Horror-Tober VIII: Under the Skin

Written by Alexander Greco

October 28, 2020

I don’t know if Under the Skin is scary as much as it is unsettling, disturbing and deeply nihilistic.

I still don’t even know if I know what Under the Skin is about.

It’s about a girl who’s an alien who seduces male humans to come back to her home so she can steal their skin and turn their bodies into some sort of ground-beef-ish sludge. Then, she seems to gain self-awareness and decides to run away from that life, briefly living with some random stranger who tries to form a real relationship with her, and inevitably meets her demise at the hands of a terrified would-be-rapist.

But there’s still so much to the movie that is A) confusing, B) left unexplained and C) random.

Who are the “aliens”? What are they doing? Why are they doing what they’re doing?

On top of this, the movie takes a major shift about halfway through the movie (at the point of “self-awareness”), with not just a shift in the events and actions of the characters, but also a shift in the mood, atmosphere and, seemingly, the themes of the movie.

The movie shifts from disturbing, Lovecraftian horror to depressing, Dostoyevskian existentialism at the midpoint, transforming from a story that seems to be focused on psychopathy or amorality to a story focused on the human condition.

Then, taken in its entirety, Under the Skin seems to be a movie about self-consciousness and awareness, the dawning of empathy and a struggle with identity. More specifically, I think this movie delves into a look at the human condition, and, inadvertently, delves into a look at female identity and the human condition as a female. However, while I do want to delve into these things, and more, first, I want to try to understand what is happening in this film.

If you haven’t seen this film, I am on the fence about recommending it.

It’s great, it’s a fantastic film, and it’s both a subtle and highly complex film. However, it can be tough to watch, and it’s certainly not for everyone. It’s an exceedingly unsettling, uncomfortable and at times deeply disturbing film, and it excels at hammering home these emotions in subtle, quietly screaming ways.

This movie is so good at being uncomfortable that we get to see Scarlett Johansson completely naked a number of times, and these moments somehow manage to be exceedingly unpleasant to watch. I can respect that.

Anywho, let’s begin.

Literal Analysis

Summary

Some of this I guess would fall more into a film theory, especially since much of this wont play into the other parts of the analysis, and since of this I think might contradict portions of the analysis. Still, I think this is an important aspect of the film to look at (since, you know, this is the part where I actually try to understand what the fuck is going on).

I’m don’t want to spend too much time summarizing the movie, and there are a lot of small details to go through that I suppose support the major themes and story arcs, but fuck it, we’ll make do.

I was debating whether or not this movie should be broken into 2 parts, 3 parts or 4 parts, but I eventually settled on 4 parts.

The first part I’ll call the “Amoral Arc”. The second part, the “Dissonance Arc”. The third part, the “Discovery Arc”. And the fourth part, the “Annihilation Arc”.

In the Amoral Arc, we first see the “motorcycle man” bringing a limp woman into a van. While supposedly still in the van (though the van seems to possess extradimensional space), the alien woman and protagonist of the film takes off her clothes and puts them on herself. We see the possibly human woman begin to cry, though she is still limp and paralyzed.

Then, the alien woman goes to buy more clothes and some makeup before driving around asking men for directions. This tactic also serves as a way to flirt with men and try to bring them home with her, which seems to be her method of hunting/talking prey. Once she gets a man to come home with her, a man who also seems less likely to be noticed if they go missing, she lures them into her dilapidated house and into another extradimensional space—a massive, dark space, where the floor gives way to a large body of strange fluid the man sinks into while the woman walks on it normally.

Later, she tries to use this same tactic on a foreign swimmer, but the swimmer tries to save a man and his wife from drowning. Exhausting himself in the process, the foreign man fails at saving the couple and collapses on the beach, where the alien woman strikes his head on the rock. She and the motor cycle man take the foreign man and his belongings, both ignoring the couple swept out to see and their screaming infant they left on the beach.

In the Dissonance Arc, the alien woman continues preying on men in a similar way, first seducing and victimizing a man she met at a club and then an unsocial deformed man.

However, during this arc, their seem to be slight disturbances to the psyche of the alien woman. First, some men yell at her while she is parked, and she seems confused by this. Later, while going to and while at the party, she seems confused and even frightened by what is happening. Later, she receives a rose as a gift while in traffic, and the rose has blood on it, which seems to deeply disturb the woman.

While driving around with a man who continuously complements her and her looks, she seems more distracted than she was before and barely answers the man (who nonetheless returns home with her). After a short montage of random people out and about the city, the woman is sitting in her van alone at night, and a group of men come and attack her. She drives off, unharmed, but she does seem slightly disturbed by this.

Afterwards is the scene where she seduces the deformed man, and ends the Dissonance Arc.

Also in this Arc, however, we see how the skin is removed from bodies that have been in the tarry-fluid long enough, and we see that their bodies are processed and fed through some sort of trough into a red light. Where they go is not and is never explained.

The next arc, the Discovery Arc, begins with the alien woman looking at herself in the mirror, and then letting the deformed man leave. After this, she leaves the city, driving her van until the engine stops, then walking through a dense fog until she eventually makes her way to a town.

Here, she eats food that she immediately spits out, then wanders around until a man tells her a bus will be coming shortly. She gets on the bus with the man, and the man offers to help her (which she accepts). She ends up living with the man, and the two seem to develop something like a relationship, though the alien woman is an incredibly awkward individual. During this time, the motorcycle man and 3-4 other motorcycle men set off in search of the woman, each riding across the land in different directions looking for her.

The man and alien woman inevitably try to have sex, which seems to end disastrously when he tries to penetrate her. She freaks out, gets him off of her, sits on the end of the bed, and inspects her vagina (or where a vagina would be). We don’t know what she sees down there, though the reality of what she is (which we discover at the end of the movie) raises speculation.

The woman leaves, and this begins the Annihilation Arc.

This arc essentially consists of the alien woman traversing through a forest, where she runs across a lumberman who acts aggressively towards her, eventually to the point of rape and murder. She sleeps in a hiker’s rest area alone, and wakes up to find the lumberman molesting her.

She runs off into the woods, trying to escape the lumberman, but ends up finding his truck. She gets in his truck (I don’t know why) and the lumberman finds her. She honks the horn (I still don’t know why), then gets out and runs away again. The lumberman chases after her, and eventually catches her, pins her to the ground and begins trying to rape her.

However, at one point, he stops and recoils in horror at the sight of something, letting her go. We see that her skin is coming off, and beneath her “normal” human skin is jet-black flesh.

The lumberman runs away, and the woman begins peeling off her skin, revealing more and more of her body beneath. She even takes off the skin around her head, revealing a simplistic head with few features, then looks at her tarry body with her human head/face. The lumberman returns and pours gasoline, kerosine, oil or some other flammable liquid on her, then sets her on fire. She runs away, though she is still engulfed in flame, and runs out of the woods and into an open, snowy field, where she collapses.

Then, the movie ends.

Analysis

Each Arc of the film warrants its own literal interpretation, and then the film as a whole warrants its own literal interpretation.

First, the Amoral Act. What we see here, and what is even hinted at a few times, seems to be a take on entities who possess either a completely different form of morality than humans, or they possess no morality whatsoever.

This is an exceedingly interesting topic for me, amorality, and if you’re less familiar with the concept, it’s not that something possesses a bad or evil sense of morality, it’s that they possess no morality whatsoever, except perhaps a survival instinct.

While Lovecraft hasn’t explicitly covered amorality in his writing, he has explored to some degree the concept of an alien morality, or something that exists beyond a sense of morality, that operates under different existential parameters than humans do (typically ones that humans cannot understand or fathom). I personally have explored the concept in much of my fiction (so hit me up if you ever want to read some of it *wink wink*), and the key to understanding it, funnily enough, is empathy.

You have to be able to put yourself in the mindset of an individual, organism or other cognizant entity capable of agency or action, and think of what you would do in that situation. What would you do if you acted purely instinctually, or purely out of survival, or purely out of some cold, calculating, sociopathically-detached plan?

And Scarlett Johansen pulls this off perfectly. Watching her is like watching a praying mantis, a barracuda or a Komodo Dragon disguised as a human.

In the Dissonance Act, we see small shifts in the alien woman’s behavior (I keep calling her “alien woman”, but literally no one has any names except for Andy and the dead couple, so fuck off).

So, what is happening here?

Why would the alien begin to act oddly? Why is it afraid of the club and large crowds? Why does it react so strangely to the sight of blood?

And is the alien beginning to develop some sort of mental dissonance, or some form of self-awareness or awareness in general that runs counter to its previous understanding of the world?

What we can surmise from the club and from scenes throughout the film is that the alien woman does not actually know how to socialize whatsoever, which falls back to the “reptilian mind” thing. When the woman is seducing men, she almost has a program she runs to seduce them. She has her initial question, then she tries to figure out what they’re doing, if they’re free, if they have an excuse for her to get them in the van, and then finally to try and seduce them to bring them home.

She isn’t actually socializing with them, she’s running a program she uses to hunt her prey.

This is why she may seem so uncomfortable by going to the club and why she acts so strangely in situations with other humans that don’t fall under her pre-programmed responses. She doesn’t know what to do.

Now, as far as the blood, perhaps she doesn’t even know anything about human anatomy (evidenced later by her reaction to sex) or human biology.

And is she changing psychologically? It’s certainly possible, though what would do it? What would make that change? This I think I’ll get into later.

We must also discuss what the fuck is going on in the aliens’ house.

So, there’s a floor made of a tar-water/fluid/solid-floor/thingstuff, which the aliens seem to have some control over, since they can walk on it and others’ end up sinking into it.

There also seems to be some sort of psychological effect the place has on people, since no sane person would take a look at the endless black expanse of that room and think it was a safe place. In addition, there’s the blood-flesh-meat-slosh trough, and what the fuck is going on there?

I think we can assume the skins of humans are being harvested to be used later as suits, and then the flesh and organs of humans are being harvested to be used as flesh? Or fuel for something? Or maybe just discarded as waste? We don’t know, we really don’t know.

There’s a lot we don’t know, such as what the dark fluid is, or what the aliens’ purpose on Earth is. So, while some of these mysteries could be scoured for more details, I think we’ll have to leave this as a dead end.

Next, the Discovery Arc. I think this arc is relatively simple, though there’s three elephants in the room.

The deformed man, the motorcycle man/men and the sex scene.

There’s a few other minor things, such as the cake, the woman’s strange behavior in certain scenes and her aversion to dark castles, but I think these are either obvious or explained by what we previously discussed: not acclimated/adapted to this world, does not know how to behave as a normal human and so forth. These we won’t split hairs over.

With the deformed man, almost immediately after being released by the alien woman, he is tracked down and attacked by the primary motorcycle man. We can assume this is because he has seen too much and his existence might lead to the aliens’ discovery, but then the motorcycle man essentially kills him in broad daylight, and the motorcycle man even sees a witness and does nothing about it, then steals someone’s car. This isn’t discrete and seems somewhat odd.

Next with the motorcycle man/men, why is/are he/they hunting down the alien woman?

And what will they do when they find her?

Now, I have a theory about this, but I won’t delve into it until later.

Finally, the sex scene, and this is actually an incredibly interesting scene. In this scene, when the alien woman stops to look at her vagina, there are a couple things happening here.

One, perhaps something went wrong with her skin-suit. This is definitely a possibility, especially since we see the skinsuit tear later, and we see the body that is revealed underneath.

Second, and this is what I think, the alien woman has no idea whatsoever what sex is or what is happening as the man tries to penetrate her. I think it shocks her so much that she has to stop and try to figure out what is happening, which is insanely ironic, since her whole schtick for the first half of the movie is seducing men with the promise of sex, and essentially using her self as sexual bait without even knowing how sex works.

There is also the possibility that both of these things are true at once, and the sudden introduction of sex also brings a moment of shock and epiphany.

But why does this then make her leave the man and go out into the woods alone? Why does she no longer wish to stay safe and in his company?

Maybe she realized sex wasn’t what she thought it was. Maybe it was painful or uncomfortable for her (also ironic). Or maybe there really was an anatomical redundancy that kept her from actually having sex (the lack of a real vagina) and she didn’t want her cover to be blown.

I will probably come back to this in a bit, but it’s probably one of the most interesting scenes in the entire movie just because it immediately creates a network of implications connecting so many other events, themes and subtext throughout the film.

Finally, the Annihilation Arc, which is also relatively straight-forward, but with one simple thing we need to figure out:

When the woman was born, created, awoken, etc., did she know what she looked like on the inside, or did she live her entire life identifying with her exterior form? And did she always know there was another body under the skin

Or did she not discover this until the end of the film?

And while I think the prior sex scene is incredibly interesting (for scholarly, intellectual reasons), this moment is obviously the crux of the film.

It leads to many questions, and I don’t know how many answers there are.

Did the woman always know this was who she was and what she was like? Or was this a moment of self-discovery? Or was this a moment where she realized her own mortality and her body’s limitations and inevitable destruction?

So then, the question that follows many of the events of this film: How much does the woman know?

How much does she know about humans? How much does she know about herself? How much does she know about the consequences of her actions?

In the beginning of the film, I think there is an assumption of superiority in the woman. She is the ultimate femme fatale, who lures men back to her home to use them as a resource for her species. However, we slowly begin to see that she is incredibly awkward in unscripted social situations, that she may or may not understand human anatomy/biology, and that she may or may not understand her own anatomy.

At the same time, we slowly see this outward perception of superiority vanish and a sense of vulnerability slowly grows, until, at the end of the film, we see that she is essentially all but helpless when she’s alone (another very interesting thing to reflect on with this film, the complete turnaround from seduction-control-superiority to rape-helpless-vulnerability).

This will factor into a future part of the analysis.

Now, something else to discuss here, in the broader scope of the film: what are the aliens doing? What is going on?

More specifically, what is going on with the woman?

Now, I have other things to get to with this analysis, and this portion has already dragged on long enough as it is, but here’s my theory about the woman.

In the opening of the movie, we see an eye being formed, and then we hear the woman practicing phonemes (z-, th-, t-, s-, p-, f-, etc.). Immediately after this is the scene where the paralyzed woman is brought into the back of the van and the naked alien woman takes off all of her clothes and puts them on herself. The body of the paralyzed woman presumably is disposed of in a similar fashion as other used bodies.

So, I think this means that the alien woman was newly created or constructed, and is being “programmed” to speak while she is being made to look like a human woman. I also think it’s possible that the paralyzed woman is actually an alien herself and may have undergone a similar psychological transformation as the Johansson alien—meaning this woman was the previous seductress alien and was replaced by Johansson once it gained self-awareness.

