Friday, October 4, 2019

The zombie...a cocktail

1 oz. apricot brandy
1 oz. light rum
1 oz. dark or Jamaican rum
1 oz. lime juice
2 dashes grenadine
Orange juice
1 oz. Bacardi 151 rum

Mix light and dark rum and brandy in a cocktail shaker, add lime juice and grenadine. Shake well and strain into a highball glass filled with cracked ice. Fill glass with orange juice but leave enough room to float the 151 on top. Garnish with a cherry and orange slice.

Legend is, Hollywood restaurant owner Donn Beach created the drink to help a hung-over customer get through a meeting. Later, the customer complained that he'd been a zombie his whole trip.

This recipe from The Cooking Channel.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Bonfires, leaves, and walking on the wild side. October Isabelle style.

Have you planned your Halloween costume? I have a confession to make. I don't like wearing costumes. Ask me about the time (in seventh grade) I made a Tootsie Roll costume... Don't laugh! It was traumatic. Even though I did take second place in the costume contest.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Guilty Mom Horror Part 4: Examples? Compare and contrast, see it in action.

A viewing of horror films featuring mothers with distressed children, The ExorcistBabadook, and Hereditary, offers the opportunity to examine ways in which uncanny situations and Lacan’s conflicting imaginary and symbolic order create the frightening impossibility of absolute comprehension.

The Exorcist, released in the end of 1973, is one of the early horror films featuring a mother whose child is being terrorized. While it’s true that the mother character, Chris MacNeil, is a career-minded single mother, she is not a ‘guilty’ mom. She doesn’t feel conflicted about her own behavior as a mother. Additionally, she is not being punished by society nor is she resentful of her child’s, distress and apparent need for help. Her child needs help and, with the support of her community and society, she does everything she can to get it. Her situation is not uncanny; it is understandable and customary, and, as a result, the mother character is not a source of tension. Instead, she reacts to the story tension.

Furthermore, the mother has access to the symbolic order and all its resources. She demands and receives assistance. When initial medical treatments are not successful, she becomes insistent and continues to access resources, seeking additional help for her child. While she does take steps to hide her identity after traditional medicine fails, she is not fearful of judgment or rejection. She doesn’t smother or silence her daughter. Her daughter’s torment continues, but not as a result of her own mother becoming a threat. The mother is not forced to battle evil in the unknowable Real. The daughter arguably does do battle in the Real but not due to the mother’s actions or attitude. It is for these reasons that the plotline of The Exorcist does not fall into the ‘guilty’ mom subgenre.

By comparison, last year’s Hereditarydoes fall into the ‘guilty’ mom subgenre. Annie, the mother, experiences maternal guilt due to her inability to fulfill the emotional needs of her two children. It appears, due to the repression by her own mother, she never really became part of a community or society. The entire story, peopled by characters who have no surnames, takes place outside of ordinary, knowable society. The mother’s immaturity, resulting from her thwarted ascension into the symbolic order, causes her to be resentful and incapable of meeting her children’s emotional needs. Her situation is uncanny.

Because she herself never moved into the symbolic, she is unable to guide her children into the symbolic. Charlie, the younger of the two children, expresses herself through pictures and semi-human looking creatures she builds with odds and ends. After her sudden death, caused by her brother Peter, the mother begins to stifle and control him. He is eventually silenced completely, forced into the Real, and given to the evil force.
The ‘guilty’ mom horror film Babadook, out in 2014, features all aspects of the subgenre and quickly became a widely studied classic. Amelia, the mother character, is at the center of three tensions: society’s expectation that she provide for her child’s emotional and physical safety, the child’s needs, and her own needs. Her desire to be accepted by society is seriously hampered by her son’s odd and destructive behavior. She resents her child for behaving in such an unacceptable way and feels guilty as a result. Both her character and situation are uncanny.

When the mother character’s husband was alive, she had access to community and society. As the story opens, she no longer does and the prospect of regaining it is becoming increasingly unlikely. As her son’s distress escalates, her own need for assistance becomes increasingly apparent; however, instead of helping, the community which she is part of—a group of moms and the administrators at school, shame and punish her. This, in turn, causes her resentment to rise, and her treatment of her son diminishes, all resulting in an increase of her guilt. This pattern continues until she is no longer guilty; she is completely emotionally estranged from her son, leaving him with neither the emotional safety of the imaginary or the rational thought of the symbolic. The child battles the evil force in the Real.

In this subgenre of horror, the guilty mother and the tormented child face both the uncanny and the Real. The idea that a mother would be ambivalent to her responsibilities as a parent or antagonistic to the safety of her own child is frightening and uncanny. The guilty mom knows this, and it is her self-awareness that fuels her guilt. She and the child are fighting parallel yet competing battles. Her ascension into the symbolic would enable her to gain access to the resources of the larger group, and the child’s ascension would enable them to express the need for help. However, they are both trapped in the Real. The pivotal point in the film will be when the mother finally chooses, either consciously, as in Hereditary, or subconsciously, as inBabadook, between her own needs and desires or her child’s need for physical and emotional safety. Dark ending or light, this subgenre of film is likely to be one writers will continue to explore.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Guilty Mom Horror Part 3: “the Real” issue in the guilty mom horror film? Keep looking, you won’t locate it.

