Could we de-Christianize America?

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The title of this blog post pays homage to a Vital Remains album that I’m quite fond of, but it also begs an important question for those who dislike Christianity and other Right-Hand-Path religions. Is it actually possible? After all, a whopping 75 percent of Americans still cling to their perverse, genocidal religion. For me, personally, it was easy to forget how dominant Christianity still is, due to the fact that most people I come across here in Chicago are atheists (full disclosure: I myself am a religious Satanist with pagan leanings, not an atheist). However, when I returned in brief to my home state, New Jersey, I got an unpleasant reminder of just how many people in this country still believe that angels are real and that evolution . . . well, isn’t.

I work for a political news publication, and my colleagues believe that corporations are not people, and should pay their fair share of taxes. I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. However, I find it curious that no one in the realm of politics dares to say the same about churches. Corporate welfare is openly criticized – and rightly so! Now, what about ecclesiastical welfare? After all, places of worship are not people, either, and they damn well ought to pay their fair share. In case you don’t know, churches don’t pay property taxes on their land or buildings. They don’t pay sales taxes when they purchase things. Priests, ministers, rabbis, etc. receive “parsonage exemptions” that allow them to deduct mortgage payments, rent, and other living expenses when they do their income taxes. They also don’t have to pay into Social Security. How is that not being a freeloader? If that isn’t unethical enough for you, bear in mind that not taxing churches drains our economy by about $71 billion per year. These actions, which in my opinion are criminal, go unchallenged, unmentioned, and uncared about, and that’s an outrage. It’s also a flagrant violation of the Separation of Church and State.

It should come as no surprise that in this matter, America is as backward as you could imagine, and is once again outclassed by many European countries, which have at least a modicum of mandatory taxation on some of their churches. These nations include Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, and Sweden. The churches in America share a startling similarity with corporations in that they are powerful and influential, and operate at the expense of hard-working citizens.

“But, oh no!” cry the churchgoers. “The smaller churches would totally collapse! They wouldn’t be able to sustain themselves if they had to pay taxes!” Well, that’s just the way of things, isn’t it? Establishing a small, family-owned business is just as much of a gamble (though, conversely, it would be less so if corporations were reigned in and we had less Walmarts dominating the landscape). It’s very possible that if a mom-and-pop shop does not fill a popular niche, or sell products cheaply enough, or appeal in other ways to customers and to the community in general, the shop will be forced to close down. That’s how business works. A church is also a business, even if it would like to declare itself otherwise.

Hell, even most hospitals pay PILOTs (payments in lieu of tax) to their state and local governments, and they actually provide a tangible service to patients! Which brings me to the next thing that churchgoers will say, which is that churches provide a religious or spiritual service to their congregations, and therefore should be tax-exempt. A “spiritual service” is, unfortunately, not demonstrable to the federal government using the means of the scientific method, and can therefore not be established as factual. But fear not, dear churchgoers – if scientists discover the existence of the human soul, we’ll be sure to give you a call!

The third defense that churchgoers use is that churches provide an additional significant purpose by providing a sense of community to the – well, to the community! Well, the same could be said of the local pub! You might make the counter-argument that the YMCA is a community center, and is also tax-exempt, but guess what? The YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) is also a religious organization, and is a perfect example of the corruption of the church; essentially a glorified exercise club (yes, they do things for charity – well, so do Hollywood actors, and they still pay their taxes), it uses its “Christian principles” to gain tax-exempt status, and people have actually been fighting this for years. If only they would do the same where the churches themselves are concerned! Other “athletic clubs” and “community centers” have been trying to piggyback off the YMCA’s exploitation of this tax-exempt status, arguing that they’re no different than the Y. Surprise, surprise.

Apparently, God needs your dough in order to save your soul, guys. Let’s get real. This is not about someone’s religious beliefs or some all-powerful being who may or may not exist. Believe it or not, and as I’ve stated time and again, I actually respect people’s respective faiths. If you’re a Christian, I will fight for your right to continue to be so, and to practice your beliefs – so long as you do not try and shove them down my throat. An old saying comes to mind: “The freedom to swing your arms ends where my faces begins.” People of various faiths are perfectly entitled to express whatever tenets they will, but they cannot infringe upon the space of someone of another faith (or lack thereof, in the case of secularists).

So, arriving back at the point of this post’s title, on what basis do I have the right to de-Christianize America? Isn’t that directly contradictory to my previous statement, in which I promised to respect the belief systems of my fellow citizens? Actually, no. I’m not arguing for de-Christianization by means of restricting the freedom of Christians, nor am I arguing for any horrible acts of violence against Christians or their institutions. I’m arguing that we should work to abolish the influence of Christianity – in other words, cut the head off the snake, and the body will die. Look, Americans have been deeply influenced by 242 years of Christianity. It’s perfectly plausible that as Christianity loses its power, so too does it lose its influence, and as it does so, many Christians begin to look for alternatives, such as paganism, or even to question their faith completely. Of course, many true believers will remain Christians forever, and that leads me to arrive at an interesting conclusion.

De-Christianization of America is impossible. It will never happen. However, the waning of Christianity’s influence in this nation could be brought about someday. And that, in the end, is something I would gladly settle for. If we could make it illegal for people to proselytize in public, that’s a start. If we could ban Bibles from hotel rooms (after all, it’s incredibly presumptuous, isn’t it? A hotel guest could easily be anything from an atheist to a Muslim to a Hindu), that’s a start. If we could ban the Ten Commandments from the courthouses, that’s a start. And, damn it, if we could force churches to pay their share of taxes and contribute to our economy, that is a huge, huge start. Do churches really follow in the footsteps of their pallid, ineffectual Christ? Are they really altruists? Then prove it. Put your money where your mouth is and take care of the national community – contribute to building new infrastructure in this country, fighting climate change and fossil fuels, and lifting people above the poverty line. After all, wasn’t it “Jesus” who fed the poor?

Finally, I will add that I have no intention of discriminating. I also think that Mormon churches, Jewish synagogues, Muslim mosques, Buddhist temples, and yes, even pagan temples and Satanic churches also should pay taxes. And, by the way, many Satanic religious organizations themselves (albeit “pseudo-Satanic,” but I digress), also advocate for ending this sort of tax-exemption. So I’m no hypocrite. Unfortunately, Christianity remains in power. Don’t forget that it very nearly de-paganized Scandinavia – although the pagans will never fully be defeated, as mass Nordic, Slavic, and Egyptian revivals of old-world religions prove. While it’s sad to admit that America will never have Christianity purged from its lands, there’s nothing stopping us from using legal means to demand their accountability. And, for my fellow Satanists and pagans, if there is any way to strike a blow at the Catholic Church, that’s how you do it.

Can you surrender your comforts?

Monday, May 7, 2018

Imagine, if you will, a life with only the very basics required to survive at a somewhat comfortable level. Food, water, a bed, a sink and tub or basin (or some access to clean running water), a toilet, some clothing, an emergency medical kit, and something for mental stimulation – this should ideally be something that does not depend upon other resources (as a computer depends upon electricity), so perhaps a book, or a pencil and sketchbook, or some sort of puzzle or board game. Maybe a deck of cards?

If you live in a semi-rural setting, you do not need electricity. You can make and light candles. One way to do this is by taking the fat from a deer and turning it into tallow, then molding it into a candle. You could also use that tallow as fuel for an oil lamp, but it has many additional uses, including protecting and weatherproofing your boots, clearing your skin of impurities and blisters, and it can also be used in food. You can also build a fire outside, which can be used for cooking. You do not need running tap water. You can gather water from a nearby source and purify it. “But what about the toilet?” you may ask. You can use a dry toilet.

I’d like to interrupt by making two points. Firstly, there are unfortunate social and political conditions that may make the aforementioned advice difficult for some, and impossible for others. Notice that I prefaced the above paragraph with the phrase “if you live in a semi-rural setting.” Yes, you have to get away from the cities in order to be self-sufficient and live a simpler life. Even then, it may be difficult to find land that you can actually legally live on. People who have their own property are more fortunate than those who don’t, and must suddenly make a transition. Ironically enough, it also takes having money to eventually get away from money (or at least the need for money). In the U.S., one must usually own a car to get out to a more bucolic setting, even if he or she can later ditch a vehicle after becoming self-sufficient. There may also be a lot of supply-purchasing and/or financial investment involved in transitioning to a simpler lifestyle.

