Fictional Truth

In honor of Banned Book Week I read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  Funny and poignant, it tells the story of Arnold Spirit Junior, a Spokane tribe boy on the reservation.  Born with a disability, he nevertheless overcomes adversity to become both a good student and excellent basketball player.  I suppose you’d classify this as young adult literature since the protagonist is a teen and many of the issues are those of kids in that age group.  Although it’s funny, and the illustrations underscore this, there’s a realism that account for various people wishing to ban it.  First of all, it reminds readers that white men put Indians on reservations and, despite our national guilt about this, we still refuse to do anything to try to lift them out of poverty.  And, like most boys his age, Junior likes to talk about sex once in a while.

Fiction can be the most nonfictional form of writing.  Junior describes the realities of reservation life.  Alcoholism, poverty, and violence are part of his everyday experience.  He attends far more funerals than his white counterparts.  This particular point gave me pause.  A New York Times article that appeared pointed out, statistically, that American Indians had much higher death rates from Covid than many other demographics.  It was like the genocidal introduction of European diseases during the “age of discovery.”  I suppose people would’ve grown curious and explored their world, regardless of the distorted Christian belief that they were to take it over.  At least we could’ve treated those we met with respect, as equals.

I think about the missionary mandate quite a lot.  Based on an undying literalism, it became an excuse for behaviors explicitly condemned by Scripture itself.  There’s a real danger when conviction comes with guns.  At least modern-day missionaries try to help those they’re attempting to convert with hospitals and medical care.  Still, that doesn’t help the American Indians.  They still struggle and our policies still ignore their problems.  Their plight stands in the way of capitalistic exploitation.  And when an Indian writes a fun book, honest about the experience of his people white critics begin to raise their voices to ban it.  How do we think the situation of the Indians will ever improve if we refuse to listen?  And what better time to get people to listen but when they’re young enough not to have been corrupted by our system of entrenched unfair treatment?


Banning Together

Banned Book Week starts today.  As the political situation in this country continues to deteriorate into a Republican fascination with fascism, we find books challenged and banned for suggesting real fascists were anything other than nice, white boys misunderstood.  It will take decades, if not another World War to undo the damage Trump unleashed.  Instead of sitting in my corner worrying about the future, I read.  Banned books make up quite a bit of my reading, but I do try to read one every September intentionally in honor of the occasion of Banned Book Week.  It’s misguided to suggest children shouldn’t grow up.  A deep-seated fear of education reveals the hypocrisy at the very heart of book banning.  Adults should know better.  They should read.

I love America, but nationalism is poison.  Just like those who believe that only their religion can be right, many believe only their nation can.  Divide that up among the almost 200 nations of the world, with individuals in each thinking this way, and conflict logically arises.  Those who look at other cultures—read about them—and try to understand them, realize we each have our own way.  One of the major problems is that capitalism insists all must trade and barter the way that we do.  We think of people in terms of their “net worth”—which is, in reality, infinite—and want to know who owns more and is therefore more powerful.  Lackeys will always follow the wealthy, kissing posteriors and professing loyalty until they have enough of their own to challenge the more wealthy.  It’s enough to send any Bible-reader back to Ecclesiastes.

Books have stirred up ideas ever since they were invented.  The Bible wasn’t the first book, but it too appears on Banned Book lists.  Many of those who thump it read it with the acumen of a kindergartener.  That’s not why it’s sometimes banned, however.  It is full of sex and violence.  The bits about love and hope are far outweighed by it.  Books contain ideas and ideas will get out.  There’s a reason I surround myself with books.  They are a strange sort of castle that invites others in even as it protects.  It’s not comfortable to challenge the way that you think, but nothing fascinates like a new idea taking root and growing.  One of the best ways to meet people far distant and explore the way they think is to read.  Banning reflects our small-mindedness, and even worse, our desire to keep that small-mindedness intact.


Social Horror

Some books get you thinking in ways you don’t expect.  That’s one of the pleasures of reading.  Lindsey Decker’s Transnationalism and Genre Hybridity in New British Horror Cinema may sound terribly specific—there are a lot of qualifiers in that title—but it actually has some very broad implications.  I was reading it specifically from the horror angle for a project I’m currently working on, but I was surprised at the social commentary I found while doing so.  One of Decker’s main ideas is to show that British horror is, well, transnational while maintaining its Britishness.  She focuses mainly on five films in the book, only two of which I’ve seen.  Very aware of the history of British cinema, she points out many characteristic features and situations that make British horror what it is.

