You’re My Next Victim – Stephen King’s It

Late one night Stephen King woke me up. I was perhaps nine or ten. At first I had no idea I was lying awake, then – when I realised I was staring into darkness – I realised I had no idea why I was awake. I heard soft chuckling – just a gentle laughter in the darkness – that I couldn’t place in space. It could have been coming from under my bed. I lay still for several moments, a little nervous, wondering if I had heard what I thought I’d heard.

Then I heard it again.

I got out of bed and put an ear to my door, hearing nothing. I opened it and walked out onto the dark landing. I saw my parents’ bedroom light was on so went in to ask if either of them had heard the chuckling. My mother wasn’t there, but my dad was sat up reading It, and it was his laughing which had woke me up. He said he was laughing because the scene he was reading had some kids who were squatted down lighting each other’s farts. I told him his chuckling had woke me up and that it was a little creepy hearing giggling in the darkness, but it was alright now I knew what was going on. I went back to bed and slept without trouble. That was the first time Stephen King disturbed my sleep.

I didn’t know then that the scene in which those bullies light their farts – and it certainly is funny – is followed by a wonderful scene in which a twelve year old boy, Patrick Hockstetter, is half murdered by a swarm of flying leeches. One leech pierces his eyelid and sucks the eyeball until it collapses, and another lands on his tongue, sucks blood until it’s bloated, and then explodes in his mouth. Young Mr Hockstetter passes out as he’s dragged into the sewers by the entity called It, and he awakens only when, in the dark somewhere under the city, the creature begins to eat him. That might be gross, but here’s the thing: Patrick Hockstetter had it coming.

Stephen King’s It was published in September 1986. Thirty years later many fan-polls and blogs still cite the book as either his best or the fans’ favourite. Sometimes fans confuse a writer’s best work with their favourite work from that writer. Defining a writer’s “best” work is trickier than it sounds. It is probably not King’s best work, but it’s one which has its popularity secured by a collection of characters the reader easily sympathises with. The depth to which King thinks his characters into existence is remarkable.

Consider this for instance. Claudette Sanders – the first character mentioned in King’s Under the Dome – is taking a flying lesson, paid for by her wealthy husband, Andy. We are told of her that, although not exactly spoiled, she “had undeniably expensive tastes which, lucky man, Andy seemed to have no trouble satisfying.” At the end of the next page (page two) the control panel of the plane dies, and eight lines of prose later, Claudette’s body parts are falling on Chester’s Mill. Here’s a character created to be killed to open the novel, but King still gives her a whiff of backstory when he mentions her “expensive tastes”. Such a small detail begins to show the character’s character. Yet by the end of page three she’s dead. This is mildly extraordinary. We are forced to ask ourselves, if King thinks this much about a character who doesn’t last even two full-pages of prose, to what extent did King think about his Loser’s Club of kids?

Each of the seven children he creates to battle the entity are losers for different reasons. Bill stutters; Richie can’t keep his mouth shut, and has what might now be called “hyperactivity disorder” – or some other similar nonsense. Ben is fat and a loner; Eddie is the wimpy kid; Stan is Jewish; Beverly is poor and Mike is black. All these circumstances make the kids unpopular in 1958, not part of the “in” crowd at school. This is something which most of us can relate to, either by not having been one of the cool-kids, or remembering some unfortunate kid whose mum sent him in wearing Hi-tech trainers. (When I was a young teenager wearing Hi-techs was more or less a death sentence. Some parents are criminally fucking stupid. And here’s a darker thought: perhaps some parents secretly hate their children?) Thus we recognise something of our past selves in the kids King creates to face the creature. The Loser’s Club has something for everyone’s memory.

Many of us enjoy the regressing to childhood. We look at pictures and video from when we were kids and indulge our sadomasochistic side by going to the “school reunion”. Childhood is idealised in our memory and children, especially babies, are cooed at and fawned over.  This might be why so many of us are wet and feeble weaklings when we grow up. The Romans, not fond of children, thinking them rather gross and needy creatures, used childhood as the time to train and prepare for adulthood, without the cooing and fawning. Who would argue Roman men weren’t made of “sterner stuff” than us males are today?

Although we have a tale in which children are murdered and eaten, the book is pitched at the place where most adults are vulnerable: in our desire for nostalgia and our moist-eyed attitude to childhood. We can be pulled into the novel, let’s say, by Ben falling in love with Beverley Marsh because he sees her ankle bracelet, but we don’t need to understand what he feels precisely; to understand the ache in his belly  we need only to have some memory of our own for comparison.

