P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist #3: “You Want It Darker” by Leonard Cohen

If you’ve been paying attention to my posts lately, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been musing quite a bit lately about the nature of God and His relationship to good and evil. This is not a new thing for me. I’ve been more or less stuck inside this existential mode ever since Donald Trump somehow bumbled his way into the White House four years ago. I’ve even started writing a whole fantasy novel series exploring these sorts of questions.

Maybe that’s what drew me to this song, written by a music star who knew that his time had come to finally realize whether or not there really was an all-powerful deity behind the scenes standing idly by as evil seems to consume us all. So let’s talk about it.

Backstory

Leonard Cohen probably needs no introduction at this point, but for those who aren’t aware, here’s a quick rundown:

Leonard Norman Cohen was born in Montreal on September 21, 1934. He started as a poet and novelist during the 50s and early 60s before he went into music in 1967 with his debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen, partly because there was money to be had in that field. Over the next 49 years, his folk music would become renowned for its minimalism, often dark tone, experimentation with smooth jazz and synthpop, angelic female back-up singers, beautifully melancholic lyrics that explored topics ranging from religion and politics to relationships and sexuality, and his very distinctive bass-baritone voice. He is probably best remembered today for the song “Hallelujah” from his 1984 album Various Positions, especially its various cover versions performed by the likes of John Cale, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, and Pentatonix.

However, the Cohen song I want to focus on today is the opening and title track of the final studio album released during his lifetime. In fact, You Want It Darker came out on October 21, 2016. Cohen died seventeen days later at the age of 82. Perhaps not surprisingly, it focuses heavily on themes of mortality. So let’s see how the opening track introduces those themes.

The Song

The first verse starts with the lyrics, “If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game.” Here Cohen refers to God’s omniscience and how it gives him a rather unfair advantage since He knows every possible outcome of our choices. Indeed, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman made a similar observation in their classic novel Good Omens:

God moves in extremely mysterious, not to say, circuitous ways. God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of his own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e., everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens

Cohen then goes on to comment on how pain and suffering seem baked into the human condition (“If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame”) and how humanity can never measure up to God as long as they can fall for sin and temptation (“If thine is the glory, then mine must be the shame”). He ends the verse with the title and then the line “We kill the flame,” which may be Cohen indicating that humanity may be just as much to blame for the world’s evils as God is.

The pre-chorus begins with the line, “Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name,” which is a translation of the first line of the Kaddish, a Jewish prayer often recited by close family members at a funeral. While appropriate considering Cohen’s Jewish background, that doesn’t stop him from indulging in some Christian imagery for the next line, “Vilified, crucified, in the human frame.” He then comments on divine hiddenness (“A million candles burning, for the help that never came”) before ending on a repetition of the title.

The second verse begins with, “There’s a lover in the story, but the story’s still the same.” This may be either Cohen looking back on his career and all of the love affairs he documented in his body of work or, if the British rabbi Jonathan Sacks is correct, him referencing the story of Abraham and Isaac. Cohen then sings about “a lullaby for suffering, and a paradox to blame,” possibly a reference to the act of prayer and how it has thus far not eased our suffering in an obvious way. He references divine hiddenness by saying that “it’s written in the Scriptures, and it’s not some idle claim” that “you want it darker; we kill the flame.” Indeed, there are several verses in the Bible where God proclaims that He “will come to thee in the darkness of a cloud” (Exodus 19) or “would dwell in thick darkness” (1 Kings 8).

But the most affective verse, at least for me, goes a little something like this:

They're lining up the prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
I struggled with some demons
They were middle class and tame
I didn't know I had permission
To murder and to maim
You want it darker

We’ll talk more about this verse in the Personal Thoughts section, but first, let’s talk about the chorus: “Hineni, hineni, I’m ready, my Lord.” Hineni is a Hebrew word meaning “here I am,” usually a proclamation of taking responsibility and readiness. Indeed, this is where the connection with Abraham and Isaac’s story that Rabbi Sacks was talking about comes from. Abraham responded with a cry of “Hineni” when God asked him to sacrifice his son. So did Moses when God spoke to him through the burning bush, and Isaiah when God asked to send him out with His message. And now, Leonard Cohen calls out to Azrael, the angel of death, that he is ready to join the Lord God at his side forevermore.

Personal Feelings

Even with its dark and foreboding tone, this is still a wonderful song. The minimalistic instrumentation, featuring a simple drum beat, slight touches of electric organ, the haunting backup vocals of the Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue Choir, and one of the greatest basslines I’ve ever heard come together to complement Leonard’s unique voice.

Speaking of his voice, I feel that it adds an odd sense of irony to the track. Cohen’s voice here is particularly booming and authoritative, lending it the feel of an all-powerful deity proclaiming his gospel to the world. Yet, in reality, it is the swansong for a dying elder man trying to come to terms with the evils of the world in his final days on Earth.

As for the third verse (the one that begins with “They’re lining up the prisoners”), while others have made comparisons to the Holocaust, which is certainly understandable, I can’t help but draw parallels between it and the current situation in the United States. Despite what partisan news networks like Fox, One America, and Newsmax would have us believe, right-wing fascism of a similar kind that Hitler introduced to Germany is growing in the United States. Donald Trump didn’t start it; he just helped crystallize the white supremacist elements that have been present in the framework of America since its very founding, elements that many Americans (myself included) thought had been all but extinguished in the wake of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.

The line “I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim” in particular makes me squirm because it seems that there are still way too many people in this country that don’t believe that black lives matter. BLM and antifascist protesters are met with the worst police brutality. In contrast, white supremacists and literal Neo-Nazis are met with handshakes and solidarity, even as they commit terrorist attacks against our most sacrosanct government institutions. The black, Latino, and Native American populations continue to be left in poverty and starvation, as are billions of people all across the global south. In contrast, the 1% continue to amass vast sums of wealth that they do not need. And yet, when those people steal just to get by and rise up in protest to demand their rightfully deserved necessities, they are met by police apologists demanding an increase in funding and right-wing politicians accusing them of being part of a Communist plot.

Speaking of which, upon listening to the song again, I noticed that Cohen never explicitly identifies the subject he is speaking to. True, there is the “Hineni, hineni, I’m ready my Lord” chorus, but that could easily be him turning away from the subject of the verses to beg God to deliver him from the madness of Earthly life. But who is it that really “wants it darker”? God? Satan? Republicans? Billionaires? Whoever started that dumbass QAnon conspiracy? Okay, maybe not that last one, since that only really started up a year after Cohen died, but the pieces that came together to form it were still there when the song was being recorded.

But, to conclude, this is a truly profound song. It has applicability to many things, from existentialism to the religious mind to the rise of fascism, past, and future. I’m happy Cohen was able to gift this masterpiece to us before his death. Hopefully, he has found the peace that so often eluded him on Earth.

So I Just Watched Kirk Cameron’s “Saving Christmas”…

…and it was easily one of the worst mistakes I have ever made.

Don’t let this admittedly awesome poster fool you. This man’s soul is an appalling dump heap, overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in TANGLED UP KNOOOOOOOOTS!

This movie came on the heels of the Christian movie renaissance in 2014 that also included films like God’s Not Dead, Heaven Is For Real, Noah, Son of God, Left Behind, and Persecuted. Cameron’s film differs from the others in that it’s presented in a pseudo-documentary style while simultaneously being a holiday-themed family comedy. And that may be part of the reason why this film is such a shoddy, disjointed mess.

Before I explain why, though, let me explain the plot of this film… as much as it can be said to have one. Kirk Cameron, playing himself, attends a party at his sister’s house and notices that his brother-in-law Christian White (played by the film’s director, Darren Doane) doesn’t seem to be feeling the Christmas spirit. When he retreats to his car, Kirk follows him. Christian opens up about his lack of comfort with how the holiday has become consumerist and over-commercialized, as well as how so-called pagan figures like Santa Claus have overtaken Christ himself.

Now, one would think this would be the part where the main character tries to help the doubting party overcome their grievances and show them that Christmas’s true meaning is still there, even if it is buried under all the capitalist excess and pagan influence, right? Well, apparently, that’s too cliché for Kirk because he’s convinced that all the holiday season’s materialistic aspects are actually ways of honoring Jesus. And by God, he’s going to make Christian see the error of his ways, even if he has to violate all the rules of logic (and even certain Biblical commandments) to do it.

First, he tries to compare the swaddling cloths that wrapped baby Jesus in his manger to modern-day gift wrapping. Then he argues that Christmas trees are actually symbols of the cross that Jesus died on because, as Alonso Duralde from The Wrap put it, “there are trees in the Garden of Eden, and Jesus was crucified on planks of wood, so tah-dah! Christmas trees!” Yes, seriously, that’s the kind of logical reasoning we’re dealing with here. During the same section of the film, he also dismisses the connection between Christmas and ancient pagan winter solstice celebrations because (and this is a direct quote): “Last I checked, it was God who created the winter solstice.”

But neither of these brain-dead rationalizations can quite compare to Captain Crocoduck’s reasoning for why Santa Claus deserves to be celebrated as a Christian role model.

Yeah, I’m just going to call him Captain Crocoduck from now on. Because it’s funnier that way.

You see, according to Captain Crocoduck, Saint Nicolas of Myra, one of the direct inspirations for Santa Claus, is a good role model for Christians because in his spare time not giving gifts to children and the poor, he went around beating up heretics, starting with Arius when he dared to challenge Christ’s divinity at the First Council of Nicaea. Also, rather than the white-bearded, red-suited jolly happy soul often associated with Nicolas and Santa, Captain Crocoduck’s version of the Turkish bishop looks like this.