Second, I fully recognize that I am someone who lives in an apartment, in a city, with electricity, Internet, and other luxuries. I’m not a hypocrite. I’m not suggesting that “getting rid of everything” and moving to the countryside is a workable plan. Rather, what this post is meant to do is to challenge people, to see whether they can get by with only relying upon themselves, and whether they can acquire skills and knowledge that at one point, truly were needed for survival. I want people to understand that they do not require the things they have. You do not need a smartphone. You do not need TV. You do not need a “smart refrigerator.” You do not need Starbucks, or the Apple store, or any of the other commodities that city people cling to like lifelines. I want more people to live their lives in full recognition that 90 percent of what they have is luxury, not necessity. And I want more people to challenge themselves to not become dependent upon that which does not promote their health, intellect, survival, abilities, or productivity.

One can look at modern society to see how crippled the average person is. Fast food means that people are losing the desire and – eventually, if not already – the ability to cook. Go back farther and realize that modern agriculture and the meat industry have destroyed our once-upon-a-time direct relationship with food. Our knowledge of planting, tending, and harvesting crops is long gone. Hunting still exists in rural areas, but privileged, middle-class city people condemn it as if it’s some sort of unnatural act. Fishing, too, persists in the countryside (and even in some of suburbia), but at one time it was a crucial task for someone to get food, not a “sport.”

By the way, does anyone remember the Farmer’s Almanac? I thought not. Though I believe it still exists in some online form, back in the 1700s it was incredibly important. From weather forecasts to phases of the moon, garden planning, and expected morning frost predictions, this was basically the Bible to farmers. It still is to some, but with the hunter-gatherer lifestyle far behind in our rearview window, the majority of the population shuffles along with blissful ignorance, even though they depend upon farming in order to live! Never before has society been so divorced from resources so intrinsic to our survival. And that’s just what “the system” wants.

It’s not wrong to enjoy modern luxuries, but it is wrong to let them take over our brains, robbing us of our knowledge, because this technology won’t last forever, and at some point, we may need to fight for survival again. I’m not telling you to become a survivalist or a prepper – I have no plans to do anything of the sort. Just be armed and ready. And when I say “armed,” I mean that you should arm yourself with knowledge. That is more powerful than any physical weapon, and as the saying goes, the only knowledge that can hurt you is the knowledge you don’t have.

So, tell me – can you tell the time of day without a clock? Can you follow directions without Google Maps? Can you purchase food without Amazon? Can you get around without Uber? Can you leave your house confidently without your cellphone? Can you make your own candles if there’s a power outage? Can you determine which plants are poisonous and which are safe to eat? So on and so forth. But these are questions you may be forced to answer someday. Better, I think, to ponder them now, while we have luxuries. Luxuries with which we can learn new things. The Internet can be an excellent tool to discover how to do any of the things I have mentioned above. Use it wisely. Not for meme-posting and arguments.

Pride comes before the rise

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Perhaps you’ve heard statements like these before: “Wow, what an egomaniac.” “Oh, she’s so vain.” “He’s really full of himself.” That last comment in particular is one I always find amusing. Well, I would hope that I’m full of myself; I certainly wouldn’t want to be full of someone else! The point I’m making is that it’s become fashionable to criticize pride and egoism. People ought to be modest, or else completely self-deprecating, is how today’s general line of thought seems to go. Do you know what that kind of thinking gets you? Take a look at our pitiful, self-loathing modern society and you’ll find your answer.

The title of this blog post is my alternative take on the old Biblical adage, “pride goeth before the fall.” In other words, those who are prideful will never win the day. Christianity, of course, has always promoted self-criticism, and, indeed, “selflessness.” This coincides with the classic story of Lucifer, who became impressed with his own beauty, intelligence, and power, and desired for himself honor and glory, which, according to the Christians, was ought to have been “for God alone.” It’s particularly ironic, then, that so many of today’s secularists and New Agers, who supposedly want nothing to do with Catholicism, are parroting the Bible and denouncing “the ego.” Christians hate pride. If sex is “the original sin,” then you can be sure that as far as they’re concerned, pride is Public Enemy No. 2.

Recently, I’ve seen several posts on Facebook about how harmful “the ego” is. People have got it completely backwards, and it’s no coincidence that most of the same people who are criticizing love of the self are absolutely miserable, and anxiously ready to make others feel the same way. Furthermore, those who complain about “egotistical people,” are, I find, really just exhibiting a defense mechanism to cover for their own low self-esteem. Look, I’m not writing anything here in support of narcissists – types of people that I have previously critiqued on this website. Narcissism is a personality disorder involving the pursuit of gratification from others, due to the narcissist’s own inability to feel any love or respect for him- or herself. These sorts of buffoons do, actually, represent a sizeable portion of the very “anti-pride” people I’m talking about here, although in the case of narcissists, they will, of course, carry on an absurd pretense in which they “are very proud of themselves, thank you very much,” and in which they claim to firmly support the notion of pride.

So why is everyone suddenly against being prideful of oneself? The simple answer is because they wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and are not comfortable with who they are, so they try and validate the idea that they don’t need to be (and then, of course, they must seek further self-validation by deriding those who do not ascribe to this philosophy). The more complicated answer is because they have been told to eschew pride – in a manner of speaking. 242 years’ worth of Christian dominance has made America a country that imprints the supposed ‘values’ of that religion upon its society, and even for people who are atheists or New Agers (hell, even for some of those who are Satanists), it can be very difficult to completely break away from that ideological conditioning. The Christian tenets of self-sacrifice, martyrdom, and service to “a greater cause” persist – naggingly so.

But wait, you might say. If that’s true then why are so many people on social media talking about themselves, and sharing every single thing they “like” or do? Aren’t millennials the “me, me, me” generation? My reply is a resounding “nope!” Again, narcissism. It is becoming more and more common, and it’s actually social media that is helping to propagate the disorder. Tell me, what happens when someone who has been instilled with poor self esteem and the twisted, false morality of extreme humility is suddenly given the tools to share 500 selfies and make posts about what he/she is doing, where he/she is going, etc.? You’re going to get an up, close, and personal look at narcissism in its early development. And, while I’m discussing religion, there’s a good analogy to be made here: Just like the proselytizing Christian who must hand out Jesus pamphlets to reinforce his weak belief in his God, the average Facebook user must snap lots of selfies and post lots of “hey everyone, look at me!” content in order to maintain the façade that he or she is very proud and emotionally secure.

So what, then, is true pride? It’s a shame that so many people have flagellated themselves into becoming insecure, overemotional little pantywaists, to the point where I actually have to lay out a manual for these simpletons on how to love and respect oneself. But here it is: pride comes from an honest assessment of your own qualities, influence, and achievements. It is my firm belief that you cannot love others before you first love yourself. Furthermore, it’s a slippery slope from rejecting pride to descending into apathy and nihilism.

If you don’t feel that you’re worth anything, why strive for anything in life? Why try and build a career, or educate yourself, or make yourself look good? Why explore any talents? Why live at all? These questions are not merely rhetorical. I actually do struggle to understand how people who don’t exercise pride even get by in this world. How can one not be impressed by their skills, or overwhelmed with joy by the things they teach others? How can one not appreciate how they look?

Many people who do not have a sense of pride are sex offenders, drug addicts, or suffering from obesity. When a lack of self-love leaves a gaping hole in someone’s life, they try and fill that void with sex, drugs, or food – sometimes all three. Money is another beloved void-filler for the self-loathing. You will find that many “rich and successful” people, many businessmen, many wealthy politicians, are raging narcissists. Brown-nosers and other types of yes-men (and yes-women), who get by in life solely on nepotism and general favoritism, are almost always haters of themselves, though quite often they can also have narcissistic tendencies.

There’s more to this than just bad religion and social media-driven psychological problems. The government wants people to loathe themselves. Someone who does not recognize their own self-worth will not complain about not getting paid enough at their job. They will simply bow and acquiesce when someone treats them with prejudice, or mocks them, or has a laugh at their expense. They will not stand up for themselves, and if they prove themselves incapable of doing even that most basic of human functions, they have shown that they will certainly not stand up for anything else worthwhile in this life. The U.S. government, increasingly fascistic as it is, wants a populace that is dumb, weak, and content with its own bootlicking meekness. They do not want a society that embraces egotism; a society that is strong, informed, and enlightened. So this is a small but crucial aspect of the overall issue of pride-hate.

