. . . Of the Week (4-18-14)

So, I’m starting something new here; it’s called ‘. . . Of the Week’ and will be updated regularly every weekend (either Friday or Saturday).  It will feature several items from a series of categories–album cover art, book cover art, a news article, etc.–that I found interesting, enjoyable or enlightening that week in one way or another.  Although I will not put in items from every subcategory each time, I will include several of them in each post.  Please note that these items will not necessarily be new to the Internet that week.  I may include things of historical significance, art and graphic design from any time period, and so on.  Really the only thing that will link them will be my current interest in them.  Now, without further ado, here is your very first ‘. . . Of the Week’ post.

Album Cover of the Week

I came across this one on Spotify a couple days ago and found it to be a fine example of design.  Often the best designs are the simplest, and that’s the case here.  I love how the designer used the negative space to give the immediate impression of a sunrise on the water, though when you examine it for more than a second or two you’ll notice that the outlined circle actually lies over the top of the water.

I don’t know who designed this cover.  The cover of the Yellow Bridges single was clearly designed by the same person and is complimentary to the LP cover, but I don’t think it’s quite as interesting as this one.

El Ten Eleven - Transitions (cover)
El Ten Eleven – Transitions (cover)

Book Cover of the Week

This is an old cover for the science fiction novel Nightmare Blue by Gardner Dozois and George Alec Effinger.  The artwork was done by Justin Todd.  In the period between about the 1940s through the early 1970s speculative fiction was largely ignored by critics, and as such it’s graphic elements were much less of a prisoner to the stifling conformity of contemporary design that literary fiction fell into in that same period.  As such, artists and designers for spec fiction were free to draw from a wide pool of styles both past and present, sometimes even combining elements from assorted styles.  Todd’s design, for example, seems to include aspects of Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Modernism, and it works quite well in my estimation.  Justin Todd has worked as an art instructor at the University of Brighton and has illustrated several children’s books and book covers, among other things.

Justin Todd - Nightmare Blue (cover)
Justin Todd – Nightmare Blue (cover)

Meme of the Week

Yep, I’m a sucker for a good Facebook meme too, especially anything which has to do with the pleasures of reading or the encouragement of reading in youngsters.  This one comes from Your Beautiful Life.

Article of the Week

And speaking  of kids and books, our article this week comes from the ironically named Bad Parent, MD website, and it’s from a father who dares to read (gulp) good stories to his  5-year-old daughter.  I encountered it while doing a little research on one of my favorite Ray Bradbury stories, The Veldt, which is one of the stories this young father has read to his daughter.  Some people may think this tale of the dark side of children’s imagination inappropriate for children themselves, especially considering what happens at the end of it.  (I won’t spoil it for you–read the story!)  Personally, I think this dad is swell for reading challenging material to his child.  Fairy tales are fine to a point, but real life is no fairy tale and I don’t think parents are doing their children any favors by keeping their knowledge of the world confined to defanged ‘happily ever after’ stories.  Frankly, I worry about their ability to develop coping skills.  Ironically, many parents see no problem with beating their children even as they censor what those children can see, hear and read.  So, actual violence against children: okay.  Fictional violence? Oh Em Gee, keep it away from them or it will corrupt their weak little minds!  Yeah, I don’t get it either.  Anywho . . .

Inappropriate bedtime stories for a 5-year-old

And since we’re already on the subject of Bradbury’s The Veldt . . .

Video Clip of the Week

The artwork at the top of that article I just posted the link to comes from the stunningly beautiful animated music video for deadmau5′s song based on The Veldt.  I’m not kidding; it brought tears to my eyes.  Of course, I know the story behind the song and video, which helped give it some emotional depth, but if you haven’t read it, you’ll likely want to after watching this.  Oh, and the song’s pretty good too.

deadmau5 feat. Chris James – The Veldt (Music Video)

And that concludes this week’s ‘. . . Of the Week’. :)

Fighting Monsters: Frankenstein’s Monster and the Culture of Outsider Persecution

I have good dispositions; my life has been hitherto harmless and in some degree beneficial; but a fatal prejudice clouds their eyes, and where they ought to see a feeling and kind friend, they behold only a detestable monster. – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.  Friedrich Nietzsche

Chidog-01 - Frankenstein's Monster
Chidog-01 – Frankenstein’s Monster

DeviantArt: Chidog-01

I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein about five years ago.  The novel had been calling to me for years, but I had avoided it for one reason or another.  Ultimately, I think it was because I knew in some deeply recessed, intangible part of my being that I simply wasn’t ready for it.  Not because of its nigh impenetrable pre-Victorian English or the complex philosophical and moral issues it presents, although that was part of it, I suppose.  No, I think the main reason I waited so long is that I sensed I would identify too much with the monster and would be emotionally devastated by his end, which I assumed, having seen the 1931 film long ago, was death by fire.  (“Fire bad!”)  Actually, in the novel the monster doesn’t die–not physically anyway–but instead is self-exiled to the Arctic.  Given that the monster appears to be nearly immortal, and knowing what I know about social isolation, the monster’s lot struck me as a fate far worse than death.  Needless to say, my fears about reading the novel were well-founded . . . and then some.  Not that I regret reading it, mind you.  Quite the contrary.  It’s just that I have since become haunted by Frankenstein’s monster long after the fact, sometimes imagining myself wandering the vast wastelands of ice and snow, alone and unloved, until the end of my days.

I could have handled the monster being murdered.  This is what we’ve been conditioned to expect of monsters, isn’t it?  Of course, Shelley’s monster is not the kind we’re used to.  He’s hateful and murderous by the end, yes, but he’s also deeply psychologically tortured.  Despite the many cultural depictions to the contrary, Dr. Frankenstein’s creation was originally not the lumbering, ignorant, feral thing he became; he’s quite intelligent, in fact, even brilliant.  He has a taste for literature, particularly John Milton’s Paradise Lost, viewing himself as akin to Adam in the poem.  Likewise, the monster is sensitive and (initially anyway) compassionate towards mankind, only turning bitter and abhorrent after numerous failed attempts to win the affections of men, who continually respond to him with fear and revulsion rather than kindness and acceptance.

In the end the monster comes to despise himself even more than others despise him, because his already unbearable misery is compounded by the fact that he has become exactly what people view him as: twisted, violent and horrific.  As he says to his creator, “My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy, and when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred, it did not endure the violence of the change without torture such as you cannot even imagine.”

The notion that a sentient being can take on aspects of how it is perceived by outsiders is nothing new today.  We even have a pretty solid and well-founded concept to describe this phenomenon: labeling theory.  In Mary Shelley’s time this was a fairly revolutionary idea though.  The basic view of criminal behavior at the time of her novel’s publication, the so-called Classical School of criminology, was that human behavior is essentially rational and that all crimes are therefore fully the choice of those committing them regardless of the circumstances or the mindset of the criminal.

There are tons of problems with this position.  First and most obvious, it ignores the root causes of crime pretty much entirely and focuses only on the behaviors associated with the crimes.  As a result, it tends to be reactive rather than proactive in terms of dealing with crime.  Second, it fails to account for mental illness, duress, or countless other things that might mitigate rational behavior and contribute to criminality.  Third, because it assumes that criminals are always solely and consciously responsible for their actions, it tends to encourage harsh and unfair punishments for crime.  There are others I could list but you get the idea.

So, Frankenstein’s monster is a classic example of the misunderstood villain.  Although his crimes are not exactly justified, they are perfectly understandable in light of how he is treated, and in perhaps one of the greatest bits of irony in all of literature, it is the very dread and repugnance society directs toward him which eventually turns him into something truly dreadful and repugnant.  The creature is merely fulfilling the social role expected of him, though he hates it and himself for doing so.

Beyond the book, most depictions of the monster lack this complexity, usually reducing him to a dimwitted thing that merely reacts to its environment and to humans, often angrily.  He is thus a precursor to the Incredible Hulk, whom I believe was influenced by Shelley’s character.  Hulk even shares the Frankenstein monster’s gray-green skin.

Positive depictions of the monster are rare and usually done for comic effect.  A friend of mine and I recently discussed the film The Monster Squad, for example, wherein Frankie deserts his cohorts–all classic movie monsters–and befriends the children of the Monster Squad, particularly young Phoebe, who demonstrates to the other kids that the monster is nothing to fear.  In direct contrast to the murder of the little girl in the original film, here he saves the little girl from death at the hands of his old boss, Dracula.  In many ways this small, nearly forgotten gem of a film takes a more enlightened view of monsters than many of its more respected predecessors.  There are still evil monsters, of course, but the movie demonstrates that not all monsters are bad; some are good, or potentially so, and only want to be loved.  In that sense The Monster Squad returns Frankenstein’s creature to his original status as a seeker of human companionship and understanding, even if it does reduce him to the nearly preverbal child-like being of his film heritage.  It’s a nice fusion of book and film Frankenstein.

The Monster Squad further blurs the line between human and monster when Scary German Guy (as the kids call him), formerly feared by them, becomes an ally of the Monster Squad.  During an early interaction between them, Scary German Guy (SGG) points out several facts about monsters which provokes one of the kids to say, “Man, you sure know a lot about monsters.”  SGG responds to this by raising his sleeve, displaying a series of tattooed numbers on his arm, and saying, “Now that you mention it, I suppose I do.”  Nothing further is said about this; nothing more needs to be said.  The audience, or rather those parts of it who are old enough to know about the Nazi atrocities, understands that SGG is saying implicitly that humans are capable of becoming monsters too.  SGG, whether intentionally or not, is essentially warning the kids not to lose their humanity in the process of hunting and destroying monsters.  Therefore, the Monster Squad (a club originally organized around a shared love of the classic monster films) must destroy their monstrous adversaries not because Dracula and the others are monsters in the traditional sense, but because they have evil intentions, and we as an audience know that the kids do understand the distinction due to their befriending of Frankenstein’s monster.

