Twenty-five years in the men’s rights movement

How are MRAs inducted into the movement? I’d imagine the bulk of them nowadays were sucked in after hearing about it online and realizing how much it made sense. But there had to have been the trailblazers who started the movement in the first place, those who realized the necessity of masculism when it was apparent that feminism didn’t offer all the answers (or simply didn’t care about answers when it was only men who were demanding them).

I myself fall somewhere in the middle. I only adopted the label of MRA after learning about the movement on the internet, but I first got the inkling that such a movement was necessary a long time before — specifically, on the 14th of February, 1996.

And no, this has nothing to do with the gender politics of Valentine’s Day or how I was expected to pay for a date. The inciting incident took place in my sixth grade science class.

It was the first of a few capital-E Experiments we conducted in the class, goggles and all. The safety guidelines had been gone over the day before, with me arriving during the middle of the period after just getting braces.

The classroom was split into tables with four students each. I shared mine with two boys and a girl. We were further split into pairs for the experiments, and I was paired with the girl. The teacher announced that we would be graded on a check/check-plus/check-minus basis, and stressed that each student would receive the same grade as their partner.

I don’t remember too much about the experiment, only that it featured water dyed pink to observe the holiday, a chemical reaction that changed it to a different color, and an inverted jar (all of the experiments featured inverted jars for some reason). What I do remember is that my partner repeatedly flouted the precise instructions given to us by the teacher, and the experiment suffered as a result. Though I had followed the directions to the letter, we both got a check-minus.

Every error from my partner was met with a protest from me, supported by the other boys at our table. My partner, however, dismissed all our concerns, and refused to admit to any mistakes even after being given the check-minus.

One of her comments resonated with me. After finally being cornered by our criticisms, she declared that boys did not automatically know more than girls.

Neither I nor the other boys had made any mention of our gender. At no point had we implied that we were better judges of how the task at hand was to be completed by virtue of our gender.

This comment dumbfounded me, but more so it led to an awakening. How many other girls, women even, were inclined to falsely accuse boys and men of sexist thinking when facing criticism from them? It’s a devious ploy, after all, as such an accusation is difficult to disprove.

Eventually, it became clear to me that this debate strategy was not employed solely by my lab partner. In fact, it can be found in the uppermost echelons of my country’s government, where a perfectly valid criticism of a female senator by a male one can be twisted into a feminist rallying cry against evil, chauvinistic men.

Just as many women are, my female classmate seemed to be aware of how to take advantage of conventional wisdom holding men to be the oppressors of women. Why bother engaging in honest debate when you can simply accuse your male opponent of thinking the way he does because of the patriarchy and toxic masculinity?

Of course, years after the incident I realized that if a crime is believed by society to be committed frequently by men against women, and is difficult to disprove having had occurred, women could use that to their advantage. False accusations of misogynist talking points are relatively benign when compared to false accusations of sexual harassment, domestic abuse, and rape.

While it may be verboten by mainstream society to oppose the modern feminist and social justice movements, as long as they’re as prone to tip their hand as quickly as my lab partner did, there will always be MRAs. As I’ve learned a quarter of a century ago today, all it takes is one glimpse into the inner workings of the feminist’s mindset to understand their power should not go unchecked.

Realia

In case you haven’t been paying attention to my posts on the internet or that new thing in the sidebar, you might not know that I’ve written a new ebook that’s available now, under the nom de plume of Ulric Alvin Watts. What’s more, as of the publication of this blog post it’s on sale at Smashwords.

It’s a short (doesn’t even qualify as a novel) sci-fi mystery aimed at fourth- and fifth-graders, particularly boys. It has the narrative structure of an episode of The Twilight Zone, or maybe Are You Afraid of the Dark? to use a comparative example more targeted to the same audience.

For those in the intended readership demographic who haven’t come to think of reading as a good way to pass the time, Realia might challenge their preconceptions of it, being a brisk read about a mystery that keeps getting weirder and weirder.

It’s a Whole Lot More, But Sometimes Less is More: A review of Black Mesa

(Note: The following review features details of the plot of the first installment of Half-Life, including its climax.)

Over twenty years ago, the original Half-Life changed the world of first-person shooters. Advertisements for the game boasted that its predecessors, by comparison, could be summed up as “Run, shoot, run, shoot” ad nauseam. Following shooters would take cues from Half-Life for years to come, and the game itself started a franchise beloved by legions of gamers.

But given the technological restrictions of the era, as well as its much-maligned final levels, it was inevitable that modern Half-Life fans thought the first entry didn’t live up to its limitless potential, and would appreciate a full-blown remake of it. And that’s where Black Mesa came in.