To be frank, it fucking sucks that so many people are like this, and furthermore that they are so angry and resentful to those who do take immense pride in themselves. People who, especially, are in my age group are quickly devolving into insolent, miserable, fragile people. They will get incredibly defensive during any conversation the moment there is the slightest hint of any difference in opinion between them and yourself, so that carrying on any kind of discussion with these types is tantamount to approaching a bubble with a sharp pin.

Meanwhile, the narcissism that runs rampant amongst so many millennials catches like a virus, as cognitive bias and virtue signaling are found all over social media, and thus shared (“rinse and repeat”) over and over again by peers. It then creates a hostile environment; a floor made of eggshells on which you must walk when having any kind of social interaction with these people. It gets to the point where you actually need to refrain from praising yourself or talking about your accomplishments, otherwise they will respond with jealousy and bitterness. I don’t know how people can fix this problem that they have, but it is a problem, and the sooner people recognize it, the better.

Pride comes before the rise. The moment when I first took genuine pride in myself was during the middle portion of my teenage years, and from that day forward, everything gradually became better for me in life. This also allowed whatever depression or emptiness I had felt to fall by the wayside. I suddenly realized that yes, I was good enough, that yes, I am talented, that yes, I am an incredibly wise and intellectual man in a society where both of those qualities are in short supply. The self-haters will have to accept that, hell, I simply enjoy talking about my achievements in life. And so should they! I’ll tell anyone who wants to listen about what a great writer I am, about how I’ve won journalism awards, and how I overcame poverty and acquired a happy and somewhat comfortable life, and about all the ambitions and goals I still have in life. It’s good to talk about yourself – it is psychologically and spiritually healthy. It is never good to not give yourself credit, and it is even worse to speak badly of yourself, so avoid this!

Gaining a love and respect for yourself is the first step toward leading a happy and fulfilled life in this world. So, those who are unhappy with who they are, to you I say, “don’t knock pride ‘till you’ve tried it!”

I can’t get into American music

Friday, April 20, 2018

Okay, so way back when I was a teenager and dinosaurs roamed the Earth, there was music in the U.S. of A. that I could vibe with. As other metalheads will know, metal experienced a big resurgence in the states around the early 2000s. I naturally gravitated to this. I didn’t have a lot of money, so I would borrow CDs from the library (yeah, that was a thing, at least in Jersey). My interests in metal now obviously are not what they were then, but, you know, I would listen to stuff like Killswitch Engage and Cradle of Filth (don’t kill me, guys). You know how teens are, they need to identify with music. As you mature, though, you stop using music this way and actually begin to appreciate it for what it is. As this happens, your tastes evolve and grow more sophisticated.

It was at this point, when I was in my early 20s, that I realized I really didn’t ‘click’ with any popular music in America (even if it wasn’t mainstream, the alternative stuff didn’t grab me, either). Not least because metal, my favorite music genre, began to decline in popularity here, but also because the metal people listened to was something that I found kind of superficial and simplistic (at least lyrically). And that’s how most modern music is here, so I guess you could say that it was too “American” for me.

With music, I can actually relate very well to many people my age in Europe, especially in the Slavic countries, adjacent to where my family is from. I like black metal, Viking metal, Russian and Ukrainian folk and pagan metal, Nordic folk music, classical music (I particularly like composers like Grieg and Shostakovich), dark ambient pieces, and classic rock. Aside from some metalheads, no one in the U.S. really knows what I’m talking about when I speak about music. Meanwhile, I’m seeing all my European friends going to see bands like Аркона, Mgła, and Батюшка, and getting jealous! (Though I was lucky enough to see Аркона in Paris, along with Svartsot). These bands mostly don’t play here (with some exceptions), because the following for them is too small. And anyway, people here prefer awful shit like Five Finger Death Punch or Butcher Babies. It’s amazing, the intellectual difference between American metal bands and those in Europe.

You know, even outside of metal, I usually can’t carry on a conversation with a fellow American about music. Millennials here aren’t listening to classical music, they’re listening to pop or rap or hip-hop or whatever else the big record companies tell them to listen to. I can’t even keep track of what the “popular groups” or “artists” are in the U.S. anymore. Is it still Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, all that stuff? With rap I’d have no idea, since I absolutely can’t stand that kind of music (no disrespect meant toward anyone who likes it, however; I’m not trying to put it down or insult it in any way).

So what do I listen to when it comes to American music? Is there any pop or ‘modern rock’ (though who even knows what that means) that I actually enjoy? I do enjoy some lame 80s and 90s music. Like . . . *looks at YouTube playlist* . . . “Are We Ourselves” by The Fixx or “True Faith” by New Order. Like anything by Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana, etc. And, of course, classic rock is something I love so the 60s and 70s are huge for me. Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jimi Hendrix. So there is music from “the homeland” (I hate that term) that I do like, but when it comes to modern music? Nope.

This is one of the many increasing factors that may lead to me someday moving to Europe (probably Slovakia). I want to hear songs about nature, paganism, ancient history, and the occult, not songs about bad relationships, sex, drugs, partying, or any of the other vapid bullshit young Americans seem to be obsessed with. I want something that stimulates me intellectually and makes me grow mentally and spiritually. And again, I am not criticizing other Americans my age and I’m not challenging or dissing their taste in music. They can listen to whatever they enjoy, and more power to them! But the music itself is something that clashes with me on every level.

So what am I listening to lately? I was on a black metal binge for a few weeks, so I was listening to a lot of Black Funeral, Thantifaxath, Watain, Rotting Christ, Dissection, and Nightbringer. As of this week, I’ve been enjoying a lot of pagan or folk music, so that means Аркона, ГРАЙ, Eluveitie, Enslaved, Myrkur, Wardruna, Смута, Solstafir, Hindarfjäll, stuff like that. YouTube has been my friend for music, since I have a relatively new laptop and I’m still involved in the long process of adding all my music into my iTunes. Anyway, that was my little rant/explanation. I need to get over to Europe and see some good shows.

The war against false Satanists

Monday, April 9, 2018

I am a Satanist. No prefixes (autotheistic, suitheistic, theistic, etc.) necessary. ‘Satan’ is merely a word for something that has existed long before Christianity, and which has gone by many names (Lucifer, Angra Mainyu, Mastema, Iblis, so on and so forth). Satanism is not a group of angst-ridden, bandwagon-jumping, Hot Topic-loving hipsters who have been spit out the bottom of the unemployment line and are looking for an edgy, counter-cultural hobby to pursue from the damp, mold-ridden safety of their parents’ basements. Satanism is not a group of atheists who have decided to adopt vaguely diabolic aesthetics to push a political agenda and promote “compassion and empathy.” Satanism, in short, has nothing to do with the Satanic Temple and their seven pathetically milquetoast ‘tenets.’

How did this all begin? When did Satanic symbols stop being nightmare fodder for Christian fundamentalists and start being appropriated by mall goths and political activists? Does it even matter? What, for instance, does a band of ignorant, epicene rabblerousers who think themselves “Satanic” have to do with us true believers and practitioners? Should such people not be dirt to us, unworthy of our notice like so many scattering ants beneath the feet of pedestrians? It’s true that false Satanists are spiritually powerless. For all their claims to be “the only real Satanists,” and their barefaced attempts to discredit the very existence of spiritual Satanists by telling people to “stop inciting another Satanic Panic1,” the true Satanists continue to operate in the shadows, unhindered by the Satanic Temple’s social justice shenanigans.

If you think about it, plundering the Devil’s archives is nothing new. Bands like the Rolling Stones were paying lip service with songs like “Sympathy for the Devil” decades ago, as were myriad other bands and artists. Other occult elements, like witchcraft, were echoed in a tongue-in-cheek manner far before that; anyone remember the 1969 Coven album Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls? It was all about doing it for shock, of course, and it didn’t really become blatant or mainstream until the 80s. Now the stench of false Satanism has permeated the world of pop music, with ‘artists’ so talentless I won’t even name them here performing phony rituals on stage and claiming to have ‘sold their souls’ and other such nonsense. Years ago, Satan was used in music because this was considered daring and controversial. Now, it’s merely trendy. The Devil is ‘in,’ and that, in short, is why the Satanic Temple has risen to such prominence in the media and become so attractive to those of my fellow 20-something-year-olds known as ‘millennials.’

