Saturday, June 3, 2017

Creeping, Crawling, Nursing?

File this under the "crazy stuff I see at work" basket.

I spend time in strangers basements, lately, and I found this dude hanging out in the window.
It took me aback, because I didn't realize the Northeastern US had spiders this big.

The Nursery Web Spider, pisaurina mira, is from the family pisauridae, which includes fishing spiders and raft spiders. It is a hunting spider, only spinning webs to mate and suspend egg sacs, not to entrap prey. It looks terrifying, but like most spiders in New England, this one is mostly harmless.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Another Win for American Indians and Prehistoric Mammals!
The other day Amherst College announced a change to their school mascot. Previously, the college apparently had no official mascot, but Lord Jeffrey Amherst was considered an unofficial mascot. Amherst College claims to have the oldest collegiate athletics department in the United States, and competes in the NCAA division III as part of the Little Three in the New England Small College College Athletic Conference.

The college, founded in 1821 in Amherst, Massachusetts, was technically named after the town. However, the town was named for Lord Jeffrey Amherst, First Baron Amherst, hero of the Seven Years War, known in the United States as the French and Indian War. Afterward, he was appointed Governor-General of British North America.

As Governor-General, Lord Jeff oversaw the defense against Pontiac's Rebellion. The controversy stems from his suggestion in 1763 to use smallpox as a biological weapon against Pontiac's allies. This has been historically preserved through a letter chain between him and his subordinate Colonel Henry Bouquet. The letters express not just a desire to eliminate combatants, but to "extirpate this execrable race".

The town of Amherst has also wrestled with its namesake, and there have been petitions to change the town's name as well. Even though Lord Jeff had put his stamp on the region (Amherst, MA is not the only place to bear his name in the Northeast), his legacy as a war hero is tarnished by his participation in passive genocide.

Amherst College, however, has indeed decided to take steps to distance themselves from Lord Jeff and his history with Indian extermination. There is a hotel on campus that bore Lord Jeff's name, and that too will be renamed, according to Cullen Murphy of the Amherst board.

As before there appears to not have been an official Amherst College mascot, now the school has adopted one. The Beneski Museum of Natural History on campus has a complete mammoth skeleton, unearthed by Amherst professor Fredrick Loomis in 1913. And so, Amherst begins a new chapter, with a new official mascot, the Amherst Mammoth. Congratulations!

A quick google search for "mammoth mascot logos" proves mammoths could be potentially terrifying. There are a few mammoth mascots already. The Colorado club from the National Lacrosse League and HC Ugra from the KHL both use the Mammoth, and also the Omaha franchise from the now defunct FXFL were the Mammoths. Both Tufts and Alabama have elephant mascots, which are almost the same thing. All of these examples lead me to believe the newly chosen mascot has potential. I look forward to seeing Amherst College's new identity unfold in the coming months.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Battle of Man and Machine

Recently, there has been a focus on an American labor force that has been displaced. The Conservative Right has successfully blamed migrant workers and overseas outsourcing. But realistically, the jobs do not exist anymore for manual laborers, they have been steadily replaced by automation. Technology has replaced good old fashioned man power.

Folklore sometimes uses fables to illustrate actual struggles within society. The story of John Henry has been used for decades by labor and civil rights movements, but it best highlights the changes presented during the Industrial Revolution and the losing battle against technological innovation. Industrial and technological advances have drastically changed economies, and this particular song echoes themes and issues still at the heart of our society.

Not only is the story of John Henry a fable for displacement of labor at the hands of technological advancement, but it is also a story of equality. Of all the American folk stories of the last 200 years, John Henry is one of a few that feature a hero of color, and probably the only one easily recognized by most of the public. John Henry is a black man. Not only is he a black man, but presumably a free black man, and a symbol of a hard working man in pre civil rights America.

The story of John Henry has been translated to song many times in a few different ways, but essentially the story is the same, and ends in tragedy. The many musicians to record songs about the American folk hero include Pete Seeger, Ramblin Jack Elliot, Mississippi John Hurt, Harry Belafonte, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Johnny Cash, Van Morrison, and Bruce Springsteen.

The lyrics seem to be pretty standard, although I can't find evidence of a credible writing credit. Songs usually share 3 parts, young John Henry foreshadowing his fate, the race against the machine, and John Henry's wife taking up where his legacy left off. I've included the lyrics to Woody Guthrie's version below.

