Jess Peacock, author of Such a Dark Thing, posted his Facebook criticism of last night's premier of the new The X-Files series reboot. In his view the dramatic shift in scrapping the reality of the UFO and abduction phenomenon in favor of a new set of conspiracies is akin to the 1980s television series Dallas where Bobby Ewing appears in the shower and the prior episodes are merely dreams. Here's my response:
I was interested to see how Carter was going to update the basic premise of the franchise given the changes in the paranormal and conspiracy theories since the nineties. This is of personal and research interest since I'm reading The Paranormal and the Paranoid by Aaron John Gulyas (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015) for a review in Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts.
The question remains as to what extent this was or wasn't good storytelling, but I think more is going on here than the equivalent of the Dallas shower dream scenario. As I mentioned above, the different cultural context made it necessary for for Carter to update the basic premise of the program. So while the UFO phenomenon was a significant part of the paranormal in the 1990s, as well as conspiracy theories connected to it, this is not the case in the 21st century. Therefore, the general idea of UFOs and abductions is scrapped in favor of assuming the reality of the Roswell UFO crash and cover up, and connected to contemporary conspiracy theories and concerns about government control in things such as phone wiretaps, drone strikes, the War on Terror as public distraction, global warming caused by the government, etc.
Again, we can argue about whether this scrapping of the explanatory premise of the original series is good storytelling, but it makes sense given changes in culture.
The BBC.com has an interesting story on the ancient origins of fairy tales titled "Fairy tale origins thousands of years old, researchers say." The story tells of the research at the Universities of Durham and Lisbon that reveals that some basic fairy tale ideas go back quite some time:
Using techniques normally employed by biologists, academics studied links between stories from around the world and found some had prehistoric roots.
They found some tales were older than the earliest literary records, with one dating back to the Bronze Age.
The stories had been thought to date back to the 16th and 17th Centuries.
Durham University anthropologist Dr Jamie Tehrani, said Jack and the Beanstalk was rooted in a group of stories classified as The Boy Who Stole Ogre's Treasure, and could be traced back to when Eastern and Western Indo-European languages split more than 5,000 years ago.
Analysis showed Beauty And The Beast and Rumpelstiltskin to be about 4,000 years old.
And a folk tale called The Smith And The Devil, about a blacksmith selling his soul in a pact with the Devil in order to gain supernatural abilities, was estimated to go back 6,000 years to the Bronze Age.
These findings are significant in helping connect the stories to the early history of human civilization. Fairy tales are not only found in ancient childrens' stories, but also find their way into contemporary fantasy, horror and science fiction. For an exploration of fairy tale connections to horror see my past interview with Walter Rankin on his book Grimm Pictures: Fairy Tale Archetypes in Eight Horror and Suspense Films. Read the BBC.com story here.
Supernatural Cities: Exploring the Urban Mindscape
Saturday 30th April 2016
University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK
Keynote Speaker: Professor Steve Pile, Open University
Call for Papers:
Where do urban supernatural stories and beliefs come from and why do they survive in our modern cities? What is it about the nature of the urban environment that encourages our imaginations to respond in this way? How do supernatural accounts and legends alter urban geographies? What cultural roles have ghosts and other supernatural beliefs and practices played in historical and contemporary cities? How has and does the supernatural articulate the experience of urban living, unequal power relations, and fluid urban identities?
The urban environment, dense, sprawling, and perpetually haunted by multiple histories, has long played upon the mind of its inhabitants. Both the city’s known and unknown spaces and places have been prone to prompting fantasising, storytelling, and a search for influence in or over a powerful environment that is as much psychological as material.
This one-day conference aims to explore the haunted and haunting nature of the urban environment by bringing together scholars, discourses and theoretical approaches from a diverse range of academic disciplines. It also seeks to reflect on the way urban supernatural tropes such as ghosts, zombies and other urban bogeymen have been creatively represented in various media. This fusion of approaches and representations will be used to broaden our analytical scope, encouraging us to explore how we engage with both the mundanity and strangeness of urban spaces and places on intellectual, imaginative and emotional levels.