Within the context of a horror film, this three-pronged tensional dynamic highlights the unique vulnerabilities and conflicts of the ‘guilty’ mom and creates an avenue through which viewers experience Jacques Lacan’s Real. Lacan’s Real is the uncanny location between the conflicting imaginary order and symbolic order. The Real creates the impossibility of absolute comprehension. Not being able to understand something when one’s life is at stake is frightening.
The imaginary order is the part of human consciousness that exists without language and expression. In the imaginary order, the self is connected to others, objects, and the world. This order is without boundary or definition; it is the fantasy image of self. It is narcissistic, fueled by unsatisfiable demands. It is the order of the maternal. The mother, in her traditional role, exists in the imaginary order with the child. She protects the emotions of the child and creates emotional safety. For these reasons, the traditional maternal role is associated with the imaginary order.

The imaginary order is separate from the symbolic order. The symbolic order is the place of self that is expressed through language, the place ruled by societal demands, norms, rules and expectations. It is composed of a narrative, concrete and defined by the absence or presence of objects and ideas. It is this aspect of self that affords the ability to deal with others and to be part of a community. It is characterized by desire, by want.  The father, in his traditional role, protects the worldly safety of the child and guides the child into that place where norms dictate behavior and rational thoughts are expressed through language. Thus, the traditional paternal role is associated with the symbolic order.

The Real is the place between the imaginary and symbolic orders. It is the incomprehensible, undefinable space beyond rational thought, although it does contain knowledge. It cannot be expressed in spoken or written language and so is not fully comprehensible or communicable. That is not to say it is inherently irrational or inherently anxiety producing. There are pleasant ways to experience the Real. Being curious or intrigued, for example. Wondering about something while still feeling in control of one’s thoughts, while knowing there are no harsh consequences to not know—these are safe, if not productive and pleasant ways to experience the Real. However, the Real is undefinable and thus uncanny by its very nature. Additionally, it is unique to each person and so not uniformly shared. It is undefinable, yet familiar. It exists, and must exist, but is not explainable nor controllable. The ‘guilty’ mom situation drives the mother, the child, and the viewer into the Real. It is in this incomprehensible abyss that the battle against evil takes place.

The mother figure is vulnerable because of her inability to become fully incorporated within the paternal symbolic order. Without this empowerment, she does not have access to the resources necessary to negotiate the story terror. She may be denied access altogether or she may be forced to back channel her way in, managing a delicate balancing act of pretending the situation isn’t present while also attempting to get help. As a result, she silences the child and forces the child back into the imaginary order, although not intentionally, insofar as this limitation happens via her own inability to gain access into the symbolic order. She has a sense or knowledge that she shouldn’t cling to or smother her child, yet her guilt may cause her to over-nurture the child, keeping the child ‘trapped’ in the imaginary order and without access to the language and rational thought of the symbolic. She, herself, is disoriented, drifting in the Real, a place with no understanding or solutions.

Children are by their nature vulnerable; however, the horror film child faces challenges that amplify that vulnerability. In the situation of a guilty mom horror film, the child is dealing with two threats. One, the evil force that terrorizes, and two, the mother who either suppresses and smothers or silences and rejects. The threat created by the guilty mom is uniquely terrifying. Barbara Creed, in The Monstrous-Feminine, notes that “monsters frighten, in large part, because they recall our previous stage of development when we were not separated from the body of the mother.” A child who is forced into that place of development where they are part of the mother, especially when the mother herself is a threat, is struggling within the incomprehensible Real. The child’s location within the Real is complicated by this cyclical conflict. Intuitively, the child knows there is a problem. Using language, they seek help from their mother and in the lack of assistance or rejection are forced back into the imaginary, emotionally-based, pre-Oedipal stage. This regression is uncanny, distressing, and denies the child agency. The mother, wanting to control the situation of the child and keep the child’s needs from usurping her own, continues to smother or silence the child. Without the ability to express the need for help or the ability to understand their situation and thus protect themself from the terror, the child is even more exposed and vulnerable. This vulnerability is reinforced by the mother’s response to her guilt, the silencing or over nurturing. Due to the distress that the child experiences and causes, both mother and child are rejected by the community or society. The child experiences that rejection and begins to fear or reject society in turn. They are shut out of the symbolic order by both the larger group and by the actions of the mother and now must fight the terror on their own.
Stefan Gullatz, in his work analyzing contemporary horror through Lacanian theory, discusses the impact of films like Hellraiser, in which the lines of reality are blurred. He asserts that the true terror stems from the viewers inability to determine the location of the action.

The ‘enjoyment’ at stake…appears to be the horrific, excess enjoyment of a desire that has come too close to its object. The fact that such films, despite their traumatic impact, may nonetheless be mesmerizing may be in part linked to their existential dimension, their ‘revelation’ of the real of our desire underlying the fiction of symbolic reality. One is reminded of the unbearable but nonetheless revelatory encounter with the real at the ‘navel’ of a dream or nightmare, which causes the subject to wake up in order to enable him to ‘continue dreaming’... to preserve the comforting illusion of a stable social self. Such films can therefore only enjoyed retroactively, from the perspective of a more distanced reflection that facilitates a symbolic re-inscription of the traumatic experience.
Adding this additional layer of mental and emotional confusion to the uncanny situation of a guilty mom is an effective strategy for horror writers.

Ready for more? Guilty Mom Horror Part 4: Examples? Compare and contrast, see it in action.