Yeah, that definitely looks like someone I’d trust around my kids.

Basically, all of this is Captain Crocoduck’s way of saying the second most offensive moral in this entire movie: beating the ever-loving shit out of anyone who disagrees with you is a perfectly reasonable response, and anything less is surrendering to every conservative Christian’s biggest bogeyman- political correctness!

Dammit, now I’m wishing I was watching Avatar instead.

So then, even though literally none of Captain Crocoduck’s explanations really got to the heart of Christian’s criticisms of the holiday, Christian is completely transformed. He joyously rejoins the party, and to make up for his crabby behavior, decides to throw a dance party set to a hip-hop rendition of “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

In all honesty, I was actually somewhat enjoying myself during Captain Crocoduck’s monologues since his logic was so batshit insane. But here’s the thing: Christian snaps out of his funk about 55 minutes into a film that’s 80 minutes long. How does the film fill its last 25 minutes? First, there’s the hip-hop dance party that lasts about five minutes but feels like it lasts twice as long as the movie itself. Then Captain Crocoduck spends the next five minutes or so narrating over beauty shots of his family’s ridiculously extravagant Christmas dinner, telling us how “Jesus came to Earth in a material body, so we celebrate Christmas with material things.” Even though both those things are based on two different definitions of the word material, but (sighs heavily), whatever!

Then, finally, we come to the ending credits… except that hidden in them are five more minutes of bloopers, including a three-minute section at the very end where two black partygoers improvise a terrible freestyle rap about how awesome Captain Crocoduck is.

That’s just a sampling of the awful pacing this movie has to offer. I haven’t even mentioned Captain Crocoduck’s opening monologue at the beginning that spends four or five minutes complaining about how atheists and liberal Christians don’t like the way his segment of Christianity celebrates Christmas (before the studio logos have even finished airing!). Neither have I mentioned the segment between Captain Crocoduck’s monologues where the aforementioned black partygoers discuss how the so-called “War on Christmas” is tied to Area 51, GMO’s, chemtrails, and other such conspiracy theory nonsense. Ironically, said discussion seems to be Captain Crocoduck’s way of criticizing Christians who believe in the War on Christmas, which is hypocritical considering the insanely implausible ways in which Captain Coroduck tries to justify his own insane beliefs about holiday iconography, like how he argues for nutcrackers being analogous to the soldiers who committed Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents (yes, really)!

But perhaps the biggest sin this movie commits is this little speech Captain Crocoduck gives toward the end during his Christmas dinner:

So this is Christmas. Pull out your best dishes, your finest linens, your nicest silverware, your biggest ham! Every side dish you can possibly imagine, and the richest butter. It’s time to feast!… And don’t buy into the complaint about materialism during Christmas. Sure, don’t max out your credit cards or use presents to buy friends. But remember, this is a celebration of the eternal God taking on a material body. So it’s right that our holiday is marked with material things.

Captain Crocoduck’s Saving Christmas

Yeah, I’d like to see how a poor black family in this country’s inner cities might react to Captain Crocoduck’s prosperity gospel bullshit. Or better yet, how an even poorer black family working at a De Beers diamond mine in South Africa might respond to his explanation of how the gifts piled under the tree represent the skyline of Jerusalem (by that logic, they could also represent the skyline of Wall Street and thus be symbols of the totalitarianism of late-stage capitalism).

Basically, this is an anti-Christmas film. Materialism is good, charity is bad, and Santa is a bigoted jerk who beats up people who don’t completely agree with his religious beliefs. Seriously, even Sandor Clegane would make a better Santa than this fundamentalist maniac!

And what do you want for Christmas, you dumb cunt?

Long story short, there are so many better Christmas movies you could be watching rather than this one. Maybe Klaus on Netflix with its beautiful and revolutionary new style of hand-drawn animation. Maybe Rise of the Guardians with its colorful and badass reinterpretations of classic holiday figures. Or maybe even Christmas with the Kranks, I don’t know! Any of those are better than Captain Crocoduck’s schizophrenic ramblings. And I’m giving this one a Fuck you/10. Merry Christmas, you filthy animals!

So I Just Watch “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”…

…and I give our favorite lovably antisemitic foreign reporter’s Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan a rating of “Great Sucess.”

Very nice!

After first Borat make Kazakhstan very humiliate, the man responsible, Borat Sagdiev, is put in gulag for fourteen year. But then Kazakh government have change of heart and send Borat on new mission to US & A. He is to deliver Kazakhstan’s Minister of Culture and biggest porn star Johnny the Monkey to vice pussy-grabber Michael Pence. If he fail to accomplish mission, he will be execute. But things become very complicate when Borat’s daughter, Tutar, smuggle herself into US & A and eat Johnny. Can Borat save own ass and Kazakhstan’s reputation at same time?

And with that out of the way, let’s shift into proper grammar for the review.

A lot of people say this film is better than the original Borat in every way, and personally, I have to agree with them. Whereas the original was pretty much just one random event after another, this film actually has a narrative, driven by Borat and Tutar’s relationship. This isn’t to say that nothing in the original film was funny in any way, but actually having Borat go through a character arc was certainly fun to watch.

Speaking of Tutar, can we have a round of applause for Maria Bakalova’s performance? Baron Cohen really caught lightning in a bottle with this actress, and I really struggle to see anyone else who could match Borat’s comedic stylings while also giving the moviefilm an emotional core that its predecessor lacked.

Also helping the movie is Baron Cohen’s more sympathetic treatment of his interview subjects. Whereas the interviewees in the first film were often treated as mere prank subjects at best (i.e., feminists, gay rights activists, and the owners of the Jewish bed-and-breakfast) or outright monsters at worst (the racist rodeo attendees and the misogynist frat bros), here the interview subjects are presented in a much more sympathetic light. Not only are people like the Holocaust survivor Judith Dim Evans and Tutar’s babysitter Jeanise Jones treated with the genuine reverence that they deserve, but even people with otherwise morally repugnant beliefs, like the rednecks who help shelter Borat from the pandemic, are shown in a positive light for trying to teach him that women have and deserve rights, even as they preach to Borat about the QAnon conspiracy and advocate for violent revenge against the Democrats that they believe are perpetrating it. What Baron Cohen seems to be presenting here is presenting a much more optimistic portrait of America; yes, this country’s culture often makes it a melting pot of racists, homophobes, and other assorted bigots, but no one was born that way. There is still hope of reforming this society and curing it’s more prejudicial tendencies.

Or just burning it down and starting it from scratch. That could work too.

So all in all, just the kind of film US & A need right now. Funny, heartwarm, and politically conscious. Check out for hilarity and Rudy Giuliani sexytime. And I give Subsequent Moviefilm a 9/10.

Halloween Special: My 10 Favorite Thomas Ligotti Stories

We all know the stories of H. P. Lovecraft, right? If you don’t, maybe this well known tentacled monstrosity will refresh your memory.

Pardon me, do you have a second to talk about our Lord and Savior Nyarlathotep?

Yes, that’s right, our old friend Howard Phillips was responsible for our favorite non-Japanese kaiju, Cthulhu. But what many people don’t seem to realize, probably because they haven’t read H.P.’s work, is that Cthulhu and his brothers, the Great Old Ones, were not merely radioactive mutants or flesh and blood alien conquerors. They are the gods that our ancestors worshipped, the ones that called for blood sacrifices and rampaged across the land when they weren’t delivered. They are beings hailing from a plain of reality so alien to our own that merely looking upon them can drive a person insane.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, inside that alternate plane of reality are the creator deities that the Great Old Ones worship as gods, the Outer Gods. Instead of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, however, we get Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, and Yog-Sothoth. This trinity cares not for the struggles of a tiny, insignificant species like ourselves. And even if they do, they offer nothing in the way of salvation. They just make us wish they would leave us alone and make the torture stop already!

Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the cosmos at large… To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all.

H. P. Lovecraft to the editor of Weird Tales, c. 1927
Also, remember that Negroes are semi-human figures filled with vice! Wait, why are you looking at me like that? (Trigger warning for hyperlink: Very racist!)

That’s certainly a very bleak way of looking at the world. Lovecraft essentially portrays our universe as a tiny bubble floating in the vastness of the ocean, vulnerable to being popped by the jostling of an oblivious sea creature that didn’t even notice it was there in the first place.

But what if you took that idea one step further? What if you concluded that it is not that malignant eldritch deities are infiltrating reality? What if, instead, reality itself was an inherently malignant deity that we all had to suffer inside the rancid belly of? This is the premise that lies at the heart of the literary creations of Thomas Ligotti.

Before you ask, no, he is not clinically dead in this photo. At least not on the outside.

Much like Lovecraft before him, Ligotti has never been a happy person. He suffers from clinical depression, chronic anxiety, and even anhedonia (a lack of motivation or even the ability to experience pleasure). This naturally led to a strong disillusionment with life that manifests strongly in the often crushing cynicism that pervades his work. From clowns and puppet shows and dreams to medical professionals and office work and decaying urban centers, many aspects of everyday life are tools in his modus operandi of examining everyday life from his detached and darkly comic perspective and dissecting it to find the weirdness and horror lying within.

With that, let me introduce to my ten favorite Thomas Ligotti stories (in no particular order). And maybe keep a nightlight on while we make this journey.

