Thursday, April 28, 2011

Massacres and More!

     Way back in January, I mentioned a book called the Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2010.  My favorite story in the collection was called Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre by Seth Fried and reading it brought me to order his first collection of short stories The Great Frustration.  Mr. Fried has a talent for mixing a laconic voice with deeply disturbing (in the best possible way) material and his overtly amusing subject matter masks a much darker commentary.
     In addition to Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre (a town returns year after year to a picnic that proves consistently disastrous), some real standouts in the collection are The Frenchman, about how the indiscretions of childhood stick with us, and Misery of the Conquistador, told in the lament of a gold-hunting conqueror but featuring a merciless commentary on our capitalist socio-economic structure. 
     Incidentally, Mr. Fried also has a highly entertaining website, which you can check out here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Podcast Interview

     Matthew Moffett asked me some smart questions about Those That Wake for his regular podcast at the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) website.  You can hear the interview here.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Carbonated Beverage of Tyrants

     When I was a kid one of the things I enjoyed most about traveling with my parents, was seeing the culture of other countries as depicted in their the media, their advertisements, their products.  One thing that was available in many other countries but not in the United States (at least not when I was younger) was the soft drink Fanta.  I remember those bright orange Fanta swooshes hanging outside of stores along unfamiliar streets and my young palate would tingle at the idea of an orange Fanta.
     So, here's what I've learned about Fanta since then.  Back during the build up to World War II, the Coca Cola Company was finding it difficult to get their product into Germany, both for logistical and political reasons.  Losing those sales would have been a huge blow to Coke's profit margin, so a new soda was developed to market in what quickly became Nazi Germany.  Coke could keep their profits but wouldn't have a great American product associated with a such an undesirable quantity.  The drink: Fanta.  One more warm memory of childhood blown to smithereens.
     That, of course, is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to media manipulation.  Don't even get me started on the Betty Crocker story.  It's hard these days to pick up a product, to see an ad or a TV show or a movie without wondering what you're being sold that you're not even aware of.
    So there's something fun to think about.  If the subject interests you, allow me to recommend and fantastic documentary called The Century of the Self, which is all about how corporations adopted psychological theory to help them present a palatable, inviting messages (and, incidentally, contains both the Fanta story and the Betty Crocker story).  Now what is the documentary trying to sell me that I'm not aware of?  I'm not sure, but I think I'd like it better than the other stuff.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Horror of Ideas

     When I saw the original Japanese Ringu, it scared the living hell outta me.  I don't scare easily in movies.  It takes something deeply and existentially disturbing to get to me -- it has to be the idea that scares me rather than merely the image or the situation.  The American version, The Ring?  I found it to be well-made and well-acted, but not particularly scary. 
     I find, in fact, that by and large foreign horror movies and stories (particularly but not exclusively Asian ones) are far more effective than American ones.  It strikes me that foreign films/stories deal in archetypes and iconography from their own cultures and thus feel unfamiliar to me, which helps to build a sense of disturbance and discomfort.  Asian countries, of course, have non-European-based cultures, so their symbols feel that much more unfamiliar to me.  At the same time, their seems to be a willingness in many other societies to use horror to deal with challenging and truly disturbing ideas that American purveyors tend not to traffic in.  Why is that?  Well, I'll save my theories on that for another post.  And I don't mean to say that there's no good American horror out there.  Far from it.  Try the work of Thomas Ligotti or Bentley Little (his short story The Washingtonians is a good place to start) for a resonating creepiness that is pent up in the tone and the ideas.  At the same time, I do see Asian horror bogging down a bit in ghost stories lately.  But if you're looking for something off the beaten track of fear, the kind of thing you've not likely seen before, try the books in the Ring Trilogy by Koji Suzuki (the films were based these) and the movies  Oldboy (not a horror movie per se, but definitely horrifying and very fierce) or -- if you dare -- Audition (only watch this if you are prepared for the strongest in scary ideas and horrifying imagery -- I'm not kidding).  
     There's nothing as scary as a new idea.