Horror-Tober VII: Zombies / Walking Dead

Written by Alexander Greco

October 25, 2020

“They just want to calm your fraying nerves

They just want to be your comforters

They just want to clear your aching head

They just want to calm your fraying nerves

They just want to be your comforters

They just want to wake the walking dead

The walking dead”

Mark Lenover, “The Walking Dead”

The Analysis that Became a Rant or The Little Article that Could

It might have been the pot, it might have been the acid, or it might have been the mushrooms, but I remember at some point in my nebulous collection of psychedelic adventures, zombies finally made sense. I figured them out.

I don’t like the word “zombie” though. “Living dead” is getting better—it’s a nice oxymoron. “Walking dead” though… they got it right with that name.

See, “Zombie” is too abstract—it’s not connected with anything tangible, it’s just a funny sounding name that we associate with mindless, autonomic bodies brought back to life.

“Living dead” is better because it hits closer to home. We have deeper associations with the words “living” and “dead”—they mean more to us than “zombie” ever will. But, there’s something wrong with the name.

“Walking dead” on the other hand hits it out of the park. It just nails it. Why?

It does the same thing that “living dead” does—it anchors the name and the idea of the creature into something more tangible than “zombie”­—but then “living dead” goes wrong with the “living” part, because we instinctually know that part of the name is a cheap gimmick.

It’s clever, for sure, but we know the zombies aren’t “living”. “Living” for us as humans is something natural. We associate it with “the lights being on”, with a “soul” in the body, maybe even a ghost in the shell (wink, wink). And so, we look at the dead body moving on its own, and we know that it’s not “dead” in the normal sense, but we also know it’s definitely not “living” in any sense.

But, “walking dead”, that name works. You don’t have to think about walking at all in order to do it. You can literally walk in your sleep, it’s so easy and mindless to do. Walking is just your body moving in a pre-programmed way and it literally takes no effort at all—just try thinking about how you actually walk, I’ll bet you don’t even know how walking works.

“Walking dead” implies something that’s just robotic, mechanical, thoughtless or instinctual. It basically calls zombies objects capable of moving (and eating, of course). There’s nothing there. The body moves, but it moves like silt moves in a riverbed, or how snow falls from tree limbs or rocks fall down slopes—there is no thought: it’s purely mechanical.

That term, “walking dead”, removes any sense of agency, animacy, life or consciousness from the zombies: they’re corpses that move; they’re objects that walk.

But, what does this mean symbolically?

What are the walking dead?

They’re mindless people-shaped objects that incessantly consume anything and everything around them.

They’re the hungry, unthinking corpses that stalk the few conscious survivors of the undeath plague in herds.

They’re the masses of thoughtless, mechanical animals made of rotting flesh and decayed nerves.

They’re the shambling costumer, the bottomless, indebted consumer, the TV mind-slaves;  they’re the drones, the sellouts, the zealous recruiters of self-dissolution; they’re the frenzied finger-pointers, the inquisitors refusing to look in the mirror, the self-anointed priests of popular opinions.

They’re the walking dead: they’re programmed, they lack self-reflection, they lack the ability to judge their own actions or beliefs, and they lack an understanding of where they’re beliefs and behaviors even stemmed from—more importantly, they even lack a desire to understand.

This idea—this symbol—reflects so succinctly the collective behavior of “the masses”. It’s the idea of herds of people who lack self-reflection or any deeper level of consciousness (perhaps the lack consciousness altogether) and who act on basic instinct and primordial, emotional drives.

So what is the point of the zombie or zombie survival flick?

I began this article with a quote from one of the greatest unknown lyricists, Mark Lenover. Here’s a quote from one of the greatest known lyricists:

“Run desire, run, sexual being
Run him like a blade to and through the heart
No conscience, one motive
Cater to the hollow”


“Screaming feed me, here
Fill me up, again
And temporarily pacify this hungering”

Maynard James Keenan & Billy Howerdel, “The Hollow”

The zombie narrative reflects humanity’s social reality in that a vast majority of the population is turned “off”—the lights aren’t on, no one’s home, some thoughtless machine is pulling levers behind the scenes—while a small minority of people are survivors.

Perhaps the plague, virus, disease, etc. is society itself—the pressure of millions of people-shaped objects wanting to turn you into one of them—wanting to consume you and degrade you to their mindless level. Perhaps it’s culture, or a specific kind of culture which infects people, or maybe it’s a natural symptom of a society.

So, what about the survivors? Who are they?

What do they represent?

They’re the people fighting to survive the thrall of society or culture—the people who fall prey and become another walking dead are those who give in to apathy, lethargy or self-destruction; or they fall prey to some trauma—physical, social or psychological; or they are overwhelmed by the herd and succumb to the swarming mob of people-shaped meat-objects.

And why do the walking dead wish to feast on other humans? Specifically, the flesh of humans who are still alive? Why are they unable to or have no desire to sustain themselves off dead or undead human flesh?

Because people have no desire to kill and consume other people who are already a part of the herd: we have no desire to transform people who are already transformed, and nothing can be gained from consuming what we already are.

The people who survive the gauntlet of society and culture become targets for zealous conformists and mindless consumers. People don’t “consume” products created by people similar to them, people from the same socio-economic class as them, or people from that they’ve conformed to/with—the people who create the things we consume aren’t like the pepole consuming their goods.

The people who remain original, the people who remain conscious, the people who remain alive and passionate: these are the people the masses wish to feast on.

The herds of walking dead feast on Disney, Walmart, Amazon and others—and while the living may still use these companies, they do not “feast” on them, they are not consumers in the same sense.

The “herd-minded” consumer consumes to blindly satiate an instinctual hunger; the living, thinking individuals understand their actions, and they “consume” to fulfill a conscious, understood necessity, or to aid in assisting some goal.

So there are two elements to this: a hatred of life—an anti-life (an unlife)—driving people-shaped objects to destroy life; and then there is an absolute desire to consume that life. It is a hunger or desire to obtain something, which results in the destruction of the desired thing.

And the emotional kicker to this all is the endless nihilism and suffering of hope.

Those who survive remain conscious, remain thinking, calculating, rationalizing agents—they remain alive—and yet their life is infinitely more difficult because of this. They remain alive and conscious only to be conscious for their own unending peril, pain and hardship. So why continue? Why go on?

Why go on—why struggle so hard against the smothering night and the bitter cold—when one can just let go, become a part of the herd?

Why struggle against something that seems so inevitable? Why wage an impossible war? Why stand against the ocean of mindless walkers?

What is it that is so important about life that people are capable of weathering the most violent storms in order to maintain life—to keep the fire lit, and to carry and pass the torch into the lightless chaos of tomorrow?

The possibility of something better and the hope for a cure: the hope for an end to the infinite dark.

This is what ever zombie narrative inevitably teases us with, and this is what life teases us with: what if, one day, we could end all this pain?

What if, one day, we could cure the walking dead, restore humanity and restore a society into one that loves life and living? What if we could cure the disease of anti-life and mindless consumption?

That’s what keeps us watching, and that’s what keeps the fire lit.

“And these words changing nothing as your body remains
And there’s no room in this Hell, there’s no room in the next
And our memories defeat us, and I’ll end this duress
But does anyone notice? But does anyone care?
And if I had the guts to put this to your head
But does anything matter if you’re already dead?
And should I be shocked now, by the last thing you said?
Before I pull this trigger, your eyes vacant and stained
And in saying you loved me made things harder, at best
And these words changing nothing as your body remains
And there’s no room in this Hell, there’s no room in the next
But does anyone notice there’s a corpse in this bed?”

My Chemical Romance, “Early Sunsets Over Monroeville”

Conclusion: Episode/Issue #1 of The Walking Dead

A good story reflects reality.

A good symbol reflects a deeper, more complex truth about reality that a literal description cannot.

Zombies, living dead, walking dead: a society moving in herds, which no longer cares for life nor its continuation, and seeks its annihilation and assimilation through mindless consumption.

The Survivors: the ones who rage against the herds of people-shaped objects.

A good narrative speaks in a language of symbols, characters, events and associations.

In the first issue of The Walking Dead comic series and in the first episode of the show, the protagonist, Rick Grimes—a protector and upholder of law, and thereby a protector and upholder of culture and society—is shot and put into a coma. He wakes up in a hospital to find the world in shambles.

He is weak and barely alive. The previously orderly, clean and sensible world he lived in has become a ruined hellscape, devoid of life. He finds that society has been overrun by the Walking Dead, and then finds that a small number of people are still alive.

He then begins protecting these people, these individuals, and upholding life itself.

Rick himself “dies” and returns to life—he goes to the abyss, the place of chaos and darkness, common mythological trope—and returns to the “overworld” or the “normal” world.

Here, we can take a literal interpretation of the story: he wakes up after an actual zombie apocalypse.

Or, we can take a symbolic interpretation of the story: he wakes up to see the world for what it really is.

He wakes up and realizes his own weakness and vulnerability; he wakes up and realizes how important life and consciousness really are; he wakes up and devotes his life to protecting and leading people, not dictates of society.

Perhaps Rick didn’t wake up and see a transformed reality; perhaps Rick woke up transformed and saw reality.

An Analysis of Dark: How to Write a Good Soap Opera

Written By Alexander Greco

August 19, 2020

I recently finished watching Netflix’s first German series, Dark, a sci-fi drama set in Winden, Germany. Dark is not only a rather philosophical show that delves into questions on human nature, morality, the philosophy of time and the nature of reality, but it is an incredibly well written show with a narrative that stands on the knife’s edge of complexity and cohesion.

While there’s much about the underlying philosophical themes I want to discuss in other articles in this article I want to focus on the narrative structure of Dark. It is an impressively complex show that manages to keep its storyline and character arcs cohesive, without any glaring plot holes or (with some exceptions) lazy writing.

However, in tangent, I also want to discuss something that has been interesting me for a few years now. The adoption of soap opera narrative structures into “non soap opera” genres.

Why? Because Dark was essentially a short and sweet soap opera involving time travel, parallel realities and philosophical and moral quandaries.

How to Write a Good Soap Opera

It was Game of Thrones that made me realize the vast majority of televised media is either mindless hypno-spirals or glorified soap operas. For anyone who isn’t already disappointed with Game of Thrones, it’s just a soap opera with swords, dragons and incest. Similarly, The Walking Dead is a soap opera about zombies and homeless people, and Breaking Bad is a soap opera about meth addicts and cancer patients.

Now, while the term “soap opera” can be a bit of a pejorative for those of us who aren’t fans of Days of Our Lives, being a soap opera isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Among the soap operas out there, some are good soap operas. Game of Thrones, for example, wasn’t bad. Until it was. Soap, a parody of soap operas (though, still essentially a soap opera), was a surprisingly good show. Among these not-bad soap operas are a few really good soap operas.

But what makes something a soap opera?

A soap opera is essentially an episodic, televised narrative with long story and character arcs, which are typically the focus of the show. We are given a stable, or at least semi-stable, ensemble cast of characters, each with their own unique circumstances, motivations, problems and goals.

While the problems of the characters may be interwoven, their goals and motivations either convergent or at odds, and their circumstances tangential, they are all fully-developed and dynamic characters, and each character typically has their own developed story arc.

The plot arcs of soap operas can span over several episodes, an entire season, or an entire series. An issue can be presented at the beginning of a series that isn’t resolved until the end of a series, or is never resolved at all. That problem might even morph into other problems as the series progresses, creating a train of causal story arcs like a line of dominoes.

Not only this, there can be a multitude of these domino chains going on at once, and usually there are. With each character possessing unique long-standing problems or goals, each character will have their own series of major plot events. On top of this, each character may have more than one plot or story arc, or sub-arcs related to major arcs—or, their arcs may, and usually inevitably will, overlap or interweave with other characters’ arcs. This soap opera style narrative is really nothing but unending drama.

I will never understand the fascination.

Part of the intention of a soap opera is to end each episode leaving viewers wanting more. Each episode ends with a cliff hanger, some sort of big reveal, or a twist. There is no finality to a soap opera, there is only a continual tipping of dominoes. That’s why shows like Days of Our Lives have been on air for ridiculously long spans of time (50+ years).

However, the tropes and narrative style of a typical soap opera, which usually has pretty distinct aesthetics and subject matter as opposed to “non soap operas”, can be applied to “non soap opera” shows.

So then, the term “soap opera” might be better referred to as “longform drama” or “longform dramatic narrative”. It is a style of narrative that is not only designed to span chronologically over long breadths of time, but also to delve deeply into each character’s story arcs and growth, and it is a style of narrative designed to constantly engage the viewer with new developments that will not immediately be resolved.

This skeleton of longform narrative can then be applied to stories that aren’t typical daytime dramas. This is how you get aforementioned shows like Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, or Game of Thrones. A lot of not-much-but-seems-important happens over the span of several hour-long episodes, and yet we are still thoroughly engaged with whatever is happening in the show.

The issue that can happen with these longform narratives is that they aren’t designed to end. They are designed to keep going, to add more drama and tension and side-stories and plot twists and Jimmy gets Angie pregnant, and how will so-and-so escape the zombies, and what happens now that so-and-so #2 gets shot by the mean drug dealer, and how will Daenerys save her dragon, but wait, there’s more, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum…

How do you end a show that isn’t designed to end? You end it quickly.

You either die with millions on the edge of their seat, or you live to see yourself become a stumbling disappointment. Or, somehow, you keep bored, pill-popping wino-housewives coming back for more, week after week. Month after month. Year after year. Decade after decade. Ad infinitum.

Breaking Bad did it right. 5 seasons. Near perfect story and character arcs, in keeping with the underlying moral themes of the show. Doesn’t overstay its welcome, leaves before it’s unwanted, and gets carried out on its shield like a G. Game of Thrones did it right, until they didn’t. And then, boy, did they not do it right. And, as much as I love Negan, Walking Dead should’ve died with Shane.

Wanna know who did stick the landing? Wanna know who didn’t overstay their welcome and who crafted a brilliant story while they were at it? Dark.

Dark, The SoapTime Continuum Opera

Dark used this narrative style—“soap opera” or “longform dramatic narrative”—almost perfectly, and caps off the series at season 3. Not only does Dark masterfully employ the soap opera narrative structure to a T, it goes beyond what the original masters of the art had ever imagined, with story arcs that span across future and present timelines, as well as parallel universes. Dark has transcended the original art of soap opera writing into something truly grand and beautiful.

On top of this, Dark escaped the downward spiral of good drama by knowing not only when to stop, but how to stop—how to stick the landing like a champ.