John Henry, when he was a baby
Settin' on his mammy's knee
Picked up an hammer in his little right hand
Said, "Hammer be the death of me, me, me
Hammer be the death of me"

Some say he's born in Texas
Some say he's born up in Maine
I just say he was a Louisiana man
Leader of a steel-driving chain gang
Leader on a steel-driving gang
Well, the Captain said to John Henry
"I'm gonna bring my steam drill around
Gonna bring my steam drill out on the job
Gonna whup that steel on down, down, down
Whup that steel on down"

John Henry said to the Captain
(What he say?)
"You can bring your steam drill around
You can bring your steam drill out on the job
I'll beat your steam drill down, down, down
Beat your steam drill down"
John Henry said to his Shaker
"Shaker, you had better pray
If you miss your six feet of steel
I'll be your buryin' day, day, day
I'll be your buryin' day"

Now, the Shaker said to John Henry
(Yes sir)
"Man ain't nothing but a man
(No he ain't)
But before I'd let that steam drill beat me down
(I believe him)
I'd die with an hammer in my hand, hand, hand
(I believe him)
I'd die with an hammer in my hand"

John Henry had a little woman
Her name was Polly Anne
John Henry took sick and was laid up in bed
While Polly handled steel like a man, man, man
Polly handled steel like a man
They took John Henry to the graveyard
Laid him down in the sand
Every locomotive comin' a-rolling by
Hollered, there lies a steel-drivin' man, man, man
There lies a steel-drivin' man
There lies a steel-drivin' man, man, man
There lies a steel-drivin' man

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

To Everything (turn turn turn) There is a Season

Calendar Man was created in 1958 by Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff. The character made seven appearances from 1958 to 1996. In 1996 Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale rewrote him for the Long Halloween where he played a major role in the murder mystery.

His real name is Julian Day. For most of his existence in the Batman mythos Calendarman was essentially a gimmick character, committing larceny according to days of the week, holidays, and seasons. He morphed into a supervillain with super weapons used to pull heists, and then built elaborate traps to kidnap victims for ransom.

Loeb rewrote him as a Hannibal Lector type of character. This idea of him being a high functioning sociopath, a dangerous mastermind with an obsession with dates helped resurrect the character and save him from being forever a joke character, like Kite Man, the Polkadot Man, and Crazy Quilt. This version of Calendarman was also used in the Batman Arkham games, which painted him as a very dangerous adversary, contrary to his long history of gimmicky nonsense. In those games Calendarman is a serial killer who plans elaborate mass killings based around holidays.

Recently, Scott Snyder rewrote the character again, bringing in a supernatural element. Julian Day now lives, dies, and reincarnates according to seasons. Each time he dies, he then molts into a new Calendarman. Apparently, each time he dies and is reborn, his personality changes.

Like many other classic Batman villains, Calendarman has evolved from a silly crook obsessed with committing crimes based on calendar dates into a much darker psychotic mass murderer with creepy superpowers and possible immortality. However, the character just appears to mirror traits from other villains. The Joker creates mass murder events, the Riddler builds elaborate traps, the Mad Hatter kidnaps victims, Mr. Zsasz is a serial killer, even Alberto and Sofia Falcone murder people on holidays. Solomon Grundy dies and is reborn also, each time his personality changes.

Snyder hadn't given his new Calendarman an origin. Now that his run on Batman is over, we will see if a new writer expands on this new take on the character. Despite the obvious borrowing from other villains, the calendar/seasonal/holiday theme is a good one, taking elements of time, cycles, and celebration and warping them into something to be feared. Calendarman, like many other lame comicbook villains seems to have been redeemed and turned into something truly terrifying.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Chocolate Covered Descent into Hell

I like to waste my time reading articles from sites like Cracked, or The Chive that have headlines like "Top Ten Useless Things from Stupid Crap That You Argue About in Bars with Casual Friends". I like these posts mostly because I like neat convenient lists of things, and also because a lot of that nonsense is stuff that I already think about, and it's nice to see other people's perspectives and then wonder how they can be so wrong about everything.

Recently, I read Fan Theories that will Make These Movies even Freakier on The Chive. The link is on the banner below. The premise of the post was the fan communities for these various films had these radical ideas about what the movies were really about that made them better/scarier/weirder? The poster was absolutely right about most of them being freaky. The Kevin McCallister is Jigsaw theory is my favorite.