By contrast, the Nazis dehumanized and monstrocized entire classes of people: the Jews, of course, but also other ethnic minorities, gays and other “sexual deviants”, gypsies, the physically and mentally disabled, and yes, even criminals–pretty much anyone they perceived to be outsiders or a threat to their image of themselves as the Master Race.  All were subject to the Nazis’ Final Solution.  And no doubt, if Frankenstein’s monster had existed in Nazi Germany, whether the tortured, violent creature of Shelley’s book or the gentle giant of The Monster Squad, he would’ve met the same fate.

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Side Note: With the release of I, Frankenstein earlier this year the character has been remade, so to speak, yet again, this time as a handsome hero (played by Aaron Eckhart of all people) who fights demons, a concept almost completely antithetical to everything Shelley envisioned.  I haven’t seen it, but I’m aware that the film performed badly in theaters and was pretty much universally panned by critics, which I’m ecstatic about.  I usually don’t revel in the failure of a film, especially one I haven’t seen, but Frankenstein’s monster is an important character in literature and one of deep symbolic resonance to me personally, and I cannot abide this crass Hollywood trend of reimagining every beloved cultural icon as a heroic two-fisted pretty boy.  It demeans and cheapens them, and worse: it undermines their entire raison d’être.  Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films were bad enough, but I’ve never been into the Holmes mythos to the degree I am Frankenstein so that didn’t bother me nearly as much.

Meditations on My Life and Times (3-24-14)

Meditation #1: Something to Cry About

Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy. – Aristotle

Like many people no doubt, I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook.  I should admit up front that it all too often shows the worst side of me.  I can get temperamental there sometimes, which is strange because I rarely get that angry away from the keyboard.  So my poor, long-suffering friends and family get the brunt of my hotheadedness whenever it flares up.  But the thing is, my anger isn’t really aimed at them, and after I purge those feelings I always feel remorseful about my emotional outbursts and usually apologize after I’ve calmed down again.

As a bona fide card-carrying right-brainer, I have always struggled with my emotions.  I was a pretty meek child, and that is putting it mildly.  Easily hurt by any angry word directed my way, or even reduced to tears by a stern look, I was a real mess.  I know what you’re probably thinking, but this was not a plea for attention, believe me.  I was ashamed of it and always did my best to hide it (as I did all of my issues), with varying degrees of success.  It still drives me up the wall when I see another child who, like my child-self, has an eggshell-thin emotional shield and breaks down easily, only to be forcefully told by the child’s parent or other relative that his/her outbursts are just a ploy to get attention.  Maybe that’s true in some cases, but honestly any child who can call up tears like that on a whim still has to be fairly thin-skinned, and I do not use that term derogatorily.  Despite society’s bullshit, I have come to accept my rich emotional life and emotional vulnerability as a blessing.

Even so, unsurprisingly, at age forty I am much better overall at controlling my negative emotions than I was as a child, although in my case I had to go through the living hell of chronic depression and severe social anxiety for years before I could get to this point, and I lost something in the process that I know I can never get back.  Moreover, I have still never forgotten what it was like to be a prisoner of my hurt and fear as a child.  Add a physical disability, some major health issues that alienated me from my peers and a taboo sexuality into that mix and perhaps you might be able to grasp the horror that was my adolescence.  My only real refuge from that nightmare was books–particularly speculative fiction, comics and books on psychology and social issues–and my art, and occasionally my amateurish attempts at fiction writing.  And my sexual fantasies of course, which I was wise enough to keep to myself.

Culturally, the open expression of most of the full range of emotions is denied to males.  We are expected to keep any signs of emotional “weakness” hidden.  It’s still true to some extent, but it was definitely the case when I was young.  The only extreme emotion we are allowed to express without being considered a pansy is anger, because this has traditionally been thought a masculine emotion, probably because of its usefulness in warfare.  Anger is an inherently alienating emotion though, and I hate not only the feeling of it when it strikes me but also its effects on those exposed to it.

I have noticed that families in poverty are often full of temperamental people.  This is no mystery: the stress of wondering if you’ll be able to pay your bills that month is bad enough, but when unexpected bills arise because of some health issue or car problem or  household maintenance issue, it can quickly become a crisis.  And since the poor can’t afford to invest in things that last, such crises occur often in low-income families.  The poor are a tough lot.  They have to be to deal with all the bullshit that comes with being poor, but that toughness can be a hindrance too in poverty situations, where masculinity has to be proven again and again in the competition for the scant resources available to them.  That, along with the bodily aches and pains of working hard for meager rewards (often going without the medicine needed to treat the bad health that inevitably comes with such a life), the family turmoils, the obvious disdain for the poor held by the political and social elites, and indeed the built-in unfairness of the system which routinely crushes the bodies and souls of the poor–a system designed and operated by those same disdainful politicians and fat cats in power–tends to make poor people bitter.  And that bitterness in turn infects the entire family, adding to the already overwhelming list of ills they must endure, which gets passed to the next generation, and on it goes.

For awhile wealthy American conservatives of the Reagan-Bush, Sr. era at least pretended to care about the poor, even as they privately operated against them.  But with the rise of the neoconservatives the game changed, and they began to be more open with their hate, as their current policies and attitudes attest.  Using everything they’ve learned from history–from intentionally convoluted logic to dupe and confuse the ignorant, to the Appeals to Emotion, especially Argumentum ad Metum (e.g. The government is coming to take away all your guns!), pioneered by conservative talk radio and perfected by Fox News that is designed to sow fear of the federal government amongst the lower classes, to the use of bait-and-switch tactics that distract the poor with hot button social issues like abortion and gay marriage and keep them away from fiscal issues, to the use of Orwellian semantics tricks to twist traditionally liberal arguments back on liberals (e.g. accusations of liberals waging class warfare)–the rich and powerful have never been more successful in pulling off the Big Lie and compelling masses of poor people to vote against their own interests.

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of the neocons was to create and entrench mistrust of intellectuals and intellectualism.  The neocons knew at the outset this was extremely important because they know that the more educated people are, the more likely they are to see the truth and call the neocons’ bluff.  Why?  Because on some level they know that most of their positions do not hold up well either to reason or to moral rightness.  If it was otherwise, then why not embrace intellectualism?  For, as John Milton once wrote:

“Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do ingloriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength.  Let her and Falsehood grapple: who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

Although Milton meant this to apply only to the various warring factions of Christianity in England in the 1600s, it’s a point that’s relevant to the entire Marketplace of Ideas today.

But I digress.  We were discussing the feelings that the poor, and especially the male poor, are culturally allowed to express.  Happiness?  Sure, a little, but not too much.  After all, if you show people you’re a happy fellow, then the more fortunate members of society assume you must be better off than you’re letting on and use it as an excuse to argue against social programs that support the poor.  But, if you let on that you’re miserable, well then you’re judged by the same group to be ungrateful and therefore undeserving of society’s benefaction (a perfect example of Morton’s Fork).  Or they just think you’re a scumbag who’s faking your misery in order to bilk them out of their money.  Either way they don’t trust you, and they certainly don’t like you.  So what’s left to poor males?  Stoicism?  That is acceptable.  Anger?  Yes, as long as you’re channeling it at people who don’t matter in their book.  And that’s about it.

Now, if you look at the states in America where the poor fare the worst, they’re almost invariably the chronically conservative ones; and regionally the South, where I live, is the worst of all.  Violence rates among the rural poor in the South often rival or even surpass the inner cities of major metropolitan areas in other regions of the country, to say nothing of the violence within Southern cities.  Guns aren’t merely ubiquitous here–almost everyone in the South owns at least one, with most Southerners owning several.  I myself own a .22 rifle, a gift from my dad.  I’m not against the ownership of firearms (clearly, or I’d be a hypocrite) but I am quite certain that gun laws in the South, such as they are, are designed to kill off poor people.

Cynical?  Maybe.  On the other hand, you have to be pretty damn gullible to believe that people who think it’s perfectly okay for them to horde millions or billions of dollars they have no intention of using while the poor kill each other over a few hundred bucks or over some disagreement over drugs that make the hurting go away, and then have the gall to bitch about paying a few more percentage points’ worth of taxes, are in any way out to look after the interests of the lower classes.  Sorry, po’ folks, but those people don’t give a flying turd about you.  Stop buying into their bullshit.  Please.    

Anyway, so a few poor people who have easy access to firearms get pissed off once in awhile and wind up killing each other.  What’s it to the rich?  In fact, that’s just a few more mouths they don’t have to pay taxes on to keep fed.  But, of course, it isn’t just a few poor people.  The numbers don’t lie.  Violence is ubiquitous here, and murders occur more often than most non-Southerners think.  A murder occurred even within my own family here a few years ago, a crime of passion (as most Southern murders are) that likely would not have occurred if the murderer, a felon who was out on bail as he awaited trial on sexual assault charges, didn’t have such easy access to guns.  But heaven forfend anyone suggest some amount of reasonable limits on the ownership of guns.  If you do then you must be a communist seeking to destroy America!  Even your own family members think you’re delusional, at best ignoring you as they happily pass around anti-Obama and anti-liberal informational memes in Facebook that are often easily proven false.

And maybe now you can better understand the fons et origo of my online flareups.  But I have learned my lesson: no more will I channel my indignation at those who are just as much victims of the modern ultraconservative system as I am, even if they cannot really comprehend why this is so and actively continue to support the politicians, pundits and tycoons who secretly laugh at the poor’s gullibility and ignorance as they continue to manipulate them and feed them horseshit conspiracy theories about Obama.  In truth, the rural impoverished who swallow these lies are to be pitied rather than raged at.  Henceforth the only people who will receive my fury are the ones who truly deserve it.  They know who they are.  I look upon all of us in the lower classes as victims of the neoconservative coup that took place in Washington in the early 1990s regardless of our beliefs or politics.  Meanwhile, we may rest assured that the neocon house of cards will fall, and it’ll happen soon.

