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HBO's homage to the original "Westworld"

Previously I've commented on my appreciation for the 1973 science fiction film, Westworld, as well as how much I enjoyed the premiere episode for the HBO television series reimagining from 2016 (as well as some of my own theological reflections on it). Last weekend I added a subscription to HBO as another part of my streaming television package, and binge watched the 10 episodes of the series. I realize I'm a late comer to commentary, but I did notice an homage to the film in one of the episodes, I think it might have been episode six. One of the main characters, Bernard, goes deep into the facility to research some data, and in the darkness his flashlight illuminates a robotic figure out of focus in the background. The silhouette is that of "The Gunslinger" character played by Yul Brynner in the original film. Prior to the silhouette coming into view a musical element taken from the original film can also be heard, part of the theme for this character. You can listen to it in this YouTube clip. This musical element is used several times in the series, but it's unclear whether this is repeated as an ongoing homage, or whether this will serve as an important auditory cue as the series goes into it's second season in 2018.

For additional Eggs see this video.

"The Last Jedi" and Religious Disillusionment

There is an interesting essay by Britton Peele at GuideLive that connects dots between the trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and contemporary dissatisfaction with institutional religion. The piece is titled "How Luke's words in 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' mimic real-world disillusionment with religion." In the trailer Luke can be heard saying, "I only know one truth. It's time for the Jedi to end." An excerpt from Peele's piece:

To these people, the idea that "it's time for the Jedi to end" is relatable. If you associate religion not with love but with moments like the Crusades, then yeah, I can see why you might be anti-religion. If you look at the Jedi not as noble peacekeepers but as misguided zealots who were mostly wiped out in a war, then yeah, maybe the Jedi don't need to be around anymore.

The essay has things to say to those religious folks interested in keeping their connection of institutional religion and political and social power, particularly the religious right.

Saw Gerrera: patriots, terrorists, and perspectives

A quotation from the Star Wars franchise character Saw Gerra makes for an interesting reflection related to current events. For those that don't know about this character, here's some background from StarWars.Wikia.com:

Saw Gerrera was a human male resistance fighter who, as a leading member of the Onderon rebels, fought against the Confederacy of Independent Systems on Onderon during the Clone Wars. He and his sister, Steela Gerrera, were instrumental in the rebel liberation of their homeworld during the Onderonian Civil War. He later became a key member in the fight against the Galactic Empire and the formation of the Alliance to Restore the Republic. His tactics against the Empire led him to be seen as an extremist, one whose notoriety was recognized by the Empire and, many years later, the New Republic.

Here's the line from this character that I'd like to comment on in this post. It's found at the top of the StarWars.Wikia.com page in the entry quoted above:

"I'm not a terrorist. I'm a patriot. And resistance is not terrorism."

In consideration of this quote my two main areas of research come together. The first is pop culture and the fantastic, which is what TheoFantastique is all about, and the second is interreligious conflict. These two areas of research meet in this character and the quote. Here we have a science fiction character who fights as a rebel against the evil empire. But from his perspective, his self-identity is not one of terrorist. Instead, he sees himself as a patriot, a freedom fighter. What I find interesting about this is that this is exactly the same perspective of those involved in various forms of conflict over political (and somewhat religious) differences where the individual or a group of individuals are fighting a much larger and powerful force, usually a government. In our current context this is precisely the view of members of Boko Haram, al-Quaeda, and ISIS. But from the perspective of those in the receiving end of their violence they are seen as terrorists. Perspective is everything.

In offering this commentary I am not saying that terrorist violence is therefore justified. However, (contrary to conservatives who say there is nothing to be gained by trying to come to grips with the causes, and perhaps even our role in the construction of our enemies, I believe we must understand the perspective of those engaged in such violence if want to truly come to grips with what contributes to it. Only then will we be able to put together holistic strategies that may be effective in ending the violence.

"War for the Planet of the Apes": Reverse dehumanization?

A new trailer for War for the Planet of the Apes was recently released, and it promises to wrap up the trilogy with violent conflict as the world's remaining humans battle the dominant ape population. Just as the original POTA films reflected their social and cultural contexts, so do the current group of Apes films. War is no exception. In the new trailer the character identified at imdb.com as "Colonel," played by Woody Harrelson, is shown giving an inspirational speech to a large group of troops about to march into battle. In this speech he says, "There are times when it is necessary to abandon our humanity to save humanity." While it is difficult to interpret this line in the film definitively from the short clip, given that the second entry in the trilogy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, set the stage for a violent showdown between the apes and humans, and that this plays out in the final film, this seems to be the context in which the remarks should be understood. Dots can be connected to this line from another image in the trailer, a rear shot of a human soldier hunting in the woods with "Monkey Killer" on his helmet. Fans of the original series of films in the late 1960s into the 1970s will recall that the apes considered the term "monkey" derogatory when applied to them, and in Escape from the Planet of the Apes when a human innocently uses this term in reference to a newborn ape, Caesar goes into a rage and accidentally kills him. The derogatory usage seems to carry over into this film, and when combined with the line in the speech from the Colonel it appears that an interesting phenomenon may be at play.