It’s too easy to decide that King – or part of him at any rate – is to be found in the character of Bill Denbrough. King would have been the same age as the Losers in 1958, and Denbrough is the character who becomes a horror writer, his books inspired by his childhood experiences. Perhaps the Denbrough / King thing is too obvious on purpose? If King – allowing the nostalgia power to work on him as well as through him – puts himself in the book, perhaps he’s split between Bill and Richie. Bill stutters – so can’t express himself properly, while Richie expresses himself too well, yet hides behind characters who find expression through the voices Richie uses throughout.

Bill and Richie, working together, go to the House on Neibolt Street to kill It with Bill’s father’s gun. While in the basement, the creature comes down the stairs to get them in the form of the werewolf from the 1957 movie I was a Teenage Werewolf. Richie has recently seen this movie and it made an impression on him. It made an impression on King, too. Writing in Danse Macabre, King talks of the film and mentions the change from boy to monster. ‘For a high school or junior high school kid watching the transformation for the first time,’ King says, ‘this was baaad shit.’ He then points out the basics of the matter: the unfortunate teenage boy

grows hair all over his face, produces long fangs, and begins to drool a substance that looks suspiciously like Burma-Shave. He peeks at a girl doing exercises on the balance beam all by herself in the gymnasium, and one imagines him smelling like a randy polecat who just rolled in a nice fresh pile of coyote shit.

(For completeness, that teenage girl in the gymnasium was a twenty-two year old woman called Dawn Richard – a Playboy centrefold.)

Richie and Ben might be confronted by a werewolf because that represents what they’re most scared of at that time, yet the werewolf – the one from the movie, and the one in the novel, because the one in the novel is the one from the movie – symbolises something else: a fear of puberty and the sexual awakening which turns pleasant little boys into ravenous monsters. (Beverly – the only girl in the gang – recounts how It appeared to her as spurts of blood from the plughole in the bathroom. This is what she’s most afraid of, perhaps, for similar reasons to Bill and Richie; or because once her father knows she’s bleeding, he might want to take their relationship to the next level.) These fears are wrapped into a colourful package of classic American popular culture – the monsters from the movies – and might be dismissed for that reason as nostalgia for King, or for Americans generally of a certain age, but those hooks are universal, they lurk under the surface and will pierce the psyche somewhere of anyone old enough to read the book. (The cover of Detective Comics 671 has Batman protecting a screaming woman while surrounded by Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy and the Werewolf – all monsters used by It – and that issue, from February 1994, was not aimed at people who were kids in 1955. Perhaps it’s fair to assume that teenage boys, from different eras, have the same preoccupations?)

The novel is pitched directly at the child you once were. In that way, it’s a shameless pitch, and too much of the book force-feeds us on the topic of “the magic of childhood”. This isn’t a vague term, interchangeable with “the best days of your life”, or something similar. King’s childhood magic is exactly that: a force which is somehow aware of the kids and uses them (and helps them) to battle the ancient entity under the city.

For example, Beverly – hiding from the boys lighting their farts, yet watching them closely – is attacked by one of the leeches which punches holes in Patrick Hockstetter. Beverly is the crack-shot of the gang; she’s armed with a Bulleye – a catapult which fires ball bearings. She loads it, aims at the leech she’s just pulled off her arm, and as soon as the metal ball leaves the pouch, she knows she’s missed her target.

But then she saw the ball-bearing curve. It happened in a split second, but the impression was very clear: it had curved. It struck the flying thing and splattered it to mush. There was a shower of yellowish droplets which pattered on the path.

The power the creature has is worth wondering about. It seems to have omnipotence and omniscience when it needs it, but these powers fail It when it suits King. Does the creature have powers or not? Two scenes with the Bullseye allow the reader to wonder.

Patrick Hockstetter is a child-psychopath, easily the most demented character in the book. His dementia means he isn’t scared of anything and this lack of fear makes things tricky when It comes out of hiding after sending the flying leeches. Hockstetter sees the creature come out from behind a junked car. He notices that

its face was running like wax. Sometimes it began to harden and look like something – or someone – and then it would start to run again, as if it couldn’t make up its mind what it wanted to be.

