Arms

GRAPHIC-Las-Vegas-shooting-3
Image by David Becker/ Getty Images

The city that never sleeps

Will never wake up again.

Where neon screens and cell bells reign,

Dominating the rhythm of the street,

For a moment screams and shells rained—

It only needed a moment.

Now the key is modulated,

A major moment in minor.

 

Dance like they are shooting your feet—

Dance until you drop.

 

There were many ducks.

A little birdie tweeted

But the others didn’t flinch

(The cuckoo bird, precisely,

Who overran the eagle’s nest)

Because others have evolved

To survive like Darwin said.

 

Meanwhile, beats were dropped

And roofs were raised

32 times

Triggering an arms race

To race to the top.

And arms reached out for one another

And arms guarded the head

And arms are getting sick

Of being misrepresented.

And arms and legs were bloodied

And arms gripped arms in fear

And arms defended the armless

Because arms could do nothing but run.

Alice, the Villain in Her Own Story

Alice's victimsIn 2010, Tim Burton re-imagined Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. His world is set in Alice’s young adulthood. She must remember her original adventures in Wonderland (the ones from Disney’s 1951 film) and save the land from the Queen of Hearts! She discovers independence, rejects a terrible suitor, and strikes a business proposition with the same suitor’s father.

Jump to 2016, where James Bobin reimagined a lesser-known book of Carroll’s, Alice Through the Looking Glass. This was exciting because it was something new; while the story branched off of something that had already been done twice, the particulars of the looking glass world had never been explored in cinemas. And today, I would like to talk about Bobin’s movie—strictly the movie, though. I will not be discussing any ways in which it differs from the original 1871 book.

As the title of this article states, I believe that Alice is her own worst enemy in Bobin’s 2016 movie. Now, I don’t want to write a hateful piece about a well-made film, I simply want to take a different look at the main character.

The style of the movie and layout of the plot suggests that Time is the villain: He is introduced in a sinister yet silly way, making him out to be a mean “person” as well as not worth being taken seriously; he calls Alice a kindergartener, which is both a joke as well as a jab at her self-declared independence; he refuses to help her save the Mad Hatter’s life; and he chases her through time viciously. Time is made out to be a mean character who should be laughed at (think of how many times he crash-lands his handcar compared to Alice landing the chronosphere in a cleaner, nicer manner). But throughout the whole movie, Time is seen deteriorating, weakening, and breaking alongside the Grand Clock. He is trying through his fatality to save the world of Wonderland, and Alice is only concerned with saving Hatter.

We know that Alice is the real problem in the film because of her behavior before she meets Time and before she even enters Wonderland. In the very beginning, she risks tipping her ship over to escape pirates in order to prove that anything is possible, as she tells her first mate when he suggests how impossible the move would be, “You know how I feel about that word!” Later on, back in London, she holds her own by being stubborn and unwilling to bend when Hamish, her former suitor, demotes her status as ship captain but still offers her a job with the business. She is firm in saying that nothing is impossible, including a woman doing whatever she wants in a world where that wasn’t as easy as it is now. In addition, we are made to believe that she is the witty, clever, funny character, as in instances where Hamish’s new wife, Alexandra Ascot, asks her how her travels were. Alice smartly responds by telling her that the world was “very enjoyable, you should visit it sometime.” While the audience may be tempted to laugh at Alice’s snark, Lady Ascot is asking a fair question about her travels in general, and for Alice to respond in such a disrespectful way comes across as just rude. She also gets mad at her mother for selling off her father’s ship, but should she? If that ship belonged to her father, then after her death it, as his property, would have been passed down to his wife. Therefore, she was well within her rights to sell it, especially because her daughter did not marry into money, providing her with something to live off of, and she as a woman past her prime cannot do much in the world. Alice assures her that after one more voyage they will never have to worry about money again, but her mother still have to survive somehow between now and then—but I’ll stop myself before raging out on her. In short, Alice’s views are clearly established, yet the whole plot revolves around Ms. Anything is Possible being uncharacteristically skeptical.

When she finally gets to Wonderland and meets with the Mad Hatter, she tells him that it is not possible for his family to have survived the horrors of Horunvendush Day.That causes him to wilt into further sadness, triggering her need to time travel in the first place. Now, maybe she would have had to do so even if she told him that she believed in him, but as far as we see, her skepticism is what causes the White Queen to pull the idea of the chronosphere out.