Black Mesa, which was released earlier this year in its entirety for the first time, is a complete fanmade remake of Half-Life in the same engine as Half-Life 2. While the story remains more or less the same, at least in ways that are relevant in regards to its sequels, it significantly increases content, particularly in the final levels, and takes full advantage of two decades’ worth of advancement in game technology.

The original game’s biggest fan.

One of the first major advancements the player will notice is the atmosphere of the titular government research facility. The interiors of the Black Mesa Research Facility in the original Half-Life were often austere, metallic and sleek, like something out of the lower levels of the Academy in the X-Men movies. Black Mesa adds some much-needed realism by piling on the wear, rust and warning signs one would expect to see in the bowels of such a facility.

The last levels have been vastly expanded upon, with new enemies and mechanics abounding. One memorable foe is a zombified scientist wearing the same high-tech armored hazmat suit as the protagonist, with its onboard monitoring system audibly glitching and struggling to make sense of its occupant’s transformation.

Entirely new sequences are added, such as a high octane escape from scads of aliens impervious to the player’s weapons. Many more puzzles are added, which are never so difficult as to require a consultation of a walkthrough, nor so easy that no sense of accomplishment will be gained from solving them.

The scenery has been greatly altered overall, ranging from lush wetlands to bleak factories and shantytowns. While a commendable effort is made to create a world that is somehow recognizable while remaining distinctly alien, it’s questionable whether the resultant awe at its beauty is preferable to the trepidation of traversing dangerous landscape that was evoked by the level design of the original game.

The other levels stick more closely to the source material, though there is the occasional new set piece, such as a fast-paced shootout after falling into a trap set by enemy marines or a later attempt at stealth in a large aircraft hangar.

Also of note is the completely new original soundtrack, which of course features plenty of adrenaline-pumping fare for action sequences, but also some interesting surprises. The eerie, mournful main theme is oddly fitting for the game as a whole.

The equivalent area in Black Mesa.

Aside from the updated engine, the biggest change is the overall push to make the game more cinematic on the whole. In addition to improved graphics, there is more effort put in to the development of characters. There is much more dialogue, and allies and enemies alike are rounded out.

Emergency alert broadcasts advise civilians to leave the area and take flashlights and radios with them, to head to a disease control center if they experience dizziness or hair loss, and to contact a military officer if they have firearms training. The player overhears a plea for help over the radio by a marine who is slowly bleeding to death.

All these elements make for an experience that is more immersive, and emotional for the most part. But there’s something to be said of the design of the original Half-Life that doesn’t quite translate to this new aesthetic.

In one notorious scene towards the beginning of Half-Life, the player pressed an elevator call button, and the car immediately came crashing down from above, carrying a few screaming scientists with it. The overall scene has been reproduced in Black Mesa. But now, the crash is no longer immediate. The occupants’ frantic pounding on the door and cries of how they don’t want to die are heard for several seconds until they plummet to their deaths.

It’s certainly more emotionally wrenching on most levels. But given that the fall doesn’t immediately follow the button press, it’s less obvious that it was indirectly due to the player’s actions — which was why the scene was so memorable in the original game.

The design of enemies is also flashier and more detailed, as could be expected given the modern gaming era’s newfound abundance of polygons. Half-Life‘s original monsters indeed look fairly primitive by comparison. But they had notable traits of their own that Black Mesa seems to have ignored.

A bullsquid as seen in Half-Life.

Take the bullsquids, extremophilic bipeds that spewed globules of noxious bile at the player and could often be found near pools of toxic waste. Aside from a bizarre assortment of tentacles surrounding its mouth, it was pretty much featureless save for a pair of barely noticeable eyes. When killed, it let out a capitulatory whine disconcertingly similar to that of a family pet.

Its counterpart in Black Mesa, however, sports two glowing, angry, textbook-evil red eyes, with a repertoire consisting of snarls and exaggerated gargles. Its status as a threat and an enemy is emphasized, at the expense of its sense of mystery and otherworldliness.

Then there’s the final boss, the Nihilanth. The battle with the surprisingly weak and cowardly Nihilanth in Half-Life is often regarded as a major disappointment, but the character itself gave the player pause: It was suggestive of a human fetus, with empty black eyes and a tiny mouth that seemed to be in the middle of intoning something ominous. It occasionally gave cryptic messages to the protagonist, presumably through telepathy, that were perceived as an unsettling, reverberating moan.

In Black Mesa, the Nihilanth, as could be expected at that point in the game, presents a far greater challenge. But it now has fiery eyes that reveal an unquenchable rage, and its mouth is now lined with piranha-sharp teeth. The telepathic messages are still present, but they are now in the form of the guttural growl of a black metal singer trying to sound as intimidating as possible. Hell, it even has a Jabba the Hutt-style chortle.

A bullsquid in Black Mesa.

