Death and the Meme

In order to understand why the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is in fact, not “rapey”, we must go all the way back to the myth of Hades and Persephone, sometimes nicknamed “Death and the Maiden.” A fantastic play and Roman Polanski film (IRONY) also use this title as a reference to the myth but features an inversion of the genders, text, and subtext to craft a story of revenge both sensual and political. Rape is definitely a theme in that story, and there is certainly reason enough to reference this myth when dealing with such themes. It’s clear from the films he chose that Polanski saw women as powerful creatures brought low by cruel men, and how that pity may lead someone to destruction and resentment of the female is another discussion altogether. We’re here to talk about a Christmas song.

The original “Death and the Maiden” myth tells how Hades, lord of the dead, kidnapped his bride, Persephone, and brought her into the Underworld. Her enraged mother, Demeter, blights the earth with cold and famine on condition of seeing her daughter returned. This continues despite the pleas of other gods until Zeus tells Hades to return Persephone. He does so, but secretly sends her with seeds of the pomegranate. The pomegranate, carnal and chambered like a bloodied heart, is the original Fruit of Knowledge, as there were no apples in the lands where these myths were written. Tasting of food binds Persephone to Hades so that she must spend a third of the year with her husband. When she is away from her possessive mother, we are punished. This is why in winter, it is cold outside, if you will.

“Death and the Maiden” is where the tradition of carrying one’s bride over the threshold, symbolizing the death of the bride’s previous life with her parents through a ritualistic “kidnapping,” originates. It can be seen as a repeating motif throughout art history in countless paintings and repeated whenever a monster picks up a woman draped in white: think Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, all the way to The Force Awakens. If it doesn’t happen in one way or another, possibly even reversed, in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, I’ll be surprised. And it is echoed, in a lighter form, in “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Is it a coincidence that this is a winter song? Probably. But in a Jungian way, it may be the subconscious repeating an archetype it doesn’t know it possesses.

The key to understanding, contextually, what is going on, is to understand the place of such stories in history, in ancient gender roles, in politics, and in honor-based cultures, which most conservative wartime cultures like that of Ancient Athens or WW2 America (1944 to be exact) are, almost without deviation.

Persephone ate the seeds willingly. Demeter was no fun to be around. Gods of death, for obvious reason, are often portrayed as possessive and jealous–people’s experience of death and the impossibility of bringing back the dead inform this. But there is a recurring arc of the possessive parent throughout archetypal stories, as well, and it is a right of passage to be “taken” or “freed,” as the case may be. Like Rapunzel, Persephone is her mother’s captive. Hades, “kidnapping” her, frees her from innocence, chastity, childhood, and the shackles of parental overprotection while saving Persephone face with Demeter because it was all “against her will.”

Throughout honor-based cultures run by patriarchal ideals, the Maiden is forced into the role of eternal virgin followed asexually by Motherhood, and then thanklessly, to Cronehood. A father, in this case, the entire Patriarchy, does not want to know how he gets his grandchildren — but make no mistake, a mother character can also be a patriarch.

In the Forties, to have a woman struggle against an implied sexual interlude, but only to struggle lightly, was for her to consent. There is a game being played — sex is never mentioned, and she feigns innocence because to be forward would be to imply a further depth. When culturally a woman hides 90% of her experience, to be forward is to say one is essentially a prostitute, because you’ve implied there’s 90% more beneath that layer. So everyone knows the song is about a seduction, and about the fact that she must let him seduce her, or else everyone, not just the man in the song, would be put off. When she asks what’s in the drink, it isn’t a roofie. She’s implying it’s spiked with alcohol, or stiffer stuff than her usual — because otherwise, she wouldn’t be in the process of consenting. “What’s in this drink?”, the very line many have latched onto as the “rapey” section, is the moment of consent on her part. By establishing an audible excuse for her future behavior, she’s sent the signal that she’s willing while simultaneously saying that this isn’t something she makes a habit of doing.

