Feeling somewhat between a state of self-pity and that of a salmon who couldn’t find his way upstream, I turned to horror. The weekend before Thanksgiving has traditionally been AAR/SBL weekend for me. I missed the Annual Meeting a few times due to unemployment, but for the most part I have been there every year since 1991. As the representative of a publisher it is an endurance-testing event. I had half-hour meetings scheduled all day on Saturday, Sunday, and today, and even a couple for the much neglected Tuesday morning. Then I found myself home, awaiting a suitcase delivery. United Airlines couldn’t say where the bag would be, and it only arrived Saturday night. My wife had to work all that day, and so I turned to my boyhood. Saturday afternoon was monster movie time.
For my current book project I’m discussing the components of The Conjuring diegesis. I’m also trying to do some traditional research on the films. Airport-lagged (I hadn’t been on a jet, but at my age being awake so late and sleeping so poorly has its own consequences), I pulled out Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation. I wondered what it would be like to see them in the order of their plots rather than their actual chronological order. Would the story hold together? Would I find anything new? The films discussed in my books are those I’ve watched many times—what I like to call “guilty pleasure research.” Or just a boyhood Saturday afternoon revisited. I couldn’t leave the house since I was told my bag couldn’t just be dropped on the porch.
From the beginning the story of Annabelle, the “possessed doll,” takes many twists and turns. The demon is invited into the spooky toy by distraught parents after the tragic death of their child. It then takes over an orphan who is adopted by a couple that she murders, as their natural daughter, in the earlier installment. The doll is possessed in that telling because the girl Annabelle had joined a Satanic cult, like Charles Manson’s, and her blood dripped into the doll as she lay dying. After claiming another female victim, the doll is sent to a couple of nurses as a present, where she appears at the opening of The Conjuring. The story shifts with each sequential telling, leaving the binge viewer dissatisfied. I haven’t had time for a double-feature since moving this summer. Thick snow still covered the ground and the sky held that solemn haze of late November. My colleagues were discussing erudite topics in Denver, and I was home using horror as therapy. If you’re curious for further results, the book will be out in a couple of years. Be sure to look for it at AAR/SBL.
Posted in Books, Just for Fun, Memoirs, Monsters, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts
Tagged AAR/SBL, Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation, Monster Boomer, The Conjuring, United Airlines
Something’s wrong with Buddy Love. He doesn’t act like a professor. Meanwhile, Sherman Klump, heavyset but brilliant, feels that human companionship is passing him by. Still, he’s a professor and has the support of a major university—at least as long as he brings the grant money in. The Nutty Professor, a re-envisioning of the 1963 Jerry Lewis film, is instructive to watch. One of the immediately obvious things to those of us who’ve been professors, is that movie makers don’t really understand what it’s like. And it’s not just comedies—Indiana Jones doesn’t get it any more than Dean Richmond does. Academics who watch these films shake their heads, if they think about the presentation of their profession. Indeed, for being high profile, it is a job the public does not understand.
That’s not really what this post is about, however. Although it’s been a few years, I suspect The Nutty Professor still has some currency. In case I’m wrong, here’s the gist: it’s a modern, funny version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. An overweight professor invents a formula that leads to instant weight loss. The formula, however, also has side-effects, such as a boost in testosterone levels that leads to instability and violence. In the climactic scene of the movie, Eddie Murphy transforms back and forth from Sherman to Buddy while on stage at the alumni ball. Papa Klump, who has paid to attend, calls out, “Someone had better go and call the exorcist!”
Now, this is screwball comedy. Still, it reflects something that I’ve been struggling with in my current book—the public view of possession. Demons aren’t generally known for changing body mass indices. They’re after the soul, after all. Still, there’s an element of truth, according to church teaching, about what Papa Klump says—demons are bodily afflictions. Traditionally, they can’t impact a person’s soul. In fact, possession is not considered a sin, and those under demonic influence aren’t held responsible for sins they commit while under that influence. The soul is considered, unlike the physical body, something that cannot be “possessed.” I know not to take movies like this seriously, but they do contribute to the pool of public “knowledge” about possession. In this way, at least, it’s important to pay attention. Such films may not really comprehend what the lives of professors are like, but they do reflect, even if in a nutty way, what people believe.
Posted in Higher Education, Just for Fun, Monsters, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts
Tagged demons, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Eddie Murphy, exorcism, Jerry Lewis, The Nutty Professor
The other day I had to go somewhere that I knew would involve a wait. I’ve always thought of waiting as a theological problem—time is very limited and I don’t have it to squander while dallying about for my turn. That’s why I take a book. The problem is that many books I read, I feel, require explanation. That’s because many of them are the 6-by-9 format preferred by publishers these days. The idea behind the paperback that fit into your pocket—the “mass market paperback”—was that it was essentially disposable. Cheap, easily printed in large quantities, it was handy for taking along while on a bus, plane, or submarine. It didn’t take up too much space. It was easy to keep private. I miss the mass market paperback.