It says only ‘hello and goodbye’ to Patrick in a “bubbling voice”, yet Beverley hears her father say ‘hello and goodbye’. On the surface we understand this. Al Marsh is the person (thing) she is most afraid of (and had Beverly seen what had happened, not just heard it, she would have seen her father drag him off.) But this small scene actually poses problems for the novel’s logic. The creature can’t settle on what image to appear as to Hockstetter because it’s getting nothing from Hockstetter. It seems to be trying to “get a reading” but Patrick’s mind is blank of fears. Now on the novel’s logic, had Mike Hanlon been hiding with Beverly he would have heard It squawk ‘hello and goodbye’ like the giant bird; Richie would have heard the words in the sound of a werewolf’s snarl. So either It can broadcast on all frequencies or it relies on its victims to interpret one signal. Yet if it relies on its victims to interpret one signal, why is It bothering to shape-shift ‘as if it couldn’t make up its mind’? It implies the creature’s shapeshifting runs on some sort of evolved instinct – like an animal changing its colouring to suit the surroundings. This poses questions about the creature’s will, and therefore its abilities. What seems a way of demonstrating just how deranged Hockstetter is, actually dilutes the horror a little because it suggests the creature is simply feeding, rather than being actively wicked. We can get all gooey when the lion tears the baby antelope apart, but we don’t think the lion is doing anything bad. Yet we’re told It uses the tactic of appearing as whatever its victim is scared of deliberately. The fear is what ‘salts the meat’ for the entity. King seems to want things all ways, here.

Another curious scene with the Bullseye occurs back in the house on Neibolt street. The kids are there, armed with the silver-slugs they have made, to confront and kill It. Beverley almost wastes one silver-slug on a rat before Bill roars at her not to fire.

‘It wanted me to shoot at it,’ Beverly said in a faint voice. ‘Use up half our ammunition on it.’

    ‘Yes,’ Bill said. ‘It’s l-l-like the FBI training r-range at Quh-Quh-Quantico, in a w-w-way. They seh-send y-you down this f-f-hake street and pop up tuh-targets. If you shuh-shoot any honest citizens ih-instead of just cruh-crooks, you l-lose puh hoints.’

 This makes surface sense. But this scene, like the one in the junkyard with the leeches, poses questions about the will of the creature. The children believe the silver will kill the monster because that’s what the movies and comics say, and it seems the creature is damaged by what the children believe. Once It knows it’s the werewolf which scares them, it takes on the appearance of the werewolf, but also the monster’s weaknesses. Doing this strongly implies a lack of choice on the part of the creature. This scene is like a portal into the novel’s subtext. The novel’s creature is forced to have weaknesses because the novel’s subtext is that the fears the children have are of their own making, and are strong enough to manifest into reality: fear of bigger kids, of bullies; fear of illness and of monsters from the movies; fear of coming sexuality and the perils of puberty.

This is best shown when Beverly pulls back the Bullseye to fire, knowing very well she’s out of ammo. The creature believes they have another slug because the Losers act as if they do, yet a few pages before the creature was trying to get them to waste ammo on a rat, seemingly knowing what they were armed with.

Here the subtext actually breaches the surface into the action. (Another example is when It chases Mike Hanlon at the derelict ironworks: why doesn’t it morph into a smaller bird, or anything else small enough to get into the smoke-stack Mike hides in? One can only assume it doesn’t because it can’t. This is partially explained on page 990, when, from It’s point of view, we’re told that ‘all living things must abide by the laws of the shape they inhabit. For the first time It realised that perhaps Its ability to change Its shapes might work against It as well as for It.’)

One has to ask if the creature has the ability to change shapes when it chooses to do so or not? If yes, why doesn’t it do so? If no, then this really is where a portal into the subtext could actually be a rip in the dimension between the fiction and its subtext. One must remember that the characters do not know they are characters in a novel.

Most kids are scared of spiders and many adults remain scared of them. So when the empowered kids get under the city and discover the thing’s form – the closest approximation to its real form the human mind can see – is a giant spider, there isn’t much shock in that. Indeed, the spider’s appearance was foreshadowed. On page 404, there’s this exchange between Beverly and her mother, discussing the spider she pretended she saw when the blood spurted from her bathroom sink. She asks her mother if she had seen the spider, and her mother replies

‘I didn’t see any spider. I wish we could afford a little new linoleum for that bathroom floor.’ She glanced at the sky, which was blue and cloudless. ‘They say if you kill a spider it brings rain. You didn’t kill it, did you?’

    ‘No,’ Beverly said. ‘I didn’t kill it.’

It’s a nice touch that King has the mother note the sky is blue and cloudless before she worries about rain. The exchange clearly foreshadows hundreds of pages (and thirty years in time) later when the grownups think they kill the spider and downtown Derry is destroyed in a downpour, flooding the place and destroying the standpipe. The spider is again foreshadowed just prior to Mike Hanlon meeting the Losers for the first time during the scene in which Henry Bowers (possessed by It, as are the adults such as Beverly’s dad and Eddie’s mother) chases him. This drives Hanlon to the Losers, where he becomes their final member and they attack the Bowers gang in The Apocalyptic Rockfight. While chasing Mike, Henry throws a cherry-bomb (an extraordinarily dangerous firework banned in 1966) and in panic, Hanlon scales a fence and Henry follows; he stops on the way up to order his cronies to keep going, and was ‘hung there like a bloated poisonous spider in human shape.’ It’s a safe bet that if you’re not actually scared of spiders, you probably won’t be picking them up and stroking them like you would a puppy. Spiders are a scare catch-all. Spiders lay eggs, and King’s spider lays plenty.