1. The Frolic

This story is Ligotti’s take on every parent’s worst nightmare: the child sexual predator. It focuses on Dr. David Munck, a psychologist who works in the criminal justice system, as he opens up to his wife Leslie about a very unnerving John Doe he’s been working with. This John Doe, a serial child “frolicker,” as he calls it, is infamous among the other doctors for his utter uncanny strangeness.

He insists he has no identity, which seems to be backed up by the fact that no one can find any documentation on him. He speaks and acts in a very childish manner, often shifting between various strange accents. He seems to lack any inkling that what he does to his young companions is wrong in any way. He claims to have come from what Dr. Munck describes as “a cosmos of crooked houses and littered alleys, a slum among the stars,” which is where he does his “frolicking.” He even goes as far as to claim that going to prison is merely a vacation from his work with children and that he can get out any time he wants. But probably the worst thing about Dr. Munck’s interview with John is when the “frolicker” asked if he had “a misbehavin’ lad or little colleen of your own.” And colleen is not that far off from Norleen, his daughter’s name…

Indeed, it’s probably not the best story to read if you’re a parent, especially if you’re paranoid about this sort of thing. Especially if you don’t fancy your child going on a field trip to a place featuring such landmarks as “a moonlit corridor where mirrors scream and laugh, dark peaks… that won’t remain still,” or “a stairway that’s ‘broken’ in a very strange way.”

2. The Chymist

This story is told entirely as a single side of an entire conversation, in a similar manner to Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model.” Rather than a Bostonian who paints portraits of corpse-eating ghouls, though, this story’s main character is a man who calls himself Simon, who fancies himself a modern-day alchemist. The story is narrated from his perspective as he carries on a conversation with a sex worker named Rosemary that he meets at a bar. He waxes philosophical about the decay in the city as he takes her back to his apartment to get freaky… but not in a good way. For you see, Simon here specializes in creating waking dreams with his brand of alchemy. And he has a very Freddy Krueger-esqe way of using the human body as his dream canvas as he gives himself over to nebulous unseen entities to help him do his work…

This piece manages to be so effective in its horror by the way it puts us in Rosemary’s shoes. As the readers, we are charmed and amused (or annoyed) by Simon’s ridiculously flowery soliloquies as he takes us on his journey through the decaying city that he and Rosemary call home. And it makes it all the more bone-chilling when Simon reveals his true purpose for the poor woman. It really says something that Ligotti manages to make a simple rape look like a step up compared to the implications behind “Now Rose of madness- BLOOM!”

3. The Christmas Eves of Aunt Elise

It’s probably no surprise that someone of Ligotti’s mental disposition might not have the fondest view of the holiday season. This distaste is embodied through a younger relative of the titular character, Jack, as he narrates his lack of joy whenever his parents take him to his aunt’s house every Christmas Eve to celebrate. On his twenty-first Christmas at her house (which he vows will be his last), he listens as Aunt Elise tells a story about the old man who lived in a now abandoned and torn-down house down the road. She tells of how an antiquarian visited his house before he died, only to find himself having been transported to another world filled with a dark fog where tortured shapes wander aimlessly, and realizes he has become the old man himself. Jack shrugs off the story as he leaves to go home, only to see the house has seemingly returned, bedecked in Christmas lights…

This story seems to speak to the portion of us who feel somewhat alienated from our families, especially around the holidays. Personally, I still love the holiday season. Still, they seem to become less fun with the overly-commercialized stranglehold that capitalism has on the Christmas season and as my political views deviate further from the rest of my mostly conservative and patriotic family. The story also illustrates just how strong family bonds can be in a horrifying way with its ending twist, especially for those who can’t stand theirs.

4. Masquerade of a Dead Sword

This story is a dark fantasy tale that takes place in the city of Soldori and follows a bespectacled swordsman named Faliol. A messenger named Streldone takes him to the local duke’s palace to celebrate a local festival. Once there, Faliol begins making grand speeches about a new realm of reality he has experienced, one where demonic spirits tell him maddening secrets about reality. Now his only wish is “to see the world drown in oceans of agony” to relieve himself of “a madness which is not of this world.” While the court mage at first seems to dismiss his ramblings, he soon shows himself to be not all he seems when he starts orating about the need to overthrow the hold that Anima Mundi has on the living beings of this earth. And Faliol is to start the cleansing at the duke’s masquerade ball…

This is definitely one of the more interesting diversions Ligotti has made from his usual modern-day urban horror setting, and it works really well. As one might expect, with Ligotti’s trademark philosophical pessimism at the forefront, he manages in just twenty pages to create a dark fantasy world that would even make George R.R. Martin go, “What the fuck?!”

5. The Journal of J.P. Drapeau

This story follows the titular author as he chronicles his stay in the Belgian city of Bruges in the 1890s and early 1900s. Drapeau’s entries are relatively normal until he recounts an instance where he bumped into an older man being taken away to an asylum, who warns him never to say a word about the things he knows. True, Drapeau sometimes harbors fantastic notions. He attributes the noises in his closet to two corpses that live in it and believes that demons who played with his body parts as a child still live among the stars. However, even as he denigrates other people’s notions of a world beyond ours, he begins to feel as if an ineffable presence is calling out to him. Then he begins to notice something off about his reflection in the mirror and that an alternate version of Bruges from his books is starting to take shape around him…

While I’m not entirely certain what Ligotti was trying to say with this story, I feel like this might be a comment on escapism and how retreating into your own fictional world too often can cause you to lose sight of the real world. Of course, Ligotti, ever the cynic, decides to take it a step further by making it quite literal.

6. Vastarien

This may be the closest thing to an optimistic story that Ligotti has written, and even has something of a happy ending, depending on your point of view.

The title refers to a fantasy dream-world that has been created in the mind of an asylum inmate named Victor Keirion. It is a world where normal earthly laws and rules have no meaning, resembling a dark and crumbling city where the buildings are twisted at odd angles, sometimes to the point that their roofs face the ground. But his dream sanctuary becomes threatened when a crow-like man invades Vastarien and threatens to destroy it. Can Victor save his dream paradise from destruction?

Interestingly, this story comes right after “The Journals of J.P. Drapeau” in the Songs of a Dead Dreamer collection and has similar themes of disappearing into another world. Whereas the former portrays this as happening against the protagonist’s will, in “Vastarien,” the protagonist deliberately escapes into his dream-world and leaves the Earth behind. Perhaps escape into another world is not always a bad thing after all?

7. The Last Feast of Harlequin

This story can be described as “Shadow Over Innsmouth but in Appalachia” and is even dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft’s memory. Ligotti has also stated that this was the first story he ever published, which really shows how well he had mastered his craft by then.

The story follows an unnamed anthropologist as he travels to the town of Mirocaw, curious about their pageantry festival that centers on a clown motif. Things begin to take a turn for the strange, however, when he bumps into his old mentor, Dr. Raymond Thoss, who has been missing for several years. As the anthropologist investigates further, he soon makes a horrifying discovery about the festival’s true nature, including human sacrifice, a biological secret about the festival-goers that comes out at the sacrifice, and worst of all, the anthropologist’s disturbing connection to all of this…

While people who have read Shadow… can likely guess the ending twist based on my description, the story also bears a strong resemblance to Lovecraft’s earlier story “The Festival,” which features a similar revelation about the true nature of the festival-goers. The only difference being that Lovecraft’s story is implied to be all a dream at the end, whereas here it’s all too real.

8. Nethescurial

This story is undoubtedly one of the most stereotypically Lovecraftian pieces that Ligotti has written. It is also one of the best ones to demonstrate his “reality as a malignant god” concept.

The story follows an unnamed narrator as he recounts his studying of a journal by one Bartholomew Gray as he travels to an obscure island named Nethescurial with an archaeologist named Dr. N-. There they learn of the patron deity of the native inhabitants, who ended up smashing the idol depicting it and scattering to all corners of the globe when they learned of its evil nature. Gray recounts finding all the pieces, only to smash the idol once again when he started seeing the god’s essence squirming around inside everything he saw. At first, the narrator writes the story off as a middling adventure yarn until he, too, starts to feel the evil god’s presence in every wall and floorboard and becomes aware of a shadow covering the moon…

Indeed, this story reminded me of “The Call of Cthulhu” in some ways, in that it involves a narrator reading notes about a globetrotting adventure that eventually leads to the uncovering of forbidden ancient knowledge that drives one insane. At least Cthulhu has a physical body, though. What Ligotti describes here sounds more a Satanist’s idea of pantheism, a black substance that literally permeates every atom of existence. But don’t worry, guys: “Nethescurial is not the secret name of the creation.”

9. The Shadow at the Bottom of the World

This story tells of a farming community that discovers a black mold-type substance formed under a scarecrow’s clothes. The black mass retreats into a bottomless hole shortly after its discovery, and the townspeople elect to board it up and forget about it. However, the warm temperatures of the growing season seem to stick around. Strange colors appear in the vegetation, and a constant droning, like that of a swarm of cicadas, seems to fill the air. The townspeople soon begin to suspect that the black mold is part of a larger entity that demands sacrifice in return for their harvest…

My first impression was that this story seems to be using the black mold as Ligotti’s twisted interpretation of a Mother Nature archetype. It’s not hard to see the whole sacrifice theme as a commentary on humanity taking what they want from the Earth and the Earth finally having enough and demanding something from them in return. Also worth noting is how the narrator doesn’t seem to be a singular person, but rather the town as a collective. The word “I” never appears at all, and the plotline involving Mr. Marble, the only character with a distinct individual identity, might be Ligotti’s commentary on conformity in small-town American society.