The social commentary comes in when discussing “hoodie” horror films.  These are movies showing how the working class, particularly the youth, are dangerous and anti-society.  The more I read the more it occurred to me that imperialist, capitalist systems are built on the corpses of the poor.  Even good kids from bad situations have difficulty getting ahead in life and those above them on the “social ladder” more or less despise them and make policies to keep them in poverty.  This leads to anger and resentment, and often, in reality, this spills over into violence.  It all comes down to those who benefit from the system refusing to make it more equitable.  When the inevitable happens—those pressured without sufficient means boil over—they are blamed for their own circumstances.

Having grown up in a working class system and having struggled all my life to somehow maintain a comfortable existence for my family, I know the kinds of obstacles faced.  In my particular case, retirement is not a likely outcome.  I’ve worked, except for (and often even) when I was in higher education, since fourteen.  I’ve seen others with connections, educated parents or influential friends, get ahead.  I’ve also watched while many of us get shunted aside because, well, who are you?  Some people wonder why I watch horror.  There are many reasons for it, and at times I think maybe I’ve seen enough.  But then I look around at the corpse-strewn foundations of our current system and I see how reality plays into that fear.  Decker, I’m pretty sure, was meaning for her words to apply to mainly the fiction of horror, but there was a different kind of hybridity there as well, at least for me.


The Truth, for Free

The Book of Common Prayer, reaching back to my Anglican days, is and always has been in the public domain.  Although the poetic language and culturally relevant phrases could by charged for use, they’re not.  The idea seems right-headed to me.  Although the Church of England, like many other religious bodies, has its own specific theology and approach to things, which it believes is right, as opposed to all other belief systems, it shows its conviction in making its sacred text free.  Copyright exists to protect intellectual property.  If an individual or an institution, or a company, creates something, copyright assures them that nobody else can monetize it without the creator’s permission, and often such permission involves a royalty.  The C of E has foregone that.  Print away!

I tarried many years among the Episcopalians before it became clear to me that I wasn’t exactly the kind of saint they were looking for.  I’ve had to move on, but I very deeply appreciate the integrity of an institution that says, “I made this, but you can have it.  I really believe in it.”  If you’ve decided to print and sell religious books, however, beware the Bible.  Most of the common translations in circulation (apart from the good old King James) are covered by copyright.  Unlike the Church of England, the bodies that sponsor Bible translations expect to be paid for the use of said translation.  This is, in part, a business decision.  They have valuable property—for many the keys of salvation itself—and if you want it you should be willing to pay for it.

This contrast has often struck me as very odd.  How capitalist religion has become!  In what do Bible translating bodies really believe?  Believe me, I know that any large publishing effort requires a lot of work.  Resources.  Still, those who do the translating generally have church or university jobs.  They’ve already got a steady stream of income, no?  And yet they will expect to be paid their billed hours for bringing the truth to the world.  I’m not a good investment thinker.  Money doesn’t really motivate me.  This is one of the reasons I have tried several times to find acceptance as a clergy person.  My values seem out of sync with the rest of the world.  I even bothered to learn the original languages in which the Bible was written, the better to read, mark, and inwardly digest them.  Still, I wonder if those who truly believe would not feel more authentic giving away all they have in order to attain the kingdom of Heaven.


Headlines

I see many headlines in a day.  One from Book Riot caught my attention with its linked story on BoingBoing.  This particular story is poignant and points to the ridiculous polarization politicians are stoking to play for our votes.  (I swear, politicians should be made into their own country so they can ruin their own lives without affecting the rest of us.)  This headline deals with the remarkable person George Dawson.  The son of a farmer, and descendant of slaves, Dawson made a living as a laborer in Texas.  His life was probably no more noteworthy than those of many other working-class individuals, but Dawson had a story to tell.  Illiterate, he learned to read at the age of 98—let that sink in.  At two years shy of a century he decided to improve his life.  He subsequently wrote a memoir, Life Is So Good.  So far, so good.

