Friday, September 30, 2011

The Final Destination series

Currently the series appears to be over and this is in the face of the 4th film in the series, which was wrongly titled The Final Destination, suggesting it was going to be the series finale. The main problem I have is that, with the release of Final Destination 5, that was a fools' errand at best.

This series has been maligned and misunderstood by just about everyone, and while not maligned usually misunderstood by its fans, of which I am one.

Each film runs the exact same pattern: a collection of characters are shown, mostly young, gathering together such that all parties involved will be in one place at one time. Something goes disastrously wrong, everyone dies a horrific death and then Zip! Into the eyeball of the character whose path we will then follow to the end we fall, and that person comes to the sharp, sudden understanding that they have just had a premonition, panics, and in their panic saves the lives of the rest of the cast members. Throughout the film to the end, each of these characters will die in a manner that has not been seen outside of a Rube Goldberg cartoon: extravagant circumstances lead to a sudden (and often literally) splashy demise. At the end, we are given usually one last Big Splashy Death, and the credits roll.

Those who do not comprehend the genre of horror at all, or possess the slightest understanding with no respect for the genre, are befuddled about this series. It has been called The Dead Teenager Movie, a bit of flick that exists for nothing other than the depiction of gruesome human demolition.

One non-word explains it all: Duh. If I must elaborate, then: Ya think?


All horror films do this. All. Barring none. Some are captives to the era in which they were created, those times in which the open depiction of body parts and blood had to be kept to a minimum, or in the dark, all agonies in shadow.

Consider then the film Theater Of Blood, starring Vincent Price and featuring a goodly portion of the Royal Shakespeare company. The entire film is based on the works of Shakespeare and death upon gruesome death stacks up along with a rather impressive body count. Both Price films in which he played Dr. Phibes do the same.

What makes the Final Destination films worthy of attention is this: the essence of tragedy is placed throughout each of the (currently) five films. By using the term "tragedy" I think the actual nature of the original term as used by the ancient Greeks must needs be re-examined and removed from its current incorrect usage and for that we need return to Aristotle, The Poetics and the myth of Oedipus.

When Aristotle wrote that the play Oedipus Rex was the greatest tragic play written, what was used as a yardstick for that assessment were the six basic elements in all true tragedy. The first element, and it is first because it is the most important, is plot. This term, "plot," is the basic format, the tale told, the story. In the L. J. Potts translation, published by Cambridge University Press, the term "plot" is replaced with "fable."

Now plot and fable mean two separate things, and in reading Potts' footnote, the original Greek term was mythos. This is of interest here, as the term "mythos" (from which the term myth is derived) has begun to mean That Which Is Not True, a silly little thing with which to entertain children. This level of disrespect is the actual cause of this article.

The myth of Oedipus is currently misunderstood, and once that is clarified, the Final Destination series becomes much, much more interesting.

Oedipus has been reduced, by Freud, as the story of the man who loved his mother and killed his father. While that is indeed the truth, and is the focus of Oedipus Rex, there are layers of importance that the ancient Greek society would have understood that lends a deeper and more powerful impact to the play.

Oedipus was born to the king of Thebes, and as tradition held at the time, the newborn was taken to the Oracle to have the future of the child be foretold. There, the Oracle advised that the Fates had decreed the following: that the boy would grow to kill his father and marry his own mother.

The issue is not the action, but the source: the Fates. In Greek mythology, the Gods themselves bowed to the Fates. Once the Fates had unveiled (however cryptic it may be) what destiny awaited, it was so. There was no argument, no debate.

What makes Oedipus Rex a tragedy of the highest value is that from prior to the opening curtain of the play, the audience knew the story. Aristophanes just did a "cut to the chase," opening the story as close to the action as possible.

The parts of the myth NOT in the play though, continue after the king hears of the destiny of his child, and performs an action that pushes the rest of the play deeper into tragedy with every line and event. The king decides to defy Fate: he has both of the child's Achilles tendons cut, writes out the warning of the Oracle, puts the scroll and the child into a box and throws the babe into the ocean. From there, the box washes ashore, and a childless couple finds the baby, reads the scroll and decides to raise the child as their own. When the boy becomes a man, the adoptive parents decide he needs to know his Fate, and tell him that he can stay with them. Before they can do so, Oedipus finds the scroll, reads it, and decides to flee, so that he can avoid his Fate, not knowing that the man he thought of as his father was not. In his travels, he comes to a crossroad, there meeting a wealthy man who decides to demand the right of way, there is a struggle, and Oedipus kills the wealthy man. Going onwards towards Thebes, Oedipus finds the Sphinx has taken control of Thebes due to the death of their king and presents a riddle, which Oedipus solves. He is shortly thereafter made king of Thebes and marries the widow of the king, the beautiful Jocasta.