But Home Alone/Saw mashups is not what I'm writing about today. Explore that mindfuck on your own time. I really want to get at this Roald Dahl/Dante collaboration. It is on the list above, but it doesn't really fit into the Fan Theory part of the post, as it may be intentional.

I did a few searches for anything on the internet to corroborate this idea, but there isn't anything from official Roald Dahl sources, and nothing on fan sites or articles about the fan theory really delves into the source material on more than superficial levels. I also couldn't find anything linking the original book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the Divine Comedy. It is all about the film. So... here is a look at the comparisons of the Divine Comedy by Dante, and the actual Charlie and the Chocolate Factory written by Roald Dahl.

mmm stuck in all that frozen chocolate!
The Divine Comedy, if you didn't know, follows the 14th century (AD) Italian author Dante, and his spectral buddy Virgil (the actual 1st century BC Roman poet who wrote the Aeneid) as he climbs down into Hell, and then back up through Purgatory and into Heaven. The work is in three parts, the Inferno, which people are most familiar, the Purgatorio, and the Paradiso. For this discussion, Inferno is really the only important thing. Here are the basic important stuff we need to glean from the Inferno:
  • Dante outlines Hell in a way and with such detail as no one else before had done, and influenced the way people thought about Hell ever since. The sign outside the door that says "Abandon Hope all Ye Who Enter Here" is Dante.
  • Hell is designed in tiers, or levels that descend deeper and deeper. Dante specified 9 Circles of Hell divided into 3 distinct parts that coincided with certain types of sins. The first few levels of Lust, Gluttony, and Greed are considered the levels of incontinence, sins of the flesh. These levels culminate in the City of Dis, the city of anger. The 6th Circle, for Heresy, begins the circles of Violence. Level 7 is divided into 3 rings for Violence. Violence toward Others, Violence to Yourself, and Violence to God/Nature are separated out. Finally the 8th and 9th circles are all about Fraud and Treachery. At the very bottom of Hell, in the deepest part of the 9th circle is Satan, Lucifer the Light Bringer, the greatest traitor of all.
  • Dante doesn't go through hell alone. He is guided by Virgil, a classic writer who has been dead for 1400 years.
  • Souls in each circle of Hell are beset upon by various demons meant to pay them back for their specific sins. For example, Gluttons are attacked by Cerberus, Harpies and Centaurs go after the Violent, horned demons persecute the Frauds.
and over there are the flaming caskets for the unruly kids...
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was written by Roald Dahl and published by Alfred Knopf Inc in 1964. It was followed up by a film in 1971 starring the late great Gene Wilder (pictured above), directed by Mel Stuart. Basically, the plot involves a boy, Charlie, who wins a chance to tour a famous chocolate factory with four other lucky winners and their parents. The factory is owned by infamous recluse Willie Wonka who guides the tour with the hope of finding an heir to his business in the process. One by one, each candidate falls prey to their idiosyncrasies and gets kicked off the tour, leaving Charlie as the last survivor. Sounds promising so far. Here are some important things about this book:
  • The factory is divided into rooms. Each room has a different theme, and a different tourist does something stupid in each room and gets kicked out.
  • The factory is run by oompa loompas, little orange men from another "country". They also have to clean up after each tourist screws up, and are involved in escorting them out of the factory in one piece.
  • Each contestant/tourist/winner has a foible, a personality flaw that then leads to that character's downfall. For example, Veruca Salt is a self entitled brat, and her greed leads her to attempt to take one of the highly trained counting squirrels in the Nut Room. She ends up throw down the garbage chute.
  • There are 5 children who go through the tour, with their 5 chaperone parents. They seem to correspond to a few of the 7 Deadly Sins. These characters are:
    1. Charlie Bucket. Charlie is obviously Dante in this scenario. He is praised at the end for refusing to indulge in vice.
    2. Augustus Gloop, the fat kid. Gluttony, naturally
    3. Violet Beauregard. Pride.
    4. Veruca Salt. Greed. She's essentially a high-class, snobby garbage person.
    5. Mike Teavee. Sloth. His obsession with television keeps him from doing anything else.
Aside from the obvious themes of Cause and Effect, Sin and Consequence, and paying for your poor behavior, there is a case to be made that Roald Dahl set out to create a Dante's Inferno fable for children from the beginning. There are different rooms, like the different circles, where each sinner ends up failing. There are demon-like things that live there and aid the tormented. Wonka acts like Virgil, leading the group through. Charlie, like Dante, observing everything without fully participating in the madness.