Bear in mind that Americans in general tend to be habitual extremists. The majority of modern Christians don’t merely profess a belief in God or observe their beliefs privately; they must proselytize and insult or threaten those who don’t share their faith, either passive-aggressively (“I’ll pray for you”) or directly (“I’m gonna beat the shit out of you. God Bless America!”). Many political activists don’t merely tell you who they’ll be voting for, or what kind of economic, health, and social programs they support; they batter you over the head with it, and don’t you dare disagree with them or vote for someone in the opposing party...worse yet, don’t you dare be apolitical, you freeloading, apathetic cynic! People can’t just enjoy a baseball game. They have to riot (‘celebrate’) in the streets when their team wins, lighting cars on fire and taking ‘drunk and disorderly’ to an entirely new level, as well as threatening and attacking supporters of the other team. I could list more examples, but you get the idea. So if a certain vocal majority feels disenfranchised with the Religious Right that has dominated this country and run roughshod over the separation of Church and State, you can damn well bet they’re going to take things to the ultimate extreme to defy this – hence, the adoption of pseudo-Satanism.

Allow me to interject here with a personal detail. I myself write for a political news publication, though by and large, I now do production management, something that involves editing and posting other people’s articles; essentially, putting up the website each day. Are there world issues that I care about? Absolutely, but I don’t use this blog as a forum to discuss them. If you want to check out my stance on some of those issues, I suggest that you please read the many articles I have written under the pen name ‘Blake Skylar.’ There’s nothing wrong with being involved in politics, if that’s what floats your boat. However, there is nothing intrinsically Satanic about politics, or vice-versa. The two have nothing to do with one another. Satanism is deeply spiritual and primordial. It is beyond the human and the material. Compared with the diabolical forces of the acausal2 beyond, the passions and problems of this physical world are small and insignificant.

So let’s come back to the original question, regarding charlatans like the Satanic Temple: Does it even matter? Yes. It matters because occult symbols have power. Don’t misunderstand me – they do not grant power to those who misuse them (again, the pretenders to the throne are indeed powerless). Rather, their potential energy is never to be realized, when the pages of grimoires are turned by the fumbling fingers of moronic poseurs, or when the names of demons that predate mankind are uttered by the slack-jawed mouths of meek man-children. It’s an insult to the forces that are beyond the understanding of these Temple worms, and yes, it is also an insult to us, the true followers of the Left-Hand Path.

These atheists in goat’s clothing do not get to flip the narrative on what Satanism is. They do not get to define philosophic tenets of a preternatural, acausal agency, the heart of which is black and pitiless in the face of their miniscule, clinical, passive worldview. They, in the simplest of terms, do not get to ‘mess with the bull’ (or in this case the goat) without ‘getting the horns.’ The pretenders must make no mistake: we are not threatened by them, we are not weakened by them, and we are not made irresolute by their imposition of humanitarian ‘values’ upon what is naturally an anti-human religion devoid of genteel scruples. On the contrary, we are mobilized against you, just as we have always been against Christianity and other Right-Hand-Path religions.

A war is fought on many levels, and footsoldiers in Satan’s great battle take on many forms. Some may act viciously. Others will speak out against you. Many will work our black magick and cast curse after curse against your flimsy ‘Temple,’ for that temple is but a children’s sand castle built upon an eroding shore. To the many members of the Satanic Temple, and others who falsely call themselves Satanists: I do not hate all of you. There are some of you I might even call my friends or acquaintances. Know, however, that you have taken up with a group of people who know nothing of the occult, or of the demonic. In fact, those very people will, like atheists, teach you to shun all things spiritual and paranormal, and like Christians, will tell you to “turn the other cheek” and exercise “compassion and empathy.” A union of opposites, indeed, is this false deviltry, though not in any magickal way.

Satanism is not about values, nor should it be a vehicle for the overemotional, spineless, virtue signaling zeitgeist that is modern America. You may certainly have your own values and/or moral code, but it is entirely separate from Satanism, which is an absolute, and which is above and beyond anything remotely human. It is something to which we must adhere and aspire, from which we must learn, and with which we must commune. These counterfeit Satanists want to play the Devil’s game, but like the proverbial undisciplined five-year-old, they want to throw away the rulebook, and win regardless. They want to build a temple, without ever acquiring the tools or the knowledge. A temple built upon such a weak foundation must surely be blown down before long. And so it shall be. To all the Lucien Greaves3 and Peter Gilmores4 of the world, the wolves are at your door. To paraphrase the song by Frank Loesser, “Praise the Devil and Pass the Ammunition.”

1The Satanic Panic was a moral panic that manifested in American media and culture, especially during the 80s and 90s. It was based upon fears that Satanic cults were secretly operating throughout the country, committing acts of murder and abuse, and resulted in persecution and censorship of heavy metal bands, adherents of the ‘goth’ subculture, and various Satanic and occult organizations. Essentially a witch-hunt that in some forms still exists today, it was spearheaded by Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center during the 80s, and further incited by televangelists and politicians like Joseph Lieberman during the 90s. Many Satanic groups do indeed exist throughout the U.S. – significantly more than skeptics believe, and significantly less than Christian would-be moralists declare.

2Acausal in Jungian psychology is equated with synchronicity. However, in chaosophy and specifically Chaos Gnosticism, the acausal refers to the pandimensional plane of chaos and formlessness that is the antithesis to the cosmos, where linear time and spatiality have no meaning. The basis of black magick’s actuation in the physical world is the drawing upon acausal energy to make manifest that which is otherwise impossible.

3Luciean Greaves, real name Douglas Mesner, is a social activist and founder of the Satanic Temple. A humanist and secularist who has a profound misunderstanding of Satanism, Greaves utilizes symbolism and nomenclature that is deliberately provocative in order to push a social and political agenda. He is one of the most well known modern public figures who misrepresents Satanism and appropriates its aesthetics to make atheism and politicization seem counter-cultural and palatable to the grey masses (the conformist and commonplace majority of citizens who exhibit a herd mentality).

4Peter Gilmore is the current High Priest of the Church of Satan (a misnomer, as he is not a mediator between humanity and any deities and/or preternatural entities). Though he opposes the philosophy espoused by people like Greaves, he is nevertheless similar in that he advocates the use of Satanism as little more than window dressing for atheism. Though he correctly promotes egoism and epicureanism, he has softened many of the praiseworthy tenets of his predecessor, Anton LaVey (another false Satanist), in order to appeal to a wider range of pseudo-Satanists. Another charlatan who misunderstands and tarnishes actual Satanism.

Sorry snobs, superhero films are here to stay

Friday, February 2, 2018 
It’s an inextricable part of being a part of “geek culture” or simply being a fan of comic books and superheroes in general. You must constantly contend with the horde of detractors who look down their nose at the genre as being the stuff of juvenile nonsense, or else as being “all the same.” Dear snobs: I have a bone to pick with you people, and I’m tired of all your callous denunciation and condescending dismissal. Since you’re throwing so much shade, I figured I might as well shine a light on just why superhero movies are so good, and so important.

I recently found myself fuming when actress Jodie Foster condemned superhero films, but then again, that’s rather par for the course with these sorts of Hollywood stuffed shirts, who think their Oscar-winning dramas and indie films are inherently superior to anything fantasy or sci-fi – you know, all that silly, cartoonish drivel. Anyway, she claimed that superhero movies have turned Hollywood into “a theme park,” and said it is an example of studios “making bad content in order to appeal to the masses and shareholders. It’s ruining the viewing habits of the American population. I don’t want to make $200 million movies about superheroes.” Well, good for you! You don’t have to like the genre, or the format, or the shift in pop culture that has resulted from the wave of comic book-inspired, shared universe films, but to bash it and call it “bad content” is simply ignorant.