Now, unfortunately, I don’t have much to back this up with. There isn’t much evidence for this, but it’s a gut feeling I have. I suppose a more rational take on this is that this is just some woman they found who just so happened to have the same sized clothes as the Johansson alien.

I do think, however, that it’s not a stretch to imagine the male aliens created the Johansson alien, or maybe the Johansson construct-alien, in order to carry out their aims (whatever they may ultimately be).

And so, this is why the Johansson alien seems to know so little about anything­—they’re programmed only to fulfil one task, and she hasn’t had enough experience to know how so many different things work (socialization, sex, biology—human and her own). Once she “goes rogue”, the other aliens try to track her down. This could be because they think she’s in danger, or it could be because they’re going to “recycle” her like they did the other female alien.

We don’t know, and I don’t think we’ll ever know. This movie is based on a book by the same name, written by Michael Faber and released in 2000, so the book may have more answers for us, but for now I think we’ll have to be content with what we have.

Gender Analysis

I don’t want to spend too much time with this portion of the analysis. This isn’t to minimize its potential depth or significance, this is simply because I think the true meaningfulness of the movie resides in a much deeper place, and I don’t think the director and co-writer, Jonathan Glazer intended it to be about gender.

However, the pieces of the puzzle are all but staring at us in the face, so I think an exploration of the significance of gender in this movie is warranted.

First, there is the foundational element of sexual dynamics here to examine. The seductress alien is primarily seen as an object of sexual attraction. There is something interesting that happens is done in the movie, something I don’t think even the creators are aware of. The woman-alien can only be an object throughout the movie because no human knows her true nature until the end of the film.

Throughout the movie, humans can only project their sexual idealizations onto the female alien because they cannot, and maybe can never understand the woman, as a subject. Because of their ignorance of what she is, it is impossible for them to know anything about the woman except for surface information. She can only be an object, until the very end of the movie. At the moment she becomes a subject (at the moment her inner self is revealed) the only human to have seen her inner self elects to destroy her.

Now, following this line of the seductress alien as an object of sexual attraction, there are two ironies on either side of all these interactions.

One, the men who are sexually attracted to her are only attracted to her because of her outward appearance, showing a shallowness to romance and sexual attraction. In some ways, it shows a sort of hypocrisy in love and romance and sexuality, since the woman is desired simply because of her looks. If anyone were to discover who/what she really was, they would immediately lose their attraction to her.

Another tangential irony to this is the fact that it might not even be possible to have sex with this woman. Her body may be physically incapable of sex, and only capable of looking attractive. In this way, the men who desire to have sex with her are completely fetishizing a non-sexual entity (non-sexual meaning incapable of procreating or having sex). Now, this might not be the case, simply because there’s a bit of ambivalence in the sole “sex scene” of the movie as to what the Johansson alien sees when she peers down at her vagina, but one of the possibilities is that she discovers a shallow dead end.

So the men sexualizing her may be sexualizing something that has no actual sexual function, and simply “looks pretty”, further adding to the idea that she can be considered nothing more than a sexualized object by anyone else in the film.

Two, the Johansson alien probably doesn’t even know how sex works, or what sex really is. There is a scene where she sees blood and freaks out. Why does she freak out? I mean, admittedly, I would freak out as well if I was handed flowers by a stranger and they were covered in blood, but I don’t think this is why she freaks out. When she sees the blood, she reacts, but then she doesn’t do anything to wipe it off.

This seems to indicate that she gets upset by the sight of blood not because she knows what blood is, but because she doesn’t know what blood is. If she did know what blood is and reacted how she did, one would assume she would want to wipe off the blood.

This can lead us to believe that she doesn’t understand the fundamentals of human biology. Later, when she tries to have sex, the seductress alien freaks out for one of two reasons:

  1. She is physically incapable of having sex
  2. She suddenly realizes what sex actually is and this bothers her

I think the second has to be true, because it’s true whether or not the first one is true. Either way, whether she’s physically capable of sex or not, she doesn’t understand what sex: either she doesn’t know human anatomy and her anatomy, or she doesn’t know the process of sex.

What this means is that she spends the entire film as an object of sexual attraction—more than that, her entire purpose in life seems to be luring men to their death so they can be harvested—and yet she doesn’t even understand sex. Her entire purpose on Earth seems to be centered on sex and sexual attraction, and yet she doesn’t even know what sex is, how sex works or the anatomical structures responsible for sex.

Another aspect of this to look at is the shift in power dynamics from the beginning of the movie to the end of the movie.

In the beginning of the movie, the seductress alien is in full control. She lures men back to her home, like fish willingly putting the hook into their own cheeks, and guides them to their own deaths. She is in complete control, she possesses an air of superiority about her, and she is the predator.

However, in the end of the movie, she is completely vulnerable and has no control. She is an environment she doesn’t understand and cannot use to her advantage like her home, and she is being aggressed upon rather than being docilely followed by the individual sexually attracted to her.

I don’t entirely have a great analysis of this, but it seems to be about the social dynamics of sexuality, as well as perhaps a commentary on the different modes of behavior dependent on one’s gender.

However, while there’s more to delve into with these few topics I’ve mentioned, as well as other avenues left in the dark, I do think I’ll move on now to a more universal analysis.

Human Analysis

While I think the gender analysis might be the more obvious one, given the sexual nature of Under the Skin, I think the film deserves to be looked at on a deeper level.

Under the Skin is an exceedingly lonely film. The first half of it feels inhuman and detached, for some obvious reasons. The female alien is a cold, amoral, nearly-mechanical being who, as we learn throughout the film, doesn’t seem to know much about humanity or even their own nature.

They have pre-programmed socializations with one agenda, luring men to their deaths, and any other social interaction seems to be difficult for them to have. They don’t know how to react except in short, awkward responses, and sometimes with no responses at all.

Then, the female alien seems to gain consciousness or awareness of a sort, and goes off on their own—first developing a romantic relationship that quickly fails, and then being killed/destroyed by someone who attempts to rape them.

In many ways, this film reflects the human condition for everyone, regardless of general.

We all become programmed with social responses and behaviors that we use in a variety of situations, but we don’t have many original responses to things—we don’t know how to act in novel situations.

In addition, we all have “masks” or “skinsuits” we wear to hide who are underneath—both to ourselves and to others. We develop personas we use to mask our underlying nature, our underlying agendas, and our underlying identities. However, we sometimes even develop these personas to hide who we are from ourselves.

Or, we develop personas without developing any underlying identity, sense of self, or other psychological structure beneath our personas. Many people in some ways are only the skinsuits, with nothing else inside of us (psychologically/behaviorally speaking).

On top of this, we as humans seem to use each other mindlessly. We use each other for our own self-gain, for our own self-pleasure, for our own self-validation, and we do this all with our pre-programmed social behaviors without any thought of how the other individual might be affected by us and our actions.

We use our skinsuits to get what we want, and we don’t think twice about it.

However, there can be an awakening of sorts where we realize all these things, and this, I believe, is the awakening that occurs at the midway point of the film.

The midway point of the film, primarily involving the deformed man, is interesting in many ways. The fact that her last victim and the first victim she saves (or attempts to) is the way he contrasts with the beauty of the female alien. However, I think the deformed man signals a shift in a sense of self-awareness and self-image.

The ugliness (I’m sorry, guy, if you really look like that) of the man I think represents a self-projected self-image by the man. It’s his own insecurities, loneliness and sense of self-worth projected or manifested onto his appearance.

So there’s this implication here of the man’s outer image not mattering to the female alien (though we know this is because A: she isn’t planning on having sex with him and B: probably doesn’t actually care about human beauty standards).

This contrast in attraction might signal the female aliens psychological shift, which seems to come about by seeing her own reflection. This seems to be a shift in perspective where outward appearance and outward behavior stop mattering, which means there must be something else that matters.

This triggers the female alien into leaving the city she’s been living in, presumably to get away from the life of sexual seduction and human harvesting in order to maybe discover herself, or try attempting to understand what is happening.

A psychological shift like this unfortunately does not happen in everyone, but it is still an incredibly important turning point in many people’s lives: the realization of the true nature of one’s self, and the attempt at creating a different life than they are already leading.

However, perhaps the woman is still living a lie. She attempts to form a relationship which still seems to be entirely dependent on the woman’s appearance. Would the man she met on the bus still have brought her home, fed her, clothed her, sheltered her and so forth if he wasn’t attracted to her and didn’t think there would be a sexual reward in it for him?

And still, the relationship is also built on a lie because the man does not know who the woman actually is.

It isn’t until the end that the woman’s true nature is revealed, and we see that she is the pitch-black-bodied alien. She is immediately killed or destroyed immediately after.

This scene is interesting in our current conversation for a number of reasons.

First of all, the fact that the man is trying to rape her is, unfortunately, a purification or distillation of the underlying desires all men who meet the woman have. Rather than the overlaying social behaviors used to either mask what they want or get what they want, the lumberman simply tries to take what he wants.

Here, his underlying agenda is not masked or gained by pre-programmed social behaviors or responses, and his actions directly reflect his desires.

As far as the alien woman goes, the fact that she is destroyed after her true nature is revealed shows goes back to the idea of her being only an object of sexual attraction throughout that film, until the moment her true body his revealed. At this moment, the projected sexual object is shattered, and the individual perceiving her (the lumberman) recoils in fear.

This I think also has multiple angles to view it.

I think one could say that we as individuals do not enjoy seeing others for who they truly are. We don’t want to actually know a person, we want to create an idealized projection (whether negative or positive) of who we want them to be, with three modes of idealization: desire/attraction/love (sexual or otherwise), neutrality/ambivalence, and fear/disgust/hate.

The moment the lumberman’s idealization of the woman was shattered by seeing her true form, his model of reality was damaged or maybe even destroyed. As a defense mechanism, he attempted to annihilate the thing he suddenly understood too well.

I also think it’s interesting to note that the lumberman’s behavior mirrors the alien woman’s behavior as well. First, he gives some semi-bullshit spew of dialogue, where he’s not actually connecting with the woman, he’s just asking questions and talking at her.

All of these questions seem to be gauging how risky or not it would be for him to prey on her. Once he’s gauged that she would be safe to rape, he finds her again and stalks her through the woods until he finally catches her. This exactly mirrors, at least on a structural level, what the woman does when she herself preys on men.

Now, there’s another, more complicated angle that I find exceedingly interesting.

First, we build this premise (which we already started building):

Sex and sexuality is idealized and romanticized throughout the movie. The protagonist her/itself is a sexually idealized object which is not perceived as its own subject (its own subject for what it really is) until the end of the movie. However, pretty much every individual the protagonist comes into contact with sexually desires her, so all of their underlying motivations align with the same sexual motivation the lumberman-rapist has.

So, the sexual motivations begin as idealized/romanticized, but they are still the driving force.

The moment we have direct contact with the true nature the man/men’s motivation(s) (the assault/rape scene) we also come into direct contact with the true nature of the woman (revealing her body).

So there are two “bare” forces or concepts that come into direct contact—the true nature of the sexual motivations, or of the libido, and the true nature of the woman herself.

It is possible that the thing the lumberman actually recoils from while attempting to rape the woman is the fact of his own actions and behaviors. He might be recoiling from the sudden realization of what he is trying to do.

See, the black, alien body beneath the human appearance can be seen as symbolic of the actual, violent, insidious nature of the aliens’ actions/agenda/motivations. So, when seeing the true body of the woman, the man is seeing the dark, violent nature of behavior and motivations (possibly the dark nature of libido in general).

The sight of the woman’s body is the realization of a dark, insidious motivation, and the sight of the woman’s body may be the realization of one’s own dark, insidious motivations.

How so?

This is where it gets a bit complicated (if it hasn’t already) so I hope I explain this well.

There’s a fun trick you can play with films like these—in theory, any film with a woman who is evenly remotely sexualized or put into a romantic light. Part of the meaning of the movie is derived from the fact that we are watching it.

We as the viewer are perceiving characters in a sexual light, meaning we as the viewers have been observing Scarlett Johansson in a sexual light. If we ourselves are sexually attracted to her, then perhaps we’ve been existing vicariously through the male characters.

Of course, this does not end well for us as the vicarious/voyeuristic observer. However, then there is the sex scene with the guy the alien woman meets on the bus. He so far has come the closest to having sex with the woman, but it inevitably fails. Finally, the observer’s sexual frustration peaking at the fact they haven’t vicariously had sex with Scarlett Johansson yet, the lumberman attempts to rape her.

We as an observer might be torn by this.

The individual who has been sexually idealized to such an extreme throughout the film has yet to have sex with anyone yet, but now, finally, the sex will happen. However, it is through force that the sex will happen. It is rape, it is violence, it is wrong in so many ways.

The lumberman seeing the alien woman has who she truly may be the audience-observer seeing their own libidinal motivations at their darkest—their sexual desire and frustration taken to an extreme—and the darkest nature of what lies under the skin is revealed.

This can be extended beyond sexuality into any number of things we pursue in our lives—any number of obsessions, desires, motivations, agendas and so forth. The moment of witnessing the Johansson alien as who she truly is reflects the moment of seeing anything we desire or obsess over for what it truly is.

Perhaps it is people we desire, perhaps it is pleasure we desire, perhaps it is status we desire, but there will always come a moment where our idealized, romanticized projection of our desires becomes torn, and a truer reality reveals itself.

The knee-jerk reaction, of course, to such a revelatory event is to annihilate the evidence of such a reality.

We Have Come to Terms

And that concludes the analysis.

This analysis has already become exceedingly long, so I don’t want to spend too much more time here.

Despite being a relatively unknown box office flop, this movie has garnered an impressive number of accolades, with many credible sources stating it’s one of the greatest films of all time.

I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it’s certainly an excellent film, and one that deserves your attention if you’re into things like this (like I said previously, it’s definitely not for everyone).

Nonetheless, I greatly appreciate you reading this (especially such an article as long as this one). Please let me know if you have any thoughts, comments, questions or critiques.

See You Later, Space Cowboy.

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.

Horror-Tober VI: Ghosts as Symbols

Written by Alexander Greco

October 21, 2020

So, this article and probably the next as well will be relatively short, I’m trying to get caught up after stumbling a bit the last week and try to get back on course.

Today, I will be discussing ghosts (oooh, spooooky…).

There are a number of things that can haunt you, ghosts being one of them. To harken back to a short story I wrote a long time ago, (literally A Ghost’s Story) I personally have a theory that a house represents the psyche, or the brain and all the space in it for all its various contents. The house can be filled will all kinds of normal or positive things, as well as all kinds of negative things—ghosts, ghouls, goblins, demons—and these things that fill your house all represent something about your psyche.

