Posted in episodes

Episode 20: Masks

The homework for the episode:
Pete: Mother Night, 1961 novel by Kurt Vonnegut
Martha: Hannibal, episodes 1.01 (“Aperitif”), 1.07 (“Sorbet”), and 1.10 (“Buffet Froid”)
Mark: Enigma, graphic novel by Peter Milligan and Duncan Fegredo published by Vertigo Comics in 1995

We are joined for this episode by friend of the show and Pete’s brother, Mark Rhomberg! Welcome, Mark!

We’re back to our metaphorical roots, examining plot and character elements in our discussion of Masks. We look at them both literally and figuratively, and there may or may not be a round of patting each other on the back for not assigning any straight forward superhero stories (although we still manage to talk about Batman, because, well, duh).

Your podcasters’ credentials:

Pete: Revolutions podcast, hosted by Mike Duncan
Martha: Monster Factory on YouTube, a Polygon production
Mark: Take Care, 2011 album by Drake

If Martha seems detached and quiet during this segment, it’s because her internet kept dropping her from the Skype call. Awkward! She joins in long enough to talk about the piece of pop culture she’s ACTUALLY excited about, her brand new MoviePass (although she’d be more excited about it if it would actually work!). Pete gets down with history and everyone gets to chastise Martha for not being able to recall any Drake music.

You may have noticed we had no pre-reading post up before this episode – that is an accident of busyness, and nothing more! The big questions we address in this episode:

  1. What is the impetus a character might don a mask, and what function does that mask serve? What are the literal and figurative masks our characters wear?
  2. How do these characters get “lost” behind their masks (if, in fact, they do)?
  3. How does the idea of wearing a mask assist a character function in society when they might not otherwise be able to do so, by being their “true” selves?

We also touch briefly on the pros and cons of wearing a mask, how that can be used as a defense mechanism, and the central issue posed by Vonnegut in the introduction to Mother Night: “We are who we pretend to be.”

Our theme was inspired by a tumblr post by Neil Gaiman, which we discuss and which can be found here. The Wonder Woman page can be read here; it’s a page from Wonder Woman Annual #1, written by Greg Rucka and art by Nicola Scott and Liam Sharp.

We don’t get into a lot of detail, so for anyone who didn’t read Enigma, our discussion probably gets a little confusing – in brief, the reader finds out that the title character was basically abandoned down a well for most of his life where he developed psychic powers, lived off lizards, and never learned human feelings. When he is found by the world, he adopts the guise of this esoteric comic character in order to have some kind of purpose that isn’t just psychically manipulating lizards or his mom.

On November 22, we’re doing something a little lighter and going guest-less to talk about some of our favorite media to consume around the holidays. Your homework is to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas because it will probably come up!

Follow us online @DYDYHpodcast, e-mail us at show@homeworkpodcast.com, and find us on Facebook.

You can follow Mark on twitter @MARKRHOMBERG. Check out his awesome bars Splash Studio and Nine Below if you’re ever in Milwaukee.

And remember, if you have questions, comments, or ideas for a show, give us a shoutout here or send us an e-mail to show@homeworkpodcast.com. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted in supplementary material

Episode 15 Follow-Up: Forgiveness of the Self

(Written by Martha S.)

Let’s talk about self forgiveness real quick.

One of the things we talk about at length in our last episode is whether or not granting oneself forgiveness is valid or not. We talk about forgiveness as a two-way street, and I believe some pretty strong words are used in relation to Briony seeking to forgive herself for the lies she told during Atonement. I will admit to you now, dear readers, that I don’t remember what side of the argument I came down on in the episode; if I was against the concept, I am now revealed to you as a fraud and charlatan, because I’m about to talk to you about narratives that hinge on self-forgiveness as a means of character growth.

I recently finished listening to We Were Liars by E. Lockhart on audiobook, which was a fascinating listening experience, as the story unfolds in fits and starts as Cadence, the main character, recovers her memories of a summer previous when something terrible happened (but no one will tell her what). She has returned to the island owned by her grandfather, which serves as a family summer destination, to spend the summer with her three best friends before they start leaving for college. The only thing is, as the summer progresses and Cadence’s memories return, you (the reader) realize that not only did something horrible happen, but that Cadence was the cause of it – and only by remembering and acknowledging what she did, and forgiving herself for it, can Cadence move on from it.