Ben saw something new: a trail of eggs. Each was black and rough-shelled, perhaps as big as an ostrich-egg. A waxy light shone from within them. Ben realised they were semi-transparent; he could see black shapes moving inside.

He has Ben stamp on them and kill the spidery things inside as they squeal while trying to escape. In 1986, this image should have been familiar to horror fans. One month before King published It, James Cameron released Aliens, the sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien from 1979. In one early scene from Aliens, Ripley is talking to a collection of suits who have been trying to get her to justify detonating her ship. She tells them ‘Kane who went into that ship said he saw thousands of eggs there. Thousands.’ Nobody who has seen Alien will forget those eggs, and the spidery, face-hugger things which come out of them. The imagery in Aliens – the humans strung-up, ready to be hosts for the face-huggers; the semi-transparent eggs with something inside; the deadly female creature which lays them – are all repeated in It when the Losers chase the spider, and who would argue the Queen in Aliens isn’t a little spider-like? Even Bill’s wife, Audra, is strung-up in the spider’s web, a morsel to be eaten later, just like the colonists found by the Marines in Aliens. This isn’t a coincidence.

Like the alien Queen in Aliens, King makes his monster female, and there’s something nauseating about that image: a female spider laying eggs. Alien and Aliens tap into this directly with the idea of a human being a host for another living thing; though in King’s novel the spider doesn’t use humans as hosts – and only eats its victims because its victims expect it to – there’s a connection the films share with the novel, and the similar imagery is striking. Entire papers could be written on our fear of spiders and the identical images which the novel shares with the two horror films.

The story is a “coming-of-age” tale and nostalgia trip buried under popular horror wrapped in classic American pop-culture and movie history. The journey, from child to adolescent and then to “grownup” is a hard and depressing one: full of fear which sits in a belly which aches for different reasons. The battle the children have under the city, in the tunnels, is an important one, and those dark, scary tunnels are important, but the most important tunnel in the story is on the surface: the tunnel between the children’s library and the adult library. This tunnel is mentioned several times, and after the destruction of Derry, explodes for a reason which is not explained, leaving both libraries as separate buildings. It is suggested that the trip from child to adult is always going to be a hard one, with no shortcuts:

if you wanted to get from the Children’s Library to the adult library, you had to walk outside to do it. And if it was cold, or raining, or snowing, you had to put on your coat.

There’s no escape for any child; there’s no easy path from kid to grownup, and the truth is that while we happily skip about as a kid, telling everyone we’re doing fine and hoping they believe it, there’s terror going under the surface.

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Goodbye Rick: The Kneeling Dead

It’s got to be Rick who gets his head smashed in. Well, okay – it doesn’t have to be him.

The first thing which is weird after the The Walking Dead season finale is that Glenn is actually the safest member of the group. The producers already messed about with him with  the fake-death thing from earlier in the season, and they removed his name from the credits to play with us some more.So to mess with Glenn again might seem a little lame.

Also, Glenn is the character who gets killed by Negan in the comics, so it would be too obvious to make it him who gets battered.

How to think about the likely victim?

First, if it’s not a major character, then what’s the point, right? A supporting character’s death doesn’t justify the off-season wait to find out who it was, and it would irritate the fans to wait that long for a minor character be revealed as dead. So logic requires it’s a major name.

So who are classed as major names? I’d say – and in order of majorness:

Rick, Daryl, Carol, Glenn, Michonne, Abraham, Maggie, Carl, Eugene, Morgan, Sasha, Rosita, Gabriel, Tara, Aaron.

It’s an order which can be argued about, but no matter.

Okay, so does long-term character or series regular mean the same as major character? I think not, so the list becomes:

Rick, Daryl, Carol, Glenn, Michonne, Abraham, Maggie, Carl.

I’ve alread discounted Glenn, so the list becomes:

Rick, Daryl, Carol, Michonne, Abraham, Maggie, Carl.

But Carol isn’t there because she’s off with Morgan, getting shot, so the list becomes:

Rick, Daryl, Michonne, Abraham, Maggie, Carl.

Now, who of those could die without the viewers caring too much? Abraham. So that leaves:

Rick, Daryl, Michonne, Maggie, Carl.