It is here that the play begins. A plague has spread throughout Thebes, a curse brought from the gods as a man has slain his father and married/lay with his own mother.

Everything that happened prior to the beginning of the play would have been as familiar to the ancient Greeks as the story of Christ prior to His crucifixion to current Christians.

The tragedy is not the murder of the father and marrying the mother: the tragedy comes from the hubris of man in attempting to thwart the decree of the Fates.

And that takes us back to Final Destination.

Fate decrees that a plane will explode, that there will be an horrific multi-vehicle accident, that a roller coaster will come off its tracks, that a series of collisions at a raceway will enter the stands and that a bridge will collapse. People will die: so the Fates have decreed. One person will have a premonition of each event and will attempt to thwart Fate. They will fail, over and again.

Each of the five films in the series does this, and does it fairly well with a certain consistency. The sneering comment that these films are "Dead Teenager Films" is not only wrong, but dismissive. Granted, they are not high Art, but the films approach an understanding of Fate that has been long absent from film.

The major failing in the series is not the gore but rather the notion of using the tragic element of Fate for nothing more than mere suspense.

The major success in the series is that the suspense works.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Deconstructing the Conspiracy Theory

William S. Burroughs once wrote that language is a virus and we use it to infect others. I have said that paranoia is the only known communicable mental illness. These two things are closely related.

One of my earliest memories was wanting to watch a program on TV, which may well have been the Mickey Mouse Club. It was not on that day, but instead, all stations had the exact same program. An ominous drumbeat was the soundtrack, and a slow, steady parade passed by the cameras. In the front was a man leading a horse in sidestep, and in one stirrup was a boot, placed backwards, so the the heel faced the front of the horse and the toe faced the rear. This was the funeral march of John F. Kennedy, our murdered president.

My mother purchased every copy of Look and Life magazine that came out, focusing on the now-infamous Zapruder film. I remember distinctly looking at the images, frame by frame, laid out in 3x5 images. They chose not to publish the final head shot, showing the President's head exploding. Mom also purchased, and read cover to cover, the paperback release of The Warren Commission Report, and later, Mark Lane's book Rush To Judgement.

I was born in 1959. JFK was murdered in 1963. Do the math: I was about 4 years of age.

The Conspiracy Theory was thus introduced to me at an early age. As I grew older if not wiser, the notion that there is a Secret Plan in place was part of the background. When I began to read the countless volumes of books, stacks of magazines and articles, then web sites, dedicated to that one crime, I began to gather a rather jaundiced eye: people, it seemed, would believe anything. Fools, all.

I widened my search and examined all other forms of Conspiracy Theory. All manner of madness came across my view: FDR stood by and allowed the attack on Pearl Harbor; International Bankers financed Hitler; behind every curtain was a man we were supposed to ignore, we were all blind and ignorant.

For me, though, everything was turned on its head by my finding the MKULTRA plot. In a nutshell, it reads as follows: the CIA was attempting to manufacture a Manchurian Candidate, a means of deep hypnosis that would allow an agent to be programmed to commit murder, but to never be aware of doing so. Further, the CIA had purchased the entire supply of the then-legal drug LSD in an attempt to further this attempt, then used questionable means to have the drug declared illegal first in the United States and then the world. Pursuing it further, the CIA then went on to purchase the then existing world supply of LSD, and began using it in in-house testing, often without the subject's knowledge, to see if it could also be used as a truth serum. Once that was in place, it was a short step to begin "dosing" unsuspecting US citizens, most if not all males, who were in the process of procuring a prostitute, the citizen being dosed in hotel rooms where behind a two way mirror, their behaviors would be studied.

The level of raucous laughter that I emitted bordered on hysteria: as my friend Scot says, "you just can't write that shit."

My pattern at the time was to read as much as I could find about such matters, then spend most of my entertainment time of examining the source material. For many, it boiled down to "researchers," individuals with a questionable amount of time on their hands, who had always managed somehow to dredge up the most peculiar of sources. He said, she said, they said: actual evidence, any trail that would lead to a smoking gun, never in sight.

The shock came when I found the source of the MKULTRA conspiracy: a US Senate sub-committee... public acknowledgement from the CIA itself. They admitted it openly, publicly and as a matter of public record. The reason: one of their own agents was dosed and he committed suicide, and his wife filed a lawsuit... one thing lead to another.

That which most resembled a fool's parade suddenly came into sharp focus... and if this one is true... then what of the others?

The point here is not to inflict this mental "instability" onto you, dear reader, but instead to go deeper, into, as the subject lines states, deconstruction.