I mentioned before that, when Alice gets to Time’s palace and asks for the chronosphere, he is made out to be a villain right away. This image is furthered when he rejects her request to borrow the chronosphere. He seems like the heartless one for not caring about Hatter, a character whom we have grown to know and love through the last movie, and now worry for as his color fades. But he still denies her, and with damn good reason! When Time tells Alice that she is asking “to disintegrate history,” she simply responds by saying, “I need it.” Time continuously insists to Alice that “you cannot change the past, but I daresay you might learn something from it.”

Not long after that, the Red Queen comes asking for the same exact thing, and he says no to her as well—the same woman with whom Time is seen to be in love with! This makes it clear that his decision is not bias against Alice, nor is it made maliciously. He knows the ramifications of removing the chronosphere from the Grand Clock, and makes this well known to both women, just in a sharper way to Alice. By this point, we the audience should be clear on Time’s stance and accept that the method of the chronosphere simply isn’t viable. But instead of moving on, we see Alice sneak around after politely being escorted out by one of Time’s minions in order to steal what was already firmly denied to her. In fact, not only does Alice steal the chronosphere, she then proceeds to drop it, paying no heed to the possibility of it breaking! 40 minutes into the film and Alice breaks time; she is the direct cause of Time’s decay; and she is doing all of this for the sake of her friend—i.e. Risking the fate of the many for the fate of an individual. Time, the inherent victim of the whole charade, must now spend the film chasing after Alice, not for the sake of being a meanie, but for the sake of all of Wonderland!

It really doesn’t end there. Alice is opaquely, ignorantly unaware of anything larger than herself. She may be doing all of this on behalf of a dying friend, but when “all of this” means jeopardizing the whole universe for the sake of one dispensable person, then her actions are undeniably selfish. She pays no mind to the rules of time travel (at least as they have been defined in pop culture). The first thing she does with each landing is talk to the past Hatter; the first time she sees his younger self, she straight up tells him that they will meet in his future, but have already met in her past. She then pokes her nose into the affair of the Red and White Queens as children, trying to prevent Iracebeth from enduring the accident that left her head swollen. Her interference does nothing. At all. Nothing changes. But it gets worse than her actions in Wonderland alone. About halfway through the movie she wakes up in a mental ward, about to be treated for “female hysteria.” Her mother is devastated and worried, but Alice doesn’t blink twice. Her mother leaves so that the doctor can do his work, and that’s when Alice, the villain of her own story, attacks him with his own needle. She then goes on a chase throughout the hospital to escape, harms a horseman, steals a coach, and breaks into Hamish’s place. These deeds are supposed to pass without quarrel because, again, it’s all in the name of the Hatter.

Toward the end, Alice finally returns with the chronosphere, but is captured and has the time device stolen by the Red Queen. She tries to warn the angry woman about the dangers of messing with time, and I suppose this is supposed to represent the start of her redemption arc, having learned from her ways. But let’s be real: if Alice, the “good” one, wouldn’t listen to Time himself, then why on Earth would the Red Queen listen to her mortal enemy, the very reason she was exiled? She wouldn’t, shouldn’t, and doesn’t. The story line with the Red Queen, I believe, is supposed to give the audience a person to blame for the destruction of Time at the end instead of Alice, but really the whole series of events was triggered by Alice. The 1 hour, 32 minute mark, where everything is rusted over and the world of Wonderland is destroyed, should have been the end of the movie. Alice caused Time to weaken and become more vulnerable, she was the reason the Red Queen even had the opportunity to take the chronosphere (because she definitely wasn’t getting it from Time), and she failed to place the chronosphere back within the Grand Clock before everything was frozen in place. Really, she should have been frozen much further from the clock than she was, but by the power of movie magic she was just close enough for a cheap, infuriating, unexplainable deus ex machina. Somehow magically, the chronosphere was close enough to its pedestal to have some surge of power and reconnect to the Grand Clock. If my description of the scene sounds bizarre, it’s because the scene itself was bizarre, and did not make sense. Whether you think it was direct or indirect, Alice caused the collapse of time within the Wonderland universe. What’s more though, consider this: Time froze at 1 hour, 32 minutes. It unfroze at 1 hour, 33 minutes. And Time forgave Alice at 1 hour, 38 minutes. Pardon my language, but if I were Time I’d be pissed.

Alice returns home, but not before the Hatter enables Alice’s immaturity and stubborn non-acceptance of the way the real world functions. She tells him right before she leaves, “A dream is not reality,” a sound fact to which he retorts, “Who’s to say which is which?” I get that her wonderment is what makes her stand out in her world and it should be preserved for the sake of her character, but knowing Alice this is terrible advice. The smartest thing Alice does in this movie is tell her mother to sign over her father’s ship to Hamish when she rejoins the real world. But of course, her mother instead tears the contract up and tells him that her daughter can do anything she wants. The most fantastical part of this movie is two women, a widow and a maid, starting their own business with no funds or income in any way. We are left feeling like Alice learned nothing because her mother inevitably gave into her hectic, inappropriate behavior and untimely beliefs. Alice robs Time, almost kills him, destroys a whole universe, and then is let off scot free? No, what we really watched is the trials of a poor victim named Time at the mercy of a selfish antagonist named Alice, supported by her trusty band of enablers.