Closer alignment with traditional archetypes of monsters does not necessarily make a monster more frightening or impactful. Nor does higher production values and detail in its presentation. Consider Forbidden Planet, which presented one of the scariest monsters in cinematic history via nothing but emphatic howling noises and a bunch of red scribbles.

Black Mesa is a highly impressive update of a highly innovative game, making full use of what an advanced engine has to offer while increasing much-needed gameplay and trimming what was unneeded in the original game. It can certainly be recommended to someone who wants to play the Half-Life games in chronological order or the order of their release, unless they’re a purist. But it needs to be considered that perhaps some of the content in the original Half-Life lacked further detail by intention, rather than due to the limits of its technology.

Planck For Everything (Improved)

Two years ago, I posted a proposal for a new system of units based on Planck units rather than more arbitrary measurements. It didn’t exactly pick up any steam, but in retrospect that was for the best. I made a mistake when defining the new units. And it wasn’t because I was thinking too big — it was because I wasn’t thinking big enough.

If we are to adopt a system of units that will really stand the test of time, we will need to abandon conventions of mathematical expressions that are highly likely to become archaic in the near future: Namely, a decimal numeral system. As computers continue to become more integral to human civilization, it becomes increasingly probable that people will switch over to a system that is more compatible with binary, most likely base 8 or 16. An order of magnitude of 4,096 would work with both: It’s 10,000 in octal and 1,000 in hexadecimal.

Thus, we can ensure the new system of measurement will be forward-compatible if it considers 4,096 the new 1,000. To wit:

Length: The Jot

4,0969 Planck lengths (roughly 5.245 millimeters or .2065 inches).

Mass: The Nub

4,0962 Planck mass (roughly 365.15 grams or .805 pounds).

Time: The Tap

4,09612 Planck times (roughly 1.2023 seconds).

Thermodynamic Temperature: The Pin

Where absolute zero is zero pins, and Planck temperature is 4,0969 pins (so water freezes below ~626 pins and boils above ~855 pins).

Amount of Substance: The Cob

The amount of substance of a system which contains as many elementary entities as there are atoms in 1/16 nub of carbon 12 (roughly 1620).

And that’s just the beginning. Even after the derived units get sorted out, we’ll need new prefixes to reflect powers of 4,096 rather than one thousand — so far, we only have “exbi-,” for 1,0246 or 4,0965 — to denote orders of magnitude for these new units in an octal or hexadecimal system. (One exbijot, for example, is approximately 1/5 of a parsec, while one order of magnitude below that [whatever that may be called] is approximately ten astronomical units.)

With those revisions, I believe I have perfected the new system of units, one that will stand the test of time and the advancement of technology. Now, you can really get the word out about these. Good luck!

Planck For Everything

planck_constant_measuring_thingSome news from the always-fascinating world of weights and measures: It seems the object that weighs so close to a kilogram that it’s used as the reference for how much a kilogram weighs no longer weighs a kilogram. It’s only natural that it will lose a molecule here and there over time, so it’s bound to lose a miniscule portion of its weight.

To rectify the situation, scientists will redefine the kilogram as the number of Planck mass that it weighs. They’ll be able to sleep easier at night knowing that the new definition is based on an unchanging constant rather than a chunk of metal subject to the laws of entropy. But why stop there?

It seems to me the scientists weren’t thinking big enough. Wasn’t the necessity of replacing a means of defining a quantity a sign that the quantity itself was arbitrary? Why not create an entirely new system of base units based on the Planck constant?

In the age of quantum computing, the current units by which we measure quantities in our world seem rather outdated. I suggest we replace them with these:

Length: The Jot

One decillion Planck lengths (roughly 16.16 millimeters or .6363 inches).

Mass: The Nub

One million Planck mass (roughly 21.76 grams or .7677 ounces).

Time: The Tap

One tredecillion Planck times (roughly .05391 seconds).

Thermodynamic Temperature: The Pin

Where absolute zero is zero pins, and Planck temperature is one decillion pins (so water freezes below ~1,928 pins and boils above ~2,634 pins).

Amount of Substance: The Cob

The amount of substance of a system which contains as many elementary entities as there are atoms in 1 nub of carbon 12 (roughly one septillion).

Electric Current: The Zip

I don’t have enough expertise in this field to define what this is, but that would be name for it and it would be derived from Planck units.

Luminous Intensity: The Dot

See “Electric Current,” above.

From here, we can create derived units, e.g. for volume (one blip equals one cubic jot, roughly 4.22 cubic centimeters or .86 teaspoons; one chug equals 1,000 blips, roughly 4.22 liters or 1.12 gallons) and velocity (one jolt, meaning jot per tap). We’ll replace everything from the newton to the calorie.

And this system of measurement will eventually spring from the laboratories to the rest of the world. Milk will be sold by the chug and beer by the decichug. Speed limits on the highway will be set at one hundred jolts. Videos will be shot at one frame per tap (two for action-heavy fare). We will finally have a logical and science-based system of measurement to quantify the universe around us for an age in which we start venturing off into the stars.

