Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Add me to the long, long list of annoyed geeky bloggers with a serious chip on her shoulder over the Twilight franchise.  Add me also to the long, long list of hipsters who, like, totally was into vampires before vampires were cool.  And I’m talking PROPER vampires.  The ones with fangs and bloodlust; not the sparkling vegetarian high school ones (what the fuck is a vegetarian vampire, after all?)

Back in the long, long ago, vampires were scary as well as sexy.  Apparently True Blood is attempting to fill that void, as it were, but even those Bayou vamps are more the descendants of Anne Rice’s sexually confused dandies than Bram Stoker’s creation of pure evil.  And you gotta admit, Bram Stoker gave us the world’s greatest vampire, the King of Vampires,  evil incarnate.  Stoker’s Dracula was not sexy; he was not tortured over his vampire-ishness.  Despite a fairly pronounced death drive, what he really wanted to do was drain everyone’s blood and create an empire of the undead.  You know, a good, old fashioned  take over the world kind of villain.  He had fangs.  He turned into a bat and a wolf and assaulted Victorian womanhood, manhood and childhood.  He brought out the evil in the staunch Victorian middle-classes, making them turn on each other, forcing them into deeper and deeper depravity in their attempts to annihilate him.  He was one evil sonofabitch.

Vampire

Dracula has been a lot of things over the years, and has been progressively defanged since Browning’s 1931 film made him into  a foreign gentleman.  Time passed, Christopher Lee gave us a sexier Dracula, then a Dracula who rides the number 7 bus.  Finally, Frank Langella gave us disco Dracula.  And that was sort of the stake through the heart for ol’Drac.  Gerard Butler in Dracula 2000 proposed that Dracula was actually Judas (!); Gary Oldman in Coppolla’s inappropriately named Bram Stoker’s Dracula definitely had the tortured romantic thing going on, but then he also did some raping and pillaging.  At least Dracula never really lost his fangs, or the whole ‘I want to suck your blood’ mentality.  Until now.

Vampires have typically represented the sexual confusion and mores of their time periods.  It’s no accident that the most memorable vampire showed up nearing the end of the Victorian era, a time characterized by excessive sexual repression, two very ugly occurrences involving sexuality (Jack the Ripper and the trial of Oscar Wilde) and the escalating debate over the rights of women.  That Dracula transformed over time into a tortured lover, a gentleman, a man not quite as evil as he initially seemed, seems to reflect the changing desires of the culture he comes out of.  Dracula began to stop being scary when sex stopped being as scary.  But today, something very weird has happened.

Not a vampire. Get it?

Twilight has enacted a sort of double repression.  The vampire, rather than being an eruption of the chaos world, an embodiment of the darkness at the heart of middle class society, becomes instead fully integrated into that society.  A misunderstood, not terribly dangerous celibate, continuously repressing natural desires (in the case of a vampire, blood and sex) in favor of asceticism: being a ‘good’ vampire.  Sex is not to be indulged until marriage, at which point it becomes violent and bruising, resulting in a rather Cronenbergian pregnancy and C-section.  And that’s romantic.  The books and films present Edward as the ultimate romantic lover, but the entire romantic relationship is a reinforcement of the very patriarchal norms (men are animals, sex is evil and painful, etc.) that the vampire was originally a reaction against.  By making the vampire the hero, the Twilight franchise has managed to invert the purpose of the monster (the return of the repressed) and make the monster himself into a romantic symbol that reinforces that repression.  The Victorians couldn’t have accomplished it better.  Vampires have ceased to be scary.  They’re now pale young Englishmen with sparkling skin who resist the passions of the flesh … until, of course, they beat the hell out of their partners in the marriage bed.  How romantic.

It saddens me to see Drac and his brethren fall so far from grace.  I hope that we someday regain some of the kinkiness that has always characterized vampire lore (True Blood is the one hope for the future of the bloodsuckers).  I don’t know what Edward Cullen and the rest of those sparkly Mormons are, but they sure as hell aren’t vampires.

You call that a vampire? THIS is a vampire:

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Zappy, zappy.

I hate Harry Potter.  Yes, hate is a strong word, particularly to level at a popular series of novels.  But I do.  I thank God that the last movie is FINALLY coming out.  This will be a diatribe.  I apologize in advance.

I do not know why I hate Harry Potter.  How can I? The books are very popular and well-written…to a point.  I will only concede ‘to a point’.  At the very least they have inspired people to read, which is always good, particularly children.  And fandom is something I can get behind.  I love Ghostbusters and I have friends who are obsessed with Lord of the Rings, comic books, video games, novels, etc, etc.  I have no problem with that.  I get obsessed too, usually over very esoteric things.  To object to that would be the pot calling the kettle, as it were.  So why do I hate Harry Potter? What has he ever done to me?