Here is where that difference between forgiveness and absolution comes in as well, I think – Cadence forgiving herself for what she did does not absolve her blame or guilt, but at least puts her in a position where she can recover mentally from what happened (in the case of We Were Liars, the tragedy was an accident caused by rashness and foolhardiness, and whether or not Cadence forgives herself, this doesn’t change – what CAN change is whether or not she learns from, and moves on from, the accident).

In Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner (one of my favorite emerging YA talents – his superb debut novel The Serpent King won the Morris Award last year for best debut novel by a new author in the YA world), Carver Briggs is dealing with the fact that his three best friends died in a car accident probably caused by one of them answering a text from him while driving. While I as an adult human can look at that and say “It is not your fault, Carver, for sending that text – your friend should not have been texting and driving, that was a choice he made without you,” Carver is a teenager without such insight and spends the novel trying to reconcile his continued existence while his friends are buried one by one. He seeks to be able to forgive himself, while pursuing the forgiveness of the families of his friends.

Did you think I wouldn’t find a way to link in Hannibal? YOU THOUGHT WRONG, DEAR READER. (Honestly, it was either this or Supernatural, since those shows encompass so very many of my favorite storytelling tropes.) Season 3, episode 2, “Primavera,” largely deals with Will Graham coming to terms with the fact that he’s willing to forgive Hannibal for the events of the past two seasons – I like this example because the forgiveness itself isn’t in doubt, simply Will’s acceptance of that within himself.

Last, for something I haven’t figured out how to work into conversation about seventeen thousand times, consider the movie Captain America: Civil War. One could argue that many, nay, all of the events in that film are the result of Tony Stark seeking a way to forgive himself for the events of Age of Ultron. He sees a way to moderate his guilt about creating a homicidal AI that destroyed a country by yoking the superhero group he’s been kind of de facto in charge of for two movies to a larger governing body. He may as well be screaming “Please love me again, I promise I’m a good boy.”

I would also argue that he never figures out how to forgive himself in this particular film, which is why he can’t fully commit to Cap’s side of the argument. But forgiveness is a process, whether it’s facilitated by oneself or someone else.

Posted in supplementary material

Grief and Horror: Episode 11 Follow-Up

(Written by Martha S.)

Last week, we discuss in detail some of the broad ways that media handles grief and characters who are grieving, as well as how creators grieve through their work. The media we chose to assign for the episode all falls broadly under the umbrella of realistic fiction (Spontaneous perhaps has a touch of science fiction about it? Maybe if you stretch), and I want to address another genre that is saturated with grief and loss and the way people deal (or don’t deal) with those things: horror.

The easiest and most disingenuous way to describe horror, whether it’s in film or book form, is “something that causes fear.” I say this knowing that I myself have used that as shorthand, or as a way to distill the genre down to something classifiable (one of my job duties is purchasing and categorizing DVDs at the library that I work at, and when you only have seven genres on the shelf, you have to make some generalizations somewhere), but the reality is that while this is true, horror is much more multifaceted than that. What I want to talk about specifically is horror media driven by grief, and frequently also driven by guilt.

Frequently, in supernatural horror where the main character is haunted by a specter of some sort, that specter (whether it’s a ghost, monster, or other) is anchored to the protagonist by some kind of strong feeling or catastrophic event. Guilt is a powerful emotion, particularly when coupled with grief – say, over a loved one dying, or causing death either accidentally or purposefully (see: Dr. Cox’s breakdown in Scrubs). The protagonist is haunted, both literally and metaphorically, by the specter of their grief, until they confront their guilt and lay it to rest. Then, if the story has a happy ending, they can move on with their lives; if it does not, it may mean the protagonist is consumed (again, both literally and metaphorically) by their grief.

Horror stories can be cathartic to consume. I recommend this article by Aaron Orbey from the New Yorker on the subject, who speaks much more eloquently on using horror film as a way to exorcise one’s own feelings of loss than I ever could. Suffice to say, horror stories can provide us the same tools that all media dealing with grief can, with the added layer of being able to watch someone plagued by demonic horrors and say “at least I have it better than they do.”

Supplementary Materials

The Babadook (2014 film directed by Jennifer Kent and starring Essie Davis)
Not just a gay icon, The Babadook is also a portrait of a woman suffering the extreme grief over the death of her husband, guilt at her survival, and guilt over the way this death has come between her and her son. The titular monster is the tremendous and insatiable embodiment of her grief, guilt, and rage at herself, and **spoilers** doesn’t totally go away at the end of the film. Rather than exorcising this demon completely, Amanda learns to live with it, which is the reality most of us face with our own feelings of grief – they never truly go away, they just become easier to deal with.