Demons for example might represent our “sinful” or destructive and self-destructive tendencies.

Monsters, doppelgangers and lightless rooms or hallways might be the things inside of us we are afraid of confronting, seeing or entering.

Ghosts, for me, have a relatively common motif: something haunting you from the past.

It could be a memory, it could be a person, it could be a trauma. It could be all three, or more. Whatever the case, the ghost represents something from the past which haunts your current life.

So, to explore this topic, I want to analyze several ghost-centric stories, or even non-horror stories/films that employ ghosts, and see how ghosts represent the people, places and things of the past which haunt us in the present.

Boring Classical Literature

So, I’ll begin with some of the OG ghosts of Christmas past.

First, Hamlet.

Of course, the primary ghost of Hamlet is Hamlet’s father, the deceased king of Denmark.

Now, Hamlet might not be a great story to start off with, since any of Shakespeare’s more well-known plays are like a Normandy Beach of literary analysis. We’ll disregard that though.

As a ghost, Hamlet’s father is like a messenger from Hamlet’s unconscious. Actually, possibly a messenger from the unconscious of all those who care about Hamlet, Hamlet’s father and the Danish kingdom in general.

Out of the guardsmen, Horatio and Halmet (those who saw the ghost), none of them could have known the truth of what happened to Hamlet’s father. However, all of them do know that Hamlet’s father died, and Hamlet’s mother immediately married Hamlet’s uncle. So, one might be able to make a few connections here.

Hamlet’s father may be an emergent perception or feeling coming from the unconscious of those loyal to Hamlet’s father. Their minds may be correlating events of the past, and they know that something is amiss. For Halmet himself, this feeling and epiphany emerges even stronger, and Hamlet’s father outright tells Hamlet what happened and that Hamlet should avenge him.

Of course, Hamlet must confirm this, just as anyone ought to confirm their suspicions and theories. Nonetheless, Hamlet’s vision of his dead father represents Hamlet’s loyalty, responsibility and vengeance at the memory of his father and suspicions of his father’s death, which emerge from the unconsciousness.

Next, Wuthering Heights, another literary can of worms.

Wuthering Heights is a complex story and a difficult story to parse through (the older era of language not helping this). The primary ghost here is Catherine.

Catherine as a ghost “appears” in two ways. One, she appears before Lockwood in the beginning of the story. Two, she appears before Heathcliff at the end of the story, and then Catherine and Heathcliff both are seen wandering the countryside by local inhabitants (however, these two “appearances” are not directly observed in the book).

Now, Catherine could be a number of things, but, in the context of ghosts, she obviously represents the past which haunts Heathcliff. First, her appearance in the beginning of the book is followed almost immediately by Nelly retelling the history of Wuthering Heights. This, by way of approximate comparison, indicates Catherine as being symbolic of the past (Catherine’s existence at least warrants an explanation of the past).

Later on in the book, Heathcliff is haunted by the ghost of Catherine, and he cannot look at the younger generations because they have the same eyes as Catherine. This is the present (and the future) being haunted by the past. The younger generation is a product of the past, and so even the existence of the younger generation haunts Heathcliff.

Semi-Classic Films

Next, here are three films which utilize the ghost motif rather well, though in unique ways.

First, there’s The Sixth Sense, which is almost entirely focused on ghosts. The primary theme of the movie is reconciling with the past. Every ghost inevitably wants help reconciling themselves with prior events (particularly the events that led to their death). Almost all of these events were the result of some sort of traumatic or violent event, with the mother poisoning the daughter being one of the darkest events that took place.

It is up to the child to uncover these traumatic events and put the ghosts to rest.

Another interesting point of the movie is that the protagonist themselves is a ghost, and in the end must reconcile with their past. This is something I’ll discuss a bit more with another movie, but The Sixth Sense does a good job of de-horrifying the ghosts in this movie, and ultimately allows us to empathize with one of the ghosts. This twist off events may also imply that the “ghosts” may not even be the psychological traumas that haunt us, but that the ghosts are the people who are haunted by the psychological trauma (someone “being a ghost of who they once were”).

The Shining

This one might be the most difficult piece of media on here to parse apart, and it involves a few theories about the film that aren’t explicitly confirmed by the film.

First, I’d like to mention The Shining’s reflection of what I said earlier about a “haunted house”. The empty hotel eventually becomes filled with ghosts and other malicious entities, and this may be symbolic of Jack Torrence’s mind itself.

Jack goes out to the middle of nowhere to watch over an isolated, empty hotel for the winter. Why? So he can have some peace and quiet and spend time working on his book. He tries to empty his world and empty his mind of distractions and other negative thoughts. However, this emptiness allows the ghosts and other monsters who reside in his unconscious to emerge. What ghosts would these be?

Well, there’s one very obvious and rather explicit one. Jack doesn’t feel like he’s adequate. Jack wants to prove he’s the man, prove he’s in charge, prove he’s capable and so forth. The ghosts even encourage this and treat him like he’s the man in charge of everything, the man on top of the world. Of course, they use this to manipulate him into committing violent acts. Jack’s narcissism urges him toward destructive behavior.

And then, a much less obvious and much less explicit ghost. It is almost explicitly revealed that Jack was physically abusive to his family in the past, especially when he was an alcoholic. However, it has been theorized that Jack sexually abused his own son. There’s too much to get into with this, but there’s quite a lot of small, circumstantial clues that point to this, and if you read the subtext of several scenes in the movie, Jack might have even started doing this again in the present time.

At the very least, Jack’s ghosts involving alcoholism and physical abuse certainly return to haunt him, and eventually possess him.

The Others

The Others is a rather unique film which explores ghosts in an incredibly interesting way. If you haven’t watched the film, I’m about to spoil it. If you don’t want it spoiled, skip to the next section.

It is revealed at the end of The Others that every character is actually a ghost. Everyone in the film is already dead and haunt either the mansion they live in, or, in the case of the protagonists’ father/husband, they haunt the country or land they live in.

This sort of extends the idea from The Sixth Sense, of both empathizing with the ghosts and with people becoming ghosts rather than being haunted by them. They become a ghost of their prior selves.

I won’t delve too deeply into this film, but there’s something interesting to note here. This film takes place in the 1940’s, and we discover that the protagonists’ father/husband died in WWII, the deadliest war in human history. Because of the fact that all of the characters in the film are dead (except for the living people, who were thought to be ghosts the entire time), maybe it is being implied that everyone involved in that war “died”, that perhaps humanity itself “died” after that war and that era of history. The rest of history, and the rest of humanity, will forever be haunted by the events of that war.

Cool Stuff

Now, to wrap this up, I want to examine three stories that employ ghosts and other supernatural events, but they do so in highly unique ways (and they’re very popular).

Harry Potter

The Harry Potter series (both the books and the movies, but probably more so the books) make semi-frequent use of ghosts and ghost-like creatures.

Now, there’s two semi-obvious things here that aren’t explicitly ghosts, and I won’t discuss too much, but I’ll give a brief overview of them: the Dementors and the Patronus projections.

The Dementors are mysterious entities which siphon happiness and other positive emotions from their victims. They can drive their victims to the state of insanity, or they can even siphon the souls from their victims, leaving them in a vegetative state.

The counterpart of the Dementors—which are used to fend off the Dementors—are the animal projections made by the Patronus charm, which is in many ways like a projection of the individual’s soul itself.

So, Dementors may be like depression or some other mental illness, while the Patronus projections may be like a cure to those mental illnesses—the “true, inner self” or the spirit or soul of an individual emerging to confront the negative mental effects of an illness.

Beyond these, there are plenty of actual ghosts in Harry Potter.

There’s ghosts all throughout Hogwarts, there are many individuals who die in the series and return as ghosts (or as paintings) and even Harry Potter’s parents are ghosts.

In fact, the theme of life and death is quite prevalent throughout the film.

There are the Death Eaters. There is the phoenix, Fawkes. There is the Order of the Phoenix, led by Harry himself.

Voldemort has various horcruxes which essentially prevent him from dying. However, in the event before the beginning of the books, when Voldemort tried to kill Harry, Voldemort did “die” in a sort of Saurony way. His spirit or soul or psychic force remained alive, though his physical body had been destroyed or killed.

In addition, Harry himself even dies and returns to the end in the climax of the series.

The Deathly Hallows, which are prevalent to some degree throughout the series, but really only emerge as important factors of the series in the last book, are rooted in a legend involving the grim reaper, or Death.

With just a cursory look through the Harry Potter books/movies, ghosts and other things related to death, souls, spirits, etc. seem to be highly prevalent in the series. So how do they relate to the themes of the series?

Well, there seem to be two primary and opposing forces throughout the story: Voldemort & Co vs Potter Inc.

Both possess the death and rebirth motif, with Voldemort “coming back to life” in the fourth book, and Harry Potter dying and coming back to life in the seventh book. However, their methods of death and rebirth seem to be as opposed as their goals and methods of attaining those goals. Voldemort maintains life after death through the horcruxes (dark magic). Harry maintains life after death in a much more ambiguous and far less clear way, but Potter Inc. seems to be attached to the idea of a Phoenix (Fawkes, Order of the Phoenix, etc.), and Phoenixes of course are creatures that burn to death and then are reborn in the ashes.

This death and rebirth is typically symbolic of a spiritual death and rebirth, or of the death and rebirth of ideas, stories and culture across the succession of generations.

Now, to get more into the specific ghosts, many of them seem to serve specific symbolic purposes.

Moaning Mrytle of the second book seemed to be symbolic of a past horror that was re-emerging in the story. She herself was killed by the basilisk and helped Potter Inc discover where the basilisk was hiding.

Dumbledore as a ghost in the final story may have been a part of Harry’s spiritual catharsis: Harry, having sacrificed himself help stop Voldemort, is now dead, but Dumbledore’s ghost comes to help return Harry to the world of the living, to revive his soul. Dumbledore here may have been a more positive apparition; a reminder of the plan Harry must still follow and the goal of defeating Voldemort he had to achieve.

Harry’s parents are symbolic of the great trauma that inevitably led to all the events of the Harry Potter series. The scar on his forehead is a constant reminder of the day they died, a constant reminder of the sacrifice they made to defend Harry from evil, and the sacrifice Harry himself would one day need to make to defend the world from evil. (But… why do Harry’s parents only show up as ghosts a few times? Can’t they, like, chill with him all the time?)

Other ghosts may show up in certain times as reminders of the evil done unto others, or possibly as reasons why Harry should continue fighting (Cedric, for example).

Silent Hill

The Silent Hill video game (and I suppose the movies as well) might be another topic that could be too complicated to get into, so I’ll be brief. However, I think Silent Hill solidifies a bit of our analytic theory here.

The town of Silent Hill is an “empty” town that had been wracked with great trauma in the past. It now possesses two “modes” or dimensions beyond normal, material reality. First, there is the fog dimension, where the entire town of Silent Hill becomes shrouded in a deep fog. Second, there is the “Otherworld”, which is a much darker, bloodier and violent dimension.

So, in this way, Silent Hill mirrors consciousness or the psyche. There is the conscious mind, the preconscious mind and the unconscious mind.

The town of Silent Hill, as I previously said, has experienced great traumas in the past. Those traumas are invisible on the surface (the town appears empty), but as one explores the traumas more deeply (delving into the unconscious mind), one discovers the existence and the effects of those traumas

Babadook

My last mini-analysis about ghosts, and one of my favorite horror movies ever (from a somehow simpler time in my life), The Babadook.

The Babadook is about an Australian woman who is left to take care of her child alone after her husband dies. The relationship between the woman and her child becomes increasingly toxic, especially as both of them seem to increasingly suffer from different forms and degrees of mental illness.

At the same time, a horrific, man/cockroach-like entity known as the Babadook invades their home and terrorizes the two of them.

In the end, it is implied that the Babadook is a ghost or imposter-ghost/shade/revenant/whatever of the woman’s husband. The mother and son learn to live with the Babadook in their home, and the relationship between the three of them seems to become more positive.

The Babadook in this movie seems to be a manifestation of the grief and pain that the death of the father/husband has brought onto the family, as well as a manifestation of the ensuing mental health decline and resulting toxicity. The Babadook is the dark, sinister, bitter grief that morphs into violence towards others—especially with the mother possibly seeing the son as the source of her grief, or blaming him for the death of her husband and the hardships of having to raise him alone.

This movie is a fantastic take on grief, pain, mental illness and the toxicity of unchecked bitterness and suppressed frustration.

La Fin

I think this one is a pretty obvious analysis, and I don’t think I’m illuminating too much here, but it is nonetheless a fun analysis, and it’s insightful even if it’s tried and true.

There are many variations of this theme or of this symbol, of course, as well as many tangential symbols (such as the phoenix, such as zombies, such as other paranormal spirits/eentities/whatevers), and so this line of thinking can take you far analytically.

Feel free to let me know if you have any thoughts on these analyses. Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more Horror-Tober.

The Music of Gray Scale

Written by Alexander Greco

September 29, 2020

Going by the moniker of Gray Scale, Gray is a rising musician from Atlanta, Georgia. Her style blends a mix of stripped down EDM or Electronica with a mellower, more somber R&B sound. However, Gray’s music also steps outside these and other related genres, into a very unique realm where Gray expresses moods and emotions dredged up from the depths of her mind, and exorcises demons in song-form. With her background in percussion and her hands-on production of her music, Gray is emerging as a highly talented and unique musician.

For this article, like the previous one with Daniel Blake, I try to step back a bit more than I usually do and let Gray do a large portion of the talking in her own words. However, there are a few parts I step in a bit more.

Background

While being raised in a music-rich environment, Gray herself began music with school band, and eventually transitioned into DJ’ing. Over the last few years, Gray has begun releasing singles, albums and EP’s. With these, she has grown various new skills musically.

“I was always a band nerd growing up. I taught myself a little music on my own but then joined the middle school band, high school marching band, and college marching band….

“I was on the drumline for 9 years, playing bass drum, snare drum, and cymbals, and being a drum major. In grade school, you are required to be in symphonic band, so I also know classical percussion techniques. Other than that, I am a very mediocre, self-taught piano player.”

When I asked about any influences or experiences Gray had that has shaped her music and musical career, she explained a bit about the environment she grew up in:

“I live in Atlanta, so we have a thriving music scene, especially Rap music. Because of my father’s friends, I was raised around the music industry, constantly in and around music studios and recording sessions, and around mostly rappers.

