Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds (University of California Press, 2015), by Joseph P. Laycock.
The 1980s saw the peak of a moral panic over fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons. A coalition of moral entrepreneurs that included the Christian Right, psychologists, and law enforcement claimed these games were not only psychologically dangerous but an occult religion masquerading as a game. Dangerous Games explores both the history and the sociological significance of this panic. Fantasy role-playing games do share several functions in common with religion. However, religion—as a socially constructed world of shared meaning—can also be compared to a fantasy role-playing game. In fact, the claims of the moral entrepreneurs, in which they presented themselves as heroes battling a dark conspiracy, often resembled the very games of imagination that they condemned as evil. By attacking the imagination, they preserved the taken-for-granted status of their own socially-constructed reality. Interpreted in this way, the panic over fantasy-role playing games yields new insights about how humans play and together construct and maintain meaningful worlds. Laycock’s clear and accessible writing ensures Dangerous Games will be required reading for those with an interest in religion, popular culture, and social behavior, in the classroom and beyond.
See a related title from a previous post, Virtually Sacred: Myth and Meaning in World of Warcraft and Second Life by Robert M. Geraci (Oxford University Press, 2014).
Religion Dispatches recently published an interesting article by Robert Geraci that contrasts the The Monster Manual from Dungeons & Dragons with ancient bestiaries and tales of monsters and miracles. The essay is titled “Monstrous Futures: Dungeons & Dragons, Harbinger of the “None” Generation, Turns 40.”
Two quotes of note:
“We wish for an enchanted world, and such a world is by its very nature monstrous. How then, if we hope to see the world reconfigured and made meaningful and transcendent, could we do so without welcoming back the demons and dragons in all their glory? Indeed, our popular culture is rich in zombies, vampires, and even a 50-meter radioactive lizard, all being reimagined, reinterpreted, and pressed into the service of each generation’s dreams.”
The dreams we realize in movies, virtual realities, and videogames are the dreams we have always dreamed; the monsters we find there are the monsters we cherish, for it is their presence that reminds us of what matters. Or, better, it’s their presence that reminds us that we must make the world matter.”
This post is a guest essay from Brandon Engel.
For the average baby boomer movie-goer, John Carpenter will always be the answer to the the trivia question, “who wrote and directed the horror classic Halloween (1978)?” For film aficionados of any generation, Carpenter will be know as a film artist who crafted some of the finest, if not lesser known, cult classics.
As a director, it’s not difficult to turn a $100M film budget into a $500M box office winner like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron have done many times over. With Halloween, Carpenter demonstrated that he could produce a commercially successful film with a budget less than $400,000 around and a small cast of mostly unknown actors (Donald Pleasence being one exception). Of course, Carpenter’s career has been continually beset by commercial failures, especially in the 1990s. Films like Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), and Escape from L.A. (1996) were box-office disasters and perhaps, directorial failures. Despite those high-profile mishaps, Carpenter often displayed brilliance, much of it in lesser known films.
Of his lesser known films, one that stands out is Starman (1984). In this story of alien who comes to earth to learn about humanity, Carpenter favored emotional substance over special effects. It’s a romantic adventure film with textures of science-fiction. Carpenter purposefully did not approach the film as a science-fiction thriller. The alien (Jeff Bridges) crash lands near the home of a widow named Jenny (Karen Allen). After absorbing some of the DNA from a strand of Jenny’s widowers hair, the alien transforms into a human form that is identical to Jenny’s dead husband. He forces her to take him to the Winslow crater where he can be picked up by the alien mothership. During their road trip, he is able to soothe her pain while she teaches him about human emotion. All the while, government agents are in hot pursuit, eager to capture the alien to chop him up on the slab. The film showcases Carpenter’s versatility and vulnerability, and confirmed his ability to make a mainstream blockbuster, if that’s what he wanted to do. What’s more, it contemporizes politically inspired sci-fi dramas from the cold war like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) which portray humans, and not the aliens, as destructive nuisances.