Previously I've posted on the topic of dehumanization connected to monstrosity and genocide. In my view the quote from the Colonel may be understood in this way. Although there are rules that are drawn upon in war to limit the brutality, nevertheless, in order to overcome the human hesitancy to kill others we tap into dehumanization. This involves the use of propaganda, as well as terminology and concepts where the enemy is conceived of as less than human. In the case of the battle between apes and humans, this is literally the case since the apes are animals, but these are intelligent social creatures who have built a culture. In this way they approximate human beings, and in order to overcome any possibility that there may be hesitancy in killing them, derogatory phrases like "Monkey Killer" are used, and the Colonel's speech seems to encourage the abandonment of aspects of humanity, such as our moral sense of empathy for others, making it possible to destroy the apes and thus save humanity. Curiously the Colonel calls for the suppression of essential aspects of human nature while trying to save humanity at the same time. But saved to exist as what? As a species that continues to define itself by tribalism where the moral circle of empathy continues to be small and exclude others in the out-group perceived as enemy, even if they are highly intelligent apes with a sense of self-awareness, social relationships and culture?

Previously this series of Apes films has served as a mirror for human violence. It appears that the final entry in the trilogy will provide us with another opportunity for such critical self-reflection.

"War for the Planet of the Apes" Trailer

I'm an almost life-long Planet of the Apes franchise fan, with the exception of the Burton installment. Summer 2017 will see the final entry in the reboot wrapping up a trilogy.

"Beauty and the Beast" and Fairy Tales

From time to time TheoFantastique looks at the significance of fairy tale in contemporary culture, and with the continued box office success of Disney's live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, another opportunity presents itself. Readers may enjoy an essay in Jezebel.com titled "'Beauty and the Beast' Comes From a Long Line of Stories About Women Hooking Up With Animals" that looks not only at the various versions of that particular story, but also other fairy tales, and how such stories are significant beyond the dominant Disney approach. Jezebel.com writes:

The internet as a giant nostalgia machine has made fairy tales somehow even more of a Disney-dominated monoculture. This is a disaster in the making. If we wholly lock ourselves into the Disney versions of these stories and talk only to the collected works of this enormous corporation rather than the broader history of fairy tales, we impoverish ourselves and foreclose all sorts of weird, interesting, and potentially even radical creative possibilities.

Call for Papers: Elder Horror on Screen

FINAL DAYS!
Call for Contributors
Elder Horror on Screen: Hermits, Harbingers, and Hags
(4/1/17 Abstracts; 10/1/17 Essays)

As the baby boom generation grays, representations of the elderly on screen are receiving significant scholarly attention. Cinematic depictions of aging as a degenerative process, the othering, marginalization, and victimization of the elderly, and fears of the finality of death have all been increasingly highlighted and analyzed as we attempt to sort out the complex social, psychological, economic, and emotional consequences of—and responses to—growing old.

Absent from these considerations, however, is a genre in which our fears of growing and being old, and of the elderly, take on fantastic proportions: Horror. Here, the threats of aging are made manifest and bloody—by the eccentric harbinger of doom, the crone who seeks to restore her vitality, the pensioners who bargain with the supernatural to cheat death, and ancestors who return from the grave to curse the living—as well as threats to the aged, whether cast as frail victims or as stalwart gatekeepers and repositories of Old World knowledge.

This collection seeks essays on films in which these horrors of aging are prominently featured. It will explore the ways in which these texts reflect—and shape—our ambivalent attitudes toward growing old, exploring cinematic presentations of aging as the ultimate, inescapable horror destined to overtake us all, as a terrifying time of reckoning with past sins, and as a portal to unexpected (even unimaginable) powers. It will also pose new questions about our complex relationship with the aged, whose role as keepers of wisdom and experience simultaneously intrigues and unsettles us.

We seek proposals for intelligent, accessible chapters—rigorous scholarship and innovative ideas expressed in clear, vigorous, jargon-free prose—that examine and critically analyze the relationship between aging and horror as it is portrayed across a range of films and eras. Proposals for both topical essays and close readings of a single text are welcome. Proposals on films produced outside the US are very welcome. Previously unpublished work only, please.

While genre horror is a ready vehicle for these images, proposals looking at terrors associated with aging and the elderly in other genres, such as melodrama, science fiction, and genre hybrids or mash-ups are also very welcome. Possible topics include (but are not limited to):

* The elderly as harbingers of doom (Friday the 13th 1 and 2, Trolls 2, Krampus)
* The elderly as victims—or not (Breathe, Homebodies, Rabid Grannies, The Visit)
* Unholy alliances (Rosemary’s Baby, The House of the Devil, Paranormal Activity)
* Aging and revenge (Dead Silence, Drag Me to Hell)
* Chasing youth (Countess Dracula, Hocus Pocus, The Brothers Grimm)
* End-of-life reckoning (Ghost Story [1981], Bubba Ho-Tep)
* Bodies of horror (Psycho, Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice, Grandma’s House)

Please send your 500-word abstract to both co-editors, Cindy Miller (cynthia_miller@emerson.edu) and Bow Van Riper (abvanriper@gmail.com).