The Rights to Emotions According to Rick and Morty

Toxic Rick and MortySince 2015 I have been swept into the current of Rick-and-Morty-mania! I love the show so much; its absurdist view on life, its preposterous scenarios; its habit of completely screwing with your mind—it’s all so great. The plots always get me thinking, but last week’s episode, “Rest and Ricklaxation,” has had me hung up. Morty’s rise to success is entertaining and Jessica’s newfound desire for him certainly turned the tables around, but Rick’s moral conundrum has interested me the most, particularly his worry that his emotions have just as many rights as he does, as they are a part of him. He attributes comprehensible life to toxic Rick and toxic Morty. And I have been thinking about that all week.

When Rick and Morty go on vacation to relax, they go into a machine that is meant to remove all of their toxins. An easy parallel is considering the toxins germs, as the toxin world is green, dim, and slimy, much like we animate germs to be, and throughout the whole episode the duo are referred to as being “healthy.” (This is a point that I was happy to see included, as mental health is not traditionally considered a sickness the same way the sniffles are; being mentally healthy is just as important as being physically healthy.) Going back to the episode, Morty is satisfied with his new, confident self after the detox, but Rick is torn. He receives a transmission from his toxic self—an aggressive message at that, cursing Rick for abandoning him.

This triggered me to do some research on what it really means to be human, including what it means to be sentient and autonomous. Was Rick right in saying that his toxic side has just as many rights as he does? Now, I’ve watched this show enough to know that Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon are probably just screwing with the audience, presenting a huge juxtaposition between the Rick we know and the “healthy” Rick—case and point, this episode is the first in which Rick actually says “excuse me” after burping. Furthermore, he stops himself before trying to work out a formula to calculate happiness, just as toxic Rick discovers a new element. I know it’s all meant to be funny, and it is, but he brought up a good point.

Heathy Rick worries that he has denied his toxic self the rights that it should naturally have. By banning them from his psyche and transporting them to them to Hell, he has made his toxins captives, unable to exercise influence over healthy Rick while inside of him. At first it seems like a silly idea, but consider all of the other toxins in Hell: they all look like monsters, deformed, haphazard, unable to communicate; they truly are all of the bad parts of their owners mushed together. We see that they are all okay with one another, as they all run toward toxic Rick and toxic Morty without any issues. But they are clearly savage enough for toxic Rick to feel threatened, as he specifically says, “It takes more than that to kill Rick and Morty! But that might do it” upon seeing the toxin creatures.

Based on what the audience is privy to, they are the only toxins there that exhibit sentience and autonomy, two key traits that define humanity. Toxic Morty is more than just self-hate, doubt, and fear rolled into a ball of toxin; he seems to be an actual creature feeling these things. Halfway through the episode he steals healthy Rick’s ship and announces, “I’m a piece of shit, but I stole the ship.” This suggests that he recognizes his abilities to do things right, but denies himself praise. Toxic Rick also acknowledges a non-toxic side of himself while they are still in Hell. He brags about controlling toxic Morty, telling him he can die when he says so. However, that sentiment is followed up with a moment of self-realization when he questions why he’s bragging at all, saying he has nothing to prove. While small, these instances help identify toxic Rick and toxic Morty as more than just toxins.

Next, consider their sentience. Sentience, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “a feeling or sensation as distinguished from perception or thought;” it is being responsive to sense impression. Just listening to their dialogue concludes that toxic Rick and toxic Morty are able to sense. They can sense danger when the others toxins chase after them, they can sense sight (in the real world, not Hell) when healthy Rick releases them, and they can sense pain. This is most important, because sensing pain is unique to animals, including humans. Things cannot feel pain, and ideas definitely can’t feel anything. So, the fact that we see toxic Rick grunt in pain during his battle with healthy Rick and toxic Morty scream in pain when healthy Morty bites his head tells us that their nerves work like ours.