The story begins by introducing us to the lives of various characters and showing us their relationships to each other. There four primary families whom the show revolves around: the Nielsens, the Kahnwalds, the Tiedemanns and the Dopplers.

In the Nielsen family, Ulrich and Katharina Nielsen, and their children, Magnus, Martha and Mikkel.

In the Kahnwald family, there is Hannah and Michael Kahnwald, and their son, Jonas Kahnwald.

In the Tiedemann family, there is Aleksander and Regina Tiedemann, and their son, Bartosz.

In the Doppler family, there is Peter and Charlotte Doppler, and their children, Elisabeth and Franziska.

Left to Right: Jonas, Martha, Bartosz

The show begins with Michael Kahnwald committing suicide. Jonas Kahnwald goes to a psychiatric ward for two months, and returns to find that his best friend, Bartosz, is dating is love interest, Martha. At the same time, Ulrich Nielsen is cheating on Katharina with Jonas’s mom, Hannah.

We find out that a teenage drug dealer named Erik Obendorf has gone missing, and this has raised alarm across the town of Winden. Ulrich, a police officer, is one of man who are searching for Erik, along with Charlotte Doppler, the chief of police/Ulrich’s boss. Charlotte’s daughter, Elisabeth, is deaf, and Charlotte’s other daughter, Franziska, is developing a romantic relationship with Magnus, Ulrich’s son.

At the same time, Charlotte is having tension with her husband, Peter Doppler. In later episodes, we find out this is because Peter cheated on her with a transgender prostitute named Bernadette. Also, Peter’s father/Charlotte’s father-in-law, Helge Doppler, who seems to be senile to some degree, begins ranting about how “it’s all happening again” or “it’s going to happen again.

This indirectly ties back to how Ulrich’s brother, Mads Nielsen, mysteriously disappeared in 1986, just how Erik disappeared, and Ulrich, among others, frequently questions if these events are somehow connected.

On top of this, Aleksander Tiedemann, Bartosz’s father, mentions that Winden’s nuclear power plant—which Aleksander runs—will soon be closing down, and also mentions that he’s been working there for 33 years (since 1986). Aleksander’s wife, Regina, co-owns a hotel with her husband which is currently going out of business because no one wants to visit a town where a child has gone missing.

Then, at the end of episode 1, Mikkel (one of the Nielsen children) goes missing.

Boom!

What a way to start a show—that’s episode 1 (mostly)—and if that doesn’t sound like the pilot of a soap opera, I don’t know what would.

From here, the show is focused on the disappearance of Mikkel. Everyone in the town is now searching for two children. Charlotte Doppler now has to organize searches for Mikkel. Ulrich begins investigating Aleksander Tiedemann, who runs Winden’s nuclear power plant, which is near where Mikkel went missing.

In addition, tensions begin to build between all the characters, and every scene in the episodes after Mikkel disappears further develops the drama and the relationships established in the first episode (or, in some cases, proceeding episodes).

Ulrich stops seeing Hannah because he is focused on finding his missing son, but Hannah strongly desires Ulrich.

Hannah begins resenting Ulrich, while at the same time Katharina begins suspecting Ulrich of being unfaithful.

Ulrich also begins suspecting Erik’s father, Jurgen Obendorf, of being involved in Mikkel’s disappearance, because Jurgen works for Aleksander Tiedemann and at the nuclear plant (which is near where Mikkel went missing).

Magnus still is interested in Franziska, but is also angry at her because she was in the woods where Mikkel went missing the night of his disappearance.

Peter Doppler begins acting strange and emotional after the disappearance of Mikkel and the discovery of another child’s body, though we don’t know why.

We find out that Helge used to work at the power plant in 1986 (around the time Mads disappeared).

Martha begins distancing herself from Bartosz while trying to get closer to Mikkel.

This and more are all developed throughout the first season of the show, amidst the turmoil of searching for Mikkel.

However, in the third episode, it is revealed that Mikkel has travelled back in time to 1986 (the same year Ulrich’s younger brother went missing).

And here, the primary subject matter of the show is kicked off.

The show, really, is primarily focused on the plotlines associated with time travel (and eventually travel across parallel dimensions).

So now, we have three layers of the show:

  • Drama and relationships
  • Disappearance of Mikkel
  • Time Travel

But then, because of Time Travel, even more layers of the show are revealed.

And here is where the writers of Dark began to seriously impress me.

Because Mikkel travels back to 1986, and we begin witnessing events that occur while Mikkel is in 1986 Winden, a whole new layer of drama is created. We get to witness not only the drama and relationships of Winden in 2019, but also the drama and relationships of Winden in 1986.

On top of that, because we are witnessing events of the past, many of which involve characters in “present-day” Winden (Ulrich, Katharina, Regina, Hanna, Helge Doppler, Charlotte, etc.), we witness events that will eventually shape the future.

80’s Katharina and Ulrich

So, there are now two timelines going on. There is the 1986 timeline, where the future adults are high-schoolers, and the 2019 timeline, where the teenagers of 1986 are adults, and their children are now high-schoolers.

The 1986 timeline, while slightly simpler (in the beginning) than the 2019 timeline, still maintains a level of depth and dimensionality comparable to the 2019 timeline. There are complex relationships between characters, there are dramas, there are tensions, and there are major, impactful plot points. In addition, the 1986 plot-line informs the 2019 plot-line, so that what we know about 2019 is altered by 1986. In addition, the 2019 plot-line also informs the 1986 plot-line so that what happens in the “present” timeline informs us about characters and events in the “past” timeline.

If you don’t know how difficult this would be to write—and difficult to write with as many interesting, dynamic/3-dimensional characters and with as many intriguing, engaging plot points as Dark has—go try it for yourself. Give it shot.

Just try to write as good of a show or narrative with one longform narrative, and then try to write a parallel yet chronologically distinct narrative that is as complex and engaging, and maintains the narrative integrity of the other timeline (no plot holes), and informs us on the characters and events of the other timeline.

On top of this, there is an entire, mysterious sub-narrative involving mysterious figures that have come to Winden, and it is slowly revealed how they are connected to time travel and the missing children.

There’s two super-narratives or timelines going on—the 1986 narrative and the 2019 narrative. For each super-narrative, there’s close to a dozen characters with individual narratives, which all interweave and co-develop each other’s character and narrative. And then, these dozens of narratives inform the narratives of the other super-narrative and the individuals of that super-narrative. And then, there’s a sub-narrative that slowly begins developing even deeper implications about the show, the show’s plot and the characters of the show.

Now, here, I’ve only really discussed events that have happened in the first season, so I wouldn’t really call them spoilers. However, if you haven’t watched beyond the first season, or haven’t watched the show at all, here there be spoilers.

At the end of season 1, it is revealed that the future of Winden (circa 2052) is a dystopian. So now, a third timeline is created.

Throughout season 2, not only are the 1986/1987 and 2019/2020 timelines developed, but so is the 2052/2053 timeline (though not in as much depth). Season 2 also introduces the 1921 timeline (99 years prior to 2020) and the 1953 timeline, in which the adults of 1986 are now children.

In season 2, there are now five timelines. The 1921 timeline isn’t developed in as much depth as the others, but the 1953 timeline does have a number of characters who are either already established in the 1986 and 2019 timelines, or are otherwise important to the story.

Jonas and Jonas

By this point, characters have begun travelling across time to various other timelines, which means individual narratives now take place across various timelines or super-narratives. This also means that the primary focus of different timelines or super-narratives now take place across multiple super-narratives. The plot of Mikkel disappearing, for example, now develops across the 1953 timeline (where 2019 Ulrich travels), the 1986 timeline (where 2019 Mikkel travels), the 2019 timeline (where Mikkel’s family is still trying to find Mikkel and now Ulrich as well), and the 2053 timeline (where Jonas has traveled).

The boarder between timelines or super-narratives has now been all but eroded. Characters from various timelines travel to other timelines (teenage Jonas travels to 2053, then to 1921, where he meets the elderly Jonas and adult Jonas travels to 2020 and meets teenage Martha/adult Claudia from 1986 begins time travelling, and we are introduced to the elderly Claudia, who also time travels/adult Hannah travels back to 1921 and meets adult Ulrich, who is now trapped).

There are no real separate super-narratives across time anymore, these different timelines are not more or less treated as separate settings with different characters. However, the events that take place in past “settings” still have an effect on and inform us about future “settings”.

Enter Emoverse

Finally, in season 3, not only are there all of the timelines and individual narratives established in the first two seasons, but there is now a parallel universe (we’ll call it Universe 2, or, more fittingly, the Emoverse) with its own timelines (though fewer timelines are established). In the first universe/set of timelines, the 1888 timeline is also established.

In addition, a third universe is eventually established, which is the “original” reality, from which Universe 1 and the Emoverse are created.

Emo Martha somehow manages to be both more and less likable than Wholesome, Well-Rounded Martha

Okay, so now we have Universe 1, which contains 6 timelines, the Emoverse, or Universe 2, which contains a small number of timelines, and the original universe (which only has one established timeline). From each universe and each timeline are characters who not only travel across time, but their actions in various timelines both cause and inform events in future timelines, or are caused by or are informed by the events of past timelines.

However, because people time travel, someone could travel to the year 2053, and then an event in 2053 will cause a change in that character’s personality. Then, if that character travels to the year 1921, anything caused by that character will essentially have been the result of what happened in 2053. So, the events of the future can influence the events of the past.

And, because people can now travel to parallel realities, the events that happen in one universe can (through the actions of characters) influence the events that happen in another universe.

This gets incredibly complicated. As as “simple” example, the events of 2053 can influence the events of 1921, which can influence the events of 2020, which can influence the events of 1986, which can influence the events of Universe 2’s 2053, which can influence the event’s of Universe 1’s 1888, which can influence the events of Universe 2’s 2020, which can influence the events of Universe 1’s 2053 (which we already established influenced the events of Universe 1’s 1921, which influenced the events of 2020).

Emo Martha and Magnus look a lot like Coraline and Henry Rollins

The weakest points of the show may come in season 3, and they come simply because of the incredible complexity of the multitude of narratives that are occurring simultaneously across time and across parallel realities. Ironically, and somewhat paradoxically, because the show is now so complicated—because there’s so much going on—much of the second half of season 3, feels simplified and rushed.

The first half of season 3, however, feels tedious and slow (and the Emoverse is really depressing). Not only that, but you get the sinking feeling that this show is going to go on forever. It suddenly feels like a soap opera that is in year 3 of a 50 year reign, and the characters are just going to keep time travelling and universe-hopping—and, now, you can just keep adding more universes and more timelines—and god fucking knows how long this show is going to go on.

There’s, like, 20 new characters that are suddenly added to the show (though some of them are just Emo versions of other characters), and we have to completely learn and relearn the backstories and motivations and goals and conflicts of completely new characters and timelines, and, at this point, we’ve completely stopped giving a shit about the missing Mikkel (because, as we find out, Mikkel is actually Jonas’s dad who commits suicide at the beginning of the show, so the Mikkel plot is really just an empty loop that eventually only serves to develop Jonas’s story and character arc).

The show now is incredibly complex. There’s nearly 70 characters in season 3, most of which are the same characters from different timelines, and over 70 if you count the different versions of characters from the parallel universes. The show takes place across ~10 timelines in two separate universes (three once the original reality is introduced). Not only are there parallel universes, but there’s parallel timelines in parallel universes (timelines, say, where Jonas did or did not die, timelines where Martha did or did not travel to a parallel universe, and timelines where Martha did or did not die).

The ending of Akira is something that cannot be unseen.

What was once a beautiful, magnificent storyboard has now become an omnipotent yet grotesque, uncomfortable-to-watch monster, much like Tetsuo at the end of Akira, and there is no hope for an end in sight.

But then, the second half of season 3 comes, and the second half of season 3 is where the story becomes rushed. Rather than the slow and deliberate, yet engaging and thought-provoking events of the first two seasons, the second half of season 3 runs through various plot points and important developments in character arcs at a sprint.

For example, the adult Jonas, who has essentially become Nicolas Tesla in the 1888 timeline, seemingly morphs into Darth Vader overnight, and his transformation from 1888 to 1921 is glossed over, the events only implied.

A lot happens in only a few episodes, and a lot happens exponentially fast in only a few episodes.

While the events leading up to the climax of Dark are certainly rushed, the silver lining is that the show does end at the finale of season 3. Not only does it end, all the events of the show are wrapped up quite gracefully and thoughtfully, and with a bittersweet, nostalgic cherry on top (I won’t spoil this. Either you know what happens, or you don’t.)

Season 3 gets rocky, but the show sticks the landing.

Dark gets almost overwhelmingly complex and, ironically, over-simplified and rushed in season 3, but it all comes to an end quite gracefully.

What Dark Got Right Narratively

Looking back on Dark after watching the final episode, what the creators of this show did was incredibly ambitious, and I do criticize the show both respectfully and cautiously.

Season 1 of Dark was a master-class on writing an engaging and multi-dimensional narrative, and Season 2 was something beyond a master-class. While Season 2 certainly did have its faults, and the narrative got a bit muddied at times, the sheer scope of what they accomplished was mind-blowing.

I dare you to write one good season of a “soap opera”. Now, go write one good season of four “soap operas” occurring simultaneously, with the events and characters of each “soap opera” influencing the events and characters of all the other “soap operas”. Season 2 really did push the envelope of what one can do with a longform narrative. Granted, Dark is not the only series to have done this.

Time travel and parallel realities have been a staple in comic book series for decades now. God knows how many novels and book series have explored both of these themes. And TV series like NBC’s Heroes have created longform narratives with time travel and parallel realities in them. But no TV series has quite fleshed out the possibilities of what one can do with this sort of narrative quite like Dark has done.

The show is admirably detailed in story structure, and times incredibly clever and subtle. And the writing, beyond being structurally impressive, is just good. The character development isn’t the best of all time, but it’s certainly nothing to scoff at. There’re some clichés in the beginning, some lazy spots, especially as the show begins wrapping up, and definitely some cringe moments (like Jonas getting his parallel-universe aunt/great-great-great-grandmother pregnant (which means Jonas is both his own great-great-great-grandfather and his own uncle-in-law)), but the ratio of good writing to bad writing drastically skews towards good.

On top of this, the show uses its narrative to explore not only the events and causality of time travel and parallel universes, but also the associated philosophy, paradoxes and moral problems that arise from them. The narrative structure of the show is inherently important to the underlying meaning of the show (that’s how you can spot a meta-level writer).

I mean, time is an illusion anyway, right?

