Time for a New Monster?

It has been a week since the election that will put Donald Trump in the White House. In that time, the news has been flooded by articles on how such a widely unpredicted result could have become manifest. Low black voter turnout, white women unexpectedly choosing Trump, the poor and the disenfranchised deciding this man will be their champion, ignorance, racism, misogyny, Islamophobia…all have done their rounds. And while we can debate their relative merit all day long, such an argument ignores the crucial point that all these individual “causes” have a common core: fear.

The article on how we counteract that fear is for another day, however. Today, let’s talk about how we embrace it. A vast majority of us are afraid, whether of our government or of the terrorists who may lurk in our midsts. And that’s nothing particularly new, but the sudden shift in our leadership promises to bring our fears sharply into focus. “Corrupt Government” doesn’t seem to cut it when you’re seriously discussing whether or not the new administration will build deportation camps or embrace torture as an interrogation technique. “Terrorism” fails to capture the sensation of finding swastikas scrawled over the walls of our cities. It’s a brave new world, and with it will surely come monsters.

As I discussed extensively¬†quite a while back, the dominant monster of any era can reveal much about the fears of the culture which promotes it. A decade ago, the dominant monster was the vampire, seductive representative of the corporate culture threatening to drain us all dry. Since that time we have moved on through zombies, an obvious recognition of our own increasingly “brain dead” and pacified state, and the frightening rate at which the symptoms seemed to spread. We have been slowly losing our fascination with zombies, however, and so particularly now, in the aftermath of one of the most polarizing elections in American history, we are likely to choose a new demon to haunt our fevered dreams.

What will it be?

To answer that question, we must consider what we need in a monster, what fears and internal threats must it manifest in order to carry out its function? It seems likely that in the coming months we will require a monster that reflects our more base, more bestial traits as we are confronted with the human consequences of many of President Trump’s proposed policies. Nothing like babies howling as they are wrenched from the arms of their immigrant mothers or fathers breaking down on camera describing how, with the loss of state-subsidized insurance, he cannot treat his child for brain cancer to bring us face to face with the animalistic cruelty lurking in our lizard-brain. So my bet is on the return of the hybrids: werewolves, werecats, maybe some werebears if we’re lucky. There’s also a certain poetic satisfaction in imagining our own destruction by shapeshifter; consider it the Native Americans’ long-overdue revenge. The hybrids we are likely to bring upon ourselves in our upcoming fiction will be motivated neither by cold calculation (as were our vampires) or mindless hunger (as were the zombies), but by rage and the feverish desire to wreak destruction. It’s important to note, however, that while traditionally hybrids have only transformed to their powerful, animalistic aspect at night (and only on certain nights, at that), we can expect some reimagining in the new versions (after all, vampires weren’t always sexy). Our new monsters won’t be afraid to confront us in the daylight. In fact, they will prowl fearlessly down our mainstreets to confront us in our cafes and boutiques. They will enter our homes without knocking while we’re still sipping our morning coffee and do their worst. We will discover that silver bullets were always just a myth; these creatures have broken free of the moon’s influence and have no weakness against her metal. They are bigger than us, stronger than us, and beyond reason. Only by banding together do we stand a chance against them.

But therein lies the crux of any monster mythology: we create the embodiment of our fears, and eventually we create a way to defeat them. Vampires require a stake in the heart or a thorough dose of revealing and purifying sunshine. Zombies require utter destruction of the brain (or endless care and maintenance)…by those who can still think. And what will be the solution to our new, more fearsome than ever, race of hybrids? We can’t yet say what solutions we might find, but we can certainly predict that one of them will be to stick together and watch each other’s backs.

The Brass Heart

It was an impulse buy. Half a brass heart, sitting forlorn on a glass shelf in the thrift shop. Like the wedding gowns (and yet strangely unlike the cast off tuxedos), it whimpered of broken hearts and promises unkept. It was $5.99, an outrageous price for a cast off bit of brass jewelry, but, she told herself, a fine price for someone else’s dream.

Anna had never had a best friend, had never really wanted one until she was too old for the concept. Childhood had been a landscape of old trees and broken fence posts with bird nests inside. Of being sure she had made friends with the faeries, and then, suddenly, being not so sure, anymore. Which required gifts and impromptu rituals to reacquire their good grace, reassurances given in the shake of the leaves, the gust of the wind, the carving of a riverbank which clearly meant something. Continue reading

What Net Neutrality Is (and what it isn’t)

You’ve heard about Net Neutrality, but you don’t quite get it. Or you think you do, but your nerdy friends keep saying you don’t. Or you unfortunately arrived here because you searched for ascii porn, and have no idea how Net Neutrality is related. This one’s for you.

