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Posts Tagged ‘monsters’

Horror and Halloween

There are only two days until my favorite holiday of the year, Halloween. None of you should be surprised that Halloween is my favorite. I’ve loved it since I was first able to make my own decisions about the costumes I would wear, and I continue to love it as I help my two kids pick out their own costumes, a neon skeleton with a tutu and a Power Ranger for this year. (I might have bought a Wonder Woman t-shirt with a cape attached and a felt headband for myself.) I have decorations, skeletons and a giant spider web for our house. I stock up on spooky Halloween decor because I might put some of it up in my house year round. As my youngest kid notes, “Mommy likes creepy things.” He’s not wrong.

Part of the reason that I have loved Halloween is that I have loved horror too. Ghosts, goblins, werewolves, vampires, zombies, and all manner of things that go bump in the night were my favorites. I was reading ghost stories as soon as I could read chapter books. I was reading Stephen King in middle school.  I read Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery (1948) in high school and loved it, while my fellow classmates were unnerved. I have watched The Lost Boys (1987) more than I am willing to admit.

There’s something comforting and familiar horror stories because horror is easy to understand. The rules are always clear, and there’s the gruesome reminder that it is so, so easy  for human bodies and minds to break. When I need to escape from the world we share, I often turn to horror movies, shows, and novels. More now than ever before, which I don’t want to think about too carefully. Over the years, I’ve continued to love horror, even as I wasn’t quite sure that it loved me back.

Not only have I loved horror, I’ve written about it too, as both a religious studies scholar and a personal essayist. I keep coming back to horror. It keeps coming back to me.

This year, I wasn’t able to write anything Halloweenish in October. Too many things got in the way, including hurricane Michael, and I’ve found it hard to write even about things that I usually enjoy writing about.

Instead, I’ve pulled together some of my essays on horror, monsters, and Halloween, for you dear reader, in one single post. I hope they aren’t too scary for you. Maybe, you’ll want to read them with the lights on. Maybe, not.

Hell Houses and Horror

Hell House tortures women’s bodies to send messages about morality, chastity, and the peril of sexuality. The bodies of the lost are feminine in shape. A girl, who is date-raped at a rave, later commits suicide while being slut-shamed by a death monitor. An abortion gone wrong kills another young woman, but not before we hear her ear-splitting screams and see her anguish, physical pain, and so much blood….Before these female characters die, men insult, threaten, choke, slap, push, and rape them. These young women die by their own hands or the hands of another, death monitors drag them to hell. An angel spares the abortion girl, who cries out to God to be saved. She finds salvation, but loses her life. Women’s bodies appear broken and wounded. They are clearly victims.

The South has always seemed seriously spooky to me. The rural cemeteries lining long stretches of road with faded plastic flowers and cement angels. The abandoned houses that almost proudly show their wear and dare you to enter. The trees and bridges that once held the ropes hung around the necks black men by white men while white crowds watched on….The stories passed down to me from my grandparents about all the people who died from their own mistakes, natural disasters, or the more mundane things that we imagine won’t kill us. One small mistake, they seemed to note, and your life could be over. We’re always just a foot away from the grave. We’re always one small step from salvation or damnation. 

Monsters and Zombies

There Be Monsters

I have a hard time watching The Walking Dead. I hate to admit this as a scholar of zombies, but I will anyway. The show is hugely popular with viewing audiences, and fans of zombies, who first proved skeptical of this melodrama with monsters, have come around. On Sunday evenings in the fall and spring, viewers tune into AMC to see what will happen next. What new methods can be used to kill zombies? Which of our survivors will last throughout the season? What will they have to do to survive? Who will kill or be killed? 

Welcome to the Dark Side

Satan and demons appear as serious problems that must be eliminated. The world around us emerges as antagonistic and full of peril. Safety is elusive and temporary. Demons target everyone, if we refuse to acknowledge their presence. Practitioners can see the signs that the end is near everywhere: for example, they issue warnings about people who listen to heavy metal, wear silver jewelry, and have piercings and tattoos. (My fashion aesthetic seems to signal the demonic. I never realized.)

Staking Monsters

There’s a moment in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), in which I always try to convince myself that if I quit watching then everything will turn out okay.  If I don’t witness what’s to come, it won’t happen, right?…Every time, I watch Night I wish that the movie ended with Ben’s survival. I wish Ben would walk away into the new post-apocalyptic world, find his place, and live a long life. And then, the movie would fade to black. I wish for a hopeful ending rather than the tragic one that follows

Personal Horrors

Wrenches Your Insides

Horror showed me how bodies could be unmade. How bodies were maimed, cut, shot, tortured, and killed. How a body’s hurts could be physical and visible. How blood splattered on the floors and walls was a sign that things had come undone. Horror showed me the consequences of violence, physical and psychic. It stood as a warning of how terribly wrong things can go.

The Final Girl

My father loved horror movies and novels. His love of horror passed down to me, whether I wanted it or not. He’s the reason I first read Stephen King. He’s the reason I came to crave scary movies. He’s the reason I learned to love horror. And hell, he’s probably the reason I now analyze horror as a way to write and think about American culture. He’s responsible for my attachment to horror, even as I hate that he is.

 

Happy Halloween!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Missed Turn

I woke up on Sunday convinced that I have no words left. That I had nothing to say, and perhaps, I was done as a writer. That I had already written my best essays. That I had no good sentences left in me. I was out of words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and pages. I was done.

Sundays are rarely writing days for me. Weekends are family time, so I let my partner and kids distract me from the angst chasing me. They are always my favorite distractions.