“I have anecdotes to why I am so particular about so many different aspects of my art. But as an example, I have had terrible experiences with audio engineers. I actually graduated college with the intent to set out and be an engineer. But after college, I was shut out and denied internships and opportunities to learn. I have been told ‘you don’t really want to do this’ to my face and been blown off. So that’s why it is important for me to now mix and master on my own.”

I then asked Gray a bit about her vocals, and then about her process of recording, mixing and producing music. To my surprise and admiration, I found out that Gray had been recording and producing music almost entirely on her own.

“Vocals are actually very new for me. I’ve only been doing them for a little over a year….

“[Deciding to sing] was a mix of wanting to connect with people better and also being underestimated (again). I was making beats for artists to use and I had one artist tell me ‘your music isn’t really for vocals, I only imagine it as background music.’ And I set out to prove her wrong. I also have such a logical brain that I remember learning in college Music Appreciation class that humans have an immediate and automatic connection to another human voice. So, the moment they hear it, their attention is snapped in. I wanted to bring that to my music.

“I hate the way my voice sounds, I’m no different from anyone else. I am not a trained vocalist and I can’t do anything spectacular. But mediocre voices can and do excel when everything else is around them is done properly. There are countless examples of this today. I keep telling myself that if these mumble rappers are out here ‘singing’ and winning awards in ‘Melodic Rap’ and having millions of fans, then I can do whatever the hell I want with my music and still have some fans somewhere.”

Gray Scale

So, next, I wanted to know a bit more about Gray Scale as an artist, where she got the name from and where she wants to go with her music.

“I actually had a sweet sixteen and I made everyone wear black, white, and gray while I wore orange. I called it “Club Grayscale”. My dad and one of my brothers DJed it. But the party ended up being very fun and very memorable. So then when I started DJing other high school parties, I just took that name since my own party was such a success.

“I started DJing when I was in high school and that was the stage name that I chose for myself. I continued to DJ in college and also began working at the college radio station, so I kept the name in use. Once I graduated and decided to become an independent artist, I saw no need to use a different name, so after 10 years, it’s still here.”

X: “What’s the intent behind the music you’re making?”

GS: “The concrete intent is to definitely have my music land on television or a video game. Anywhere within the sync music realm

GS: “The deeper, more ethereal intent is what any artist is striving for, and that’s to convey a message to the masses.”

X: “What kind of television series or video game would you hope to hear your music on? Like, if you could choose what TV/Web series and what video game series you got to make music for, what would they be and why?”

GS: “I personally love the young, sexy sci-fi shows with vampires, elves, and other mythical creatures. I would love to hear my music on Shadowhunters (which is about demon slaying descendants of angels) on Freeform, The Originals (vampires) on The CW, The Magicians on SyFy, or something like The Shannara Chronicles (elves and dwarves) which started on MTV and then moved to Spike.

GS: “There is an escapism that these shows offer me, and I used that same feeling to create some of my songs that aren’t talking about a specific man and the situation around him. Not to mention I follow the artist Ruelle and the types of moves she makes, because when I started this, she was the Billboard Top Synced Artist for the year. She has had placements on every single one of those shows, and on other big names in sci-fi like HBO.”

X “And do you have a message or messages you want to get out to people?”

X: “Yes. So many. There is so much in the world to worry about and speak on that it’s overwhelming. But I will just have to take it bite by bite. I don’t have one main platform or message. Dark Mind is about depression and Life Less is my commentary on predatory capitalism and its effect on the environment. But there are many more to come.”

Style

Delving more specifically into Gray Scale’s music, Gray’s music has a unique array of sounds that sets her music apart, but is still centered, focused on a particular vibe and manages to carry that particular vibe in different variations across her different songs.

Gray’s music employs sounds and styles from a variety of genres of music, and her musical toolkit seems to have grown rather impressively over recent years. Primarily, from what I can hear in Gray’s sounds, she employs styles and sounds from EDM or Dance Music, Hip-Hop, R&B, and a lot of the instrumental style of Electronica and Production-Instrumental music

The first key note to talk about is the rhythm of Gray’s songs. Being a percussionist for much of her life, Gray’s expertise in rhythm definitely comes out strong. While every song varies rhythmically, Gray often uses a hip-hop or dance style rhythm. This employs things like syncopated beats, or strong backbeats—something that’s also employed in a lot of R&B music.

Now, while Gray’s music is a bit stripped down compared to the endless piles of layers of stacks of music in EDM and other Electronica, she does layer her sounds quite effectively, adding things like piano, various forms of synth and more natural sounds to the mix. Keeping with our discussion of rhythm, Gray’s background sounds often either support or inform the rhythm quite well, while in other songs provide the rhythm.

As far as the mood or tone of Gray’s songs, there is definitely a melancholy tone to much of the music. In some songs there’s hints at a bitterness, in others a sense of listlessness or loss. Many of Gray’s songs are about relationships that have soured, whether romantic or personal, and others are about personal or internal states of mind or being Gray has experienced.

And this mood certainly comes out in Gray’s voice. She manages to express her emotions quite clearly, and, made especially impressive since Gray is the producer of her own music, manages to meld her voice with the instrumentals and the tone of the instrumentals very well.

Vocally, Gray steps towards a more R&B style, though taking her tone to a darker and more somber place than much of R&B often is.

The one criticism I might have in some of her vocals is that there are a few parts where I think I can hear a lack of confidence in her voice. Of course, I cannot know this, I can only go off of what I hear, and this is something I only heard in a few particular parts of her music. But, Gray is relatively new to vocals, and while her tone and the articulations of her voice are spot on as far as I can tell, sometimes her voice lacks a stronger force behind it.

That said, her vocals in “Retrograde” did possess a more confident timbre to them, so she is definitely capable of providing that extra umph to her sound. All the “pieces” are in place for her to evolve into a strong vocalist, and I think she might just need some more time to step into this role as a vocalist and become more comfortable with it.

Recent Releases

X: “And can you tell me about the EP you’re coming out with soon, Becoming? What is the intent behind this EP? And how will the music with this EP compare with other music you’ve made?

GS: “Becoming is the first time I am doing a fully lyrical project. I have released a few lyrical singles, but most of my body of work up until this point was instrumentals. Becoming is about constantly changing, and so it is parallel with the fact that when I first came out as an artist, I never would have even thought about writing lyrics, let alone singing them for other human beings to hear, yet here I am releasing a full EP doing exactly that.”

X: “Is there anything new to your style, your songwriting or your sound you’ve been developing with it?”

GS: “Besides lyrics, I took time to really school myself on the engineering side of the music. It has been almost a year since I’ve released new music and I have spent that time digging and grinding in to mixing and mastering more than anything. I have invested hundreds of dollars on new equipment and software. I have spent hundreds of hours watching tutorials, reading step by steps, tweaking and critiquing my mixing and mastering process. One of the songs on Becoming is a track that I originally released last year, but I have now taken the time to re-record, re-mix, and re-master it for this re-release.

“It is not just important to me, but it is crucial to the success of any musical project to have solid engineering. I am still not perfect, but I am in an unrecognizably better sonic space than I was in before, and so my music sounds exponentially better now. It sounds like a completely different artist than 2 years ago.”

X: “Now, since the article will be coming out after Becoming is dropped, and there won’t be any spoilers, are there any songs you’d like to give deeper insight to? Whether it’s the background of the song or why you made it, or even how you made it and what the process of making the different songs was like, what are some things you’d want people to know about the songs?”

GS: “I just think I have started to carve out my own styles. So if you have been a fan of my music, it’s going to be easy to pick out your favorite tracks. But for anyone’s first run in with me, here is the run down of some of the songs on the new EP.

“If you liked my previous single Retrograde, you’re going to like the first track Missing It. Both are about boys putting me in emotionally compromising situations and therefore have a little bit more of an Alt-R&B style.

“If you liked my previous release of Beast, then not only are you going to be pleased with the remixed/remastered 2020 release, but you will probably also dig Tormented. Both are dark, bass driven songs with spooky subject matters and some heavy drum passages.

“Lastly, if you liked Hope Like Water and my other orchestral pieces, I released Dark Mind as a orchestral song, just to play around with the composition of that piece.”

Parting Words

Being able to talk with musicians like Gray Scale, as well as other artists and creators has been quite a joy. I love getting to pick people’s brains on things, delve into their thoughts a bit, and connect with someone who’s talented, driven and experienced in their particular field or craft. Talking with Gray has been no different.

While Gray is still relatively new to music, her work so far has been quite excellent, and I think as she pushes forward, she will find—and we will find—her ability, her personal expression through her sound, and her toolkit of music creation will only expand. From there, I can only hope that the range of people who appreciate her craft expand as well.

Before I end with some parting words from Gray, you can find her music on all common platforms, you can find Gray on Instagram as @gray_scale_ and on linktree with https://linktr.ee/gray_scale_ .

And so, with these parting words, thank you for reading. I bid you adieu.

X: “Do you have any advice for musicians–or creators in general–who are largely independent/self-reliant and self-taught?”

GS: “It is tough being on your own. So, remember why you got started and why you’re doing it. That always jumpstarts my motivation. And don’t be afraid to reach out for help when you need it. I am pretty bad at this but I still keep a small clutch of people/mentors that I go to for questions or just to talk and get new information from.”

X: “Any advice maybe for someone who is just starting to get their toes wet and might need some wisdom from someone further down the path?”

GS: “If you’re just starting out, try everything. It’s the time to experiment and to get out of your comfort zone. None of your plans are set in stone, so play around with your options when it comes to sounds and instrumentation, visuals and graphics, marketing, everything. You never know what will end up working because you don’t know what works at all, so there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

The Music of Daniel Blake

Written by Alexander Greco

September 23, 2020

Photo Credit: @visionofele on Instagram

Born in Arizona, but currently residing in Los Angeles, Daniel Blake is an eclectic musician with roots in classic rock, old school and 90’s country and blues, and contemporary folk. Having released a number of singles, including his most recent, “Freeway”, and his EP, Circle Mountain, Daniel is quickly gaining recognition, with his music already being featured on a number of television shows and a Spotify-official playlist.

Daniel’s music immediately struck a spot in me, as it possessed the same calm yet haunting expressiveness of some of my favorite artists, Ben Howard, Bon Iver and Adam Granduciel, and the same simplified, emotive style of contemporary musicians like All Them Witches, Wild Child and Josh Abbott. Blending styles from across blues, folk, country and rock, along with the ambiance of synth and keys in the background, Daniel’s music echoes in your mind with calming yet soulful songs of love, life and a roaming freedom.

When Daniel and I first started talking, he communicated in a handful of 3-5 word sentences, and I thought, “Fuck, I’m gonna have to wring the answers out of this guy.”

However, despite Daniel’s laconic first responses, once he did open up about music, his answers were some of the most detailed I’ve received in interviews (even beating out a few writers I’ve talked with) and Daniel’s passion and experience with his craft became crystal clear.

And so, while I usually include much of my own thought in these sorts of articles, with this article, I let Daniel do much of the talking and step back more than I usually do.

Without further ado, here is my article/interview with Daniel Blake.

Background

We began our interview discussing how Daniel became involved with music and how he eventually arrived where he is now.

Xander: “So, to start off with, how did you get into music? How did you start singing and playing? Have you had any formal training in music, or are you self-taught? Have you been a part of any other bands or musical projects, and, if so, what were those like?”

Daniel: “My dad played music at church so there were always a couple of guitars lying around the house.  I eventually learned a few of the basic chords (G,C,D & EM) which gave me something to build off of.  I later took some lessons at a local music shop but wasn’t too involved in music at school.  I had tried forming a couple of punk bands when I was in Junior high and High-school.  However, they never amounted to much.  mostly just recording 15 minute instrumentals we would listen to while driving around town.  I didn’t really start singing until I was in my 20’s when I started singing at church.  From there I started messing around with an old 8 track recorder we had lying around the house.”

X: “How have you developed over the years? And how have you arrived where you are now in your career?”

D: “When I first started out I really had no clue what I should be doing. I pretty much just started recording music and uploading it to Soundcloud. It was sort of nice to work at my own pace to learn about the best ways to use my voice. I eventually had to step out and present it to the world, which is when the journey really began. It was difficult to find a venue that would allow me to do a set so I had to start at ground zero. Basically playing anything available which at the time was mostly open mics.  Like anything else, one door always leads you to another door until one day you look back and say, ‘man, that’s a lot of doors!’ haha.”

Influences

Next, Daniel and I delved into his musical influences. I knew about a number of them, and his songs possess the unmistakable echoes of voices and sounds still reverberating from the dawn of folk, country and classic rock (Dylan, Cash, Neil Young, etc.). I called Ben Howard the moment I heard his first song, and I wasn’t surprised to learn he listened to Iron & Wine. Still, Daniel’s catalog of influences was quite broad, and I enjoyed hearing about all the artists who’d left a mark on his music.

X: What other musicians, musical groups or eras of music have influenced you? How did early influences like Tom Petty, The Beatles, Van Morrison and others affect you? What about their music do you enjoy? And are there any contemporary artists you resonate with or find any inspiration from?

Credit: @ojodeloba

D: I love old country music (Hank, Willy, Waylon & Cash).  The songs remind me of my grandpa and his friends sitting around in a circle, telling stories and teasing one another.  It sort of feels like home I guess.  I’m also a big fan of a lot of 90’s country/blues music too (Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Brooks & Dunn, Bonnie Raitt, SRV, Dire Straits…).  All of these artists are a piece of me in one way or another.  The common thread for all of these artists is great songs.

D: However, there is something much deeper (especially for groups like the Beatles).  They constantly evolved and experimented with different ideas. they pushed the envelope and opened the world up to new sounds.  Every song didn’t need to be a love song.  It was okay to create something just for the sake of making something new.  As far as contemporary music goes, I feel like I may be a little behind, haha.  However, I have definitely been influenced by artists like David Grey, Ben Howard, Band of Horses, Iron & Wine & Postal service.

After this, we discussed Daniel’s influences in a more general sense.

X: Are there any cultural, social, religious, or other kinds of influences on your music or your songwriting? Are there any personal experiences that have shaped your music and songwriting, or even your outlook on making music?

D: I think that if you are an honest writer it is impossible to write something that does not somehow reflect the issues that are going on in the world.  At the same time, I really try to zoom in on a moment and tell a story.  It’s sort of like painting.

D: If you try and paint the whole world it would be impossible to include enough detail to really give anyone a sense of what it’s like to live here.  However, once you zoom in you can start to see more and more detail.  If you were to paint a doorknob you would be able to express all of the reflections and metal fibers.  People could determine if it is on a wood door or a glass door.  If it’s night or if it’s day.  Whether it’s on the inside or the outside of the building.  All of the clues on and around the doorknob help to give you a sense of the environment, just like the subject matter of a song.  I basically try to say it without saying it.