Despite all of this I wasn't completely convinced of this theory. An obvious hole in this theory is there isn't a direct correlation to Dahl characters and Dante's 9 circles. There are only 5 child tourists after all. If Wonka is Virgil, and Charlie is Dante, that means the other 4 kids have to be metaphors for sinners in 9 different circles? The characters don't really match up to sins from Dante anyway. Where is the angry kid? the lustful one? the scheming fraudster? It doesn't add up. 

However, I then read about extra characters and chapters left out of the original publication. There were a few things left out and rewritten by Dahl as suggested by the publishing company. There apparently were plans for 10 Golden Tickets for 10 contestant/tourists originally, which would correspond to the 9 Circles of Hell, plus one ticket for Dante/Charlie.

There are also a few missing chapters published from earlier drafts. Spotty Powder, The Vanilla Fudge Room, and Warming Candy Room, all feature extra characters. These chapters did not go through extra edits, and some of the character elements pop up in other characters.
  • Miranda Piker is a strict no-nonsense, "humorless" school girl, daughter of a Headmaster. She goes on an angry, violent tirade to try and sabotage Spotty Powder, a sugary substance that briefly makes the eater break out in hives, so they can fake being sick and skip school. She would undoubtedly be the sin of Anger, and probably fill the Circle of Anger, and/or the Circle of Violence.  
  • The Warming Candy Room is about 3 characters Clarence Clump, Bertie Upside, and Terence Roper who eat an excessive amount of warming candies, which heat people up from the inside, so they can be out in cold weather and still be nice and warm. Eating too many of course, ends in them having to end the tour in a cold room. This may have been an early attempt to fit the Sin of Lust into a kids' book without having to talk about sex. Getting "worked up and over-heated", and then having to spend time "cooling off" sound like dirty metaphors to me.
  • These are only the missing chapters and early drafts that have been found to survive, but they certainly give an insight into how the process changed. Who knows what other plans Dahl had in mind.
Lastly there is a character mentioned briefly in the book. Arthur Slugworth is mentioned as a past adversary to Willie Wonka. He is another rival candy maker. Slugworth is responsible for Wonka's public disappearance, due to corporate espionage that allowed Slugworth to steal and copy Wonka's ideas. If Dahl had originally started out to do a direct homage to Dante, then Slugworth would be the ultimate villain. The bottom of Hell is reserved for Fraud and Treachery, and Slugworth certainly fits that bill. Slugworth, though, becomes a passing thought, a distant memory to fill in the plot hole of why this factory had been shuttered for so long, enshrined in secrecy.

Ultimately, though, I think upon further investigation, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory can not be linked directly to Dante's Inferno. There is too much missing, and too much would need to be stretched to fit. However, I do think that perhaps Dahl had meant to write his book this way, but through rewrites and issues with the publisher, settled for a fable of children meeting consequences for behaving poorly.

Also to help destroy this otherwise awesome theory that I wish were true: apparently Dahl had originally planned for 3 books about Charlie and Willie Wonka. 3 books to coincide with the 3 parts of the Divine Comedy, right? But the Great Glass Elevator, which follows the Chocolate Factory story has nothing to do with an ascent through Purgatory. It has to do with space and nasty aliens, and the White House, and all sorts of weirdness. So, nevermind.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Friendly Neighborhood Debate: Best Villains Ever?

Recently, a friend of mine, also with a silly little blog, wrote a post about the Definitive Top 10 Fictional Villains of Pretty Much Everything (in my Opinion). You can go over to Wordpress and read from the Waiting in Suspencer blog right now if you choose. I don't usually do this, but here is my rebuttal, because quite frankly, I enjoy a good debate and comparisons of fictional characters is enjoyable.