Season 3 of Dark maybe wasn’t the best season of television/web-series history, but it wasn’t necessarily bad. It was maybe just overly ambitious and had abstracted itself too far from the narrative of season 1 and 2. It was certainly still fun and engaging, the twists and turns of the show were rapid-fire at this point, and the philosophical conundrums were dialed up to 11 (such as: Is it okay to have sex with your aunt if she’s from another universe?).

The ending of season 3 was executed well enough that it more than redeemed some of the faults of prior episodes, and left me wishing there was more (and glad that wish wasn’t granted).

In short, the show is kinda brilliant. Is it a soap opera? Yes, but so is every other show you like. Does it have its faults? Yes, but it’s an ambitious show, and it lives up to many of its ambitions. Am I done talking about Dark? Probably not. There’s still more to write about, though I might not write more about Dark in the immediate future. Nonetheless, if you’re interested in the show, keep an eye out for future articles, and thank you for reading.

A Brief History of Fear

Written by Tara East

Re-Published June, 03, 2019

The following paper analyzes how the theme of fear has changed in Australian Literature over time. The Australian settlers responsible for our early gothic fictions gave external form to their internal fears through their descriptions of the landscape as eerie, dangerous and monstrous. While some contemporary works, such as Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones, revisit the nation’s classic literary themes of racism and “who belongs?”, others, such as Liane Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty, fall into the emerging trend of domestic suburban thrillers. Both these works will be analysed through a psychoanalytic, post-colonial and feminist lens to determine how contemporary fiction has changed the face of fear.

Fear has played a major role in the history of Australian literature in response to the establishment of British colonies and what that meant to Aboriginal culture and way of life; beginning with the gothic tales published in the late nineteenth century. The colonial writers of these early Australian novels wove unnerving tales about the anxiety of not belonging in a foreign land. At the same time, the unknown landscape also inspired their fearful descriptions. In The Anthology of Colonial Australian Gothic Fiction, author Marcus Clarke provides a ghostly description of the Australian landscape.

The Australian mountain forests are funeral, secret, scorn. Their solitude is desolation. They seem to stifle, in their black gorges, a story of sullen despair . . . In the Australian forests no leaves fall. The savage winds shout among the rock clefts. From the melancholy gums scrips of white bark hang and rustle. The very animal life of these frowning hills is either grotesque or ghostly. Great grey kangaroos hop noiselessly over the coarse grass. Flights of white cockatoos stream out, shrieking like evil souls. The sun suddenly sinks, and the mopokes bursts out into horrible peals of semi-human laughter. The natives aver that, when night comes, from out the bottomless depth of some lagoon the Bunyip rises, and, in form like monstrous sea calf, drags his loathsome length from out the ooze. From a corner of the silent forest rises a dismal chant, and around a fire dance natives painted like skeletons. All is fear-inspiring and gloomy (Gelder 2007)  

Gerry Turcolte, lecturer at the University of Wollongong, provides further insight into the Gothic narratives place in the history of Australian literature.

Long before the fact of Australia was ever confirmed by explorers and cartographers it had already been imagined as a grotesque space, a land peopled by monsters. The idea of its existence was disputed, was even heretical for a time, and with the advent of the transportation of convicts its darkness seemed confirmed. The Antipodes was a world of reversals, the dark subconscious of Britain. It was, for all intents and purposes, Gothic par excellence, the dungeon of the world. It is perhaps for this reason that the Gothic as a mode has been a consistent presence in Australia since European settlement (Turcotte 1998).

Early Australians saw the land as a fearsome place.

Literary monsters are timely as they embody social and cultural present-day fears. Before the White Australia Policy was dismantled, books such as Charles Chauvel’s Uncivilised were popular. The story is a fairy tale about an indigenous tribe making a lost white child its leader and includes what would later become the archetype of the “evil witch doctor” (Breyley 2009), a reference that also appears in Bingham and other Golden Boomerang books. This continued into adult novels such as Ion Idriess’ Lasseter’s Last Ride which featured a black witch doctor:

With skinny claw the witch-doctor pulled out a dried lizard . . . His lips moved sibilantly and Lasseter could have sworn that the lizard hissed in reply . . . Over each article he pored . . . as if it possessed some power of evil (Breyley, 2009).

Shared global fears in the twenty-first century, at least for Western countries, largely concern terrorist attacks. This is reflected in Janette Turner’s Hospital, A.L. McCann’s Subtopia and Linda Jaivin’s The Infernal Optimist; three narratives about the destructive nature of terrorist and their desire to wreak havoc (Carr, 2016).

Post-colonial Fear

The self/white heteromasculinity and two subtly different types of Other, Indigenous people and ethnic groups (those who are understood as offering a threat of social, political or military invasion). Other authors are more concerned with the horrific actions carried out by members of our own community, such is the premise of Craig Silvey’s novel, Jasper Jones. Fear maintains an active presence in the work following the opening catalyst: the grisly discovery of a young girl’s body, hung from a tree by a local watering hole. Though this incident is frightening enough, the sensation of fear continues well beyond this scene. The protagonist, Charlie Bucktin, is consumed by fear. Some of Charlie’s worries are spurred from actual experiences, others are the conjuring of his own mind. He is instantly suspicious when Jasper Jones knocks on his window that fateful night and enters his life. Later, Charlie is terrified of the idea of Jasper leaving town and abandoning him. After disposing of the young girl’s body, Charlie is afraid of getting caught, of not getting caught; afraid that there is a murderer in his town, and that maybe that person is Jasper. And to top it all off, he has an irrational fear of bugs.

Racism, prejudice and the underlining fear of the Other are explored through the outsider characters of Jasper and Jeffery. Jasper is the child of a white father and an aboriginal mother. Jasper experiences an unstable childhood following the death of his mother. His rebellious, alluring and aloof personality quickly establish him as a convenient scapegoat and he is blamed for every unseemly activity that occurs in the town. It is because of this prejudice that Jasper compels Charlie to dispose of Laura’s body. Jasper is convinced that if they don’t, then he will be arrested for Laura’s murder; a reasonable conclusion given that the victim is a white teenage girl (believed to be a virgin) from one of the town’s wealthiest families. Similarly, Jeffery Lu and his Vietnamese family are the continuous victims of racial prejudice as many of the local residences have sent their sons off to fight in the Vietnam War. Charlie witnesses the town’s prejudice first hand during a town meeting. Following the announcement that the police have no new leads on Laura’s disappearance, Charlie notices the gossip and speculations around the potential culprit.

“Then someone mentioned Jasper Jones. The same way they did when the post office burned to the ground. With titled eyebrows and suspicion. … And I understood then that maybe we really did do the wrong thing for the right reasons” (Silvey 2009).

Australia, like America, continues to struggle with its colonial past and issues of “who belongs?”

Before Charlie turns to leave the hall, he hears Jeffery’s mother, Mrs. Lu, cry out. After filling her teacup up from the communal urn, a woman named Sue Findlay, slaps the cup from Mrs. Lu’s hand, scalding her badly, and precedes to jab the air and recite racist remarks. It isn’t until Sue reaches out to pull on Mrs. Lu’s hair that the town Reverend intervenes.

This racial tension continues throughout the novel. At one point, Jasper is arrested – without evidence – beaten up by the town sergeant, locked up for a weekend and enticed to confess to Laura’s murder. It is during this illegal detaining that Jasper meets Laura’s father, who also beats him, and discovers that Pete is the president of the shire. Here, Silvey illustrates that racism was not only common in Australia in the 1960s, but celebrated. As the narrative continues, the Lu family continue to experience violent attacks and abuse. Jeffery is mocked by his schoolmates, and Mr. Lu is brutally beaten on his front lawn after a town father discovers that his son has died in action while fighting in Vietnam.

Fear and racism have remained popular themes in Australian literature because of our settler history and our present-day multiculturalism and social egalitarianism. As Cornel West argues in the case of America, “To engage in a serious discussion of race…we must begin not with the problems of black people but with the flaws of American society — flaws rooted in historic in equalities and longstanding cultural stereotypes” (Huggan 2017). Graham Huggan states that Australia, like America, also suffers from this same “violence and ideological extremism” (Huggan 2017). Racism is fear; fear of the other. It could be argued that the racism that exists within Australia, and that is reflected within its literature, may not be the result of the nation itself but the product of far reaching roots that go beyond the nation’s history and borders. The root behind the racism within Australian literature boils down to one question, “who has the right to belong?” (Huggan 2017)

Feminism and Fear

Until we reach a political, social and cultural utopia, themes regarding racism and “who belongs” will continue to dominate contemporary Australian fiction. In alignment with Poe’s earlier sentiments about fear being a luxury in a time of comfort, the new subgenre of the domestic/suburban thriller has emerged. Fear is no longer generated through external evils that exist outside the home: monsters, supernatural entities or psychopaths. Instead, publishers and readers are interested in experiencing sophisticated, modern, and internalised fear by exposing the evil that exists in our homes, our spouses and ourselves. Evening Standard Journalist Rosamun Urwin describes this new genre as chick lit with “no happy ending, no wedding dress or pram, just plot twists and tortured souls. These are thrillers thrown into the domestic sphere, tales of intimate betrayal and mistrust” (Whitehouse 2014). International best-sellers Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn, USA) and How To Be A Good Wife (Emma Chapman, UK) have helped craft this new sub-genre and Australian author Liane Moriarty’s suburban thriller, The Husband’s Secret, hit number one on the New York Times, and her novel, Big Little Lies, has been turned into a US television drama. Truly Madly Guilty is Moriarty most recent work, hitting number one on the Australian bestseller list while her two-previous works were still in the top ten.

The target audience of these novels is straight, married women. What makes these books marketable and profitable is their ability to tap into the audiences’ collective fear that men are a threat to women’s safety. Though men are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than women, women assume that they are more vulnerable to attacks than men. Criminologists dub this the fear-victimization paradox (Yodanic 2004) The belief that women are more vulnerable to sexual attack than men assists in the divide between the public sphere and the private. The private sphere, physical structures built by men, are safe. The public sphere, which is dominated by men, is unsafe. The perceived threat of inescapable attack when entering the public sphere keeps women fearful, and therefore, easier to control. Women are not doomed to become victims and not all men are violent, but by manipulating the knowledge that some women have become victims, then women are collectively easier to control and suppress.

Women are the target audience of Suburban Thrillers as these novels personify their deepest fears.

Suburban thrillers take advantage of this basic fear by having female characters experience multiple forms of domestic violence or abuse. In the case of Lianne Moriarty’s work, Truly Madly Guilty, all the female leads are the victims of their male counterparts. Erika becomes a foster parent because her husband Oliver wants to be a father (though she doesn’t want to be a mother), Clementine is blamed by her husband Sam for the near death of their child (though both parents were present at the time of the accident) and Tiffany is encouraged by her husband Vid to strip during a neighbourly barbeque (despite her reservations to do so). Moriarty plays directly into her audience’s basic fear of men taking control of women.

Although Jasper Jones is set in the 1960s, the suppression experiences by its female character remain uncomfortably relatable. Initially, Jasper idolises Eliza through his comparison to her and Audrey Hepburn; both are prim, proper and perfect. A simplification that causes him to underestimate her. As the truth behind Laura’s death is revealed, Jasper learns of the tragic circumstances that lead to her demise. Both Wishart sisters were abused by their father, a wealthy and prominent man in the community. Pete Wishart, a closet alcoholic, sexually and physically abused his oldest daughter Laura, and physically abused his youngest Eliza. In an effort to save Eliza from their father, Laura submits to his abuse. Eventually, Laura decides to commit suicide, seeing no other means of escaping her powerful father. Eliza eventually gets her revenge, by setting a fire in her home and injuring her father. Similarly, Charlie’s mother Ruth feels suppressed by the circumstance of her own life. Now middle-aged, she feels that both her youth and dreams have withered as she raised her son in the small town of Corrigan, isolated from her own family in the city. Her outlook is further embittered through her passionless marriage to Charlie’s father, Wesley; a relationship that is not improved by Wesley’s decision to disappear into his study every night after dinner. In the end, Ruth is only able to liberate herself by abandoning Charlie and Wesley, knowing that her husband would never be willing to sacrifice his comfort and preference for small town living in order to follow her into a new life in the city.

Literary Devices and Supporting Themes

If a novel is truly terrifying – or at least unsettling – why do readers continue to read? Some may argue that a likeable character is enough to keep readers’ attention, but award-winning author Patrick deWitt disagrees: “Some of my favourite books have despicable protagonists but I find them fascinating […] I hope some [readers] might be willing to push a bit deeper and look to spend time with characters who aren’t entirely likeable” (Bethune 2015. In alignment with deWitt’s statement, Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty focuses on three largely unlikeable couples, their children and one rude neighbour. Though unlikeable, Moriarty has made the characters interesting through their dynamic interactions with one another, complex personal and interpersonal histories and through her withholding of information. Given the sizeable cast, Moriarty initially allows her characters to fall into stereotypical roles, making it easier for the reader to differentiate them. First, there is the outrageous and wealthy couple Vid and Tiffany, OCD control freak and germophobes Oliver and Erika and the artsy new-age parents Clementine and Sam. As the book progresses the characters deepen and change and justification for certain behaviours are revealed. For instance, Erika and Oliver’s controlled demeanour is the result of their respective parents’ mental illnesses. Previously endearing characteristics, such as Sam and Clementine’s playful marriage are later revealed as a forced re-enactment of how ‘happy families’ behave in the movies. In reality, their marriage has become sexless and is on the verge of collapse. However, despite each character’s flawed nature, they are capable of selfless acts. For example; Erika accepts Vid’s invitation to the barbeque, even though she doesn’t want to go, and Clementine agrees to donate her eggs to Erika for IVF treatments, even though she finds the idea repulsive. Readers are willing to invest in these characters because they can relate to the (admittedly bloated) suburban problems.

Truly Madly Guilty challenges the stereotype that all women are maternal/motherly.

In order to convince a reader to stay with a novel that explores fearful themes, one needs more than a cast of interesting characters. The use of literary devices such as voice, POV and pacing double as tools to engage readers, heighten tension and build fear. Truly Madly Guilty uses a rotating, past tense, third person limited POV, while Jasper Jones uses first person, present tense. While Moriarty maintains a consistent tone throughout, the voice within each chapter changes to reflect that POV character’s unique perspective. Though the horrifying events of the barbeque are not revealed until halfway through Truly Madly Guilty, Moriarty successful keeps her readers hooked by making them care about her complex characters and by delicately insinuating the reasons behind particular behaviours and conversations. Despite the close third person POV, Moriarty subtly alludes to deep seeded secrets and regrets while holding back on the details. Though she shows that the characters’ feel appalled by the behaviour of their shadow selves, she conceals the particularities of their situation until the end of the novel.