The Fast Explanation

Net Neutrality is the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. And by “equally” we mean that different kinds of information on the Internet should all be delivered to the the end user without any regard for what kind of information it is. You ask, you get, and no one is standing in the middle saying “Actually, that info you wanted isn’t important enough for you to get it quickly.” Everyone who makes content available on the Internet can have it accessible to whomever wishes to view it (sadly necessary disclaimer: this applies only to content that is otherwise legal in your country, state, and district). Everyone who wants to view content on the Internet can ask for it and get it at the same speed as any other content. Kind of like how when you pick up your phone to actually call someone (I know, who does that anymore, right?), you expect the call to be completed and the person on the other end to be able to respond in real time, no matter who you are calling. Equal, two-way access, no matter who you are calling. Continue reading

Growing Into Wonder

I hate surprises. It doesn’t matter whether they are good or bad, I prefer to know what is coming at me, so I can prepare myself to make the best of it or decide in advance whether fight or flight is the better option. I have known in advance what I was getting for my birthday since I was 12. I know that this would seem to indicate a stolid nature devoid of any sense of adventure, though I think few people would describe me that way. The thing about surprises is that they tend, in our complicated culture, to be the quick and dirty substitute for something far more meaningful and important: wonder.

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The Kali Principle

A great deal of emphasis is given in our stories to tales of magical creation. Wishes are granted, and the coveted item appears out of thin air. The birth of a child, in many religions, is the beginning of salvation. The creation of a building, or an artifact, or a concrete set of precepts is often the turning point where a tale of misery becomes a valuable lesson. As we go through our lives, working to live up to our own, personal, mythologies, we carry these lessons with us and aim to build and create that which will lead us to wisdom, happiness, and a sense of righteous fulfillment at the end of our time here.

Much less often is the power of death and destruction upheld as a step along this path. Usually, tales of death are only made meaningful when death is magically overcome, or serves the purpose of furthering a noble cause. Destruction is saved for the punishment of the guilty or as a catalyst for greater achievement. Something to be avoided at all costs, but if encountered, to be nobly borne and overcome. What we rarely hear are stories of the beauty and necessity of destruction as a meaningful, sacred thing in itself. The recognition that destruction is a crucial part of all our lives if we are to continue to grow, that death creates the fertile ground for new growth, seems to have been left behind with the harvest festivals and strange, heathen temples of the east. We are a people of creation and building; we never look back. We just continue to build up and out on the basis of what came before. But what if our foundation was built so long ago that the core is rotten? Can we continue to build external supports indefinitely, attempting to shore up that which wants to fall?

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Staring Into The Abyss

For some people, it is simply a culmination of small things, over the years, and it is impossible to pinpoint the one that tipped us over. However we get there, most people, sooner or later, find themselves staring into the abyss. It is a black, bottomless space, without any assurance that there is anything more real than this. You realize that everything you ever had to believe in, everything you counted on as a foundation, was an illusion. You realize that the symbols and trappings of your life are just that: symbols and trappings, nothing more. There is no guarantee that there is a reason, a pattern, a loving creator who will some day tell you why all this was necessary. There are no certainties that “it will all work out OK”, no promises that your loved ones will always be there, not even the comfort of thinking that you, at least, will always try to do the right thing. You are weak, the world is quite possibly a random collection of events, and you know with complete certainty that you are truly and finally alone.

How we deal with this experience has a great deal to do with the people we become. Continue reading

Spellcraft

“I dunno, man…I really like this girl, but she’s into some really weird shit. And not in a good way. I mean, that too, which is awesome, but there’s other stuff that’s kind of freaking me out. Like sometimes she just goes all starey, and then she’ll just pop out with exactly what I’m thinking. Or I came in one day and she was talking to the fire in the woodstove. And, I know it sounds crazy, man, but before she knew I was there, I swear I heard something in the fire talking back! And then there’s just weird shit, like how she keeps all her toenail clippings. Seriously! I asked her about it one time, and she got this weird smile and said it was so no one could ever ‘gain power’ over her. So she keeps them all in a jar she hides under her bed,” Steve said.
And then he never spoke again. Continue reading