Persephone ate the seed willingly. Eve ate of her pomegranate first. A woman’s role in the Forties was to put on a shadowplay that the man was in control, sexually, to save face with her parents and the outside world. But we all know a threshold doesn’t hold thresh, that the monster is more alluring than the suitor waiting at home, and that the woman is who spiked her drink in the first place.

Disney’s Wayward Daughters

Demi Lovato Singer

Demi Lovato, star of Disney’s Sonny with a Chance, just checked into rehab.
Miley Cyrus, pug-faced star of Hannah Montana and daughter of Billy Ray. Father issues self-explanatory. Now auctioning off clothing (taking pictures of herself undressed) and wearing Cher-style outfits on stage, in the attempt to sexualize herself. Still looks like someone bred Hilary Duff with a pug, which is already the unholy offspring of a pig and a dog.
Lindsay Lohan, star of Disney’s The Parent Trap. Slowly transformed into coke whore and fame exhibitionist, in and out of rehab. Father dating girl Lindsay’s age who dresses and styles herself after Lindsay, implying abuse or at least inappropriate paternal relationship, probably due to a lack of the father’s presence until daughter’s pubescence. Mother riding daughter’s fame wave, enabling destructive behavior that continues fame wave, and stealing ice cream.
Britney Spears, star of Mickey Mouse Club. Drugged-up horrible mother, once married to an honorary Chalmation*, shaved head for short period of going fucknuts. IN AND OUT OF REHAB.
Christina Aguilera, starred in Mickey Mouse Club. Basically, a giant whore, although schizophrenically alternating between being a classy call girl and a tranny on Santa Monica Blvd. Had anal sex with Dimebag Darrel from Pantera, but hey, all that’s consensual, and at least she hasn’t been to rehab! BTW, if I google Britney, I get a thousand pics of Britney. If I google Christina, I get 700 pics of Christina and 300 pics of Britney. So really, I think we can all understand Christina’s little sister complex, and why she acts out. Lucky for her, Britney went fucknuts and now she’s the one looking to have actual staying power. Right now, she’s coming out on top.
Strangely enough, Ryan Gosling — successful and respected film actor. Justin Timberlake — escaped the shackles of N*Sync to be a successful pop star and garner actual respect both as a performer and an actor. So what’s up with Disney’s little girls? There’s something royally fucked in Denmark, and it has to do with either how Disney treats its girls or how it picks them. I’m going to go with a mix of the two.
Disney seems to be “saving” most of their little starlets from lower to lower-middle class families with no or severely fucked up father figures, then cleaning them up, putting wholesome little dresses on them, and tossing them aside once they’re done with them, just like their fathers did. At Mickey Mouse Club in particular, there seems to be a general atmosphere of competition between the females, either fostered by or not discouraged by Disney. In addition, they were rehearsed for insane amounts of hours just to get onto the show, let alone once they were on. Their mothers, much like all beauty pageant mothers, pushing all of their own hopes and dreams into their daughters.
In desperate attempts to try to remain relevant, they continually use sexual tactics in a game of “Hot Seat”** with each other, all while on shit tons of cocaine so they can make it through that next show or film. Now this mostly falls on the parents, or parent as the case may be, but Disney is somewhat complicit — they surely audition so many girls that in order to outdo the competition, one must have a psychotic mother and a daddy one is trying to win back by say, getting the attention of the entire world. But why are the guys fine? Is it that fathers pushing their sons eventually let go, not feeding on their child’s spotlight? Or is it that it is still mothers pushing their sons, but a son can escape their mother more easily?
Or is something more sinister at work here? I can’t help but come back to the sexualization of these Disney girls. JT and N*Sync were basically made into eunuchs. It was always insulting to me how they both used girls’ pubescent intensity and simultaneously ignored it, as if girls don’t get horny, they get crushes. All their songs were about love, while they pranced around with open white button-ups. Meanwhile, Britney and Christina get paraded around in midriffs as they sing songs that pretend to be double entendre, but in fact only make sense in a sexual context — an old Madonna trick. But all that was post-Disney, wasn’t it? I don’t know. You cannot tell me that Hilary Duff and now Miley Cyrus were not being subtly sexualized during their runs on Disney. Hilary almost got into a whore-off with Lindsay, but Lindsay clearly had more daddy issues, and now it seems Hilary Duff might be the only girl to have escaped this cycle yet — and she and her sister are no longer famous because of it.
Is it us? Is it Disney? Or is Disney just programming all of us, including their stars, that girls have to whore themselves out to get the all-desired reward: attention, attention that they never got. Maybe Hilary, Ryan, and JT just got enough love, were breast fed, and had both parents in their lives enough. Maybe they were just naturally talented enough to get in, and the rest of these girls got in because they were attractive and because they needed it so bad they made themselves hit that E over high C or put on that Catholic school girl outfit. I don’t know. Just food for thought.
*A Chalmation is a person from Chalmette. Chalmette : New Jersey as New Orleans : New York.
**“Hot Seat” is a game in acting class where the two sides of the room compete to get the attention of the audience, by any means necessary. The audience is tasked to yell out, “Left!” or “Right!” when one side wins their attention over the other.