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Meditation #2: Afraid of Tight Mindspaces

I believe that ideas such as absolute certitude, absolute exactness, final truth, etc., are figments of the imagination which should not be admissible in any field of science, and this loosening of thinking is the greatest blessing that modern science has given us. The belief in a single truth, and that you are the sole possessor of it, is the root cause of much evil. – Max Boen

Surely we’ve all experienced cognitive dissonance, that weird, unpleasant feeling we get when something known or perceived doesn’t match up with our worldview, self-identity, social/cultural expectations or other entrenched beliefs . . . our psychic comfort zone, so to speak.  Although most older folks will never admit it, it’s a problem that tends to compound with age.  Kids’ brains are much more plastic than adults’.  Children arrive in the world with lots of genetic preprogramming so they aren’t exactly blank slates, but they do not come with built-in programs for values, cultural mores and so on.  The reason for this is simple: these things are human inventions and therefore must be taught (socialized) rather than inherited.  Morality is programmable software.  It has to be.  For much of history and in many cultures a child’s survival depended on its ability to trust completely in the authorities that held power over it, particularly its parents, and part of that was accepting and internalizing its parents’ and ultimately its culture’s values.

Many people prefer to believe that the universe is innately moral, or at least that morals exist out there somewhere in some a priori sense.  Even many governments’ legal systems are founded on this notion of some sort of preexisting moral code.  The U.S. Constitution is one of them.  It’s based on the concept of natural rights.  Some folks believe it is God who has established these unbending universal rules, others that they are axiomatic regardless of who/what did or did not establish them; which is to say, they should be accepted as a given and as the starting point for our understanding of the issue.

Let me say here that I have studied many religions, philosophical movements, ethics systems, and of course the natural world itself, and I can say without hesitation that there is zero evidence for the a priori existence of rights or any other moral concepts in the natural world.  Indeed, the evidence that nature is completely amoral is overwhelming, and the term ‘natural rights’ is a misnomer if ever there was one.  When people speak of natural rights, what they really mean is supernatural rights, and like all things supernatural, there is scant evidence to be found for them in consensus reality.  There are behaviors amongst animals that seem to be manifestations of moral intent, but when you examine them closely what you find is that they are instead manifestations of genes that have evolved to look out for themselves and their own continuation.  A good example is a mother animal’s instinct to protect its offspring.  No matter how much we’d like to think otherwise, the fact is, mothers protecting their young is an evolutionary trait that occurred because it is in the interest of the continuation of a species.

I said in my last post that the recognition of our species’ right to exist should be the highest of our moral imperatives, but make no mistake: I was not suggesting that this is a moral imperative because God or nature says it’s so.  No, a moral imperative is what we decide it is and can (and should) rest on the grounds of reason.  It is reasonable to acknowledge that humans, like all species, are compelled to procreate.  Not because some manuscript thousands of years old says “Go forth and multiply” but because our genes are just built that way.  Furthermore, it is logical to look at nature to see what works and doesn’t work.  That’s the beauty of being human–we have the greatest capacity of all animals to consciously learn from our environment, to accept or reject whatever parts we like of it, whereas all other animals (to the best of our knowledge) operate exclusively–or nearly so–by instinct.  Instinct is not a moral choice; in fact, it is not a choice at all.  It is behavior that is automatically activated by some exterior stimulus; it is unthinking behavior.  But true morality can only be a conscious decision, a will to do what is right.

Look at it this way: the fact that deer don’t usually go out of their way to destroy your car doesn’t mean the deer are doing so because they believe destruction of your property is wrong.  Rather, they avoid your car because they instinctively recognize that it is in their self-interest to do so.  Likewise, just because we humans traditionally think of certain behaviors in ourselves as moral (e.g. mothers protecting their young) doesn’t mean other animals who do the same thing are then behaving morally.  In the end, though, it makes sense for us to mimic the most successful and least destructive strategies in nature and hold them as moral imperatives, and there can be no doubt that mothers protecting their young is one of the most successful strategies for species propagation that has evolved in the animal kingdom.

Yet all moral imperatives have limitations, which is to say, they cannot be applied in any universal sense because inevitably they will run up against another moral imperative.  Let us take as an example one of the crimes we generally consider to be among the most heinous: rape.  This one seems to be universal, but it isn’t.  When would the taboo against rape be trumped?  How about this: a group of known murderers have taken a man, the man’s best friend and the friend’s entire family hostage at gunpoint.  The criminals decide to force the man to rape a family member of his friend.  He doesn’t want to, of course, but the thugs assure him that if he refuses to comply with their order the entire family will be executed on the spot, and the man has no reason to doubt their veracity.  In that case I would argue that he can and should make an exception to his general moral prohibition against rape, because the very real possibility of murder, and especially murder of more than one person, trumps the taboo against rape in this case.

Now, you may argue that rape is still a grave moral violation regardless of what conditions it is committed under.  In the abstract, at least, I wouldn’t argue that point with you, but it should be clear now that the application of our morals to real life situations is limited, and therefore all morals must be considered to be of finite value, for morality is only meaningful if it can be applied to consensus reality.  But let me be very clear here in case anyone is getting the wrong impression: rape is still a major crime and a horrific moral violation for the most part, and the instances that would allow for it to be otherwise are extremely rare and extremely unlikely to manifest in most people’s lives.  Ergo, I am NOT suggesting that because mortal imperatives do have limitations that all bets are off.  As I said, in the vast majority of cases rape will still be a flagrant ethical violation and should be thought of and treated accordingly.

With that settled, let us lay out all of the relevant moral choices in the above scenario and consider their consequences:

#1 If the man believes rape to be universally evil and therefore always immoral to commit but rapes his friend’s family member anyway with the intention of saving the family’s lives, then the man clearly believes there are circumstances where it’s okay to violate his own moral code; he is thus a hypocrite and his moral system is rendered meaningless in application.

#2 If the man believes that the social and legal injunctions against rape should never be violated but also believes mass murder is worse than rape and should also be prevented if possible, and yet he refuses to commit the rape and lets the family die, then he has violated another of his moral imperatives, the one against allowing mass murder to take place if he can prevent it, and the same point applies.

#3 If the man rapes the friend’s family member with the understanding that this isn’t really a violation of his moral code because his options were limited and because another, higher moral imperative would be prevented if he failed to comply with the murderers’ wishes, then he recognizes that the moral itself has a limited application.

Well, the same conditions apply to all moral decisions (with varying degrees of import, depending on the decision), for, unless you recognize only one universal moral–and it must be said that you have a staggeringly simplistic worldview if you do!–then there is always the possibility that one moral imperative will conflict with another because life is messy and complex.  People do not violate values systems in a vacuum.  One must, in cases where such conflicts exist, decide which of his/her values in conflict are to be considered greater than the others and operate accordingly.

Returning to our starting point, what does all of this have to do with cognitive dissonance?  Well, a lot, actually.  Often when two moral imperatives come in conflict, people experience cognitive dissonance.  This is especially the case where they have an inflexible moral viewpoint on the issues involved.  How does one dissipate his cognitive dissonance and restore psycho-emotional balance in such cases?  It’s clear to me that in order to truly do so he must resolve the conflict somehow.  Some will do as I would do, weighing the options and choosing the least disagreeable one.  Such a person may accept, as I would, that such conflicts are inevitable and that moral values are always limited in application.  Or, he may outwardly express his belief in moral absolutes even as he behaves otherwise, in which case he is a hypocrite and his system of morals is self-contradicting and therefore meaningless.

Maybe rather than attempt to resolve the conflict at all, he will construct elaborate fictions for himself in order to keep the cognitive dissonance at bay.  Here’s where those pesky (and brilliant) cognitive biases I spoke of in my last post come in.  But then the conflict is never truly resolved, is it?  Just hidden behind a mental labyrinth of smoke and mirrors.  And anyway, just because a conflict has been pushed out of our minds doesn’t mean it no longer exists in reality.  The conflict is still there.

Perhaps in some rare cases people try but are unable to resolve these conflicts, obsessing over them until the cognitive dissonance becomes something much bigger: an existential crisis.  Most people probably experience an existential crisis at least once in their lives, some more severely than others.  I’ve gone through it at least twice.  The first time it happened I was in my early twenties and resolved the dilemma relatively quickly by taking up Christianity, a belief system I had long rejected but tried to follow faithfully anyway.  This was fairly short-lived in the scheme of things, and as pointed out above, the issues were never really resolved for me, just staved off for awhile.  My second existential crisis was far different.  I was nearly thirty years old, about to graduate from college and too smart by then to talk myself into some simplistic, prefab, one-size-fits-all ideology like Christianity; consequently, the price for my wisdom was steep for I suffered much, much more and for a far longer duration on the second go-round.  In fact, I had a nervous breakdown and was reduced to a puddle of sadness and horrific anxiety, an epic two to three year event that I have since mostly rebounded from with the help of time and several drugs (some legal, some not).

Nevertheless, I’m still on the mend and probably will be for the remainder of my life.  You don’t recover from a years-long bout of depression and anxiety overnight, and in order to move on from it at all you must accept that you’re likely never going to be as happy and carefree as you once were.  But you learn to go with the flow, and a sort of numbness sets in for awhile with the occasional hiccup of emotion and/or panicked resistance to the new status quo, which I reckon is something akin to the shell-shock some soldiers experience after returning from war.  Slowly, slowly, you make your way up the hill until you begin to reach something like the plateau of normality, if there is such a place.  I’m dubious these days.  It’s probably all slogging uphill from here, but whatever.  I deal with it as I need to.

Something good did come from that experience: the resolution I had long sought was eventually reached.  That resolution is what I just laid out for you above (well, part of it anyway).  Accept it, learn from it, and maybe you will find peace without having to go through all of the turmoil that I was cursed to experience in order to arrive at that point.