Fear is maximised in Truly Madly Guilty through the manipulation of its pace. As the timeline, sequence of events, or character motivations become clear, Moriarty peels back another layer to reveal a new unexpected truth: Erika is a kleptomaniac, having stolen items from Clementine’s home for years and storing them in a concealed chest in her bedroom cupboard. The book moves quickly throughout, despite the fact that the traumatising event hinted at in chapter one is not revealed until page 291. Moriarty leads us to this pivotal moment with five short sharp chapters, increasing the pace and instilling a sense of fear: something is coming. A red herring appears, but when the much-foreshadowed event is revealed the plot twists again.

One of the book’s central mysteries is Erika’s memory loss. Fear is propelled through these gaps as other characters step in to reveal what they witnessed on the night of the barbeque. So much information is brought forth that the reader is led to believe that they have the full picture. It is only when Erika regains her memory within the last ten pages that the plot twists one final time. Truly Madly Guilty generates terror in its readers through its characters exploration of their shadow selves, but also through Moriarty’s withholding of information, consistent allusion to character secrets, and the tension created by the combination of these two elements.

Misdirection and mystery are central to the plots of Jasper Jones and Truly Madly Guilty.

The subject matter and style of Jasper Jones is very different from Truly Madly Guilty, yet it uses similar techniques. Employing a mystery novel structure, Silvey carefully exposes the truth behind Laura’s death while simultaneous unravelling the complicated and rich subplots of 1960s racism, marital discord (domestic servitude), first loves, sexual abuse and child abuse. The question of Laura’s death is what drives the narrative, however, it is the compounding emotional terror of the subplots that keeps readers engaged. Readers identify, or at least empathise, with Ruth’s domestic suffocation, Jeffery’s alienation, Jasper’s abandonment and the abuses suffered by the Wishart sisters. Though the emotional tenor is what keeps readers engaged, Silvey also employs classic mystery novel techniques like red herrings – did Jasper kill Laura, did she kill herself, did Mad Jack Lionel do it? – and the gradual exposure of secondary characters’ motivations and backstories to keep the central plot moving forward.

Jasper Jones combines horrific events both real and rumoured. Mad Jack Lionel, as the name suggests, is cast as the town’s mad man supposedly responsible for the murder of a young girl, her car slowly rusting away in Jack’s backyard. Fear is struck into the hearts of Corrigan’s youth as teenagers dare each other to dash across Jack’s property to steal a peach from the tree in the backyard. Even when Charlie learns that Mad Jack Lionel isn’t mad, that the rusting car in the backyard belonged to Jasper’s deceased mother and that Jack is, in fact, Jasper’s Grandfather, he stills feels uncertain after accepting Warwick Trent’s dare.

“I’m so far inside [the yard] that I can’t hear them, or even feel their presence anymore. And even though I know I’m under no threat, it’s still an eerie and intimidating pilgrimage. I start to tread lighter as I get closer … I wonder if he’s watching me … I breathe deep.” (Silvey 2009)

Then there are the real horrors: Mr. Wishart’s repeated assaults on his daughters, a town blaming a teenage boy for all its mischievous activities and the brutal hate crime against the Lu family. Through the manipulation of pace and careful control of information Silvey is able to turn commonplace events into terrifying experiences. Both Jasper Jones and Truly Madly Guilty start with enticing, violent incidents: the death of a young girl and the near drowning of a small child. However, these events are not the plot, but a mere catalyst to get the ball rolling. The true plot is the snowballing effect generated from the terrifying incident and how that crime has caused some characters to expose their shadow selves or become aware of the shadow selves in their families, friends and perceived enemies. Following Laura’s death, Charlie’s eyes are opened to the racism that exists in his small town of Corrigan and the abuse the women in his life have suffered. Following the near drowning of a child, Erika’s kleptomania is revealed, Clementine confesses that she is only friends with Erika out of obligation, Oliver’s need for control increases, Sam and Clementine’s marriage grows colder and the neighbour who warns Erika of the near drowning, Harry, immediately falls down the stairs and dies.

While Jasper Jones is a contemporary take on the classic Australian tropes of racism and belonging, Truly Madly Guilty falls neatly into the trendy category of domestic suburban thrillers. And yet, both give form to fear not as an external Other but in the shape of neighbours, family, friends and ourselves. While early horror novels gave form to fears – social and cultural – by way of supernatural creatures and monsters, contemporary literature leans towards a more sophisticated representation. Now, terror is explored through the exposure of a character’s shadow self. Now, we are the monster.

Works Cited:

Bethune, B (2015) ‘The Interview’, Business Source Ultimate, issue. 128 pp. 23, available from: <https://usq.summon.serialssolutions.com/2.0.0/link?t=1527742826133>

Breyley, G (2009), ‘Fearing the Protector, fearing the protected: Indigenous and “National” fears in Twentieth-century Australia’, vol. 23, issue 1, available from: <http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.usc.edu.au:2048/docview/211256754?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo&gt;

Gelder, K and Weaver, R (2007), ‘The Anthology of Colonial Australian Gothic Fiction’, Melbourne University Print, Melbourne.

Huggan, G (2017), ‘Australian Literature: Postcolonialism, Racism, Transnationalism’, Oxford University Press, Oxford, available from: https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.usq.edu.au/lib/usq/reader.action?docID=415105&query=

Moriarty, L 2016 Truly Madly Guilty, Pan Macmillan Australia, Sydney. 

Silvey, C (2009), ‘Jasper Jones’, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Turcotte, G (1998) ‘Australian Gothic’, in Mary Mulvey-Roberts (ed.) The Handbook to Gothic Literature, pp. 10-19, Basingstoke: Pan Macmillan.

Whitehouse, L (2014), ‘Rise of the marriage thriller’, The Guardian, available from: <https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/jan/15/rise-marriage-thriller-couples-secrets-gillian-flynn&gt;

Yodanic, C (2004) ‘Gender Inequality, Violence Against Women, and Fear: A Cross-National Test of the Feminist Theory of Violence Against Women, Journal of Interpersonal Violence’, Sage Publications, no. 19, vol.6, pp. 655-675, available from: http://journals.sagepub.com.ezproxy.usq.edu.au/doi/pdf/10.1177/0886260504263868

A Collection of Essays by Tara East

Written by Tara East

Re-Published May 27, 2019

A World Worth Writing For

Unfortunately, writers’ guilt is all too common. When we are working on a project, we feel guilty that we aren’t doing something more practical or useful – even if that task is nothing more than basic domestic chores. Ironically, as soon as we leave our desk to carry out said useful task, we feel guilty for abandoning our project. “I should be writing!” is the familiar, tedious mantra that plays in every writer’s mind.

Lately, though, I’ve been struck by the other type of guilt creatives suffer from. Perhaps you are familiar with it? The “Is my art doing anything?” guilt.

Part of me believes in art for art’s sake. With so much ugliness and helplessness in the world, I believe there is a place for aesthetically pleasing art. What harm can come from admiring something that is beautiful? What’s wrong with reading fun, frivolous fiction and indulging in the escapism it offers? Then there is the other part of me. The part of me that scorns this irresponsible reader. This placid person who chooses to read the latest bestseller while soaking in a tub of Epson salt as the world burns outside their window.

A vision that spurs the question: how can reading and writing contribute to solutions?

The “civilized” world has never been perfect. For better or for worse, technology’s omnipresence means we can no longer remain ignorant of our imperfection. In the face of these serious and urgent global issues, how can writers contribute to the crafting of solutions? Do their storytelling and communication skills offer anything of value?

Some argue that the publication of books reflecting current global issues is vital. Of course, these people tend to be authors. Ann Patchett (author) recently stated that she has moved away from reading classic literature in favour of contemporary texts. She believes that the accountability and challenging themes presented in recent works have once again made reading a political act.

To contradict Patchett’s point, I recently started reading Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ and I have been shocked by the timeliness of the commentary. Many of Esther’s existential concerns remain relevant today.

“I felt now that all the uncomfortable suspicions I had about myself were coming true, and I couldn’t hide the truth much longer.” (31)

“A million years of evolution […] and what are we? Animals?” (87)

This modern classic was published in 1971. A fact that saddens me slightly, as it illustrated how little we have evolved in the last 47 years. As an aside, I bought my copy of ‘The Bell Jar’ from a second-hand bookstore. The previous owner had unlined the above passages (and others) in pencil.

I wondered why someone who loved a book enough to read it with a pencil in hand would ever part with said book. This question was immediately followed by the thought, “Maybe they died?” Given the sombre tenor of these passages/the whole book, and the former reader’s obvious identification with them, I hope their ending was happier than Esther/Sylvia’s … That being said, I was constantly impressed by Plath’s ability to clearly articulate what depression felt like. I’ve never experienced depression (though the evening news does test me…) but Plath’s considered descriptions of Esther’s mental state bridged that divide. I got it.

If nothing else, this is what writers can do. They can communicate ideas. They can shape messy and complex emotions into tidy sentences. They can shatter binaries and expose hidden nuance. They can repackage complex problems into comprehensible forms. But. Is this the only irrefutable claim that writers can make? That they can present readers with information?

As the saying goes, if information was the solution, we’d all be happy millionaires with ripped abs.

You can write about the issues that trouble you, but you can’t make people read your work and you definitely can’t make them do something. While the publication of cli-fi and other challenging literary works are appearing more and more, the market isn’t exactly flooded. (No pun intended).

In a recent episode of The Garrett Podcast, Jennifer Mills, author and literary editor of Overland said that while the magazine has been successful in the publishing of marginal voices, few submissions address our present-day issues like the Anthropocene (humans impact on non-humans). Instead, most of the submissions received are concerned with relationship dynamics.

Is this because readers want escapism or because writers do?

Mills, who has published her own Anthropogenic work, Dyschronia, says that she intentionally constructed a plot that offered little in the way of solutions or action because that is what she sees in society: passivity. An observation that is no doubt reinforced by the submissions she vets.

Information is key. Without it, people may not understand the depth of a problem or how to fix it. Historically, the publication of good writing has played a vital role in the mobilizing of populations and the igniting of revolutions. Within our current culture, the problem is not a lack of information but our passivity and denial in the face of it.

Perhaps this is where our writerly self-consciousness stems from. Words are the tools wielded by skillful writers, but are we simply hiding behind our profession? Perhaps we should accept the fact that the gap between information and action is too wide? That our culture is passive. That a challenging book is likely to achieve little more than a 3.5 star rating on Good Reads. That it is time to close our laptops, start a biodynamic farm, become vegan and trade our cars for bicycles…I’m not being facetious; sincerity rests in this hyperbole.

It is true that the grandiosity of the world’s problems is overwhelming, but none of these issues occurred in isolation. We are all driving cars, drinking takeaway coffees, shutting our mouths instead of speaking up, lying to our kids about where the steak on their plate came from and buying caged eggs because they’re a dollar cheaper.

We need to do better. We need to do something.

Writers can offer solutions in their weekly columns and fiction. They can encourage readers to re-evaluate their opinions and behaviours by holding up a mirror. While a single blog post cannot change the world, our combined voices do have the power to shift culture.

Together, we can aspire to create a new culture. A culture that carries re-useable cups, that walks to work and eats ethical, sustainable food. A culture that votes. A culture that allows minorities to have space without slipping into fear that they are ‘taking over.’ A culture that questions why education hasn’t changed in 150 years. A culture that swivels its gaze away from the individual to focus on the collective. A world that is less about stuff and more about substance.

That, my friends, is a world worth writing for.

How to Produce Art when the World is Falling apart

Sir Philip Sidney stated that poetry was “the first light-giver to ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk little by little enabled them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges.” Ezra Pound believed that “The arts, literature, posesy are a science, just as chemistry is a science. Their subject is man, mankind, and the individual.” And yet, still, sometimes, we struggle to justify our creative practice.

If you’re in the middle of a personal crisis, it’s unlikely that you will have the energy or the mental bandwidth to produce art.

If you stop to consider big problems like climate change, terrorism, refugees, our shrinking job marketing, rising house prices, the privatization of health care and a multitude of other issues, sitting down to work on a short story or novel can seem self-indulgent and pointless.

What good is a novel when the world is falling apart?

It’s important to acknowledge these feelings of inadequacy because simply ignoring them won’t do anyone any favours. However, it’s equally important that artists continue to produce work despite this feeling of inadequacy. Art itself may not be able to solve our complex, incomprehensible social, economic, political and educational problems, but artists must continue to use their skills and ability because we need art, even if the world is falling apart.

At their most basic, novels provide a space for escapism and entertainment. At their best, a novel can inspire us into action by forcing us to confront our own behaviours and beliefs. We may ask ourselves why we do the things that we do, whether our behaviour is contributing to the solution or to the problem, and how can we change for the better both individually and as a society.

Stories don’t have to change the world. If you want to write stories for the sole purpose of escapism, both for yourself and your reader, then that is an honourable use of time. We need a little escapism. We need books that we can read at the end of a long day; books that offer comfort instead of further confrontation. It’s okay to read funny books or adventure stories or mysteries. Not only is it nice to escape into a different world with different people and different problems, it is also nice to see those problems get solved.

Here’s the thing though, even nice books have value beyond mere entertainment. Whether consciously constructed or not, narratives contain the observations and reflections of their author. They are stories about people living with other people. They contain insight and knowledge about human behviour, our relationships with ourselves and others, our desires, strengths, and weaknesses. A novel is a response to the experiences an author has had and the observations they have made. They contain magic, and though this magic is unlikely to reverse climate change, novels can still teach us something about ourselves and the world we live in.

Novels have purpose.

A well-crafted and thoughtful novel that asks hard questions may not alter the general public opinion, but it can cause a shift within a reader. You may choose to write a dystopian novel based on scientific fact about where we’re heading environmentally, or you may write a speculative fiction novel about what the world would look like if women became infertile (The Handmaids Tale – Margarett Attwood), or if we intentionally used clones as a means for organ harvesting (Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro). Stories such as these act as a type of role play. They allow us to ponder and explore potential future spaces. If we continue to remain passive about particular issues, what will happen? Additionally, they provide a container for our personal and social fears. Not only is the writer able to unburden themselves, but it also allows the reader to experience their innermost fears while remaining within the safe, imaginary confines of a story.

The world may have a lot of problems, but when has it not.

If you’re still struggling to justify your need to create art, perhaps my final point will convince you. When we look back on the type of art that was produced at any given moment in history, we can see the prominent concerns of that time through the themes, structures, and styles that are repeated across different works by different artists. We need to write stories that capture this moment in time. That explore our societal concerns. That showcase our collective psyche. Artists need to make their contribution to the historical record because we have skills that scientists and politicians don’t have. We can take incompressible problems and present them in a consumable format that will make you feel something, and that is a very special skill indeed.

