Thoughts from my study of Horror, Media, and Narrrative

Archive for June, 2009


The yellow cord lay on the ground, twisted and angry where he had left it. If you looked closely, you could see the kinks in the cable where her wrists were bound behind her back as she cried out to the empty warehouse. She remembered how she had been broken while the cord held her together.

“It’s your fantasy,” he said, “So enjoy it.”

And the sad thing was that this was her fantasy—or, at least, it had been until something went wrong. She wanted to be a tough girl, to flirt with danger, but never realized that all of the martial arts skills in the world couldn’t protect her from this.

It is a rare occasion when I feel like a scene in a show has sucker punched me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always a good thing—it means that a program has managed to move me on some fundamental level. In recent years, only Nip/Tuck and Six Feet Under have caused me to curl up in a ball, but seeing this past scene from Virtuality made me exhale slowly and sit in silence.

How am I supposed to react when I see a woman being raped? Her body was left intact thanks to a virtual reality visor, but that just made it worse. You could see this character fighting the sensation but she couldn’t escape the situation even if she wanted to thanks to a glitch in the programming. Stripped of her attacker in the real world, you could see a bit of the turmoil that a woman undergoes when she is raped; struggle and tension rippled through her body.

Commiserating with the victim, another crew member mentioned the worst part was that the crew member didn’t exist to her attackers when she was raped. The essence of what made her a person was forgotten and she was just a body. A bit edgy for Fox, but such a welcome statement! Surely we can all relate to the desire to be recognized for who we are—we all want to matter. To know that we have the power to strip away a component of someone else’s humanity is frightening.

Rape, for me, is one of the most abhorrent things—in some way worse than murder—but I suppose this is because so much of my identity is tied up in issues of sex that a violation of this sphere hits home; it pushes all of my buttons of suffering, pain, and fear. Rape is a stark reminder that the cost of sex for women is exponentially higher than it is for men and that, as a male, I often have no idea what this means. There have been times that I’ve been scared that I was going to get mugged but never once did it cross my mind that I might get raped on the street (or by a date!). It boggles my mind, sometimes, to think about the things that most straight white men do not have to deal with. Simply because of who they are, they do not have to worry; they have not learned to doubt themselves in a way that every other person has been taught to.

Ultimately, the victim was advised to ignore what everyone was saying and to just feel the rape; not in a way where she felt sorry for herself, but in a way where she was honest with what she was up against. The first step, as they say, is identifying the problem. It’s about calling the fear what it is and seeing it for as nothing more than that; naming fear doesn’t make it any less dangerous but defining it gives it limits. It’s learning that the best way to banish the darkness is not to dispel it with light, but to absorb it until it becomes indistinguishable from the rest of you.

The Move in My Mind


“It’s funny,” I said as I sat down on the couch, “I took a shower after I got home yesterday and there was still more sand that appeared this morning.”

I was on the second leg of a marathon weekend that included hanging out with my newly adopted West Los Angeles Alumni Club and working on a fairly extensive presentation. To blow off some steam, a group of friends decided to watch the delightfully bad 80’s movie Teen Witch.

While mostly innocuous, the film seemed to have some fairly large holes in its plot—but, then again, it’s an 80’s movie themed toward young girls, so it doesn’t have to make a whole lot of sense. One scene in particular, however, caused my inner “sexual health education monitor” (you know you all have one) to perk up and take notice.

In what I could only presume was a Home Economics course, a teacher began to talk about how she had been asked by upper administration to talk about Sex Ed—but in a way that made it evident that she was not comfortable doing so.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from my years working with young people, it’s that kids are half-decent fibbers and even better lie detectors. Although I don’t have any hard science to back me up, I would guess this ability is due to the fact that childhood is all about learning to evaluate yourself in the context of your peers; individuals learn to be observant.

Luckily, I am fairly comfortable talking about a lot of things in the area of sex, but I also know how to fake it fairly well. As educators, our job is not to be judgmental or presumptuous but to listen to what our audience has to say and then fill in the gaps.

As I thought about the movie more, I realized that I didn’t really understand why the film included mentions of condoms and birth control pills. Was someone trying to do children a service by introducing these items into heir consciousness? Why did both scenes featuring birth control result in embarrassment for multiple people? Was the director reflecting the way that teens reacted to these aides or was he merely misinterpreting it?

Certainly not everything made for public consumption has to talk about the subject of sex or sexual health, but it seems like if one is going to do it, one should do it correctly. The problem is that I’m not sure that we as audiences want to hear the truth—it’s much more fun to make fun of the subject and pretend as though the subject doesn’t really affect us in a meaningful way.

Next time you go to see a movie, think about what you are being told about sex (don’t even get me started on the many ways that The Hangover is detrimental to our efforts to embrace sexuality). How are you supposed to react to it, talk about it, or have it? Do you agree with these messages? Why or why not?

Sitting down at my computer, time freezes for a second as I began to feel a sense of quiet desperation. We have become so much more savvy as audiences—most of the scenes in Teen Witch wouldn’t work because people wouldn’t buy them—but are still stuck in some well-worn ruts. I am hopeful that one day we will get to where I think we should be, I am hopeful that we will one day be on better terms with our own sexualities, and I am hopeful that I will eventually get to see this movie in my mind.

Love Changes Everything

Take a breath and go.

I stepped into the lobby of the talent agency and glanced at the sprawl of magazines on the coffee table. “What was I getting myself into?” I thought, “I had one shot to convince these people that I could hang.”

