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Posts Tagged ‘zombies’

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In-between projects

*I’m doing all of the parts of the business of being a writer that I don’t really like.*

I’ve been seriously grumpy lately. There are many reasons for my grumpiness, but one of the main culprits is that I haven’t been writing as much as I want to. Yes, I write a column and articles for Women in Higher Education. Yes, I wrote a lecture on the artifacts of white supremacy that I gave at the College of Charleston. Yes, I wrote up a statement about why you should all move to Florida like I did.

And yet, I feel like I’m still writing less than I want to.

What occurred to me today is that I’m writing less because I’m currently stuck in-between two projects. Months ago, I finished all the writing I had to complete for my forthcoming Grace Period (Killing the Buddha press), a collection of essays about my slow transition out of academia, the loss of dreams, and the long process of  learning how to manage where I happened to land. I’ve only been editing what needs to be edited. Now, the soon-to-be book is in the hands of my excellent copy editor while I worry about everything else that needs to be finished and my strategies for book promotion. (more…)

White Supremacists and Racism

*Some people seem ready to listen to what I have to say about white supremacists.*

For 12 years, I’ve been writing about white supremacists, white nationalism, and the Klan, but 2016 seemed to be the first year my work appeared to have wide cultural relevance. I’m still unsure how to feel about this.

In 2016, after all, a Klan endorsed the Republican nominee, Donald Tr*mp, who will become the 45th president of the U.S. The alt-right, a white supremacist movement that the press had a hard time calling a white supremacist movement, rose to national attention. In March, I told my partner that Tr*mp’s candidacy would make an interesting contemporary afterword for Gospel According to the Klan, when I still didn’t imagine he could win the election.  The University Press of Kansas decided to publish a paperback version of Gospel this fall, and they moved up the publication date from mid-March to late January and added a Kindle version, due to the “relevance” of my work.

This continues to be a weird moment for me. I’m proud of my Klan book. I’m glad folks continue to read it. I’m happy and surprised professors continue to assign it in their classes. But, at the same time, my joy is tempered by the knowledge of why my book is relevant right now. White supremacist organizations appear visible now in a way they haven’t in years (partially because folks quit paying attention to them), and so many of us are worried about their impact on the new administration and our country.

In November 2016, I felt like I’ve only been writing and tweeting about white supremacists. Interest in white supremacists shifted in and out of the news cycle in 2017. After Charlottesville in August, my inbox was stacked up with requests for interviews to talk about white nationalism again. I did as many interviews as I could and interest waned because it always does. The relevance of my work feels temporary at best. Some people seem ready to listen to what I have to say about white supremacists, but only after a rally, a tragedy, or Richard Spencer’s most recent attempt to speak on a college campus. I mostly refuse to pass up that opportunity to speak up about my years of work on white supremacy.

I refuse to be silent, but I’m not sure that most folks are really listening. (more…)

Interviews and Award

Last week, two interviews with me about Gospel According to the Klan went live. (Can you believe people still read and want to talk about this book? So awesome.)

The first was a previous interview from 2013 with A. David Lewis on the Klan and zombies, which is now available as a podcast from the Religious Studies Project. Here’s their description:

Many of us only know about the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan through film and television, and much of what we see blurs fact and fiction. Distinguishing each side of that messy divide is the prolific Kelly J. Baker, exploring how media portrayals of the hate group have influenced audiences and, in turn, fed back on its own members. This previously unaired interview conducted by A. David Lewis from 2013 sketches out the rise of the KKK on the large and small screen, its relevance to discussions of religious terrorism today, and perhaps even a link to Baker’s other work on zombies in popular culture.

The second is a part of Richard Newton’s lovely Broadcast Seeding podcast. Richard and his Spring 2016 Ethnicity, Gender, and Religion Seminar students asked some great questions about my Klan book (and even some questions about my tattoos that didn’t make into the interview). Here’s the blurb:

Historian and freelance writer Kelly J. Baker joins us to discuss her compelling research on the Ku Klux Klan. Baker shows us how this group’s success in the 20th century speaks volumes about the racist underpinnings of American Protestantism.

And finally, the BTS Center’s Bearings‘ series of essays on racial justice, Standing for Justice, won a DeRose-Hinkhouse Award of Excellence from the Religion Communicators Council. My essay, September 11th, was a part of the series. I’m so glad Bearings editors, Elizabeth Drescher and Alyssa Lodewick, continue to let me write for them.

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.