Then again, the prejudice is nothing new. Sci-fi got its fair share of hate decades prior, and has only recently been treated with newfound respect. Fantasy still hasn’t gotten there yet, and must still contend with insults (“oh, isn’t that all that silly knights and dragons stuff?”), though Game of Thrones is helping to finally bring the genre into mainstream consciousness, where hopefully, it will get the credit it is owed. But comic books, despite “appealing to the masses” still fill a particular niche within spectulative fiction, and much the same with their film adaptations. For every superfan looking forward to the next Thor film or the Wonder Woman sequel, there’s the sneering forty-year-old who thinks each superhero movie is indistinguishable from the next, or the indie film-worshipping hipster who sniffily remarks that he’s “grown out of all that comic book stuff, thank you very much.”

Now, it’s true that quite often, the masses will flock to a thing simply because it is popular or “the thing to do.” Success alone is not enough to merit the artistic integrity of a thing. A true analysis of its content, on the other hand, will almost always indicate whether a film has such value, and that’s why – pretentious as they are – critics are so important to have. For those who have never seen a superhero film, for example, a well-written review of one could give that person an informed opinion, which will help him or her decide on whether they want to get into this “comic book stuff.” Now, about that ‘content’ part. So much of what dominates the modern box office is a classic case of “all form and no content.” Sure, there’s plenty of CGI. Guns are blazing, cars are revving, things are blowing up, but where’s the story? Is there anything intellectual going on? In many of today’s major Hollywood movies, the answer is a resounding “no.” But one of the reasons I simply cannot abide the misinformed criticisms made by actresses like Foster is because superhero movies hardly ever suffer from this problem. Sure, there’s a lot of focus on form, but that ‘content’ part is just as present. And if you really understand the appeal of comics, you know that it sort of has to be.

Comic book fans know that everything from ongoing sagas to multi-title crossovers are generally built upon plenty of story, with some exceptions (I’m looking at you, Secret Wars). Because movies are adapting this sort of material, they kind of have to follow suit, even if that leaves big studio execs nervous (“My god, an actual plot?! How will the short attention-spanned millennials sit through two hours of this? How will we make money?”). Take a look at the first Iron Man film, or The Dark Knight, or Watchmen. It’s literally all about the story; in fact, if you’re not following along closely, you’ll miss key plot points and likely be quite confused. These films are inherently intellectual, and that’s why their association with modern geek culture is pretty much on point.

The advent of superhero films is also exciting, because they have achieved what most fantasy has not yet been able to on the big screen. They have inspired and exhilarated audiences, giving us stories, action, laughs, and everything from gods to green monsters to aliens to sorcerers. Because of the cross-genre diversity present in many titles by Marvel and DC Comics, these shared film universes are allowed to be mishmashes of damn near everything under the sun. Want a space opera with retro music and ridiculous laughs? Check out Guardians of the Galaxy. Want a war drama mixed with action and a little fantasy? Captain America or Wonder Woman should satisfy that need. How about a political thriller? Captain America: The Winter Soldier. A straight-up epic fantasy? Thor: Ragnarok. A fun, fast-paced, heist movie? Ant-Man. A sci-fi ensemble film that explores artificial intelligence? Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s almost wrong to merely call them “superhero films,” because they’re so much more than that.

And let’s talk about shared universes. Let me point out that this is something that Hollywood had long ago (in a way), and sort of let fall by the wayside until Marvel brought it back. Specifically, take a look at the old Universal Studios monster films. Remember Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, or House of Dracula? Characters from previous films crossed over. Hell, they even combined it with the old Abbott and Costello comedies, with stuff like Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. I actually used to watch those as a kid. The Godzilla films are another example of a shared universe. It also existed on TV – check out shows like Hercules and Xena; the latter was a spinoff of the former, and the two consistently crossed over with one another. There were even plans for further spinoffs and crossovers that never came to fruition.

Not only is the shared universe not a new concept, it’s also an example of doing something fun and exciting with movies. As filmmakers know, movies are about doing something different – different formats, genres, styles, etc. How about found-footage? Pioneered by films like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, the horror subgenre never would have gotten off the ground if people had simply dismissed it as somehow “ruining movies.” Other takes on films, like the buddy cop thing, or cyberpunk, or the spaghetti western, were all new at one point, and were given the chance to flourish. I see no reason why the superhero or comic book-based genre should be any exception.

Take an honest look at most of the well-reviewed superhero films out there. No, really. Leave your pomposity at home and bring only your sense of imagination. As you watch, you should not only examine the film for its quality, but you should also try and gauge your actual natural enjoyment of it. If you do like it, don’t try and deny it or find an excuse to dismiss your enthusiasm. Do that, and the cold, snobby cynics win the day. No, we must beat back the tide of pretentious insults by showing the world of superhero films for what it is – something wonderful, exciting, and powerful.

I’m a self-professed comic book reader, superhero movie fan, and yes, most certainly, a geek. For people like us, it’s a great time to be alive. I look forward to catching each new episode of Arrow, and to seeing Avengers: Infinity War when it hits theaters. I hope to see more female-led superhero films, like a Black Widow or Harley Quinn movie. I want to see more sagas and crossover events from the comics adapted to the big screen. I look forward to seeing Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange meet Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, and Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man meet Zoe Saldana’s Gamora.

There’s nothing wrong with the pure enjoyment offered by these cinematic universes, and it is absolutely not ruining Hollywood. You know what is harming the film industry? Capitalism. Greed. Pursuit of sequel-making and franchise development in place of a good script and solid acting. The presentation of loud, all form and no content shoot-em-up affairs instead of challenging, fantastical stories. But most superhero films are not part of this dilemma (yet), and we must give credit where credit is due. A few days from now I’ll be catching the latest episode of The Flash. And nothing any detractor can ever say will stop me from watching it – and enjoying it.

Fantasy scribes, here's how to write good characters

January 28, 2018

As I work on my fantasy novel, it occurs to me that one of my strengths lies in how I write and develop characters. Don't mistake this for egoism - I'm just as self-critical of my writing as I ever was, as is necessary for any author. But I wanted to share what knowledge and experience I do have, when it comes to creating interesting and believable characters, with other aspiring writers. Without further ado, here are some (non-pro) tips for how to do just that.

Kill your darlings

With the advent of social media, fandom now more than ever has a loud voice, and authors listen. The thing is, the fans are not the writers, and for good reason. I can’t tell you how many times fan support for a particular fictional character has caused that character to overstay his or her welcome (though this happens more often in TV series than in books). A writer keeps the character around because the reader wants more of him or her, but there’s one problem: the character’s backstory or relevance to the plot has come to its natural conclusion, and in the effort to keep that character around, the writer doesn’t know what to do with him or her. We end up with contrived or derivative storylines revolving around this character, or having the character shoehorned into places where he or she simply has no place.

I can easily name two shows I’m a fan of where this happened. In Heroes, a fantasy drama that used to air on NBC, the villain Sylar was a great character, but I felt that his story naturally concluded at the middle of Season 4 (some even believe he should have been killed off in Season 3). Sylar takes control of Peter’s brother Nathan, and Nathan kills himself in order to escape Sylar’s influence. Thing is, Sylar should have died right there and then. It would have given the sacrifice more meaning and served as a fitting conclusion to Sylar’s story. But Sylar came back, and they decided to make him “a good guy.” That plot line was completely unbelievable and not only ruined the character, but essentially disgraced the viewer’s memories of the characters he killed. Nope.

And in Supernatural, the character that definitely overstayed his welcome is Castiel. I’m sorry, Misha Collins is a great actor and Castiel was a great character, but we’re on Season 13 and they’re still trying to find something for this angel to do. Cas supposedly died at the beginning of Season 7, only to return toward the season’s end, in an incredibly convoluted and boring storyline that essentially made Cas’s character that of comedy relief (and, to a lesser extent, a plot device). From Seasons 4 through 6, Castiel served a purpose and had an interesting role in the series. During the seven seasons since then, he has just been an annoying intrusion upon the show that once was supposed to be about two brothers. It’s time to clip this angel’s wings.

But don’t kill for shock value

Now, the reverse is also true. Sometimes, an author will kill off a character whose story is not yet finished, so avoid that, too. Since Game of Thrones became popular, writers suddenly think they constantly need to keep a steady flow of death going in order to shock readers and keep them on the edges of their seats. This simply isn’t true, and leaning too much on murder and death to keep the plot moving also indicates a lack of creativity on the part of the author. And if you’ll take a careful look at George R. R. Martin’s books, you’ll see that many of the major character deaths serve an important purpose or are the results of concluding backstories. The presence of characters like Robb Stark, for example, were no longer necessary as other characters gained prominence. The death of Ned Stark, of course, was crucial to the escalation of events and the driving force behind the plot of the subsequent two books.