Of course, every worthy movement must start somewhere, so if you could pass this message along, I’d appreciate it. Thanks in advance.

A possible action to take on mass shootings, and the importance of letting cooler heads prevail

popular_science_brain_scansWhenever there is a mass murder in this country where firearms were used, many politicians will inevitably take to social media to offer “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their community, and many other Americans will just as inevitably criticize them for offering something so useless in the effort to prevent another such mass murder. Thoughts and prayers, everyone can agree, aren’t going to stop the next mass shooter, so what will?

They also balk at the suggestion that it’s the time to mourn, not to start debating over the best method to prevent further attacks. These shootings seem be occurring with greater and greater frequency, so if it becomes verboten to discuss solutions too soon after the shootings, will there be any time when they can be discussed?

It’s understandable that people would be clamoring for ways to stop shooting sprees soon after one occurs, as was the case after the slaughter of elementary school students in my home state of Connecticut and the recent shooting in Florida. If there’s anything that humans are biologically programmed never to take in stride, it’s the deaths of human children. When over a dozen of them are slain at a time, we react with mental anguish, and from that an overpowering desire never to have to experience such anguish again.

But is a time when emotions are boiling over really an ideal climate for reasoned political debate? After senseless death occurs, people overflow with empathy towards the victims and their families. And one thing about empathy to remember is that it cannot be exercised simultaneously with logic.

Does a time when empathy is at its high point really sound like the best time to make decisions on public policy?

If we are to assume that these shooting sprees can be prevented, let’s assess the situation rationally. When many people look over the recent shootings, they notice a common thread: The majority of them were committed using a specific design of gun, the AR-15 assault rifle. Therefore, if the shooters were unable to acquire this AR-15, they would be unable to commit the murders. Therefore, if the AR-15 became illegal to sell or purchase, mass shootings would significantly decrease.

It seems so simple. So obvious. Or at least it does in the heat of the moment, when one is reeling from a mass killing and is desperate for some way to stop them from happening. But perhaps it’s worth the time to assess things further.

What motivates the average spree killer? It’s impossible to give a definitive answer, but it seems as though their goal is to kill as many people as possible. Perhaps it’s to seek fame by any means necessary. Perhaps it’s extreme misanthropy. But whatever the underlying motivation, the fact remains that their immediate objective is to maximize casualties.

Thus the prevalence of AR-15 rifles in these shootings. The AR-15 is the most powerful type of gun that can be legally acquired by civilians in the United States, so of course those preparing for a mass shooting would be drawn to it. Does this mean they would be deterred from committing a shooting if they couldn’t access an AR-15? Of course not. They’d just purchase whatever took its place as the most powerful type of gun. (If one had a dim view of Americans’ capacity to learn from their mistakes, he’d presume there would be a push to criminalize that gun, continuing the cycle.)

Furthermore, the habit of ensuring their gun is procured through legal means might be the MO of a spree killer, but not the overwhelming majority of those who purchase guns with the intent to cause harm with them. If someone wants to commit a mass murder in a twisted bid to make a name for himself, he will want to stick to legal channels when preparing for it, lest he attract the attention of law enforcement before he can commit it. Most criminals, however, have no compunction in breaking laws to acquire guns to be used to break other laws. Making guns illegal would have no impact on those already committed to illegal activity.

So if passing laws to make guns illegal won’t discourage mass shooters, what will? Let’s take another look at their apparent goal: To kill as many people as possible. And what tends to stop mass shooters from continuing to kill people indefinitely? Being confronted by someone else who is also armed.

This explains why mass shooters are drawn to places such as schools: They are crowded areas, full of targets, but where nobody is usually allowed to carry a gun. With no substantial means to defend themselves, the victims have no choice but to run to the nearest room and lock the doors until someone else with a gun arrives on the site.

But what if guns were allowed on the premises in the first place? What if there were a number of firearms throughout the building, that if need be could be accessed by adults who were trained in how to use them? What if this was well-known?

Would such a building still attract a mass shooter? Given that the number of likely fatalities would presumably be significantly diminished in such an attempt, it wouldn’t be nearly as tempting a target.

So that’s the solution that is reached when logic is employed rather than emotions. You may scoff at such an idea, but open-mindedness toward concepts that seem illogical at first blush is the responsibility of those who aim to set policy. And the possibility of an unorthodox solution to be the most (or only) viable one is why it’s necessary to wait until one’s empathy has ebbed and logic can take over.

