Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Kong

I’ve been watching kaiju movies lately, and Kong: Skull Island is my favorite of the current crop for 2017.

This flick was absolutely goddamn spectacular, and is now my favorite Kong movie. I love it so much that I’m not even going to write much about it here–I don’t want to spoil it for you.

By far the best kaiju movie I’ve seen since Cloverfield. Some of the scenes of kaiju vs. kaiju and kaiju vs. humans were absolutely horrific and cinematically amazing.

Kong-GUnpei

Unexpected moments of pure squee!? Those two golden minutes starring Miyavi as Gunpei Ikari in World War II. I spazzed when I saw him in the credits, because I already thought he was an amazing musician. (There was a period of two years where I couldn’t make a single music mix without “Are You Ready to Rock?” on it.)

Also cool that the bulk of the film was a Vietnam War period piece. I love seeing movies with soldier characters from that era, because they remind me happily of my mother’s friends when I was growing up.

*P.S. If you see it, wait for the schwarma after the credits. It’s cool.

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No More Spirit Animals

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Tonight at sundown, “Walpurgis Night” or “Hexennacht” begins. The evening of April 30th through the daylight of May 1st is a traditional pagan holiday in Europe, a turning point of the transition from spring to summer. It’s analogous to Halloween/All Saint’s Day in the autumn months, a day when the veil between our world and the worlds beyond is thin.

In Ireland, the holiday had a Gaelic name, Là Bealltainn, and many modern American neo-pagans call this celebration Beltane nowadays. Personally, I’m good with whatever people call it. In ancient times this was the day that the cattle were driven out into their summer pastures. Bonfires were lit across Europe and rituals of protection and prosperity were performed, as people celebrated the beginning of the warm months and prayed for a fruitful season.

In modern times, there are still some lingering celebrations of this holiday throughout Northern Europe, and it has also been repatriated by Leftists and anarchists as a celebration of Revolutionary ideals. However you celebrate the First of May, there’s usually booze and fire, speeches and rituals, and there’s the lingering knowledge that this day is about…life, and summer (and possibly resistance).

Which is good.

I have celebrated this day in various ways for the last 30 years. Today, I thought I would try celebrating it with a quick essay about cultural appropriation among modern white neopagans. For the past hundred and fifty years, there has been a rising movement of European and American people trying to reclaim or reconstruct the lost spiritual heritage of pre-Christian Europe. “Neopaganism” is at core a heritage movement, and it springs from an incredibly rich and diverse history of beliefs and practices which began in the Paleolithic and evolved continuously until Late Antiquity.

It’s no accident that this spiritual movement began in earnest after the Renaissance and the Enlightenment had restored a great many images and ideas from Classical Greece and Rome…and around the same time that Deep Time, the science of archaeology and the Theory of Evolution dealt death blows to the power of the Church in public life. People throughout Europe stumbled onto the iconography of their ancestors at a time when the choke-hold of Christianity was weakening.

When they first encountered this iconography, some people felt a deep answering thrum of response. Many of us still do.

Along with this deep resonance there comes longing, and not a small amount of melancholy. Neopaganism among white people is, in many respects, an act of defiance and repudiation, a gesture of mingled love and fury.

Imagine a child who is raised to adulthood by people who murdered her parents. As an adult, she discovers the truth and begins trying to reconstruct her heritage. She has nothing to go on but a torn photograph, a handful of bones and buttons, a few pages left from family journals. Everything else is lost.

I think it’s natural to reconstruct your identity from a tissue of longing, imagination, and present knowledge. If the image of your mother’s face is ripped in half and you can only see her eyes, which are the same shape and color as yours, you imagine that she looked exactly like you. If your image of your father is fuzzy, you squint and say that you can clearly see that inherited his skin tone, his curly hair.

What’s less forgivable is to leave your search for your heritage–the evidence, the longing, the gaps filled in by your  imagination–and start stealing your sense of self from others.

I’ve already been uncomfortable with the use of the phrase “spirit animal” by white people for a few years–as of now I’m axing it completely. I’m also not going to use the word “totem” anymore to try to explain a spiritual affiliation between human beings and elements of the natural world, in my religious framework.

“Totem” and “spirit animal” are essentially the same term. The only difference is that the word “totem” was stolen from the Ojibwe people by anthropologists in the 1850’s, and “spirit animal” is a modern translation of the same mispronounced word which has been appropriated by New Age authors. White people usually use the word to describe a personal relationship with a non-human force of Nature.