Writers must understand when and when not to kill. Keep that narrative sword sharp, but don’t swing it too often. One example of offing a character who still had more to give is on The Walking Dead. I speak not of Glenn, or Andrea, or even Merle, but rather, of Maggie’s sister, Beth. The character was really starting to come into her own, and her chemistry with Daryl was awesome. The two were really starting to come off as a badass duo with lots of character development to explore, and then we got a hamfisted kidnapping/hospital storyline that dragged on and centered around Beth, only to result in her death, which barely seemed to affect Maggie in the long run. Another show that killed off too many characters was Sons of Anarchy, so that by the time Season 5 rolled around, most of the best actors were gone from the show, and Season 7, despite having a great finale, was largely a dragged out, yawn-inducing affair revolving around people you just didn’t care about. Oh, and Supernatural – you should have killed Cas and Crowley seven seasons ago, but you never should have let Bobby or Charlie die.

Characters need to learn from their mistakes

A lack of character growth ruins the suspension of disbelief. Now, it’s true that plenty of people in real life don’t learn from all their mistakes – but they often learn from at least a few of them, and your characters should, too. If you’ve written five books and your character has not evolved in any way or learned anything, has not gained any sort of wisdom, or even apathy or cynicism (dejection can technically be a form of growth), readers are going to lose interest in that character, and look elsewhere (possibly, at another book series). I’ll point out some examples of characters who grew and developed, and ones who didn’t.

Rand al’Thor is an example, in my opinion, of a character who doesn’t grow, at least over the course of five books (I haven’t read the rest of The Wheel of Time series yet). The fantasy series’ main character continues to display the same stubbornness, immaturity, and indecisiveness. On the other hand, we actually see growth in the supporting characters, like Mat and Egwene, making Rand’s lack of development even more glaring. Another example is that of Noah, or “HRG” – Claire’s father in Heroes. Instead of developing trust between this father and his daughter, the show continued to put him in positions where he snuck around behind her back or did nefarious things, to the point where it could no longer even be argued that it was for any “greater good” – the writers were simply doing it to create needless drama.

Examples of characters who do grow include Harry Potter, Game of Thrones’ Arya Stark (among others), both Thor and Loki in Thor: Ragnarok, Thea Queen in Arrow, Barry Allen/Flash in The Flash, Katniss in The Hunger Games, and Vin in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. Study the writing behind these characters and learn from it, because that’s how you make the reader or viewer care about those characters, take them seriously, and continue to follow their storylines.

Keep that natural chemistry going

Sometimes you’ll find that you create a group of characters who just get on well together. The dialogue flows nicely and they just bounce off one another with this great, creative, and fun energy. Some of the examples people don’t often mention are the ones most worth noting – one, off the top of my head, is the chemistry between Han Solo and Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. They have this father-daughter vibe going on, and it’s quite enjoyable to watch. Rey and Luke Skywalker, on the other hand, have no chemistry whatsoever in The Last Jedi; they just don’t click, and it hurts the story. Look, if you’re working on a puzzle, you don’t force two pieces together that don’t connect, so why do it with characters? Take care to position your characters so that they can play off one another in an effective way. It’s true that sometimes a lack of chemistry can be used for comedic effect, but implement this sparingly, if at all. More often, readers really enjoy seeing two or more characters they like have really snappy, energetic exchanges of dialogue, bonding experiences together, or witty, easy-flowing banter.

One important thing to keep in mind is that if you want your reader to follow a handful of main characters that are always together, you need to make sure they have good chemistry. In Harry Potter, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are all great together, and so were Luke, Han, and Leia in Star Wars. Wil, Amberle, and Eretria were another trio who had fantastic chemistry in The Shannara Chronicles, especially due to a lot of unspoken and subtextual romantic tension; on the other hand, in the series’ second season, Wil and new character Mareth had very poor chemistry, leading us to miss seeing the original three characters together. Be aware of which characters belong together, and which don’t. Also, this is one of the times when you should listen to your readers – if characters get on well with one another, they’ll pick up on that. If they don’t, they usually won’t enjoy reading about them being together, or may instead look forward to seeing one or more of those main characters interact with a supporting character you may not have thought about.

Sympathetic villains vs. dark overlords

A lot of people say that fantasy has a lack of good villains becuase of the “dark lord” problem. Star Wars has the Emperor, The Lord of the Rings has Sauron, Harry Potter has Lord Voldemort, so on and so forth. It’s often argued that the more interesting villains are the ones with which the reader can sympathize; i.e., every well-written villain is, in his or her own mind, the hero of his or her own personal story. Certainly, Darth Vader thought he was doing great things when he joined the Dark Side to try and save the life of his wife Padmé, and Game of Thrones’ Lannister family seemed despicable at first, until Jaime lost his hand and was shown to care about his children and other characters, and Tyrion, despite being a drunk with a love for prostitutes, went through hell and came out of it a wiser and more respectable man. Whether it’s a sympathetic villain or one who finds redemption, readers and viewers are really drawn to these types of stories. On the other hand, purely evil dark lords are poorly conceived, cardboard cut-out characters that often just exist to move the plot along and give the hero something to fight against. They’re not characters that will please the reader or viewer in any way, right?

Wrong. At least, sometimes that’s wrong. You see, there’s a reason why horror films are so successful. Most people have an innate fear of the unknown, and that’s why The Exorcist scared more people than any gore or slasher film. It’s why demons and zombie plagues are so unsettling – they stem from something the characters of the show, film, or book often don’t understand and are afraid of. If you can take that fear and embody it in the form of a menacing, shadowy enemy, you’ve potentially got a great character. But you have to sell that fear – you have to make it work. The Lord of the Rings is great, but the menace of Sauron is not felt enough to make the character anything more than something to simply be overcome; to be beaten. Lord Voldemort, on the other hand, is an effective “dark lord,” because we constantly feel his presence through other characters and in the narrative itself. Harry literally has a scar from an encounter with Voldemort, and most of the main characters are absolutely terrified to speak his name. Even Voldemort’s followers are scared to death of him, and many actually seem to kneel in fearful worship of him. This is all great set-up for Voldemort’s actual true appearance in Book Four, and when he finally is introduced, it really shakes the reader because it’s been built up so much and so effectively.

Both sympathetic and “dark lord” type villains can be fantastic, if they’re well-written and the author has an understanding of what does and doesn’t make them work. If you’re writing a sympathetic villain, or one who will eventually be redeemed, give that character traits the reader will be able to identify with on some level; desires, regrets, trauma, pain, etc. Make that character care about something or someone, and be sure to give him or her the same range of emotions as the hero – it’s how a villain uses (or misuses) those emotions that make him stand apart from the protagonist. On the other hand, if you’re writing a dark, malevolent villain, give him or her a lot of early set-up, make sure the reader experiences the character’s evil through the eyes of other characters at least sometimes, and develop an aura of terror by not telling the reader everything. The less you know about a character like this, the more you question and feel uncertain about him or her, which can make well-executed scenes featuring this kind of character extremely nerve-wracking. This is one reason why Voldemort was more disturbing in the Harry Potter books than the films: in the books, he had glowing, red, snake-like eyes, and that made you think – how did he get this way? What’s behind those eyes? Whereas, in my opinion, his human eyes in the film adaptations sucked the fearsomeness right out of him.

Sometimes, a villain can even be both – he or she can start out as mysterious and menacing, and become sympathetic later, but be careful with this – it still has to be believable. A good example of this is Sylar in Heroes; throughout much of the first season, we see him only as a man in shadow who cuts people’s heads apart and does something – we don’t know what – to their brains. This is exactly the type of thing you want if you’re trying to make viewers or readers clutch the arms of their chairs and wonder what plans this character has, what drives him, and where he will appear and what awful thing he will do next. Of course, when we finally do meet Sylar, we eventually sympathize with him on at least some level. It’s a mark of good writing when the reader or viewer cares almost as much about the villain as the hero, whether that care manifests as an obsessive fear, or genuine concern. Tap into one or both of those feelings, and you’ve got a good antagonist for your series.