Hannibal
Hahaha OH HANNIBAL. There are a couple of different incarnations of the character I could talk about, but I’m going to focus on the tv series, since the way they play with expectations on dealing with grief is just absolutely fascinating. We learn early on that Hannibal Lecter had a sister, who died – he mentions her to Abigail in episode 1.04, Oeuf, when he is talking about wanting to rewind time and “put the teacup back together,” as it were. Lecter’s whole deal (cannibalism included) can be taken as him dealing with the death of his sister – except that he himself refuses to be distilled down to a childhood trauma, which is more closely examined in season 3.

Aside from being the main general destructive force in the show, Hannibal also causes a number of very personalized losses, which he then orchestrates the recovery of in some breathtaking feats of gaslighting and brainwashing (note: Hannibal is not a show about recovering from grief in a healthy manner). I desperately want to assign episodes of this show as homework, so I’m gonna stop there, but suffice to say, Will Graham’s eternal grief over his job, the loss of Abigail, and all the second-hand grief he takes upon himself is about 75% of the show (the rest is beautiful, cannibalistic food portraiture).

iZombie 3.10: Return of the Dead Guy (currently airing CW tv show created by Diane Ruggiero and Rob Thomas, and starring Rose McIver)
In case you’re unfamiliar with the premise of this delightful show, Rose McIver stars as Liv Moore, a former medical student-turned-medical examiner for the Seattle P.D. after a disastrous party ends with her being turned into a zombie. Now, she helps solve crimes by eating the brains of murder victims and seeing visions of their past. This particular episode is of note because the brain she eats causes her to hallucinate her dead ex-boyfriend, who she was forced to kill after he went into full-on zombie monster mode (which there’s no coming back from). Liv gets the chance to face the guilt she feels over pulling the trigger, while acknowledging that it was the only, and the right, thing to do.

On a macro level, the show deals with Liv coming to terms with the loss of her human life, and finding a way to move forward without the emotional touchstones she has relied on for that life (including her family and ex-fiance).

The Orphanage (2007 film directed by J.A. Bayona and starring Belen Rueda)
We’ve already talked about The Orphanage on our very first episode, but it’s worth bringing up again because of how strongly Laura is motivated by the grief of losing her son – and also how the specter of another woman’s grief sets the wheels turning on the story in the first place.

The Others (2001 film directed by Alejandro Amenabar and starring Nicole Kidman)
**THIS WHOLE PARAGRAPH IS SPOILERS** This film is a pretty delightful inversion of the “haunted by guilt” idea, in that Nicole Kidman is actually haunting herself – the reveal at the end that she and her children are dead because of her (she killed them in a maddened haze and then shot herself) throws the rest of the movie, where she believes they’re being haunted by an invasive presence, into much sharper relief. This is another story where coming to terms with one’s grief doesn’t make the specter go away, but simply allows the grieving individual to accommodate the grief in an (arguably?) healthier fashion. Kidman may not be able to lay herself to rest, but she can at least stop denying the tragedy happened, and move forward in her ghostly way.

Pet Sematary (1983 novel written by Stephen King)
This Stephen King novel was made into a film, but since I’ve never seen it I’m going to be talking about the original novel. While Pet Sematary is not my favorite of King’s work by an order of magnitude, it fits our conversation here to a tee: Louis Creed learns of a cemetery where the things buried in it come back to life. He buries his cat there, to find that the beings that come back are monstrous versions of themselves – this does not prevent him from trying the same thing with his two-year-old son, who spends the last third of the book terrorizing the Creed family and ultimately killing his mother, Rachel. This book provides a solid example of what happens when the protagonist is unable to overcome their grief, as Louis, despite all evidence pointing to the terrible outcome, tries the resurrection AGAIN with his wife – who, the ending implies, also comes back as a monstrous shadow of herself.

Supernatural, the early seasons
The core of this show is Dean and Sam running away from their feelings under the guise of enacting vengeance on the forces that have been taking away their loved ones. It’s hard to anchor an infinitely long-running show on this, so it does wander from time to time, but the truth of Supernatural is of two men that are terrible at accepting and moving on from their grief. For more specific examples, I recommend episodes 1.01 (Pilot), 2.01 (In My Time of Dying), 2.02 (Everybody Loves a Clown), and 2.20 (What Is and What Should Never Be).