The conference’s overall purpose is to draw diverse disciplinary approaches to the urban and the imaginary into conversation with one another, enabling us to advance interdisciplinary discussion and reflection upon the supernatural and the uncanny as means of articulating urban otherness, estrangement and enchantment.
We welcome papers from all disciplines. Topics might include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
• Urban supernatural folklore and urban legends
• Ghost stories and urban temporalities
• Magic and occult beliefs in the urban context
• Uncanny architecture and urban heterotopias
• Hauntology, capitalism, and urban power relations
• Urban fantasy and urban gothic fictions (literature, art, film, TV, video games, music)
• Supernatural storytelling as intangible urban heritage
• Functions of the urban supernatural (communal identity and memory; socio-political and environmental critique)
• Baudelaire, Simmel, Benjamin and the phantasmagoric urban experience
• Psychogeography and urban space/place as palimpsest
• Monstrous urbanisation, urban monstrosity, and environmentalism
• Affective theory and the emotional urban environment
• Archaeology, concealed objects and domestic magical thought
• Urban supernatural, enchantment, and the de-familiarisation of the mundane
• Re-reading / re-writing the urban – supernatural cartographies; imagination as agency
Please submit a 300 word abstract for a 20 minute paper, together with a brief bio, by 1st February 2016 to email@example.com . If you have any queries please contact Dr Karl Bell at firstname.lastname@example.org
The registration fee for the conference will be £30 (waged) / £20 (students and unwaged). Speakers will not have to pay a registration fee, although they will still be required to register. Registration will be conducted via the University of Portsmouth’s online store.
It is intended that selective conference papers will subsequently form the basis of an edited essay collection that will further advance multidisciplinary reflection upon the urban imaginary.
The Supernatural Cities project is on Twitter @imaginetheurban
Robert Geraci's work has been featured here previously (just one example here. He has a very interesting essay in Religion Dispatches titled "A STAR WARS VIDEOGAME INVITES PLAYERS TO THE DARK SIDE." The essay provides a scientific analysis of the ethical choices players make when involved in the Star Wars: The Old Republic videogame. Some excerpts:
But before the newest trilogy of films could offer a hero’s quest and a chance of redemption to a new generation, the Star Wars franchise hit a snag in its moral status. Recently, the videogame Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) prompted a debate over torture, the killing of innocents, and the role-playing of evil.
When video games invite players to the Dark Side, does this affect their thoughts or behavior in reality?
A little later he writes:
The article suggested that players behaved badly within SWTOR, and that this bad behavior might have effects outside the game. Gamers, on the other hand, criticized the article for giving too much weight to the consequences of what is, essentially, a fantasy.
Whether violent videogames influence behavior is an important, and hotly debated, question. But in this case it seemed premature: no one on either side asked what players actually do in the game, or what they really believe. So we did.
Check out the essay for some interesting scientific analysis of videogames and ethical decision making.
For past related posts at TheoFantastique visit these links:
Back in October I picked up a copy of Mad Monster Party produced by Rankin/Bass on Blu-ray to add to my Halloween movie collection. I finally got around to watching it, and the Special Features, which included some commentary by Rick Goldschmidt, credited as a Rankin/Bass historian. Some of his trivia and insights were interesting, but some were way off base. Paraphrasing two of his comments in the video, he said that the stop-motion animation work of Rankin Bass was amazing for the 1960s, and that their holiday stop-motion films were special given that previously nobody had put such character into the animated figures.I couldn't believe it when he said these things. As a historian he should cast his specific subject matter against the backdrop of other expressions of the art. If this is done his statements are shown to be inaccurate. In the 1930s and 1940s George Pal produced his Puppetoons shorts, which included some of the first commercial work by Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen would go on to do stop-motion in feature films, and whether the Puppetoons or feature length films, he invested his animated characters with personality in ways that often rivaled human actors. While I appreciate Mr. Goldschmidt's fondness for the stop-motion animation work of Rankin/Bass, an appreciation I share, his commentary on this Blu-ray release is historically inaccurate when considered against the broader backdrop of the history of stop-motion animation.