I wish you all the best!

On Bigotry, Bugaboos, Beliefs & Balance . . .

(…And Boldly Going Where No One Has Gone Before)

On Facebook today, March 20th, I received the news that Fred Phelps, founder and ex-leader of the notoriously homophobic Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, had died.  With Reverend Phelps at its helm, the activist faction of the WBC has protested against the socialization and acceptance of gays and gay culture since at least the early nineties.  Among other targets of the WBC were secular and reformed Jews, all of the other mainstream religions (including all branches of Protestant Christianity but their own) and pedophiles.  You can get a pretty good overview of their philosophy, politics and M.O. at the Wikipedia page I linked to above.

A few days ago I had read that Phelps, who resembled some creepy cross between Clint Eastwood and the evil minister from Poltergeist II: The Other Side, was on his deathbed, so today’s news of his passing did not come as a surprise.  No, the truly surprising tidbit that has come out of this coverage was that Phelps had been ousted from his own church last year.  At first this fact seemed to me shockingly ironic, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that it isn’t so ironic after all.  If one examines the history of all the extremist us-versus-them ideological movements, regardless of their rallying points or the basis for their beliefs they tend to implode, and I think it is because the psychology of the leadership of such movements are often so paranoid that they eventually begin to turn on each other.

Kane; Eastwood; Phelps

This is what happened with the Klu Klux Klan when they were at the height of their power in the 1920s.  Even when such groups manage to take over a government like the Nazis did in Germany and the Communists did in Russia, there is inevitably some internal purge that rarely spares even the most powerful members within that group.  With the Nazis it was Ernst Röhm and the leadership of the Sturm-Abteilung, without which Hitler never could have become Chancellor of Germany.  (If you’re interested, I discuss Röhm in some detail in an earlier article, Bothersome Nazis: Ernst Röhm and Julius Streicher.)  With the Communists the list was even longer and included many of the so-called Old Bolsheviks, again without whom the Russian Revolution would not have been successful.

Essentially, when one delves into their psychology and motivations, what becomes apparent is that trust issues and delusions of persecution are often innate to members of groups that are built around the persecution of other groups.  Hmm, whodathunkit?  It seems Alexander Pope had it right when he wrote:

All seems infected to th’ infected spy,
As all looks yellow to the jaundic’d eye.

This is of course a generalization and we should be careful not to assign to it more weight than it genuinely possesses, but we cannot ignore the patterns which persist time and time again amongst such groups, or within the broader context of society as a whole.

We should also keep this paradigm in mind when considering how such all-encompassing hatred might take root to begin with.  In that light we might better understand what Daily Kos contributor tmservo433 is driving at in this article when he points out, “Last year, right before his ex-communication, Phelps faced confrontation of former members who wondered if Phelps himself wasn’t a gay man who’s self hatred manifested itself as it did.”  The article goes on to state that Phelps’s rage was at its most piquant whenever he was personally confronted with accusations of his own possible repressed homosexual feelings.  We may be tempted to write off these accusations as simply a desire by those former members to get Phelps’s goat, and no doubt some of that was going on, but it is neither here nor there, for the evidence for homophobic projection is now pretty well established.

My hunch is that this sort of projection applies to much more than just unpopular sexual orientations; I suspect it can be said of a great many qualities innate to humans both individually and as a whole, such as a will to violence.  We may all look down on murderers, but is there a person alive who has never had murderous feelings in his heart at some time?  Or sexual desires that make him uncomfortable?  Furthermore, I believe the overall moral health of a society is directly impacted by how openly and honestly its members are able to deal with such desires or drives in themselves, and perhaps more importantly, whether they are able to set aside their own personal guilt, shame, anger, etc. in order to deal fairly and ethically with others who violate that society’s laws and taboos.  I’m sorry to say in comparison to most of the Western world, Americans get an F in this department.  We are among the worst when it comes to our treatment of criminals.  For example, we are the only Western industrial (First World) nation to still practice the death penalty, despite the overwhelming evidence that it doesn’t work as a detriment to violence, and we are number one in the entire world–including the worst of the Third World nations–when it comes to incarceration.

Why is this?  Whenever you ask this question of anyone who supports this Kafkaesque status quo, the answers you receive are invariably either astoundingly false (the deterrence argument), prone to mystical mumbo-jumbo (it’s God’s will), rooted in feelings of revenge, or some evasive thought-terminating cliche which ultimately amounts to a big “fuck you.”  Sometimes, in heated discussions, you get all of the above.  These replies never hold up to logical or ethical scrutiny, which is why the vast majority of the civilized world has rejected them.  We are the holdouts.  This is not to say that there haven’t been improvements over the years.  Those are pretty much inevitable, but they are usually slow in coming and almost always hard won.  It seems that we Americans, regardless of our political stripe, are all too frequently a prudish and mistrustful lot.

Maybe this traces back to our Puritan heritage.  I think that’s part of it, certainly.  But I think there is something else going on here too, something even bigger and older than religious fundamentalism.  We poor humans are doomed to operate our lives according to a great many internal prejudices called cognitive biases that trace back to the evolutionary development of our brains as organs of survival in a highly complex, ever-changing and seemingly infinite universe . . . what’s referred to by systems theorists as an open system.

What this means in the end is that the world we exist in provides so much information for our brains to take in, engaging us in feedback loops of such number and complexity that if our brains were unable to make speedy decisions based on this astounding amount of input, we would simply be unable to operate.  Our brains would be subject to something like combinatorial explosion, wherein a process becomes so exponentially complex that it becomes trapped in data processing and effectively ceases to function at the macro level in any useful way.  Ergo, without our built-in biases, we could never have evolved intelligence as the ability to do so would be an intractable problem for us.

As Jeremy Campbell has laid out in his excellent book The Improbable Machine, this has long been a thorn in the side of those attempting to develop a genuine AI; the original assumption of those working in this field–what makes humans intelligent is mostly/solely their capacity to be logical and that if a complex enough logic processor (Turing machine) could be developed, we would have an AI–has been all but demolished by a long history of abysmal failures sprinkled by a handful of modest successes.  Campbell shows that what makes us smart isn’t just our facility for logic but also–and perhaps even more importantly–our brain’s ability to make snap judgments based on previous experiences, no matter how skimpy or seemingly inapplicable to the extant problem those experiences may be.

But there is a price to be paid for this superfast inductive reasoning, and that price is the frustrating degree of inexactness we are subject to in this grand and mysterious universe we live in; moreover, the fact that we have a wide array of genetics and life experiences means that we can likely never reach a true philosophical consensus.  The advent of science has certainly pushed us forward by leaps and bounds on the logic front, but Campbell shows that logic has its limits.  In short, we owe as much (or more) to our structural cognitive biases for our intelligence as we do to our capacity for deduction, even as those same cognitive biases doom us to being wrong about the big things almost as often as we are right.

Some may find this fact distressing.  Personally, I embrace it, as it assures that humanity remains intellectually diverse enough to deal with almost any problem it faces.  Let’s put this into context.  Consider that there are types of algae that can reproduce both sexually and asexually (heterogamy); one magnificent example is the genus Volvox.  What’s fascinating about Volvox is that its use of heterogamy is dependent on environmental conditions.  When conditions are ideal, Volvox will often reproduce in asexual mode.  Asexual reproduction is basically a form of self-cloning, which makes sense for a species that finds its optimum environment.  It is operating by an instinctive version of that old adage ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’  However, when Volvox is threatened it will switch to sexual reproduction, diversifying itself so that some part of it will be able to meet the new environmental challenge.  When the Volvox finds a match for the new environmental conditions, it will then stabilize by once more switching to asexual reproduction mode.  It’s a beautiful survival strategy for this little waterborn plant.

Now, humans can only reproduce sexually, so diversity is assured in our species.  And that’s a good thing, as our diversity has been an essential contribution to our evolution as the dominant species on Earth, both in reaching that position and in maintaining it.  Could we ever have gotten this intelligent if we reproduced asexually and were all clones of each other?  I would argue that the chance of doing so approaches nil.  Diversity is not merely valuable for a species to reach this level of intelligence; it is vital.  And the more diversity, the better we are able to meet whatever challenges our infinitely complex universe has to throw at us.  The Vulcans of Star Trek have a more succinct way of putting it, a motto which is sacred to them and even has its own symbol.  This is IDIC, which stands for Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.  For my part, I think the Vulcans are onto something.

Balsavor - Vulcan IDIC Symbol
Balsavor – Vulcan IDIC Symbol

DeviantArt – Balsavor

At any rate, our brains may be designed to be biased, but we shouldn’t assume that all forms of bias are then morally viable or insurmountable.  It is one thing to accept that our perception of reality is skewed in a thousand ways by our need to make sense of it and exist comfortably within it; it’s something else altogether to actively seek to justify the maltreatment of whole swaths of humanity based on these distorted perceptions.  Indeed, my point here is that we have a duty to try to understand our biases and overcome them when they negatively impact the moral status of society, because biases can be mimetic.

Yes, these cognitive biases can eventually manifest in some individuals as prejudice against whole groups of people, but that is not something that happens overnight.  It is largely a matter of social conditioning, and as such, it is morally unacceptable, for I see the higher moral imperative of diversity as a matter of survival for the entire human species, not just individuals (or races, or sexes, or cultures, or nations).  Why?  Because the humble Volvox, and indeed the whole history of humanity, demonstrates that the key to the survival of a species is to live within as broad an ecological niche as possible.

But what is it that provides the possibility for broadening our niche?  The answer is a broad environment with which to interact.  I include here in my definition of ‘environment’ aspects of both nature and human artifice, and I believe for the most part that anything that does not directly threaten the human species and does not threaten this highest of moral imperatives, the need for diversity, we should labor to protect.  Yet is there such a thing as too much diversity?  Theoretically at least, yes–when a species diversifies to the point where individuals can no longer interact, that is a direct threat to its continuance for obvious reasons.  But that is a difficult point for social animals like us to reach.  Still, the overall goal and the key to everything (you will hear me say this many more times on this blog) is balance.