For reading, not banning!

His story was so inspirational that the Carroll Independent School District named a middle school for him.  He became a adult “poster child” for literacy.  Now, here’s where the headline comes in.  The very school that is named after him is trying to ban his book.  As part of the reactionary Republican response to race relations, politicians—local and national—are trying to rewrite American history so the white guy is always right.  Always good.  Always Christian.  Always moral.  It doesn’t matter how many times he cheats on his wife and his taxes, he is the paragon of virtue and respectability.  To suggest that he promoted slavery and treated Black people as property and beat and lynched and left them in poverty, well, that’s just too powerful of a pill to swallow.

Banned Book Week begins this month, on the 18th.  Every year I try to read a banned or challenged book in honor of the occasion.  Censorship has been on the playlist of fascists from the beginning.  Propaganda works.  All you need to do is use emotional appeal to short-circuit the rational faculties and then laugh all the way to the bank.  Slavery?  What’s slavery?  Do you mean to suggest that white men used slaves?  Poppycock.  We have always been as upright with the same moral rectitude as the Donald.  And the Ronald.  And all white men who stand under the big R.  Pay no attention to the Black man who learned to read at an age when most of us are dead.  Is that such a big deal?  What need do you have to read when Fox News can provide all the (mis)information you need?


Like Sheep

Since horror grew up in the late 1960s, religion has become a favorite theme in the genre.  Although religion had been in horror from the beginning, Rosemary’s Baby marked a definite sea change.  More and more religion has been moving from a subsidiary theme to the main vehicle of horror.  Małgorzata Szumowska’s The Other Lamb is a case in point.  “Shepherd” is the leader of a separatist religion that consists only of women.  The premise itself is creepy enough, but it becomes clear that Shepherd—the group literally has a flock of sheep—physically abuses the women.  They are divided into two groups: sisters and wives.  When unexplained things happen, Shepherd gives prophetic pronouncements.  His followers are expected to accept everything he says on blind faith.  Many religions do this by proclaiming faith against evidence a virtue.

One thing that I’ve emphasized in various presentations I’ve done is that Christianity, and perhaps all religions, work because believers are great followers.  While Shepherd uses biblical-sounding language, there are no Bibles in the film.  There are recognizably Christian themes, but the doctrine isn’t familiar.  Part of the reason, obviously, is that Christianity has a negative view of sex and Shepherd treats his flock as his harem.  The women follow because he “rescued” them from worse situations and their communal life is better.  Only it’s not.  When a woman director stands behind such a film, there’s clearly a message being sent about male privilege.  Any system set up with male superiority will lead to abuse.  When Shepherd’s enclave in the woods is discovered, they must move.  He instructs the women that they are going to find Eden.

Throughout, the movie is more creepy than scary in the traditional sense.  There are no jump-startles, but the situation makes you sense that something’s not right.  The women, acclimated to this lifestyle, many of them for years, know no other way of being or even where to go.  They have no vehicles.  Forced to move, they walk—Shepherd carries nothing while the women backpack out supplies.  Once Eden, on the shore of a lake, is reached, Shepherd baptizes the sisters and drowns the wives so the younger women can take their place.  You get the sense throughout that this movie is a parable.  Men like to take the privilege of determining women’s fates without understanding women’s needs.  This new kind of horror is insightful and symbolic.  There is no final girl when women band together.  The Other Lamb deserves wider exposure than it’s had.  It’s a good example of what religion can do to those who simply follow.


From Russia

A New York Times headline recently caught my eye.  “Russia opened a murder investigation into a car blast near Moscow.”  I wondered how a country that’s an aggressor at war, killing civilians in Ukraine every day, would be interested in something so petty as murder.  Then I saw the rest of the headline: “that killed the daughter of an influential ally of President Vladimir Putin.”  So there it is—some lives are more valuable than others.  Don’t get me wrong—I’m saddened by this (and any) murder.  And the use of violence to get what one wants is unethical.  Justice in this world, however, is based on unequal standards.  The supporters of Putins and Trumps matter more than any other people.  Death should not effect them the same way it effects civilians being missiled and shot.