10. My Work Is Not Yet Done

Ligotti’s only novella is divided into “Three Tales of Corporate Horror,” as the subtitle suggests. The bulk of the book is taken up by the titular story, which follows junior manager Frank Dominio as he plots revenge against the seven other managers who got him fired from his job. His plans become much more elaborate than a simple shooting spree, however, when a dark force that animates all life on Earth gives Frank psychic powers which he uses to inflict ghoulishly creative and ironic punishments on those who wronged him.

The other two stories are “I Have a Special Plan for This World” (which tells of the Blaine Company’s plight as it deals with a high murder rate in its home city and a yellow haze that constantly covers it. All of this is narrated from the point of view of an employee who seems to know more about what is going on than he lets on…) and “The Nightmare Network” (told in an epistolary format, it chronicles the merging of Oneiricon with the titular network, with catastrophic results).

These stories are notable for how well they portray the cutthroat nature of late-stage capitalism and how well they show how the corporate world’s machinations really make them the new eldritch horrors in town.


Please note, though, that I have only read three of Ligotti’s works so far; Songs of a Dead Dreamer, Grimscribe, and My Work Is Not Yet Done. If there are some other stories you think I missed, feel free to let me know in the comments. In the meantime, have a happy Halloween, boils and ghouls! Even if the pandemic means you can’t go trick-or-treating, I hope you still have a good time. In the meantime, happy reading (starts laughing maniacally).

So I Just Read The Conspiracy Against the Human Race…

…and while I enjoyed reading it, I can’t really say I was able to take its philosophy all that seriously.

This book is the first nonfiction piece from underground horror icon Thomas Ligotti, published by Viking Press in 2010. This book is meant to highlight the philosophy that lies behind Ligotti’s fiction, and boy, is it ever bleak. I think the man himself summarizes this book’s thesis best in the “Blundering” section of the first essay:

Consciousness is an existential liability, as every pessimist agrees- a blunder of blind nature, according to [Peter Wessel] Zapffe, that has taken humankind down a black hole of logic. To make it through this life, we must make believe that we are not who we are- contradictory beings whose continuance only worsens our plight as mutants who embody the contorted logic of a paradox. To correct this blunder, we should desist from procreating. What could be more judicious or more urgent, essentially speaking, than our self-administered oblivion?

Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race

The titular “conspiracy” Ligotti is talking about is perpetrated by those who believe that “being alive is all right” and that human consciousness is not inherently “MALIGNANTLY USELESS.” Since we are the only beings in this universe (that we know of) that have consciousness, it is only fair to assume that our consciousness was a mistake and that the best way to correct this is to essentially self-terminate. Sure, anyone who wants to can have children, but only as long as the human population keeps on a downward trend.

Seems simple enough, right? Well, apparently not, because Ligotti seems to feel the need to repeat these messages over and over again throughout the book. While the repetition didn’t annoy me as much as it did some other reviewers I read on Amazon and Goodreads, I admit it was kind of off-putting.

As for the actual philosophy, I’m not sure if I’m all that qualified to critique it, as I’m no expert on the subject. I can only offer my own reactions to Ligotti’s philosophy based on my own personal outlook on life- and boy, do they clash!

For example, Ligotti’s claim that consciousness is a uniquely human trait is not actually supported by science. Granted, animals can’t communicate with words, so we can’t be certain of this. However, several animals can recognize themselves in mirrors, including elephants, bottlenose dolphins, magpies, chimpanzees, and possibly even cleaner wrasses.

The latter pictured here tending to the gills of a dragon wrasse.

Ligotti claims that all animals except us are only responsive to the four F’s; fleeing, fighting, feeding, and… mating. Yet elephants have been observed mourning their dead and have been observed to hold grudges. African gray parrots have shown the ability to learn as many as 950 different human words and use them creatively. None of this is to say that any of these animals are capable of contemplating their place in the universe like we are, but it does puncture several holes in Ligotti’s “consciousness as a fluke” narrative.

Also hurting this book is just the sheer overwhelming nature of Ligotti’s cynicism. Yes, I know that Ligotti suffers from anhedonia, which means he literally can’t experience pleasure, but that doesn’t mean his depressive state automatically makes his opinions more mature and realistic; it just makes him look like he’s got a giant stick up his ass.

Maybe I’m biased as well because I consider myself a believer in the afterlife. However, I also tend to believe, as a libertarian socialist, that the reason life seems like an endless train of misery is not because of some inherent flaw in human nature. It’s because capitalism puts the most selfish and irresponsible dregs of humanity in charge of the rest of us and makes life suck for most decent human beings on this planet. Needless to say, I can’t entirely agree with Ligotti’s assessment that “both the inhumane and humane movements of our species are without relevance. None of us are at the helm of either of these movements. We believe ourselves to be the masters of our own behavior- that is the blunder.”

Although apparently, even Thomas Ligotti seems to disagree with this statement. In a 2011 interview with the blog “The Damned Interviews,” he claims to support socialism because he thinks that would be the best way to ensure everyone’s comfort as they wait to die in his anti-natalist utopia. Granted, he clarifies that he thinks too many people in this world are “unadulterated savagesand will never let go of capitalism. But he does seem to hint that he thinks a socialist society is at least possible, which really doesn’t seem to gel with the hard determinist perspective he takes in The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.

In the end, I think this book is valuable as a way of understanding the kind of mind that could create the Lovecraftian horror stories that Ligotti is so well known for. Pretty much every other review I read online also praised the book’s final essay, which is Ligotti giving a mini-history of horror literature through his own unique perspective. However, his philosophy definitely leaves something to be desired. His arguments that human life is so inherently meaningless that it is not even worth preserving are far too melodramatic to be taken seriously. Indeed, the whole time I was reading this book, I kept being reminded of this speech by online film reviewer Kyle Kallgren, who reviewed the Lars Von Trier film Melancholia as part of his Brows Held High series (specifically calling out Von Trier for romanticizing depression):

Depression is a disease, make no mistake. Von Trier can romanticize it all he wants, but depression is a stasis; it’s a dead end. Succumbing to it is to surrender to death. And he can go on and on about how hollow our culture is and how shallow life is, but what of it? I’m alive. And I can experience the new and share it. Here, now, I’m alive. And what happier thing can be said? And we should all keep creating and sharing. Because, in the words of a better filmmaker [Orson Welles in “F for Fake”]: “Our songs will all be silenced, but what of it? Keep on singing.”

Kyle Kallgren, Brows Held High: Melancholia

Ligotti may be comfortable with surrendering to death, but I’m definitely on Kyle’s side here. And I’m giving this book a 5/10 (it’s closer to a six than a four). Also, check out my list of my top ten favorite short stories written by Thomas Ligotti, which is coming out very, very soon. Thank you! Bu-bye!

So I Just Watched Reds…

…and I can safely say that it deserves it’s status as a modern American classic.

Released on December 4, 1981, by Paramount Pictures, Reds was released to widespread critical acclaim in the United States, which is rather surprising considering its subject matter. The film stars Warren Beatty (who also directed, produced, and wrote the film) as John Reed, a journalist who is famous for his socialist beliefs and for writing Ten Days That Shook the World, which chronicles his first-hand experience of the October Revolution of 1917 that turned Russia into a Communist state. The fact that the film features an honest portrait of leftist politics and still managed to win three Academy Awards (out of twelve nominations!) in the same year that the notoriously anti-communist Ronald Reagan was elected president almost boggles the mind. Although even he was a fan of the film, so… maybe there is something here for everybody.

The film is divided into two acts and covers the last four or five years of Reed’s life. The first act covers his meeting with Louise Bryant (played by Diane Keaton) in Portland, their time spent in New York City’s Greenwich Village with many other leftists and bohemians of the day, Bryant’s affair with Eugene O’Neil (Jack Nicholson), Reed’s growing frustration with America’s anti-communist practices as it enters World War I, and his and Bryant’s traveling to Russia and witnessing the Bolshevik revolt firsthand.

The second act shows Reed as his life falls apart in the wake of Ten Days… publishing. He tries and fails to introduce the spirit of revolution to the United States, causes the Communist Party to split in two, is deported to Russia with the increasingly authoritarian Bolshevik leaders stripping more and more freedom away from the people they swore they would lift up, and finally dies of typhus in a Russian hospital aged only thirty-two as Bryant tries and fails to nurse him back to health.

One of the most unique features of this film is the use of “witnesses.” That is, talking head-style interviews with people who actually experienced the events dramatized in the film. Some of these individuals include radical pacifist Scott Nearing, author Dorothy Frooks, muckraker George Seldes, ACLU co-founder Roger Nash Baldwin, and Tropic of Cancer/Tropic of Capricorn author Henry Miller. These interviews, which Beatty began recording about a decade before the film was released, really helped give the film a unique character, as the “witnesses” provide a true connection with the actual events that a lot of other historical films lack.

