout, “You’re a little short.”

“I thought so, but there’s really not anything else.”

“Yeah,” he began to put the food in bags.  “It’s not been a great week—donations wise, anyway.”

Jill Hudson noticed a large box behind the pastor; a doll’s arm was just visible sticking out.  “Where’d the dolls come from?”

“Oh,” he said.  “They came in on Saturday… from one of my colleagues’ daughters.  Kids love them.”

She nodded, and made to leave. But at the door, she turned around.  “Pastor?  I love dolls, too.  Do you think I could have one?”

****

“Sure.”

Within the box, the dolls heard the man’s footsteps then walk over to the box, and then the white-whiskered face looked in at them.  His eyes darted around the small cardboard space, finally picking up the biggest and only black doll in the group.  He held her up in the bright light for the old woman to see.

“How about this one?” He asked.

“She’s beautiful,” Mrs. Hudson walked back over to the counter, switching her bags to one hand, so she could take the doll.  “Thank you so much.”

“Don’t worry,” he tapped the tag on the doll’s wrist as he handed her over to her new owner.  “She’s got her identity with her.  All ready to go.”

“I don’t have my glasses on, I can’t see it.”

“Lavender.  That’s her name.”

Held upright, Lavender’s eyes were open, and she could see Jill Hudson, and her white hair, blue straw hat, old yellow sweater, and three strings of plastic pearls.  She was frankly surprised—adults usually didn’t have the slightest interest in dolls, but here was one who wanted to take her home.

Who to the baby’s added astonishment, hugged her tightly, just like her former owner had done when she had first been unwrapped one Christmas morning.

Mrs. Hudson took everything out to her old car.  She carefully set the bags of groceries on the floor of the backseat, but Lavender went in the front seat, propped up against a blue purse, that was really more of a tote-bag.  She was glad Mrs. Hudson had put her in a seated position—at least she could see where they were going.  It was a lovely day, and the last time she had been in a car, there hadn’t been anything to see except the inside of the trunk.  She wondered where her new owner lived, and what it was like.  Was it a house, or an apartment?  Would it smell like mothballs and potpourri, which, in her limited experience, was what old ladies smelled like.  She hoped not.  Since the old woman seemed to like yellow so much, Lavender hoped the house would have equally bright and cheerful smells.

They drove for about fifteen minutes from the food bank to a very small house that looked rather like an old yellow quilt from the outside, where the car stopped.  Mrs. Hudson took Lavender inside into the house first, and then went back out for her groceries. One of the doll’s eyes had closed, but the other one stayed open, allowing her to look around.

The house had four rooms: an eat-in kitchen/laundry room, the main room, a closed door that was probably a bathroom, and a bedroom.  To her disappointment, though, it smelled of nothing.  The main room was crowded with rugs, a small sofa, a chair, a small bookcase, a few pictures on the walls, and the end-table on which the doll currently lay.  Lavender strained to look at one of the pictures in the dark room.  It showed a man with thick glasses, sitting at a teacher’s desk, smiling broadly.  This, she decided, was Mr. Hudson.  Or had been.  He’d look like Mrs. Hudson, now, if he was still alive.

The door opened again, and Mrs. Hudson walked in with her bags of food.

“Get these put away,” she said.  “Then I’ll show you what there is to see of the house.  Lord-a-mercy… I must be going crazy.  But it’s better than talking to myself, I guess.  Lavender… it’s a nice name, anyway.  It’s real nice that your girl wanted you to keep it.  And I won’t change it.  ‘Lavender’ you shall stay.”

The doll’s other eyelid fluttered shut.  It annoyed her, but Mrs. Hudson laughed.  She then turned on a light; Lavender could tell, although her eyes were closed.  After a few minutes of rustling, and the thudding of cabinets and refrigerator doors, her eyes snapped open as she was picked up.

“Kitchen,” the old woman said, carrying the doll through.  “Macaroni without cheese for dinner tonight… I can’t have it any more.  But I can have TV again… couldn’t for a long time.  When my husband was still with us, he was so deaf the neighbors complained if we turned it up so he could hear it.  And I felt guilty for watching when he couldn’t fully enjoy it.”

She paused to take a pot out and set it on the counter, before turning back to the main room.

“I keep ‘the euphemism’ over there, for all the good it’ll do you,” she pointed at the closed door.  “And that’s my room.  I guess you can sleep with me.”

Most of the floor space in the small bedroom was taken up by a double-bed, strewn with cushions, and covered by an old patchwork comforter, a crocheted afghan, and a folded up flannel throw at the foot.  The closet took up half the left wall, but, as Mrs. Hudson set Lavender down on the right side of the bed, the doll noted that the strangeness of that part of the room.  A small but elegant dresser with a mirror attached was crammed into the corner, almost touching the door.  Yet the rest of that wall was amply, almost oppressively empty.

Suddenly, the doll was picked up again, and almost as if her new mistress was aware of her stare, she said, “One of these days I’m going to have to put something there.  Or ask someone to move my dresser.  Someday I’ll get around to it.  Then we won’t look so lonely here.”

She squeezed Lavender and set her down again, and this time the doll’s eyes clicked shut.  The bedroom door closed, and a minute later, the TV came on in the kitchen.  But Lavender didn’t mind her closed eyes this time.  She was no longer with a child, but her purpose as a toy—to give comfort, companionship, and pleasure to a human being was still the same.

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