It has been said that nature seeks stasis.  I think to a large degree this is true.  Nature is extremely flexible, but that flexibility is not, as many climate change deniers claim, infinite.  It does have limitations.  We should take care to keep in mind that it is absolutely a fact that humanity has within its capacity the ability to destroy all life on planet Earth.  A full-scale world war with nuclear weapons would probably do it.  If that is so, then isn’t it also the case that slowly corrupting the planet’s entire ecocosm could also eventually kill the planet off?  There is almost certainly a finite balance in the natural domain, but while we cannot know whether that balance can be permanently undermined, we can and do know that nature’s existing balance has served us well as a species thus far and is therefore worth conserving.

So, we now have a reason to embrace and defend diversity in both humanity and in nature as a whole: both are fundamental to our continued survival.  People like Fred Phelps are moral dinosaurs doomed to extinction not because they offend our sensibilities but because they are at heart anti-life.  They believe in rules for the sake of having rules rather than making life better and happier for us all.  They embrace hatred, cruelty and violence, which are inherently things of extreme divisiveness that, when taken to their logical conclusion, push our species towards extinction by directly threatening our need for diversity.

But, shouldn’t the views of people like Phelps be tolerated too, for, don’t they add to our diversity?  No, because their views and ideas are ultimately more destructive to this prime moral imperative than their existence is constructive to it.  And that is really where diversity as a moral imperative should end: at the point where it becomes anti-humanity and runs counter to itself.  That is only logical.

My Dream Cast – ‘Dune’

A few months ago I finally got around to reading Frank Herbert’s sci-fi masterpiece Dune, a book I had shamefully neglected for too many years.  At some point I intend to do a proper review of the novel, but it is so complex and layered that I expect I will have to read it again before I attempt such a review.  Meanwhile, I am using this book to inaugurate a series devoted to my dream cast (and I don’t mean a video game system) for various books I would love to see filmed, or in some cases, filmed right.

Actually, I have watched and enjoyed both David Lynch’s 1984 film and the Sci-Fi Channel–pardon me, I meant the SyFy–miniseries of 2000, but let’s face it: both of these treatments were riddled with problems, especially the Lynch film.  Despite its ponderous and messy nature, I am still quite fond of David Lynch’s take on Herbert’s book, if for no other reason than that, despite the odds being stacked against it, it actually got made.  I no doubt would’ve adored Alejandro Jodorowsky’s version had it ever seen the light of day (alas, one can now watch a documentary about this most notorious of unmade adaptations and muse about what might’ve been), but in truth it probably had about as much chance of being produced as Frosty the Snowman has of actually coming to life; it was just too amazing to be true.

But since we’re imagining here, let’s pretend that Yours Truly is in charge of casting all the most awesome movies based on books.  Here are my picks for all the important roles for Dune if it were being made in 2014.

Paul Atreides/Muad’Dib (Leo Howard)

Leo Howard; Paul Atreides by Mark Zug
Leo Howard; Paul Atreides by Mark Zug

Arguably the most important role in the story is that of Paul Atreides, the teenaged son of Duke Leto Atreides and a young man bound for legend.  At 17, Howard is the prime age for the character who starts out at 14 and winds up in his late teens or early twenties by book’s end.  He has the dark-haired, slightly exotic good looks described by Herbert in the novel, and moreover, he brings a set of physical skills to the role that are rare for an actor of his age.  Howard’s martial arts training lends him an edge for scenes of hand-to-hand combat, which occur frequently in the book.  But the real question is, can he act?  Well, for some critics the 13-year-old Howard upstaged his adult counterpart in playing a young Conan in the 2011 Conan the Barbarian reboot, and director Marcus Nispel said of him, “Leo absolutely blew me away. Almost the entire first act of Conan is the kid, which is unheard of. At the start, reading the script, everyone was like ‘We have to cut that down to ten minutes.’ And now everyone’s like ‘Can we make that longer?’ He worked out like a charm. There aren’t many young actors who could carry that sort of weight.”  If you haven’t seen the film, here’s a scene of the youngster in action, and here’s an interview in which Howard (along with costar Ron Perlman) explains the nature of his role. I mean, Kyle McLachlan was awesome and all, but as far as I’m concerned, this kid is Paul Atreides.

Mark Zug Art and Illustration

Duke Leto Atreides (Robert Downey, Jr.)

Robert Downey Jr.; Duke Leto Atreides by Vladimir Kolpakov

Jürgen Prochnow played Duke Leto–head of House Atreides and father of Paul–in David Lynch’s film, and I must confess, he was just about perfect for the role.  Handsome but stern, Leto must convey the kind of effortless gravitas that comes with being born into a noble family while simultaneously demonstrating the prudence, curiosity and fairness for which he is known.  It may be hard to shake our image of Downey as the wisecracking genius Tony Stark, or as the wisecracking genius Sherlock Holmes for that matter, but I would love to see him take on a role with more reserve and stateliness, and I am quite confident he can pull it off.

DeviantArt: AGRbrod

Lady Jessica (Amy Adams)

Amy Adams; Lady Jessica Atreides by LadyAquanine
Amy Adams; Lady Jessica Atreides by LadyAquanine

Fresh off her Best Lead Actress nomination for her role in American Hustle, Amy Adams is a hot property in Hollywood these days.  With her auburn locks, her beautiful countenance and her impressive talent, she is ideal for the part of Lady Jessica, Duke Leto’s beloved concubine, a powerful Bene Gesserit witch and the mother of Paul and Alia.

Doll Divine: LadyAquanine

Alia Atreides (Isabelle Nélisse)

Isabelle Nélisse; Alia Atreides by CarlosNCT
Isabelle Nélisse; Alia Atreides by CarlosNCT

Although appearing relatively late in the book, advanced beyond her years and powerful in the weirding way, Alia Atreides is unquestionably an important character.  Casting the perfect child actor for an essential role is always difficult, but that’s especially true when you’re talking about a part that demands the kind of maturity to properly convey Alia’s spooky brilliance and complex moral ambiguity.  Isabelle Nélisse is still pretty much an unknown, but she impressed me well enough as the younger of the two haunted sisters in the chilling Guillermo del Toro-produced Mama.

DeviantArt: CarlosNCT

Thufir Hawat (Willem Dafoe)

Willem Defoe; Thufir Hawat by Mark Zug
Willem Defoe; Thufir Hawat by Mark Zug

Thufir Hawat is a fascinating character.  As the Mentat for House Atreides, he is one of Leto’s closest advisers and is key to the Harkonnen plot to destroy the Atreides.  Tricked by the sinister baron into believing the Lady Jessica is a traitor to his master Duke Leto, he is the brooding, serious counterpoint to the more jovial and open-natured Gurney Halleck.  Herbert describes him as thin and sharp-faced.  Sorry, but Freddie Jones was entirely wrong for the part.

Gurney Halleck (Hugh Jackman)

Hugh Jackman; Gurney Halleck by Mark Zug
Hugh Jackman; Gurney Halleck by Mark Zug

If Thufir Hawat is the coolly reasoning mind of House Atreides, then Gurney Halleck is surely its heart.  Brave, passionate and unwaveringly loyal to Duke Leto, he is a large and imposing figure in the book.  In another odd bit of casting in the Lynch film, Halleck was played by a young Patrick Stewart.  P. H. Moriarty made slightly more sense in the role in the 2000 miniseries, but I have never really been happy with either one.  Gurney needs to be intimidating and physically powerful, but also capable of sensitivity and likability.  Who better than the man who has played both Wolverine and Jean Valjean with equal gusto?

Duncan Idaho (Denzel Washington)

Denzel Washington; Duncan Idaho by Jacob Atienza
Denzel Washington; Duncan Idaho by Jacob Atienza

Many stripes of warrior exist in the Dune series, each harkening to a sort of Campbellian warrior type.  Duncan Idaho, a Swordmaster of Ginaz, is the futuristic analog of the chivalrous knights of old.  True to his type, upon his arrival at Arrakis Idaho embarks upon a quest to befriend and learn the ways of the native Fremen population.  Although never specifically identified as black, Duncan is described as being dark and possessing curly black hair.  He is also handsome, charming and something of a ladies’ man.  In short, this part has Denzel Washington written all over it.

The Inexhaustible Well

Dr. Yueh (Gary Oldman)

Gary Oldman; Dr. Yueh by Unknown Artist
Gary Oldman; Dr. Yueh by Unknown Artist

A Suk doctor and the real traitor to House Atreides, Dr. Wellington Yueh is, perhaps more than any other in Dune, a character of Shakespearean tragedy and psychological torment.  Undergoing rigorous conditioning, the fidelity of Suk doctors to their employers is legendary, which is why his treachery is never suspected until it’s too late.  Gary Oldman is one of my three favorite actors for villainous roles (the other two are John Malkovich and Christopher Walken), and although Yueh is not a villain in the strictest sense, his betrayal of the Atreides qualifies him as a scoundrel.

Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV (Kevin Spacey)

Kevin Spacey; Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV by Ilya Baranovsky

I must say that the choice of José Ferrer to play Shaddam Corrino IV was pretty spot on.  I can think of few actors as perfect as Ferrer, but Spacey is one of them.  I can’t say exactly why, but something about Kevin Spacey has always suggested nobility to me.  With his soft eyes and disarming smile, Spacey looks harmless enough, but that is what makes him such a great choice for Shaddam IV, who is anything but harmless, of course.  And when Spacey does play dark, his performance can be all the more chilling for his benevolent appearance.

DeviantArt: Ilya-B

Count Fenring (Steve Buscemi)

Steve Buscemi; Count Fenring by Unknown Artist
Steve Buscemi; Count Fenring by Unknown Artist

Herbert describes Count Hasimir Fenring, Shaddam IV’s only friend and closest adviser, as being a small weaselish fellow who also happens to be one of the most dangerous men in the Imperium.  It’s a part Steve Buscemi was born to play.