Of course, everything surrounding them is great as well. All of the actors were excellent. Beatty, Keaton, and Nicholson all received Oscar nods. The only actor who actually won, though, was Maureen Stapleton, who, despite her rather limited screen time, shines as the great anarchist activist Emma Goldman. Indeed, probably my favorite part of the film was her argument with Reed over the Bolshevik government’s legitimacy. She argues that the Bolsheviks have destroyed any chance of a real socialist government by centralizing power in the hands of a few and murdering anyone who protests. Reed argues that centralization is necessary because Russia’s infrastructure is not modernized enough, and its peasant population too uneducated to run things for themselves. Given my own anarchist leanings, that fact that there were areas of the Soviet Union that were successfully run on anarchist principles for a short time (like the Free Territory of Machnovia in Ukraine), and how the Soviet Union would eventually turn out, I’m gonna have to side with Goldman on this one.

The script also does a great job of portraying not just Reed’s life, with his strengths as well as his faults, but also gives us an amazing portrait of life in the WWI era. The costumes and set design really made Beatty, Keaton, and company really feel as if they had literally stepped into the late 1910s. And despite the three hour and fifteen-minute runtime, the film really didn’t feel unnecessarily padded in any way. I did tend to tune out a little bit during some of the more talky scenes, but that’s probably more because of my autistic brain needing visual stimulation than any fault on the film’s part.

Overall, I can definitely see why this film is so highly rated even in a country as notoriously hostile to leftist politics as my own. I feel its sympathetic portrayal of America’s communist underground is especially needed today as the faults of the capitalist system America was built on continues to be laid bare. Which makes it somewhat ironic that I watched it on Amazon Prime, which is owned by a guy who is practically Lex Luthor in all but name. But yeah, especially if you are a leftist or interested in leftist politics, then, by all means, check this film out. If you hate leftists with the same burning passion that I hate the Trump administration, then still check this film out. And I’m giving this one a 9/10.

P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist #2: “Natural Science” by Rush

On this edition of P.J.’s Ultimate Playlists, I want to pay tribute to one of rock and roll’s most recent fallen heroes. On January 7th of this year, Neil Peart, drummer for the illustrious prog-rock power trio Rush, died at 67 after a three and a half year battle with glioblastoma. True, that isn’t nearly the worst thing that has happened this year…

…but for someone who considers these guys some of the best musicians of all time, it definitely wasn’t easy news to hear. Still, I think the band ended their tenure in the best way they possibly could have. Their final album, 2012’s Clockwork Angels, was one hell of a swansong, in my opinion, and while I haven’t seen any footage from their final tour, R40, from what I’ve heard, it was a fitting celebration of the band’s history.

Still, Peart tends to get criticism for the writing quality of his lyrics and his affinity for Ayn Rand in his younger days. As an anarcho-communist, I definitely get the Rand criticism, but Neil had grown out of that phase by the late ’80s if his lyrics are anything to go by. In fact, not only has the band long since removed the shout-out they gave to Rand in the liner notes of 2112, but Peart also stated that “it is impossible to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and be a Republican” in a 2012 interview with Maclean’s magazine.

As for the “bad lyricist” criticism, I realize this is a pretty subjective opinion, but I’d have to strongly disagree there. Kevin Smith, in his Tweet memorializing Peart, called him a “brilliant lyricist” and pointed to this passage from “The Spirit of Radio,” the opening song from 1980’s Permanent Waves:

All this machinery making modern music can still be open-hearted;
Not so coldly charted, it's really just a question of your honesty.
Yeah, your honesty.

However, here I want to focus on the song that closes out the album, a tale of science, nature, and humanity’s unending struggle to preserve their natural surroundings in an era of relentless industrialization. So join me as we deconstruct the meaning behind “Natural Science.”

The Song

The song, running just shy of 9 1/2 minutes, is divided into three movements.

The first movement, “Tide Pools,” features Geddy Lee softly singing the opening lyrics over the sound of waves splashing over a rocky shoreline and Alex Lifeson’s soothing acoustic guitar. The lyrics introduce a theme that runs throughout the song, comparing our society on Earth with a tidal pool just beyond the reach of an ocean representing the universe’s vastness.

In the lyrics, Neil outright states that he is merely using the tidal pool as “a simple kind mirror to reflect upon our own.” That is, a metaphor to communicate his opinion on humanity’s place in the universe. He describes “the busy little creatures chasing out their destinies. Living in their pools, they soon forget about the sea…”

After a short instrumental break, in which the music transitions from a lonely acoustic piece to the full-throated progressive hard rock the band is famous for, we get something of a semi-chorus with this passage:

Wheels within wheels in a spiral array,
A pattern so grand and complex.
Day after day we lose sight of the way;
Our causes can't see their effects!

The song then transitions into the second movement, “Hyperspace,” which begins with a short passage full of spacey sound effects before exploding into a fast-paced hard rock section in 7/8 time that makes up the bulk of the song. The music’s chaotic nature reflects the lyrical theme of the chaos resulting from humanity’s attempts to alter the natural world in ways it wasn’t meant to be.

Peart describes the inhabitants of this “mechanized world out of hand” as “superior cynics who dance to a synthetic band.” This most likely refers to the corporate overlords of the modern age. Their hubris is lambasted in the following lyrics: “In their own image, the world is fashioned. No wonder they don’t understand!”

The “wheels within wheels” verse is repeated, and the song transitions into the final movement, “Permanent Waves.” A much more relaxed rhythm starts in common (4/4) time and then switches between 6/8 and 12/8. It offers a much more optimistic lyrical picture than the previous movement.

Science, like nature, must also be tamed
With a view toward its preservation.
Given the same stage of integrity,
It will surely serve us well.

Peart seems to say that science must be pursued with a purpose other than transient short term gains, like, say, in profits.

That means you, Elon.

Alongside science, Peart lists “art as expression, not as market campaigns” as a similarly vital force in preserving society. He also assures us that:

The most endangered species, the honest man,
Will survive annihilation,
Forming a world, state of integrity,
Sensitive, open, and strong!

Finally, the song ends as it began, with the tidal pool swallowed as the sea slowly rises.

Wave after wave will flow with the tide
And bury the world as it does;
Tide after tide will flow and recede,
Leaving life to go as it was.

Thus, the snake eats its tail, and the cycle begins anew.

Personal Feelings

This song certainly gives us a lot to chew on in terms of philosophical ponderings.

While I’m not sure if this was intentional, the lyrics seem to have distinctly Nietzschean overtones. This isn’t the first time Rush has dealt with Nietzsche; many have noted the apparent influence of his 1872 work The Birth of Tragedy on the 18 minute opus “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres,” from their previous album Hemispheres. “Natural Science,” on the other hand, brings to mind this passage from On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense:

Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most mendacious and arrogant moment of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die.

Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense (1873)

While this may seem to be the epitome of fatalistic cynicism, Nietzsche actually wanted to show people that by recognizing this truth, they would make the most of their life on Earth instead of just waiting to die and go to a possibly nonexistent paradise.

Indeed, that seems to be what Peart intended to communicate with this song. Humanity has the capacity to create a true paradise on Earth if only we can allow ourselves to move beyond the selfish need to control nature and subjugate it for profit. Given my far-left political views, I tend to view this song through an anti-capitalist lens, even if I’m pretty sure that wasn’t Peart’s intention.

I also can’t help but notice some echoes of Daoism in the “wheels within wheels” verse. The third line (“Day after day, we lose sight of the way”) especially since the word Dao literally means “way” in Chinese. In Daoism, the Dao is described as the natural order of the universe. The Dao is not something that can be rationally understood; it can only be grasped intuitively by living the way nature intended. Indeed, founder Lao Tzu, in his seminal work, the Tao Te Ching, warns against the rule of small-minded individuals like the ones portrayed in the second movement of this song, who try to bend the world to their own whims instead of just letting it exist in its natural state. “In their own image, the world is fashioned. No wonder they don’t understand!” Compare this to Chapter 30 of the Tao Te Ching:

If you used the Tao as a principle for ruling
You Would not dominate the people by military force.

What goes around comes around.

Where the general has camped
Thorns and brambles grow.
In the wake of a great army
Come years of famine.
If you know what you are doing
You will do what is necessary and stop there.

Accomplish but don't boast
Accomplish without show
Accomplish without arrogance
Accomplish without grabbing
Accomplish without forcing.

When thing flourish they decline.

This is called non-Tao.
The non-Tao is short-lived.

Should we choose to live in a world where nature has an equal footing with man, Lao Tzu and Peart argue, then life would be all the more joyful. So what do you say we kick all the corrupt politicians and corporate overlords out of their positions of power and make our own paradise in their memory? We have nothing to lose but our chains.

But in all seriousness, I would like to thank Neil Peart for giving us such wonderful music before his untimely passing. I hope I get to see him jamming with John Bonham and Keith Moon when I get to Heaven.

In the fullness of time, a garden to nurture and protect.

So I Just Read “The Mists of Avalon”…

…and I’m not really sure what to make of this one, guys.

(Disclaimer/Content Warning: The following post will contain discussions of sexual assault, incest, and pedophilia. Those who are sensitive to those topics should proceed with caution.)

Arthur had better claim this sword soon. My fingers are damn near sliced off!

For those who aren’t aware, The Mists of Avalon was written by Marion Zimmer Bradley and published by Alfred K. Knopf Inc. in January of 1983. It is a retelling of Arthurian legend told from the female characters’ point of view. While Guinevere, Morgause, Igraine, and others get their focus, the story’s main plot follows Morgaine (aka Morgan Le Fey) as she tries to save her Celtic pagan faith from the Christians who want to stamp it out, including King Arthur himself.