Why Writers are so Obsessed with Process

Whenever two or more writers find themselves in a room together, there are a handful of topics that inevitably bubble to the surface: money, publishing, current projects, favourite authors, latest reads, and most importantly, process.

If you are new to creative writing and developing your craft, an interest in other writers’ habits is understandable. We’ve all been a beginner at some point in our lives and we all know that the best way to develop our own skills is to learn off someone who can do the thing that we want to do. Of course, it’s also advisable that you actually practice the craft you intend to become good at.

If you want to learn the piano, you go to a piano teacher. If you want to learn another language, you take classes or buy an audiobook. Whenever a known author is interviewed, questions regarding their process inevitably arise. You could say that ‘Tell us about your writing routine’ is the literary equivalent of talking about the weather, but this frivolous question serves as more than a mere icebreaker because within this small request lies a myriad of even smaller questions:

  • Do you write in the morning or at night?
  • Do you write longhand or use a computer?
  • Are you a pantser or a plotter?
  • Where do you prefer to write?
  • Do you aim for a specific word count, page count or a set number of hours each day/week/month?
  • Do you research before, during or after the first draft?

Writers have a lot of questions when it comes to process, but this fascination is not limited to newbies.

Two years ago, Charlotte Wood, a successful and established author herself, released her book The Writer’s Room. Here, Wood has curated a myriad of insightful interviews between herself and some of Australia’s best-known authors. Though the content of each conversation varies, Wood always encourages her interviewee to talk about their writing process. Though some authors respond to such probing questions vaguely (perhaps because their process is loose or frequently changing), others describe their rigid or elaborate routines in fine detail.

These conversations were initially only available online. However, the interviews were so popular that the publication of a print edition became viable, which proves just how hungry writers are for this conversation. We don’t want to read these insightful interviews on our laptops and forget about them, we want a physical copy that we can highlight, dog-ear, and return to again and again whenever we need a touch of guidance or inspiration. Writers not only love talking about process, they love reading about it too.

Despite the almost cliché nature of the topic, writers continue to ask each other questions about process. Fortunately, we’re also happy to answer them. Sometimes these answers are dull and predictable, but sometimes they are surprising, ingenious, and entertaining. By exposing ourselves to other writer’s approaches, we may gain insight into our own creative routine or learn new techniques that can be adopted into our own practice.

Our continuing obsession with creative practice is driven by our need to understand how writing works. We’re all looking for a way to articulate what can sometimes feel like a very mysterious and fickle practice. All artists struggle to explain how they transformed an idea into a creative artefact. This discussion of process helps give shape to what can otherwise be perceived as an almost mystical unfolding.

That being said, the question of process also contains a subtle and self-conscious subtext: “Is your process better than mine? If I adopt your habits, will I become a better writer?” Deep down, we all hold the same subconscious belief: there is a secret to writing, we just need to find it.

However, discovering this secret is impossible as every author has a different answer. Lee Child writes his Jack Reacher novels without an outline and without revision (jerk). Stephen King is a panster too, but he typically produces three drafts of each novel and prefers to write at home. J.K. Rowling using outlines and writes where and whenever she can.

In terms of hours clocked, Maile Meloy, Kate Morton and Steven Pressfield stick with two to four hours a day (typically in the morning). Others like Chuck Wendig, Dani Shapiro, and Margaret Atwood keep standard working hours, starting at nine in the morning and finishing at five in the afternoon.

Despite advances in technology, we are still weighing the pros/cons of longhand vs typing. Jackie Collins writes all her books by hand, as does Quentin Tarantino; two names I never thought I’d see in the same sentence! Joe Hill writes his first draft by hand, but then edits the work while typing the second draft, and J.K. Rowling has experimented with both longhand and typing.

Every writer’s process is different, and yet we keep asking the same question. We keep searching for some kind of hack in the hope that there is a hack. We want to hear a clever sound bite that promises an easier way to get inside our own story. One simple tool or word of advice that will guarantee our success.

No one wants to hear, “just write.” No one wants to hear, “if you do the work, the work gets done.” No one wants to hear, “finish writing the novel, edit it, email it out and maybe you’ll get published.”

When asked about her own process, Elizabeth Strout recounted a conversation with her neighbour who had just finished painting his apartment. When she’d finished gushing over this domestic accomplishment and complimenting him on the tremendous achievement of painting an entire apartment by himself, he replied: “There’s no magic to it.”

The same can be said of writing: there is no magic, you just do it.

A Glimpse

Written by Alexander Greco

May 10, 2019

The monk walked me through the sunlit hallways of our retreat facility. It was a sprawling wooden building, something like a minimalist’s fortress-temple in the middle of the woods. My guide was a young Tibetan man around my age who’d immigrated to America, and began working at these retreats while still studying Buddhism. I got to know him a little while we talked at the orientation, several days before I went on the five-hour drive to the middle of the North Pacific forests. Now, however, there was no talking between us.

The monk walked me through the compound, silently weaving through a honeycomb of stained wood and white painted walls. I tried to keep track of our path through this building, but I quickly lost track of where I was at. Eventually, I was brought to the door of my room—the small, squarish space with one small bed, a nightstand, a clock, and a window. No lamp, no mirror, no personal bathroom—nothing.

The monk opened the door to my small bedroom for me, and I walked inside. The monk held up two fingers. I nodded. The group meditation would begin in two hours. I closed the door behind me, then turned to my room and looked around. There wasn’t much to look at. I took off my backpack, and sat down on the floor, not entirely sure what to do.

I folded my legs, and shimmied around a bit, until I felt I was in a comfortable position. Then I closed my eyes. And I sat there in silence.

I was very self-conscious of myself there. I’d only been practicing meditation for the last year. I’d never gone to a retreat like this before. The fact that I was here, sitting on the ground. It filled my mind. I was sitting still, in a building full of people I don’t know. On this hardwood floor, in the middle of the woods, in complete silence. For ten days. Somehow, this was all supposed to “work”.

My mind stretched across those ten days, watching a small fraction of infinity unfurl. For ten days, I would be that small infinity, stretching on. For ten days, I would be completely silent. For ten days, I would be completely silent, in a building in the middle of nowhere, with complete strangers, all of whom were also silent. That was my existence.

In an effort to ignore the hardwood floor,

And then I wondered about why I was even here. I was here to, what, clear my mind I suppose? I was here to solve all my problems, right? I was here to fix myself, to be a happier, more wholesome person. I was here to live a better life.

I was here to be silent, to clear my head out of all this garbage, yes, yes that was it. I was going to come here to clear all that bullshit out of my head. Erase it all—that’s what meditation is for, right? It’s for clearing all the stress out, erasing the anxieties.

Yes, that’s what I was here for. That’s what I’ll do. And so I sat. And I sat. And I sat.

Breathing, yes, listen to your breathing.

So, I inhaled, and I exhaled. I inhaled. And I exhaled.

And I listened to each breath, fighting the urge to count the breaths, or make some inner commentary on how a certain breath sounded. I listened to each breath, and I felt my body as it moved, and I felt the room around me.

And I realized for the first time since I’d driven up here that it was rather humid here. I didn’t think there was any air-conditioning here—it was all open-aired, somewhat Bohemian or New Agey—but I suppose that was supposed to be the effect. Take it all in.

Just take it all…

In…

All the humidity, all the clammy hands, and all the sticky hair. All the muscle groans and strained spine, and all the ringing ear and itching nose, and all the distant insect sounds and pollen-filled air. It was all so clear, and all so simultaneously focused, and all so simultaneously distracting, and all these distractions were all so good at making me twitch or reposition, or think, and rethink, and monitor, and worry, and wonder, and walk through thoughts I’d thought days ago, wondering always, and wondering, always, “Why?”

And why was I in this room?

Yes, yes, I know, I’d gone through the list myself. We’ve gone over this, to clear this trash from my head.

Then why aren’t you doing that? Look, you’re thinking, you’re not supposed to be thinking.

Then stop!

Hey, calm down, it’s okay. Calm down, we’re here to get rid of the stress.

Right, right, you’re right.

Big breaths.

Big breaths.

In, out.

In, out.

Clear your mind.

Yes, I’m clearing my mind.

Okay, good, good.

Clearing my mind. Clearing my mind. Clearing my mind.

And for moments, there was silence.

I listened to my breathing. I felt the sensation of my skin. And I quieted my mind from all the internal clutter.

I could feel the thoughts threaten to erupt—like a violin bow coming dangerously close to the string—but I did not think any thoughts.

Oh, but how they silently hummed, and how the tear of a squealing note almost escaped several times. How the thoughts tried to be thunk. How the long tensions threatened to erupt.

If only I could think just one thought, I thought, and maybe just pay attention to that thought. Focus, right, and don’t think about anything else? So I sat and thought, well, what one thing would I want to think?

Bills? Love life? My life goals? What I want to do next week?

What was the most important thing I could be thinking about?

Well, I could be thinking about any number of important things, and god there were so many important things to choose from—and so many important things that overlapped in ways where you couldn’t think about one without the other (and god, were those things the worst!—those nests of spiteful misfortune and bad luck, where filthy, diseased hydras lurk in swamps of modern grievance).

Car insurance, rent, scholarships, grants, loans and debt and bills and credit, and repainting the bathroom walls so it wouldn’t come out of my deposit, and my statistics class I’d be taking when the semester began, and the spot where my hair has begun to thin (I’m only barely 21 now), and did all the booze and late night cigarettes do it? Was it all the stress, compounding onto one another? And wouldn’t all that stress affect everything else I had to do? Wouldn’t the raised cortisol, the difficulty sleeping, the straining brain, and the constant drag of anxiety ruin the rest of my life? And what would my mom think? What if I don’t do well in classes? What if the last few years were simply a fluke, and it would all fall apart spectacularly in the next year? One stumbled test, and I might be reeling for the rest of the year—who knows what might happen? Who know what rock I might break my ankle on? Oh, god, a broken ankle. Imagine an actual broken ankle. What in the world would I do? Who knows what river current might drag me down while I’m still padding through this mess without a boat? And then what would I do? What would I do for money? Where would I live? How would I live? How would I pay for the necessities of survival? How would I keep my hair from thinning if this whole world simply collapsed?

What a monster. What a hydra.

No. No, I shouldn’t think of those things. I shouldn’t dare think of those things, not while I’m here—not while I’m trying to get rid of the stress.

But maybe you should meditate on those things, maybe you could discover some deep, dark secret about the meaning of life—or something.

No, that’s not how it works—you don’t focus on the negative, you don’t get distracted with thoughts, you don’t stress yourself out.

What do you do then?

You stop worrying.

But there’s so much to worry about.

That’s why you’re here, to stop worrying, so you can go back to normal life, and…

And find all the same old worries.

Yes, perhaps, but you’ll be better equipped to—

To cope with them? To deal with them? To think about them?

…yes.

What sort of plan is this?

It’s our plan, now sit and meditate. Come on, we’ve been meditating for a year now—we’ve been trying so hard—why can’t you meditate here? Why can’t you do this? Why can’t you—

We’ve been half-ass meditating. We came here to get better at meditation.

Right, right—that’s right! We came here to get better at meditation, so we could meditate better once we went back.

And look at how well we’re doing.

It’s only been [I opened my eyes and looked at the clock]—

It’s been twenty minutes. Of sitting.

It’s been twenty whole minutes? [I was still staring at the clock]

Twenty whole minutes.

But… But we’ve barely been meditating.

Yeah.

Like… No, really, we’ve barely begun.

Twenty minutes.

What will we be like in 10 days?

What will we be like in another twenty minutes?

I was in fact silent now.

My brain sort of stopped. I felt a small amount of panic. A somber, frantic sort of remorse.

I’d already fucked up, hadn’t I?

I’d fucked up from birth, I was sure of that now.

This life had been one long tunnel of fuck-ups leading to this fuck up, I’d realized that.

I was born into the mouths of the hydra. At the hospital, they must have been smiling in wait between my mother’s legs.

Two heads bit onto my feet and pulled me out. All the others wrapped around my body, and they’ve been constricting just tightly enough that I’ve been gasping for air, but I can’t do anything to stop them.

And now, you can’t even sit down to meditate.

Well, give it a try, I told myself, we have ten days to figure this out—we’ve only been here twenty minutes—

Half an hour.

—and we’ve been practicing for a year—

Half ass practicing.

Ten minutes passed by? [I looked back at the clock]

Yupp.

How? What happened?

You were thinking.

But… but I wasn’t even thinking about anything that mattered. Why… What am I doing?

The hydra squeezed until my spine cracked. A numbing, irritating, cold, hot sensation rose from my pelvis. I could feel it spread like wings near my kidneys, and a hellish winter breath billowed up my throat and into my head. My eyes watered from the chill and the burn, and the gripping, grasping, constricting pressure of a thousand worries. I couldn’t keep the rain from raining.

It won’t leave me alone, will it? There’s no escape.

No, maybe there’s not. But we’re here now. We’re right here, in this room, sitting on a stranger’s floor in a stranger’s forest. So, try.

And, so, I did.

I sat. I closed my eyes. And I didn’t think.

For a long time, I could still feel the great beast engulfing me in its gnashing, burning, frigid pressure. Its teeth lazily tore at my body like a pack of wild dogs. The furnace in its belly burnt my eyes, and the rain wouldn’t stop raining. But I just sat there, and let myself feel it.

I felt my body. I felt myself resting on the ground. I felt my chest rising and falling, rising and falling. And I felt the world smothering me in its infinite coils.

And then I felt the air against my skin. I watched the light hitting my closed eyelids. I mapped the movements of quiet sounds.

I sat there, feeling the world, feeling myself, feeling whatever my mind thought I should feel. And I sat there for second after second, minute after minute, feeling and watching and waiting, and giving in to the world I felt. Perhaps, I thought, if I did this long enough, I might feel the Earth spinning in the void. If I watched myself long enough, I might watch myself sleep in the soil. If I listened long enough, I might hear the sound of nothing.

And suddenly, I felt the coils no longer.

I was silent.

And all I saw was black. All I saw were the back of my eyelids cutting the sunlight of the rest of the cosmos off from my pupils, severing the beams of oceans of photons. All I saw was the flesh of the back of my eyelid, staring back at me.

And I decided to embrace the silence—that’s all I could do really—and fill myself with it, and feel myself in it, and watch myself feeling it.

But there was still nothing.

Only silence.

Perhaps a calm.

But not a happy calm.

Not a victorious calm.