This is not at all in keeping with the Ojibwe use of the term. Ojibwe totems are part of a social/kinship system that unites people into a clan. It’s an important part of  Ojibwe identity; it’s one of the ways you introduce yourself to other people.

Upshot is? White people cannot have a “spirit animal” or a “totem”. Unless they happen to be a white-passing Ojibwe.

They might have a daemon, as described in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy: a mystical partner which is the animal embodiment of one’s inner self. If you use that terminology, mine would be the timber wolf. A lot of non-pagans claim that their version of this is Samuel L. Jackson, Ru Paul, or a honey badger. As long as they don’t call it a “spirit animal”, they’re welcome to make all the jokes they want about their inner selves. No one cares.

White people might have a patronus, as described in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series: a manifestation of the soul’s capacity for joy and emotional resilience which takes the shape of an animal. If you use that terminology, mine would be the otter. Yours might be Winnie The Pooh, or a tiny tortoise eating a strawberry.

Tiny tortoise eating a strawberry is a perfectly acceptable patronus.

Or maybe this monkey in a tank.

Or maybe this chimpanzee in a tank.

White people might have a charge, a heraldic symbol which has personal meaning to their family line, and could reasonably be incorporated into a coat-of-arms that represents the House or Family that they belong to. This is an ancient European tradition and people of European descent are entitled to use it–it’s certainly  the closest thing that Europeans have to the totems of the Ojibwe. My last name, Dembo, actually means “place of the oaks” in Lithuanian. My ex-husband had a Latvian name meaning “Skylark”. If we had made a coat-of-arms for our household, those would have been the two best symbols to incorporate into it.

White people might also have a tutelary deity, a powerful animal Mentor  or Teacher who is often the center of a myth cycle. A tutelary deity is a guide, a hero, an inspiration. He or she offers both children and adults a series of valuable life lessons through his/her mythic adventures.

As an American, mine is probably Bugs Bunny.

Or possibly this version of Corduroy.

Or possibly this version of Corduroy.

I’m sure you get my drift here. The upshot is that it’s time for to stop trying to rebuild the holes in a tattered cloak from ideas and symbols that were ripped away from other societies. The indigenous people of North and South America, Africa, Asia and Australia have been suffering the same onslaught that was first used–very successfully–against the peoples of the Mediterranean basin, North Africa and Europe.

On a serious note, I don’t want to add to their pain.

I can’t regain my lost family by kidnapping the Grandmother of the family down the street and forcing Her at gunpoint to bake me cookies. I can’t kindle the warmth of parental nurture by making some other child an orphan. All I can do is comb the cold ashes of my own heritage to find the remaining threads of evidence and tradition, and re-weave them into something new.

My ancestry is Proto-Indo-European–Lithuanian, Germanic, British Isles and Romany–as well as Jewish. My culture is North American geek culture.

No more spirit animals for me.

 

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The Healing Power of Suck

A word about the healing power of sucking at something.

I went to karaoke tonight with the full intention of singing less than perfectly. I deliberately picked out a few songs I loved, but had never tried to sing outside of a shower. Then I chose one at random and turned in the slip.

And I tried it. And flubbed some lines and notes.

And the world did not come to an end.

Then an old lady in sunglasses asked me to come onstage and help her sing “Desperado”, the Eagles song. I don’t know ANY Eagles songs. I’m literally reading it off the prompter and trying to recall vaguely how it goes from a half-remembered radio playing Easy Listening Hits in a dentist’s office.

We sucked so badly that the DJ actually stopped the song–this has never happened to me in karaoke!–and restarted it in a different key.

So then we sucked in a different key.

And the world did not come to an end.

It was great.

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It takes enormous faith…

It takes enormous faith in humankind to be continually disappointed by people.

Personally, I’m pleasantly surprised if most people can get through the day without resorting to cannibalism.

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Norwescon – April 16, 2017

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My 1:00 pm panel today was on Video Game Art. But it was Easter Sunday, and only 3 people showed! So we decided to rebel a little. Veteran artist Brian Snoddy and I invited the audience up to our table, and they all pulled their chairs around to chat. We basically spent the whole hour sharing our concept art, talking about work, and hanging out.