Lastly, consider Rick’s motive for getting back. He wants to be in control again. This toxin inside the original Rick was checked by his decent side, keeping him from going overboard; at the beginning of the episode, Rick cracks because he was not in control of the situation that almost killed him, thus leading him to identify stress within himself and call for a vacation. Toxic Rick, however, does not have that ability. He is everything unhealthy about Rick, meaning that all he cares about his control. That is why he tries to trap healthy Rick in Hell halfway through the episode: So that he will be in control on Earth. Toxic Rick’s drive for control and power is, according to Alex Lickerman of Psychology Today, his desire for autonomy. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines autonomy as “self-directing freedom and especially moral independence.” It seems pretty clear that this is what toxic Rick is after; it’s not enough for him to simply be back within Rick’s mind, as he complains about being trapped in that “sentimental jack-ass” for 70 years. (An interesting point to mention is that toxic Morty does not seem to share toxic Rick’s autonomy; he doesn’t want to make his own decisions and would rather be pushed around and told what to do even when he has his own opinions; this quality that Morty must have considered toxic rages in Rick’s own toxins.)

Lickerman states that it is our autonomy that pushes decision-making. We as humans want to have free will. Toxic Rick wants to be in control in Hell, but he also wants control in the real world as well; he even tries trapping healthy Rick in Hell to get there. Lickerman also believes that when we are told to do something (even something we enjoy) we resent being ordered about; in toxic Rick’s case, he cares about toxic Morty—as healthy Rick deemed his attachment to his grandson to be toxic when in the machine. But when healthy Rick tells him to take care of toxic Morty after shooting him twice, toxic Rick tries to resist simply because he could not make the decision on his own.

The examples above demonstrate how toxic Rick and toxic Morty (more the former than the latter) can be seen as real. For all intents and purposes, they act real: They speak a comprehensible language, they feel pain, they (mainly toxic Rick) have ambitions, and they look human. Remember that none of the other toxins resemble man or do anything other than screech. And finally, they believe themselves to be as good as human. David Livingston Smith (also of Psychology Today) ultimately sees being human as subjective. If the speaker believes him- or herself to be human, then that is good enough. Healthy Morty views his toxins as nothing more than toxins, and it helps that toxic Morty has no drive or motivation to do anything about his situation. But healthy Rick considers his toxins to be alive because toxic Rick considers himself to be alive. By locking toxic Rick up and preventing him from being himself, healthy Rick feels that he has enslaved somebody, even though that somebody is himself.

Emotions have a powerful effect on our behavior. We can’t separate them from decision-making, and in fact they help in rationalization. All of the bad parts of Rick are so vital to his character and personality, that they really might as well have the same rights. Healthy Rick is half a man without toxic Rick, that’s why merging at the end creates a better Rick than before—one that farts in Morty’s face and still says, “Excuse me.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy had a lot more to say on the impact of emotions on our daily lives, and is reading if you want to look into this more.

The Choices of Kingdom Hearts’ Terra and Star Wars’ Anakin Skywalker

Vader vs. Terra
Image by Death Battle Fanon Wiki

Inspired by the new Kingdom Hearts 3 trailer featuring the Toy Story world, my partner has been replaying the Square Enix game series with me so that we can both be up to date. In parallel, I have been immersing him in the Star Wars saga in preparation for Episode VIII this December. We went through his games first, and I couldn’t help but pick up on several similarities between the journeys of Terra and Anakin Skywalker.

Terra is one of three main characters in the Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep game, the first game in the timeline, discounting exclusively Japanese games that were never released in America. Terra, along with Aqua and Ventus, must face off against the darkness that threatens to engulf their world. They are pushed into this battle by Master Xehanort’s involvement; in the beginning of Birth by Sleep Terra and Aqua put their skills to the test to become Keyblade Masters, but because Terra was unable to properly keep the darkness within him in check, he was denied mastership. However, Xehanort took notice of this slip, and from there is out to take advantage of Terra’s emotions. While still a strong character, he is weaker than his friends when it comes to rejecting the darkness. It is unclear throughout the game whether he will fall to the dark side. His friends and his teacher, Master Eraqus, believe that there is light within him, but are forced to acknowledge his need for further guidance lest he succumb.

About two levels into this game I began to get the feeling that I had seen this story arch before. My mind immediately harkened back to Anakin’s own trials and tribulations throughout the Star Wars prequels. On the surface, there are a lot of easy similarities: In both worlds, there is a clear battle between good and evil (in both media platforms these forces are known in their simplest terms as light and darkness); darkness/the dark side is driven by emotions, particularly anger and fear, and it is a faster way to strength, whereas light/the light side requires patience and training to master. Displaying evil in darkness and good in light is a common trope that cannot be specifically credited to Star Wars as their idea, but the point is one of several comparisons.