Not an enlightened calm.

Just less blustery winds.

And I still wasn’t sure what I was doing there.

But I embraced that.

And, nonetheless, I sat.

And sat.

And sat.

And stared at my eyelids.

And then I tried something different.

I decided to focus on the darkness inside my eyes. I tried to focus on the silence in my ears. I tried to focus on the emptiness in my head.

All my attention of the world around me waned, and my awareness of the world inside my head blossomed. Slowly, the reality in my head eclipsed the reality outside my head. Slowly. Slowly. Slowly the moon crossed over the Sun.

And there was only the silence, the dark, and the emptiness, with fringe coronas of an external reality.

Everything was still. Everything was empty. Everything was nothing.

Silence.

Pure, pure silence.

And then, there was a humming.

A ringing.

A keening.

A crashing.

A baying.

A billowing.

A howling storm inside a vast empty cavern—a numb, midnight-blue, frigid hellfire of silence.

And then it went quiet. And there was nothing there.

Nothing…

And then…

I saw something.

Eyes. Staring at me.

I opened my own eyes. There was just the room around me. Nothing more.

I closed my eyes again. And I was in the void of my head. And there I saw the eyes again.

Violet and indigo, and ultraviolet and gamma-ray eyes. They were glowing eyes in the dark, staring into mine, beaming into the holes in my skull like two supernovas focused at my retina—beaming a crashing river of thoughts into my head. It was so much information, all streaming into my thoughts, or perhaps it was my thoughts streaming into my thoughts, wreathing in quilts of the color spectrum that danced and hummed and shook and shattered.

It was the Truth. I don’t know how I knew; I don’t know what told me so, I don’t know why I believed it, I don’t know what caused me to believe it, but I knew it to be so.

I saw the Truth staring at me with indigo and ultraviolet eyes. I saw myself staring back at me. I saw my self in and of myself. I saw my eyes looking into my eyes. Between my eyes and my eyes, between the black holes staring into our black holes, where all the light disappeared into our retina, was an infinite space. Between my self and I was an infinite mirror, an infinite, lightless pit, and an infinite, empty space. There, in the space between our eyes. That was the Truth.

Something greater than myself, something greater that I was a part of, rose in the space between our eyes. It was a vast thing, a voluminous thing, a cascading and rampant thing. It was the hydra, but it was something more. It was a machine that grew between my self and I like wildfires and swarms of ants—a machine made of letters and numbers, and the crawling insects that formed the shifting architecture carried grammatical nuts and bolts, and division rods, and axles of integration, and the wildfires carried seeds of trees in screaming hands of industrial decorum. My skull bulged at its limits—squeezing diamonds of quilted thought, pushing at the cage around my brain—as I witnessed the mechanisms of gods and daemons and artificers of cosmic muse, and of the architecture that remains ignorantly omniscient and blindly omnipotent.

For a moment, only the briefest moment, I was my self, and I was the universe staring back at its self through an astronaut’s suit of carbon, iron, calcium, oxygen, lipids, proteins, and strings of chemical archives.

And then I opened my eyes.

And I was in my room again.

There was a knock on the door.

It was time to go meditate with the others.

The Rock Music of Argentina

Article Written by Alexander Greco

With Lucas Galeano

May 7, 2019

Stay until the end for a list of recommended music.

Argentine Crowd at a Pearl Jam Concert

I was hooked on Argentina when I watched a clip of Pearl Jam live in La Plata, Argentina. I’ve never seen anything quite like a few thousand Argentines losing their minds to Even Flow. I watched this, and realized there was something special about Argentina.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Lucas Galeano, a rock enthusiast from Argentina, with a rock broadcast page on Instagram. We talked at length over email, and I got to pick his brains on Argentine rock—its history, its influences, its passion, and where it is today.

“The musical culture of Argentina is very broad and has many influences due to the large number of migrations that came from different parts of Europe—it is a mixture that acquired its own identity. …there were many Spanish, Italian, French, German, Polish and Portuguese influences. They came from many different countries at different times, but culturally the strongest influences were the Spanish and Italian.”

Argentina was settled by the Spanish monarchy in the 16th century, and officially declared its independence in 1816. After years of civil war, Argentina emerged as a modern, federal nation. In the late 19th century, Argentina enacted liberal-economic policies, and promoted large-scale European immigration. By 1908, Argentina was one of the most prominent countries, and by the 50’s and 60’s, Argentina was booming with American rock music.

“[In Argentina] we are already talking about rock music in the 1950’s with the explosion of rock in the United States. The local bands had their first influences, but they just covered [the American bands]. In the 1960’s, there is a lot of influence of beat music. The bands that most stand out from that time are Los Gatos, Almendra, the beginning of Sui Generis, and Pappo. They all exploded in the 70’s.”

The Argentine Dictatorship of ’76 – ’83 was marked with violence, censorship, missing persons, and a decreased standard of living.

This explosion of music coincided with a military dictatorship in Argentina, which lasted until 1983. This dictatorship was responsible for the deaths and disappearances of thousands of people, and for the censorship of journalists and musicians.

“Argentina had a long time of the twentieth century dictatorships. It affects a lot in the psychological sense, since lack of freedom is not just damaging to a person; it is damaging to a country. At that time, it was a hard blow also for the disappearances that there were in the country… there was no freedom of the press. If you went out at night without authorization, they took you prisoner.

“It was a very hard blow for the country. Many musicians had to leave the country, and those who remained sent hidden messages in their songs to avoid problems with the regime. That was extremely risky. If [the government] found out, they were killed.

“The messages of the musicians are subtle in their songs. If they have noticed something, they censor the lyrics or, directly, they ban the song. The majority of rock of the 70’s Argentineans are letters in double sense. Everything they said had a different meaning. The Charly Garcia stands out first and foremost. The public song called ‘The Dinosaurs’. He said in the lyrics that the friends of the neighborhood can disappear, but the dinosaurs are going to disappear. The dinosaurs were a metaphor for the military, but they did not realize it.”

It was a boom of joy, and was represented in their songs. In the eighties the music was very happy. The lives of the people changed, but the economic present of the country was not good. It was hard to live every day, but the Argentine was happy.”

Los Gatos in their Early Years

…when democracy returned, [the country] felt a boom of joy that was transmitted in music.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances surrounding this boom, the music that came from the late 60’s up to the early 80’s shaped Argentine music into something truly unique.

A Young Litto Nebbia

One of the first major original Argentine bands, Los Gatos, was formed in the late 1960’s. Their debut album was the first Argentine rock band to locally out-sell American and British records, and this has been considered the birth of Argentine rock. However, when a new dictatorship arose in 1976, Litto Nebbia, the lead singer of Los Gatos, fled the country and took refuge in Mexico. Eventually, Litto was able to move back to his home country, though it would not be for several years.

Other major Argentine bands of the time were Vox Dei, Sui Generis, and Almendra.

Vox Dei

Vox Dei (Voice of God) began in 1967, and is the first Argentine rock band to have created a concept album, titled “The Bible” (1971). Vox Dei produced 10 albums in the 1970’s, and a total of 19 albums between 1970 and 2015. They were also one of the first progressive rock and psychedelic rock groups, as well as the first Argentine rock-opera band.

Charly Garcia and Nito Mestre

Sui Generis is a folk and progressive rock band formed in 1971, and is considered one of the most influential Argentine bands of all time. Sui Generis was formed by Nito Mestre and the aforementioned legend, Charly Garcia. The band originally played experimental psychedelic music, but eventually found a voice in the folk genre.

Charly Garcia would go on to form other legendary Argentine bands, such as Seru Giran, La Maquina de Haver Pajaros, and PorSuiGieco. Beginning in the 80’s Charly Garcia became a highly successful solo act, and has put out several albums that experiment with jazz, folk, synthpop, lo-fi, and, of course, hard rock and experimental rock. Many of his albums are comparable to the musical experimentation of Radiohead, The Cure, and Beck.

Almendra

Almendra is another Argentine band of the 60’s to experiment with psychedelic rock, folk music and progressive rock. Almendra has often been compared to The Beatles, and though they broke up in 1970, their first two albums—Almendra and Almendra II—revolutionized the Argentine music scene. After splitting, members of the band formed new groups—Aquellarre, Color Humano, and Pescado Rabioso. The lead vocalist—Luis Alberto Spinetta—would go on to be another highly successful solo act.

These artists, and several others, changed music in Argentina forever. Just like the music revolutions of America and the UK, Argentine music began evolving in the 70’s and the 80’s, especially with the fall of the dictatorship in ’83. From this came new, dynamic artists, with influences spanning across American and British pop, classical European music, and Latin dance music (the Tango, in particular).

“You have many popular Argentine artists who were on e very popular artists throughout Latin America. Classics [I] would say Charly Garcia, Seru Giran Gustavo Cerati, Soda Stereo, Luis Alberto Spinetta, Pappo, Renga, the “Indian” Solari. Contemporary artists, very good bands that are already playing, [include] Las Pelotas, Divided, The Pills of the Grandfather, Ciro and the Persians, Babasonicos, You Point Me, [and] The Decadents, there are many.

“Today is difficult, because there are many very good bands, but I Stayed With You to Point out to Me, The State of the Motorized Police, the Plan of the Butterfly, [and] Crossing the Puddle.”

Las Pelotas (The Balls, or Bollocks!) began in the 80’s, and contains elements of hard rock, 90’s psychedelia and 80’s synth and FX. In addition, some of their songs use Latin rhythms and chord progressions, as well as elements of funk, blues, reggae, folk and punk. They’re an incredibly dynamic and fun band to listen to.

Las Pastillas de Abuelo Live

Las Pastillas de Abuelo (The Pills of the Grandfather) is an urgent, driving fusion of hard rock, latin music and jazz, and god damn did I like their music. This band may be one of the purest fusion of traditional Argentine music and influences, and the rock revolutions of America and Britain. Las Pastillas de Abuelo began in the 2000’s, and contains the experimental, post-rock vibes of the time. However, this is one of those bands that transcends the genres it was born from, and becomes its own, unique type of music. It’s all at once relaxing and urgent, driving you forward with fluid grooves and huge energy.

Babasonicos is another thoroughly unique band with a great sound. In some ways, they remind me of Muse or The War on Drugs, in other ways they remind me of Alt-J and The Flaming Lips, and they also remind me of a Latin crossbreed between Guns and Roses, Beck and The Beatles. In other words, they’re really difficult to pin down…

…but I love it.

They’re their own incredibly unique band, with their own eclectic mix of Latin-folk, electronica, classic rock, dream-pop, and psychedelia. They’re funky. They’re heavy. They’re psychedelic. They’re absurd. They’re deeply emotional. They’re overall fantastic. I highly recommend this band, they’re fucking crazy.

In addition to these bands, Argentina has a huge variety of contemporary artists who deserve a listen. I listened to at least a couple dozen contemporary Argentine bands, and I kind of loved every band I listened to. However, for the sake of time, I narrowed down my current five favorites (though there’s still a lot to explore).

archipielagos self-titled EP

archipielagos is a math rock band that experiments with all kinds of styles and sounds. Their music includes odd meter, dynamic and complex rhythms, beautiful polyphonic melodies, and experimental composition. While the songs are primarily instrumental, the vocals we do hear are gut-wrenching yells, dreamy, crooning laments, and lo-fi sampling. Their music is similar to bands like American Football, Hella, Foxing, and Tiny Moving Parts, though this band is already developing a distinct voice. They are a pretty fresh and developing band, and have the potential to be a truly unique group if they continue down the path they’ve begun.

Las Ligas Menores

Las Ligas Menores (The Minor Leagues) is a bittersweet mix of garage rock and dream pop. Their music maintains a driving yet not frantic rhythm, matched by calmly-energized guitar riffs that dance on the edge of clean and bright melodies, and big, heavy walls of distortion. They play with a youthful energy similar to bands like The Strokes and Florence + The Machine, but mix it with the synth and distortion of bands like New Order and My Bloody Valentine.

El Mato a Un Policia Motorizado

El Mato a Un Policia Motorizado (That Boy Killed a Motorized Police) is a pretty popular post-punk/rock outfit stylized by drifting, spaced out melodies and punk-infused noise rock. Their music is a carnival of shoegazing pedal-work and electronica. If you go far enough back into their discography, you find a heavier punk core, similar to the now-legendary sounds of Cap’n Jazz and Sunny Day Real Estate. Their newer albums however explore a wide breadth of sound, and broaden their compositional toolkit.

Harm & Ease

Harm & Ease takes a much different approach stylistically than the other bands I’ve talked about. Harm & Ease mixes hard, romping blue-rock with powerful, soulful vocals. This band is a mix of heavy blues, grungy, energetic soul-music, and a gritty folk twang. On top of this already-dynamic sound is a psychedelic veneer reminiscent of the Doors and the Flaming Lips. Harm & Ease is groovy, powerful and unique, and god damn, what a voice this guy’s got.

Riel’s Sueno Electrico album

Riel is an incredibly well-executed balance of 90’s indie rock, 80’s post-punk, and contemporary garage and blues-rock. Mixing the dissonant, heavy sounds of Sonic Youth and Nirvana, the jangling walls of 80’s reverb, and the stomping intensity of bands like White Stripes and Arctic Monkeys, Riel creates a landscape of churning, crashing noise one moment, then a drifting, dreamy river of reverb the next moment. Riel’s music is a sunny drive with the windows down, a waterfall of percussion and shredding, and a journey into the Great Beyond of distorted feedback.

Like I said, there’s a huge list of Argentine rock music that I’ve only just begun to explore. If you listen to these bands and enjoy them, by all means, do some exploring of your own. You’ll never know what sort of bands you’ll find.

Now, I wouldn’t be doing Argentina justice if I didn’t talk about their live music scene. It’s wild.

In addition to listening to hours and hours of Argentine rock spanning from the 1960’s to the 2010’s, I’ve also watched at least 2-3 hours of footage from rock concerts in Argentina, and it’s fucking crazy. Thousands of people are jumping up and down, and chanting, and singing. You can see the band members’ eyes light up when they play for Argentine crowds, and it has this massive effect on the band’s energy. Sometimes, the Argentinean crowds seem to take over the entire concerts, by beginning a song on their own, or singing so loudly they’re almost competing for volume with the band onstage.

As my friend, Lucas, explained, “The concerts in Argentina have a lot of adrenaline. And that adrenaline is from the beginning of the recital until it ends. Here we sing the solos of guitar, piano, saxophone, whatever. Sometimes the same audience invents songs for the bands that give life to the show.”