Throughout all this we might wonder where the voice of the church is.  Churches, as institutions interested in power, are political players even when there’s no state religion.  The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church supports Putin implicitly.  With the power of Russia, the power of the church rises.  A few thousand dead civilians, well, let God sort them out.  Churches become corrupt when they become politically powerful.  Politics is one of the most polluting things humans can do.  Long ago Lord Acton put it this way: “All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Churches got into power-brokering in the fourth century and we’ve seen the results ever since.  It’s not just Christianity, however; Islam makes it political and yes, even Buddhism and Hinduism incite violence when they become politicized.  A religious body that takes its mythology too seriously becomes dangerous when it tastes political power.  The world has many mythological figures.

What really took my breath away, however, is how many state resources will be devoted to finding and prosecuting those who killed one government supporter—we must find and punish those responsible—while thousands lie dead with the Russian government as their killers.  Other nations are just as guilty of course, but there’s a karmic imbalance when that nation is an aggressor in war.  Would you have ever expected a fair trial in Nazi Germany?  Does not unprovoked war make a mockery of the very concept of justice itself?  Justice, of course, means fair treatment.  For all.  She’s pictured as wearing a blindfold, after all.  She’s perhaps one of those mythical figures as well.


The Invasion

So I’m sitting here thinking it would be great if Liz Cheney were to run for president.  Then I think, have things really got so bad that Dick Cheney’s daughter would be an improvement for the Republican party?  At least she believes in democracy.  And something has to break this trumpstipation that seems to have plugged up the GOP.  You don’t want to stand behind a constipated elephant.  I look at the hero worship spawned by a man who’s been known for lying his entire life and wonder where our critical thinking failed.  People far smarter than me have been writing about how democracies die, and this seems to be the case, all because a guy ran six years ago to give his personal business a boost and has been showing us the extreme distortions money causes ever since.

It’s sad really.  Once in a while I think about how Eisenhower was a Republican.  He was a smart man and he clearly had the best interest of America at heart.  Nixon not so much.  Some politicians are motivated by ego rather than the good of others.  I stopped being Republican when Reagan got the nomination.  Maybe it was at Watergate, but I was really too young to grasp what was going on then.  Of course, that was before politics became a real life soap opera.  As the GOP became less G with each passing president, the party seems to have lost its fortitude.  Young people are progressive so we take measures to prevent them from voting.  When Blacks vote we find ways of tossing out their ballots.  Minority rule rules.

Cheney was ousted from her own party for stating the obvious.  Trump is a sore loser.  Not only that, he’s willing to take the entire country down with him rather than admit he was ever wrong.  Stealing government secrets is just another day in office in Margo-la-la land.  I sit here and scratch my head.  It used to be that no matter which party ran things they at least believed they were doing things for the sake of the country, not for the sake of the country club.  All that’s changed in our new plutocracy.  I’m no politician, but I am a guy who tries to make sense of the world.  I see a country of people who go so riled up when they thought Martians were invading not even a century ago.  An event so important that there’s a plaque in Downer’s Grove.  And when a real invasion takes place we now side with the Martians.


The Roll of Churches

I really don’t have time to follow any social media religiously, generally glancing at a page and perhaps scrolling down an inch or two when I have a moment.  I tend to glance at headlines, often pre-selected for me by a non-human intelligence, I expect.  Nextdoor dot com occasionally has a story that looks important to read, because it’s local.  Recently a poster from Bethlehem noted meeting a homeless person and was asking virtual neighbors where to turn for help (for the homeless person).  The answers weren’t surprising but reminded me of something I recently heard elsewhere—this is where churches still have a chance to shine.  While I’m tired of all the doctrinal and theological nonsense that arises from those who didn’t pay close enough attention in seminary, I do lament the plight of our churches.

Society has been too Republican for too long to care for those who can’t make it in an uber-capitalist environment.  Those with mental illnesses turned out when Reagan-era “reforms” “improved” our system for handling them.  Those who, through no fault of their own, can’t hold down a job.  Those who just happened to end up on the wrong side of a wave and find that a new wave breaks over them before they can properly take a fresh breath.  As the most affluent nation in the world, each homeless person is a reminder of the terrible price we pay for living within a system that rewards greed far above anything else.  Churches do have their problems—I’ve experienced many of them firsthand—but they often feel an obligation to take care of the sick, the homeless, the elderly.  Those not of value to a capitalist system because they don’t “contribute.”