10 years earlier, Dark Star (1974) was Carpenter’s first feature film as a director. He shot the film while still a film student at the University of Southern California with the help of fellow classmate and nerd Dan O’Bannon. The film was shot with an estimated budget of $60,000. The story is a sort of self-deprecating science-fiction film, centered around four astronauts stuck on a spaceship (perhaps for life), trying to pave the way for earth’s expansion into space by strategically obliterating planets. With tongue-in-cheek, Carpenter explored these four personalities, using clever filming tricks that seemed beyond his years of experience. The film feels very much like a parody of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (HAL spoofed by a red beach ball named “Bomb 20″). That film may have been one of Hollywood’s first plausible looks at futuristic space travel, but Carpenter seemed to believe the film took itself too serious. But like 2001, Dark Star does poise the question: “why are human beings innately inclined to use their creative faculties towards needlessly destructive ends?”
It isn’t merely Carpenter’s science-fiction vehicles that get overlooked today, though. He also made a couple of terrific horror films that simply don’t get the praise they deserve. Prince of Darkness (1987) was part of Carpenter’s self-proclaimed “Apocalypse Trilogy” about the forces of evil seeking to destroy the goodness of human nature. A catholic group discovers a cylinder that contains the spirit of Satan. Once opened, those exposed to the contents meet disaster and untimely deaths. As Carpenter explores the occult, the influence of an ex-collaborator, English screenwriter Nigel Kneale (Quatermass and the Pit) becomes embedded in the film. Carpenter’s work on this film was panned by critics who just didn’t seem to get the point.
With In the Mouth of Madness (1994), Carpenter fell victim to budget constraints and the results showed it. The film is a loving tribute to the sinister genius of H.P. Lovecraft, about a popular horror writer who effectively manifests the surreal and nightmarish world of his literature. The film featured harrowing performances from Sam Neil and special effects that evoke eighties-era Clive Barker, but the film failed to catch on.
For all the flack he’s gotten over the years, it seems that Carpenter is still warmly regarded by film fans, and his status as an icon of cult cinema is irrevocable. He was also recently profiled by Robert Rodriguez on El Rey Network, and there’s also talk of a theatrical re-release of the original Halloween. For all his misfires, Carpenter is clever, efficient, creative and willing to take chances. In the end, Carpenter has made his bones as the “master of the horror film.” The reality is that his talents work across any genre because he has technique, vision and an acute understanding of human nature.
Brandon Engel is a Chicago-based blogger with a keen interest in genre pulp literature and vintage cult films. Follow him on Twitter: @BrandonEngel2
Previously TheoFantastique has noted the conference and publishing work of Open Graves, Open Minds. This post shares a recent update received on their work, including a book and conference.
OPEN GRAVES, OPEN MINDS relates the Undead in literature and other media to questions concerning genre, technology, consumption and social change. It features original research by leading scholars (Dr Sam George is a frequent commentator on the contemporary vampire; Dr Catherine Spooner, a pioneer of the study of Contemporary Gothic; and Dr Stacey Abbott is the author of the seminal work on the vampire in film and TV). The essays cover texts both familiar and unexpected, bringing debates around fictional vampires into the twenty-first century where they are currently enjoying a vogue.
This wide-ranging collection forms a coherent narrative which follows Enlightenment studies of the vampire’s origins in folklore and folk panics, tracing sources of vampire fiction, through Romantic incarnations in Byron and Polidori to Le Fanu’s Carmilla. Further essays discuss the undead in the context of Dracula, fin-de-siècle decadence and Nazi Germany together with early cinematic treatments. The rise of the sympathetic vampire is charted from Coppola’s Dracula, to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight. More recent manifestations in novels, TV, Goth subculture, young adult fiction and cinema are dealt with in discussions of True Blood, The Vampire Diaries and much more. The book is essential reading for those who wish to explore open graves with an open mind: scholars of literature and film, enthusiasts of all things vampiric and writers of Undead fiction. The Transylvanian notebooks of the award-winning novelist Marcus Sedgwick conclude the study, shedding light on recent trends in young adult fiction. Sedgwick lays bare the writing process for budding novelists and creative writers in the genre.
