Evil Archetypes of Pop Culture: Satyrs, Succubi, and Other Sexual Predators/Book Review: Crea DelRand’s “Lure of the Prairie Monster” and Monster Erotica

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King Kong (2005) can be read as symbolic landscape hosting the battle between reptilian/predatory aspect of the Freudian Id and the life-force aspect of the Id.

Review by Google“>Shawn Stjean

For this eighth entry into the blog’s most popular essay series, I’d like to change up the format and combine a review of a particular writer’s work with my more general, cultural analysis.

First, as you read what follows, you must understand one thing.  I’m a man.  Which means: it’s okay if I’m completely wrong after this sentence ends; just don’t expect me to admit it.

As deep as we all are into the era of postmodernism, when a “new” genre gains popularity, it’s a safe bet that it addresses some old need in a refreshed manner, rather than having recognized a facet of human nature no one’s ever uncovered before.  The rise of Monster or Creature Erotica in not only the marginalia of video game and porn sites, but in the mainstream book culture, signals such a resurgence.

One of the most overlooked episodes of Homer’s eighth-century B.C. epic the Odyssey, excised from most high-school textbooks, concerns the adventure of the protagonist on the isle of Circe, the witch/exiled goddess.  Pedigreed as the daughter of the sun, we may safely infer that the Olympians have not banished her because she conforms to their idea of a “good girl.” Hermes, whose phallic stone herms can to this day be found all over the peninsula, explicitly instructs Odysseus to threaten Circe with his sword and rape her (though most translators employ poetic euphemisms).  Turns out, however, that Circe is a willing victim, and much of her mysterious power blooms from yonic symbolism–the island itself, her voice, her weaving, her drugs that turn men into beasts.  A full year after his “victory,” the hero is still there, in what his men call a “trance,” and the crew must nearly riot to tear him from her arms.  Although Homer casts the details more subtly than most mythmakers, overall this looks like a satyr/naiad seduction of a mortal (or incubus/succubus, if you prefer more medieval terms.)  We humans constantly wage cold war with the demands of our Freudian Ids, (to complete my jargon-journey into the twentieth century,) and they, as incarnations of powerful desire, are absolutely capable of knocking us down, sucking the air from our lungs, and drowning us–at least for a time.  And, most frighteningly, all without us necessarily acknowledging it’s happening, at the conscious level.

Now, the shadowy Id–often mischaracterized as our “evil” self–also comprises our very life force, the power that gets us out of bed in the morning, keeps us seeking and striving and sowing and reaping all day, so its cyclical ascendance over the ego (our manufactured identity) and superego (our “moral” self) needn’t be a terrible thing.  If we can break the spell.

DelRand’s story (packaged as an inexpensive e-book on Amazon and other e-tailers, and sampled on her over-18 blog https://creadelrand.wordpress.com/) treads the edge between fantasy and realism, as undoubtedly much of the genre does. Heroine Tess isn’t fulfilled by her sexual encounters with “ordinary” men.  To be clear, the problem lies in intimacy and sensitivity, not physical dysfunction or performance issues.  A century ago, her dissatisfaction would have been diagnosed by male doctors as some variety of female pathology: frigidity, perhaps, or nymphomania.  I suspect the genre’s writers–many of whom are women, though pseudonyms abound–have often used this motif as a convenient plot device. However, monster erotica can be interpreted, as here, in the vein of social criticism.  Our culture groups its inhabitants in so many ways: by race, religion, ideology, age, income bracket.  Naturally gender and sexual orientation could not escape polarization, either.  Tess’ tale begins post-coitus with her lover, an alpha-type who’d rather break up with her than confront her unarticulated needs, lest he have to confront some inadequacy of his own.

DelRand swells the fantasy structure in her second act, when Tess awakens–minor SPOILER follows–to find herself grown to many times the size of her “small self” (a phrase I read as code for “inhibited, repressed, oppressed self”).  Now she can mate with the titular monster, described by locals as “Godzilla” but suggested by the narrator more in terms of a giant primate, like King Kong.  Thus can her empathy and identification with him as Other be <ahem> worked out.  She’s been, after all, complained of by her erstwhile boyfriend as a kind of monster herself.  So, while for the local (male) farmers the roaming monster could be a psychological projection of some other evil, for Tess–I don’t think this too much of a stretch–he functions as a means to embrace and love her wild, Jungian animus: her own male side.  However, the ending of the tale comes, perhaps like sex itself, predictably and yet a bit abruptly–dare I say unsatiatingly.  But maybe that’s the point.