“I have seen many interviews with musicians from other countries, and they are fascinated by the attitude of the Argentine public in relation to artists. If you are a musician and want to record a video, the best place to go is always Argentina.

“Once I went to a festival here. I met a Peruvian and he said, ‘I can not believe the energy they have, I do not give more and you continue, I can not keep up with your rhythm’.”

There is a deep passion in Argentina for music and live performance. There is a love for the energy and the wildness of music. There is a love for the beauty and the complexity of music. There is a love for the craft and the showmanship of music; a love of playing, a love of experimenting, a love of coming together as a group, a love of the power music has on you, and love of the freedom of music.

Argentina is a nation with a history of struggling for freedom, battling for its sovereignty, and rising up as a nation of individuals. I’ve seen pictures of beautiful nations, and I’ve seen art from distant lands, but there’s something special about listening to music that feels entirely individualistic. When I listen to Argentine music, I think what drew me in the most was the sound of each, individual musician being empowered through their music. It’s beautiful to listen to.

To end this, here is my list of recommended Argentine musicians and songs:

For early music and classic rock:

  • Los Gatos

One of the first major Argentine bands to become popular. Their debut album out-performed American and British records in Argentina, and their first record is considered to be the birth of Argentine rock.

  • Favorite Album:

Seremos Amigos

  • Favorite Songs:

La Balsa

Quizas No Comprendan

Manana

  • Sui Generis

A legendary duo of two highly-influential Argentine musicians, Nito Mestre and Charly Garcia. These two would go on to start several other bands, as well as successful solo projects.

  • Favorite Album:

Vida

  • Favorite Songs:

Cancion para Mi Muerte

Rasguna Las Piedras

Confesiones De Invierno

  • Almendra

Considered by some to be the Argentine Beatles, though they have a sound and style that is quite distinct from the Beatles. This band revolutionized Argentine music.

  • Favorite Album:

En Obras I y II

  • Favorite Songs:

Color Humano

Ana No Duerme

Muchacha (Ojos de Papel)

For 80’s to the early 00’s

  • Las Pelotas

This band implements the best of 90’s rock, 80’s and 90’s synth/FX, Latin fusion, and elements of jazz and reggae.

  • Favorite Album:

Amor Seco

  • Favorite Songs:

Si Superias

Astroboy

Hola Que Tal

  • Las Pastillas del Abuelo

2000’s post-rock fusion band. They blend a wide variety of influences, including heavy rock, folk music, and traditional Argentine music.

  • Favorite Album:

Desafios

  • Favorite Songs:

Incontinencia Verbal

Viejo Karma!

Ojos de Dragon!

  • Babasonicos

A highly experimental 90’s and 00’s band. They mix hardcore rock with punk, psychedelic blues, electronica, and folk-rock.

  • Favorite Album:

Vortice Marxista

  • Favorite Songs:

Larga Siesta

Desarmate

El Loco

For contemporary bands:

  • El Mato Un Policia Motorizado

Popular 00’s and 10’s band. Roots in punk and hardcore rock, though they progressively experiment with more and more synth, psychedelia, space-rock, and dream-pop.

El Mato A Un Policia Motorizado

Guitarra Comunista

Mas O Menos  Bien

La Noche Eterna

  • Harm & Ease

Powerful and dynamic fusion of folk, funk, soul, punk and blues. They mix huge, stomping sounds with roaring vocals.

  • Favorite Album:

Black Magic Gold

  • Favorite Songs:

Run Back

Save Me from Myself

Cosmic Measure

  • Riel

Driving and dreamy mix of post-punk, psychedelic blues/garage rock, and 90’s indie rock.

  • Favorite Album:

Sueno Electrico

  • Favorite Songs:

Vertiginosamente

Nocturno

Merienda

The Art of Lauren Power

Written by Alexander Greco

April 22, 2019

Lauren with her children’s book, “A is for Art”

Hailing from Houston, TX, Lauren Power is a mother, an art and art history teacher at Waltrip High School, and the creator of uniquely beautiful and grotesque artwork. In much of her work, Lauren aims at pairing vivid colors and imagery—such as animals, flowers, and women—with dark, unsettling, and at times disgusting imagery—intestines, bones, brains, hearts and other organs. However, her pieces have a wide range of style, subject matter, and medium—ranging from painting, to digital art, to tattoo work.


Eye in Mouth
Watercolor
2018


Lauren’s art blends the technical work of realism, experiments with color theory, and elements of surrealism to create these oddly intoxicating images. All at once, her art hits us with the mesmerizing beauty of nature, the strangeness of dream-like visuals, and a train wreck we can’t look away from.

“I’ve always enjoyed flowers and highly saturated colors, but I often pair them with internal organs or dark backgrounds. I feel my work can be both hideous and beautiful at the same time, but that’s mostly what interests me. The contrasts we experience in this world of the pretty façade hiding a sinister ulterior.”

“Kiss of Death”
Oil on Linen Canvas
2019

Lauren’s work blurs the line between the things we love and adore, and the things we fear or loathe. In her piece, “Kiss of Death”, she molds a severed heart into a face with seductive lips, and frames it with dark and cool tones, which contrasts attraction and revulsion.

“…originally [I] had sat down to paint a rose. While sketching, that rose evolved into deadly nightshade flowers and I kept thinking about that type of toxic love that tricks you with her beauty, but will ultimately destroy you. This heart is both seductive and deadly, contrasting the vibrant greens and lush pink.”

Lauren—who has been happily married for nearly 10 years—created this piece to show how some people fall head-over-heels for people that eventually hurt them. Sometimes we become entranced by someone we hardly know. Other times we fall in love with a false identity that someone has created, or we fall in love with a false identity that we fabricated in our heads. Whether through this person’s manipulation, their card-castle of lies, or through seeing the person with sober clarity, these relationships eventually collapse.

In other pieces, we see an outpouring of emotion, and the inner tension we often feel as we bury our emotions deeper into our psyche.

“Rainbow Guts”
Watercolor, India Ink, and Gel Pen on Paper
2019


“Rainbow Guts” is about the insecurities and anxieties that wrack us from the inside out. Whether we feel worthless in the eyes of others, or feel like those we love and care about don’t love us back, we often find ourselves wondering if anyone truly accepts us as who we are. And even beyond this, life is filled with doubts and hurtles and uncertain times.

For the most part, we try to shield these troubles and insecurities from friends, family and co-workers, so as not to worry them with. However, this often comes at a cost to us, as the more we bury our emotions, the more our emotions strive to burst forth.

“The week I made this, I was experiencing a lot of anxiety. This is what I imagined you would see if you cut me open and looked inside—a twisting mess of color and confusion.”

“Dreams”
Multimedia
2015

In “Rainbow Guts”, we see a small storm of different colors, and often when we bottle ourselves up, even the things that make us happy, content or excited become muddied up with our anxieties and frustrations. It becomes difficult to differentiate between our fears and our desires, our love and our hate, and our doubts and our hopes. When the storms of emotions inside us become too much, often the best way to get rid of them is to let it all out and find some way to express the convoluted thoughts we have. (Meditation and morning runs help too.)

With “Electric Heart”, Lauren uses grotesque imagery to create a sense of masculinity, and frames the heart in black, which gives it a sense of detachment or isolation. This grotesque and isolated heart stares up at the world above it, or perhaps at the world outside of it. Oftentimes men have difficulties expressing themselves, or repress their thoughts or feelings. However, the feeling of being isolated inside our own minds is something universal. We often feel vulnerable when revealing how we truly feel or think.

“Electric Heart”
Water Color and Gel Pen on Paper
2019

“I inherently like pretty things like flowers… …but I often try to combine them with masculine elements. For me, hard elements like bones or grotesque things like internal organs seem very masculine to me… …I feel like the grotesque represents all the things we hold inside, that we internalize and compartmentalize. That is an inherently masculine activity, concealing one’s emotions inside, whereas the feminine is more open and up front about feelings.”

What fearsome, repulsive, or hard personas do we put up to shield our vulnerabilities inside? For a lot of us, it’s almost instinctual to conceal our inner selves. We don’t know how to drop our hardened, angry, absurd or serious personas, and reveal our true dreams, doubts and ideas.

Beyond her work with the grotesque, the surreal, and the introspective, Lauren has experimented with various mediums, and with her use of color theory. In addition to traditional oil and watercolor, and drawing, Lauren uses alcohol markers, gel pens, microns and India ink. Lauren has even tried her hand at tattoo-work, and has written a children’s book.

“Garden Skull”
Alcohol Marker, Watercolor, and Micron on Paper
2018

With “Garden Skull”, Lauren uses a mix of watercolor, micron pens, and alcohol markers to create a haunting and beautiful skull.

“I just love the graphic nature, saturation, and blendability of alcohol markers. I was previously super involved in watercolor, but couldn’t get the clean saturation that I now get from copics and Prismacolor markers.”

In “Smokey Eye”, Lauren mixes alcohol markers and microns with gel pens. What I personally liked about this piece is how the linework, the colors, and the places where she used gel pen all seem disconnected from each other, like they were physically laid on top of each other, but not actually the same image. And yet, despite this, they still complimented each other a formed a dazzling whole.

“Smokey Eyes”
Alcohol Marker, Micron and Gel Pen
2019

While working on this surreal and glamorous piece, Lauren found that “Smokey Eye” emboldened her sense of creativity.

“My past really lied in traditional painting and realism; I was enjoying the excitement of something outside of that comfort zone. I love gel pens specifically for their saturation and ability to create high contrast highlights. I fell like they give my work a sense of sparkly otherworldness.”

With “Jessica Rabbit”, Lauren plays around with form and color to produce a portrait that is strange, yet still beautiful. Lauren emphasizes this woman’s eyes and lips, while de-emphasizing other aspects of her. Lauren also matches typical hair and skin tones with more vibrant colors, which gives a sense of realism, yet also causes the colors to pop in a way we wouldn’t see in real life. This makes the subject seem more natural than the original Jessica Rabbit, but still surreal compared to someone in real life.

“Jessica Rabbit”
Oil Paint on Canvas Panel
2019


“I have a background in traditional realism painting, but lately I’ve been pushing my color theory and style… …my reference photo for this piece was actually a very soft pink. She had brown hair and was overall very regular. I enjoyed punching up the complements of turquoise and red in this one. I have a tendency to draw giant chins and small eyes, so I tried to do the opposite here to stylize the figure.”

With both “Jessica Rabbit” and “Smokey Eye”, Lauren mentioned an influence from digital art, saying, “…I do draw inspiration from their ability to stylize the figure, emphasizing eyes, saturated colors, blends, and sparkly highlights.”

However, Lauren still prefers physical mediums over digital art.

Rainbow is my Favorite Color
Gouache on Panel
2019

“I’ve been super inspired by digital art, but have more enjoyed seeing its translation in my traditional paint medium. I feel a closer connection to paint and brushes than I do a stylus… …when I actually attempted digital art, I felt very disconnected.”

As with many other things that’ve been changed with digitization, many people embrace digital artwork, but many people still prefer physical, tangible art. Of course, many artists who work with physical mediums still admire the work of digital artists, but for artists like Lauren, nothing compares to holding a paintbrush and watching a canvas come to life.

On top of all this work, Lauren found inspiration from her 2-year-old daughter to create a children’s book. Lauren’s book pairs each letter of the alphabet with a wide variety of different images and color schemes, ranging from a fauvist Jellyfish to a living Ukulele. This helps young children associate abstract letters with visual representations, and gives them something fun and creative to flip through.

“I initially made it just to print for myself and [my] daughter, but decided to publish it with Amazon KDP. I really only thought my family would end up buying it, but my friends are so supportive, they promoted it so widely that people I didn’t even know were purchasing it and leaving reviews. I even had some people ask me to autograph their copy, which really tickled me.

“The Letter R”
Alcohol Marker and Micron
2019
From “A is for Art”

“I wanted a book that focused on visuals and aesthetics. I wanted my little one (she’s 2 and a half) to have to sort of guess what each letter represented. There’s some pretty out there references like Z for Zap and Q for Quiet. It is currently my daughter’s favorite book, she calls it the mommy book, as it has my picture on the back cover.”

Though much of Lauren’s work focuses on the ugly and grotesque, the real and surreal, Lauren also draws inspiration from her daughter, her loving husband, and the beauty of the world around her. The inspiration that Lauren takes from the world, she also gives back out to her family, friends, students and fans.

If you haven’t seen the rest of her work on Instagram, I would highly recommend checking it out (@artistlaurenpower), and you can find her students’ artwork on Instagram as well (@waltripvisualarts). If you like her work, let her know and give her a follow. If you’re interested in her book, you can find it at www.amazon.com/dp/1790918030. Lauren has also designed graphics for tee-shirts, which you can find at https://www.teepublic.com/user/artistlaurenpower.

“I ❤ You”
Dropper Paint
2018

What is the Digital Economy? And Where is it Going?

By Alexander Greco

April 8, 2019

The Digital Economy is a sleeping giant, and it’s still waking up. The internet has only been in its current form for a few decades, but already we’ve seen the rise and fall of massive tech companies, tremendous shifts in society, and a new era of business and economics. The internet has become a place where anyone and everyone can have a voice, can reach out to limitless numbers of people, and can sell a product.

I started blogging a little less than a year ago, and I began realizing the internet is far more complicated than I previously imagined, and there’s far more going on beyond Facebook and Twitter. There is a vast and growing online economy and workforce, which is beginning to impact national and international economies. This is not only affecting the economy, but it’s affecting the foundations of business, the workforce, and the rules of economic engagement. This is, of course, the Digital Economy.

At its surface level, the Digital Economy is a way of making transactions with computers. However, it has grown deeper than that, into a new form of conducting business, with arising online markets, and has intertwined itself with the traditional market.

The Digital Economy can be broken into three branches:[1]

  • Infrastructure:
    • This is the foundation of the online economy, consisting of the hardware and software markets, telecommunication, online networks, and human capitol.
  • E-Business:
    • This involves the processes and operations of a business that is done online, or with computer software.
  • E-Commerce:
    • This is where goods and services are sold online, essentially the core of the Digital Economy.