Powerful users (either of the Keyblade or of the force) are addressed as Masterㅡthe Sith, of course, go by Lord or Darth more typically, but the titles follow the same principle of a commanding position higher than the rest. Lastly, in each world, once somebody has converted to the dark side, their eyes turn yellow; we see from the get-go that Master Xehanort and Lord Sidious have yellow eyes, but the camera explicitly makes note of the moments when Anakin’s and Terra’s eyes turn yellow. This is the most damning piece of surface evidence, I’d say, considering how iconic yellow eyes have become to the Star Wars universe. The use of yellow tends to represent positivity, brightness, and even enlightenment, but it can also represent cowardice and deceit. Therefore, because it is less likely that Square Enix and George Lucas intended their villainous characters to represent enlightenment and the freedom that darkness might bring, we may think that a person must be of lesser moral value to fall to evil. In addition, yellow is an unnatural eye color, one that is not as worn out as red, symbolizing an unnatural change in our men.

Those were smaller pieces of the puzzle I noticed, but with more analyzation the paths that Anakin and Terra travel are not so different, even if their destinations are. Both characters are denied status due to their questionable intentions (Terra was rejected as Keyblade master, Anakin was rejected as Jedi master upon his indoctrination into the Jedi council). Both characters fight extra hard in order to fight off the darkness within them, trying and failing in instances to suppress it. This point is due to their like drive for power. Master Eraqus warns Terra directly about his obsession with power early in the game. Terra is later insulted that Aqua followed him from world to world, feeling untrusted and looked down upon. He even tells Master Xehanort to not underestimate his powers in their final battle. Similarly, Anakin’s quest for power is heavy-handed in Episode II. He is constantly competing with his master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, to be top-dog in their dynamic. He undercuts direct orders to watch over Senator Amidala without trying to uncover her potential assassin; he rightfully calls the use of Jedi as passive bodyguards “overkill.” He attempts to step on the Senator’s feet when they are to hide out on Naboo, stating that he is in charge of security and ignoring the knowledge of the land that Padmé has. He is insulted by his restriction of power in Episode III by the Jedi council. The examples of Anakin’s quest for power really go on. And, just as Xehanort takes advantage of Terra’s inner darkness, Palpatine takes advantage of Anakin’s pride and subsequent dark side.

As a consequence of their wavering faith in light, both men are given a chance at redemption. Master Eraqus sends Terra out to battle the Unversed as a way to change his mind about the apprentice’s Keyblade status. When Anakin goes to Master Windu to warn him that Chancellor Palpatine is a Sith Lord, the Master Jedi assures the padawan that he will have his trust if he is correct. Of course, their challenges for redemption are not perfectly equal. Terra has to fight off enemies while Anakin has only to be patient and wait in the Jedi council room for his masters’ return. However, their initial trust in evil characters damages their resilience to complete their tasks so easilyㅡin Anakin’s case, complete it at all.

Where the men differ is in their game-changing decisions when faced head-first with the dark side. We know that Anakin succumbs and is reborn (in a manner of speaking) as Darth Vader, but Terra does not go down as easily. Terra and Anakin are both driven by their love for somebodyㅡfor Terra, his friends and for Anakin, his wife. They want to be the best they can be for those they care about, but Terra sees this as staying good while Anakin sees this as simply being strong. Terra is the most easily seduced out of his friend group, and is even pushed to kill his Keyblade master by the darkness. But, he ultimately remains faithful to the light. Despite Xehanort taking over Terra’ body in their final fight, his heart resists, keeping him alive only in his battle armor. Terra lives, but never in his own body again. Anakin, as the Jedi Masters anticipated, too easily forms attachments to external things like people and power, making the dark side appealing to his nature. He might not have killed his own master but he does kill a Jedi Master at the hand of the dark side, along with younglings, and commences to fight Obi-Wan on Mustafar later. Just as Terra’s battle immobilized him, Anakin’s battle left him a stump of his former self. And, just like Terra, Anakin (now Darth Vader) is confined to armor in order to live, but not because his heart resisted possession. Vader’s limbs are cut off and he is burnt alive; he has no choice but to live within his suit.

The choices of Terra and Anakin Skywalker are dramatic. Their differences are important, as they both demonstrate the ways that a path of evil may lead you. Terra’s story suggests that of a saved man, kept afloat by his own will and the compassion of those around him but still put in danger by his own internal struggles. Even though he meets an unfortunate fate, light still survives within him. Anakin, on the other hand, more accurately represents a fallen angel, dispelled from grace. He is eventually redeemed by the faith of his son in Episode VI, but in regards to the prequels he falls hard! His seduction into darkness at the end of Episode III truly makes my heart hurt, seeing where he was and how far he fell; showing his agony in conjunction with Padmé in labor only furthers his status as a tragic hero, and certainly more tragic than Terra.