You see, the point is simple. Anyone who professes to believe in a conspiracy theory is often derided and mocked, a simpleton that has allowed themselves to be deceived.

Ayn Rand, the objectivist, said that mythology was the first attempt at philosophy. It was an attempt to make sense of the world as perceived.

The Conspiracy Theory, then, regardless of its content, is in my less than humble opinion, an attempt to grasp events that are seemingly random and place them into a comprehensible package... like religion.

And science...

When I began writing my novel The Third Event, I was in the mindset that suggested, as Bruce Springsteen said about his first album Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, that I may never do it again, so throw everything into the pot and see what happens. On the back of my novel, instead of a simple blurb, I put in three separate sentences in Latin.

Peto primoris verum.
Panton alius mos insistuo.
Fabula est in nomen.

Seek first the truth.
Everything else must follow.
The story is in the names.

Truth, it would seem, is a rather interesting concept. As written in the Bible, and Jesus Christ, Superstar, Pontius Pilate asks our Lord and Savior: What is truth? Are mine the same as yours?

There are two main characters in my novel, the first has the surname De La Tour, and the other Towers. The first is French: of the tower. Thus, the novel, at its heart and core, are The Two Towers.

I recall distinctly where I was and what I was doing on 9/11/2001. I had traveled to Las Vegas to take a weeks vacation visiting a brother by another mother (a friend so close as to be as near blood bond as possible). My flight came in at about 1 AM, and he was on a night shift schedule. For a day, we both attempted to mold our times into one another, and early on that day, we were both all but unconscious. The phone rang, and a friend in Mishawaka, IN had called, telling us to turn on the news because a plane had struck one of the Two Towers.

So, there we were, for all the world looking like two boys, in our tighty-whiteys, blearily watching the video of the burning building. While we watched, the second plane came in. We both snapped fully awake.

"One," said my brother by another mother, "is an accident."
"Two," said I, "is a conspiracy."

While the world kept turning on its axis, day into night and night into day, the reality of that day stood stark and clear. We were under attack. Then came the Pentagon, and the fate of United 93.

As I write these words, it is 9:11 AM. Jung called it Synchronicity. Indeed.

Everyone saw it. We all saw the same thing, and for the most part, in unison. All over the world: a communal experience.

Sort of...

See, this is where everything starts to turn sideways.

After the collapse of the Two Towers, there was the collapse of Building 7.

Here, then, is the interesting part: after the fact, there are those who have come forward to define, using their collective specialties, what actually happened, the physics involved, the chemistry, etc.

Some said: you saw what happened, and here is the hard science from professionals, that state unequivocally that what you saw is exactly what happened.

Some said: you saw what happened, and here is the hard science from professionals, that state unequivocally that what you saw is NOT exactly what happened.

There was evidence provided by both groups, the chemistry of the fuel, the architecture involved in the building of superstructures like the Two Towers, testimony by demolition experts, etc.

Yet, somehow, there were two differing viewpoints on the reality of what happened. How can that be?

Those who accepted what is the majority opinion scoffed at those who believed otherwise, because the Truth Movement, as they called themselves, were nothing more and sometimes less than mere (drum roll, please): Conspiracy Theorists.

In my novel, I then was writing about the two Towers (De La Tour and Towers) in conflicting realities. I also mentioned the notion of the Uncertainty Principle and Schrodinger's Cat or the idea involving multiple realities... and the 2 Towers in my novel were separate sides of one coin.

I also quoted, at length, from the film The Happening, often disregarded as a commercial and artistic failure. To condense: Science will look at an event and develop the best possible theory to explain it, but at the core, it is always going to be a mystery.

Think otherwise? Then ask someone that is fully into the materialistic, non-spiritual belief system to explain, in as precise a means as possible, how gravity functions... and how it fits into the notion of Physics...

It just does...

I do not mock those of that mindset. Not now, not ever: rather, as Robert Anton Wilson wrote in The New Inquisition, I mock the closed mind. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, there are more things under Heaven and Earth than fit into philosophy.

The Conspiracy Theory, then, not to mock but to clarify, is an attempt to comprehend the world, history and events as they unfold... much in the way mythology does in the mind of Rand.

The Conspiracy Theory attempts to eliminate the very concept behind the phrase: Things Just Happened...

Was JFK murdered? Yes. By whom? Someone with a gun... do you really need anything else? What about Bobby Kennedy? El-Malik El-Shabazz (formerly Malcolm X, Detroit Red, Malcolm Little)? Watergate?

To openly deride all conspiracy theory as mere bunkum is to suggest that Things Just Happened Like That, that No Man Is Responsible... other than The Enemy.

Who is the real enemy of rational thought? The conspiracy theorist or the one that mocks them? The one that accepts the Official Version or those that mock them?