Archives for January 2006

Take Me to Your Paraskevidekatriaphobics

If you’re reading this from home (as opposed to sneaking a quick look at work) then you may share some of the ‘paraskevidekatriaphobic‘ tendencies that (allegedly) impact significantly on the US economy:

The Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina estimates that in the United States alone, $800 or $900 million is lost in business each Friday the 13th because some people will not travel or go to work.NationalGeographic.com

Yes indeed, another Friday the 13th has (unluckily for some) rolled around, so perhaps it might be appropriate to pause and ask what the possible roots of the paraskevidekatriaphobic condition actually are.

As the word itself suggests, superstitions concerning Friday the 13th combine two distinct bad-luck assocaitions – fear of the number 13 (Triskaidekaphobia), and the day Friday. The combination of these two elements creates the hybrid monster of extreme unluckiness that is ‘Friday the 13th’.

So where, exactly, does the fear of Friday itself come from? Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable offers us the following:

Friday was regarded by the Norsemen as the luckiest day of the week, when weddings took place, but among Christians it has been regarded as the unluckiest, because it was the day of crucifixion. While no longer a day of compulsory abstinence for Roman Catholics they are urged to set Friday apart for some voluntary act of self-denial.[...]Friday is the Sabbath for Muslims, who hold that Adam was created on a Friday and that it was on Friday that Adam and Eve ate the Forbidden Fruit and on Friday that they died. It is also held unlucky among Buddhists and Brahmans.Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (London: Cassell, 1999)

Interesting stuff. Not being a biblical scholar I suppose I’d ask the (obvious) question: Did a fear of Friday (among Christians) arise because of its associations with the crucifixion of Christ, or, has Friday become the accepted day of the crucifixion because of a prevalent (and pre-existing?) fear of Fridays? Answers on a postcard please…

As for negative associations with the number 13, numerous explanations have been posited, and I include a sample below:

  1. Its origins can be traced to Norse mythology and a dinner party at Valhalla, home of the god Odin, where Odin and 11 of his closest god-friends were gathered one night to party. Everyone was having fun, but then Loki, the dastardly god of evil and turmoil, showed up uninvited, making it a crowd of 13. The beloved god Balder tried to boot Loki out of the house, the legend goes, and in the scuffle that followed he suffered a deathblow from a spear of mistletoe.Salon
  2. [The most common explanation stems] from another Christian source, the Last Supper, at which Judas Iscariot was said to have been the thirteenth guest to sit at the table…This Christian symbolism is reflected in early Western references to thirteen as an omen of bad fortune, which generally started to appear in the early 18th century and warned that thirteen people sitting down to a meal together presaged that one of them would die within the year.Snopes.com
  3. Thomas Fernsler, an associate policy scientist in the Mathematics and Science Education Resource Center at the University of Delaware in Newark, said the number 13 suffers because of its position after 12. According to Fernsler, numerologists consider 12 a ‘complete’ number. There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel, and 12 apostles of Jesus. In exceeding 12 by 1, Fernsler said 13′s association with bad luck “has to do with just being a little beyond completeness. The number becomes restless or squirmy.”NationalGeographic.com
  4. Theory…suggests the number 13 was purposely upheld by the priests of patriarchal religions because it represented femininity. Thirteen was allegedly revered in prehistoric goddess-worshiping cultures because it corresponded to the number of lunar (menstrual) cycles in a year (13 x 28 = 364 days).Scottbruno.com

I’m sure there are a plethora of other examples/explanations which fústarers could suggest, but all this talk of ‘The Last Supper’, Numerology, and Patriarchal Religion has stirred the muse in me and I feel a Dan Brown-esque blockbuster coming on. It’s either that or indigestion…

Unfringed

A quick plug for unFRINGEd 2006, Limerick’s International Fringe Festival.

It runs from the 19th of January to the 4th of February in various venues around the city, including the Impact Space, the Belltable Arts Centre, and the Daghdha Church (former Church of St. John of the Cross).

I’ve been meaning to pay the new Daghdha premises a visit for some time, largely because I feel the need to overcome my profound ignorance of contemporary dance…

“Mamuska Night” (3rd February) sounds particularly intriguing…if a tad overwhelming:

Mamuska Night is presented by Daghdha Dance Company, the night is a celebration of the creative spirit providing opportunities to present works of an experimental nature or explore pre-existing ones in a new format: a space in-between open lab, cabaret, party, show, installation and ‘just-do-it’ sort of thing. Audience participation is free and open to the public.

If “audience participation” can be taken to mean “sitting quietly in a corner with a glass of wine and watching others ‘do their thing’”, then I’m all for it. Anything more involved than that and I’m likely to flee the building in terror. Happily, for nervous types like myself, the unFRINGEd programme reassures us that, “Bar service [is] available throughout the night”. Hoorah!

Also, for anyone who hasn’t yet made the pilgrimage to the ‘Impact Space’ in the Crescent, I’d heartily recommend paying it a visit over the course of the festival. It’s a cosy, compact, and intimate venue and my trips there have always been ones to savour (even in its previous incarnation as a Thai restaurant).

Good luck to all involved.