The Rules:
  • One villain only from any one franchise. For example, even though He-man and the Masters of the Universe has several villains to choose from, you have to pick only one from that franchise.
  • Anti-Heroes don't count. In the words of the Suspencer, "If you're going to be bad, be bad". So, none of this Catwoman, Venom, Man with No Name flipfloppy bullshit.
  • Villains are pulled from all fictional mediums, right? So, film, comics, literature, they all count as long as it's fictional. So, Hitler, even though he pops up in all mediums and even things like Castle Wolfenstein and Danger 5 where he barely resembles actual historic Hitler, doesn't count. That would be too easy.
Alternative Facts
Starting from the bottom, without further ado, here is my rebuttal to the Top Ten Fictional Villains of Pretty Much Everything. I'll start at the bottom with number 10.

TEN: Darth Vader

Anakin "Darth Vader" Skywalker, the man Hooper X once called the "Blackest Brother in the Galaxy", starts off the list on the bottom. I agree with my friend here. If Disney decides to uncannonize the prequels and redo them, Vader may rise through the list. But as it stands now, knowing it didn't take much aside from jealous love to turn him to the Dark Side makes him kind of pathetic. Vader may border on the Anti-Hero, which, according to the rules, puts him out of contention anyway.

There are some problems with Vader's evilness that I still don't understand. He is a towering presence, "more machine than man" with telekinetic abilities. Why are Imperial generals so quick to dismiss him? True they get force-choked into submission, but seriously, at the time of A New Hope, he surely has the reputation as the dude in charge that you don't fuck with. All that time of being terrifying and your subordinates still don't respect and fear you?

Also, technically, he isn't even the real main antagonist in the entire story. Palpatine, Darth Sidious, is the driving force behind all the evil in the universe, supposedly. He is a master manipulator and is able to turn and control one of the most force sensitive people in the universe, and use him as a weapon. We'll get to characters like Palpatine later though. For now, being subservient gets Vader moved to the  back of the bus.


Yes, that is a transgendered clown looking dude with crab pincers for hands. And yes, it is a villain from the cartoon the Powerpuff Girls. Shut up, and let me explain. This particular villain is really the only character the Powerpuff Girls actually fear. He is called "so sinister, so evil, so scary, so horribly vile that even the utterance of his name strikes fear in the hearts of men". Not bad for a red skinned dude in a tutu and heels. He is some kind of demon, perhaps THE demon. Negative feelings, like those that give Vader the power of the Dark Side, also empower Him, like the Hulk, more negative feelings mean stronger powers. He can possess children's toys and speak through them, which is all sorts of horror movie creepy. Also telekinetic. Also can raise people from the dead. Also controls monsters.

This particular villain is so out of place on this show. It's a cartoon made for kids starring 3 super powered child heroes. The other villains are a green monkey with a giant brain, a pink fuzzy big foot thief, and a stuck-up rich girl princess. The Lord of Darkness kind of stands apart from the usual suspects on this show. It would be like if Vader suddenly turned up on an episode of My Little Pony.

The reason HIM is on this list is because he is truly terrifying in an otherwise silly kids show. Maya Angelou once said people forget what you say, but never forget how you make them feel. And that is why HIM is scary. Laura Duca from the HuffPost wrote that Him is "the most terrifying villain to ever take a bath on the small screen", so bad that we forget he is probably the "first plausible transgendered character" on television.

MW Bychowski explained HIM being so terrifying because of this inability to sort him out into a normative category. She writes, "Terror as well as wonder can be created by making bodies illegible to our frameworks of understanding". The dragqueen makes for a wonderful visual of terror.

EIGHT: Cruella De Vil

I know, at first this doesn't appear to be that terrible of an evil villain. But just like HIM, let me explain. Firstly, the character is not just the Disney portrayed witch with a demented fur fetish who looks like Skeletor's mom. She's originally from the book by Dodie Smith, and like all Disney properties, she's way way worse. She is an heiress to a modest family fortune, treats people as beneath her, and kidnaps puppies in order to skin them and make a coat. She needs the puppy fur, you see, because if they get older, dog hair becomes too coarse to make comfy coats. Also, she has a Siamese cat that she detests, but keeps it because it's valuable. But every time the cat has kittens, the litter gets drowned... so they aren't that valuable, I guess.

She makes the list for living up to her namesake. Cruelty for the sake of beauty and vanity makes her pretty much a garbage person. The fact that she is willing to destroy life not only for the sake of her own material desires, but also because those lives are inconvenient makes her a monster. Up until now our villains take lives for specific reasons, this woman does it for seemingly no reason at all except convenience.