The majority of my books—fiction as well as non—are larger than the mass market. That’s the price you pay for reading books that don’t sell in those quantities. If your interests aren’t the lowest common denominator, you have to buy a copy that won’t easily slip into a pocket. And everybody can see what you’re reading. I work in publishing, so I get it. The idea is that the book cover is a form of advertisement. The thing is, reading is generally a private activity. I post on this blog most of the books I read (but not all!). I want to support those who write and actually manage to find publishers to advocate their work. But I’d really like to be able to put the book into my pocket between appointments.
The waiting room is a kind of torture chamber of daytime television and insipid magazines. Most of the people in here are looking at their phones anyway. I have a book with me, and I’m vulnerable with everyone freely able to read my preferences. I want to explain—“I’m writing a book about demons, you see. It’s not that I believe all this stuff…” and so on. It would be so much easier if the book were small enough to be concealed by my hands. If others want to know what I’ve been reading, they can consult this blog. Well, the stats show they haven’t been doing that. They might, however, if my own books had been published in mass market format. Available in the wire-rack at the drug store or vape-shop. Then the readers could easily hide their interest by putting it into their pocket. None would be the wiser.
It’s chilly in here. What with the early onset winter and the uncertainty of being able to afford the heating bills, we keep the thermostat pretty low. That may not be the problem with our pens, though. You’ve probably had it happen too. You’ve got an idea and you need to write it right down. You snatch up the nearest pen and begin scribbling on whatever’s to hand—a bill, a receipt, the dog—only to find the pen doesn’t write. You scratch out circles or zigzags, depending on your mood and temperament. The pen is, however, persistent in its refusal to let any ink flow. You grab another. The same thing happens. Finally—third time’s a charm, right?—the pen writes and you’ve forgotten what you desperately need to put on paper (or parchment).
Despite wanting others to think I’m cool (I don’t see many people) years ago I started carrying a pen in my pocket. Not just any pen, but one that would write immediately, the first time, without question or complaint. Such pens don’t come cheap. Then, of course, I would lose said pen. The shirt pocket is an invitation to lose things. You bend over and, depending on the fabric, what’s in the pocket falls out. When it happens on a bus or plane—and it does!—your writing implement may roll away before you can reach it. Have you ever tried getting on your hands and knees on a bus to try to squeeze down to look under a seat? I have. I don’t recommend it. It’s like praying to the god of grime. Still, I need that pen that obediently writes—I reach for it.
Some have gone the way of electronic writing. Thumbs flying like a ninja they tap out texts so fast Samuel Morse’s eyes would pop out if they hadn’t long ago turned to dust. I’m not a texter, though. Those who know me know I prefer email where ten digits can work in concert and spare me sore thumbs and unintentionally brief messages that could easily be misunderstood. No, better yet, give me a pen. Any scrap of paper will do, but the pen is crucial. How many ideas have died prematurely due to the pen that just won’t work? I found a reliable pen refill. I saved the package so that I could remember the brand. Now I have to work out a way to have the pen with me at all times. If the option for useful bodily modifications ever becomes a reality, a pen in the hand seems like the most practical of all. Now what was I going to say in this blog post?
There are those who celebrate technology, and those who mourn it. I fall somewhere in the middle. One of the selling points for our house was keyless entry. The great thing about it is you never have to worry about forgetting your keys. The bad thing is that batteries don’t like cold weather. The former owners of our house seem to have had it even less together than we do, They had no instructions or emergency keys for these electronic locks. So it would happen on a cold, blustery weekend morning we would find ourselves locked out of our most expensive possession. Now, you have to understand that this “well-maintained” house—so claimed by the not-inexpensive inspector—has turned into a money pit. The list of derelict pieces and appliances grows weekly and we haven’t even paid off the roof yet. Emergency locksmiths, I now know, earn their keep.
As I stood on the porch in the gusting wind, waiting in a thin jacket (we were not out for a long trip) for someone I would pay handsomely to break into my house, I considered technology. If you can afford to keep up with it, it must be great. If, say, electronic keypads were solar, wired to panels on the roof so that the batteries never died, that would be fantastic. Even a key would be an advance on a day like this. So once our teeth stopped chattering and we added yet another creditor to our growing list, I thought how that very morning my computer told me it needed a systems upgrade. “Didn’t you just have one?” I asked, almost out loud. I know what it is to be a servant. My thoughts wandered, as they frequently do, to The Matrix. When the machines take over, their problem is battery power. Since we scorched the sky, they began using us as wet cells.
Later in the day, for cheap entertainment, we went to a local parade. Among the many vehicles on display were old cars and tractors. Tractors that even I might have a chance of understanding because they were merely open engines on a frame with seats and large wheels. This was technology that fed people rather than preventing them from entering their houses. I couldn’t help but notice that they started with keys. There’s a reason that the key has always been a potent symbol. Its simple technology leads to hidden wonders. And on a cold morning those hidden wonders might well include your own house.
“Now, put these where you won’t lose them!”