Saturday, November 27, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Gothic Afterlife

I realized very recently that Tim Burton's concept of the afterlife isn't exactly Christian. As can be seen in Beetlejuice and Corpse Bride, he likes to imagine it being some sort of green and purple Charles Addams art gallery, and the former explicitly disregards any concept of heaven and hell. The concept of eternal justice is only addressed subconsciously at best.

Now, I'm not gonna go on some rant on Tim Burton's secular views here. I still enjoy those movies quite a lot. It's just that it strikes me as strange that he should be so solidly entrenched in the off-white moralities of macabre indulgence and extravagance, unmoving, and paint such an uncertain and dimly-lit portrait of what happens to your soul when you die. He in fact seems to prefer to think that one's cadaver simply gets up and walks away.

It seems to me that this vision is based on views held by religions and spiritualities that have a catch-all afterlife realm where every soul went no matter what, like the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. Sure, those religions had justice in the afterlife, but it was one place. There is also the popular secular view that is suggested by ghost stories and haunted house movies, especially those that involve séances, that being dead simply means living on a different existential plane... This view strikes me as vague, using terms like "contact", "the other side", and "the spirit world" that suggest that these dead are someplace else, rather than among us.

Tim Burton seems to want to define what that place is like, but I still don't feel satisfied by it, somehow. His ideals strike me as strange sometimes. What seems to appeal to everyone is the idea that scary can be fun, but what lies deeper in his works is the idea that it is better to be a decaying body than it is to be alive. In Corpse Bride especially, he suggests that it is a wonderful feeling to be uninhibited by things like a heartbeat, breathing, and any mortal diseases. I don't know about anyone else, but I rather like having physical sensations, and wouldn't care much for numbness. Isn't this a physical state that Dracula longed for? Still, I notice the dead in that movie still drink booze.

In particular, the last I watched Corpse Bride, I started feeling a little squeamish during the "Tears to Shed" sequence, because its lyrics put down said physical sensations and further emphasize the movie's preference for the coldness and stillness of death which... quite frankly, is bordering on necrophilia. Making light of that sort of thing isn't my cup of tea anymore. What of the heat and the surging of hormones that is sex?

Ultimately, I fall back on my perhaps nostalgia-colored fondness for The Nightmare Before Christmas. It emphasizes the fun there is to be had from getting scared, puts down doing actual physical harm, and sends a message that praises and encourages love in the end. There's a warmth surrounding the chills, one that reminds me of the happy feelings I get when keeping warm during the winter, that in my opinion is a bit lacking in many of Tim Burton's other films. I still stand by my feeling that Nightmare is Burton's artistic peak.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Scooby-Doo, aren't we through with you?

I'm pretty amazed that the Scooby-Doo franchise is making a comeback and seems to be getting popular again. While the various series throughout the years were never any of my favorites, I understand its camp appeal and why people like the characters (I certainly do), and Cartoon Network used to play them A LOT so I was always seeing them. I have a certain fondness for the music of A Pup Named Scooby-Doo and for the sheer craziness that is The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo- seriously, who doesn't like Vincent Price's role in that?

I recall that Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island made a big deal out of the monsters being real, and in hindsight it was probably a pretty big step. The monsters were real in 13 Ghosts and all those movies from the '80s, but Zombie Island made it clear that this was a shocker (or at least highly abnormal), and that the gang didn't have to always unmask some yokel in a costume. Since then, it seems like the gang has been able to switch back and forth between fakes and genuine articles with ease. And why not? The whole unmasking was getting kinda jokey.

The direct-to-video and TV movies seemed to breathe some new life into the franchise, and so after so many years of messing with the formula and having to put up with Scrappy, we got the '02 live-action film... which is basically a big wish fulfillment for long-time fans. This was an era of pretending that the gang had reunited after a dry spell (something that certainly appealed to me), and so the logical conclusion was to create a throwback series, which gave us What's New, Scooby-Doo?.

The franchise seems more popular than ever now, even going so far as having alternate continuities and reboots. I notice that The Mystery Begins doesn't mention anything about A Pup Named Scooby-Doo... It would seem that audiences have grown tired of pretending that the gang are continuing their adventures, and are more interested in them simply having new ones- so the universe has completely reinvented itself. Previously we had logical extensions of their base personalities, but now it seems as though WB wants to make them seem like they're real teenagers "just like you", de-emphasizing their outdated fashion sense and emphasizing romantic relationships.

I'm inclined to agree that starting with a clean slate is the best direction that Scooby-Doo can take, considering today's audiences. It was perhaps not the best idea to treat the series like an old fossil that needed cleaning up- as much as that has a certain ironic, nostalgic appeal- and that rather WB should peek at the subconscious decisions made by the original creators that show underneath the surface and expand on them- that is, use the basic personalities of the gang more realistically. Pre-teen and teenage TV viewers like relationships, it would seem.

It seems that Mystery Incorporated, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and soon Epic Mickey are heralding an era in animation built on reinvention- they're reinventing themselves by looking to the past and revitalizing what was already there but strangely overlooked. I think perhaps what gave these franchises their edge in the first place is what is often forgotten, and what audiences always wanted!

I certainly hope I can say the same thing about The Looney Tunes Show.
UPDATE: I can't.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Minty fresh

I'm kind of picky when it comes to mints.