When I commuted to Manhattan my bus arrived early.  I often saw the many homeless sleeping on the street as I made my way across Midtown.  Many days I wished I had an extra peanut butter sandwich with me so that I could give them something.  Anything.  Churches that aren’t caught up bickering about whose genitals belong where, or whether females are equal to males, often turn their sights to those who need help.  These churches are supported by the donations of members (for which said members can claim a tax break).  These are members who care for those they’ve never met, simply because they are human and in need.  Churches themselves are now facing difficult times and, unless they support Republican causes, can be assured they won’t receive a government bail out.  Compassion may be a dying species.


Burdens

Listening is very important.  Sometimes there’s nothing really to say but “I hear you.”  This kept occurring to me during All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake.  Tiya Miles is a history professor, and she helpfully includes an afterword telling how she came upon the topic for this book.  Ashley’s sack is just that, a sack.  On it, the owner, a female descendent of enslaved African-Americans, stitched a short inscription about the history of the sack, how her grandmother had given it to her mother when the latter was a child under ten, sold away from her mother in South Carolina.  This isn’t an easy book to read.  I have difficulty being faced with what “religious” “white” folks did to Blacks and justified themselves that people can be bought and sold.  Listen, I told myself, just listen.

Those who would deny that any of this ever happened need to learn to listen.  In order to capitalize on the resources this country offered, our ancestors engaged in morally reprehensible acts.  And the cruelty didn’t end with the shipping and the selling.  The treatment of unfree Black people itself was a crime, and their white captors knew full well what they were doing.  Preventing their slaves from having nice things while they themselves lived in luxury.  Beating, raping, and murdering when they didn’t get their way.  Selling their own offspring born of slaves to make a profit.  All the while claiming to be good Christians.  It’s often this part that I have trouble understanding.  Even a literalistic reading gives no license for treating other human beings this way.  Only money does that.

The style of history in this book isn’t that to which many of us are accustomed.  At the point of raising mental critiques I repeated, “You must learn to listen.”  Those who have made the rules showed themselves to be corrupt, and they must be willing to consider alternative ways of telling a story.  Miles makes the point that the history of unfree Blacks was largely erased, leaving the possibilities for histories and heritages slim; if the regular rules are themselves oppressive then it may be time to listen to those of others.  It seems impossible in the age of the world-wide web and all that it implies that we live on a planet where people repeatedly deny their sins while clutching their Bibles in their fists.  We need to learn to listen.


The King

Stephen King.  I haven’t read all of his books, but I’ve done quite a few.  I’ve watched movies based on some.  I read my first story by him in Junior High School.  I’ve even read books about him.  From what I can tell, he’s actually a man with his head on straight.  While some may find that a strange thing to write about a horror writer, it’s been my experience that those who enjoy horror, either as producers or consumers, are generally good people.  Recently King was testifying against the proposed buyout of Simon & Schuster by Penguin Random House.  Penguin Random House is already the largest trade publisher in the world.  The buyout would probably benefit King personally, but he testified it would make things worse for other writers and for independent bookstores.

How many people these days argue against things that benefit them personally?  Certainly not elected officials, particularly of what used to be a grand old party.  It’s all about me!  That seems to be the mantra of late capitalism.  King has publicly called for his own taxes to be raised.  This is nothing short of heroic.  While the Good Book advocates over and over for this kind of behavior, “Bible believers” have somehow overlooked it.  Leave it to a horror writer to get to the heart of the message.  I have no idea if King is part of any religious group or not—he certainly uses a lot of religious imagery and many religious concepts in his writing.  Of course, you don’t have to be in such a group to embody their proclaimed principles.

Thinking of the needs of others was drilled into me as child raised in a Fundamentalist faith.  Looking around me these days, I don’t see many Fundamentalists that hold to that any more.  Enamored of power—especially the power to control other people’s lives—they flock after rich pretenders who care nothing for the Gospel.  Sacrifice (for that’s what we’re talking about here) is something horror writers know well.  It’s never easy giving up something that’s valuable to you.  Or even thinking about it.  Writing, while very enjoyable, is hard work.  Training your mind is like physical exercise—it doesn’t just happen.  I’ve got a few Stephen King novels on my “to read” pile.  They’re big books, often intimidatingly so.  Once I start reading, however, I know I’ll find the work engaging.  And if I pay attention, there will be a message there too.