The book which emerged from the project can be purchased from Manchester University Press: Open Graves, Open Minds: Representations of Vampires and the Undead from the Enlightenment to the Present Day. OGOM also produced a special issue of Gothic Studies on vampires.
Finally, following the vampire conference and Stoker centenary symposium, OGOM is reconvening in the autumn of 2015 for a werewolf inspired conference, Company of Wolves: Sociality, Animality and Subjectivity in Literary and Cultural Narratives- Werewolves, Shapeshifters and Feral Humans. Full details and call for papers to follow shortly. There is also have a new blog at http://opengravesopenminds.wordpress.com/.
Call for Submissions
ROTHCO Press is accepting proposals for essays for an edited volume tentatively titled Paranormal Pop: Religion, Pop Culture, and the Supernatural, to be published in Summer 2015. Academic writers and independent scholars are invited to submit proposals spanning the wide range of topics on pop culture and the paranormal, and their connection to religion, including reflections on the full panoply of extraordinary beings (e.g. vampires, zombies, demons, ghosts, mutants, cyborgs, cryptoids, etc.) and extraordinary phenomena (e.g. psychic abilities, channeling, spontaneous combustion, magic, necromancy, etc.); as well as theoretical and/or historical reflections on supernaturalism, pop culture and theology.
Proposals should describe briefly (250 words or less) the intended content and argument of the essay, which in its final format should run between 20 to 25 pages (5,000 to 6,250 words). In addition to the proposal please include a short biographical statement as well as contact information. Please see Submission Guidelines below.
ROTHCO Press is a boutique press specializing in a wide range of genres including: nonfiction, fiction, biography, pop culture, pets, adventure/travel, supernatural, horror, mystery, true crime, cookbooks, academic books and more. Located in Hollywood, California, the publisher is an affiliate of Co-Conspiracy Entertainment, a film and television production company.
SUBMISSION DEADLINE: October 31, 2014.
The guidelines below are for informational purposes only.
As outlined above ROTHCO Press is accepting proposals for essays for its Religion, Pop Culture and the Supernatural project. If your proposal is chosen, we will contact you. Rule Number One is to provide us with a number you can be reached at during business hours along with a working email address.
Submissions may only be made by the author of the work or someone with legal standing to make the submission on the author’s behalf. If you are neither, please do not contact us.
- We accept email submissions. Unless your submission is in digital form we will not be able to review it.
- Submissions must be in PDF format. We will not open other documents.
- It may take up to 90 days to adequately review your proposal. Contacting us about its status will only slow down the process.
What to Include in Your Proposal:
- Include a brief description, a PDF of your proposal, a short author biography, a working email that you check regularly and a phone number where you can be reached during business hours.
- If your proposal is a simultaneous submission, please indicate this in your email to us.
Where to Send Your Proposal:
Please send submissions to: ParanormalPop@ROTHCOpress.com
EDITORS: Darryl Caterine is a professor of Religious Studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York. His research interests focus on supernaturalism in popular culture, both in the United States and parts of Latin America. His book Haunted Ground: Journeys through a Paranormal America (Praeger, 2011) is an ethnographic travelogue of various paranormal gatherings in the U.S., focused on Spiritualism, ufology, and dowsing. He has contributed articles on popular supernaturalism to Nova Religio, the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, and Paranthropology.
John W. Morehead is a researcher, writer, and editor on horror, science fiction, fantasy, the paranormal, and other aspects of the fantastic in pop culture. He writes for his blog TheoFantastique.com and Cinefantastique Online, is the co-editor and contributor to The Undead and Theology (Wipf & Stock, 2012), co-editor of Joss Whedon and Religion (McFarland, 2013), and he sits on the editorial board for GOLEM: The Journal of Religion and Monsters.
The trailer for Automata looks intriguing. Hopefully it will be a thoughtful expression of science fiction.
In a future where Earth’s ecosystem verges on collapse, man-made robots roam the cities to protect dwindling human life. When a robot overrides a key protocol put in place to protect human life, ROC Robotics insurance agent Jacq Vaucan is assigned to locate the source of the manipulation and eliminate the threat. What he discovers leads Vaucan, ROC Robotics and the police into a battle with profound consequences for the future of humanity.