Well, he’s invaded my cinema, for one thing.  I believe that that was the start of my vitriol.  Before the movies began intruding on my life, I simply did not care about Harry Potter.  I don’t know if I was too young or too old or simply more interested in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test to care about wizards.  When the first book came out I was eleven years old and obsessed with Sherlock Holmes.  So I never read the books as a child.  But I have seen the movies.  And even my most Potter-y friends admit: those kids Can.  Not.  Act.  They still can’t act.  Daniel Radcliffe has all the personality of a wet towel; Emma Watson has almost as many expressions as Mr. Potato Head; Rupert Grint whines and whines and whines.  This might be a fault of the source material, of course, or of the scripts.  Regardless, it’s positively grating to watch them on screen.

And what of the Aging British Thespians Brigade? Alan Rickman! Maggie Smith! Richard Harris! Gary Oldman! Ralph Fiennes! Emma Thompson! If you weren’t in Lord of the Rings, you got your chance in Harry Potter.  I love all those actors.  Rickman particularly seems to be enjoying himself immensely, but then he always does.  Every time he talks with one of the kids, I only hear ‘I’m Alan Rickman.  And you’re not.’  Which is fun.  It cannot carry a movie, much less a franchise, but it is fun.

The fact is that the movies are really only supplements to the books.  It’s impossible to follow them without having a serious knowledge of each novel in turn.  As I came to the movies first, perhaps that was my problem.  I was hopelessly confused most of the time.  With the possible exception of whichever film was directed by Alfonso Cuaron*, the movies are fairly dreadful, confused and confusing.  I am of the opinion that cinema should be able to stand on its own, and the Harry Potter movies do not.  So perhaps that is the source of my antipathy.  Like everyone else, I cannot divorce the books from the films any longer and the Films.  Suck.  That is my highly thought out critical opinion born of two years at film school.  They suck.

But even this does not suffice.  Because, the truth is, I should like Harry Potter.  I should like the idea of wizards and good versus evil and betrayal and all that.  I might even be persuaded to endure teenage angst.  I was an angsty teenager once.  I once felt like the world did not understand my intrinsic greatness, like I must be a wizard in disguise.  I love outsiders and rebels and grand adventures.  I should really have no problem with Harry Potter.  And yet…

I can analyze some of the sources of my intense dislike.  The books seem derivative, combining elements of Lord of the Rings, Greek and Roman mythology, folktales and old British traditions, not to mention the ever-present Christ story.  But then so do most books; everyone takes their inspiration from somewhere.  Perhaps it’s that the inspiration comes close to simply lifting whole subplots and characters from other places.

The Christ angle bothers me too.  Maybe I’m just sick of the ‘One who will save humanity (or wizardry) by sacrificing himself for…whatever’.  The Christ story has been done, over and over and over, so that whenever I hear those dreaded words (often phrased differently, but with the same purpose) ‘You are the one…’ I actually cringe.  The world is always coming to an end.  A hero must rise.  Again.  For the hundredth time.

Maybe I’m tired of good vs. evil narratives when we’re living in a world where that simply does not cut it anymore.  To separate characters into good and bad nowadays seems dull, simplistic, and potentially damaging.  Rather than understanding differences, we seek to vilify them.  Rather than examining the darkness and the light within every human being, we draw a dividing line.  We still do it, despite all evidence to the contrary in this world.  Despite the shades of grey.

I know that we need those kinds of narratives, if only to keep our faith in the inherent goodness of humanity.  That was one of the sources of my adoration of Sherlock Holmes: he was the voice of reason and goodness in a terrifying world.  But he was also complex, not always nice, and sometimes not even right.  He believed in the rule of justice, not necessarily law.  I would never argue for always turning the world on its head, for always giving the villains the upper hand, for the defeat of the good guys.  I am not really all that cynical when it comes to humanity.  I believe that all human beings are intrinsically good.  I believe that the human capacity for good is greater than the human capacity for evil.  But I find it dull when it is all made so simplistic, so derivative, so easy to define.

I am a hypocrite.  I have not made an exhaustive study of Harry Potter and I am probably glossing over all sorts of complexities that make those books so popular.  So, I will tone down my language: I do not hate Harry Potter.  I  intensely dislike Harry Potter.  I don’t really know why.  Maybe I’m just contrary.  Maybe I’m a curmudgeon at the age of 24.  Maybe I should give the books another chance.  Perhaps it would change my mind.  I doubt it.  Good for Rowling for creating a character that so many people seem to love and identify with.  But I just can’t.

That said, I kind of want to see the last film.  I want to see Rickman sneer one more time.  I’m just not certain if it’s worth an 8 pound ticket.

*I thought it was Guillermo del Toro.  Thanks, Jon Morris, for pointing out the error.  Maybe it was wishful thinking on my part.*

How to be a douche in two easy lessons

As my friends are well aware, I am a total snob.  I’m a film snob, a literature snob, and, most recently (due to my sudden interest in Nietzsche, that syphilitic genius), a philosophy snob.  I watch movies with long names and long takes, like Last Year at Marienbad and Dr. Mabuse the Gambler.  I read Thomas Pynchon for fun.  I like Baudrillard and Foucault and words like ‘signification’ and ‘heteronormative structures’.  I write douchey posts on my blog, like this one.