Not that kind of book.

New Physics

Maybe it’s time to put away those “new physics” textbooks.  I often wondered what’d become of the old physics.  If it had been good enough for my granddaddy, it was good enough for me!  Of course our knowledge keeps growing.  Still, an article in Science Alert got me thinking.  “An AI Just Independently Discovered Alternate Physics,” by Fiona MacDonald, doesn’t suggest we got physics wrong.  It’s just that there is an alternate, logical way to explain everything.  Artificial intelligence can be quite scary.  Even when addressed by academics with respectable careers at accredited universities, this might not end well.  Still, this story to me shows the importance of perspectives.  We need to look at things from different angles.  What if AI is really onto something?

Some people, it seems, are better at considering the perspectives of other people.  Not everyone has that capacity.  We’re okay overlooking it when it’s a matter of, say, selecting the color of the new curtains.  But what about when it’s a question of how the universe actually operates?  Physics, as we know it, was built up slowly over thousands of years.  (And please, don’t treat ancient peoples as benighted savages—they knew about cause and effect and laid the groundwork for scientific thinking.  Their engineering feats are impressive even today.)  Starting from some basic premises, block was laid upon block.  Tested, tried, and tested again, one theory was laid upon another until an impressively massive edifice was made.  We can justly be proud of it.

Image credit: Pattymooney, via Wikimedia Commons

The thing is, starting from a different perspective—one that has never been human, but has evolved from human input—you might end up with a completely different building.  I’ve read news stories of computers speaking to each other in languages they’ve invented themselves and that their human programmers can’t understand.  Somehow Skynet feels a little too close for comfort.  What if our AI companions are right?  What if physics as we understand it is wrong?  Could artificial intelligence, with its machine friends, the robots, build weapons impossible in our physics, but just as deadly?  The mind reels.  We live in a world where politicians win elections by ballyhooing their lack of intelligence.  Meanwhile something that is actually intelligent, albeit artificially so, is getting its own grip on its environment.  No, the article doesn’t suggest fleeing for the hills, but depending on the variables they plug in at Columbia it might not be such a bad idea.


The Nature of Nationalism

I was recently reading about China.  The particular take of this piece was that China began, just over a dozen years ago, an attempt to become the world’s recognized superpower.  As I read about its aggressive stance in many areas (investment in tech, foreign relations, military), and realized that the United States had done a similar thing after the Cold War ended, I began to wonder who we’re all trying to impress.  Like many people I believe America has had it good for quite a long time.  (At least for some of us.)  I also believe we have used underhanded ways to get to this point.  Trump has definitely set us back on the world stage, but as China is investing in science and tech, we’re polishing off our Bibles.  (Take a look at the Supreme Court and disagree, if you can.)

In a world that has enough for all, why do we find it so hard to share?  Growing up with the Bible I was pretty sure that was the central message.  Instead, we seem to want to become the Nebuchadnezzar of the world, the great—well, you know—Babylon.  Ironically, Babylon doesn’t fare too well in Scripture’s final book.  Nationalism, it seems to me, is a great problem.  People seem unable to feel good about who they are without hating those of different countries.  It would seem that globalization should’ve taught us a thing or two about that.  Perhaps it’s the nature of our leaders—people who promote themselves until there’s no further ladder to climb beyond world domination.  Is that what we’ve come to?  Is there any hope?

I keep wondering who such people think the final arbiter will be.  Hasn’t history demonstrated over and over and over again that those who think too highly of themselves will be remembered most poorly?  Do they lack the capacity to see from the viewpoint of other people?  Our political and economic systems reward those who step on others and who think highly of themselves, it seems.  Capitalism especially dwells in the fantasy world of endless growth in a limited environment.  Combined with the restless curiosity of science and rapid growth of technology, this system seems set to go off the rails.  Especially when world leaders see each other in competition with one another instead of working cooperatively for the benefit of all.  No, I don’t believe Utopia is possible—there are too many self-interested leaders for that ever to work—but I do believe that national agendas that overlook differences (think the European Union) are far more worth our time than trying to become, or remain, a “super power.”