Princess Irulan (Emma Watson)

Emma Watson; Princess Irulan by Sara Spano

Although never a central player in the novel, Princess Irulan is nevertheless an important character because she is the narrator of the book.  In the Dune miniseries her part was even expanded so that she played a bigger role in the story.  I am content with her being the narrator, and even if her visage doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, her voice should.  At any rate, she figures much more in the sequels to Dune, and we do want sequels, don’t we?

DeviantArt: Iayetta83

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (John Goodman)

John Goodman; Baron Harkonnen by Mark Zug
John Goodman; Baron Harkonnen by Mark Zug

I reckon the most difficult casting choice would be the part of Baron Harkonnen, the highly obese central villain of the story.  Although he has since lost a good deal of the weight he used to carry, Goodman has the right look to be able to carry off a fat suit.  Of course, these days it’s possible to add body weight via CG, as was done with Kevin Durand’s character the Blob in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but I kind of have my heart set on John Goodman at this point.  He doesn’t play villains often, but when he does he brings a certain psychopathic zeal to the character (e.g. his character in Barton Fink).  In short, Goodman isn’t just an overweight actor; he’s a good overweight actor, and I really think he would be amazing as the head of House Harkonnen.

Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen (Nick Robinson)

Nick Robinson; Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen by Unknown Artist
Nick Robinson; Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen by Unknown Artist

Nick Robinson was a pip in the lead role of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ The Kings of Summer, but I can certainly see him taking a darker turn as someone like Feyd-Rautha, the favorite nephew of Baron Harkonnen.  Feyd is known for his sly underhandedness and trickery in the fighting arena, although he is not exactly a slouch in close combat.  He is, in a sense, the dark counterpart to Paul Atreides and is destined to meet Paul in a fateful knife duel near the book’s finale.  In the book he also happens to be the Baron’s lover (well, one of them), but in the mid 1960s when the novel was written the Baron’s homosexuality represented just another facet of his depravity.  Needless to say, that aspect is a little quaint and should be left out of the film adaptation altogether.

Beast Rabban (Jonah Hill)

Jonah Hill; Beast Rabban by Neil McClements
Jonah Hill; Beast Rabban by Neil McClements

Where Feyd-Rautha represents some of the more striking qualities of the Harkonnen clan, “Beast” Glossu Rabban embodies all of its worst traits.  A brutally direct dictator when left in positions of leadership, he is deployed by the Baron to subjugate Arrakis.  Jonah Hill may seem like an odd choice for such a part, but I find that comedians can often be surprisingly effective in serious roles.

DeviantArt: NeilMcClements

Piter De Vries (John Malkovich)

John Malkovich; Piter De Vries by Jim Hatama
John Malkovich; Piter De Vries by Jim Hatama

You kind of saw that one coming, didn’t you?  As the Harkonnens’ “twisted” Mentat, his deviousness and amorality may exceed that of even the Baron himself.  I can’t think of a better actor when it comes to projecting sociopathic tendencies with a mere glance than John Malkovich.

DeviantArt: JimHatama

Reverend Mother Mohiam (Alice Krige)

Alice Krige; Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam by Ivelin Trifonov
Alice Krige; Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam by Ivelin Trifonov

Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam is the most prominent representative of the Bene Gesserit, a faction of powerful psychic witches who manipulate the Imperium and the Greater Houses from behind the scenes.  Mohiam is a menacing old hag who actually looks like the witch she is.  We’ve seen Alice Krige play such parts before, most notably as the head of the religious cult in the film version of Silent Hill, and was she creepy in it?  Boy howdy!

DeviantArt: Ivelin

Liet-Kynes (Daniel Day-Lewis)

Daniel Day-Lewis; Liet-Kynes by NEWATLAS7

Whilst reading the Dune novel I had a much different person pictured in my head as Liet-Kynes: John Lithgow.  But Lithgow may be a bit too old for the part by now.  Besides, anyone who plays a member of the Fremen tribes needs to be thin and sinewy to show that they live on a desert world with very little water to go around, and I think Day-Lewis is a good choice.  Liet-Kynes is the brilliant royal planetologist who effectively goes native on Arrakis and becomes a powerful ally of the Fremen population and the Atreides family.

DeviantArt: NEWATLAS7

Stilgar (Michael Shannon)

Michael Shannon; Stilgar by Mark Zug
Michael Shannon; Stilgar by Mark Zug

Stilgar is an eminent Fremen leader who takes Paul under his wing and grooms him to be Stilgar’s eventual replacement.  The Fremen, being a tribe of ascetic desert nomads, are definitely tough customers (they make mincemeat out of Shaddam IV’s Sardaukar soldiers), and Shannon, who killed it as General Zod, the main antagonist of the latest Superman outing Man of Steel, and who looks like he could be a younger sibling of the metal-mouthed evil henchman Jaws from the James Bond films,  definitely has what it takes to portray Stilgar.

Chani (Ryan Newman)

Ryan Newman; Chani by Devon Cady-Lee
Ryan Newman; Chani by Devon Cady-Lee

Chani, Fremen daughter of Liet-Kynes and eventual lover of Paul Atreides, should not only be beautiful but also have a kind fierceness about her.  I think this lovely young lady, who is currently carving out a nice little place for herself as Emily in the Nick at Night series See Dad Run, is all of that and a bag of chips.  And hey, she practically already has those famous spooky blue-within-blue eyes of the long-term Spice addiction that all residents of Dune eventually acquire.

DeviantArt: Gorrem

Esmar Tuek (Danny Trejo)

Danny Trejo; Esmar Tuek by Moebius
Danny Trejo; Esmar Tuek by Moebius

Tuek, a Spice smuggler, isn’t a major player in Dune, but he does show up at a dinner party hosted by House Atreides.  Tuek is a colorful character whose scarcity in the novel is one of my few complaints about it.  It’s a minor thing, I suppose, but the smugglers are the final piece of the delicate power balance involving the Major Houses, the Emperor, the Benne Gesserit and the Spacing Guild, and as such they should be prominently represented in the film.  I elect the rough-looking Trejo to fill in that gap.

Moebius Official Site

Charles Robinson: The Child-World

This will complete the series on Golden Age illustrator Charles Robinson, at least for awhile.  I first encountered Robinson’s work in a Dover compilation of art featured in the famous British journal The Studio, including images that were originally published in The Child-World, and I was simply astounded by it.  In fact, they were my favorite images in the book.  I had never actually seen The Child-World (which was written by Gabriel Setoun), however, until I stumbled onto it over at the Open Library.  I was not disappointed.  In some ways it is the epitome of Robinson’s catalog.  It is certainly among his most intricate and delicate work.  It is also, in my estimation, a high point of the art nouveau style itself.

Charles Robinson - The Child-World (cover)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (cover)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (frontispiece)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (frontispiece)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (title page)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (title page)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (1)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (1)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (2)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (2)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (3)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (3)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (4)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (4)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (5)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (5)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (6)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (7)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (7)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (8)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (8)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (9)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (9)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (10)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (10)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (11)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (11)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (12)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (12)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (13)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (13)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (14)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (14)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (15)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (15)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (16)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (16)
Charles Robinson - The Child-World (17)
Charles Robinson – The Child-World (17)

Moral Minority Report: The Day I Challenged a College Professor… and Won

There are days when one is struck with that proverbial flash of brilliance, and when it comes banging into your head, the floodgates are thrown open and a powerful surging force carries everything in its path downriver, including your will.  You are, for a few precious and lofty seconds, the slave to your genius (by which I mean the ancient concept of a genius, a kind of living essence or spirit of things) and something partway between intuition and intellectual pride takes over your mind and body.  This is an amazing feeling, one that is, in my experience, quite superior to any drug-induced high or sexual orgasm.  Perhaps it’s because it is the rarest of phenomena, at least for me.  You may be blessed to have these mother-of-all-epiphanies once or twice a week or even daily; as for me, I must content myself with being struck with it once or twice every decade.

On most days these things tend to hit me when I am at home, often while reading or thinking about a story I’m working on or some such.  There is, however, a jewel of a day for me in which not only was I caught up by the thought, but I was granted along with it the courage to challenge a college professor with whom I was politically and philosophically at odds.  This particular professor, one of my Communications profs, in fact (my college major was journalism), was relentlessly conservative and a staunch Christian.  She was also one of those people who could stare at a student and reduce him or her to quivering jelly, if you know what I mean.

As a university student I was generally quiet, although I usually made it a point to sit at the front of all my classes and pay strict attention to what was being said.  Usually I took notes.  This professor, who was teaching a Media Ethics class at the time if I’m not mistaken, was lecturing us about censorship, and it became increasingly clear that she actually favored censorship, an idea that rather horrified me at the time.

[A side note here: the notion that college profs are as a rule extremely liberal is in my experience a misconception.  First, it depends on where the university is.  If it's a large metropolitan university, well of course the professors are bound to be more liberal.  It doesn't take a genius (I mean the other kind this time) to figure out that city folks tend to lean liberal and country folks tend to lean conservative.  The university I attended was in a moderately sized town in the South, but most of my profs were either moderates or hardcore conservatives of the Bible-thumping variety.  Second, it has been my experience that, despite their reputation for a liberal bias, media people actually tend to have a conservative bias; I suspect this is to publicly counteract the prevailing mythology of a liberal media.]