Why You Are Not a Rockstar

After reading the nostalgia-tastic list of 12 terrible celebrity bands over at ScreenJunkies, I got to pondering that age-old question again: Why do celebrities make such shitty music? When combined with some thoughts I had over the course of making the movie, I came up with an answer that’s so simple it’s avoided detection over the years.

Rock stars quite often make the jump to acting, some with success, some with failure. Usually a good toe-test is their presence in a music video – do we believe the emotion of their song while they lip synch on a soundstage nonsensically holding a pig’s hoof and licking an old radio mic? Well, that took some acting, my friend. More importantly, did they seem believable in a concept video, something where they were not necessarily singing but actually acting out something either directly related to their song, or even completely abstract? Either way, one reason for actors’ music suckage seems clear: from the early 80s to the late 90s, acting actually became a prerequisite to being a successful musician. If you didn’t have video presence, you weren’t a star. With the decay of MTV, this is less relevant, but musicians are still clinging to the music video for now. Even without the advent of the music video, stage presence is and has always been the invisible selling point of all music. If your shows suck, it doesn’t matter how good your album was, everyone will lose interest – just ask Third Eye Blind. Going a bit further, rockers like David Bowie incorporated things like actual theatrics, costuming, and character creation into their shows and media presence. It’s no wonder he could successfully transfer that magic into playing characters like Pontius Pilate and Nikola Tesla.*
Which makes my second point obvious: being a rockstar is just plain harder than acting. To be a successful actor merely takes presence, the right look, and memorizations skills. You’re basically a smarter model. Sure, there is a craft, and some people elevate it, but that’s not necessary to be successful or a superstar, in fact, just the opposite. Someone who is a star is usually pretty, and an adequate actor with a lot of presence or looks – Tom Cruise is at best believable, but does not become someone else. Jack Nicholson plays Jack Nicholson in every movie (most of which have him playing someone named Jack). No matter how believable, likable, or amazing they are, they are recognizable, which means they’re not really doing their jobs. But that is how people start to go see your movies for you, instead of for the movie. That’s how you become a star. 
A rockstar, by contrast, has all of those responsibilities, because truly ugly people rarely become popular musicians, and even if they could would not get record deals anyway. Whole bands have been replaced so that an attractive lead singer can be signed. On top of looks, presence, and memorization skills, rockstars must master a truly technical craft. Once again, there are actors who treat acting as a craft, but they are either not stars or are Johnny Depp and Robert Downey, Jr., and even they are still only acting. A rockstar must act, and must at least sing as well, and possibly play an instrument and write good lyrics. The lyric part is usually the deal-breaker, seeing as most celebs cannot write a decent one to save their lives. They are not going through anything resembling a visceral, genuine life. At best, their lyrics are genuine but from an unrelatably positive place, like Christian Rock. Their lives just aren’t that bad. At worst, they are hamfisted attempts at mimicking their favorite band’s type of lyric, without truly understanding the emotions involved, because they no longer have to go through them, the way we do.  I know, I know, rockstars are rich, too. But they are also seriously fucked up, because being a musician is a fucked up business. Acting is fucked up in ways to which only other actors can relate.
And then there is the fact that music is a personal, intimate journey whereby the musician/singer is rewarded for being genuine and real and flawed – that truly great music is solace, but that acting and celebritism is escapism, it is about disengenuity, about hiding your flaws from the public, or they will crucify you. It is easier for an honest person to act than it is for a liar to expose themselves.