More Tea, Mr. Doomlord?

Until I discovered the very…em…groovy Groovy Age of Horror blog the other day, I’d never heard of the term ‘fumetti’ (despite being a lifelong comics fan). Here’s the handy Wikipedia definition:

Fumetti or photo novels are a form of comics illustrated with photographs rather than drawings. This kind of graphic storytelling has experienced the most popularity in Italy. Italian weeklies such as Grand Hotel and Bolero Film sold millions of copies in the 1940s and continue to sell well today…Fumetti are also popular in Spain and Latin America, where they are called fotonovelas, and in France. Fumetti have never been widely appreciated in the United States.

Though US readers may not have embraced the joys of the fumetti, photostrips did enjoy a brief period of popularity in the late 70s/early 80s in the UK. Though most popular as a device for telling tales of teenage romance (in titles like Jackie etc), photostrips also featured heavily in the early years of the relaunched (1980s) Eagle.

Easily the most memorable of the Eagle photostrip stories was “Doomlord” (written by British comics legends Alan Grant and John Wagner):

Sent from the planet Nox to destroy humanity, Doomlord rejected his mission, believing humanity had enough potential to make them worth saving, and instead battled for the survival of humanity against both his own people and mankind itself. Like most British comics characters, he was a definite anti-hero – he not only killed his enemies, but regularly slaughtered innocent human beings too, either for information he gleaned from absorbing their identity or simply as a personality with which to disguise himself.2000 AD Review

Doomlord

Though the photostrip format served the telling of ‘soapy’ romance stories quite efficiently, its limitations were fairly evident when it came to satisfying the more fantastic demands of science fiction.

Over at Comics International, Lew Stringer offers his tuppence worth on the issue:

1) Photostrips were fine for character-based soapy drama (and most girls I knew at school only read ‘em for a laugh anyway), but not for action-orientated stories. 2) It cost more to hire actors and photographers than to use artists and writers. 3) They were completely naff. (That last one’s just my opinion. Well, mine and enough people who stopped buying Eagle so that IPC had no choice but to turn it into a comic again.)

As point number 3 makes clear, Eagle eventually dropped photostrips entirely and (wisely) returned to standard comic book illustration. The death of the Eagle photostrip was not, however, the end of “Doomlord”, and the series continued until 1991 (when it was abruptly discontinued).

For all the failings of the sci-fi photostrip, the technique did succeed in generating a rather bizarre (and unforgettable) atmosphere: part kitchen sink drama, part Doctor Who, part Coronation Street etc. My memories of Doomlord sitting round his digs drinking tea and watching telly with his landlady (“More tea, Mr. Doomlord?”) may be somewhat flawed and inaccurate, but they definitely capture the curious ambience of the strip.

Co-creator Alan Grant describes the appeal of the character quite succinctly:

Because Doomlord was like Dredd. His philosophy is Platonic, socialistic and fascistic at the same time–the fate of the individual is unimportant, only the fate of the species matters. This makes it right and inevitable that an elite will arise to supposedly safeguard the rights of the majority (and keep them in line). And you can see the logic in his conclusions–mankind is polluting Earth to death, we’re slaughtering each other with ever bigger bombs, we’re on the threshold of space travel with ships bearing nukes. Shit, if I was a Doomlord I’d be putting the kibosh on the species too.

But there’s another side to the tale: ordinary people are, by and large, honest and decent. It is the elites themselves which, corrupted by the power we gave them or they stole from us, are leading man to catastrophe after disaster after apocalypse.

Doomlord also had a softer side: his Coronation Street-type soap opera existence in Mrs Souster’s boarding house was quite surreal, given that he’d hypnotised the landlady and her children and was murdering his fellow guests.2000 AD Review – Interview with Alan Grant

For those that remember (and enjoyed) the strip, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that there seem to be no reprints available from the old photostrip days (and hardly a single image to be found online). The good news, however, is that a small Irish publisher (Hibernia) has seen fit to produce a reprint of “The Deathlords of Nox”, the fourth Doomlord story to be printed, and the first to abandon the fumetti style. Details on how to obtain a copy can be found here.

It also appears that Mark Millar is set to attempt a fumetti revival with a new strip for Marvel entitled 1985. We’ll wait and see, but unless it features the Hulk eating Jammie Dodgers and sipping tea in a grotty bedsit, then I’ll be giving it a miss…

Me and My Meme

It appears that infactah.com has ‘tagged’ me (as I believe the term is) with the “5 Weird Habits” meme.

In the spirit of ‘bloggery’ solidarity, I’ll give the exercise a go. Here are the rules:

The first player of this game starts with the topic “five weird habits of yourself” and people who get tagged need to write an entry about their five weird habits as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose the next five people to be tagged and link to their web journals. Don’t forget to leave a comment in their blog or journal that says “You are tagged” (assuming they take comments) and tell them to read yours.

Here then are 5 (random) examples of habits/behaviour that could, I suppose, be considered eccentric:

1) I have something of a rubber glove fetish. Well, maybe ‘fetish’ is stretching it a bit, and overly suggestive of kinky shenanigans – but I do consider it barbaric to do the washing up without a solid pair of Marigolds.