D: There are a few moments that really stick out as playing a major role in the way I approach songwriting.  I remember driving home from work listening to the radio when a Red Hot Chili Peppers song came on.  I realized that I don’t understand most of the lyrics.  However, the overall sound (melody/production/cadence) all flowed together in such a way that it didn’t seem to matter.  This memory stuck with me for a really long time. The foundation for any great song is always a strong melody and production.  This however sets up roadblocks that you must learn to navigate around.  In fact, it forces you to write better lyrics because you need to figure out ways to say what you want to say within the constraints that you have setup for yourself.”

Songs

Next, Daniel and I spent some time talking about his some of his specific songs, as well as a bit about the recording process for his recent releases.

X: Can you tell me a bit about your latest release, Freeway? What was the inspiration for it? How was the process of recording and producing it?

D: I’m originally from Phoenix, AZ.  Throughout the years I’ve made dozens of trips back home to visit family.  Whenever I would get to the middle of the stretch; I would look at the small clusters of housing developments and trailer parks.  I imagined what it would be like to grow up in a town like that where you constantly see cars passing by on the freeway.  I imagined that the freeway could become a symbol of hope, especially for a couple of kids growing up in broken homes.

D: The recording process was a lot of fun.  I worked with Bill Lefler; who had produced all of my previous work.  My good friend/guitar player Paul Redel came into the studio and laid down probably 100 different guitar tracks.  I stood at the doorway and watched as Paul would play a lick and Bill laid on the ground turning knobs on the pedals.  Each take was completely unique, magical and a mess at the same time.  From there, Bill had the task of sifting through all of the takes, cutting and pasting things together until it started to sound like something completely out of this world.  During an unrelated session, Bill had hired a horn player for something else he was working on at the time.  The horn player had finished the session a little early so Bill asked him to mess around with a few takes on Freeway, which sort of added a whole other element to the song. 

X: Can you tell me a bit about your other releases, like the Circle Mountain EP, Here With Me and The Ones You Love? What have been some inspirations or motivations for these songs and others?

D: I had eventually come to the point where I realized that you are extremely limited without having any music out in the world.  When you first start out in this industry you have a lot of unrealistic expectations about the way things work.  You imagine being greeted by some A&R rep the second you step off stage who signed you to a label.  The sad truth is that there are very few stages you can step off of if you don’t have any content, not to mention the fact that A&R reps typically go after people who are doing pretty well on their own.  I realized that the next step would be to release my music out into the world, even if it didn’t receive much attention.

D: I spent several months trying to record my music at home when I finally threw up my hands and decided I needed a producer which–was the smartest decision I ever made.  I met my producer Bill Lefler through a friend of a friend.  I was impressed with the artists he had worked with in the past and quite frankly I felt honored that he would be willing to listen to some of my homemade demos.  Bill really sold me on his enthusiasm.  He appeared to understand what I was going for and was excited to share some of the ways he thought we could get there.  We initially agreed to do the first track on spec; which is another way of saying “if you don’t like it then you don’t pay for it and move forward with someone else”.  However, it didn’t take much time into recording the first track that I realized Bill and I would be working together for a long time.

Credit: @ojodeloba

D: At the time, I had about 20 songs I had written which gave us a lot to work with as far as options.  I was open to Bill’s opinion because I wanted him to be excited about the songs he was working on.  I also figured that eventually all of the tracks would be released, each at the right time.  We decided to do 5 tracks and picked four that we were both excited about.  We left the last slot open for something new I would write based on the feel of the first 4 tracks which happened to be “All I Need”.  Overall, the experience was really great.

D: After releasing Circle Mountain, the EP had caught the ear of a music supervisor who asked me to record a cover of the Dido song “Here With Me” for the TV show “Roswell New Mexico”.  This was a major milestone in my career as up to this point I could only dream of having a song on TV.  “The Ones You Love” was a Christmas song that was mixed in with the other demos I had originally sent to Bill when we were working on the first EP.  I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to release an original Christmas song for the simple fact that there are too many covers floating around and Christmas songs typically get re-visited every year.  Bill liked the idea of doing a really stripped-down version to sort of give it that “Carpenters” sound.  Again, the recording process was a lot of fun and is something I will always cherish. 

In Parting

The last thing Daniel and I talked about was probably my favorite part of the interview. It’s really goddamn hard to make it as an artist, as a musician, as a writer, and so forth. While so many of us look up things like, “What is ‘so-and-so’s’ morning routine?” or “What does ‘Person X’ do to get motivated?”, I don’t think enough people take the time to listen to the actual advice and experience of people who’ve made it further down similar paths that we’re walking.

So, I’ve been trying to talk with people I interview more about what people actually need to do to be successful. The sad truth is that recording a beautiful song, writing a deep piece of fiction, or painting a stunning landscape is only the first step in an endless marathon to success. Luckily, with this knowledge, you can start learning what steps to take next.

While Daniel’s response here is more geared toward music, a lot of what he says can certainly be translated to other creative industries.

X: A lot of people who read the magazine are independent artists, musicians, writers and so forth who are trying to break into their respective fields, or are even just starting, and so I’m sure a lot of people would love to hear from someone who is a bit further down the path from where they are.

X: What do you think is important for aspiring musicians to know about the business? Do you have any advice for musicians trying to start their career? What are some things you wished you knew getting started? And do you have any advice for marketing music, getting your name out there and picking up traction with your music?

@ojodeloba

D: It’s a very difficult question to answer because no two artists’ paths are the same.  However, there are a few things that I think are key to being successful in this industry.  First off, it is extremely important to be a part of the music community.  Seek out local open mics or artists hangs and make as many friends as you can.

D: When you’re first starting out, the friends you make in the music community are often the only ones standing in your corner, pushing you to keep going.  It’s also a good way to expose yourself to any potential opportunities that may come up (“oh, you need a keyboard player? I know just the person”).  You will learn about the best producers, mixing engineers & mastering engineers.  You will learn who curates which events or which events are simply a waste of time.

D: Secondly, I think it is extremely important to have a balanced perspective of the world.  Understand that this thing you are trying to be successful at is un-relatable to 99.9% of the people in the world.  At the same time, you need these people more than they need you.  Don’t use your platform to complain about all of the struggles that come with doing this thing you chose to do.  Instead, make great content that can provide an escape for these people.

@where.is.rachel

D: Lastly, I would say that you need to work harder and smarter than everyone around you.  Figure out a way to make the best content possible.  As an indie artist, you are pretty much self-funding all of the services that would come with a record deal.  No one says, “This guy looks like a complete hack but I know he’s indie so I’ll give him a chance.”  You want people to look at the work you put out and assume you are already signed.  You may need to work a full-time job so that you can afford recording/marketing/PR fees on top of food, gas & rent.  The hard work doesn’t end once you have a mastered track.  In fact, often the hardest part is getting people to listen to your beautiful track.  This is in part why it’s so important to make as many friends who are proud of your work and are willing to pass it along.  Everyone you have in your corner (friends, curators, producers…) are all advocates for the work you put out to the world.

And here we’ve arrived at the end of my interview with Daniel Blake. It was great getting to hear from Daniel about his experiences creating and recording music, and he definitely gave some solid advice for anyone looking to make a name for themselves in their respective creative fields.

There’s one thing he said that stuck out to me: “Understand that this thing you are trying to be successful at is un-relatable to 99.9% of the people in the world.”

I could probably write an entire article just on this sentence.

If you’re out there trying to make it as an artist, musician, writer and so forth—if you’re out there trying to do the impossible—you might find yourself living a life that no one around you understands. As Elton John said, “It’s lonely out in space.”

Most people will never even put in the initial effort to try. Just taking the first step forward will set you aside from almost everyone else in the world. From there, the path forward is difficult. You’ve already set yourself apart from most other people in the world, and now you have to set yourself apart from all the people who’ve already set themselves apart.

But, it’s worth it. It’s worth it to at least put in the effort and say, “I gave it what I had.”

And, even if the path is an isolated one at times, know that you are not alone. Know that there’s others out there walking, hiking, crawling and climbing similar paths.

­-

I definitely had a great time hearing from Daniel, and I always love getting to sit down and enjoy new music. You can find Daniel’s music on Spotify (“Daniel Blake”), and you can find him on both Instagram and Linktree as @danielblakemusic. Give him a listen, and expect to hear more great songs from him in the future.

I Know the Pieces Fit: An Analysis of the 1982 The Thing (Part 2)

Written by Alexander Greco

September 17, 2020

Where you been hiding lately?

Where you been hiding from the news?

Because we’ve been fighting lately,

We’ve been fighting with the wolves.

Ben Howard

Now, I will pivot into the second half of the analysis, the inversion of Thing as Metaphoric Object.

Analysis Part 2: Thing as Phenomenological Object

While the first half of the analysis is fun and interesting, and possesses moral/ethical/political considerations that are worth discussing (and will be discussed), this second half of the analysis is far more interesting to me.

For this, we will be examining what the Thing is to the humans.

For this, we will be examining the Thing from the perspective of humans as a metaphoric, narrative object, meaning: what is the Thing from a symbolic and psychological perspective?

But, if this is more important and more meaningful to me, why begin with the other analysis?

Because, while we are now looking at the Thing as an object, the nature of it as an object must be understood as an object capable of subjectivity.

When the humans are perceiving the Thing, they are not looking at an inanimate object, they are looking at a conscious and rational object.

However, the Thing and the contents of its subjective experience is a “black box”, a programming term that here means the contents of the Thing’s consciousness and cognition cannot be known.

In programming, a “black box” is a piece of code that has a function—there are inputs, which are then processed by whatever code exists in the black box, and then there are outputs produced by the code—but the function of the “black box” is completely unknown. The contents of the unknown programming can be guessed by looking at the inputs and the resulting outputs, but the code within nonetheless remains a mystery.

The fact that the Thing does have a consciousness and is capable of rational thought is known. There are measurable inputs and measurable outputs, the inputs being reality and events, the outputs being the actions the Thing takes. However, the humans do not know what the consciousness and rational thoughts of the alien are—they cannot examine the “code” inside the Thing’s “black box”.

So, when the humans perceive the Thing (possibly the most apt name here), they perceive an organism they cannot fully understand, with a psychological/cognitive/subjective black box that they cannot examine.

All humans are actually like this to all other humans.

No two humans can actually know what is happening inside the other human’s mind—not fully, at least.

The minds of all humans are like “black boxes” to all other humans.

Here, I can recall the fictional (though, unfortunately, not completely unmoored from reality) anecdote of the lesbian in a Muslim society.

She might be the only person on the planet who knows she is a lesbian. She might not have shared with any other human the fact that she secretly has a sexual and romantic attraction to other women. This, being a function of her mind, experience, psyche, etc., remains a content of the “black box” of her psyche.

This “black box”, however, extends beyond just our thoughts, our motivations, our sexual preferences, our beliefs and so forth, and extends to things like our memories—which then extends epistemologically to our actions, our experiences, our decisions and so forth. Not only can we hide from others what we think, feel or believe, but we can also hide from others our actions, our patterns of actions (actions taken as part of an agenda) and the things we have experienced in our lives.

Now, one of the great peculiarities of humanity is our ability to communicate the contents of this “black box” to others. We can tell other people: This is what I think; this is how I feel; this is what I have done; this is what I have gone through in my life; etc.

And here, we find the interwoven segments of a functioning, healthy society (or, on the micro-level, functioning, healthy relationships): communication, honesty and trust.

Humans have the ability to communicate what resides within our “black boxes”, so long as we trust what the other person is communicating.

By knowing what these contents are—so long as we also know these contents do not indicate a hostility towards us—the people we know can be perceived as something we understand.

That may be one of the most important functions of language and society: providing every individual with a socio-linguistic structure that allows us to understand to a high enough resolution who everyone else within a society is.

You don’t have to know someone’s name, you don’t have to know their address, you don’t have to know their job, but we are able to safely and comfortably walk into a Starbucks without immediately backing into a corner at the sight of a dozen hairless primates because society has provided us with enough information to know (or believe) that none of the people are actively or passively hostile towards you.

However, what happens at the point at which someone doesn’t make any sense? Let’s examine this.

If we have a socio-linguistically mediated epistemological structure which provides us with the information about others, and this information ensures as that particular individuals will not be hostile, what happens when this epistemological structure is violated?

What happens if you go into a Starbucks, and someone pulls out a gun?

What happens, I think, is much deeper than most might suppose.

On a rational, material level, very little has actually changed. The only change in the material environment around us is that a small, mechanical object has been introduced to the physical contents of Starbucks.

However, from a deeper cognitive and psychological level, the change is nearly infinitely drastic.

You are no longer standing in a Starbucks waiting for your coffee to be made. This idea, this perception of reality, is not the material reality, it is a cognitive, phenomenological reality. The idea of Starbucks, the idea of what you are doing in Starbucks, the idea of what others are doing in Starbucks, and the idea of how these things are situated within our understanding of reality are all socio-linguistically mediated knowledge-structures we base our decisions on.

Suddenly, by the introduction of a gun into the environment, these socio-linguistic knowledge-structures have disintegrated. The reality of standing in a Starbucks waiting for your coffee no longer exists—that reality is gone—and a new reality of being in a place where a stranger has a gun has taken its place.

In addition, the person who was also waiting at Starbucks for a cup of coffee also vanishes, and they become an entirely different person. They may not even be a person anymore—at least as far as your psyche is concerned. The benign stranger at Starbucks (another mediated knowledge-structure) has suddenly vanished, and is replaced with an object whose intentions, motivations, knowledge and experiences you suddenly don’t understand.

That person transforms into some other thing that is no longer a person as you understood them to be.

That person, on a psychological or phenomenological level, literally transforms their being from a defined, articulated, mutually understood citizen of a country into a living, thinking, acting black box.

And here, now, I hope you can begin to see how this connects back to The Thing.

At the moment at which one of the dogs or humans is transforming into its alien form, what precisely is happening from the perspective of one of the non-aliens?

What subjectively and psychologically is happening?

We’ll take the scene at which Palmer is revealed to be one of the Things.

The poke his blood with the hot metal, and the blood reacts as a living organism.

Suddenly, we now know Palmer is a Thing, and at this precise moment, Palmer “physically” begins to transform.

He begins convulsing unnaturally; his eyes bleed and bulge; his head grotesquely deforms; his entire body transforms into a pseudo-human horror; his head splits open into a giant, monstrous mouth and attacks Windows; and MacReady finally burns the creature alive then kills it with dynamite as it tries to escape outside.