SEVEN: Ernst Stavro Blofeld

From the mind of Ian Flemming comes a character who became a trope. As far as evil dudes go, Blofeld is pretty much your average super villain. He is the head of a worldwide criminal/terrorist organization which has its fingers in racketeering, espionage, grand theft, blackmail, murder, and of course world domination. The arch villain mastermind look, the middle aged, bald white dude with facial scars, and a pet white cat has become the defacto supervillain, used in Inspector Gadget, Austin Powers, and Pok√©mon, among others.

SIX: Bill Sikes

The bottom half of this list is rounded out by Charles Dickens's character from the wonderful world of the London underground in mid 1800s. Oliver Twist, the protagonist of the novel of the same name, is an orphan who gets introduced to and mixed up in the grimy criminal underground of London by Fagin. Fagin is a nasty dude who trains homeless boys as pickpockets, and he is pretty despicable. But Bill Sikes is a monster that even Fagin fears.

On the list this high purely for his savagery, Bill Sikes's story goes like this: presumably he was once one of Fagin's pickpockets, but now a grown man, he's become a burglar, breaking and entering. The man is described as a rough, barbaric man, aggressive and violent. He is the epitome of domestic abuse. He beats his girlfriend Nancy to death after believing she snitched on him. In the end, he hangs himself trying to escape from an angry mob.

While not sounding like a villain that should surpass Vader, or HIM, or even Cruella De Vil, the capacity for this man to murder, in the way that Dickens describes, tops even the cat drowner. He is an uncontrollable, amoral force of brutality. Sikes is the prototype for every muscle bound monster full of rage. He is an unremorseful, angry, unpredictable son of a bitch. And that is why he's up so high.Sikes is the realistic Jekyl and Hyde, only there is no Dr. Jekyl.

FIVE: Kurtz

I think, as a species, one of the most terrifying things is the thought of madness. And Kurtz, from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, embodies madness. The story, in a nutshell, is about an ivory trader settled in the heart of the Congo, in Africa. The man suffers from delusions of grandeur, convinces the local population to deify him, worship him. Madness overtakes him.

Kurtz embodies Imperialism, and all the white burden atrocities associated with Colonialism. He is Columbus. He is the Triangle Trade. The partitioning of India, Apartheid, the Trail of Tears, he is all these things. He is the prototype for every villain who blurs the lines of sanity in order to fulfill ambition. Anyone who feels entitled to build success on the backs of other "inferior brutes".

Insanity, I think, is part of every good dark villainous character. The idea that a person can be betrayed by their own mind is frightening, and the best villains seem to be the ones that are no longer playing with a full deck of cards. Madness is a central theme in R Scott Bakker's novels. Sanity is debated in Alice in Wonderland. The best villains in A Song of Ice and Fire fall into madness. The Joker, the best villain in the comic book medium, is built around the idea of insanity. Kurts is a great exercise in mental fragility and what that can mean to a society.

FOUR: Hannibal Lector
Speaking of crazy people... Hannibal Lector comes in a number four. Fear is a major theme to my list, and Hannibal is one scary guy. Hannibal has been called the King of Hollywood Psychopaths. Samuel Leistedt, a forensic psychiatrist, lists "high intelligence, a vain cat-like demeanor, a prestigious career, a calm always in control attitude, and an unrealistic exceptional skill at killing people" as traits, a list of traits probably not found amongst your normal, average psychopath. In fact, Leistedt doesn't believe this sort of "elite psychopath" can truly exist and actually be a real psychopath in the clinical sense. This is probably why, in Red Dragon, they make it very clear he doesn't fit any known psychological profile.

Hannibal is a cannibal. The name rhymes. It's cute. William Arens wrote that charges of cannibalism by one society to another is a way to discredit the other society as inferior and set up a perception of cultural inferiority. Mythogical folklore also establishes cannibalism as taboo, often changing the cannibal into an actual monster, like the Algonquian wendigo, or the Arabic ghoul. In Germanic mythology, witches are said to eat people as well. Basically, in most cultures, eating another human being is probably the worst thing you can do.

Hannibal is something out of a true nightmare. He is highly intelligent, a psychiatrist and surgeon with an eidetic memory. He speaks 7 languages. Also he murders without hesitation, especially when he feels someone has been rude to him, or if they have poor manners. This is what makes him terrifying. He is smarter than you, quicker than you, stronger than you, and cares nothing for societal norms like "no killing", or "don't eat people". And he hides in plain sight, a sophisticated gentleman in a trustworthy white collar profession.