2) I sometimes get the urge to do highly unpredictable things just to see what would happen (although I’m sure this is fairly normal). Recent example: I passed someone in the corridor at work a while back who was struggling to open their office door. They were forced to put their cup of take-away coffee down on the floor to free their hands and I had an overpowering urge to kick (or ‘boot’) the cup as hard as I could and send boiling hot liquid spewing all over the corridor. I resisted…

3) I often mutter a ‘dress-rehearsal’ of a joke under my breath as a prelude to actually telling it. This, of course, spoils the effect of spontaneous wit as it alerts the attentive listener to my shameless premeditation.

4) I haven’t watched television for over 2 years, but still insist on maintaining a blog that concerns itself largely with popular culture…

5) The only time I ever eat an entire packet of anything, is when I find the foodstuff in question absolutely disgusting, e.g. Mr Kipling’s Bramley Apple Pies. Perhaps it’s the masochist in me.

Now to pass this bit of meme-y goodness on to 5 more poor souls…some of whom may have been through this harrowing experience already:

Disillusioned Lefty
Gavin’s Blog
Free Stater
The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire
The Groovy Age of Horror

Disappointingly Dead…

Happy New Year.

The recent zombie movie renaissance, driven by the success of such (admirable) fan-boy efforts as Shaun of the Dead, has given way to a most unlikely revival: that of George A. Romero to the position of (reasonably) big-budget, action/horror director.

Well, maybe ‘revival’ is the wrong word – for Romero was scarcely ever anything other than a low-budget film-maker, even in his heyday. Of course, it was the very ‘low-budget’ grittiness, and (occasional) nihilistic cynicism of the best 70s horror that made the likes of Romero ‘cult’ icons in the first place – so it was always going to be interesting to see how a 65 year old, resuscitated, Romero would fare within a ‘mainstream’ environment (and with a sizeable budget).

Romero

Having just watched Land of the Dead on DVD (I missed its theatrical release), my first disappointment (and there were quite a few) related to how little of the distinctive Romero aesthetic succeeded in surviving the journey to the 2005 mainstream. One would not, of course, expect Romero to produce some kind of 70s pastiche, or offer a nostalgic celebration of his past work, but the sad reality that LotD demonstrates, is that they “just don’t make ‘em like they used to”…even with a revered, ‘cult’ horror icon at the helm.

While Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, demonstrated an admirable economy, largely confining the action to a single environment (rural house, shopping mall), LotD lavishly whizzes about from scene to scene, location to location, character to character – in a way that serves only to dilute tension and disengage the viewer. A key feature of the zombie sub-genre, that Romero himself largely defined, was the sense of being under siege, of being confined, of being aware of the imminence of death and the tenuousness of one’s existence. By imposing spatial limitations (particularly in Dawn), Romero ensured a ‘cranking up’ of oppressive, claustrophobic tension, while simultaneously allowing character dynamics to play themselves out in an environment where all seems utterly hopeless, and all bets are off. The latter aspect led to Dawn‘s (rightly) celebrated satirical digs at the hollow promises of fulfilment offered by ‘consumerism’, the life-sapping tedium of conventional, patriarchal, domesticity etc.

Unlike Dawn however – where social order has crumbled completely, with no new structure yet arising to take its place – LotD takes place in a ‘future’ where urban environments have developed and adapted to the ubiquitous, undead threat. To be fair to Romero, it’s much more difficult to convincingly imagine a coherent, established, ‘post-apocalyptic’ environment, than simply portraying one that is stumbling blindly along in the midst of a crisis. The latter scenario is little more than ‘now’ with a horrific twist, whereas the former demands the creation of something distinctly ‘other’.

Despite some occasionally interesting asides on ‘gated communities’, social inequalities etc., the city of LotD feels depressingly familiar and clichéd (to anyone who’s a fan of ‘genre’ cinema). From Mad Max to The Matrix, depictions of the ‘post-apocalyptic’ are almost uniformly disappointing – feeling contrived and artificial. Sadly, and perhaps surprisingly, LotD doesn’t add much that’s provocative or refreshing to the established template. One can’t but wish that film makers could convincingly imagine a (wrecked) near-future without resorting to the same old tired routine: impoverished urbanites huddled around burning oil barrels; carnivalesque bars replete with strippers, gambling, and casual brutality; aloof corporate-types in ivory towers; welded together / falling apart hybrid vehicles; crumbling chain-mail fences etc etc. It all seems simply an unimaginative amplification of current (clichéd) symbols of urban decay, inequality, and vice.

If that’s all that the producers of LotD wanted to accomplish, they didn’t need the skewed aesthetic of George Romero to realise it – any hack could have done the job. What many admirers of 70s cinema (myself included) might have hoped for, was a bracing tonic to jolt us out of the stupor induced by the frenetically paced, profoundly unengaging, dross that all too often passes for ‘genre’ cinema these days. While LotD is clearly a few notches above standard Hollywood fare (in terms of invention, ambition etc), the gap between it and the ‘chasing pack’ is far smaller than I (and many others) hoped it would be…

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