What is happening is Palmer begins with a defined, articulated, orderly form. What Palmer is—Palmer’s being as a perceived object—is understood. Then, at the moment Palmer is revealed to be a Thing, Palmer transforms into something that is not understood.

What is happening when the humans or dogs are turning into the chaotic monstrosities we refer to as “the Thing”? All of our fundamental and assumed knowledge about their being suddenly vanishes. They transform from something that has a rigid, defined form and a concrete definition-of, into something that cannot be easily described, except as something grotesque, volatile and chaotic.

Now, viewing this as a phenomenological event (rather than an actual, physical event), it is not that the people and animals are physically turning into these chaotic alien-creatures, it is that we are witnessing the psychological transformation of these beings from the perspective of the human-observers. The moment a dog or human transforms into a “Thing” is the moment where a defined, ordered, articulated being transforms into something that we cannot understand.

The perceived physical transformation is therefore actually a projected psychological transformation of the other being.

So here, if we view the entire film in this light, with the transformations as symbolic, phenomenological transformations, what is happening is quite peculiar.

What if, instead of viewing the movie as a sci-fi horror film where they’re being attacked by these assimilating aliens, we view this as a movie where everyone is subjected to a mass hysteria where they begin to “hallucinate” that their fellow outpost members are turning into monsters?

What if the members of the outpost are going insane, and begin projecting these monstrous psychological transformations onto each other?

Throughout the beginning of the movie, we see many of the characters at odds with each other, just over mundane things. With the introduction of the Thing into their midst, they suddenly become paranoid, suspicious of one another, and delusional. They perform purity tests on one another (like the blood tests), and enact a sort of martial law where the typical legalities and civilities are out the window.

How much of this is caused by the actual introduction of the Thing into their population, and how much of this is caused by a mass hysteria?

To bring this back to our prior quasi-fictional anecdotes:

At the moment the lesbian woman reveals herself to be a lesbian in the fundamentalist Muslim-dominated society, she is no longer an accepted, understood human within that society; she transforms into a being that must be ritually annihilated.

At the moment the benign coffee-drinker at Starbucks pulls a gun out from their pocket, they are no longer a benign stranger in a socially mediated/understood setting; they have transformed into a chaotic, undefined being who is armed with a mechanism that can quickly and effectively end lives.

To bring this back to our prior analysis of Thing-as-Subject, we (“we” as all of us as individuals) are at all times both Thing-as-Subject and Subject-Observing-OtherThing-as-Object.

And now, to wrap this analysis up, we will examine what this perpetual duality means.

Conclusion: Bring the Pieces Back Together

There are two obvious but conflicting moral or ethical statements to the analysis:

Communication between two beings—and so an understanding between two beings—must be established in order for there to be peaceful co-existence.

That which cannot be communicated with or understood may have to be annihilated if it cannot otherwise be survived.

While with the 1982 The Thing, the ethical question of communication and survival may remain ambiguous, in the original 1951 version of the film, The Thing From Another World, this ethical question is actually confronted, but is answered in a much less ambiguous way.

One of the characters attempts to communicate with the alien, but is killed for his efforts, and the remaining characters then annihilated the alien in order to survive it.

While I can applaud the original film for confronting this question more outrightly (itself adapted from the 1938 novella, Who Goes There? (of which I know little about)), and perhaps the 1982 The Thing ought to have brought this ethical issue more to the surface, the 1982 film nonetheless captures the true, phenomenological or subjective reality of this moral issue more accurately (though opaquely).

The problem is we never can know what to do.

The problem is not that we should create a society where there are no Starbucks shooters, or a society where we don’t murder lesbians in the streets (though both are admirable goals).

The problem is that it is impossible to create a society that does not possess analogues to these anecdotal societies.

The true “point” to the 1982 The Thing is not a moral answer to this combined problem of every individual being at once a Subject-Who-Perceives and Object-Being-Perceived.

The true point here is a pragmatic and amoral one, and the point is this:

We cannot know what is truly going on in the minds of anyone else. We cannot truly know what is happening in others’ minds, what they are motivated by and what actions they may take for or against us. We cannot truly know who (and, so, what) another person is.

And, so, psychologically, people we cannot understand transform into grotesque monsters before our eyes, even if physically they are exactly the same.

What The Thing proposes to us is not a moral proposition, but an amoral Truth about the reality of subjective experience and the phenomenology of human relationships.

All humans—all organisms and, more broadly, all objects with a personal subjectivity—are simultaneously:

  • Subject Perceiving Other-Object

And

  • Object Perceived by Other-Subject

Now, this is more applicable in situations where the aforementioned social-structures have been violated, but the problem here, as I tried to illuminate, is in part that we can never know when these violations will be made, or what the nature of this violation is.

So, I said previously these were not intended to be made into political/moral value statements, but, fuck you, I’m a lying black-box-bastard, live with it.

What is the most pressing moral/ethical/political and even epistemological (knowledge-based) issue today in America? (And, likely, throughout the world right now)

Our ability to communicate with one another has all but been corrupted to an impossibly unreconcilable state.

Our politics (in America, and, from what I know, in many places across Western society) has become so polarized that to say you support Trump is to self-declare yourself as a Fascist, and to say you support Biden is to self-declare yourself as an Anarchist.

Of course, except in the marginally extreme, neither of these cases are true. 99% of Trump-supporters are not Fascists, and 98% of Biden-supporters are not Anarchists (I’m kidding, fellow-Liberals, I really mean 97%).

However, those 99% who’ve fallen into the “Trump Camp” cannot convince those in the “Biden Camp” that they are not Fascist Bigots intent on inciting the Fourth Reich; and those 95% (I kid) who’ve fallen into the “Biden Camp” cannot convince those in the “Trump Camp” that they are not psychotic Anarchists seeking a Communist Revolution.

So, what has happened?

Both sides of our political divide have decided they can no longer convince the other side that they are not vicious monsters, so they’ve taken to treating the other side as vicious monsters.

What has happened to both sides of our current political “war”?

The Right and the Left currently perceive themselves as the humans, and they perceive the others as the “Things”.

We have a strange and potentially catastrophic situation right now where both the Right and the Left are simultaneously Subject-Perceiving-Object-as-Thing and Object-as-Thing-Perceived-by-Subject.

So, what do we do?

Obviously, we must come to understand that the shooter at Starbucks may actually be a Muslim Lesbian. I mean this jokingly, and I mean this seriously.

Imagine the moment you realize someone you know supports the candidate you currently oppose. How quickly does that person transform into something grotesque and horrific?

If you support Trump and you discover someone you know supports Biden, how immediate is the effect on you? How immediately do you either go quiet and politely smile and nod before walking away, or attack them on the spot, engulfing them in the fiery Truth of your words?

How immediately do you, a Biden-supporter, see your friends transform into a Fascistic Existential threat to equality and compassion the moment you see them don a MAGA hat?

How it feels telling your friends you support Constitutional Rights and Mixed Social Economics.

At this moment, you may even be wondering whose side I am on, so you can know whether or not to condemn my words as profanity or praise them as sacred wisdom. “He poked fun at Liberals, but then he called himself a Liberal, but then ambiguously quasi-supported/quasi-criticized both sides, so what the hell is he?” Fuck you, that’s what side I am on.

The ending of this upcoming election may precisely reflect the ending of The Thing. The architecture we live in that protect us and trap us with the Thing—the structures of society/the outpost of Antartica—are destroyed in fire. We are left in the wreckage, only remaining alive by the dying light of burning buildings. And we face each other as the last survivors of a great cataclysm, wondering if the Thing across from us is a friend or foe.

We must communicate with each other.

We must learn to trust each other again, whether or not we agree on the other’s opinions.

We must learn to understand each other again, to open up our own black boxes, despite the ensuing vulnerability, so that others may open up their own black boxes.

And while we may find that our friends turn into Things and Things turn into friends, maybe, just maybe, if we can stop, think and speak to each other, we’ll come out of this alive.

Covid Month #6: “I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I’d rather not spend the rest of the Winter tied to this fucking couch.”

I Know the Pieces Fit: An Analysis of the 1982 The Thing (Part 1)

Written by Alexander Greco

September 16, 2020

Cold silence has

A tendency to

Atrophy any

Sense of compassion

Tool / Maynard James Keenan

This article is the first of two on the 1982 The Thing. This article will introduce the movie and the two halves of the analysis, then present the first half of the two-part analysis. The second article will present the second part of the analysis, then conclude by examining both and comparing them to current social events.

The contents of the first article will focus on a theoretical analysis of the film revolving around the key element of Information Control, while the second article will delve into more philosophical and psycho-social territories.

Introduction

The 1982 remake of The Thing has gone down in history as one of the best sci-fi/horror films of all time, with good reason. It’s a tremendous movie, it was made in the golden age of classic special effects, right in between the developing stages of earlier films and the rocky slide into 90’s and 00’s effects and CGI.

The setting was great, the characters were memorable and unique, the pacing and storytelling was masterful, and the underlying Cosmic Horror themes and tones of the movie were pitch perfect.

However, while The Thing has gained enormous notoriety since its initial box office flop, I still think it’s a vastly misunderstood movie, and even a vastly underappreciated movie. The source of this misunderstanding and underappreciation comes from the most overlooked element of the film: Control of Information.

The key to understanding The Thing, what made The Thing so horrifying and why the The Thing has been misunderstood is how the film’s director and screenwriter, John Carpenter and Bill Lancaster, controlled what information the viewer does and doesn’t know:

– The absolute knowns, or facts

– The assumptions

– The absolute unknowns, or known unknowns

– The unknown unknowns, or things we don’t even know that we don’t know

Control of Information is important in any form of narrative, but it is key in genres like sci-fi, horror and mystery, where so much of the meaning or emotion is derived cognitively rather than aesthetically.

For Future Reference, Left to Right: Norris, Bennings, Childs, Copper, Fuchs, Garry

With The Thing, nearly the entirety of the film’s true horror is derived from what we know and don’t know as opposed to what we are perceiving physically or aesthetically. So much of the horror is derived from Carpenter and Lancaster’s Control of Information: What we know; what we don’t know; what we’re lead to believe; what we assume; what assumptions we’re forced to question; and what information is left to the imagination.

The entire film is centered on an alien who can assimilate other organisms and disguise itself as any organism it has assimilated. So, throughout the movie, right to the final scene, we are constantly questioning who is an alien, who isn’t an alien, how the alien can be discovered, how the alien can be defeated, and what might happen if the alien isn’t defeated.

While The Thing is a master-class on Control of Information, with its ability to penetrate and terrorize your consciousness with doubt, isolation, paranoia and these constant questions, one question is never actually asked—one question is kept hidden by such overt terror, or the answer seems so obvious we never think to ask it—and this may be the question that is most crucial to understanding the film:

“I just want a home…”

What does the alien want?

This is one piece of information is secreted away, hidden and kept beneath all the other layers of the story to such a greater extent than anything else in the movie.

And so, the Control of Information—and, as sub-sets, both the ignorance of individuals and the inability to communicate or perceive information cohesively or coherently—may actually be the deepest and most important theme of the movie.

The instinctual assumption of both the characters and the movie-viewers is that the alien wants to assimilate other organisms for its own gain, and to eventually take over the world by assimilating all other lifeforms. However, this may only be a projection of motivation onto the organism, as this motivation is never explicitly confirmed by the end of the movie. The grotesque, violent horror of The Thing is so great that we never stop to question this motivation. We simply take it as a given.

However, we know so little about the monster in The Thing that it seems foolish to assume anything about it:

– We don’t know where it’s from

– We don’t know why it came to Earth

– We don’t know what it was doing before it came to Earth

– We don’t know how it’s able to assimilate organisms (we don’t know very well, at least)

– We don’t know what it is, that’s part of the point of the film: it’s just a thing that came from space

This of course connects to Cosmic Horror and the Lovecraftian Cosmic Nihilism, but I won’t delve too much into this. Feel free to read my articles if you want to read more about Cosmic Horror/Nihilism.

The short of it is we are small, limited creatures living on a small, blue dot in an imperceivably vast reality. We are far more blind and ignorant that we are perceiving and knowing, and the knowledge that we don’t know is so tremendously more massive than the knowledge we do know.

We don’t know where the alien is from or why it’s on Earth. We don’t know what the alien is or what it is capable of. We don’t know what it wants, what it’s goals are or what it it’s like to be the alien.

What is interesting, is that we do know the motivations of those who have remained humans: survival.

The motivations we do know (of the humans) are the will to live. The motivations we don’t know (of the aliens) are assumed to be violence, domination and usurpation.

But, we don’t know what the alien’s motivations actually are.

What are the motivations of, what is going on in the mind of, and what is it like to be The Thing? As an important inversion of this, why are the Thing’s motivations, and the Thing itself, perceived the way it is?

These will be the focus of the analysis.

Summary and Structure of Information

This summary will, of course, have spoilers in it, so be warned.

However, the summary will be centered on how information is controlled throughout the film, so, though much of the film is luckily centered on this as well, it will likely leave out decent swaths of the film’s content.

If you haven’t watched The Thing, it goes without saying that I highly recommend it. If you have watched The Thing, this will all be old news, so feel free to skip to the meat of the analysis.

After one of the most memorable and iconic opening title scenes in sci-fi history (up there with the 1979 Alien), the movie begins with two Norwegians in a helicopter, chasing a husky dog across the icy wastes of Antarctica.

The Norwegians are shooting at the dog, and at one point throw dynamite at it. The husky arrives at the American Outpost, Outpost 31, where the majority of the film takes place.

The Norwegians follow the sled dog and soon arrive at the outpost as well. One of them accidentally blows themselves and their helicopter up, while the other pursues the dog on foot with their rifle.

While trying to kill the dog, the Norwegian shoots one of the Americans, then begins yelling something at the Americans in Norwegian, brandishing the gun at them. However, no one can understand the Norwegian, and they shoot the man dead, then take the dog inside their outpost.

Immediately, we are introduced to both the key tool of the film, Control of Information, and a key theme of the film, Communication.

The sad irony of this opening scene is that the dog (spoilers) is actually the alien that will later terrorize the outpost for the remainder of the film. The Norwegians know this, and their actions to kill the dog may have (spoilers) saved the lives of everyone at the outpost, but the Americans cannot understand the Norwegians, and so kill them.

However, we as the viewers cannot know this, just as the characters cannot know this, and so we are left with the same blind assumptions as the Americans (if that ain’t a metaphor).

The dog is allowed to wander around the outpost, doing god-knows-what behind the scenes, while we still assume it is only a dog, until it is put into a kennel with the other dogs.