Neither damsels nor sexpots

It’s an understatement that fantasy fiction in particular has a major woman problem, though today, many writers are course-correcting and either improving old female characters or writing fantastic new ones. Nevertheless, women are so often poorly written or objectified in fantasy novels, series, and films. In the 60s and 70s, the most common trope for a female character was that of the damsel in distress, a beautiful lady always trapped or in some dire situation and waiting for the brave man to come to her rescue. This permeated much more than just fantasy – everything from Western films to action movies capitalized on this concept.

Then, in the 80s and 90s, we very much had the opposite. The woman did not necessarily need to be saved, but she was just there to titillate the reader or viewer, or the other characters. She was often a scantily-clad, mysterious and seductive sexpot, making the boys argue over her as though she were some sort of prize to be claimed or won, and causing all kinds of idiotic, macho antics and acts of bravado in her name. She herself had few, if any, actual character traits and really served no other purpose in the story. The original Star Wars trilogy managed to adhere to both of these tropes – Leia was a princess in need of Luke and Han to rescue her, and by the time Return of the Jedi rolled around in ’83, one of the most famous scenes had her barely wearing any clothes.

Indeed, the sexpot character isn’t just an issue that arises in books. In TV and film, we often get women who are just there to be “eye candy” for viewers. Megan Fox is an example of this. Her character in Transformers is mainly just there to show off her body to the film’s target teenage audience and to create sexual tension. Her actual character is vapid and without any narrative purpose. Even though the damsel in distress trope has more or less been relegated to the stuff of decades’ past, the sexpot one still prevails, and many fantasy stories are full of horny nymphets and tempting seductresses who have no other identifiable character attributes beyond that, unless it’s to blow shit up or kill people (see the Resident Evil films, the Underworld films, and Catwoman in Batman Returns), prancing around in a skin-tight or scantily clad outfit and staring daggers with her sexy, heavily mascaraed eyes while doing so.

Dear writers: don’t perpetuate this degrading, objectifying problem. Women are not simply “things” to be disregarded, sidelined, or used for the arousal of men – even when writing lesbian characters, authors miss the point entirely and use this as an excuse to write sex scenes meant to titillate readers. Bad, bad, bad. Instead, develop and write a fully fleshed out (no pun intended) girl or woman with any and all of the sorts of traits and emotions you would give to any character of the opposite sex. And women should not be carbon copies of one another, either – that’s also quite disrespectful. 

Game of Thrones is an example of a series that does an excellent job of portraying all sorts of wonderful and sympathetic female characters, with varying personalities and who come from different walks of life. Brienne of Tarth is defined not be her sexuality, but by her loyalty, her need to carve out a path for herself in a patriarchal society, etc. Arya is defined not be her sexuality – in fact, nothing remotely sexual ever happens to her or has anything to do with her – but rather, by her need for vengeance and her desire to attain a sense of belonging. That’s right, your women can be good or evil! They can do great or despicable things, like any other character, but please, don’t make them two-dimensional. Don’t make them dependent upon any man unless there’s a very good reason for doing so, and don’t make them sex objects.

Good examples to follow are, thankfully, available today, as books, shows, and films slowly improve in this area. See Gal Gadot’s fantastic take on Wonder Woman, see Rey in the new Star Wars trilogy (she’s one of my absolute favorite characters), see Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok, see Eretria in The Shannara Chronicles, read about Hermione in Harry Potter, read about Shallan in The Stormlight Archive, read about Katniss in The Hunger Games, read about Lizbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and watch/read about Daenerys, Arya, Brienne, Missandei, and Cersei in Game of Thrones

The future is here, and in most good fantasy fiction, women finally matter. Make sure your writing is reflective of that.

When not in Rome...

Saturday, January 27, 2018

It all began about two weeks ago, when I saw this commercial for a film called Darkest Hour. I don’t claim to know precisely what it’s about, but I do know that it’s a war film – specifically, World War II. It’s one of several movies centered around this specific war that are out right now. And we just had Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk come out last summer. Look, I’m not knocking these films. War movies – and most 20th century period pieces, for that matter – aren’t really my thing, and I’m sure these films were well-made and deserving of awards, praise, etc. But it got me thinking: why is every damn war drama about World War II? And why are more ancient wars almost completely disregarded on the big screen? The exception to this, is, of course, the Roman wars and battles, which begs another question: why are other old societies and empires never given the spotlight?

The recent success of the TV series Vikings, on the History Channel, is something of a rarity. Very few shows or movies have or will chronicle the many sagas surrounding Nordic people and their history and culture. Even fantasy-centric takes on such material, like the attempted adaptation of Beowulf, were ultimately scrapped. I refuse to believe there’s not an audience for such a program, if the success of Vikings is any indication. Most series and movies set in ancient times, however, have opted instead to focus on Greek and Roman history, mythology, or cultures. On TV, we’ve had Rome, Spartacus, Xena, and Hercules, while on the larger screen we’ve had 300, Gladiator, Pompeii, Ben-Hur, Clash of the Titans, The Immortals, Troy, Agora, etc. How many well-known movies about Nordic history or mythos can you think of? And low-budget flops don’t count. The closest thing that comes to mind is a Viking-sci-fi crossover movie called Outlander (not to be confused with the completely different book-based TV series of the same name). And I suppose you could count Marvel’s Thor movies, though they have very little to do with Norse mythology.

Meanwhile, Aztec and various Middle Eastern histories and mythologies are totally disregarded. We live in a world with such a rich history, and myriad wars, epic events, and fantastical legends that changed and shaped society, yet we barely tap into any of it in movies. I can’t tell you how many WWII movies I’ve heard about over the last decade alone. Eventually, they all blend into one another for me and have this look and feeling of utter sameness. Look, I understand that WWII affected the world on such a huge level, and in such a profound way, but it’s time to let it go. There are only so many more stories you can do based on that specific time period before people start to roll their eyes. Moreover, it’s my personal belief that it’s easier for directors and screenwriters to do films based on WWII and other recent wars, like the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, than to explore more creativity and a larger budget, and do a film about – oh, I don’t know – China’s Battle of Red Cliffs, back in 208 A.D.; or the Battle of Kadesh fought in what is now Syria, during 1274 B.C.; or the Battle of Svolder, an epic naval conflict that took place toward the very end of the Viking era.

There have been quite a few movies about the Greek and Roman gods. As I recall, there were even two different Hercules films by two different studios released during a single year. What about the Persian gods? How about a film about the Celtic druids? Or a film about Aztec gods? Let’s get really daring and do one about the deities of Maori mythology! And I would love to see anything Nordic and fantasy-based, like adaptations of The Nibelungenlied or Beowulf, or the Valkyrie or the actual events of Ragnarok. And what about a movie based on Egyptian mythology? You know, one that doesn’t use white actors to play Egyptian people?

I really think the source of the problem is a lack of imagination. You can’t just take something directly from the history books and turn it into a screenplay, so it does take creativity and talented writing and direction to do something that breaks the mold and pulls from influences other than those that currently spin around in a perpetual cycle of repetition. For Hollywood, which pushes derivative sequels and demands movies centered around guns and big explosions, that’s just too much to ask. It’s one of the reasons why there are countless books on Aztec culture, Native Americans, African mythology, and Norse epics, but hardly any in a screen-based artistic medium. And, just as with the mega-franchises that dominate theaters, audiences have been trained like dogs to lap up all the “award-worthy” WWII dramas, and why they only consider fantasy works with ties to Greece and Rome to be palatable.

Even when there are signs that things are changing, that change is very limited. Marvel, for example, has at least introduced small elements of Norse myths to people via Thor, and is beginning to explore African culture with Black Panther. DC’s Wonder Woman, to its credit, at least explored the first World War instead of the second, though there have been countless movies revolving around that one, too. Upcoming live-action adaptations of Disney’s Mulan and Pocahontas will at least feature histories and cultures other than those that we’re used to seeing – hopefully they won’t be watered-down, family-friendly affairs. And I’ve heard something about The Chronicles of Anatta, an ancient China-based time-travel film, but given American audiences’ unwillingness to accept anything a little bit different or outside their comfort zones, it may very well tank at the box office.

