I have a short story in the new issue of Diabolique magazine and was excited to see that it also includes a good feature story by Brandon Kosters called “Toys of Terror” — a good overview of the appearance of “scary dolls” as baddies in horror film (from Chucky in Child’s Play to Corky in Magic). Kosters cites Freud’s theory of the Uncanny as central to the attraction of this trope: “…children in their early games, make no sharp distinction between the animate and the inanimate, and…they are especially fond of treating their dolls as if they were alive.” He goes on to suggest that it is not only the “return” of these surmounted beliefs from childhood that make the dolls uncanny, but also that these films are “uniquely upsetting because there is an element of betrayal when we surrender to the adult world.” This may account for the violence associated with these particular dolls…I hadn’t really thought about it that way before. Kosters provides a good overview of this classic icon of the uncanny in horror cinema since the 60s.
Kosters, Brandon. “Toys of Terror: Dummies, Demons and Dastardly Dolls.” Diabolique 13 (Nov/Dec 2012): 38-45.
Pop culture is so saturated with zombies that it seems quite silly. Or is it?
Take, for instance, the new (free) add on “Halloween” theme for the iOs GPS app, CoPilot Live. The opening screen transforms the colors to an autumnal trick-or-treaters fantasy with a goofy spiderweb on top (making its opening message — “Buckle Up!” seem far more ominous than it otherwise would)… and it also includes a clever zombie icon for the “Walk” GPS option, as well as funny green dismembered hands as pointers to locations.
It’s probably easy to dismiss this kind of thing as yet another goofy appropriation of horror genre tropes for pure marketing. I prefer to think that anytime you see a “zombified” commodity — perhaps most of all when the object seems ephemeral and totally unrelated to the horror genre — that there is still some true expression of fear there, lurking beneath the kitsch. Something repressed, that threatens to return…
GPS devices are used as maps that synchronize your position on a map through satellite technology. They’re highly scientific, yet I think most consumers treat these devices more like “the magic of everyday life” than as the technology they really are. The “knowingness” of the device comes “from beyond” to not only indicate where you are, but also to direct you on your way. In fact, most of these things SPEAK to us, like some kind of robotic backseat driver. It’s uncanny. Especially when they know more than we do about our location and how to save us from getting lost. A GPS literally enacts the “omnipotence of thoughts” that Freud describes in his foundational theory on Das Unheimlich.
This is why zombies make sense when used as a ‘skin’ for a GPS. It slyly suggests that when we follow the directions automatically, unthinkingly, that we are akin to robots following the programming, driving our cars, virtually on “autopilot.” Underscoring this is the fear of being lost in a strange land. The world of strangers. The place outside of our safe car bubbles, where Others roam.
Sometimes that fear may be warranted, but where there is anxiety there is always a market. And it’s not just GPS skins. Take trick-or-tracker, for instance — an iPhone app designed to help worried parents locate their children while trick-or-treating using their phone’s GPS. Sounds like a useful application of GPS if you’re a helicopter parent, I suppose. Or howabout the GPS Halloween Adventure held in Ewing, VA‘s Wilderness Road State Park? Both use GPS as talisman-like device for survival. Sounds ingenious! But also further proof of how the ‘magic’ we put into these technological divining rods are structures reflecting our fears and wishes rather than an application of science.
— Michael Arnzen (@MikeArnzen) October 31, 2012
More tricks and treats over on the gorelets.com blog!
Here’s an uncanny Halloween treat for you — a house strangely possessed by a familiar artifact of popular culture:
If you like horror poetry, please check out my latest book, The Gorelets Omnibus.
This past weekend, I had a splendid time visiting the campus of Neumann University (near Philadelphia, PA), where I was kindly invited to give a talk on the Popular Uncanny. I was ushered around for all sorts of events by Dr. William Hamilton (the gentleman in the brown coat in many of the photos below), who made for a fantastic host. Though it was a whirlwind of activity, as often as I could, I took photos of the event, along with anything along the way that had a whiff of uncanniness about it. The lecture was a blast, and the audience was very interactive. The second day involved a trip to the Mutter Museum with the most daring of students, and it was the most uncanny space I think I’ve ever occupied (but the Mutter is very strict about not taking photos, so I have very few here). If you ever go to the Mutter, be sure to take the time to watch the documentary film by the Bros. Quay on display right now. It’s uncanny to the core, and allows access to parts of the museum which are not available to the public.
I suspect there will be video or other coverage of the actual lecture available in the near future, so I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves for now, and will post more details about the talk later, including references to the powerpoint sources for those in attendance who wanted to learn more. I live-tweeted the experience using the hashtag #popuncanny whenever I could, and you can read those posts on my archive here on The Nest if they are no longer available on twitter.
I am grateful to Neumann U for sponsoring my trip and treating me like royalty. The students at this college are all wonderful people and they made for a lot of deep conversations and laughter.
I will be giving a talk about “The Popular Uncanny”, free and open to the public, at Neumann University (near Philadelphia, PA) on Oct 26th. Come join us at 4:30 p.m. in the Bruder Life Center. In the spirit of Halloween, there will be weirdness, laughter, and intriguing conversation, followed by a book signing for my new, massive poetry collection, The Gorelets Omnibus and other Arnzen titles.
Or check the event information on Facebook.