A nice looking colorized photo from Dracula, and a video tribute in memory of Bela Lugosi who passed away August 16, 1956.
A Friend in the Furrows: Perspectives on ‘Folk Horror’ in Literature, Film and Music
19-21 September, 2014
Queen’s University Belfast
‘A Fiend in the Furrows’ is a three-day conference in association with the School of English and the Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities at Queen’s University Belfast, exploring ‘folk horror’ in British and Irish literature, film, television, and music. The event will include academic papers, film screenings, musical performances, and readings.
Through the writing of Nigel Kneale and Alan Garner, among others, the tradition has influenced British and Irish horror cinema and television, being revived and reimagined in films such as Quatermass and the Pit (1967), The Devil Rides Out (1968), Witchfinder General (1968), Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), The Wicker Man (1973), and more recently in Wake Wood (2010) and Ben Wheatley’s Kill List (2011) and A Field in England (2013). The conference will examine ‘folk horror’ texts, films and music in their period context and the implications for British and Irish culture’s understanding of their own unsettled pasts.
It will feature papers examining topics such as:
- Late 19th century Gothic literature
- Early 20th century weird fiction
- Modernism and weird fiction
- The ghost story
- Contemporary horror and fantasy fiction
- Children’s literature
- Folklore collectors and redactors
- Folklore and the supernatural
- Primitivism, atavism, degeneration
- Rural and urban folklore
- Horror cinema and television
More on the conference here.
My thanks to Heather Greene for letting me know about this conference.
Guillermo del Toro: Film as Alchemic Art, Keith McDonald and Roger Clark (Bloomsbury, 2014)
A critical exploration of one of the most exciting, original and influential figures to emerge in contemporary film, Guillermo del Toro: Film as Alchemic Art is a major contribution to the analysis of Guillermo del Toro’s cinematic output. It offers an in-depth discussion of del Toro’s oeuvre and investigates key ideas, recurrent motifs and subtle links between his movies. The book explores the sources that del Toro draws upon and transforms in the creation of his rich and complex body of work. These include the literary, artistic and cinematic influences on films such as Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone, Cronos and Mimic, and the director’s engagement with comic book culture in his two Hellboy films, Blade II and Pacific Rim. As well as offering extensive close textual analysis, the authors also consider del Toro’s considerable impact on wider popular culture, including a discussion of his role as producer, ambassador for ‘geek’ culture and figurehead in new international cinema.
Table of Contents
Part 1: Contexts and Audiences
Chapter 1. Influences and Intertexts
Chapter 2. Accented Fantasy and the Gothic Perverse
Chapter 3. Fan as Filmmaker
Part 2: Texts and Thematics
Chapter 4. Twisted Genres: Cronos and Mimic
Chapter 5. Trauma – Childhood –History: The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth
Chapter 6. Gothic Superheroes: Blade II, Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Chapter 7. From Development Hell to the Pacific Depths: The Strain and Pacific Rim
Filmography and Comicography
Joseph Laycock has announced the publication of a special edition of a journal that focuses on the paranormal where he served as guest editor.
Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, Vol. 18, No. 1, August 2014
Table of Contents
Approaching the Paranormal
JOSEPH P. LAYCOCK
Abstract: This issue of Nova Religio is devoted to “the paranormal,” focusing specifically on discourses rejected by mainstream religion and traditional science. The author explains the historic and cultural significance of such topics as hauntings, seances, alien abductions, and more generally the concept of “paranormal” as a category of religious beliefs. These articles contribute to what what may be a new focus area in the study of new and emerging religions.
Radiant Healing: Gender, Belief and Alternative Medicine in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada 1927–1935
BETH A. ROBERTSON
Heirs through Fear: Indian Curses,A ccursed Indian Lands, and White Christian Sovereignty in America
DARRYL V. CATERINE
Transformation: Whitley Strieber’s Paranormal Gnosis
DAVID G. ROBERTSON
When the Veilis Thin: The Simpsons’ Treehouses of Horror Popular and Academic Comparisons of Paranormal and Religious Phenomena
Be sure to check out the “paranormal” category here at TheoFantastique for past explorations of this topic.