Why the Men’s Rights Movement?

mockup-fe0f3200Today marks International Men’s Day, a day for societal introspection regarding the current state of the welfare of men and boys. Needless to say, there are a lot of pressing concerns, from high rates of suicide among men to lower lifespans in general to a growing gender gap in academic performance. But as to be expected, plenty of screeching can be found about how in order to tackle these problems, the “patriarchy” must be dismantled first.

As I’ve noted before, feminists have trouble recognizing when double standards hurt men more than women. Perhaps the narrative with which they’re familiar causes them to see things through such a distorted lens. All differences in which the genders are treated by life society are due to a vast patriarchy designed to oppress women; any evidence of men having it worse off is due to unintended consequences of the patriarchy’s actions.

For those of you fortunate enough never to have heard of a blog called “Shakesville,” here is a rather revealing piece about an ugly incident. A man was murdered by another man who was recently hit by a woman. His assailant refused to strike a woman, even the one who struck him first, so he vowed to attack the next man he saw instead. The column is titled “Today in Misogyny.”

A woman hits a man. Said man does not retaliate against her, as he was raised never to hit a woman. A man is attacked, and killed, in her stead. According to Shakesville, this serves as an example of sexism… against women. And this is the same site that has mocked the idea of a men’s rights movement. How exactly can one’s personal mindset become so hideously warped?

Their insistence that a men’s rights movement is unnecessary seems to be this: The goal of feminism is gender equality. If the goal of the MRAs were really gender equality as well, they would simply become feminists. Their refusal to do so is proof that their goal is not gender equality at all, and must be something else — presumably a patriarchal society.

So what sort of campaigns for equality can masculists look forward to by being welcomed into the folds of feminism? How about something such as the incredibly high rate of incarceration of men when compared to women? Surely the feminists are up in arms over such a gender gap?

Not really. I’ve never heard of any self-professed feminist declare that the discrepancy in male and female incarceration rates are a problem.

Well, perhaps that’s understandable. Surely it’s self-evident that men are different than women in ways that mean they are more likely to break the law. Men take bigger risks, are more prone to violent behavior. So it’s understandable that their greater rate of imprisonment is due to natural differences in gender rather than any issue that can be solved with a change of policy, right?

So let’s look at something that does raise the ire of the mainstream feminist movement: The gender gap in regards to salary. Conventional wisdom holds that for every dollar a man earns, his female counterpart only earns about 75 to 80 cents.

Well, “counterpart” may not be the right word. The statistic doesn’t take into account the fact that women and men tend to work different jobs. Men work more hours in higher-paying jobs, and women tend to favor careers that are less demanding with a salary that reflects that.

Not that feminists are assuaged by such an explanation, however. Why are men and women drawn to different careers in the first place? One theory holds that the omnipresent patriarchy has instilled a set of gender roles in people. Women are not as ambitious in seeking high-paid jobs because they’ve been conditioned to think of themselves as the homemakers and men as the breadwinners. Therefore, say the feminists, the gender pay gap is a problem, even if it doesn’t take such factors as different career paths among the genders into account.

And so, one of the main current goals of the feminist movement is to force companies to hire women through mandatory quotas. As a majority male board of executives in a company must be an indicator of sexist hiring practices rather than a majority of men seeking and qualifying for such positions, the only fair thing to do is to force the companies to hire more women.

(It’s interesting to note, however, that when feminists speak of hiring quotas, they’re always referring to quotas for positions in boardrooms, rather than, say, sewers or oil rigs. They seem to lack any interest in changing the workplace fatality gap, which is far more glaring than the pay gap. But I digress…)

But… Wait.

There seems to be a conflict in this line of thinking. We’ve already dismissed the incarceration gap as rooted in biological differences between men and women. So why can’t sexual dimorphism explain the pay gap as well? What if whatever drives men to commit more crime also drives them to earn more money? Why is the feminist movement demanding that laws be passed to force the closing of one gap but not the other?

(It’s worth noting, though, that even aside from men committing more crime, women still receive more lenient sentences when committing the same crime as men. Unlike the pay gap, the imprisonment gap doesn’t significantly diminish when accounting for other variables… And the pay gap is still regarded as a more pressing problem. But again, I digress…)

It would seem that the feminist movement isn’t as steadfastly determined to fight for men’s rights as those insisting that MRAs should be feminists would have us believe.

But I am reasonable. I am perfectly willing to accept this modern feminism as legitimate. All I ask is that feminists do at least one of the following:

• Lead a campaign to instill quotas for the percentage of female prisoners, urging stricter sentences for female offenders and even demanding that male prisoners be released if necessary;

• Abandon their calls for gender quotas and efforts to close the “gender pay gap,” instead letting the chips fall where they may in terms of who is hired for which job and how much salary they receive, and give equal attention to the issues facing men;

• Cease all claims that their brand of feminism is also beneficial to men, and allow separate men’s rights movements to continue unabated with no further hindrance on their part;

• Provide a logically sound, highly compelling explanation as to why they will not do any of the above.