But all this is conjecture based on outside perspective. The truth is that my movie has helped me answer this question. While in the pre-stages of making my film, as different people read the script, I was surprised at some of the questions raised. My movie is about geeks as heroes, in one of the only situations where their geekiness comes in handy – a full scale zombie assault. I’ve always liked fringe characters (don’t we all), and I like making them my protagonists as an attempt at re-enfranchising them and showing them respect that they deserve but rarely are afforded. Geeks, punks, freaks, and the homeless need lovin’ too. It amazed me how many people who related to the main character defended him as “not being a geek”, when this was clearly the case. Certainly, he was not as hopeless or out of touch with reality as some of the secondaries, but he was in no way above or beyond them.
In the original script, there were a few scenes dealing with the main characters being in a Weezer-style band together. Many people who think they are not nerdy would ask me after reading it, “Do you really think these guys would be in a band?” My answer was invariably, “Yes.” I knew while writing it that it would be surprising to see that, but I know plenty of geeks in rock bands, and in fact the better bands I’ve known were composed entirely of geeks. I wrote it into the movie because I’d never seen it portrayed and I felt it was one more reality that was being conveniently ignored so that so-called “cool” people could continue thinking there was nothing cool about us. Everyone wants to play music and be a rockstar. I wanted to show these kids drinking and getting high and playing music so that everyone could see that geeks are people too, but no one bothers to find out.
While pondering this, it finally occurred to me: Actors can’t be rockstars, because rockstars are all geeks. Celebrity actors are the popular crowd – the pretty ones who’ve always been pretty who got into modeling and then went on to act. The jocks, the cheerleaders, the student council leaders. Theater nerds are the ones who turn out to be “character actors,” you know, those actors who actually act. But more importantly, rockstars were in band and chorus. They were the geekiest of the geeks. If they were not marching with their susiphones or being the uncool types of sopranos, then they were the weird kids in leather and trench coats in the corner using the math centers of their brains to master that Jimmy Page solo on the live version of “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” or thinking “Only Trent knows how I feel.” 
Actors cannot be rockstars, no matter how badly they want to, for the same reason a jock cannot tell a truly funny joke – they simply have the wrong lives. They will never understand the pain involved, because they were the source of that pain. They are the sought after, but unattainable fantasy. They are the hallway tormenter. (This is also why girls need to have gone through some serious shit, be a lesbian, or have been ugly or fat at any point to write a good love song that actually talks about the object of their affection instead of themselves. Pretty girls are usually the cause of true emotional torment, not the receiver. If you think I’m being sexist, I want you to do a little exercise: think of your favorite love song written by a girl. Rule out lesbians, because those poor gals actually know what loving a girl is like, and remember, “Me & Bobby McGee” was written by a man. Think about the lyrics. Do you get a single image of the guy in question or an event involving said man which would force you to think of a guy in the least? 10 times out of 9, you have none, because the girl spends the entire “love song” talking about what she would do for them, how great she is, or how she fucked it up already.)
Exception, if slightly: Jared and Shannon Leto’s band 30 Seconds to Mars is actually getting stigmatized despite being a pretty good band worthy of attention. People actually don’t want to like their music because they know Jared’s in it. I know this because I heard their first album over a Blockbuster Music speaker and inquired what it was. When I was told, having known the name of Leto’s band, I was shocked. I had actually been enjoying it. Their second effort was slightly more mainstream and less for the prog rock inclined, but still in no way as unlistenable as 30 Odd Foot of Grunts or Dogstar.
*What an awesome character resume, btw: Pilate, Tesla, Jareth the Goblin King, Lord Royal Highness in SpongeBob, Andy Warhol, the demon Baal, and a Martian.