Yep, Nope

I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a movie that starts with a quote from Nahum.  I also honestly admit that Nope left me scratching my head, but very glad to have seen it.  I trust Jordan Peele implicitly as both a screenwriter and a director, and I know I need to see Nope again to make it all fit (if that’s possible).  His movies are the most Twilight Zoneish things out there, and despite Peele’s reported reason for naming the film Nope, I’m going to keep watching the skies.  It’s clear he had done his ufological homework.  Even the idea that—SPOILER ALERT—have you seen it yet?  Are you going to?  You might want to finish this later, if you haven’t—they are biological entities has been widely discussed.  

Although classified as horror, Nope has mercifully few jump startles.  In fact I noticed (there were maybe only 10 of us in the theater) that one couple had brought their kids.  I can imagine they had some interesting discussions on the car ride home.  For me, driving home alone, I felt like I’d watched Close Encounters, Twister, Signs, and Arrival simultaneously.  Peele set out to film a spectacle and he did indeed.  Horror has become more intelligent of late, and there’s so much going on here that I’ll need some time to sort it out.  The online nattering suggests the Nahum quote (“I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile and make you a spectacle”) reflects Peele’s thoughts on the Bible.  A more literal take might see the evacuation of waste creating a spectacle, which it does.  How to explain the angel form of the creature?

Alien horror works.  Alien sees them deep in apace, but many films, such as Fourth Kind, see them closer to home. Fourth Kind, also by an Africa American director (Olatunde Osunsanmi) never received critical acclaim, but I thought the first half was impossibly scary.  It’s natural enough to fear those we don’t understand.  Perhaps that’s one reason we tend to deny their existence.  If we deal with them in fiction we can call it horror and go home happy.  Nope asks us to consider whether our differences matter so much in the face of a non-discriminate predator that eats any human that enters its territory.  Even if they were there first.  I still have a lot of questions about the movie.  Some of them will likely never be answered.  One that will is “Do you plan on seeing it again?”  The answer is yep.


Ancient West Asia

You know what they say about old habits.  While various people are protesting things like critical race theory, there are still some scholarly holdouts for colonial terminology.  I know the area of “Ancient Near Eastern” studies fairly well.  The problem is that “Near East” is a comparative term.  Near whom?  Europe, of course.  Long ago scholars stopped using “oriental” to describe East Asia.  “Oriental” means eastern.  East to whom?  Europe.  You see the problem?  These terms assume European centrality, and the entire world can be divided up according to a colonialist perspective, rather like those novelty maps of the United States from a New Yorker’s point of view.  East Asia and South Asia are now in common use, but it’s still “Near East” and even “Middle East.”

What are the alternatives, did I hear you ask?  For decades now there has been a move to use “Ancient West Asia” instead.  It’s descriptive rather than imperial.  There have been objections, mostly from older white men.  It’s disruptive to change names, and besides, “West Asia” isn’t technically correct.  The area under study includes Egypt, and that’s Africa!  As Egyptology has grown, however, Sudan has increasingly entered the picture.  In other words, our picture of the ancient world is changing.  West Asia may not be precise, but it conveys the idea.  Cultures don’t always neatly follow borders, ancient or modern.  The people of ancient Israel borrowed from both Egypt and Mesopotamia.  Is it so wrong to try to use a non-Eurocentric title?

 Also, consider East Asia—it’s a fuzzy descriptor.  As is South Asia.  Although China and India are the largest respective states, these are modern political borders.  Yes, ancient people had borders too, but generally only emperors (men) went to great lengths to take someone else’s land on a large scale.  Terms like “Ancient Near East” perpetuate, often under the radar, this Euro-normativism.  Too much change too fast, I know, creates many problems.  A large part of the Trumpian reactionary mindset is based on fear of too much change.  Still, who pays attention to “Ancient Near Eastern” studies anyway?  It certainly isn’t a growing field.  The area under study is wide and sprawling.  It includes Turkey and stretches down to Yeman.  It can reach over to Iran and Afghanistan—to the very borders of India.  If we were to agree in principle that a Eurocentric term should be avoided, we might consider using Ancient West Asia.  Or we might, like the emperors of old, keep on doing things our own way.  It’s a habit, after all.