See, the problem is that I associate spearmint with toothpaste and mouthwash, so when I have a Mint Julep or or chewing gum with that flavor, I don't like it so much. An exception would be mint chocolate chip ice cream, but that stuff uses peppermint a lot too, so I don't know what I'm usually tasting... and there are chocolate mint candies, and I have no idea what those are...
And usually peppermint doesn't usually taste right to me except during Christmastime, so I generally avoid those round candies unless they're offering it for free in a bowl, like in a restaurant. But I really things like Peppermint Patties and After Eights, so chocolate-covered peppermint is okay by me any time of year.
Things get stranger when you start talking about those modern chewing gum flavors with names like "Black Frost" and "Blue Mountain", which I don't think are natural mint flavors, and some of them are truly awful-tasting to me- like Arm & Hammer toothpaste on steroids.

Ultimately I prefer wintergreen over all of them. This is because my grandma always has wintergreen Life-Savers in her car, so I always have them when we visit her (and thus associate them with good feelings). Weirdly enough, it's not a true mint! And it's really irritating because they're not as easily available as spearmint or peppermint- only recently have wintergreen Altoids been available in nearby stores where we live.

I've been to a couple of gardens with mint plants, and plucked some bits off to smell them. I remember being pleased with the scent of Catmint (aka Catnip), and blown away by a particular cultivar of peppermint called "Chocolate Mint"- it seriously smells like chocolate and mint! I wonder if it's ever used for desserts...

Speaking of scents I associated with toiletries, my mom loves lavender-scented soap, so I always think of lavender as the generic soap smell. Because of this, any lavender-flavored candies I have is like putting soap in my mouth, so I find it extremely distasteful.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


The main reason I feel comfortable watching horror movies and thinking Halloweeny thoughts after the 31st of October is because of The Nightmare Before Christmas, and these days, Haunted Mansion Holiday even more so.

Not everyone is a big fan of HMH, and I can see their reasoning, but personally I love it. Blurring the line between Halloween and Christmas can create tremendous beauty somehow, and I think HMH epitomizes it. I see that the main difference between Nightmare and HMH is that the film expresses how the majority of the American population doesn't care for scariness during Christmas, preferring the warm-and-fuzzies usually associated with it... while the ride expresses how when the right audience is targeted, a macabre Christmas can be a blast.

This is something that I think the so-called "Perky Goths" get right. Rather than dwell on doom and gloom or indulge one's bloodlust, a macabre Christmas and its fans represent a holdover from the camp horror comedies of the 1960s, bringing to life the values of corpse-painted joy and togetherness embodied in characters like the Addams Family and the Munsters. I love macabre humor, and I get joy out of watching vintage horror movies, listening to old-school horror rock, wearing costumes, and donning a slightly more mischievous personality.

Things like Silent Night, Deadly Night gets it wrong.

Because Nightmare Before Christmas is both about Halloween and Christmas, we used to make a tradition of watching it in October and December. And really, why not? The hybridization of the two holidays really isn't so much of a stretch when you think about it, and Tim Burton's film isn't the first time it was done.

There are a lot of Christmas traditions that border on the scary side of things. The most obvious example is A Christmas Carol, which centers around ghostly spirits and strange visions, not to mention a grim warning of impending death and eternal punishment. Ghost stories used to be a holiday tradition- even in recent history, the lyrics of the cheery 1963 song "It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" has the words "there'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago."
And if this book is any indication, 19th century Christmases were a lot weirder than today's. When we think of Christmas, we usually think of the saccharine holiday that the '40s, '50s, and '60s brought about.
And there's of course there's Black Peter, who is supposed to bring bundles of twigs to the parents of naughty children for the purpose of spanking them with it, or simply spirit away the children in a big bag. Krampus is a very similar character, and is a full-fledged demon.

Reefer Madness?

One thing people ought to know about me is that I'm pro-legalization when it comes to all forms of cannabis, marijuana, pot, what have you. I don't use it myself (I have no reason to), but I find it completely inoffensive. My reasons are simple: the pros of marijuana HUGELY outweigh the cons. The most it does is give you a cough and makes you act stupid.

The more I read about it, the more it amazes me that we demonize the drug at all. To paraphrase Paul McCartney (who I imagine still has a dealer) from his book Many Years From Now, pot makes you want to fall asleep rather than go out and commit acts of violence, like alcohol can do. It's incredible that things like alcohol and cigarettes are legal, when they're so effing dangerous! Heck, you know what drugs terrify me the most? Commercial medications! So many of them are obviously improperly tested, and they all seem to have wince-inducing side effects like stomach ulcers and having trouble breathing. I've seen several studies that show that pot doesn't have any more danger potential than caffeine, while alcohol and cigarettes are more dangerous.

And the astonishing array of benefits the drug has just takes the cake. And that doesn't just include inducing relaxation, a peaceful mood, and an increased appetite. I could probably sing its praises, but I really only know about things like that from some cannabis magazines I've read, and not from personal experience. That, and modesty forbids (they tend to be things I feel awkward talking about).

That's why it really surprised me that Prop 19 didn't pass here in California- we have enough of a casual attitude towards it already, so why not get it over with? I'm told that there were some problems with defining its taxation, but I have to wonder whether or not we just got cold feet.

(UPDATE: I have recently learned that McCartney no longer does pot, simply because he doesn't need it anymore. Perfectly reasonable, really.)