One need not embrace theoretical feminism to recognize the tragedy of a culture that pollutes something as natural as sex, to the extent that many normally functioning adult males will admit to having tried Viagra for no reason beyond innocent curiosity.  The problem comes down to the fact that few men and women talk openly about sex: why pornography centers around the penis but rarely features male faces, for example, or why its dominant fetishization is so often facial ejaculation.  Who could blame a woman who interpreted this cliche’ climax as revealing a lust for degrading domination of women, perhaps out of frustration over his powerlessness in other aspects of life (like the competitive workplace.)  It’s just as likely that a man’s base instinct to enjoy such an act comes out of the same deep-seated need for total acceptance by his partner.

Vulnerability over the need for acceptance and love seems obvious when considering women (threat of rape, 9-month extended periods of pregnancy, regular menstruation being accepted parts of daily life) but not so much for men.  Yet DelRand approaches it with the male line “You need so much. I can’t give you enough. You know, it’s terrifying to a man to be with a woman who needs more than he does.”  As a man with many male friends, however, and at the risk of burying the point, I’d urge this writer to resist and revise such mouthpiece material.  Most of us guys would have lashed out, in various stages of anger or frustration or humor, “You’re such a horny bitch/wench/slut!” (a slur being the quickest way to defuse someone else’s legitimate complaints/requests, and evocative of a ever-present double-standard).

So, from my admittedly limited engagement with the genre, the monster-porn fantasy seems to me to fulfill the unconscious female desire to regress the male into his simpler, more primitive form, one perhaps less verbally articulate but more intuitively responsive, undamaged by the demands of his acculturated ego.  Also, of course, as the still from King Kong hints, the feminine need for security, safety and protection by males (correction–the right male) from violent, unsavory predators seems equally served by such fantasies.  DelRand’s monster folding Tess into his gentle palm, an homage to the famous effect from the Kong movies, illustrates this need. In short, there’s a lot more going on than sex here.

Perhaps it’s a dangerous assumption that the target audience for such non-violent erotica is primarily female, but the subject is too broad not to limit it somehow.

For those interested, the subject of fantasy sex need not be male-forbidding.  Jon Norman’s underground 1970s-and-beyond Gor series–a counter-Earth orbiting the opposite side of our sun–explores many of these themes from a man’s perspective, especially of sexually inhibited men and women freed of cultural brainwashing.  Though not technically of the more recent Monster Erotica subgenre, this sci-fi set of cult classics–particularly the first half-dozen of the series–might strike a chord with fans, though undoubtedly too masculinist and chest-thumping for many in the  audience, a sort of analog to the Harlequin Romance.

By the way, some of these authors produce their more mainstream fiction under other identities, for reasons of the marketplace.  I imagine this to be an excellent means of stretching one’s writerly muscles: sex, especially, is notoriously hard to write without invoking unintentional laughter (as many anxiety-causing topics do, cf. gallows humor).  It makes sense, then, that purposeful humor would be a staple of these stories–and a good laugh vents repression and discomfort, too. So it’s a genre meant to be fun.

Well into the nineteenth century, novels themselves–any fiction–were a source of guilty pleasure in Europe and America.  A gentleman would either posture himself as above such “nonsense,” or at minimum be discreet enough to hide such books among the compartments of his home.  Certainly wives and daughters would have the decency to conceal theirs.  And now, as then, if fiction were more compelling and attractive than truth, we have no one but ourselves to blame.

Purchase links:

http://www.amazon.com/Lure-Prairie-Monster-Crea-DelRand-ebook/dp/B00UGSWQOE/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lure-of-the-prairie-monster-crea-delrand/1121318957?ean=9781483551050

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The Con of the Coin: Shouldn’t Batman Go Independent?

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By Shawn Stjean

One of the unsung virtues of independent film is that, as miraculous as any production seeing the light of day is in the first place, they rarely suffer from the Hollywood strain of sequel-itis.  Thankfully.  It seems that barely two, let alone three or more, entries into a successful franchise can bear the weight of sustained storytelling.  Give a series enough rope, and it will begin to show inherent contradictions, and self-deconstruct.  For the sake of coherence, I’ll confine myself mostly to the most fully realized of the three 21st century Batman films, The Dark Knight, while referring obliquely to its excellent predecessor, Batman Begins, and its pale follow-up, The Dark Knight Rises.  Together, a half-billion dollar story to make.