At a push, Carl could die without too much uproar: he’s already tainted goods in anycase because of his eye, so I don’t see the audience caring too much if it were him. So that leaves:

Rick, Daryl, Michonne, Maggie.

If Negan wanted to show he was a real evil shit, he’d kill a kid or a woman; if Carl’s discounted, that leaves Maggie. But why would Negan kill the most vulnerable of them? Surely he’d want to weaken their group by taking out a strong member? He wants to make sure they know he’s now in charge. That leaves:

Rick and Daryl.

The best way to assert your authority is by killing the enemy leader. That leaves…..

Rick is the character to die.

He’s the least likely because everyone would consider him the safest.

Spolia Opima Baby.

 

Fear The Walking Dead…..season finale

It was about time we saw some zombies eating some people: the infected infiltrating the army base was one of the best set-pieces since the farm, the prison and sanctuary all fell in the other show. This was more like it, but it was over too soon.

And that’s it – the season is over and it ended with the death of who (I’m sure) everyone thought was going to be a series regular. I think it was a mistake to kill her because there was a lot of drama to be had between the two women. Madison telling Travis that it was Liza’s fault the soldiers took her son in custody – all that ‘she did this’ business – was what I’d hoped to be the start of a female grudge match that could have lasted a full-length season, but now they killed her! I quite liked her.

Travis finally cracked; he told Blades he didn’t like guns but when the soldier popped the psycho’s daughter, old Travis laid down a real beating – and we didn’t get to see what happened to that soldier. Did he get infected? And why shoot the daughter? It made some sense in that he would want to really hurt the guy who sliced him up – and shooting the daughter is a good way to do it – but that entails the soldier is a total ice-man psycho and he was trying to get into the daughter’s underwear a few episodes ago. Maybe the excuse for this this character re-write-for-convenience is that Blades sliced more than his arm – maybe the torture messed with his head?

Now we’re waiting, what, a year for season two? Six months?

Here’s what I don’t get. Why create this show in the first place? I’m still suspicious that The Walking Dead might become the junior partner in time because with Fear – they can do what they want, they are not locked-in to adapting stories and using comic characters.

Maybe Fear will become the premier show? Watch out for the announcement that The Walking Dead is taking a two-year break or something, while all the work and budget goes into the new show.

Down With the Sickness

I’ve wondered why zombie movies and shows are so popular. They certainly are popular so there has to be a reason.

I wondered before what is the subtext to these movies and shows – or to zombies themselves? Why do we like them?

I thought that, perhaps, the popularity was in the childhood game of cops and robbers: basically (but with zombies) we get to ride about killing bad guys: we get to act like heroes, saviours and soldiers all in one go. It’s an ego trip, in other words.

I now think the truth might be much darker than that.

I watched the final scene of episode five of Fear the Walking Dead, where Ruben Blades is looking at the chained double-doors, and immediately the image of John Hurt, lying on the table in Alien (1979) came to mind.

It was the way the doors were bulging and looked like they were stretching which made me think of that famous scene.

Then my thoughts were of how a woman’s belly can look when a baby is stretching.

It was pretty obvious that behind those doors, something was trying to get out, and I’m sure that during the season finale, all those walkers will escape (be born) into the action of the episode – and that’s what we’re all now waiting for.

Back in the 1960s, Stanley Milgram conducted his famous experiments into obedience to authority and discovered something depressing about the nature of the human: we will easily harm, torture or even kill another person if instructed to do so by ‘authority’ figures. These findings were unwelcome by many; for instance because Milgram showed the ‘Nuremberg Defence’ might actually be a defence – or a solid reason, at any rate – for the facilitating of mass murder by who in many cases were civil servants, not ideological Nazis.

It’s easier (and more agreeable) to conclude the ‘I was only following orders’ defence is a weak excuse used by evil people than it is to accept that humans might have something savage in their natures, or, more bluntly, that a tendency to cruelty and sadism is the default position. It doesn’t suit our geocentric idea of ourselves as the ultra-evolved master-species to be told how fucking base we actually are.

What we desire, on unconscious levels of awareness, can manifest itself in our dreams and sometimes our waking fantasies; so it makes sense that we might be attracted to some external stimulant – be it a song, movie or television show – which reminds us of those instinctive desires in some way. As Huxley states in Heaven and Hell:

Most dreams are concerned with the dreamer’s private wishes and instinctive urges, and with the conflicts which arise when these wishes and urges are thwarted by a disapproving conscience or a fear of public opinion.

Could it be that zombies are not so different from what the human is once you take away the controlling elements of language and society? And shows such as The Walking Dead are popular because they allow a psychic vibration to flow back to our savage selves?

More bluntly:

Zombies are popular because an unconscious recognition happens between what we see and our animalistic true natures.