I think that’s more than fair. Until that happens, I will proudly call myself a men’s rights advocate and refuse to apologize for being one.

What Makes a Movie Remain Scary

Source: https://moviesandsongs365.blogspot.com/2011/06/movie-of-week-eraserhead-1977.htmlDespite implied promises that the installment before this one would be the last, there’s yet another Saw movie out. I can understand to some extent why audiences find them entertaining, and perhaps even scary. But if the movies do manage to scare people, it’s not as if they deserve any accolades for doing so.

By releasing so many entries in the series, the Saw franchise has essentially admitted that not much effort is needed to frighten the viewer in the manner they’ve devised. The formula is fairly simple: Show a victim trapped in a room who will soon be killed unless they manage to survive through means that will cause them great pain or mental anguish. Sure, it’s scary when the viewer thinks “What if that was me,” but it’s a fairly obvious means of frightening someone, and the filmmakers aren’t demonstrating a great deal of talent. Anyone could devise one of Jigsaw’s games given an hour’s time.

There’s a difference between a movie that is scary when it’s seen and a movie that remains scary afterward. Exceedingly few films have succeeded in generating fear long after they’re over. I’ve been left queasy after a movie is finished because of its implications for the future of its characters and society as a whole, as was the case with Larry Clark’s Kids, but very rarely frightened for my own sake.

Former Tom Servo Kevin Murphy, in his book A Year at the Movies, describes the criteria for a film to be genuinely horrifying:

To genuinely evoke fear, a movie can’t simply address our fears, it has to dig them out of where we hide them, in our subconscious. Find a filmmaker who can draw from our subconscious and show it to us, and you have a true master of horror.

Given this definition of a true horror film, it’s no surprise that he goes on to name David Lynch’s Eraserhead as the most horrifying movie he’s seen. The premise of Eraserhead — as best I can understand it, anyway — is that a young man discovers that he’s fathered an illegitimate child with his girlfriend, and is now expected to take care of it as any father would. And the baby in question has… something wrong with it.

I’ve read about a common archetype of a monster being an entity that is human in most respects, but is still not quite right, dipping into the “uncanny valley.” Eraserhead exaggerates this trope with the baby, which given the shape of its head is suggestive of something cute and infantile, but sweet Jesus is that thing NOT an infant and it sure as hell is NOT cute. It channels our innermost instincts to care for and protect anything that resembles a human child and then vomits them up right in our faces by showing itself to be repulsive upon closer inspection. It’s the same reason we are put off by pictures of dolls that have been abandoned and subjected to the elements.

Murphy writes of Eraserhead: “David Lynch has managed to do what few other filmmakers can accomplish: to present on film a dream, or in this case a nightmare.” Through the medium of a film presented through the filter of “dream logic,” Lynch portrays the fear inherent in the newfound responsibilities of parenthood.

But while the revolutionary means of storytelling establish Eraserhead as a cinematic milestone, it did not strike me as especially horrifying. I suppose it would have a far greater impact on me if I saw it as an expectant father, just as I’d be frightened by Rosemary’s Baby. But other movies have certainly succeeded where others have failed, with one outstanding example.

The movie that scared me the most is one that I’ve never seen described by anyone else as one that scared them. Actually, compared to the likes of The Exorcist and Eraserhead, I’ve hardly seen it discussed at all. It’s Sisters, one of the early efforts of Brian De Palma. (You may not recognize his name, but you’ve almost certainly seen at least one of his movies.) The plot concerns a pair of conjoined twins that have since been surgically separated… Oh yes, and one is evil.

Granted, the premise may not exactly be anything too groundbreaking, but that wasn’t the aspect of the film that I found so frightening. I was most scared by two scenes toward the end that had little to do with the conjoined-twins plot. Nobody was killed in these scenes, nor even a single drop of blood spilled.

(Of course, to explain why these scenes are scary, which I’ll now proceed to do, would entail spoiling the ending. Read further at your own discretion.)

The protagonist of the movie is a reporter, notable for her columns critical of law enforcement, who witnesses a murder at the hands of the presumably evil twin. As the police are wary of her given her body of work, they are incredulous of her claims, and it falls on her to solve the crime herself with the help of a private investigator. Not that she displays a great deal of competence in contrast to the cops: Right after the murder is committed, she finds a cake wishing two people a happy birthday, proving her claim of twin sisters rather than an individual living in the apartment. She brings the evidence to the detective… And then trips, dropping the cake and smearing the frosting.

Her leads eventually lead her to a mental hospital, which employs the murderer’s accomplice and ex-husband as a doctor. She’s then found, however, by another staff member, and said doctor explains that she’s a patient who has delusions of being a reporter. She refutes that she really is who she claims to be, which can be proven by her ID… which she left in her car. After a few minutes of being condescended to by the staff member and her desperation growing, another of them arrives with a needle. The reporter screams for help to no avail.