Because the concepts can be somewhat abstract, I think it would be easier to understand the Digital Economy by the composition of the workforce:

Infrastructure:[2] People who develop, maintain and sell the hardware, software and telecommunication technologies for online business. This breaks into smaller categories:

  • Hardware: Those who develop and sell hardware, ranging from computers to satellite technologies.
  • Software: Those who develop and sell software to be used in both the traditional and digital economy.
  • Telecommunication: Digital infrastructure of communicating around the world (AT&T, Verizon, so forth)

Platforms (an extension of Software Infrastructure): Companies that provide the servers, hosting and platforms for online business. Many of these are the giants of the Digital Economy:

  • Web Browser: Google, Bing, Yahoo, Firefox, DuckDuckGo, and so forth.
  • Website Infrastructure: Companies such as WordPress and Squarespace, which provide the tools and resources for creating a website.
  • Hosting Platforms: These are companies that host websites, podcasts, or music and video, such Bluehost, Lysbin, and YouTube.
  • Social Platforms: These are companies like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Freelancing (typically either in Infrastructure or E-Business): Independent individuals who make a living either by doing gig work, or by setting up full-time contracts with a business online. Freelancing work can range from writing blogs and editing photography, to website development or online advertising consulting.

E-Commerce:[3] This is the bread and butter of the digital economy. This is how anyone and everyone makes money on the internet, or at least where it trickles down (or up) from. E-Commerce ranges from Amazon and Wal-Mart’s online shopping, to small, online businesses (which can range from selling graphic design services to selling cupcake recipes). The E-Commerce workforce would consist of:

  • Business owners (large or small)
  • Employees and/or freelancers involved in the business
  • Shipping and distribution of goods
  • Affiliates, partnerships and sponsorships

Now, I’m not going to delve much deeper into the topic than this, but it’s possible to fractionate the Digital Economy even more, into smaller, sub-economies:[4] [5]

  • Cultural Economy
  • Sharing Economy
  • Collaborative Economy
  • On-Demand Economy
  • Gig Economy
  • Freelance Economy
  • Peer Economy
  • Access Economy
  • Crowd Economy
  • Platform Economy

This isn’t a fully comprehensive list, but it shows the complexity of the internet’s economy, and the broadness of its utility. Throughout the Digital Economy, there are limitless niches, gigs, and positions one could have.

This is where we’ve come today, in a nutshell. A new way of life has emerged with the internet, whether by hybrid digital-physical businesses, or fully digital products and services. The thing is, we’re in the middle of something that’s been developing and changing over the last few decades, and it’s still developing and changing as we speak.

Now, in order to understand where the Digital Economy is going, I think it’s important to answer the following question:

Where did the Digital Economy come from?

(But if you’re not keen on history, you can skip this)

With the advent of computers and eventually the internet, technology and our use of technology began to change rapidly.

Modern, digital computers first began to emerge in the late 30’s and early 40’s.[6] They began as large, bulky machines that used punch-cards and plug-boards, and they mostly remained this way until the advent of microprocessors, such as the 4-bit Intel 4004 CPU, which was created in the early 70’s.[7] By the 1980’s, much more powerful CPU’s were introduced, such as the Motorola 68000 (or m68k) microprocessor.[8] The m68k went on to be used in Apple’s first Macintosh, the Sega Genesis, and the Commodore Amiga.

The first, most basic version of the internet came in 1960’s as ARPANET.[9] A number of university laboratories were given contracts from the US Department of Defense for creating “wide area networking” with computers. One such university was UCLA, which developed ARPANET and successfully used it to send a message to the Stanford Research Institution.

From there, the development of the internet continued in university labs with government money, until the Internet emerged in commercial uses. By the mid 90’s, the Internet was used with unrestricted access by the general public.

Society and computer-technology underwent revolutionary changes in this time, with things like email, instant messaging, forums, online shopping, and social networking.

The world saw AOL, then things like Amazon, eBay and Hotmail emerge in this time. In 1998, Google and PayPal were born. By 2005, we had Wikipedia, Skype, iTunes, Facebook, Podcasts, and Reddit, and then in 2006, Twitter was created. After that, the list continues on. Dropbox, Bing, Spotify, Kickstarter, Patreon, Kickstarter, Snapchat, so on and so forth.

We saw an enormous rise and fall of the internet with the Dot.com Bubble, and then a relatively rapid resurgence in the online markets.

Today, there are people who can pay their bills by sitting in front of a camera for 10 minutes a day. Today, more people listen to podcasts and watch YouTube videos than watch Television. Today, according to blogging.org, “409 million people on WordPress view more than 23.6 billion pages each month”[10] which is more than double the 169 million people who read newspapers per month.[11]

Today, three of the most powerful mega-companies of the world are Amazon, Google and Facebook, with companies like Twitter, Netflix, eBay and Spotify (among many other hyper-valuable online companies) close behind.

Today, there are also millions of lesser-known .com’s making money.[12] [13] There are 28 million small businesses in the US, and over 100,000 e-commerce businesses making $12,000 or more a year. Many individuals supplement their income with e-commerce, or support their pre-existing businesses with e-commerce.

The internet has grown into a place where anyone can make a living by their own means, and without a boss. People from freelancers to business owners are living free of upper management and punch-clocks, making their own money, and building their own lives. The internet has sprung into an oddly Libertarian economy, emerging as its own, sovereign economy, while still intertwining with the traditional economy.

And, the strangest thing is, this economy works really well. There’re issues—scams, financial risks, and learning how to use online resources—but there’s massive potential, much of which is already being seen today.

To make money online, you can work as a Freelancer doing a long list of things, such as: [14] [15]

  • Blogging
  • Teaching
  • Graphic Design
  • Photography
  • Interpretations
  • Virtual Assistants
  • Accounting
  • Online Research
  • Editing
  • Social Media Management
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Copywriting
  • Ghost Writing
  • Legal Work
  • Programming
  • Music Production
  • Podcast Production
  • Consulting
  • Website Design
  • Data Analyst
  • Consulting

And this isn’t close to a comprehensive list. This doesn’t even include YouTubers, or people who make money selling e-books, or businesses like Uber and Udemy. Some people make money simply by writing blogs about parenting, or by selling their artwork online. The list of things you can do is almost unfathomable.

Small businesses range from selling bicycles, office supplies, or nutritional supplements, to providing virtual tour guides, providing online psychological help, or selling and shipping DIY gardening kits.

This is where we are at right now. This form of online economy is growing rapidly, and this lifestyle of personal and financial sovereignty is becoming a reality for more and more people.

Now that we have a general sense of where the Digital Economy is right now, where is the Digital Economy going in the future?

The answer comes from Bitcoin. However, it’s probably not in the way that you think.

The answer isn’t cryptocurrency—though cryptocurrency has seen a rise in use over the last several years—the answer is a type of programming called “Block-Chain”, which makes cryptocurrency possible.

Block-Chain[16] [17] is a type of program that links chunks of data together (hence the name block-chain), copies itself across may different computers, so that hundreds of copies of the same piece of code exist across the internet. In order to alter that piece of code, all the computers that have that code must approve and verify the alteration, and that alteration creates a new link in the chain, rather than deleting pre-existing information

This forms the core of a high-level encryption that makes these blocks of data almost impossible to corrupt, and can programmed to perform a variety of functions, which cannot be corrupted. This made Bitcoin possible because each unit of cryptocurrency is backed by an incorruptible, secure unit of data.

However, many are now speculating on how Block-Chain could be used to revolutionize the entire internet.

Block-Chain can be used to perform secure transactions online called Smart Contracts[18], which cannot be tampered with or corrupted, and is completely transparent in its function. These Smart Contracts can be used in:

  • Online business
  • Online banking
  • Online insurance contracts
  • Online legal work
  • Online voting (thus circumventing the ballot box)
  • Online, open-sourced programming
  • And potentially much more

On the more extreme end of speculation, some believe Block-Chain could lead to:

  • Decentralization of the economy
  • Decentralization of the financial and legal sector
  • Decentralization of health care
  • Decentralization of education
  • Possible decentralization of government/military authority

This sounds somewhat radical, yes, and there’s debate on whether or not we’ll be ready for such a dramatic shift, but, just like with the Digital Economy, there’s much potential with this.

It’s difficult to speculate what life will be like with Block-Chain technology, if and when it goes into mainstream use across the internet, but many are hoping it leads to a brighter future. The hope is that this technology will usher in a more democratic, open society, with less authoritarian government-rule, more transparency, and fair, open-access economies.

At the very least, many believe Block-Chain will revolutionize the world economy, and bring us closer to a time where everyday individuals can easily participate in a decentralized global economy, where businesses and institutions become more transparent, and governments have less regulatory power over the economy.

Regardless of what may or may not happen with Block-Chain, the internet is currently a growing nebula of self-made business owners, freelance artists and professionals, and global marketplaces. The Internet and the Digital Economy that it has spawned has become a platform for anyone to carve their own path in life, without any boss but themselves.

If this sounds at all interesting to you, the next logical question would be:

How Can I Be a Part of the Digital Economy?

Here’s the thing. It’s really simple. But it’s also really complicated.

The fundamental concept of making a living online—or partially making a living—is simple. You produce a good or service, advertise in online, then you provide customers with your good or service. The process of developing your online business idea can also be relatively simple:

  • Come up with an idea
    • Blogging about parenthood
    • Selling your own brand of t-shirts
    • Starting an African trucking company (which is a real thing).
  • You come up with a plan to implement that idea
    • Figure out what your primary platform will be (personal blog, crowdfunding, social media, etc.)
    • Figure out how you’ll go about supporting or promoting that platform.
  • Then start making it happen.

It’s the making it happen that’s the difficult part, especially if you’re not super tech-savvy.

The first complication is that there are a variety of ways to join the Digital Economy.

  • Some people make a living with YouTube, but don’t have a website.
  • Some people have a website, but aren’t active on social media.
  • Some people make their money with ads.
  • Some people make their money selling products or services.
  • Some make money as assistants or freelancers.
  • Some make their money exclusively with crowdfunding.

Other people don’t even make money directly from their online presence, but instead use it to promote or advertise their physical, “real-life” business. For example, musicians might promote their music online, or put demos of songs on Soundcloud. A hotel might advertise on Facebook to attract customers. People use crowdfunding websites for charity, for developing prototypes of products, or for supplementing themselves as artists.

In addition, there’s many steps to each and every route you go on.

If you want to make a podcast, you’ll need:

  • Audio equipment you need for it
  • Editing software (and knowledge of how to use it)
  • An RSS feed
  • A site to host your podcast

With websites, you have to worry about:

  • Design
  • SEO
  • HTML, CSS and JavaScript
  • Advertisement
  • Post management
  • Website hosting

If you want to use social media for advertising, there’s a slew of things you have to consider:

  • Demographics
  • Cost to benefit ratios of paying for ads
  • Designing/planning that advertisement
  • The “organic” and “non-organic” ways of building a social media presence
  • And simply learning how to navigate the ins and outs of these different platforms.

And these are just a few sub-aspects of the Digital Economy. If any of this sounds overwhelming, no worries. It is overwhelming, but it’s not impossible.

However, because of the levels of knowledge and experience needed in the Digital Economy, many businesses outsource the work to online agencies or freelancers. Outsourced jobs include:

  • SEO Management
  • Social Media Management
  • Graphic Design
  • Web Design
  • Blogging
  • Audio and Video Editing
  • Beta-Testing
  • And so forth

Outsourcing is a great way to get work done that you might not have the ability to do on your own. While you can make a basic website on your own with Squarespace or WordPress, if you want a more customized website that fits all your needs, you might have to learn HTML, CSS and JavaScript. Or you can hire someone to make your perfect website for you.

Also, the inverse of this is that being a freelancer—the person being outsourced—can also be a great and satisfying way to make a living. Instead of being the person selling shaving razors online, you can be the person who designs the online storefront for the people selling shaving razors.

However, with anything, you get what you pay for. For $500, you can have a decent website made by a novice web designer, or for $1000, you can have a highly experienced designer make a professional, classy and easy-to-use website. The inverse of this is that as a beginner-freelancer, you might only get one or two $500 contracts a month.

Many freelancers will provide you with quality work, even if you’re on a budget, but some jobs can be quite expensive. For many people, even the cheaper freelancers can be out of their price-range.

So, if you want to enter the Digital Economy, and you don’t want to spend too much money doing it, you’ll probably be doing much of the leg-work on your own.

Don’t let this discourage you.

If you want to start your own business or supplement your income from online markets, there’s one, amazing resource that can help you learn the necessary skills.

The Internet.

The Internet has thousands and thousands of blogs, vlogs, podcasts and webinars on how to do almost anything. If you want to learn how to make your own website, how to market your products online, and how to make a living online, it is 100% possible to learn all these things for $0.

If you want to learn how to sell and market a product online, you can find everything you need online, for free.

Everything I’ve told you is only scratching the surface on these topics—there are thousands of in-depth blogs just on Search Engine Optimization—and virtually anything you need to know on these topics can be found online.

And keep in mind, if this still sounds overwhelming: you don’t have to learn this all in one day. You don’t have to have you’re dream-business up and running overnight.

Start small. Start with something manageable, and learn as you go. Learn more day by day, and grow your website, blog, business, or social media presence over time, even if you’re building it one small brick at a time.

It might take time, it might take some days of frustration, and it might take a few failures before it begins working, but it’s 100% possible to make a living working for yourself and make a living doing something you enjoy.

So, if after hearing all this, you’re still interested in starting your own business, or even using the internet to share some hobby of yours with the world, the next logical question is:

What’s Stopping You?

As one last note, if you think your passions or interests can’t be monetized as an online business, remember that PewDiePie’s estimated net worth is around $20 million, and that’s from making silly YouTube videos. People make money with inspirational videos. People make money talking about Magic The Gathering and DnD. People make money selling vape accessories, DIY kits, and novelty poker sets.

There’s no end to the things you can make a living doing. Perhaps your interests don’t match up one-to-one with a marketable idea, but maybe you can tweak it into a marketable idea. Or maybe you don’t want to market it. Maybe you just want to put things out onto the internet, have fun with it, and see where it takes you. Whatever the case may be, there’s an entire dimension of possibility and opportunity on the internet.


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[2] http://www.ques10.com/p/14467/discuss-technology-infrastructure-for-e-business-1/

[3] Wienclaw,Ruth A. (2013) “E-Commerce.” Research Starters: Business.

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[6] “A Computer Pioneer Rediscovered, 50 Years On”. The New York Times. April 20, 1994. Archived from the original on November 4, 2016.

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[13] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/mikalbelicove/2013/09/18/how-many-u-s-based-online-retail-stores-are-on-the-internet/amp/

[14] https://nation1099.com/freelance-careers-types-freelance-jobs/

[15] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/abdullahimuhammed/2017/05/06/55-freelance-businesses-you-can-start-for-free-tomorrow-morning/amp/

[16] Drescher, Daniel. Blockchain Basics: A Non-Technical Introduction in 25 Steps. Apress, 2017, Print.

[17] https://en.m.wikipedia.org.wiki/Blockchain

[18] https://blockgeeks.com/guides/smart-contracts/