After MacReady and Copper have investigated the Norwegian base, the dog finally reveals itself to be what it truly is: the Thing.

The dog’s body begins to change, with tentacles and other appendages growing from it, and its face eventually splits open to reveal a monstrous “mouth”. It begins attacking and assimilating the other dogs (meaning it absorbs their bodies into its own and begins copying the cells of the dog). But then, the alien is killed by the Americans, though the question remains open as to whether or not other members of the outpost have been assimilated.

There are two important threads to follow through the beginning of the movie:

The Salt is strong with this one.

One: we see the relationships of the characters as tense, often with a lot of conflict between them that erupts over minor things. One example is Blair asking Windows if he’s been able to reach anyone over the radio, with Windows blowing up and saying it’s impossible to reach anyone at this time. (This, along with other moments, builds on the them of communication, and comes into play more in the second half of the analysis.)

Two: our knowledge of the alien/Thing is developed, though only to a certain degree (we never fully/explicitly learn much about the Thing). Primarily, we learn of its ability to assimilate other organisms, and of the possibility that it could eventually assimilate the entirety of organisms on the planet, if it were to make it to any other continent (if it was motivated to do so).

And, of course, much of the rest of the first two thirds of the film is devoted to determining who has been assimilated or not.

Blair suspects Clark, who was in charge of looking out for the dogs, and was alone with the dogs when the Thing began assimilating them.

Bennings becomes partially assimilated, and attempts to escape, but is discovered and killed before it could fully assimilate.

Blair goes crazy, suspecting anyone and everyone could be an assimilated alien, and is locked up in a building outside of the main structure.

A supply of blood samples that could’ve have been used to test who has been assimilated is destroyed, implicating the small number of people with access to the blood as being assimilated (and subtly implying the alien may have assimilated the DNA of all members at the outpost).

Fuchs goes outside to find a piece of clothing with MacReady’s name on it (this happening shortly after MacReady himself mentioning the alien seems to tear apart people’s clothing while assimilating them).

Fuchs is then found dead outside, apparently burning himself alive to keep himself from committing suicide.

Mac and Nauls go out to check on Blair. However, a storm hits, so the two are late coming back. The rest of the outpost decides to close off all entrances.

While closing off one of the last entrances, Norris sees Nauls coming back alone through the blizzard. Nauls is let back inside and says he found a scrap of clothing with Mac’s name on it (the same one Fuchs previously found).

Mac then returns to the base, but the outpost members refuse to let him inside. Palmer and Norris are both quick to decide Mac ought to be killed, since he has likely been assimilated.

Mac breaks into the outpost, brandishing a flare and a stick of dynamite, letting everyone know he’ll blow himself and the others up if the try to stop him. However, Norris then collapse and stops breathing. He is brought to the infirmary where Copper tries to revive him, but Norris’s stomach splits open into a giant mouth and kills Copper (thus revealing Norris to have been assimilated all along).

After the Norris iteration of the Thing has been killed, Mac forces everyone to do a blood test to see if they have been assimilated. The assumption is that the cells of the Thing act autonomously, and so will attempt to survive if harmed. Mac uses a hot piece of metal to poke the blood, and eventually Palmer is revealed to be a Thing.

Palmer transforms and attacks the other outpost members, killing Windows before Mac can kill the Thing.

Here, we finally arrive at the wind-up to the climax.

The team discovers Blair has gone missing and has built a spacecraft beneath the structure he was put in, and so Blair is the last remaining Thing (that they know of).

While getting ready to blow up “Blair’s” spaceship, Nauls sees Childs run off into the blizzard. Immediately after this, the power for the entire outpost goes out. They assume this is Blair shutting down the power so that everyone else will die and Blair will be frozen until a search party comes and recovers everyone’s body (effectively reviving Blair/the Thing once its body thaws).

Mac, Nauls and Garry decide to blow up and burn down the outpost, effectively committing suicide, but ensuring the Thing does not survive as well.

While preparing the explosives and incendiaries, Blair picks off Garry then Nauls, then attacks Mac. Mac kills the transformed Blair-Thing and blows up the outpost. Mac escapes outside and is sitting in the cold as the outpost burns down.

Childs finally returns and sits down with Mac, telling him he ran off into the blizzard because he thought he saw Blair, then got lost and couldn’t find his way back. Neither can tell whether the other is a human or a Thing. The film ends ambiguously with the two of them sitting outside, “[waiting to] see what happens” as the outpost burns down and the Antarctic cold sets in.

That’s The Thing. Got it? Good.

The Poetry of Squaring Off: Analyses of the Thing as Subject and Object

And so, I will jump as quickly as I can into this.

This analysis has two halves: One, examining the Thing as a Literal Subject capable of perceiving, rationalizing and critical strategizing; and Two, examining the Thing as a Phenomenological Object being observed by humans.

The Thing as Literal Subject must be understood first in order to transition into an understanding of its inverse, the Thing as Phenomenological Object.

What do I mean by these terms?

Thing as Literal Subject is exactly that: we assume the Thing has sentience, and we build a possible model of its phenomenological reality from what we can assume in the film, then examine this reality.

This will fall more into a “film theory” than a proper “analysis”, though it is pivotal to understanding to the second half of the analysis.

Thing as Phenomenological Object: we examine not what the Thing is perceived as by the humans, but we examine why there is a Thing being observed by the humans.

This will contain more of my typical approach to analysis, though more focused on one specific aspect of the film rather than the broader narrative analysis I typically write.

Analysis Part 1: Thing as Literal Subject

What is the immediate conflict that arises in The Thing?

The Norwegians and the dog.

The Norwegians are chasing the dog through the Antarctic wastes, trying to kill it—knowing fully what the dog is and what it is capable of—but the last standing Norwegian is killed because the Americans can’t communicate with the Norwegian, can’t understand why the Norwegian is doing what he is doing, and don’t know what the Norwegian knows or perceives.

Of course, the brutal irony is that the Norwegian could have saved the entire American outpost from catastrophic destruction and death, and this as I mentioned implicates the deepest themes of the film: ignorance and communication.

It’s like the Mark Zuckerberg of dogs.

What is the dog/alien thinking at the start of the film?

What is going on in the alien’s mind at this point?

Well, first, let’s construct a potential reality for the alien as a conscious subject. This might be technically impossible, considering there’s so much about the alien we don’t know (and that’s part of the point of the film), but, if we start from one basic assumption or premise, we can work our way to something that I think is most likely to be true.

The one basic assumption is: the alien wishes to survive.

Why assume this?

Because, as far as we know, all life forms share this instinct. Instinct might not even be the right word, it may go even deeper than instinct, as it’s difficult to say single-celled organisms possess “instincts”. The will to live seems to be a mechanism that is embedded so deeply in the fabric of “living” that it may be at the core of existence for life or even proto-life.

The will to live, or something like it—and, as tangents of this, the will to maintain life through various motivations and functions, including replication—had to have been present even in the earliest stages of life as the theorized “first replicators”.

So, assuming the alien wishes to survive, let’s reconstruct what its experience would be like before the start of the movie and at the start of the movie.

God damn, I love MacReady’s hat.

The alien crash-lands on Earth, and we know the alien piloting the ship is the same alien capable of assimilation (rather than the pilot of the ship becoming assimilated pre-crash) because Blair as the assimilated alien version of Blair has begun constructing a new spaceship by the end of the film.

The alien is frozen in Antarctica, and is then unfrozen by the Norwegians. We don’t know the full scope of what happened with the Norwegians, but we do know something went fucky-wucky, and the Norwegians and the alien decided they couldn’t work out their differences.

Now, another assumption here is that the alien likely treats assimilation as something relatively natural and commonplace. We are capable of natural acts like eating, speaking and procreating, and the alien’s act of assimilation is likely as natural to it as any of these acts. So, while assimilation is remarkably violent and grotesque to humans, it may not be so violent and grotesque to the alien.

However, assuming the alien’s act of assimilation was at least a part of what led the Norwegians to hunt down and try to kill the last remaining alien, and knowing the alien is intelligent enough to build a spacecraft and pilot it across the cosmos, then the alien is probably smart enough to have realized the humans do not appreciate the alien’s act of assimilation. That said, the alien may not fully understand why the humans do not like this, just as we would be confused if we went to another planet, and the natural inhabitants did not enjoy us trying to breathe air, eat food, have sex or speak words.

So, the last of the Norwegians attempt to hunt down and kill the last of the aliens, resulting in the brutal irony of The Thing’s opening scene.

Throughout the rest of the film, once the alien is discovered in the iconic dog scene, the plot turns into a sort of cat-and-mouse/Clue/who-dunnit plot where the humans are trying to survive and the alien(s) are trying to survive.

So, what is the rest of the film after the opening scene like from the perspective of the alien?

Each scene must be looked at as the alien’s attempt at survival, rather than the pre-supposed attempt at world domination. Why?

Well, other than the base instincts the alien likely has, there is one telling scene: the Thing-as-Blair attempting to build a spacecraft.

Why would the alien build a spacecraft rather than find some other mode of transportation or find some other mode of survival? Obviously, because it is trying to leave the planet Earth and return to its own civilization, or return to whatever it was doing beforehand.

It could be argued that the Thing would use the craft it created to travel to some other part of the planet and begin its worldwide domination there, but why? Why would it want to?

It has already seen the humans to be incredibly hostile towards it, and it landed there accidentally rather than on purpose, and, if we assume the alien’s core motivation is to survive, why risk trying to interact with other Earth-organisms that are likely to be just as hostile? On top of this, all it knows of Earth so far is the frozen wastes of Antarctica, unless it is smart enough or has learned enough to know what the rest of Earth is like (which may be unlikely, since it crash landed thousands of years ago, pre-civilization).

So, in these circumstances, why would the alien behave as we see it behave?

With the dog scene, this is possibly the most unclear, but, if it was assimilating the dogs as an act of survival, than perhaps it was doing so to create “allies”, or to spread itself out among a wider array of individual organisms and so increase its likelihood of survival. Perhaps it was an attempt at communication, though we don’t know enough about assimilation to know if this is a form of communication, and we do know enough to know it is used for functions other than communication.

The rest of the movie after this, however, is much more clear.

The dogs are now all under suspicion, and are killed because of their potential contact with the alien. And, while all the other humans are now under suspicion, they cannot be killed so recklessly. So, the alien begins assimilating humans to blend in and survive.

Another reason for assimilating humans is that this may be the only mode of communication the alien currently possesses. If you are trying to survive, one of the best places to start is to ask the hostile population, “Please! Don’t kill me!”

But, knowing the humans are hostile towards it, it may have decided not to communicate in the given circumstances—especially since no communication from the humans has been attempted.

So, the alien is in a circumstance where it is being hunted down. It may wish to communicate to the humans, which would be a reason to assimilate the other humans, but communication may also result in its own death.

Let’s say, as an example, you are a lesbian woman in a non-Western country that is predominated by a Muslim population (just to be arbitrarily controversial): while one mode of survival may be to yell out, “Please! Don’t kill me! Yes, I am a homosexual, one of the things you wish to kill, but, please, I mean you no harm! Don’t kill me! Let me live!”

What are the odds this woman won’t be killed?

The better, though less-optimal, choice would be to blend in with the population around you, and survive as long as you can until you can find understanding allies in others, or until such a time that you can escape to a less hostile population.

Let’s say the alien as an assimilated human were to shout out, “Please! Don’t kill me! Yes, I am the alien that has assimilated other organisms, but, please, I mean you no harm! I only wish to survive! Don’t kill me! Let me live!”

What are the odds the alien won’t be killed?

The better, though less-optimal, choice would be to blend in with the humans around you, and survive as long as you can until you can find a human willing to communicatee with you, or until such a time that the alien can escape Earth and go back home, or at least go somewhere it won’t be hunted down.

These assumptions and this understanding of the alien as a conscious and at least somewhat intelligent/rational creature can explain its actions throughout the rest of the film:

  • Attempting to escape as the half-assimilated Bennings
  • The alien as the fully assimilated Palmer and Norris being so quick to want MacReady killed, knowing MacReady is not an alien and that MacReady is the biggest threat to their existence
  • The alien as the “deceased” Norris attacking Copper before attempting to escape
  • The alien as Palmer attacking the others once it is discovered
  • The alien as Blair constructing the spaceship
  • The alien as Blair attacking the remaining humans once its spaceship is destroyed and the other humans are attempting to kill it

There is of course the ambiguity at the end of the film, with the final scene of Childs and MacReady in the wreckage of the destroyed outpost. While I could go into this and the various theories of whether or not one or both of them are the alien, and then what this would mean for our analysis, it is not so important, and I will let you decide.

So, here we have a construction of what the subjective reality and the motivations of the Thing most likely are.

There is a single hole in this argument: why didn’t the Thing-as-Blair simply run into the cold and be frozen, which would allow it to survive until a rescue party came and recovered their bodies, which would result in the Thing surviving until it was thawed out enough. But, this “hole” can have several counter-arguments to explain it, the least of which being: fuck it, it’s just a movie, and what a shitty ending that would have been.

Plus, if Childs or MacReady are an alien, then the alien being frozen and revived will likely happen anyway.

The Thing is trying to survive on an alien planet. It has woken up in an incredibly hostile environment, Antarctica, and it finds itself being assaulted on all sides by incredibly hostile lifeforms which do not seek to communicate with it.

The grand conflict here is on two levels a conflict of survival (the deeper, though maybe less interesting conflict), and the conflict of epistemology: the conflict of what is known and what is unknown.

The Thing cannot communicate with the humans unless it assimilates them. If it assimilates a human, then that assimilated human will be killed, so broadcasting that you are the alien disguised as a human will likely result in death.

I will return to this in the conclusion, but I think you get the idea here.

This essentially wraps up this part of the analysis. There’s no grand conclusion here, but it’s intended to roll right into the next analysis (where you will find a grand conclusion).

What a hat, man.

The Art of Mason Laufer

Written by Alexander Greco

August 12, 2020

Depicting visions of madness, surreal hellscapes and realms outside our scope of understanding, Mason Laufer is a New York based artist who uses photo-editing software to create surreal environments and a menagerie of abyssal and otherworldly creatures. Mason’s dark, eldritch visions draw on a broad spectrum of influences, including psychology, religion, occultism, science fiction, horror and more. Beyond just what Mason creates, how Mason creates and his inner motivations to grow and create are just as interesting. As deep as Mason reaches into dark pits of the unknown below, Mason reaches equally as high into bright vaults of potential above.