Was kinda awesome.

And my final panel of Norwescon 40 was not actually a panel! It was a podcast, live recorded for the audience.

Ogre Whiteside, Phil Brucato and I were guests of the Game Master’s Manifesto podcast, having a round table discussion of the principle called Fonzie’s Razor:

“All things being equal, the coolest answer is the correct one.”

A splendid time was had by all. In general, Norwescon was a fantastic convention this year. My team-mates at Kerberos collected some great feedback from the playtesters of the new board games in development, I met lots of fantastic creators and fans, and I really appreciated all the people who came up to me later to get free downloads of my indie games, or tell me that they appreciated my thoughts.

It’s good to get out and be social once in a while.

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Norwescon – April 15, 2017

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People are continuing to playtest our new board games at Norwescon 40. 😀

Great gamers, great feedback. Many thanks to everyone who turned out to play The Pit and Control!

Kerberos Intern Caidence Stone helps new players get adjusted to The Pit. While wearing her Magfest 2016 Crown!

Kerberos Programmer/Intern Caidence Stone helps new players get adjusted to The Pit. While wearing her Magfest 2016 Crown!

Started my day at a rollicking Video Game panel with Donna Prior, Veronica Hamilton and moderator Johnny Nero, Action Hero.

It was a good conversation about what we’re playing, what games we’ve made, why you can never get the latest Nintendo device when you want it, what games are worth in terms of time and money, and how to be a supportive and responsible gamer and fan.

Quality audience contributions, too. Love gamers. 🙂

My last two horror panels at Norwescon 40 were also excellent!

Evan Peterson led a fantastic discussion of religious tropes and iconography in horror with Tegan Moore and a very intense, quietly thoughtful audience. The panel was called “Fear of God(s)”, and there was a surprising intensity to the mood in the room. I guess the Easter/Passover connection a little hard to set aside?

My last horror panel was “A Wolf in the Fold”, a discussion of shapeshifter myths and werewolf tropes in modern horror. Alex C. Renwick and Julie McGalliard had a lot of interesting folkloric tidbits that I’d never heard of, particularly from Cajun country and the Caribbean.

Grateful as always to participate in great programming. Many thanks to the Horror track lead Nathan Crowder for giving us such interesting topics this year.

From this point on, the convention is all about games and ancient history–and there’s a lot to say.

Sparks flew at the Games As Art panel. Moderator and artist Lee Moyer with me on one side, arguing that games are Art BECAUSE DUH and ex-Blizzard heavyweight Alex Irvine on the other side, arguing that games are in fact NOT Art and shouldn’t have to be.

(Game designer David Fooden keeping his head down and talking about his new game Yukon Salon when the dust cleared.)

RAAAR ART FOREVAH…

My last panel of the day was Slavery in the Ancient and Medieval World. Alan Andrist, Peter Fuller and special guest star Victoria Whitlock talked about slavery as an ancient and modern institution, from Roman times through the Viking era and into colonial times. Tough subject, but covered a lot of useful territory. I hope the audience enjoyed it.

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Standing Up To The Mob

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Summary Notes from the Standing Up to the Mob panel.  This was a discussion at Norwescon 40, with Cat Rambo, the current President of the Science Fiction Writers of America, Michelle Mickey Schulz, the Editor/Publisher of Geek Girls Rule!, veteran cosplayer Torrey Stenmark and fan fiction maven Minim Calibre.

Going by memory, I would say that these were the highlights and generally agreed-upon conclusions:

1. All women who are visible and active as creators and critics in fandom and tech are targeted for hatred, harassment, and erasure. Do not deny this fact, do not disbelieve their reports, and do not equivocate any experience you’ve had as a Dude Creator with what women are getting. It’s not equivalent. And never will be.

2. The purpose of a lot of the on-line harassment that women receive is to overwhelm and silence the victim.

For this reason, if you’re trying to engage and “draw fire” for a woman on-line, you need to actually behave as if you’re tanking a Monster that has an AoE attack. Get AWAY from the intended victim. Remove the tags that link her to the conversation, get her out of the loop, do not drag her back into the fire.