While the book was highly praised when it first came out, including from the likes of Isaac Asimov and Jean Auel of Clan of the Cave Bear fame, it has increasingly come under scrutiny in recent years thanks to certain disturbing revelations that came from Bradley’s daughter, Moira Greyland, in 2014.

It turns out that Marion Zimmer Bradley led a double life as an incestuous pedophile who started sexually abusing Moira when she was only three. Not only that but Bradley’s husband, Walter H. Breen, operated an entire pedophilia ring, which he even involved his children in with Bradley’s approval. Bradley had known about Breen’s pederast tendencies even before they married in 1964 and even helped him edit his writings in defense of pederasty.

What the actual WHAT ?!

Thankfully, this madness ended in 1990 when Moira herself (thirteen at the time) reported her father to the police. The charges stuck, and he died in prison three years later. Bradley, who faced no prison time for her crimes, suffered a series of strokes over the following decade and died of a heart attack in 1999.

“But what does any of this have to do with The Mists of Avalon?” you may find yourself asking. A lot, unfortunately. And frankly, I don’t even know where to start with this one!

Perhaps the most appropriate place to start would be how the book handles the Igraine/Gorlois/Uther subplot that kicks off the whole mythos. A little context first: Viviane is the Lady of the Lake, which in this retelling of the myth means she’s the high priestess of Avalon, located in a parallel universe hidden behind the titular mists. As Christianity slowly becomes the dominant religion in the British Isles, Avalon’s pagan faith is being forgotten, and the isle is slowly drifting away from the “real world,” so to speak.

And what is Viviane’s solution to this problem? First, she works with the archdruid Taliesin (who goes by the title the Merlin) to convince (i.e., gaslight) Igraine to ditch Gorlois and, after he dies in battle, get with her “destined true love” Uther Pendragon. Then, shortly after their son Arthur is sent north to protect him from assassins, Viviane takes Morgaine to Avalon.

She spends seven years training Morgaine in Avalon’s ways, and shortly after her initiation, she drugs her and Arthur and forces them to have sex as part of their Beltane ritual!

This just went from uncomfortable to unacceptable!

This is where Arthur’s bastard son Mordred comes into the picture, who in this version is intended to be the real savior of Avalon in case Arthur surrenders to the Christians. And how exactly does Viviane intend to secure Mordred’s claim to the throne?

Yeah, we never really learn exactly why Viviane thinks the common people will accept Mordred as king over Arthur. She seems to believe that the commoners will automatically accept whoever is backed by Avalon… even though the common people turning away from Avalon to the point that it is literally fading away is what kickstarts the plot in the first place! By the time she decides to initiate this plan in Book III Chapter 3 by announcing Mordred’s parentage in front of Arthur’s court, she’s murdered by one of her nephews, so we never find out what her endgame is.

Although honestly, the more I thought about it, it makes perfect sense that the Avalonian religion is being abandoned because Bradley’s description of it makes it sound downright satanic! Rituals like the one where Mordred was conceived appear to be regular occurrences, and the priestesses seem to have no qualms about letting underaged children participate in their Beltane orgies. This makes it rather difficult to take Bradley’s criticisms of Christianity seriously when they aren’t the ones claiming that incest and statutory rape are holy acts. And not only that, but it’s also implied at several points that human sacrifice and even cannibalism are regular features of this religion.

And don’t think I’m criticizing paganism itself here and/or mindlessly defending Christianity. For one thing, I have a lot of problems with organized religion myself (which I may explain in another blog post sometime in the future). Normally, I think paganism is a perfectly reasonable alternative for those who question the Bible but can’t bring themselves to become agnostic or atheist. But Bradley’s version of paganism bears absolutely no resemblance to the ancient Celtic peoples’ Druid faith. It’s more akin to Wicca or any other new-age faith of the 70s and 80s, except with Bradley’s fucked up ideas about sexuality and incest placed front and center.

Notice that last line there: “An harm ye none, do what ye will.” Not exactly compatible with fucking your own daughter, now is it?

But what about the feminism, you might be asking. Is this book a least a good feminist tract? And, I admit, I’m just an incredibly sheltered and moderately privileged white guy who has yet to reach the age of thirty. Even with that in mind, though, I’m going to have to venture a guess and say…

Before I explain myself, let me ask you this: What exactly is the point of feminism? Maybe you believe the point is that women deserve to be valued as more than babymakers and housewives. Or maybe you believe that it is that women deserve to be allowed to make their own choices. Perhaps the #MeToo movement makes you emphasize the need to prioritize women’s safety over men’s feelings.

Bradley, however, seems to disagree with all three points.

Avalon’s forcing of Igraine and Morgaine to bear the children they think will save the isle against their will is treated as necessary, and the women’s objections to it are brushed aside or belittled.

When Morgaine chooses to leave Avalon due to her anger at what Viviane did to her at the Beltane ritual, she is treated as wrong because she refuses to “acknowledge” that Viviane was only doing this to save Avalon.

And we only need to be reminded of the underage sex at the Beltane rituals to see how much Avalon prioritizes its female acolytes’ safety.

Indeed, Bradley’s brand of feminism seems to be exactly the kind that conservative antifeminists often stereotype feminism as: a matriarchy that behaves exactly like the patriarchy, only sexist women are the leaders instead of sexist men.

Not to mention, Bradley seems to be operating under what TV Tropes.com calls the “Real Women Don’t Wear Dresses” delusion. This is basically the belief that women can be girly or badass, but never both, which, ironically, seems kind of misogynistic to me. This is probably best demonstrated by her treatment of Guinevere (or Gwenhywfar, as she spells it).

We’re meant to view Guinevere as a whiny, spoiled brat in this retelling, mostly because of her strident Christian beliefs and the way she constantly forces those beliefs onto Arthur, to the point that she drives a major wedge between Arthur and Avalon when she browbeats him into flying a Christian banner she made at his final victory over the Saxons at Badon Hill, rather than the Avalonian dragon banner.

The problem with this is a) to any sane person, Avalon truly is as evil as she claims it is, and b) it’s tough to hate Guinevere when you learn her backstory. Her father, King Leodegrance, was emotionally abusive to her as a child. However, Bradley tries to brush this off by writing her three sisters as a lot more emotionally stable than her, presumably because admitting that Leodegrance was wrong to treat Gwen the way he did would be admitting her own failings as a parent.

The nuns also abused her in the convent her father sent her to, where she was beaten for even touching a harp because “it’s not ladylike to be a musician.” She also suffers a truly horrifying rape at the hands of her possible half-brother, Meleagrant, in Book III Chapter 4, which Bradley blames Gwen for because she didn’t fight back. This despite the fact that her description of Mel makes him sound like Gregor Clegane.

You know, before the whole zombification thing

But what really gets me about that rape scene, aside from Bradley’s gratuitously graphic description of it, is the fact that the Avalonians were plotting to do exactly that to Gwen in Chapter 1 of the same book because they’re backward heathens who think that Arthur will simply sell out Guinevere to Meleagrant because his rape would mean he can legally marry her now.

Why the fuck do people call this feminist again?!

But Bradley’s bass-akwards idea of what feminism looks like isn’t the only problematic theme running through this story. She tends to dip into uncomfortable racial territory when she describes Avalon’s native people, who are described as small and dark-skinned and always obedient servants. This definitely leaves a bad taste in my mouth, especially since, as of the time I’m writing this, my country is embroiled in civil unrest over a racist legacy it has yet to face up to.

Of course, one might wonder why Avalon doesn’t do as the Christians do and preach about their faith to England’s common people. Well, that’s where the classism comes in! You see, the common people are too stupid to handle the inner mysteries of their pagan rape cult, so evangelization is pointless. Instead, they decide just to do whatever they think is necessary to preserve their rituals, even if they make no sense. And it doesn’t matter who gets hurt in the process. You can trust their betters to police themselves if they go too far.

Seriously, Marion, Ayn Rand is looking at this elitist bullshit and telling you to tone it down!

In all truth, I didn’t pick up on a lot of this the first time I read the book. However, I suspect that might be because I found it surprisingly difficult to concentrate while reading this book. This might be because Bradley seems laser-focused on removing all excitement from the story. For all her accolades as a feminist icon, Morgaine barely does anything to forward Avalon’s cause except bitch and moan about how nothing is going Avalon’s way until the final book, where she engineers the fall of Camelot. All of the battles and the knight’s quests happen off-screen, as it were, and all fantasy elements (fairies, dragons, even magic itself) are kept to an absolute bare minimum, presumably because Bradley thinks it would take much-needed space away from her rape and incest apologia.

Look, if this book did have a positive impact on you at an impressionable age, that’s great. No one should be able to take that away from you. But to me, in the end, this is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. And I’m giving this one a 1/10.


Special thanks to the fine people (namely ZeldaQueen, Gehayi, and The Idiot Alchemist) over at Das Sporking. There you will find their incredibly detailed (and incredibly caustic) review of The Mists of Avalon. Be forewarned, though. Their review goes one chapter at a time, and each one is incredibly comprehensive, often picking the book apart paragraph by paragraph. Full disclosure, I haven’t even read the entire thing myself, just the parts I felt were most important to this essay.

If you have a few hours to spare, though, maybe go check it out. Or don’t, it doesn’t really matter to me. See you next time!