Look, I’m not any kind of movie buff, and I’m not bashing well-done WWII and Vietnam War dramas. But I am arguing that we ought to change things up a little and try something that hasn’t already been done 100 times. You can argue that Dunkirk, or The Hurt Locker, or All Quiet on the Western Front are great movies, but you cannot argue that there haven’t been hundreds of movies centered on these types of wars, as opposed to more ancient ones or those not having to do with America.

Unfortunately, nothing will change in Hollywood until people ask for it, because greedy film studios have to be sure it will make money before they greenlight it. Such is the dilemma in today’s capitalist society. Perhaps this is yet another reason why books are so important. Authors have the freedom to write about anything, including any historical periods, and may draw from any mythos they choose. For those of us who want to experience the wars of ancient Persia or Egypt, or know more about the pantheons of the Aztecs or the Slavic pagans, we will have to depend on literature to sate those cravings, until the day comes when we see such material on the big screen. The question is, though, will we ever?

Food, health, exercise...goals

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to live in a middle-class household (before we fell into poverty, anyway), with parents who believed in good, home-cooked meals. Eating at Burger King or even at a restaurant or diner was considered more of a rare “treat,” as the normal thing to do was sit at the kitchen table and have a hot meal. Usually, the dishes revolved around meat (beef stew, chicken, meatloaf, spaghetti with meatballs, lamb chops, etc.), but there was always a side of fresh vegetables, and care was always taken to make sure I got three round meals of healthy food a day. Snacks were very limited, and other than soda, I hardly ever had anything sugary.

A lot of people don’t have that luxury today. I meet more and more people who claim to have grown up eating fast food almost constantly, whether it’s ordering take-out every other day or being a frequent visitor to the McDonald’s drive-thru. I can’t imagine how unhealthy that must make a person. It’s unthinkable that a child or teenager can’t have access to nutritious meals, but that’s what happens to many people in that age group, every single day. We lost our relationship with food - in the hunter-gatherer sense - long ago, but the problem has worsened in the past couple of decades, with cooking diminishing in favor of shoveling processed crap down our gullets or tossing something in the microwave because we’re too lazy to prepare something the old-fashioned way (I’m not being hyper-critical - I myself am guilty of this at times).

I understand this problem - even moreso when it stems from being poor. When we lost the house we had in Pennsylvania, we ended up returning to my hometown in Garfield, but with absolutely no money left. This is meant neither to exaggerate nor to complain, but things got so bad that I would often not eat a single speck of food for nearly two weeks at a time. Our cabinets were absolutely empty, and what we did eat was from food pantries or the kindness of neighbors. There were times when I had to eat a packet of salt just to get some energy, or take candy from the bowl in a bank because it was the only thing I would eat for the week. Point is, not only did I not have good meals during this time period, I was not even able to have fast food, unless my friends helped me get it. Suffice it to say my health was not great around this time.

Fast forward to today, and I have a good job that allows me to eat! Things are still tight, of course, but I am able to cook my own food in the way that I choose, and I take full advantage of that ability. I’m not the best cook, but I try my best. Thing is, I know what it’s like to have to budget - hell, I know what it’s like to have no money at all. And yet, I encourage everyone and anyone my age to try their best to opt for cooking fresh food, rather than going to McDonald’s or some other similar place. It is possible to grocery shop on a shoestring budget, and if you can teach yourself to prepare a few meals, that’s to your immense advantage, in terms of health, knowledge, and experience. Believe it or not, cooking is a skill that is still important to our survival. Absolute dependency is never a good thing, and believe me, the system in today’s American society is designed to keep you in need. The way to beat that system is to become as autonomous as possible, and this certainly applies to how and what you eat.
Don’t think that I’m some health freak or that I’ve got things all figured out. I’m giving myself advice just as much as anyone else, because while I do cook on a regular basis, I fall short almost as often. Some evenings, I’ll come home from work feeling so dead-tired that I just can’t do it. I mean, it’s a whole process. Take all the ingredients out of the fridge, oil up the pan, cook the main course plus the sides, so on and so forth. You know, if I want to cook up chicken breasts with onions and parsley, with sides of white rice and broccoli, that’s a lot of work, and involves having two or three pans and pots going on the stove at once. Sometimes I’m just too exhausted to bother, and I just nuke something in the microwave or make a sandwich (and everyone knows how healthy deli meats are, right?).

The other part of this is that you can’t just eat in accordance with the food pyramid and expect everything to be perfect. Exercise is also a big part of it, and that’s also an area in which I struggle. My job is largely sedentary; I basically sit in front of my laptop all day, putting up an online news publication. And afterward? I work on my long-term goal, writing my book, which also involves sitting. Drawing, another hobby, involves sitting as well. The only thing I enjoy doing that involves being active is hiking, and that’s something I only get to do about two or three times a month. To remedy this, I’ve been trying to use the little gym area in my building more often - mainly, the treadmill.

As goals of being healthy and/or losing weight are often difficult ones, I’ve decided to list a few tips that have worked for me personally. I’m not an expert on this by any means, and I’m still trying every day to improve my lifestyle in terms of physical activity. So take the advice that follows with a grain of salt (just a grain, because too much salt is bad for you).

Kick most of your vices . . . but not all of them

There are so many things that are bad for us. Too much red meat, soda, too much coffee, fast food, energy drinks, cigarettes, alcohol, etc. It’s important to kick most bad habits, of course, and as with anything, we should always practice moderation. That being said, I’m of the opinion that getting rid of all your vices may actually hurt you, because you don’t get that dopamine jolt you feel when you do something that you look forward to and enjoy. This causes unneeded stress, and when you’re trying to stick to a diet, quitting all the “bad things” cold turkey can really cripple your morale, not to mention suck some small (but nevertheless important) joy out of your day. Personally, I still like to drink alcohol, since a.) I don’t have a problem with it, and b.) I’m not genetically predisposed to have a problem with it. A little responsible drinking, plus trying to stick to eating better, is a nice balance for me, and I feel that I ultimately benefit from making this compromise with myself.

Don’t vilify meat, but don’t make it your only food, either

Obviously I’m not a vegan, and I could go into why I actually think it’s perfectly natural and important for people to be meat eaters, but that’s another post for another time. (And no, I have nothing against vegans or vegetarians). Again, though, moderation is key, and just because I support being a carnivore, this doesn’t mean that you can get away with eating nothing but red meat and still be healthy. In fact, doing such a thing might very well kill you. Epic Meal Time is a very entertaining YouTube channel, but using it as an eating guide could very well land you in a hospital. 

Now, it’s true that eight times out of ten, meat is a very appropriate main course, but always throw some vegetables in there. Cooking a steak? Try adding some huge portabella mushrooms, and don’t forget some onions. How about topping it off with some parsley? Steamed carrots or broccoli are always good sides, with the former being especially good in stews. And don’t forget that fish and poultry are excellent alternatives to red meat, and are much healthier choices. I would even argue that things like steak and pork should be eaten rarely, with chicken or fish taking precedence. Especially fish. I eat everything from pickled herring to salmon and tilapia; octopus salad or shrimp rings; tuna sandwiches or sardines in tomato sauce. So definitely prioritize seafood, and don’t be afraid to have the occasional meat-free meal, either.

When you can walk, walk

Look, I know a lot of people drive, and those who don’t usually rely on public transportation or Uber. But if you can get somewhere by foot, it can only help you to do so. If you’re going somewhere that’s two to four miles away, and you feel like you need some exercise, you can walk it - especially if you’re in your 20’s and in fair health. Unless the weather outside is hell, there’s no excuse not to hoof it. Lately I’ve started to fall into the trap of Ubering to nearby places, due to the sheer convenience of it, but that’s mostly because it’s been damned cold, windy, and icy out. Now, though, the weather is moderate in Chicago, at least until next week, so you can be sure that I’m going to take advantage of it and try and get more exercise. Whenever you have the chance to do the same, take it.

I hope these suggestions help. Remember that you don’t have to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I’ve seen people who genuinely enjoyed eating meat become vegan, and change from being happy, easygoing people into those who are constantly nervous and stressed out. I’ve seen guys who like to have a cold beer quit drinking entirely, and stare longingly every time they pass a bar or see someone else having a drink. You do yourself no good if your diet or lifestyle change is making you downright miserable. Remember that mental and emotional health is just as important as physical health. Balance and moderation are essential. I’m still struggling to get it right, but damn it, at least I’m trying.