On Monday morning, my alarm on my watch buzzed me at 4:45. There was a plane to catch to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I had been invited to Elizabethtown College, where my friend Richard teaches, to give a reading at Bowers Writers House. My reading was from an essay on Dozier School and my hometown, one of the most personal essays I’ve ever written. (A story that is still unfolding and that I am chasing as hard as I can.) The day before I was to be a visiting writer, I was convinced that I might no longer be able to write. The irony was not lost on me. My angst was fitting, and truth be told, somewhat expected. My writing life can be narrated as story of doubt, angst, and anxiety. I keep trying to tell another story, but this is the narrative that continues to emerge.

As I pulled out of my drive way, I probed this fresh (and melodramatic) concern about writing. Out of the neighborhood, take a left, pass construction and new development, take a right, drive past big churches and small churches, other neighborhoods, stop at red lights, and take a right onto I10 to get the airport. The interstate snaked in front of me, but the darkness of the early morning meant I could only see what the headlights made visible.

Why, I thought, did I feel like I had nothing left to say? Was I not nourishing my creativity? Were there no more stories for me to tell? Was I actually running out of words? This seemed improbable, impossible even. Of course, there are still things I want to write. At any given moment, there’s a revolving set of essays stored in my head, on to-do lists and post-it notes, and in my journals and planner. Perhaps, what I really meant was that there are topics on which I have nothing left to say. Topics that no longer interest me. This could account for some of my fatalism, but not for all of it.

(more…)

Fairy Tales

Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved fairy tales. Her skin was freckled and unevenly tanned. Her legs always had bruises because she was easily distracted and clumsy. Her hair was not golden like the sun, but that shade of blonde-almost-brown that the adults around her described as dirty or dishwater blonde. When she started squinting at things far in the distance, she had to get glasses. She was a reader with her nose perpetually stuck in a book. She was a daydreamer who imagined different possible worlds than the one she inhabited. Worlds, in which parents didn’t divorce, fathers loved their children unconditionally, people were kinder, she was a princess, and anything was possible with magic.

She imagined a world of enchantment and predictable narratives. She called on these worlds when life around her became too much. If she was being unflinchingly honest with herself, she would have to admit that she was more comfortable inside her head than out. Her imaginings followed certain storylines, the characters were reliable and trustworthy, and evil never triumphed over good. The real world made little sense. People, adults and other children, were mercurial and unpredictable. There were no clear storylines to follow, no patterns that made engaging with others easy or manageable. Kindness quickly transformed into cruelty with little warning. Some days, reality was too much to decipher, so instead of playing with her friends on the playground, she would turn inward to the safe confines of her imagination and create her own fairy tales. Princes rescued princesses. Evil witches were defeated. And often, the heroine would figure out how to save herself. All while, she swung higher and higher on the swing. Her body tethered by reality and gravity, but her mind was gloriously free.

Moreover, fantasy offered up endless happy endings. Real life, on the other hand, had few happy endings. And when the endings were happy, the happiness was conditional and fleeting. Happiness never tried to linger. She often wondered why.

(more…)

Fly Away

Last week, I was in Pennsylvania lecturing about doomsday scenarios: Tim LaHaye’s end-times theology and, of course, zombies. Today, after three flights, I’m finally in Minnesota, where it is currently 39 degrees. I only had to run through the airport in Charlotte, but that’s a fairly normal occurrence at that particular airport (at least this time I wasn’t pregnant and nauseous, which is a story for another day.)

I’m cold and possibly shivering, but pretty happy to be visiting Concordia College. I even get to meet my Twitter buddy, David Creech, in person. I’m presenting the Religion enrichment lecture to a couple hundred undergrads, and I’m talking about ethics and (in)humanity in zombie apocalypses: Zombieland, Warm Bodies, The Walking Dead, and more. Here’s a not-so-secret secret: I love talking zombies to anyone who will listen. This is fun yet serious lecture, and I even get to visit classes and interact with students. I’m pretty much nerding out for a full day on zombies. How lucky am I?

October tends to be a busy month because I am a scholar of zombies and darker registers of American religions. So far, I’ve written about zombies, apocalypticism, academic waste, Hell Houses, the Klan, and more zombies. Killing the Buddha published an excerpt of The Zombies Are Coming! today on zombies and guns.

The blog has been quiet because my deadlines piled up with public lectures, regular assignments, and travel. With Halloween in striking distance, my work appears relevant and pressing. I’m trying to learn to capitalize on the season. Yay? (Maybe.)

I’m not complaining. It is good to be busy, and I’m grateful that folks want to hear me speak about topics near and dear.

I’m just tired of airplanes.

 

Fanpire

This review first appeared at the Bulletin for the Study of Religion blog in December of 2012. Since Twilight turned 10 this week, I thought it might be time to direct you all to Tanya Erzen’s excellent ethnography of Twilight fans.

In 2008, I picked up the Twilight series because my youngest sister, then a teenager, happened to be reading them. I had just sent my dissertation to my advisor for final edits, and I wanted to read something that was not related to the Klan, hate groups, or American religions more generally. I wanted to read fluff. A series of novels about an ordinary human girl, a vegetarian vampire “mainstreaming,” and a handsome teen werewolf embroiled in a tortured love triangle seemed to fit the bill. Thus, I turned to Stephenie Meyer’s increasingly popular Twilight novels for casual reading. After finishing Twilight, I rushed to (now defunct) Borders to buy Eclipse.

Much like other women, teenagers or adults, I consumed these books, and so did both of my sisters and my mother. We read them, we talked about them, we criticized them, and we reread them. Despite the bad prose and melodramatic storyline, something about the books managed to appeal to all of us. What was it about the series that drew us in? What kept us reading? Why did we all hate Breaking Dawn? What vision of the world did we consume by embracing this fantasy? What did fandom suggest about us and the series? (more…)