The Merits of Psychological Warfare in It (1990)

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With the reboot of Stephen King’s bone-chilling It just around the corner, I was inspired to revisit the movie which inspired a terrible fear of clowns in me. I never understood the coulrophobia my grade school peers suffered through―all I saw were colorful characters trying to make people laugh. But my God, did It change my mind! Even at the end of the movie, when Pennywise turned into a CGI spider monster, the clown’s face was still burned into my brain. Since then I’ve winced away in the face of a clown, particularly the ones made to deliberately be scary. However, since the 2017 rendition is only a month away, I had to face my fears and prepare myself for the next installment. As I watched the movie, I was just as terrified now as I was as a child; Tim Curry’s creepy voice, the colors of the clown, the eerie silliness he incorporated into his horror performance. Each factor contributed to a completely unsettling movie. Surprisingly, though, the worst thing about It wasn’t as obvious as the other things I mentioned. Pennywise was using psychological warfare against the “lucky 7” main characters.

Psychological warfare is generally defined as a battle tactic meant to weaken your opponent’s hope, morale, and willpower by getting into their minds. An expression many people might be familiar with exemplifies the popularity of this operation: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” It is common practice to know the people whom you want to take down, as a means to more easily infiltrate their minds. Sun Tzu, renowned author and military tactician, expresses the same sentiment in his Art of War. According to Tzu, the battle should not be about violence and bloodshed, but rather victory at the cheapest cost. Skill in strategy is more valuable than skill on the battlefield; through battle, your side is weakened, whereas through strategy the enemy may be subdued. If you can take captives alive, cut off alliances, and weaken them from the inside out, then they will fall. The world saw this practice during World War II. In “Psychological Warfare/Operations,” Major Ed Rouse discusses England’s resistance to the German invasion through use of the BBC radio. The announcers, well aware of their German audience, began holding English lessons over the air on the grounds that “it will be best if [they] learn a few English phrases before visiting.” When they said English phrases, though, what they meant were damning images such as “the boat is sinking,” “the water is very cold,” “I am burning,” “you are burning,” “we burn,” and the like. This was one mean of lowering the German’s morale, but an effective one nonetheless.

The war tactic is no stranger to history, and over time has proven to be one of the strongest methods of defense. It gives you a chance to “kick them when they’re down.” This is what the original Pennywise does. We know that it will act aggressively, as its first two appearances are of killings—one of a random girl and one of Georgie, the protagonist Bill’s younger brother. Throughout the movie we hear of it claiming victims and even witness a few, but it never outright kills the lucky 7. When the group first meets Michael, it emerges from an old photograph in a scrapbook and tells the children, “I’ll drive you nuts, and then I’ll kill you,” throwing in a psychotic laugh for good measure. It admits to what it is doing and will do when they all come back to Derry, Maine as adults. Pennywise constantly stalks the children and torments them, pushing them to their limits but for their collective strength as a group. When Beth encounters Pennywise for the first time, it is in the form of blood splattered all over the sink. She spends the entire night cleaning it just for it to fill the sink again and create a whole new mess. What makes them the most nuts, as children and adults, is its knowledge of them as individuals. All of the children think that they are going crazy until they confide what they’ve been seeing to each other (the only one in doubt, keep in mind, is Stan). The audience sees Pennywise’s powers slowly recede when the children first enter the sewers; it puts its hands on Richie’s shoulders in the form of what he fears most: the werewolf. However, it slides them away when the strong-willed 10-year-old repeats firmly that it is not real.

When the clown comes back and draws the lucky 7 back to Derry, it hits their psyche involuntarily. They revert back to a childhood habit when Michael calls them: Bill starts to stutter again; Beth fiddles with her hands, scrubbing them nervously; Stan grabs his right ear; Ben keeps imagining himself as a “haystack” again. And while they fight to ignore these habits, the clown continues to push them to their breaking points, making Beth imagine she’s in her old house that has actually been boarded up; shouting jokes as Richie tries to talk to somebody (who, as we learn, suffers from the Derry delusion and cannot comprehend misfortune); it even kisses Ben in the form of Beth, only to disappear laughing when it is discovered.

This is important. It could not have been closer to Ben than when it was in his arms. It could have killed him then and there, but instead uses psychological operations against him. The audience even sees the affects it has on him when he accuses the real Beth of being the clown. It’s in their head. The force of its manipulation is seen overwhelmingly in Stan, who was the only one to not believe or want to believe in Pennywise. Receiving the call from Mike, instead of making good on his promise he slits his wrists and bleeds out in a hot bath like an ancient Roman all to avoid facing the monster—there can be no mistake that the clown is what pushed him to his limits because he smears blood on the wall reading “It.” Another instance of the clown dragging the lucky 7 down to dangerous lengths is, as Michael tells us, 10 years prior. Going through a rough patch and feeling suicidal, he retreats back into its layer in hopes of waking it up. He was willing to give himself up to it because of the pain.