Since Batman’s first appearance in comics in 1938, readers have grown accustomed to a self-made hero, one who traveled the Earth learning from the best instructors, honing his body to Olympic-athletic condition, and his mind to that of a world-class detective.  In stark contrast to Superman, then, the Caped Crusader’s thematic popularity consists in the realization of the everyday potential of normal human beings. In the conclusion of the recent film trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) loses his position, his fortune, his butler and friend, and for a time, even the use of his body.  But, it doesn’t matter to police commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman,) because of the symbolism: “anyone could be Batman.”  However, this sentiment runs counter to nearly all the major signs in the previous films–as Carmine Falcone rightly put it, Bruce Wayne is “the Prince of Gotham.” Christopher Nolan does not present us, visually or narratively, with a democratic hero.  Contrarily, this Batman is truly a feudal knight, in that he’s not only the inheritor of a seemingly endless fortune, but, like the military itself in any age, he relies far more on technology and its exclusivity than on human ability.  His adversaries (villains) are less fortunate.  In fact, THE THREE MAIN CHARACTERS OF THE DARK KNIGHT FALL ON A CONTINUUM OF GOOD TO BAD BASED ON THE LEVEL OF THEIR INVESTMENT IN THE WHITE, CAPITALIST SYSTEM.  The richer, the better; the less material wealth, the greater the evil.

Beginning with the hero himself, among Batman’s other problems, he must contend with vigilantes inspired by his own image, but without his vast resources for support.  They masquerade and attempt to bash criminals in home-made versions of his high-tech body armor (developed at Wayne Enterprises from scratch—a very conservative estimate might put this suit, rubberized muscles and all, at one-hundred thousand dollars.)  When the real McCoy rescues one of them and warns him to stop, the humiliated imitator angrily demands “What gives you the right?”  Batman’s reply: “I’m not wearing hockey pads.”  Two resonant lines of dialogue, which might paraphrase: “If you’re not privileged with a Batmobile, Batcomputer, and a combat-surgeon-turned-butler for a nurse, your only right is to be safely escorted to your day job.”  In a world where we can suspend our disbelief over the constant jumping off rooftops, Batman’s later, willing destruction of his own bat-radar system to satisfy the ethical demands of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman,) a priceless and unique invention which merely invades the privacy of citizens on cell-phones, is among the most unbelievable premises we are asked to consume.

Next, the film conjures and disposes of a half-dozen minor villains, not coincidentally all minorities/of ethnic descent: Gambol, a black gangster-type; Lau, a Chinese mathematics wiz; Maroni, an Italian Mafioso; and the Scarecrow, a homosexual readily identified by visual cues.   This leaves the struggle for power in Gotham City to be fought exclusively among white patriarchs.  Harvey Dent, a conspicuous (“White Knight”) if unpedigreed double for Bruce Wayne, has half his body burned by the Joker, and thereafter adopts a two-headed coin, scarred on one side, to decide whether to support good or evil in any case.  The suggestion here is that money is morally neutral, depending on its use for its value.  This is, in fact, a luxurious position.  To quote Oliver Stone’s black corporal, King, from Platoon, “You gotta be rich in the first place to think like that.”  Director/Writer Nolan insists Dent suffer a more tragic demise than the other rogues: a clean-cut, politically ambitious, right-wing, upper-middle class WASP, he deserves better.  What a waste that, because of partial immolation, he should turn his back on a career as agent for law-and-order.

And lastly, the poor folks.  How did such an anarchist as the Joker (Heath Ledger) come to be?  He explains to Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) that his wife had been attacked and her face disfigured: “We got no money for operations,” so the husband mutilated himself  in sympathy.  Rejected in horror because of his inability to provide the conventional solution of plastic reconstructive surgery, he turns to destruction (“Dynamite is cheap,”) and crimes like extorting the mob–“If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”  But he does do it for free, and the glee.  If Batman stands for defense of the established order, the maintenance of the status quo, the Joker stands–archetypally, and in this film–for chaos and the rejection of systems.  He amasses his loot into a Marxian unfinished pyramid—the apex missing  (a figure familiar to film buffs from Blade Runner, and which represents the base power structure of working proletariat supporting the upper classes by their labor, further oppressed by the military, church and schools, and the government) which he proceeds to burn down, to the horror of the assembled spectators.  Once captured, the police find no labels in his clothes (no Armani or Gucci or even Bill Blass as Bruce Wayne would own.)  He’d apparently like to hide his true identity, but he’s also refusing to support the marketplace—very un-American.  And as a white man whose face has been reinscribed in bleached “whiteface,” (thus only “playing” white,) his “evil” seems very non-specific: the robbing of banks and demolition of a hospital, not to mention murder—none of these is as bad as his betrayal of capitalism.