P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist #1: “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor

Welcome to my first ongoing series on this blog! Here on P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist, I will choose a song from any genre that really speaks to me on a personal level and explain (or at least try to) what it is that I love about it. My musical tastes are mainly centered on rock, country, and metal. However, I am willing to give literally any genre a listen at least once, so don’t expect songs from just those three genres. You can expect some Celtic folk tracks, some 60’s soul hits, maybe even a Disney tune here or there. But for now, let’s kick things off with a bittersweet track from one of the premier singer-songwriters of the 1970s folk scene.

Backstory

“Fire and Rain,” which opens side two of Taylor’s second album Sweet Baby James, was the single that helped him break into the mainstream. It’s certainly not hard to see why it gained such success. It packages Taylor’s own personal struggles in a song that is just ambiguous enough to be relatable to anyone who has had a life as rough as he had at that point.

Even though he was only 21 when the song was released, Taylor had been through a lot by the time he recorded it. His late teen years were marred by a deep depression, which became so bad that he checked himself into the McLean psychiatric hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. After his friend and fellow guitarist Danny Kortchmar convinced Taylor to check out and follow him to New York City to pursue a music career, Taylor developed a heroin addiction. This, along with a series of poorly planned gigs outside the city, caused the breakup of their band, the Flying Machine.

James entered rehab after recording his self-titled debut album in London. Although recording with members of the Beatles was certainly a high point, the two tragedies that struck him during this period would mar his psyche. First, he broke his hands and feet in a motorcycle accident shortly after a well-received performance at the Newport Folk Festival in July of 1969. Then, while he was recovering from that, his friends told him some tragic news that they had kept from him out of fear that it would distract him from his newfound success. His childhood friend, Suzanne Schnerr, had died by suicide while he was in the middle of recording his debut. He didn’t learn about this until six months after the fact.

The Song

With all that in mind, it’s easy to see all the references James makes in the song. The first verse is all about Taylor’s reaction to Suzanne’s untimely death, including his anger at an unknown “they” who drove her to her destruction (“Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you”). Taylor has since admitted that he regrets the way he phrased that line, however. While he has stated that the line was meant to be a jab at fate in general, he sees how it could be easily misinterpreted as condemning her parents, whom James admits he never knew that well.

The second verse deals with his struggles against his heroin addiction in rehab. The line “My body’s aching and my time is at hand” in particular feels very evocative of the often punishing withdrawal symptoms that accompany the drug’s use. The verse also has a strong religious overtone (“Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus? You’ve gotta help me make a stand!”), even though, as far as I can tell, James has never been openly religious.

The third verse deals with James’s feelings as he writes the song, looking back on his successes and failures (“Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground”). He acknowledges that the struggle is not over and that the friends he still has will help him overcome, seeing as how “there’s hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come.” This would prove true when Carole King (who played piano on the song) based her own song “You’ve Got a Friend” on the line “I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend.” James, of course, famously covered the song on Sweet Baby James’ followup, Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon.

Speaking of which, the chorus is undeniably profound, probably because it, in part, draws on some powerful symbolic imagery. Of course, here, fire and rain serve the purpose of symbolizing the polar opposite moods Taylor went through in his struggles. Fire represents the warmth of the sun on good days. Rain represents the loneliness of days when the sun is hidden from sight.

Personal Thoughts

It’s certainly hard not to draw parallels between this and Robert Frost’s famous poem “Fire and Ice.” True, the subjects of the two pieces could not be more different. “Fire and Rain” deals with a single man’s personal struggles (friendship vs. loneliness), while “Fire and Ice” is a musing on how the world might end (desire vs. hate). However, if prominent astrophysicist Howard Shapley is correct, there may be a sun connection in the latter.

Shapely claims to have met Frost in 1919, a year before the poem was published. Frost asked him how he thought the world was going to end. Shapely explained how the Sun would turn into a red giant star in about five billion years after the hydrogen fusion in its core collapses. Earth will either be vaporized alongside Mercury and Venus as the expanding gases consume it or be spared this fiery fate only to freeze over as the Sun’s rays are no longer there to warm it. I’m not really sure how applicable these observations are to “Fire and Rain,” but I’m sure you could make an argument about the desire and hate metaphor applying to the song. Fire represents James’ desire for comfort during hard times, and rain represents his hatred of what has become at his lowest points. Or maybe it’s another song about the sunny good times of the 1960s being swallowed up by the grey storm clouds of the 70s, like so many other songs of that time period.

Then again, I may be delving too deep into “death of the author” territory here. More importantly, how does this song speak to me, you might be asking.

Indeed, the biggest overall theme of this song is undoubtedly friendship. Friendship has never been the easiest thing for me. As a person on the autism spectrum, I have a tough time reaching out to people. Sure, I’ll stop and talk to an old schoolmate or teacher whenever I see them in town or at my workplace, but I never really hang out with them, so to speak. This is even true with my parents, who I’ve grown rather emotionally distant from thanks to their support of President Trump. I really don’t feel like I have anyone to talk to at this point in life. It really makes me feel I need to get off my ass and join Twitter already to finally air my grievances publicly.

It is a very lonely time for me, but not without hope. While Trump’s awful leadership has exposed just how much of a shitshow America has been from the day the first African slaves landed on our shores four hundred years ago, it also helped me discover the way out. And as long as there is breath in my body, I will shout from the rooftops that better things are possible in a world without big government and big corporations and that the people are capable of ruling themselves.

But as for my feelings on the song itself, it’s great. James’ smooth, understated voice really makes it feel like he is right next to you, saying, “Listen, buddy, I’ve been there. I know how hard it is right now, but trust me. The next sunny day is right around the corner.” He sings as if his audience already has a heart as broken as his was at the time, and thus he offers comfort in his understated desperation. It’s really songs like this that let downtrodden underdogs like myself know that we are never really alone. We all know what it’s like to be sad, and we know how to overcome and find our next sunny day.

A Brief History of the Animation Age Ghetto

I don’t remember how old I was when I first saw the film Watership Down, but I couldn’t have been older than nine or ten. I remember how my mother found it in a rental store and, having seen before sometime in the past, decided it would be a good movie to show the kids.

Pictured: fun for the whole family!

Needless to say, my siblings and I were rather unnerved by the scenes of violence that the film has become infamous for and ended up blocking it from our memories for the next decade or so. During that intervening decade, I grew distant from the Renaissance era animated films of my childhood like Aladdin, The Lion King, and The Prince of Egypt, writing them off as juvenile nonsense that was beneath the more “adult” tastes I was developing.

However, two things happened during my high school years that shook me out of this mentality. The first happened during a field trip I took with my school’s history club (probably to Washington D.C.) when our social studies teacher showed us Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. While literally everyone else on the bus was going, “What the fuck am I watching?!”… well, so was I, but there was a small voice in the back of my head saying, “Oh my God, this is the greatest movie I’ve ever seen in my life!”

Don’t worry, Mrs. Ruddy. There was one student out there who appreciated your taste in film.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, that was followed by me rediscovering Watership Down on YouTube, probably sometime during my senior year. My re-watch of that forgotten childhood memory undoubtedly changed my life. I began to pursue film and literature far more stridently and decided that my destiny was to become a creative writer. I ended up falling back in love with animation, recognizing the artistic potential in the medium.

At the same time, though, I began to recognize that the same antipathy I had developed toward the medium in my teenage years was a widespread problem that many animators struggled to deal with. Perhaps Scott Mendelson, writing for Forbes, put it best: “…American animated films are strikingly similar in that they are mostly G or PG-rated comedic capers with stories and characters intended to appeal to younger moviegoers.” It doesn’t matter when these films portray themes like an old man coming to terms with death (Pixar’s Up), racism and prejudice (Disney’s Zootopia and Warner Bros.’ Cats Don’t Dance), man’s relationship with God (Dreamworks’ The Prince of Egypt), or even discussions of genocide (Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda 2 or Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame). It all kiddie nonsense to a lot of people in this country.

Because nothing says “fun for the whole family” like “Destroy Esmeralda! And let her taste the fires of Hell! Or else let her be mine and mine alone!” Keep it classy, Disney.

Of course, the obvious question is… why? Why do so many people, especially in my home country, hold onto this misconception of what TV Tropes.com calls the “Animation Age Ghetto”? Many answers can be found in the history of how the medium developed in the United States.

History Pt. 1: 1920s-1970s

Animation first came to prominence in America in the 1920s, especially after the classic Walt Disney short Steamboat Willie premiered on November 18, 1928. The period between then and the early 1960s is often considered the Golden Age of Animation.

It became a tradition to play animated shorts starring the Looney Tunes, Woody Woodpecker, Popeye, Tom and Jerry, and others in cinemas as a prelude to the feature presentation. Prominent creators of the era like William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, Tex Avery, and Chuck Jones stated that they had adult audiences in mind when creating the shorts. Indeed, Betty Boop (created by the Fleischer Brothers) was infamous for her provocative fashion sense and flirtatious attitude until the Hays Code caught up with her around 1934.

Before you ask, yes, she’s not wearing anything under that lei.

Walt Disney, meanwhile, proved that animation could be adapted into full-length feature films when Snow White and the Seven Dwarves hit the big screen on December 21, 1937. This would pave the way for future hits like Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi.

However, it should be noted that Snow White wasn’t the first full-length animated film; that honor goes to the 1926 German feature “The Adventures of Prince Achmed.”