Anyhow, this prof–let’s call her Dr. Nicneven, which isn’t her real name obviously but sounds somewhat similar to her real name–brought up a discussion of the 2 Live Crew controversy in the late 1980s, which I remember quite well.  If you don’t know the story kiddies, read up about the album that caused all the fuss, As Nasty as They Wanna Be, here, here and here.  Basically a Christian media watchdog going by the unassuming name of American Family Association filed an obscenity suit against 2 Live Crew after the release of the aforesaid album and the presiding judge ruled in favor of the AFA, effectively rendering the album illegal and setting up the band for arrest when they next performed (which they were, as well as some store owners who sold the album).  These arrests were successfully appealed at the U.S. Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case,  and thus the album’s legality was reinstated.  Moreover, the controversy assured that the group would be propelled into the international limelight, with As Nasty as They Wanna Be, a not particularly good rap album (that’s being generous actually) that barely would have made ripples if not for the brouhaha, winding up selling like hotcakes.

And that is pretty much the entire history of censorship in America: the great majority of writers, musicians and artists that were initially censored were eventually vindicated, and in many cases were made famous by these cases, assuring brisk sales of their work.  It is safe to say that censorship has rarely been bad for business–quite the opposite, really, much to the chagrin of the censorious types.  You would think that these blacklisters, bowdlerizers and expungers would learn from history, and maybe to a large degree they have, but inevitably someone finds something to be so offensive as to warrant legal measures to keep eyes and ears from being “assaulted” with said media.

But I digress.  I had remained quiet throughout the lecture while my ire continued to wax, but alas Dr. Nicneven expressed her view that certain material deemed offensive by the moral gatekeepers should be regulated because it might instigate criminal activity, and without a pause I blurted out, “But you can’t do that.  You can’t punish society for a crime that hasn’t been committed yet.”

No, really.

My professor replied in turn, “And some people believe that,” but it was clear to everyone present that the idea had never really occurred to her–not, at least, in such a quintessential way.  Now, I am not so naive as to think that this point was a revolutionary one on my part, nor that this woman who held a doctorate in Communications had never been introduced to the concept in some form.  And to be perfectly honest, having just released the killing blow to her argument, I was actually as stunned by my words as she was.  Wherever it had come from, my verbal jab had deflated her, this mighty bastion of Christian pride and prudery, and she finished out her lecture sitting rather than standing as was customary for her, and not even at her desk at the center of the classroom but in a chair near the classroom door.  When the class was over and students were filing out, she made a point of saying to me–one of the last students to leave–that I had made a compelling argument, and she meant it.  She was honest anyway.  I’ll give her that.

I think what had really gotten to her was the sleek ultramodern nature of my dispute, an idea that was political equivalent of the sci-fi film Minority Report, wherein psychics are employed by the police force to capture criminals prior to their actual commission of a crime.  Dr Nick, as luck would have it, was a fan of science fiction, in particular the TV series Star Trek, a show which had certainly dealt with the moral implications of the abuses of time.  I am certain of precious few things in this life, but one thing I am reasonably sure of is that my most stalwartly conservative professor had never before been confronted with the notion that censorship punished the many to prevent the possible (but by my no means certain) infractions of the few who might be so negatively influenced.  When reduced down to those terms, it becomes readily obvious to any thinking person that such an argument for censorship is embarrassingly unsound, to say the least.

To this day it is the one moment, brief as it was, of my college days that I am most proud of.  It is the glorious crown my intellectual life, even though I cannot say from whence the words, let alone the thought, came barreling out of me.  And it is still the most satisfying argument against media censorship I have in my debate arsenal.

Shirley Temple: Our Little Girl is Gone

Shirley Temple (enhanced)

It’s hard to be an uncloseted fan of Shirley Temple these days if you’re a middle aged man.  Yet, I have long proclaimed my fandom before all and sundry to the four corners of the Earth, and I am too old and stubborn to stop now.  My mother, another longtime fan, is really the one who instilled in me a love for the young actress, singer and dancer, and I have seen almost all of her films, including the notorious “Baby Burlesque” shorts that launched her career.  And so her death was a truly sad mile marker for me.  But I don’t want to talk about my own connections to the 1930s-era child star.  What I wish to do instead is outline what I think made Temple so special, and to do so we will need a bit of a history lesson.

To be sure, one can see even in Temple’s earliest work that she had that je ne sais quoi as the French say, that glimmer of something that one cannot quite put his finger on but nevertheless recognizes as a facet of greatness.  It was with this quality that the little girl managed a nearly impossible feat: taming the monster that was the Great Depression for many of her contemporary fans.  Now that we are in the 1930s, let us slip back even further in time: a few decades before Shirley Temple arrived on the scene, a peculiar but brilliant Victorian polymath–a mathematician, author, college professor and accomplished photographer, among other things–by the name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll), a self-confessed admirer of young girls, penned a poem for a beloved 5-year-old of his acquaintance named Beatrice, in which he wrote: 

For I think, if a grim wild beast
      Were to come from his charnel-cave,
From his jungle-home in the East–
      Stealthily creeping with bated breath,
      Stealthily creeping with eyes of death–
He would all forget his dream of the feast,
      And crouch at her feet a slave.

These lines perfectly sum up how a great many Victorians looked upon children.  It is difficult for modern folks, with all of their cynicism and paranoia about child sexual abuse, to understand the Victorian Cult of the Child and what it was about.  What it was really was an idea whose time had come, an essential stage of the Great Movement towards a more humane understanding and treatment of children.  This admiration ultimately stemmed from the fact that children were idealized in the Victorian mindset, seen as possessors of a quality of spiritual innocence that, once lost, could never be regained in this life (and only if one lived a morally upright life, meaning a life that adhered to Christian values, could one be assured of regaining this magical property in the next world).  As such, childhood and children themselves were almost worshiped, but this often had detrimental effects on real children, who were more often than not unable to live up to the moral standard imposed on them.   More on this another time.

Anyway, there can be no doubt that one of the manifestations of this Victorian idealization of children was the inevitable fetishization of children’s–especially girls’–perceived sexual innocence, and indeed whenever we encounter descriptions or discussions of the rampant problem of child prostitution in Victorian England, France and America during the time, we almost always see it framed not as a matter of physical or psychological harm but as a matter of spiritual harm, a corruption of children’s innate connection to Divine Perfection.  Unfortunately, this is where the origins of our modern understanding of the moral lives of children still lies to an embarrassingly large degree.  Despite our improved understanding of children’s brains, kids themselves have had a hard time shaking off this quaint moral yoke, and even now almost every morality movement of any persuasion has as at the bottom of its manifesto a famously effective thought-terminating cliché, that chronically reconstituted but undying refrain “Think of the children!

Here we are whisked back to the Great Depression, the dawn of the Child Star and the revitalization of a concept that had largely fallen out of favor with the arrival of Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalysis, which revealed children–albeit via notoriously fuzzy thinking–to be a seething cauldron of sexual weirdness that could be carried on into their adult lives.  Why, then, did Americans embrace the Victorian concept of the Sainted Child during the 1930s?  To me it is no mystery: both individuals and societies tend to swing conservative during bad times, likely owing to a chain of cognitive biases like the ambiguity effect (when facing the unknown, people tend to opt for the known), anchorism (overemphasizing an initial understanding of an issue and under-assessing new information) and of course risk compensation.  And there was comfort and hope in the old idea of children holding the keys to the kingdom inside them, a generation that could possibly bring about the rebirth of Paradise under the right conditions, if only they could be shielded from those worldly evils which had surely instigated this new economic Fall of Man.

To put this in perspective, we should note that the economy had had recessions and depressions before, but nothing like the Great Depression.  Although we have experienced a lesser depression (and seen a predictable rise in conservatism as a result), we have been largely isolated from the effects of our own depression in ways those who lived through the big one were not.

But throughout the majority of this horrific event, beginning in 1932, Shirley Temple was our nation’s fearless cheerleader, a pint-sized purveyor of America’s promise and a visible icon of the state of spiritual innocence we longed to return to.  Now, this calls for a bit of clarification, as there may be a tendency here to conclude that Temple was only a symbol and nothing more, but anyone with even a passing knowledge of her story knows otherwise.  For one thing, even as a child she was a certified genius, and we have the tests to prove it.  She was tested during the filming of Stowaway (she would’ve been around age eight at the time) and was found to possess an IQ of 155.  In comparison, physicist Richard Feynman, who was unquestionably a scientific genius, tested at 125!  So Temple wasn’t just a cute, curly-haired moppet; she was also brilliant.  And of course multitalented, which geniuses tend to be.

Despite the image of wholesome sweetness and innocence she projected, Temple was noted for her extreme professionalism, her polished performances and her maturity on set; and moreover, she seemed to be aware of the great weight she held as America’s darling, a true superstar who, whatever your opinion of her, did carry the financially strapped 20th Century Fox on her tiny back through the bulk of the Depression years and kept it from bankruptcy while other studios were falling down around them.

We cannot neglect to point out either that, even though she was young enough to deflect any serious accusations of promoting racial miscegenation, Temple shared the first on-screen dance with a black male partner (in The Little Colonel)–popular tap dancer extraordinaire Bill “Bojangles” Robinson–and therefore can be credited with breaking an important racial barrier on top of everything else.  As a matter of fact, the chemistry between Temple and Robinson was so natural that the two played opposite each other in no less than four films, and the little girl is reputed to have been in tune with Robinson to a degree that she could mimic his tap moves just by hearing them!

In this light we cannot doubt that Temple was an important figure of the time, and at that point everyone–well, everyone with a heart–was a fan, including grown men.  President Franklin Roosevelt spoke for an entire generation when he said, “As long as we have Shirley Temple, we’ll be alright.”  Perhaps there was a subtle sexual element to many men’s fascination with her, but again, I think it is foolish and simplistic to suggest such things amounted to outright conscious lust.