Everything that I mentioned in the beginning that makes Pennywise terrifying is, in my opinion, nothing compared to psychological torture. True, its abundance of red (a hot and aggressive color, which triggers a warning in our heads), its lack of facial features under clown make-up, and the silliness that makes it seem unhinged and willing to try anything is gut-wrenching. But only on the surface. Those are the reasons why I wince away when it comes on screen. The reason I wince for the lucky 7 is the mind games it plays, deliberately fooling with its prey like a cat with a ball of yarn. It kills for survival, but it plays with its food first to weaken it. As Pennywise tells Stan, “You all taste so much better when you’re afraid!” If it’s forcing them to experience things worse than they can imagine themselves, then they must all taste great.

The Qualities of a Man as Defined by SpongeBob

SpongeBob movie posterAs the world becomes more progressive, traditional concepts like masculinity are being reconsidered more and more. Generally speaking, “masculinity” is merely the behavior of men as expected by their societal structures. A man’s job was once solely to be the bread winner and provide for his family, but now he may be the stay-at-home parent while the woman goes to work. This is but one example of how our view on masculine roles has changed. While it is difficult to narrow down one specific definition of this vague concept, we can learn a thing or two from an old favorite cartoon of mine.

In The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, SpongeBob’s mission is to retrieve King Neptune’s crown from across the seas. His journey, though, is to become a man. But that does not mean being the strongest, or masking emotions, or any other generic and foolish ideas of what makes a man. SpongeBob’s journey is deeper than that.

First, let’s look at why he needed to become a man in the first place. Based on the show, we know that he is old enough to work powered equipment like a grill and work night shifts. According to the United States Department of Labor, he must be at least 16 to legally do both. We also can assert that he is no longer in school (grade school, not boating school), so he must be old enough to have graduated from high school at least. We also know that he is living on his own, presumably not renting because we never see him answering to a landlord. Therefore, SpongeBob would have to be at least 18 in order to own his pineapple. His first episode debuted in 1999, and so if he were at least 18 by then, then by the airing of the first movie in 2004 he would be 23. However, a quick Google search for the Nickelodeon character shows that his birthday is July 14, 1986, which would only put in at 18 by 2004. By that math he would have been working the Krusty Krab kitchen, working late nights, going to boating school, and living independently since 13.

His official age does not line up with what we see in the show’s earliest episodes, but for the purpose of the movie he would have been between the ages of 18-23, within his legal limits to do the adult activities in which we see him engage. In the eyes of the law of the United States, SpongeBob would be considered a “man,” but Mr. Krabs still denies him the position of manager for the Krusty Krab 2 because he is supposedly still a kid. This subjective assessment is supported by the fact that SpongeBob still cannot drive, jelly fishes, and generally behaves like a child—his actions further show his immaturity when we see him become intoxicated (in a manner of speaking) at an ice cream bar, showing all the signs the next day of having a hangover: Slurred speech, dizziness, bloodshot eyes. Indeed, he even wakes up in the parlor after his excursions! SpongeBob clearly makes no effort to hide his immature behavior, and while he embraces this characteristic by the end of the film it leads the town of Bikini Bottom and his employer of five years to view him as a child. Therefore, SpongeBob’s journey to become a man is driven in the interest of proving everybody wrong. What’s fascinating, though, are the steps he takes to prove his masculinity to himself and to others.

It is not enough for others, like the two hillbillies SpongeBob and Patrick meet at the gas station, to just hear our protagonist announce that he is a man, it is in his actions. When they lose their car for the second time halfway through the movie, Patrick suggests they go down into the chasm that swallowed the vehicle. Here, SpongeBob enters into doubt about his own masculinity and abilities, giving into what others have told him of his own maturity. It is not until Mindy, King Neptune’s mermaid daughter, pretends to turn them into men by granting them faux mustaches. This visual symbol of manliness gives SpongeBob and Patrick the will and confidence to continue their perilous quest to rescue the king’s crown; they now believe themselves to be men because a real man has facial hair apparently. However, we the audience know that their “mustaches” are nothing more than seaweed attached to their lips, proving the strength the two had within themselves the whole time. This confidence pushes them forward to Shell City, prompts SpongeBob to stand up against Dennis, a “hitfish” hired by Plankton to kill our two heroes, and ultimately defeat our antagonist’s villainous plan to take over the ocean. Despite SpongeBob’s acceptance of his childlike tendencies, his behavior is “manly” enough to prove his worth to the town and earn him the position of manager.