More bluntly still:

Zombies remind us of ourselves: of the part of our evolved natures that’s waiting to break out from behind our civilised masks just as soon as society falls.

Got a problem with that?

Read your Stanley Milgram.

Fear The Walking Dead….5

So there’s one episode left in season one and none of this show has been written as if the producers ever thought they’d only get commissioned for one season. Season one is here to tee-up season two where we’ll get sixteen episodes and whatever they’ve got planned can start properly.

Can we say that season one has started properly? Do we want another Walking Dead where there’s a lot of walking through the woods and lots of walking along long roads, or do we want the characters to be based in one place, which is reasonably safe, and create the drama from the interactions between survivors? But if that’s what we get, are the zombies going to be a secondary consideration?

There’s a lot to tie-up in the season finale: are the two kids going to get in on? (One minute she’s giving Travis’s kid a broken nose, the next they’re playing dress up.) Who the hell is the charismatic salesman-preacher type guy in the holding pen in the ‘hospital’ – and what is the ‘move’ he’s planning? Some sort of break out is my guess, but why? What’s going on in the place the soldiers take the so-called patients, and why does the place they’re in resemble one of those holding cages in the police precincts from the cop shows? Where is the veil dropped with the military? Once they get you out of the public eye or somewhere within the facility? The sudden shift between episode three to four – where the military turned from the good guys to a sinister enemy was a bit sudden and left things feeling a bit too predictable.

Perhaps it was necessary to set them up as bad guys because, thanks to a little torture by Sweeney Todd, we know the military is planning to get the hell outta Dodge and, no doubt, leave the residents to the walkers. But what are they going to do – leave and knock the fences down out of spite? (And that’s after knocking off the ‘patients’ in the facility?)

I’m expecting revolts to happen – in the facility and back in suburbia – with both parties from each meeting up towards the end with huge sighs of relief as the screams start…

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Fear the Walking Dead….4

It’s about time there was some tension between the two women – and there’s some murderous tension now.

Multiple tension-seeds were planted. First there’s the question of who is in the ‘house on the hill’ flashing light down onto the safe area – and which character is going to find out. I thought Madison’s little excursion beyond the fence was her attempt to do that, but that wasn’t the reason because we saw no effort by her to get there. Are we supposed to think her attempt was side-tracked by the military patrol passing by? If so, it wasn’t clear.

Notice how – now the characters are in a safe zone – as the commanding officer pointed out to begin with – there needs to be some tension from somewhere so immediately the military is now suspect. The commanding officer is a kick-ass asshole who should be wearing shades, and the arrival of the doctor is interesting because immediately the ‘hospital’ the military are taking people to is suspect. Is it a real hospital? Will the patients be treated or tested?

I’d bet the military – or the hospital, at least – is probably going to be okay in the end, but they butted the junkie in the face when he tried to escape and that’s odd – but there’s now major split ups going on: the mexican chick with the foot; the Ex wife and the son AND Madison and the junkie son.

Here was an episode in which not one zombie was shown and the Uncle Sam was allowed to start the conspiracy theories.

I’m wondering if AMC actually want this show to become it’s main show – and actually demote – or cancel The Walking Dead so the writers are not constrained by the comic-book plots which they seem obliged to follow.

With Fear the Walking Dead they can do whatever they want.

Fear the Walking Dead…3

I’m glad Travis mentioned ‘two wives’ in the house because it would have been too much for them to be holed-up together and nobody mention it. They’re good friends enough that Madison wants her bloke’s ex to take her out if she ends up zombiefied because if the boyf had to do it, it would ‘break him’ Madison says.

That was an interesting line. Break him why? Is Madison telling the ex ‘Okay, he came to get you, sure, but it was for your son more than you. This is how much I know he loves me: if he had to finish me off, it’d break him.’

Or is she making a point about the (well known) fact that women are fucking ruthless and make men look like little boys when certain matters are considered? Was her comment a nod to the sisterhood?

So two of the neighbours turned: the bloke from over the road and the little lady next door but, so far, everyone is together ready for some Straw Dogs type attacks on the house. We were lead to think this wasn’t going to be the way the story was spun because Travis and Madison and their extended family packed their vehicles to go somewhere they called ‘the desert.’

What is meant to be in the desert? What they were meant to be going to doesn’t matter because the writers decided to have the army burst onto the scene at the last moment and take over the immediate area and tell everyone to stay inside. Okay, so the road-trip’s off.

So I’m wondering if the army will turn the residential area into a sort of enclave from which operations will be conducted; perhaps the army unit will become detached from it’s command and turn mercenary? The drama has to come from somewhere.

