10. Playing “CSI: Dreamhouse” with your (or your sister’s) Barbie dolls.
9. Telling Mommy she’s “pretty” to her face and then adding the words “poor at parenting” as you walk out of the room.
8. Presuming that when you’re “grounded” you’re free to play with electrical outlets to your heart’s content.
7. Texting while driving your Big Wheel on the freeway.
6. Skipping biology class so you can experiment directly on animals at the pet store without supervision.
5. Actually punching Hawaiians to get your hands on their branded juice box.
4. Festooning your bedroom with ropes of snot rather than blowing your nose on the hankie you got last year for Christmas.
3. Writing your book report in thick black marker covering every page of the book you were supposed to “report on” with the words “HATE, HATE, HATE IT!”
2. Going commando when shopping for scout uniforms.
1. Sacrificing a goat instead of blowing out birthday candles.
1) Interesting. Everybody who “likes” me seems to be a latex glove fetishist.
2) I’m not pulling over, hitcher. I’m stepping on the gas. Oh no. Get out of the way!3) Who’s got your nose?
4) If this hand were bearing an unbuttoned sleeve, everything you liked would seem …dirty.
5) The universal symbol for social approval in the 21st Century is a dismembered hand. I like that. But it’s kind of overkill. Surely just a single digit would do.
6) A grammatical sin is committed by our passive acceptance of this plurality of “likes” — that is, the letter S should be employed only when the subject is singular in second or third person (eg. “x number of people likes me” is an insult to English, and perhaps also the Welch). The Hand knows this but does not care, eschewing language entirely for an international symbolic system of hieroglyphs without the possibility of negation (or “unlikes”), but rather, dumbly indicating its opposition through absence (a Lacanian “lack” of likes, not present in the oedipal calculation). But where does one find, say, the middle finger in all this homogeneous idiocy? Oh, I see. Got it. Understood.
7) Clearly this stiff arm is really the pale-blue hand of an evil clown. Why does he keep following me???
8) You don’t like me. You’re pointing “gun fingers” at me. You’re either a sniper or a used car salesman. Please go away.
9) Some would say that this uncanny symbol means “thumbs up.” But there is only one thumb on this hand…that I can see.
10) I’m told that in some cultures, the “thumb up” is actually a gesture that is a provocative sexual insult. Gee, thanks everyone.
Wikipedia history of “The Thumb Up”
“It was beauty that killed the beast.”
“Yeah. That and the syphillis.”
“Don’t bury me, I’m not dead yet.”
“Oh, no? Allow me…” (shovel to the neck)
(Aiming finger at the head) “Braaaiiiins…!”
(Aiming pistol at the head) “Buuuulllets…!”
“In space no one can hear you scream.”
“Oh no? Where IS Earth, anyway? That’s right. It’s floating in space, you freaking idiot. Let’s see if anyone can hear you scream when I press this hot iron into your underarm…”
“We have such sights to show you.”
“Like what? Your butterfly collection? Please, please. Let me show YOU what acupuncture really means.” (grabs head like a basketball and squeezes the pins deep)
“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”
“Beans! THAT explains the smell in here! I tht-tht-tht-tht-thought it was your breath.”
“When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.”
“There’s always the Holiday Inn next door. Competitive rates… and a cleaner pool!”
“Where? In the 1980s? Heeeere’s my palm.” (slap)
“I see dead people.”
“Yeah, yeah. They see you, too, kid. Don’t you get it? That’s your audience. They died of boredom.”
“I’m your Number One Fan.”
“Really? Because you smell like Number Two.”
“Long live the new flesh!”
“Viva your zits!”
“We all go a little mad sometimes…don’t you?”
“No, I go big mad when pervs like you peep at me in the shower.”
“Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
“Why? Becawse dare might be wabbits? Fear this, Fuddrucker.” (middle finger)
“Can I use this nail gun to accomplish that?”
“Sometimes dead is better.”
“Better than what? Your grammar skills? You go die now, and we be all better, Idiotface.”
That’s Garth Marenghi above, responding to a question about whether the horror genre is dead. I did a spit take when I watched this (as I did with the rest of the DVD).