Hannibal has been the blueprint for every "elite psychopath" character created since. His traits have even leaked into newer portrayals of older characters like DC's Joker.


In my friend's original post on his own blog, he cited this character from a movie based on Shakespeare's Othello. This made no sense to me. If the character of Hugo from O is based on Iago from Othello, and the list is the best villains from all mediums, why not pick the source? A play is a fictional medium, so it isn't off limits. Anyway, Iago has become an archetype for villainy. Much like the other people on the list, he is so good at being evil, his traits get copied by everyone. Hugo from O is Iago, just in a different adaptation.

In case you aren't familiar, Iago is a masterful manipulator. During the play, he becomes angry when he doesn't get promoted by his boss, Othello. Othello promotes another dude, Cassio, instead. So, Iago decides to ruin everyone's lives. Not only does he get Cassio demoted, but then he makes it seem like Cassio and Othello's wife are having an affair, which leads to Othello killing her. Then Iago murders his accomplice, and the girl that reveals his plot. He does go to prison, but Othello commits suicide.

The Iago character, the trustworthy aide, the right hand man who turns into the treacherous unsuspected mastermind antagonist can be found everywhere in fiction. Every surprise double cross, every double agent, every seemingly humble friend hiding a vicious knife is a shade of Iago.

TWO: Professor James Moriarty
Probably the greatest of all the villains ever in fiction, Professor James Moriarty has become Sherlock Holmes's greatest and final foil. He is called the Napoleon of Crime. Like Iago, Moriarty is a master manipulator. But unlike Iago, he never actually commits any crimes. Moriarty is the head of an intricate crime ring, whose plots, designs, and leadership create sinister crimes. Moriarty is genius level smart, keeping himself from ever being implicated in his own schemes. Holmes states he is aloof from "general suspicion, so immune from criticism, so admirable in his management and self effacement" that even by being accused, says Holmes, he would sue and win and ruin your life legally.

If you took Iago, a malicious, conniving, backstabbing character beyond suspicion, and turn him from a jealous revenge schemer into a cold, calculating mob boss you would have Moriarty. Arthur Conan Doyle perfected the Iago archetype, and the only point of this creation was to kill off Sherlock Holmes. Moriarty influenced every white suited mobster criminal ever in fiction.

ONE: Sauron

Mythology and theology associated with it intrigue me. Which is why Star Wars appeals to me, as it is the mythology of the hero. JRR Tolkien created his own universe, complete with languages, mythologies and cultures. This creates a kind of depth that fantasy never had before. Sauron may seem like an obvious number one cop-out, but I can't think of another more well-rounded villain with this much depth, or influence.

Sauron is the primary antagonist of the Lord of the Rings. However, he never actually shows up in the novels, he is only a spirit in the form of a giant eye of fire atop a tower. The Eye of Sauron seems to have limited Omniscience, and is tied to the One Ring of Power.

The mythology of Middle Earth includes a parable for the existence of Evil, and Sauron plays a role. The Eru, the god-like being who creates everything, created the Ainur to help him with creation. One of the Ainur, called Melkor, turns bad and enters creation to corrupt it. Other Ainur also enter creation and become Valar (gods) and Maiar (wizards) in order to protect creation. One of these Maiar is known as Sauron. Melkor corrupts Sauron and makes him his Right Hand. Together they capture, torture and corrupt a band of elves, creating the first orcs.

So, there we have it. Definite parallels to Judeo-Christian mythos. The fallen archangel becomes the dark lord, creates demons and corrupts the innocent. Sauron actually seems to have influenced most of the other villains on this list, and some of the ones not on the list that maybe ought to be. For example:

Darth Vader. Corrupted by another greater evil. The Dark Lord of the Dark Lord, Vader carries out his master's bidding, much like Sauron carried out Melkor's bidding, until Melkor was cast out into the abyss.

Voldemort. Not only is Voldemort the Dark Lord that corrupts the wizarding world by championing the Dark Arts, but he imbues pieces of his soul into artifacts. The One Ring sure does sound like a horcrux to me. Also, Voldemort spends most of his time in those Harry Potter books trying to piece himself back together after having being incorporeal for decades.