SpongeBob is not stoic, serious, or particularly professional, qualities we see in other men in Bikini Bottom. What makes SpongeBob a man is not an acceptance of how others expect him to act, but rather lessons of how to be strong and selfless. SpongeBob is the only one who stands up for Mr. Krabs and the first to offer to rescue Neptune’s crown in exchange for not killing his accused boss. He may have moments of discouragement (as when his “patty mobile” is stolen) but is able to recover from them stronger than before. In his final showdown with Dennis, he stands his ground; in fact, he even takes the diplomatic approach of negotiating with his killer over fighting aggressively. Maybe this is because a sponge is no match for a fish who wears spikes on his shoes, but nevertheless he does not try to push his limits. Instead, he has enough wisdom to play to his strengths. Now, a “man” might have opted to fight aggressively—we see Patrick crack his knuckles when he tries to stand up to Dennis, a clear indicator that he had aggressive intentions. Because he tries to use abilities beyond his means, he loses. SpongeBob tries to negotiate, and in the end, he taps into his inner child to blind his enemy with bubble soap.

A man according to The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is not necessarily a stoic, aggressive person. Rather, our porous pal teaches us that a man is loyal and strong-willed. He is willing to face his fears as well as his emotions. In addition, a man does not sacrifice who he is to grow up, but rather uses his favorite characteristics of himself to his advantage and plays off of his own personal strengths. He becomes a man on his own terms. It is not for a man to be permanently and consistently firm, as we see SpongeBob succumb to and grow from moments of weakness. We know that he has aspirations, as he is all too eager to accept the role of manager in the end, but he is not vengeful or vindictive, as he says earlier on, “Being manager isn’t worth killing Mr. Krabs over.”  A character like King Neptune is consistently on edge, believing that an aggressive, powerful, and vengeful route is the right one for all situations. The king learns in the end through the compassion of his daughter how to be a better ruler, but that same compassion is a trait which SpongeBob has had all along.

The Illusion of Choice in Until Dawn

until dawn

People don’t know what they want; Howard Moskowitz proved this when he introduced the then unknown, but highly popular, extra chunky tomato sauce to the market in the 1980s. Because each person might have a slightly different idea of what is good, we need direction. Direction narrows down our choices, making decision-making significantly less overwhelming. On the flip side, what these narrowed choices also do is take away the power that we thought we had. In the 2015 video game Until Dawn, we see this illusion of choice most prominently.

Until Dawn falls under an interactive style of gaming that brings us back to the days of Choose-You-Own-Adventure books: If you’d like to turn back and go for help, turn to page 63; if you’d like to investigate further, turn to page 12. Similarly, Until Dawn offers players two, sometimes three, different choices to make in certain instances. Like most video games, the player is allowed to walk around and explore their area, but ultimately, they have to continue on the right path to progress the plot. But unlike most video games, the choices that the player makes changes the game through the butterfly effect (the theory that a small, seemingly insignificant action can have consequences in a greater instance down the road). An example of the butterfly effect in the game is so separate it’s hard to believe that one affects the other. In the beginning of the game, you have the choice as the character Chris to shoot a squirrel while doing target practice. If you choose not to, then nature remains in balance. If you choose to shoot it, then the person you are with, Sam, is attacked by a frightened crow and gets a long scratch on her face. Later, when Sam is being chased by the villain in the game, this small, disconnected event determines whether she is caught: If she is unscathed, then she is able to successfully hide; if she was attacked, however, her scar reopens and drips as she runs, providing a trail leading right to her. In the words of Chris, “Boom. Butterfly effect.”

Games like this like to make us think we have a real say in what happens next, but really, we can only pick what the game developers want us to pick. We don’t have the option to put a Band-Aid on Sam’s scar. This is because people need direction. If we could do whatever we wanted, the plot might never move forward, because while the game developers would have wanted us to leave it be, a player like me might have looked around for something to cover it up with. Another example is the kidnapping of a girl named Jess earlier in the game. She is taken because she was standing too close to a window and her attacker was able to break the glass and grab her. Another character then has to chase after her, but do you think we were given the choice to simply walk away from the window? No. Because the “choices” we so deliberately make in Until Dawn have already been decided for us. We have some say over which characters survive the villain based on our choices, but those decisions have already been considered and given consequences in advance. There are too many ways that every single player of games like Until Dawn could choose to play, and because of this we need direction in advance. We need those two or three choices to know what to do, and no matter which we pick, the game picks what happens next.