Newsweek for November 20, 2015, has a cover story on the CIA and its research into paranormal activity. The essay, "Paranormal Activity: CIA Dimension," looks at the work of Edwin May, and his work in studying remote viewing for various U.S. government agencies for use in intelligence gathering. An excerpt:
"Twenty years ago this month, the CIA released a report with the unassuming title, 'An Evaluation of Remote Viewing: Research and Applications.' The 183-page white paper was more like a white flag - it was the CIA's public admission, after years of speculation, that the US. government agencies had been using a type of of ESP called 'remote viewing' for more than two decades to help collect military and intelligence secrets. At a cost of more than $20 million, the program had employed psychics to visualize hidden extremist training sites in Libya, describe new Soviet submarine designs and pinpoint the locations of U.S. hostages held by foreign kidnappers."
Promises of Monsters
28-29th of April 2016 University of Stavanger, Norway
Confirmed keynote speakers:
Professor Margrit Shildrick (Linköping University, Sweden)
Assistant Professor Surekha Davies (Western Connecticut State University, US)
Monsters are back, or perhaps they never went away. They haunt popular culture and social media. They lurk as images of dread and terror in politics, and figures of thought within academia. As shadows of the past they reappear as the potential biotechnological realities of today. They roam the in-between, making borders and boundaries tremble and shatter; whether these be borders of nation states or bodies, or categories of race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, self and other. In this sense, the monster seems to embody a promise of disturbances and change, as Donna Haraway argued in her 1992 text “The Promises of Monsters”.
Haraway’s text heralds the 1990s rapid increase in academic engagement with figures of ghosts and monsters, the spectral and the monstrous, encompassing publications such as Derrida’s Spectres of Marx (1994) and Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s anthology Monster Theory (1996). Now, on the other side of the millennium-threshold, the popularity of monsters has flared up again, inspiring publications such as for example Ashgate’s Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous (Mittman and Dendle 2012). 20 years after Haraway’s essay, “The Promise of Monsters” (2012) is evoked yet again, this time by Cohen, to point to the strange temporalities and disturbing messages of the figure of the monster as it haunts the margins of reality and human subjecthood. Messages that may well be promises, but of what?
The interdisciplinary conference Promises of Monsters invites contributors to think critically with and through the figure of the monster. What does the monster promise? What contradictions, uncertainties, anxieties, desires and disturbances haunt the shifting landscapes of monsters?
How might the monster help unsettle and rethink traditional ontology, epistemology and ethics? In other words: how might the monster help one think and imagine the world differently? Indeed, what does the monster index in a rapidly developing technological globe where inequalities are ever-more apparent and expanding? How do monsters come to represent the very racialised, sexualised, ableist, gendered and homophobic injustices of historical and contemporary modes of belonging and migrating? And how do monsters haunt disciplines differently and why?
Promises of Monsters invites all, including researchers, artists and practitioners, to engage on an interdisciplinary level with the subject of monsters and the monstrous. As well as traditional academic style presentations, we also welcome creative submissions across all genres and forms.
The following are possible themes for panels, papers and artistic contributions, but we welcome you to think beyond these suggestions:
Animal studies Art, popular culture
Critical race theory
Digital technologies and social media
Gender and feminist theory
Queer and sexuality studies
Science fiction, horror, and fantasy
Xenophobia, the Other
We accept submissions for papers and panels. Please get in touch about artistic submissions. Send your abstract (250 - 300 words and a 50 word bio) and/or questions to: email@example.com
For updates, see our website: https://promisesofmonsters.wordpress.com/
Deadline for submissions: 15th December 2015
Promises of Monsters is organized by The Monster Network. You can find and join us on Facebook. Conference art by Tove Kjellmark.
Next Wednesday, November 11, I will present a guest lecture at University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. I was invited by Professor Alan Lenzi to present on "Religion and Transcendence in Horror and Science Fiction." My presentation will involve a PowerPoint that incorporates film clips and commentary, not only on Abrahamic religions, but also on minority religions in America, including esotericism. The presentation will be in Raymond Great Hall 3545 Rudkin Way at 7:00 p.m. The event is sponsored by the department of religious and classical studies. A promo for the lecture can be found on UOP's calendar of events.
I have a brief review of Dracula and Philosophy: Dying to Know (Open Court, 2015), edited by Nicolas Michaud and Janelle Pötzsch at The Englewood Review of Books, currently as a feature review. It can be read here.