Sauron has become the defacto archetype of the distant impending darkness. There are too many fanstasy/sci-fi stories that revolve around protagonists trying to keep antagonists from reintroducing some unfathomable ancient evil.

Sauron is the ultimate scheming, manipulating, behind the scenes planner. He is a giant eye ball on fire, and yet he can orchestrate the war to end the world.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Alternative Facts: Presidents' Edition

It is Presidents' Day! Happy Presidents' Day. It's a pretty useless holiday that borders very nearly on Nationalism. The fact that this country, founded on the principle that aristocracy and royalty shall no longer hold sway in a country built by and for all men, observes the birthday of our first and fifteenth presidents is pretty weird.

In honor of this weird tradition, and in honor of our newest president, The Marmalade Mussolini, #45, Comrade Trumpovich, I made a list of the best presidents we never had. My top five fictional presidents. These are the very best fake United States Presidents, which means good ole President Skroob, President Laura Roslin, and President Business aren't included.

President Merkin Muffley
35th President of the United States
film: Doctor Strangelove. Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
actor: Peter Sellers

To begin our list, I chose the Trumanesque, Adelai Stevenson sponsored naive Commander in Chief, Mr. President Muffley, our last president before the great nuclear holocaust of 1964, and named after the pubic wig, the greatest cosmetic invention ever! This honest, sincere, open diplomat, who, despite being completely unprepared, and with all the circumstances and luck going against him, almost stopped nuclear Armageddon. Still a better a president under stress than our real life #45, the Short Fingered Vulgarian.

President Francis J (Frank) Underwood
46th President of the United States
series: House of Cards
actor: Kevin Spacey

President Underwood is the second president, after Gerald Ford, to not be elected by the people of the United States, but appointed through a series of resignations and appointments. This man is a ruthless machiavellian psychopath, a master manipulator, and a killer. And yet, still better than the actual real life 45th president, the failed mail-order meat salesmen, we have now, in reality. At least this guy knows how the system works, what the job means, and how to get stuff done without looking like a Kindergartener.

President David Palmer
43rd President of the United States
series: 24
actor: Dennis Hayspert

Not only is President Palmer the first black president, a Democrat that ran on a platform of integrity and the welfare of the American People, he survived an assassination attempt before securing his party's nomination enroute to becoming president. This of course happened 4 years before Barack Obama won his Senate seat. President Palmer served for one term, opting out of re-election due to personal trauma, and clandestine anti-terrorism actions, as is the modis operandi for the show 24. And who could blame him? There are crazy terrorists with even crazier Bond-esque plots around every corner in the 24 universe. In fact, he did serve briefly as an advisor in the next administration, but was assassinated in what is probably the only ex-presidential assassination. Overall, a much better National Security president than our current Cheeto-dust Czar.

President James Marshall
42nd, or 43rd President of the United States
film: Air Force One
actor: Harrison Ford

Not much is known of this president's career, or platform, or anything really, except he has a military record (Medal of Honor recipient), doesn't negotiate with terrorists (except when he does) and can certainly hand down some beat downs when his Secret Service loses their grip. President Marshall makes the list simply for being the most manly president since Teddy Roosevelt. Certainly a tougher, more physical presence than our newly inaugurated Tangerine Tornado

President Josiah (Jed) Bartlet
42nd or 43rd President of the United States
series: West Wing
actor: Martin Sheen

Probably the most in-depth, realistically written fake president on the list (although I still don't understand the timeline. Why are the presidential elections held during mid-term election years?), President Jed Bartlet's administration is portrayed in a detail unlike any other in fake presidential history. The Right ridiculed his administration by calling it the Left Wing. But realistically, Bartlet was a great diplomat and negotiator, kept America safe from threats foreign and domestic, and was a champion of the American working class. The man knew his Constitution, knew his Bible, surrounded himself with experts to help him with things he wasn't strong in, like foreign policy, and defense, and had the courage to come clean about his uncertain health problems (he has MS). 

Mike Curry, the press secretary for real life president Bill Clinton said Bartlet was a patchwork of the perfect president combining "the compassion and integrity of Jimmy Carter... that shrewd decision-making and hard-nosed realism of a Richard Nixon... the warmth and amiability and the throw-the-arm-around-the-shoulder of a Bill Clinton; and... the liberal passion of a Kennedy". Basically the exact opposite of our current sitting Commander-in-Chief, Lord Fuck-face von Clownstick.