However, after World War II, television slowly began to supplant cinema as the go-to form of entertainment consumption. Theatrical shorts were dispensed with as animation began to move toward the small screen. Animation fans often refer to the period between the early 60s and mid-80s as the Dark Age of Animation, and for a good reason. TV studios like Hanna-Barbera and Filmation were forced to use more limited forms of animation due to budget constraints. What resulted was what Chuck Jones once referred to as “illustrated radio,” characterized by an emphasis on dialogue over visuals and a generally lazier aesthetic that often only appealed to children. Fellow Looney Tunes artist Fritz Freleng was less charitable, describing TV animation during the Dark Age as:

“…such a monster. It swallows up this animation so fast that nobody seems to care whether it’s good or bad. These kids’ shows are badly done technically; it seems as though nobody really looks at them but the kids.

Fritz Freleng

The fact that this era of animation came on the heels of a revival of conservative values in the 1950s certainly didn’t help matters. Parent groups were downright savage in attacking anything they did-not deem child friendly. They purged the classic Looney Tunes shorts of their trademark cartoon violence and piling on content restriction after content restriction until even conflict, the very soul of story itself, was excised. On top of all that, animation was often relegated to the now-famous Saturday morning block, which kids would watch while their parents often slept in from a long work week.

You’re dethpicable!

The result of all this was the bare minimum of effort being put into TV animation, especially in the 1970s. TV studios, endlessly restricted by the moral guardians, often resorted to cranking out endless sub-par clones of Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, etc. Some quality shows did manage to slip through here and there, like Fat Albert, Star Trek: The Animated Series, Wait Till Your Father Gets Home and Schoolhouse Rock.

This song will now be stuck in your head for the rest of the week. You’re welcome!

They were still vastly outnumbered by poor quality efforts, though. Even the king of animation himself, Walt Disney, expressed his frustrations with artistic restriction toward the end of his life. When he first saw the film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, he reportedly told his colleagues, “Now this is the kind of film I wish I could make!”

A Light in the Black: 1970s-1990s

Fortunately, not everything was totally bleak for the medium during the Dark Age. Europe was still producing edgy, avant-garde features like Yellow Submarine, Fantastic Planet, and the aforementioned Watership Down. Meanwhile, Japan started experimenting with more adult series, moving away from kid-friendly fare like Astro Boy, Speed Racer, and Kimba the White Lion to epics like Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam. Even America saw the likes of Ralph Bakshi, who made such raunchy, controversial, and, surprisingly enough, financially successful escapades as Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, and Coonskin.

Ya hear that, babe? That’s the sound of a thousand Bible thumpers having a stroke.

Things began to look up for the American side of the medium as the 1980s rolled around. One of the most important factors in this revival was President Ronald Reagan’s rollback of broadcast regulations. This would spearhead the rise of toy-based cartoons like Transformers, My Little Pony, He-Man, G.I. Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc. While these shows are often derided for being “half-hour toy commercials”…

…and the man who made those cartoons possible is derided for… various other reasons…

… the fact was that these shows proved that animation could be profitable again. Artists and business investors quickly leaped at the opportunity, and the stage for the Renaissance Age of Animation was set. The Walt Disney Company helped kick-start a new era of quality television animation when the first cartoons of the Disney Afternoon block, like Adventures of the Gummi Bears, Ducktales, and Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers first aired between 1985 and 1989. Television networks solely or heavily dedicated to animation like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon began to find a huge audience.

Meanwhile, after languishing in the doldrums for several years after Walt Disney’s death in 1965, animation in American cinemas found a new savior in the form of ex-Disney animator Don Bluth, who introduced a high quality to his animated features that had not been seen since the Golden Age. Features like the cult classic The Secret of NIMH led to financial successes like An American Tail and The Land Before Time, both executive produced by Stephen Spielberg.

He was also known for putting some pretty dark shit in his movies. The Sharptooth killing Littlefoot’s mom was the “Your mother can’t be with you anymore” scene from Bambi all over again.

This inspired Disney to step up their game, leading to financial juggernauts like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Little Mermaid. This led to animation regaining much of the artistic respect it had lost in the Dark Age, to the point that Disney’s Beauty and the Beast even became the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the 1992 Academy Awards.

On top of all that, Japanese animation started to develop a fanbase in North America due largely to the gritty and intense adult drama of films like Akira and Ghost in the Shell and the sheer artistic beauty of Studio Ghibli’s filmography. Anime TV series like Sailor Moon, Dragonball, Pokemon, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Cowboy Bebop only further cemented its popularity.

A New Downturn: 1990s-2000s

Unfortunately, all of this failed to break the Age Ghetto’s death grip on the American psyche, especially as the Renaissance Age gave way to the Millennium Age around the turn of the century. Many animated films toward the latter half of the 90s started to rely increasingly on the Disney “formula,” resulting in many films that recycled the I-don’t-fit-in characters, “I want” songs, wacky sidekicks, pop culture jokes, and other tired tropes of the time. Warner Brothers’ Quest for Camelot, released in 1998, is often considered the absolute nadir of this trend.

It originally started as a PG-13 rated film based on Arthurian legend. It ended with the two heads on that blue dragon singing about how much they hate each other while doing an Elvis impersonation. I am not kidding!

Economic downturns throughout the 2000s also led to a decline in quality television animation, to the point that Cartoon Network actually stopped airing cartoons for a brief period in the late 00s. This proliferation of subpar TV shows may have convinced 90s kids who grew up on Ren and Stimpy and Animaniacs that they had outgrown the shows of their childhood.

You were the chosen one, Ron! You were supposed to save animation, not destroy it!

It certainly didn’t help that adult animation shows started their own toxic “follow the leader” mentality. They became what I would refer to as Family Guy and/or South Park turned up to eleven in all the wrong directions, overusing edgy and offensive vulgar humor while ignoring the smart political/social satire that made both those shows so beloved in the first place. Thus we received schlock like Brickleberry, Drawn Together, and Allen Gregory that can be better described as adolescent rather than truly adult.

A New Renaissance: 2000s-Present

As the current decade reaches its twilight years, however, there have increasingly promising signs that America may finally be putting the ghetto mentality out to pasture. One sign of this reckoning is the massive popularity of creator-driven cartoons spawned from the successes of such shows as Disney’s Phineas and Ferb in 2007 and Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time in 2010. Other shows like Regular Show, Steven Universe, Over the Garden Wall, Gravity Falls, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and many others have gained massive fanbases even among adults.

Speaking of which, adult animation has also received shows this decade like Bojack Horseman, Rick and Morty, Bob’s Burgers, and Moral Orel that have shifted the focus away from vulgar shock humor and put the spotlight more on character development and more relatable adult issues. Some adult series like Castlevania, Primal, and the Samurai Jack revival even moved away from comedy entirely, becoming dark fantasy epics focused more on story than being as offensive as possible.

Let’s see Brickleberry try to top this.

The more diverse animation offered by Japan has also exploded in popularity in the States thanks to series like Fullmetal Alchemist, My Hero Academia, and Attack on Titan, largely thanks to the Internet. As the world has grown smaller and more connected, fans of animation have grown closer together and have been able to assert themselves in the public eye more easily and have easier access to content that might interest them.

Sadly though, the ghetto still retains one last stronghold: the Hollywood studios and their executives. Especially as capitalism reaches its late stages, the big studios have grown extremely risk-averse. Since adult animated features have not proven themselves to be financially successful among moviegoers, the executives are hesitant to invest in them. The ghetto mindset is especially frustrating when it comes to how it affects the Best Animated Feature award at the Oscars.

Many anonymous interviews with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences members responsible for deciding the Best Animated Feature have revealed contempt for the art form, viewing it as lesser than live-action. Many interviewed individuals even admitted to having their kids watch the nominated films instead and based their vote on what their kids liked best. One particularly infamous comment from the 2015 voting season had one voter complaining about The LEGO Movie not even being nominated…

Which, as someone who has seen the film, I can definitely agree with.

…but then they go on to complain about “these two obscure freakin’ Chinese fuckin’ things that nobody ever freakin’ saw” being nominated over it. To add insult to injury, this voter could only have been referring to The Tale of Princess Kaguya and Song of the Sea, which are Japanese and Irish, respectively. I can see why the Oscars are such a laughingstock among serious filmgoers.

Even on this front, though, there is still cause for optimism among animation fans. In 2016, Sausage Party became the first financially successful R-rated animated feature film to be theatrically released since 1999’s South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. It grossed over $140 million over $19 million budget and earned an 83% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes. The film’s creator, Seth Rogan, has since expressed a desire to create more animated adult films in the future. Sony Pictures, the company that released Sausage Party, has also announced several more adult films in development as we speak. While not as financially successful as Sausage Party, Wes Anderson’s PG-13 rated Isle of Dogs, released in 2018, was also very well-received by critics and audiences, which certainly doesn’t hurt.

Conclusion

C. S. Lewis once had this to say about people who appreciated artistic works for the sole reason of them being “adult”:

Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a form of approval, instead of as merely a descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown-up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish: these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence.

C. S. Lewis, On Three Ways of Writing for Children

If I could get the average American filmgoer to understand one thing about animation, it is this; you are not stupid for liking the movies or TV shows your kids like. If anything, the adult who enjoys animation is far more adult than the one who enjoys animation is far more adult than the one who mindlessly insists that live-action is inherently superior. Lewis went on to state the following:

“When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly.”

Not only do the elites in Hollywood need to follow Lewis’ advice, but maybe it wouldn’t be out of line to remind them that Walt Disney holds the record for the most Oscars won by a single person (22, to be exact). I mean, the Academy Awards is the place where the very best in film is honored, right?