It’s a childish response (“you are!”) from a faux has-been in the genre. I love it. And yet there’s some nugget of truth here, some wisdom to the comedy. Genre critics have suggested that genres go through stages of evolution, with parody becoming the zenith of a genre (and a sign of its impending doom). Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace television series is to horror what Blazing Saddles was to the Western. And yet horror, I think, challenges the concept of genre evolution…because it never quite goes away.
For one thing, stories about “returns” (from the dead, of the repressed, etc.) are always framed differently than others — they are “from another time” and it is usually one that is a headspace, a dreamspace, more than a social time. Take Night of the Living Dead. It is creepier BECAUSE it is shot using shoddy technology from the 1960s. More akin to nightmare in our brains than high gloss HD special effect films today.
For another, there is always a darkside, a taboo, an alterverse that demands exploration by creative artists. This means that there are emergent forms of fear that artists and writers are exploring and even if we don’t label them as “horror” they are doing what horror creators have done all along anyway: exploring territories that many fear to tread.
So my theory here is that genres don’t die…they just change in ways that sometimes feel, well, scary.
Not dead…just different.
It is also true that sometimes audiences simply turn too cynical to engage or suspend disbelief, but I’m not convinced that has happened to the horror genre — maybe to splatter films, but not to horror stories themselves. In fact cutting through this cynicism is precisely what horror authors must persistently do, and the best ones suprise us by shattering the “safe” protective bubble that such cynical worldviews try to construct. Satires like Marenghi affirms this cynicism, but deconstructs their potency and perhaps simultaneously affirms the nostalgia for genre forms of the past. Usually following a period of fun-making, we get some very serious films and stories in genre. I’m sure you can think of a few…
Snippets of Marenghi are available on adult swim’s website. But as funny as they are, they’re probably not the best. If you can view region 2 dvds, hunt the complete series down (maybe through ebay) to enjoy the entire opus of this dreamweaver. A must-see for genre writers like me.
Garth’s alter-ego is the actor/author Matthew Holness, who has the weirdest (if not the best!) story in an anthology I’ve recommend before, called The New Uncanny.
Pleased to see Holness is now doing another nostalgic love letter to a dead genre comedy soon, The Reprizalizer. Can’t wait to see where it goes…
And here’s a link to my favorite posed photo of Matthew Holness turning the tarot…
If you’re a writer trying to work in popular fiction genres, you’ll like the book I edited last year, Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction. It includes a lengthy essay by me called “Genre Unleashed” that explores these kinds of issues.
I saw this (Zombie Sudoku) in a bookstore today. Had to take a photograph and share with you all. Sorry it’s so blurry. I was crying a tear for my genre.
But really, I should have seen this coming when “hard” sudoku became superceded by “evil” sudoku in many puzzle books. While technically, “satanic sudoku” should have come next, it was only a matter of time before “zombie sudoku” took the place of that. But I think it would have been much more challenging to release “parasitic sudoku” or maybe “bacterial infection sudoku” instead. Or maybe just “leech sudoku”. Yeah, I like that one. Leeches. Ten of them in the row….
But there’s a lesson for the writer in this. My analysis here is that it is neither the axe, nor the obsessive gaze of the man on the couch, but the bow tie that makes this comic work so well.
All good stories have conflicts that generate tension and here the tension is apparent, between the man with a weapon — held in a way that ostensibly could be swung at his opposite — the man in the chair. The one without visible eyes is attempting eye contact; the one with eyes apparent behind his glasses is lost in his own fixation.
But the lesson here is about setting more than character and threat. What the psychologist fails to realize is that the setting matters…an axe is not disturbing in a forest or a woodshed. This is why it is “woodsy” for the man on the couch. But what the man on the sofa fails to realize is that our civilized world is not the woodsy world. The bow tie does not belong. The bow tie is not woodsy. It is an artifact of the world of fashion and fabric arts, not hard labor and the primitive forest. This is why the tie is the same color as the psychologist’s sweater, bonding them together: the common fashion between these characters is a metaphor for the civilization that the doctor — with his diploma on the wall — represents and which they both ostensibly share. If the man wore a red bandanna or a red plaid flannel shirt, or even suspenders, this would not be so scary.