As for the later sequel, neither Ra’s al Ghul, Thalia, nor Bane shows any interest in established wealth–when not pursuing utter chaos and destruction, they redistribute property and power to the lower classes.  This third entry redresses the subtextual racism of its predecessor, but amplifies the classism: Socialism=Evil (and false socialism=even worse.)  Catwoman (Anne Hathaway, who issues Bruce a dark, Marxist warning about “liv[ing] so large, and leav[ing] so little for the rest of us,” seems more interested in stealing a new identity and start for herself, which she eventually gets—again, by accepting proprietary Wayne Enterprises tech–and becoming Bruce’s traveling companion, essentially “selling out.”

The three films not-so-subtly endorse the values of consumer capitalism by casting their hero in the role of billionaire by day, and. . .what do you know?, billionaire by night.  This Batman is the sum of his parts: the toys, the cave, the computers, the vehicles.  His most worthy adversary, a working class victim of an industrial accident incarnated as a grotesque clown, by his refusal to buy into bourgeois principles even with unlimited wealth in his grasp, is written off by everyone as insane.  After all, who would burn a giant stack of money but a madman?

Because indie films, like the productions of self-published authors and unsupported artists of all types, are not themselves “sold out” to the formulas and packaging of the marketplace, they can “afford” not to promote the dominant cultural values it patronizes.  Meanwhile, Hollywood, always quick to imitate its own success, and with no public outrage or boycott of $10 seat prices, exacerbated by the intermixture of TV-type commercials with its theater trailers, continues to chronicle for us the adventures of another billionaire industrialist: Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, who got his start as a crusader against stereotypical Arab terrorists.

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Anarchists Recruiting Radicals Leading Liberals: Dominoes Leaning Left

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Among its failures, luminary Norman Mailer identified in The Armies of the Night that the Left in America was so splintered (writing from the perspective of 1968) that, even though well-intentioned reformers might stand for something worthwhile, they had great difficulty standing together. Too many different agendas: race relations, women’s rights, the anti-draft and anti-Vietnam war movements. Emerson, had he lived to be 150, would have called many of these well-meaning citizens “do-gooders” who should have concentrated, rather, on being good.

Today, it’s well-known that FBI agents, acting on orders, infiltrated some of the many organizations that did exist (Students for a Democratic Society perhaps only the most notorious,) in order to, among intelligence-gathering activities, combat forces that the federal government believed were manipulating the protesters: outside agitators, what Spiro Agnew called “vultures,” intent on destroying our society from within, by turning it against itself. But did these agents provocateurs really exist?

Rochester, NY – 11 August 2012.  The atmosphere of today’s United States may not be as apparently violent in its ideological clashes as that of forty years’ gone, but many believe the rift has simply gone deeper, smoothing only the surface of our native soil.

Shawn StJean’s new novel, Clotho’s Loom (Glas Daggre Publishing, 2012) dramatically personalizes what could happen if these kind of foreign, cold warriors were to penetrate the divisive climate of American society in the 21st century. A former Marine sniper, now college professor approaching middle age and settling into academic “schoolhouse liberalism,” is reactivated: pulled between the demands of the Right and Left, and–due in part to a deep personal ambivalence toward his father, a Vietnam vet–succumbs to the recruitment efforts of the anti-Western border-runners. Meanwhile, his wife, a woman of conservative social background, is semi-wittingly abandoned just at the time when she discovers herself pregnant, at the age of forty.

The book can be interpreted as a cautionary tale on the ease with which a cavalier liberalism can be exploited for anarchic and destructive purposes–the protagonists both encounter a series of increasingly devious characters, both outside U.S. territory and upon it. The narrative spans the globe, from the midwest to the Middle East, and extends to the deserts of both continents.

The female protagonist must come to terms with the extremes of her own right-wing upbringing. The daughter of a failed farmer, she’s nevertheless been taught the values of adaptability in the face of circumstance, and to continue to support the values of marketplace competition, as a lawyer. Wooed by an opportunistic capitalist, she supports his mission to rehabilitate the languishing community into profitability—with himself, however, as benevolent dictator. And although this vision is hardly as chilling as the chaotic alternative—what one villainous character describes as “a deep freeze”–the author takes pains to present it as more likely and real.

Although the parallel structure of alternating chapters tends to evenly distribute the attention of the narrative, not only between the gender issues of men and women, but of Left and Right (with a balancing concluding chapter,) this literary fiction offers occasional symbolic cues toward its author’s ultimate biases. Fortunately, there is also enough ambiguity to accommodate the thematic enjoyment of readers of widely varying ideological temperaments. In either case, the characters find that both the individualistic values of the Left and those of the communal Right, at odds times self-serving, are best acquired not as inherited, youthful idealism, but rather as earned, hard experience leading to maturity.

ISBN: 978-1479271528

List $20.00 paper, ebook $8.99

540 pp.

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