On a recent Thursday night, I found myself interviewing for a board position in the West Los Angeles Alumni Club. As I sat around the conference table, I began to berate myself silently for showing up too early and having to make awkward conversation with an established board member. To my surprise, however, we quickly shifted to a topic that I knew something about.

“Have you seen Glee?” asked George Ross.

I have to be honest; I was excited about Glee from the moment that I saw a promotion for the show. I was never a choir kid in high school but I’ve developed an appreciation for good arrangements through my many hours spent listening to college a cappella.

George Ross (yes, that’s his name) and I proceeded to chat briefly about the show as I began to explain my thoughts about the song selection and why the show worked—ruminating on popular culture is what I do, after all.

After we parted, I didn’t think much more about the show or about musicals until my coworker broached the subject at dinner a week later. We began discussing Moulin Rouge after it was mentioned that I had strong objections to the film.

“What’s so bad about it?” Lauren queried.

In my head, the lights dimmed and a screen came down behind me as I prepared to launch into my diatribe explanation.

Back in high school, I was naive and I whole-heartedly bought into the romantic aspects of Moulin Rouge. Yet, watching it now, I reflect on how much I’ve grown since then. I am still swept away by the idea that the perfect love can transport you to places unknown and that there are moments of greatness in any relationship, but I also know that the dark side of love never goes away.

After all is said and done, after the wild ride of passion is over, you realize that love doesn’t—and can’t—conquer all. The good guys don’t always win and there is no such thing as happy ever after. Dreams do come true, but just as easily broken. The great poets have it wrong:  love can’t move mountains, make rocks cry, or raise the dead. You see that we are human after all and that love isn’t always forever.

I promise that I am not bitter about this whole thing, but I do think that we as young people are so entrenched in the mystique of love that we attempt to feel a glimmer of the emotion any way that we can. We do what we can to connect to others and to avoid rejection, and this sometimes leads us to do things that we shouldn’t. We’ve all heard stories about women confusing sex with love, but also think about the times that you’ve used sex to make someone stay—maybe it’ll turn into a real relationship?—or agreed to unsafe sex just so someone would notice you.

Rather than bemoan the downfall of love, I think that this perspective offers a bit of freedom. Through all of this, we find that we have, in ourselves, the invincibility that we ascribed to love; we discover that no matter how we are challenged, there’s a part of ourselves that only we can give away. We realize how fragile and precious the feeling is—and how lucky we are to have it.

In the end, doesn’t that make it all the more worthwhile? Committing yourself to something knowing that it’s imperfect, knowing full well that the magic doesn’t last? To me, that makes it priceless.

Response to Terrorism? Stop-Loss.

In truth, I didn’t know how to describe it. Without warning, I felt as though a part of me had been taken away without my knowledge and I began to feel that our community had lost one of its own. It could have been anyone, really—on some level it didn’t matter who it was, it just mattered that it was someone.

Yesterday, Dr. George Tiller was murdered during a church service in Wichita, Kansas. By all accounts, Dr. Tiller wasn’t anyone particularly extraordinary, so his name shouldn’t sound familiar, but Dr. Tiller did happen to be a physician who performed abortions.

Within hours of the killing, people from all across the nation were discussing the situation and what it meant for the future of abortion in the United States. What were the anti-abortionists’ views? Would there be backlash? Did we all just want to find somebody to blame?

A grandmother in a CNN article said, “What happened to Tiller was justified. He forfeited his life by taking the lives of innocent children.”

Is there some loophole whereby murder is defensible if it prevents the possible death of future beings? How much of that responsibility can you bestow upon yourself?

I freely admit that I do not intimately understand some of the arguments against abortion but I definitely don’t understand how, if life is sacred, killing is ever the solution? I understand disagreements and feeling frustrated with the current situation (Prop. 8, anyone?) but I will never quite understand vigilante justice. Maybe I just buy too much into this system that is supposed to work. I mean, isn’t part of being patriotic believing that America functions on some level? Isn’t part of the beauty of our country believing in the idea that we have the ability to change things through an accepted channel? Perhaps I just haven’t reached the point wherein I feel like I have no other options.

And, in that light, maybe this is a sign that something is seriously wrong. Although one incident can’t speak for the entirety, shouldn’t it be troubling that a segment of the population is resorting to violence to get their message across? Shouldn’t we be worried that people don’t have faith in our governmental processes to hammer these things out? As mad as I am about the whole Prop. 8 thing, for example, I refuse to believe that the solution lies outside the bounds of our established laws. After all, in many ways, doesn’t this situation represent something that Conservatives also decry? Terrorism?

This is not to say that all anti-abortionists are terrorists, of course. But I don’t know how you can argue that killing someone for something that they believe in is not a form of terrorism. Dress it up in all of the religious dogma that you want, and provide yourself with some kind of moral justification so you can sleep at night, but, at the end of the day, when you strip it down, you’ve committed an act of violence that you hoped, on some level, would deter someone else from performing or seeking an abortion. And the sad part is that you probably did your job.

Hell, I went through the same sort of fear when I agreed to take on this assignment. “Were people going to track me down and tell me that I was wrong for supporting this organization? Would I be judged? How much would my personal life be affected by my public life?” And, I suppose that there is always the thought, no longer so unfounded, “What if I were to die as a result of my involvement with Planned Parenthood?”

My teeth scraped over my lip as I thought about what this all meant. “I suppose,” I reasoned, “that if this somehow ended in my demise that at I would have at least died in the pursuit of something worthwhile.”