Lesson: never forget the bow tie.
Sadly, this is also the logic of those who make superficial judgments based on appearance. We see an “inappropriate” artifact of clothing, or some object that is held on to even when it is “out of place” — and we respond with a snap evaluation, mostly out fear, as it is “disturbing” to us for things to not mesh in a rational and predictable way when we are in a social environment.
One of the lessons of good horror writing is that things are not always what they seem and sometimes — just sometimes — the woodsy is the more genuine world.
Thanks Dan Piraro for your brilliantly bizarro work…you’re among the best in the business.
I spotted this trove of Halloween dolls inside a crane toy at a restaurant the other day and had to take a photo. That’s Peter Venkman (aka Bill Murray) from Ghostbusters, right in the middle. His sarcastic smile has been flattened by the cartoonery of it all…and this disturbed me a little, so I took a photo.
But then I looked over the photo again and realized why it really struck me as so creepy. It is downright odd for the hero of Ghostbusters to be trapped inside a glass cage, surrounded by monsters and ghosts and skulls… he should not be smiling! He is trapped in an ecto-containment unit — with all of his ghastly supernatural prisoners! And not only that, there’s a giant crane up above (unpictured) that I can only imagine will pinch-lift and then drop him back down into the bed of horrors over and over again throughout the harvest season to come.
This is like some cruel, sick Halloween joke in an Edgar Allan Poe universe. And I love it.
“To be small and to stay small.” — motto of Robert Walser, creator of The Microscripts
New discovery this morning: Robert Walser, who was so fixated on writing small that he apparently began boiling the written word down into an “eccentric shorthand” — a code of his own invention — which compressed stories and poems down into very small scraps of paper and items like calendar pages and postcards.
More art than prose, the Microscripts collection is available on Amazon.com
Apparently he fit a complete novel, “The Robber,” into 24 pages of paper — which Benjamin Kunkel calls “a beautiful, unsummarizable work every bit as self-reflexive as anything produced by the metafictionists of the sixties and seventies.” Wikipedia suggests he would radically remix popular texts, absorbing influences from serious literature as well as from formula fiction and retelling the plots of pulp novels in a way that rendered the original unrecognizable.
There is an Eastern minimalism at work in his somewhat schizophrenic writing. “I am,” Walser once wrote, “to put it frankly, a Chinese; that is to say, a person who deems everything small and modest to be beautiful and pleasing, and to whom all that is big and exacting is fearsome and horrid.”
A short biography appeared in the New Yorker last May — see the “Scribe of the Small” — which concludes by suggesting Walser wrote this way as a means toward combatting writer’s block:
Bernofsky reveals that Walser developed the tiny print as a means of evading writer’s block. In a 1927 letter to a Swiss editor, Walser claimed that his writing was overcome with “a swoon, a cramp, a stupor” that was both “physical and mental” and brought on by the use of a pen; adopting his strange “pencil method” enabled him to “play,” to “scribble, fiddle about.”
A longer bio, “Still Small Voice” by Benjamin Kunkel was published in The New Yorker in 2007. As Kunkel eloquently put it: “Walser’s life and work played out as a relentless diminuendo…” I was struck by this idea and reminded of Matheson’s Incredible Shrinking Man.
Doing a little more research I found The Incredible Shrinking Man research project — and I have to run to work now, but I have to read more about that later… I think they might actually be serious about their plan to shrink people to save the world from the hazards of population explosion.
Bonus blather: Head on over to Gail Z. Martin and crew’s “Disquieting Visions” weblog, to read my guest blog essay, “It is Not What it Is”…where I rant about my dislike for this phrase, and the role of horror in dispelling such worldviews.
Gail is a terrific fantasy writer, and kindly invited me to contribute to the Disquieting Visions blog, as a sort of update to our very fun, chatty podcast interview she did with me about horror for her “Ghost in the Machine” series on her own website, shortly following the publication of my collection, Proverbs for Monsters. Her latest book is The Sworn.
Drop on by my guest blog and leave a comment if you’re so inclined. If not, well, it is what it is, I guess.
Phlegmonaid (With Extra Pulp)