3. During a hate blitz, offer whatever help or support a woman asks for. BY FAR THE MOST IMPORTANT GESTURE YOU CAN MAKE IS FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR HER WORK. Beyond that, you can offer to handle her email for a while, and just deal with the death and rape threats so that she doesn’t have to. This method worked for Mickey Schultz when she was being barraged by psychotic fans of a famous web comic; it had the additional benefit of giving her husband much deeper empathy, not only for her but for all women in fandom.

[3a. “Taking a Break” from on-line interaction is a completely valid way to decompress and exercise self-care as a female creator or critic. You are allowed to leave the party at any time.]

4. A little extra vigilance in what you share as a female creator in production or fandom, in terms of on-line information, can be helpful to avoid being a priority target for doxxing. Some women have had their names removed from a company directory at work, some avoid mentioning their children, pets or partners on-line, etc..

Your safety is more important than sharing every aspect of your life.

5. Do your best as an ally to hire, support and create safe and sane work environments for women.

Do not allow misogynistic hate speech on your company channels and forums and in the comment section of articles on your website. Delete that stuff with a mighty “hammer of loving correction”.

Protect your employees and female guests who are interviewed or contribute content to your feed.

Hold male creators ACCOUNTABLE for failing to deal with their toxic male fans, as well.

6. The community’s actions to deal with serial harassers, creepers and sexual predators is VERY important. Raise and uphold community standards in every social space you occupy.

Don’t just warn people about the Missing Stairs. Fix the stairs and make it as safe as you can.

Please feel free to share. If you were there at the panel and I’ve forgotten anything important, please mention it in the comments.

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Norwescon – April 14, 2017

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Woot! My team is at Norwescon this weekend play-testing our new board games, The Pit and Control! Come on up to Maxxi’s or down to Evergreen 1 & 2 to throw some dice and kill some monsters.

You know you wanna. 😉

Martin Cirulis clarifying a rule for the play-test volunteers in Maxxi's Ballroom.

Martin Cirulis clarifying a rule for the play-test volunteers in Maxxi’s Ballroom.

 

Had a great panel today on “Standing Up to the Mob”, with Cat Rambo, Michelle Mickey Schulz, Torrey Stenmark and Minim Calibre. Good overview of the necessary skills and knowledge for people who want to support the women working in various industries in fandom. It was a good enough discussion that I will make a separate post to compile my notes about what was said.

[Note: I realized half-way through this panel that I had been swearing continually for 30 minutes. Sorry about the language, folks. This is a subject that makes me really angry.]

Also perversely enjoyed my history panel on The Evolution of the Secret State Police. Very intense, detail-rich discussion with a powerhouse panel: History Track lead Bill Gruner, intelligence expert Bart Kemper, and author/criminal justice lawyer Frog Jones! We covered a lot of ground and discussed police and espionage traditions from Roman Antiquity to the Pinkertons, FBI, Stasi, KGB etc.. (Plus there was bourbon.)

Last panel of the day was a late night rap session on The Social Responsibility of Horror with hardcore horror aficionados Morgue Anne Morrighan and Jason Bourget.

We talked about Lovecraft, sharks, isolation, mental institutions and “asylum horror”, “female hysteria” and how the things (and people) we are encouraged to fear are often targeted for violence.

It was a good discussion and a good crowd, especially so late at night!

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Norwescon 40 – April 13, 2017

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Just finished my first panel of the convention, “Let’s Design A Monster”, and it was really a gas. Ogre Whiteside and Dylan Templar and I worked with a fantastic audience and whipped up four really horrifying monster concepts. I liked at least two of them well enough to want to write brief, skin-crawling little stories about them–that’s rare for me!

I love throwing out an idea to the audience and seeing people visibly shudder and rub the goosebumps off their arms. Still got it.

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Train to Busan (2016)

Train-to-Busan

I’m not going to ruin this movie for you. I loathe spoilers in general, and I loathe spoilers of really good films in particular.

I will simply say that this is the best zombie movie I have ever seen. It may in fact be the best zombie movie ever made, although I can’t claim to have seen them all.

It is certainly the only film I’ve ever seen which seriously rivals the original Night of the Living Dead in quality and relevance. I include the entire directorial career of George Romero post 1968 in that estimation, to put things in context–in my opinion he has never made a better film than the original NotLD, and neither had anyone else–until Train to Busan.

I may write more about this film later, possibly in a post that’s clearly labeled with spoilers. For now, I just want to deliver the simple message: this movie is on Netflix now. You should see it.

 

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