The two ladies could start making things difficult for Travis, but this is unlikey. The drugs will run out and maybe the junkie-son will try to escape the enclave to find more, thus triggering a search, junkie-hunt etc.

I know this is fiction, and I know one shouldn’t take it too seriously, but the neighbour’s husband strolls up to the house without a care in the world because that makes his shock or horror at seeing the state of the wife more drmatic: he moves from ‘normal’ to ‘WTF?’ in a very short space of time. All okay in theory. But to do that he had to come back from his travels, take a cab home, and stroll up to the house in a mood which suggested he didn’t know there were riots and shootings going on in the city? Why didn’t he get out the cab and run into the house, calling out for the wife? The cab driver didn’t say anything?

That was absurd given the context.

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Fear The Walking Dead…2

Episode 2.

Ok, so I got something wrong: Travis went to get his family almost straight away and now finds himself locked in a barber shop while a riot happens outside. This means the ‘drama’ will have to be based around him being reunited with his new family rather than him trying to get to his old family. Actually, his new missus seemed quite happy with him being around his ex which makes sense in context but takes away the cause of some drama between the two. It would make Travis’s life harder if his new missus was jealous that he wanted to ‘save’ his ex. She wouldn’t need to give him a hard time about it; just a look here, or a bit of cold shoulder there, would be enough for the audience, even if Travis didn’t spot it.

(Nobody so far has used the ‘Z’ word.)

The daughter’s boyfriend is shown to be sick, and she’s looking after him – which is okay. But why, if he loves her so, did he not tell her what happened? He’s got a bite-wound on his shoulder, and at no point does he say ‘Be careful of the Zombies! Be careful of those people who look like people but who actually want to eat you!’

If he loved her he might want to give her a little advice to help her out.

What works nicely is the idea of public unrest in response to the LAPD shooting walkers. The PD don’t know the walkers they are shooting are actually zombies, and the public don’t know they don’t know, so there’s a little social commentary about the LAPD being ‘out of control’ which leads to riots.

This works nicely. It’s credible, to start off with, but also allows the zombie epidemic cover under which to spread.

What I want to know is this: the progression of the zombie outbreak and public confusion is quite extensive between the pilot episode and episode two – and there’s only seven episodes to the first season. If the public are going to go from normal to riot in the space of one episode, then either the show needs to slow down the progression between episodes, or by the end of the season there’ll be no society left. We know that’s what’s coming – obviously the show is a prequel – but is that going to be the point of the prequel? We are just going to be delivered to the same place that Rick and his crew are in – the end of the world as we know it?

That would be daft because that’s what we have with The Walking Dead, so to make the show different, once the outbreak has occurred ‘officially’ – the show needs to slow down the progression and extract the drama from people trying to save the society, rather than dealing with the end of society.

The zombies are elsewhere – not obviously wandering about. Where do they go? Are they hiding? The school Principle, finally, has turned – and it’s not clear if he turned because of the virus or was bit – and our hero gets to smash his face in with a fire extinguisher – so the nest episode must contain the ‘Z’ word because enough is now enough, frankly.

By episode three….they better Zombie-up and get with the program.

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Red Sox in Disguise

I’ve been discussing the idea of God and the nature of belief in God with persons for some time now, and also have looked at some of the philosophical arguments for God. These discussions have been in person and also in writing and they can very quickly turn emotional.

I used to think the question – does God exist? – was a serious question and anyone who claims He does exist was making a claim about me. They still are but my position’s shifted and discussions about individual religions don’t interest me because arguing about one religion versus another is like arguing about what Father Christmas likes for breakfast.

I’ve studied some of the famous arguments for God; I’ve looked, with awe and amusement, at how some persons will mangle language to suit their own delusions, and I’ve discovered the expression ‘this only gets you to agnosticism’ irritates me every time I hear it.

I’ve changed my mind about the important question. There’s no reason outside a person’s head to believe God exists, and I’ve seen enough examples of language being abused to think the religious also know this – because they go to such lengths to pretend they’re not doing it. Cognitive dissonance and doublethink rule the mind on this topic.

What really interests me is this: do believers actually believe, or are they simply lying?

One must define one’s terms.

By ‘belief’ I mean internal conviction that God exists. In other words, when the believer says ‘I believe in God’ they mean what they say and think a supernatural being actually exists: they have conviction this is true in the same way they believe they know their own name or believe they know where they live – or anything else they would say they believed. For instance, they would say they believe the Sun exists. There’s no question about this, the believer can see, feel and with the right equipment even hear the Sun. They, as we all are, all have conviction the Sun exists.

So when the religious person thinks of the Sun existing, and thinks God exists, are the sensations comparable – do they feel the same? Do they have conviction about God?