But …

I also like terrible B-movies, slasher flicks, sappy romantic comedies and things in which Bruce Willis or Vin Diesel blows shit up.  And I read genre books: crime fiction, sci-fi, fantasy and their subgenres, steampunk, cyberpunk, even the occasional romance novel.  I do not like contemporary literary fiction as a rule.  Everything recent that I’ve taken interest in usually turns out to be what would be broadly classified as ‘genre’ fiction.  You know, genre.  That thing that snobs are not supposed to like.  That thing that is repetitive and has rules and is, like, generic and stuff.  That section of literature (or film, or art) that is not ‘serious’.

Recently, a furor broke out over the BBC’s World Book Night last month.  Lead by Stephen Hunt (an excellent steampunkish author), a group of fantasy/sci-fi writers responded to what they perceived as the BBC’s anti-genre attitude.  I believe the phrase ‘sneering derogatory tone’ was used.  The BBC of course denies that they sneered at genre fiction. (Hunt’s original post can be found here: Stephen Hunt vs BBC , the BBC’s response according to The Guardian here: BBC Denies Sneering at Genre Fiction ).

I did not see the program, so I really can’t comment on how right or wrong the sci-fi authors or the BBC are.  Being that an opinion is much easier to hold if not hampered by the facts (thank you, Mark Twain), I choose to side with the authors.  But the point that this whole debate makes is one that keeps coming back to me: what’s the matter with genre?

What is it about so-called genre fiction that makes folks like the literati over at the BBC sneer? I use the BBC specifically, but this extends to a whole section of writers, readers, professors and intellectuals.  Why is To the Lighthouse literature, and Farewell My Lovely not? I once took a whole class in 20th Century Crime Fiction at a university known for its stalwart dedication to the canon of English literature.  Why is this debate still going on?

Warhol, like him or hate him, made great strides in making pop culture art.  Thomas Pynchon wrote a potboiler, a steampunk novel, an adventure story.  Cormac McCarthy writes westerns, but no literary critic will admit that he’s working in the tradition of Zane Grey.  Robert Louis Stevenson is taught as canonical, but lest we forget that he was a genre author: horror (Jekyll and Hyde) , adventure (Kidnapped, Treasure Island), historical fantasy (The Master of Ballantrae).  Dickens was a popular writer who got published in monthly installments in magazines.  Jane Austen, let’s face it, wrote chick lit.

I blame the Modernists.  Before Virginia Woolf et al began venerating themselves, novels were largely modes of entertainment.  They were a popular medium intended for a wide audience longing for a three volume escape from mundanity.  They were TV for the middle classes.  The best ones (for my money, Dickens, Hardy and Thackeray, but that’s debatable) were entertaining first; the depth of their subjects, their political commentary and social consciences were a marvelous addition.  The Modernists made the novel deep as a cave and just as dangerous.  They gave it a greater social conscience, and moved it towards real political efficacy, but in the process lost sight of entertainment value.  We read Ulysses because it’s important, but is it fun?

This is not to say that there is no place for intellectual books.  I love intellectual books.  I also don’t want to be bored by something just because it’s ‘important’.  Anti-intellectualism is a terrible thing, but sometimes I get the sense that intellectuals are looking to cordon themselves off from the rest of the world, to look down their noses at something just because it does not fit into an arbitrary criteria of ‘art’.  The fact is that literary fiction is as much a genre as anything else: there’s BAD literary fiction, and there’s good.  We just slap the phrase ‘literary’ on it and suddenly it’s a tome worthy of the New York Review of Books.  Good genre fiction is difficult; it requires as much skill, as much intelligence and attention to detail as any other work of art.  Entertaining people is hard work.  So, basically, we all need to get our heads out of our own asses and realize that literature is a slippery category.  Besides, some literary fiction could be improved by a dirigible or two.

Everybody has a blog.  My grandmother’s cat has a blog.  Actually, that’s a lie.  My grandmother doesn’t have a cat.  But if she did, and if said cat were of an outgoing nature, a creature of publicity and remarkable sufficiency–say, perhaps, a Siamese or American Tabby (none of your self-centred Scottish Folds)–that cat, you can be assured, would have a blog.  So, now I have a blog.  I’m not quite sure why.  I’m certain that it will largely be used to subject my friends to what ravings they do not hear from me on a regular basis.

It will also be utilized for me to make noises about what movies, books and television shows I think are underrated, overrated and never rated at all; what authors are idiots and not worth the money they earn, and what authors have been needlessly and sadly forgotten.  What directors ought to be shot of cannons, and what directors deserve greater veneration.  And finally, of course, this blog will be used for shameless self-promotion as I attempt to actually get my own fictional work into print.  Not to mention the promotion of my exceptionally talented and neglected friends.

I have titled this blog ‘Suddenly, a shot rang out …’ because I find it amusing.  And because that best sums up my own writing style: a little snarky, a little romantic, a little violent and a little … Snoopy-ish.  If Snoopy didn’t write those five words first, he certainly wrote them best.

So, it was a dark and stormy night.  Suddenly, a shot rang out …