Of course, there were bound to be some men who did feel that way, but that would’ve been true regardless of the prevailing zeitgeist.  At any rate, anyone who suggested such a thing overtly was quickly derided, like critic Graham Greene when he wrote “Her admirers—middle-aged men and clergymen—respond to her dubious coquetry, to the sight of her well-shaped and desirable little body, packed with enormous vitality, only because the safety curtain of story and dialogue drops between their intelligence and their desire.”  Greene’s attempt to demystify the relationship between adult male fans and the little girl star, although noble, aside from coming off as snarky and demeaning to Temple, fails to grasp the complexity of what was actually occurring.  After all, the majority of Temple’s roles depicted her as a little ball of sunshine who cracked the stone-like hearts of stodgy, stoic men and let the light of love inside, forever changing them.  In effect, the films of Shirley Temple were a new manifestation of the Victorian Cult of the Child; what was different was that the concept was now writ larger than life on the silver screen and so came packaged with all of the additional magic of cinema.

Meanwhile, Temple herself seemed impenetrable to darkness, including the sexual variety.  When she was twelve, for example, and was visiting MGM studios (probably there to discuss the role of Dorothy for the upcoming The Wizard of Oz film, a role she obviously didn’t get), producer Arthur Freed exposed himself to her, and Temple, with her famous poise and cheeriness, reacted probably the best way anyone could react to a person who clearly meant to feed on her shock: she laughed at him and joked, “Mr. Freed, I thought you were a producer, not an exhibitor.”  I can see in my mind’s eye Freed deflating–in more ways than one–in embarrassment at such a quip before tossing the girl out of his office, which is precisely what happened.  Could it be that Temple lost what would arguably have been the biggest role of her life because she giggled at Arthur Freed’s goober?  Perhaps, but even if that is true, it is still Shirley Temple who comes across as the winner here, because that story alone is worth ten Wizard of Oz‘s.

In this light we can better understand why so many people, including adult males, fell in love with her at the time.  She was a distraction from the horrors of the Depression certainly, but more than that, her mere existence was an active force against them, and like Beatrice’s “grim wild beast”, the hell-hounds of Poverty and Want, of Cynicism and Despair, seemed to kneel before her while she pranced, curtsied and smiled in movie theaters across the nation.

Even after Hollywood no longer had any use for the child star and all but abandoned her, she rebranded herself before rebranding was a thing, making a new life for herself in the world of politics.  I cannot say I agreed much with her political views, although she is of that generation of politicians who, whatever their political stripe, still possessed enough character and respectability to be likable and persuasive. There aren’t many conservatives I respect these days, but Shirley Temple Black was one of them.  Needless to say, they are becoming fewer by the day as most of them belong to my grandparents’ generation (Temple was born the same year as my maternal grandfather, actually: 1928).  And after all is said and done, neither Shirley Temple the child superstar nor Shirley Temple Black the wife, mother, author and politician ever fell below the horizon the way many child stars of later years did.  It seems she was the closest thing we Americans have ever had to royalty, and right to the end our favorite Little Princess lived a pretty charmed life.

RIP Shirley Temple Black

‘Buck Deer’ Drawing

Here’s another recent drawing I did of a buck deer (titled Buck Deer, appropriately), rendered with pen & ink on 14 x 17 Bristol board.  I’m not ecstatic with it.  For one thing the patch of grass and weeds at the bottom left-hand corner is too busy and dark; for another–and perhaps this is only because I’ve been immersing myself in so much Art Nouveau lately–I find the image to be too staid and square.  Still, I think it is worth posting to show my progression on the textures.  I’m particularly proud of the tree bark and the deer’s antlers.

I am in fact planning to do a series of these wildlife drawings, the next one being a fox, but I am going to try to do the next ones with more interesting framing techniques, livelier curves and so on.  I’ll post them as I complete them.

Buck Deer (2014)
Buck Deer (2014)

Best of ‘The Snow Queen’ Art, Part 3

And so we come to the third and final installment of the Best of ‘The Snow Queen’ Art, and we definitely are going out with a bang.

Our first featured artist is Adrienne Ségur, a French illustrator most active in the mid-20th century and best known for her work on The Golden Book of Fairy Tales.  Speaking of which, Terri Windling has a lovely tribute to that book (and Ségur herself) here.  Although she came onto the scene during the tail end of illustration’s Golden Age, Ségur’s art feels fresh and contemporary.

Adrienne Ségur – The Snow Queen (1)
Adrienne Ségur - The Snow Queen (2)
Adrienne Ségur – The Snow Queen (2)
Adrienne Ségur - The Snow Queen (3)
Adrienne Ségur – The Snow Queen (3)

Anastasia Arkhipova is a Russian illustrator, and that’s all I know about her.

Anastasia Arkhipova - The Snow Queen (1)
Anastasia Arkhipova – The Snow Queen (1)

Edmund Dulac, like Arthur Rackham, really needs no introduction, but I’ll provide one anyway.  A French and English Golden Age artist, he was a prolific book and magazine illustrator and even designed paper currency and postage stamps during World War II.

Edmund Dulac - The Snow Queen (1)
Edmund Dulac – The Snow Queen (1)
Edmund Dulac - The Snow Queen (2)
Edmund Dulac – The Snow Queen (2)
Edmund Dulac - The Snow Queen (3)
Edmund Dulac – The Snow Queen (3)
Edmund Dulac - The Snow Queen (4)
Edmund Dulac – The Snow Queen (4)
Edmund Dulac - The Snow Queen (5)
Edmund Dulac – The Snow Queen (5)
Edmund Dulac - The Snow Queen (6)
Edmund Dulac – The Snow Queen (6)

Emily Balivet is a contemporary painter and illustrator with a focus on feminine spirituality and divinity.

Emily Balivet - The Snow Queen
Emily Balivet – The Snow Queen

Esther Simpson is largely a mystery to me, but she seems to have been an exemplar of the late Art Deco style.  I’m not sure where I first encountered this piece, but it really struck me for its unusual choice of depicting the Snow Queen as nude (or nearly nude anyway); moreover, I do not believe it was ever used as a book illustration and appears to have been a stand-alone piece.  Whatever the case, it is an elegantly beautiful representation of these characters.

Esther Simpson - The Snow Queen
Esther Simpson – The Snow Queen

Tomislav Tomić is a Croatian artist noted for his contributions to the popular Ologies series of children’s books, as well as covers and interior artwork for many other books.

Tomislav Tomić - The Snow Queen (1)
Tomislav Tomić – The Snow Queen (1)
Tomislav Tomić - The Snow Queen (2)
Tomislav Tomić – The Snow Queen (2)

Anne Anderson was another Golden Age illustrator, albeit a minor one.  Her artwork is reminiscent of Charles Robinson and especially Jessie M. King.

Anne Anderson - The Snow Queen
Anne Anderson – The Snow Queen

Polina Yakovleva (a.k.a. Smokepaint) is a contemporary Russian illustrator who works in both traditional and digital media.

Polina Yakovleva - The Snow Queen
Polina Yakovleva – The Snow Queen

New York City native Julia Griffin has a heavy but nicely textured style, but what I really like about her art is her tendency to present the scenes she depicts from odd angles, lending dramatic effect to her illustrations.  The following piece is a prime example.

Julia Griffin - The Snow Queen
Julia Griffin – The Snow Queen

Jérémie Fleury’s work can be seen most prominently at DeviantArt, where he operates under the name Trefle-Rouge.  I think this illustration may be the most spot-on in terms of capturing the loneliness and desolation of Kai’s predicament.

Jérémie Fleury - The Snow Queen
Jérémie Fleury – The Snow Queen

Arthur Szyk is another star of the Golden Age of illustration.  A Polish-born Jew, Szyk was a sensitive, socio-politically conscious artist who escaped Nazi Germany by emigrating to England during the start of WWII.  He later moved to the United States, where he remained for most of his life.

Arthur Szyk - The Snow Queen (1)
Arthur Szyk – The Snow Queen (1)
Arthur Szyk - The Snow Queen (2)
Arthur Szyk – The Snow Queen (2)

Yvonne Gilbert has won awards for her design and illustration, including The World’s Most Beautiful Stamp and the Golden Stamp Award for her Nativity-themed stamp designs of the mid 1980s.  The following example, a theatrical poster, is a nice throwback to those classic Art Nouveau posters.

Yvonne Gilbert – The Snow Queen (theatrical poster)

I don’t know who created the next piece but it’s possibly a Russian artist, many of whom specialize in these sorts of decorated lacquer boxes.

Artist Unknown - The Snow Queen (lacquer box cover design)
Artist Unknown – The Snow Queen (lacquer box cover design)

And at last we arrive at my absolute favorite illustrations for this story, those of Estonian artist Vladislav Erko (or Yerko, as I’ve sometimes seen it spelled).  Despite the cold, grim promise of a story set almost entirely during a Scandinavian winter, Erko fills his drawings with vibrant colors and luxurious textures, making for a joyous and inviting set of images.

Vladislav Erko - The Snow Queen (1)
Vladislav Erko – The Snow Queen (1)
Vladislav Erko - The Snow Queen (2)
Vladislav Erko – The Snow Queen (2)

This next image was my computer wallpaper for awhile.

Vladislav Erko - The Snow Queen (3)
Vladislav Erko – The Snow Queen (3)
Vladislav Erko - The Snow Queen (4)
Vladislav Erko – The Snow Queen (4)
Vladislav Erko - The Snow Queen (5)
Vladislav Erko – The Snow Queen (5)
Vladislav Erko - The Snow Queen (6)
Vladislav Erko – The Snow Queen (6)
Vladislav Erko - The Snow Queen (7)
Vladislav Erko – The Snow Queen (7)
Vladislav Erko - The Snow Queen (8)
Vladislav Erko – The Snow Queen (8)
Vladislav Erko - The Snow Queen (9)
Vladislav Erko – The Snow Queen (9)
Vladislav Erko - The Snow Queen (10)
Vladislav Erko – The Snow Queen (10)
Vladislav Erko - The Snow Queen (11)
Vladislav Erko – The Snow Queen (11)

And the final image–to bring it round full circle–is by Charles Robinson.

Charles Robinson - The Snow Queen
Charles Robinson – The Snow Queen