After being sedated, the reporter is then subjected to hypnosis by the doctor, who repeats that the murder she witnessed didn’t actually occur. By the end of the film, he too falls victim to the murderer, drawing the attention of the police, who now have reason to believe the reporter’s story. So the previously incredulous detective sits her down and invites her to reiterate her story…

…Which goes nowhere, as she’s been successfully brainwashed by the doctor and can only repeatedly insist that the whole thing was a ridiculous mistake. And unless the private eye can actually come up with something, the murder will be unsolved forever. The end.

So there are the two scenes that scared me, the one where the reporter tries fruitlessly to prove her identity and the one where she demonstrates herself to be brainwashed. And while I found them both frightening, they were frightening for different reasons.

The first scene was a classic example of the protagonist as audience surrogate becoming trapped and helpless, in the same vein as Jigsaw’s victims. But there are some key differences here. The most obvious is that the audience has followed the reporter’s plight for a while now and has had time to establish rapport with her, so they can relate to her more than someone who is introduced to them already chained up in a filthy bathroom. The other may be connected to the aforementioned monster archetype.

The Eraserhead baby was far scarier than the Blob or Mothra because it was not something so exaggerated as to be unrelatable. It started out as something to be nurtured and not feared, and then corrupted. Likewise, the asylum scene in Sisters was not a situation as outlandish as finding yourself needing to gouge out your own eyeball in order to survive. It was a logical escalation of the film’s conflict, and it bore some resemblance to commonplace, everyday arguments with with most audience members would be familiar.

It was all too easy to imagine myself in the reporter’s situation, surrounded by people whose trust was gained by my enemy rather than me. And like the reporter’s previous incident with the cake, her having left her ID in her car was her own fault that she could easily have avoided, thus adding another layer of irony. If only she’d brought it with her…

It wasn’t just the set-up of the scene, either: Its pacing and staging built perfectly to its conclusion. As it plays out, the viewer slowly and steadily comes to the realization that the woman is completely screwed.

I have never been kidnapped by a sadistic madman or a serial killer. I have, however, been antagonized by people who wield some degree of authority. I could easily envision myself falling victim to an authority figure who managed to outwit me, and his pawns who thought they were doing what was right. The believability of the scene enabled it to bore into me like few movies could.

The scene where the reporter shows herself to be hypnotized showcases a scenario that is truly terrifying: What if, under outside influence, one can be betrayed by their own mind? What if the very tool that is used to perceive and store information about the world around them can become someone else’s plaything? What if we can no longer trust our own memories? It’s classic paranoia fuel, and the only consolation is that the concept is simply a Hollywood fiction that can’t be reproduced in reality… Oh, shit.

That’s why Sisters was the film I’ve seen that I found the scariest. (It’s also one of the reasons I consider De Palma to be an accomplished filmmaker — call him a shameless plagiarist of Hitchcock if you want, but the fact remains that Sisters frightened me more than Psycho and The Birds combined.) I realize that doesn’t mean it’s the scariest film I’ve seen, of course. Every audience member is different, and the task falls to the storyteller to figure out which parts of their psyche will recoil when prodded.

Happy Halloween…

Election 2016: Double Standards on Parade

I remember when I was a boy of about ten years. Multiple women at least thrice my age called me “cute” or “handsome.” Two women kissed me without my consent, with one going so far as to grab me and force me towards her. My parents even claimed that one of my female teachers had “a crush” on me. And I was a very shy child — I have no idea how women would see fit to treat me if I was more outgoing. Nor, for that matter, do I have any idea how people would react if I was a ten-year-old girl and a man I barely knew forcefully pulled me towards him and kissed me.

Women discuss groping men without their consent all the the time. Sometimes, they even go through with it, possibly because they realize how unlikely it is that they’ll face repercussions. A woman molested a sports star in public, and no one seemed to care.

Now it’s been revealed that Donald Trump has been acting in much the same way those women have, and he’s facing serious scrutiny. I’d be lying if I said I was shocked.

A Primer on Pills

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So there’s this new documentary out called The Red Pill. It’s from the point of view of a feminist who starts researching the men’s rights movement, and gradually starts to realize the movement may be in the right. Thus the film’s title: She “took the red pill,” or at least she did from the point of view of a men’s rights advocate.

The phrases “red pill” and “blue pill” have seen an upswing in use as of late, and they’re often associated with certain social and political movements. But given the potential of the expression, it shouldn’t be tied down to any one specific mindset.

The terminology of red and blue pills originates from the hit 1999 cyberpunk sci-fi movie The Matrix, written and directed by the Wachowski… Well, let’s just call them the Wachowskis. It may seem odd for a motion picture to serve as inspiration for an idiom, but it’s hardly unheard of: You may have heard that someone who abandoned their moral principles in their pursuit of wealth or prestige has “gone to the dark side of the Force.”