That’s what (you get the idea) I’m assuming a believer means when they say ‘belief.’ Anything less than that and it seems they mean something else when they say they ‘believe.’

The reason for labouring this point is when some religious say they ‘believe’ they are expressing a hope, not a belief. What one hopes is true is quite a different thing from what one believes is true. How much conviction does a religious believer actually have? There are ways to think about this logically.

There is no religion I can think of which doesn’t offer survival of death as one of the selling points. The afterlife is something taken for granted with religion. To assume that a religious person believes in survival of death is utterly reasonable – and it’s their attitude to death which is one clue to the sincerity of their claim to believe.

‘Terrorists’ like to blow stuff up – we all know this, but a bomb detonated by a Catholic from the IRA is different from the bomb detonated by an Islamic fanatic.

The desire to cause explosions and damage property, to kill and maim and spread fear is the political aspect of both bombs; but the desire to deliberately kill your self is the religious aspect. Islamic fanatics have suicide as part of the method, the IRA never did.

Could it be possible the IRA weren’t devout Catholics?

Could it be the Islamic fanatic actually does believe he will survive the blast from his own device, and that’s why he’s happy to kill himself? I like to put the answer this way: it better be, otherwise the Mullahs need lessons in resource management.

The suicide bomber is a simple, though extreme example, and most ordinary ‘believers’ are not asked to kill themselves for a cause.

There is an example of mainstream religious behaviour which any regular believer could indulge in, and that’s the old classic of religious conversion. This will take a moment to explain.

Who has heard of a sporting conversion?

Can you imagine someone ‘converting’ from the Red Sox to the Yankees or from Man Utd to Man City ? It wouldn’t happen because sports fans have genuine conviction about their beliefs.

Imagine the experiment:

A Red Sox guy has everything which happens to his brain when he considers his team mapped and tagged in an MRI. He’s then asked if he’s willing to convert his convictions, his beliefs, his feelings and so on from the Red Sox to the Yankees.

He need only go home, do the conversion on his own or with anyone else he likes and by any means he chooses, come back, get his brain mapped to make sure he’s not faking it and he’ll receive $50,000 for his trouble. (He can then happily convert back again.)

Even if you could find a Red Sox guy who was willing, he wouldn’t be able. We all know how deep sporting convictions run in the mind.

Yet the religious can drop their deep, heartfelt convictions, their beliefs about revealed truth and the nature of the universe, and just choose to have faith and conviction in an entirely different set of religious positions after no more than a bit of ‘soul-searching’ and some ‘conversion’?

The word ‘conversion’ is used to imply a complicated, technical process inside the mind: the taking of one thing, then the moulding, changing, and altering of it to fashion a new something from the previous material.

It’s utter rubbish: the religious just begin saying they believe something else now, while hiding the lie (from themselves) by using technical language.

Nothing is converted.

Suicide tells you the person truly believed it, conversion tells you the person truly did not, and still does not.

I believe that language speaks louder than actions – always look to the language.

That’s the two ends of the spectrum dealt with – but the majority of religious are normal, everyday people whose behaviour is never extreme enough for their convictions (suicide) or lack of them (conversion) to be spotted. How to tell what the mainstream moderate majority actually think?

2

When I was a child I used to play with Transformers. These were the robots which could turn themselves into everyday objects like cars or jets and so on. I also used to read the Transformers comic, and this had a letters page where other kids would write in to speak to the Decepticon robot, Soundwave, who edited the letters page.

One kid wrote a letter asking what he thought was an intelligent question. It went something like this:

“Dear Soundwave,

My favourite Transformer is Jazz but when he’s a car he has wheels but they disappear when he transforms. Where do they go?”

Actually, it’s a fair question. Soundwave explained that when a car Transformer becomes a robot, the wheels and tyres are locked in special compartments which can’t be seen, so it looks like they disappear.

I remember thinking that a better question might be: how is it possible that a forty foot high robot, when it transforms, becomes a Walther P38 a person can hold in their hand? And while we’re on the topic, how come Soundwave himself, another forty foot high robot, could transform and become a cassette player? I mean, how could they become smaller?

I think my question is a better one, but I didn’t ask it because I didn’t care about reason when I was eight. And it’s important to remember how we felt, as kids, when something absurd was put before us – we didn’t care.

I knew, in one part of my mind, Megatron and Soundwave’s shrinking was impossible, but it wasn’t important; it did nothing to damage the enjoyment of the stories. But it’s recognising something is impossible, or highly unlikely, and then rejecting it for that reason, which is the difference between the child and the adult.

For ‘Megatron shrinking’ read ‘Evolution via Natural Selection’ for the religious.