Publication Timetable:
Abstracts – Apr. 1, 2017
First Drafts – Oct. 1, 2017
Revisions – Feb. 1, 2018
Submission – May 1, 2018

Acceptance will be contingent upon the contributors' ability to meet these deadlines, and to deliver professional-quality work. Contributors who, without prior arrangement, do not submit their initial draft by the deadline will, regrettably, be dropped from the project.

Titles of Interest - Divine Horror: Essays on the Cinematic Battle Between the Sacred and the Diabolical

Divine Horror: Essays on the Cinematic Battle Between the Sacred and the Diabolical
Cynthia J. Miller and A. Bowdoin Van Riper, eds.
McFarland, 2017

From Rosemary's Baby (1968) to The Witch (2015), horror films use religious entities to both inspire and combat fear and to call into question or affirm the moral order. Churches provide sanctuary, clergy cast out evil, religious icons become weapons, holy ground becomes battleground--but all of these may be turned from their original purpose.

This collection of new essays explores fifty years of genre horror in which manifestations of the sacred or profane play a material role. The contributors explore portrayals of the war between good and evil and their archetypes in such classics as The Omen (1976), The Exorcist (1973) and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), as well as in popular franchises like Hellraiser and Hellboy and cult films such as God Told Me To (1976), Thirst (2009) and Frailty (2001).

Titles of Interest - Monsters in the Classroom: Essays on Teaching What Scares Us

Monsters in the Classroom: Essays on Teaching What Scares Us
Edited by Adam Golub and Heather Richardson Hayton
Foreword by W. Scott Poole; Afterword by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen
McFarland, 2017

About the Book

Exploring the pedagogical power of the monstrous, this collection of new essays describes innovative teaching strategies that use our cultural fascination with monsters to enhance learning in high school and college courses. The contributors discuss the implications of inviting fearsome creatures into the classroom, showing how they work to create compelling narratives and provide students a framework for analyzing history, culture, and everyday life. Essays explore ways of using the monstrous to teach literature, film, philosophy, theater, art history, religion, foreign language, and other subjects. Some sample syllabi, assignments, and class materials are provided.

Table of Contents

Foreword (W. Scott Poole)
Introduction: Monstrous Pedagogies
Adam Golub and Heather Richardson Hayton
Part I--Teaching Difference: The Monster Appears
Teaching Monsters from Medieval to Modern: Embracing the Abnormal (Asa Simon Mittman)
Gender, Sexuality and Rhetorical Vulnerabilities in Monster Literature and Pedagogy (Pamela Bedore)
Creating Visual Rhetoric and the Monstrous (Nancy Hightower)
Monsters as Subversive Imagination: Inviting Monsters into the Philosophy Classroom (Jessica Elbert Decker)
Part II--Transforming Space: The Monster Roams
Locating Monsters: Space, Place and Monstrous Geographies (Adam Golub)
White Settlers and Wendigos: Teaching Monstrosity in American Gothic Narratives (Bernice M. Murphy)
Meeting the Monstrous Through Experiential ­Study-Abroad Pedagogy
(Kyle William Bishop)
Using Zombies to Teach Theatre Students (Phil Smith)
Part III--Disrupting Systems: The Monster Attacks Studying Gods and Monsters (Joshua Paddison)
Monsters in the Dark Forest of Japanese Grammar (Charlotte Eubanks)
High School Monsters: Designing Secondary English Courses (Brian Sweeney)
The Monster Waiting Within: Unleashing Agon in the Community
(Heather Richardson Hayton)
Afterword: Monster Classroom (Seven Theses)
(Jeffrey Jerome Cohen)

Titles of Interest: Strangers, Gods and Monsters

Strangers, Gods and Monsters: Interpreting Otherness
Richard Kearney
Routledge, 2002

Strangers, Gods and Monsters is a fascinating look at how human identity is shaped by three powerful but enigmatic forces. Often overlooked in accounts of how we think about ourselves and others, Richard Kearney skillfully shows, with the help of vivid examples and illustrations, how the human outlook on the world is formed by the mysterious triumvirate of strangers, gods and monsters.

Throughout, Richard Kearney shows how Strangers, Gods and Monsters do not merely reside in myths or fantasies but constitute a central part of our cultural unconscious. Above all, he argues that until we understand better that the Other resides deep within ourselves, we can have little hope of understanding how our most basic fears and desires manifest themselves in the external world and how we can learn to live with them.

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