On the off chance you haven’t seen The Matrix, here’s a recap of the relevant details with spoilers minimized as best I could. Keanu Reeves stars as office drone Thomas Anderson, though he prefers to use his hacker moniker “Neo.” Neo has been getting subconscious urges to seek a mysterious figure known as Morpheus. When the two finally meet, Morpheus compares Neo to Alice on the brink of the rabbit hole, and offers to show him “the truth” about something known as the Matrix. He presents Neo with two pills, one red and one blue, and offers him a choice:

You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

It wouldn’t be much of a movie if Neo took the blue pill. After ingesting the red pill, Neo is shown the shocking, devastating truth about his entire life: It was a complete lie.

It was a computer simulation the whole time, to keep his mind occupied and unable to see the world for what it really is. Nearly everyone he knew was also trapped in the Matrix, created by sentient machines to harvest humans’ body electricity. (So why, you ask, do the machines bother farming humans and setting up this simulated reality to use their body electricity for energy, instead of just burning whatever they’re feeding them for fuel directly? Well, that will have to be a story for a different time.)

Morpheus introduces Neo to others on his team, most of them former Matrix inhabitants who have presumably taken the red pill themselves. They live a rather miserable life, manning a futuristic hovercraft and roaming a wasteland devastated by the war between man and machine that machine won. Their mission is to “unplug” more people from the Matrix and give them the red pill, so they too will be awakened and realize the truth about the world. But Morpheus explains this will not be easy:

The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.

It would seem that not everyone would be open to the idea of leaving the reality to which they have grown accustomed and start exploring the real world. In fact, not all those who have already been unplugged are satisfied with their choice. One of Neo’s shipmates confides in him that he wishes he took the blue pill. He’s aware that he would be living a lie if that were the case, but at least he wouldn’t be stuck in a vast dystopia eating food of dubious origin on a tiny ship. “Ignorance is bliss,” he moans as he savors a bite of juicy steak that by his own admission is really nothing more than a few lines of code.

Such is the choice to be made by the inhabitants of the Matrix. Do they take the red pill and learn the bitter reality of the world around them? Or do they take the blue pill, and remain in a comfortable dream world, avoiding unpleasant truths at the cost of their own freedom?

That dilemma is central to the expressions regarding red and blue pills. When you are offered the chance to see the world for what it really is, do you accept, and risk facing unpalatable realities, but gain enlightenment and the ability to improve the world? Or do you refuse, and continue to live a life that is fake but comforting, being part of the problem as you allow the state of the real world to stagnate?

It is rather obvious that this allegory feels relevant to those who believe the common consensus about society does not reflect the actual state of it. It’s especially useful when the speaker believes that people believe falsehoods about their reality because they have been brainwashed by a malevolent, powerful force, and the truth is difficult to take in and handle.

Therefore, to “take the red pill” is to accept the knowledge of how the world really is and how it functions. To “take the blue pill” is to be offered a chance at the truth, but to refuse, as they are so helplessly lost in lies that they refuse to consider they have been lied to, or they prefer a comforting lie to an inconvenient truth.

Here are some ways the terminology of pills can be used:

“James has suddenly started questioning the effectiveness of the 12-step program the court ordered him into. He must have taken the red pill.”

“Of course it’s in the Rothschilds’ best interests that everyone keep taking the blue pill.”

“I didn’t really consider the possibility that Jews control the banks and the media until I took the red pill.”

“Don’t send your kids to public school — they’ll be force-fed the blue pill every day they’re there.”

“A redpilled group on campus is challenging the gender studies majors who claim that gender is just a social construct.”

“Bonnie still refuses to read about how the world is really run by a cabal of humanoid lizards. She really must have swallowed that blue pill hard.”

The speakers in each of these situations may or may not be correct in terms of these statements, but they are using the expression of red and blue pills correctly in the context of their beliefs.

The same cannot be said of some I’ve seen using these sayings. The most glaring error is attempting to adopt the action of taking the blue pill as a badge of pride: “I’m glad I took the blue pill.” This makes no sense, just as you would not say, “Well, I guess ‘not being the sharpest knife in the drawer’ must be a good thing!” If someone accuses you of taking the blue pill, the proper counterargument is that the pill allegory does not apply to the topic at hand, or that it is in fact they who have taken the blue pill.

So there you have it. The allegory of pills can be useful when discussing matters of censorship and unpleasant truths. Just don’t assign the idiom to any specific movement.

Also, if you really haven’t seen The Matrix, you should. But do yourself a favor and take the blue pill — pretend the sequels don’t exist.

I now have my own blog! Careful now, you only have two wishes left.