Mason and I quickly connected on a number of subjects when we first started talking with each other, and my respect for him and his work only grew as I learned more and more about his journey from playful, creative experiments to making a leap into the unknown, starting his own art business at the onset of the Covid Pandemic.

“[…] I never had any formal art training past simply doing the required art classes throughout school. I was always frustrated because I was not naturally gifted artistically in the slightest. Both my handwriting and my drawing abilities have been poor since I was young. Which forced me into other creative avenues. […] I honestly just started making fun photo edits as inside jokes with my best friend. Eventually, I would just make stuff with photoshop type apps in my free time. The idea that I had a talent for it didn’t come about until my best friend said that some of my stuff was actually really good. So, I slowly started taking it more seriously.

“Once I learned about being able to promote your art on Instagram, I decided to convert my personal account to an account for art. […] And then I decided to go full out on creating an art business when I stopped going to work at the start of Covid. So, I spent my stimulus check on my new iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. And I began teaching myself how to paint digitally. So, I didn’t have any formal training, I just watched a lot of tutorials as I had all the time in the world since I didn’t work.”

All the causes and effects of the Pandemic, and of course all its eventual outcomes, are yet to be seen. Some of the effects I’ve been interested in is how the Pandemic will affect things music, writing and art. While the effects of the Pandemic on live performance have been devastating, the effects on online media have been particularly positive, and Mason’s story is an example of this.

What potential is lying in wait for those who can seek it? What opportunities might have been shaken loose by the world in wake of catastrophe? What experiments with art, music, writing, business, travel and so on are hanging ripe and ready to be picked by those who reach out to grasp them?

Of course, Mason’s story is not as simple as this, and the subject matter underlying his artwork is not something arbitrary he stumbled on one day. Mason’s art has roots spread across a number of creative genres, intellectual traditions and religious and occult teachings, and these roots of course dig into Mason’s own personal history.

The subjects and settings of Mason’s pieces vary widely, though they bimodally tend toward either the surreal or the occult, with both containing dark or weird elements.

Many pieces depict strange, monstrous entities, giants with flayed skin and flesh, or prehistoric, alien wastelands. In one image, there is a tropical landscape with a river or lake at its center. In the foreground is a woman or girl in a white dress, and in the background is a tentacled behemoth with a transparent, grid-lined head. This gives the impression not only of some dark, aquatic god wandering deep in some primal landscape, untouched by humanity, but of something that exists outside the bounds of knowledge and reason, something existing beneath, through and above our reality.

In another image, the skeletons of dinosaurs wander and fly through a dead, desert landscape. There is an eye hanging above the desert, beaming red light onto the land below it, and the hybrid of a skull and nautilus shell in the foreground. This seems almost like a mix between Salvador Dali’s surrealism and the imagination of weird sci-fi pulp authors.

Another depicts a woman held in the clouds by the tentacled embrace of some half-seen monstrosity, dangling in the heavens like a goddess in the embrace of an otherworldly demon-god.

On the darker and more occult side, there are depictions of skeleton, abyssal entities haunting the depths of forests, or fiery, volcanic bull-gods emerging in ashen storms from the violent eruptions of a volcano. Many pieces depict the body in a half-corpse form, or even as a completely mangled body devoid of any humanity.

There’s an unsettling violence done unto the body, an anti-worship of the flesh as foul, horrible, mangled subject than as something beautiful or sacred. The bloody, fleshy chaos beneath our skin is exposed, revealing the madness of the true human form we all try to ignore. Perhaps these fleshy, maddening bodies are one in the same with the fleshy, tentacled bodies of the ancient gods that roam primeval and ruined landscapes of ancient and forgotten realms.

There is a disfigured, horrifying creature that lurks just under our skins, and we constantly seek to ignore this vile, terrible vision, just as we constantly seek to ignore the terrible visions of reality and the cosmos that lurk just under the illusions of our perception. The monsters Mason depicts stalking the woods, lumbering through jungles or peering through caves are monsters stalking, lumbering and peering through our own perception of reality—the fear we have of what hunts in the dark; the dread of those forces we cannot understand, cannot reason with, cannot intervene upon; the anxiety of being seen, being watched, being known by things unknowable; and the imposed self-ignorance of the chaos beneath our skin.

Addressing how Mason came up with his ideas, he said:

“I always keep a note page of ideas so that whenever I hear a word or phrase that I like, I just write it down in my ‘idea cauldron’ haha. That way I always have content to pull from. But usually I go off whatever idea I’m super into at that moment. I follow the idea and then make something from that. I also like to consume media a lot because seeing and reading and observing is what will start the sparks of ideas in my head. Consuming topics I’m interested in is like the gas to the fire of my brain in a way. It fuels my creativity.

“[…] usually I like to free associate. So, I open my mind when consuming any kind of media to allow thoughts to connect and make new ideas. So, super imagery-heavy texts like The Divine Comedy allow my brain to make connections and basically brainstorm in real time. Sometimes, a simple phrase can trigger some sort of connection in my head that I then visualize and write down what I’m thinking so I can [actualize] it later. A lot of what I make usually comes from just reading articles about topics I’m into or source material from those topics. One book that I pull ideas from often is the book of House of Leaves. The fascination of an imperceptible paradox challenges me to dive deeper and really try to personify what should be impersonifiable.”

I found Mason’s style of generating ideas quite interesting, and his methods of free association harkened back to some of my favorite thinkers: the psychoanalysts. There’s a blend of conscious effort and unconscious “fishing” or “farming”, where one goes out and consciously gathers various ideas, lets them grow and blend in the unconscious, and gather whatever fish or fruit come to the surface. This half-conscious, half-unconscious approach is definitely reflected in many of his pieces.

Mason spoke at length about the sprawling collection of influences that inspired his work, much of which I resonated with as personal influences or inspirations as well:

“[…] a lot of my art is obviously on the darker side, thematically. That’s just honestly the kind of stuff I’ve always been interested in. Growing up in a strict Catholic household, and going to Catholic school, I know much more about the Bible and Christianity than most. I never really bought into religion, however, I fixated on the darker aspects of the faith as early as 5 years old. The idea of fire and brimstone, Lucifer and Revelation were so fascinating to me. So, I dug deeper, and began to incorporate those elements into my writing, which was easy to transfer over to my art.

“I started reading books on these subjects and the imagery of hell and devils, The Divine Comedy and Paradise Lost being two of my favorites. Such beautiful imagery being used to describe such horrors really captivated my mind. It wasn’t until college that I started doing research on my own time into other forms of this literature. It’s almost as if it was sort of a subconscious rebellion against my upbringing to be naturally drawn to the most taboo topics. I started reading books on demonology, satanism, hermeticism, paganism, books on serial killers, the paranormal, true crime. And for some reason, delving into the darkest subjects was where I felt the most at ease.

“I really more recently started getting into the idea of cosmic horror. So, naturally I consumed all of HP Lovecraft, John Carpenter, Cronenberg, Albert Camus, etc. I loved the challenge that the genre posed to creatives—describing and depicting the unknowable and indescribable. I took these elements of the unknown and used what I’d learned in classes I took in college, namely a class on the American Gothic, and a Film Horror class. So, I guess I brought a completely different and unconventional set of skills and interests into art with no real knowledge on art theory. So, I could see art through a different lens than most artists.

“Other more passive influences would be artists of the surrealism movement, such as my favorite artists, Francis Bacon, as well as Salvador Dali and strangely enough his lesser-known poetry that he wrote. Again, I loved the ethereal and musical imagery they used.”

Thematically and visually, Mason draws on a number of disparate yet complementary creative traditions. From writers like Dante and Milton, we get dream-like or nightmarish, or even hallucinogenic, visions of hell and its denizens, and heaven and its lofty, inarticulable grandeur—which much of modern horror, fantasy and sci-fi still struggle to match in scope. From authors who mastered elements of either existential absurdism or cosmic nihilism—among the few who have managed to match the scope of ancient mythologies—Mason draws on the vastness of reality, the inexplicable nature of being that escapes humanity except in fleeting moments of enlightenment or maddening visions of the infinite. And then, from the surrealists, Mason blends these mythological and cosmic elements into artistic visions that carry the torch of modern art’s rebellious, reality-warping ventures.

However, these influences on Mason go deeper than just aesthetic considerations, and Mason explained to me how many of these influences impacted him and his outlook on life:

“Growing up in that [Catholic] environment was very repressive to growing emotionally mature. Entering adulthood, I felt very sheltered and naïve about the complicated grey nature of most things as opposed to the black and white, right and wrong view that Catholicism teaches. Thankfully, I was a curious child and always loved learning and attaining more knowledge on things I found interesting. So, this allowed me to learn to critically think, which led to a lot of questioning what I was being taught as I got older. I would research on my own, not just blindly follow an ideology that I didn’t believe in. I think that helped me to form this fascination with the grey that exists between good and evil, how there is actually a lot of beauty behind most concepts that we are afraid of.

“But people are so ingrained in believing that dark topics are bad and not to look into them. I began immersing myself in this world and finding that by not allowing the darkness into our minds, that we are repressing a major part of our nature. So, I let the dark thoughts in and let them have their space. And I found that the more I did this, the more I found peace and the less afraid I was of things like death, pain, horror, evil. They say the root of fear is that of the unknown. But a lot of times that’s because we don’t allow it to BE known. We shun the very idea of it. By letting it in and acknowledging it, it actually makes us less afraid.

“And as far as the Occult, if people took the time to really look into those ideas, they’d find that the methods of living these faiths suggest are much healthier emotionally and mentally than traditional religion. Applying these ideas into my mental health has actually made me so much happier in general than I used to be. Using magick and rituals are actually just a form of meditation and mindfulness. Creating sigils and doing rituals actually [act] as positive affirmation. At their core, it’s not about ‘worshipping demons, or believing in hell and monsters and suffering.’ It’s actually about believing in yourself. They teach you to create the positive change that you desire in life, as opposed to following archaic teachings rooted in fear of eternal damnation and a vengeful creator. These ideas open your mind to the grey area. It’s taught me how to be more emotionally healthy, much more empathetic, and just generally in tune with humanity.”

For some, it can be difficult to accept the beliefs and practices of others, and people often choose to close their minds—whether consciously or unconsciously—to the ways and wills of others.

While there are certainly some who take occult practices too far (just as anyone can take anything to far), I’ve always found Pagan and occult beliefs, from Wicca to Satanism, to be far different than most people assume.

Satanism, for example—easily the most misunderstood practice or belief system in the West—is focused on life-affirming actions, individualism and personal growth and self-education. Really, Satanism seems to be focused on freedom—on freeing oneself from constraints of society, from moral or cultural conformity, from intellectual or ideological tyranny—and, more particularly, the freedom to become the Individual one desires to become. While some aspects of such beliefs, such as the more hedonic side of Satanism some people practice, could come under practical scrutiny, the broader implications of Satanic practices and other occult or Pagan practices are to question and challenge authority and belief systems; break down barriers to sources of knowledge or different states of mind; and live life according to your own values, rather than values hand down to you by the dictates of society.

The darker aspects of occult practices and aesthetics are often not a worshiping or revelry in the horrors they depict, but an acknowledgement of them, as Mason explained. In conjunction with the ideas and states of mind society and culture can obstruct, or even attempt to annihilate, there are entire portions or aspects of reality that people try to hide or ignore. People try to hide, suppress or mask the realities of sex, violence and madness. People try to hide the extreme, indifferent cruelty of existence. People comfort themselves with illusory stories and narratives, and attack anyone who questions those narratives.

Occultism is often not a conformity or worship to these darker aspects of reality, or to another narrative involving these darker realities, but simply an acknowledgement of these things.

Mason’s art reveals these dark aspects. Mason’s art pushes down boundaries into the unknown, and opens doors of perception into darker vistas of the cosmos. Mason depicts visions of what most would want to avert their eyes and their minds from—showing us without fear the monsters, demons and dark gods that inhabit the grey spaces and the inarticulable architectures of the cosmos and the unconscious.

As previously mentioned, Mason has begun developing a business with his art, and is currently broadening his horizons online.

“Yeah actually since you sent me these questions I’ve opened up a print shop to sell merchandise on. I’m starting out with prints and in a bit I will start doing shirts and hoodies and stickers maybe! As far as album art goes, I’ve done some commissions doing album art and it’s been a good format for that. Now I just put some of my designs up on an art grab account so
people can buy the license to any of the pieces that I post and use it for whatever they want. It’s mainly intended for album art so I figured that may streamline the process for people looking for that kind of thing!

“I’m still exploring what other avenues there may be in regards to showcasing my art on a larger scale and finding new ways to monetize my stuff. Ideally I’d like to build my own website to use as a portfolio/blog so I don’t have to rely on Instagram’s fickle nature. It’s always a bit unnerving to know that they can shut me down or do whatever they want at any moment without my input, but it’s really been the best medium to build an audience.”

Give Mason some support by checking out his profile on Instagram, @bleede_art . There you can check out his artwork, follow him if you want see his art as it comes out, and check out the link to his merch and artwork.

The Art of David Coffey

Written by Alexander Greco

July 20, 2020

Hailing from Dallas, TX, David Coffey’s is an artist whose figurative style and darker undertones and themes I quickly resonated with. Ranging across themes of power, abuse, human duality and beauty, David’s artwork expresses tangled and conflicting aspects of human nature, much of which we are averse to confronting in our waking lives, but are ever-present in our psyches.

David has been creating art since childhood and, as with many underground artists and creators, is self-taught.

“I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember. My love for art began with sketching during class at school, continued into drawing while lying on the carpet floor of my room as a boy, and I’ve never stopped drawing since. I didn’t start painting until just about 2 years ago, so that’s been a learning experience. I never have had any formal training. I use a lot of books, tutorials, and such to learn. I also just experiment a lot to see how things turn out. I try to imitate things that I really like. My greatest inspiration is other artists both living and dead. They are my teachers.”

Despite the many faults of living in this Digital Era, one of the great benefits—possibly one of the greatest benefits—is the access that everyone now has to information and education that might have previously been barred from many because of money or circumstance. While books and various forms of public access to them have been around for hundreds of years, the sheer level of information that can be accessed now is unprecedented, and it’s a tool that few seem to really appreciate.

So, I wonder how many artists and other creators like David—how many people even outside the arts—we’ll hear about in the coming years who found success from circumventing traditional routes of education and taking their talents and ambitions into their own hands.

Picasso Portrait
Acrylic on Canvas

David spoke quite a bit about some of his influences and inspirations, which span across historic eras and artistic genres:

“[…] my love of art began with comic book art as a boy. I still adore comic book art. Since around my teenage years I’ve been enamored with a number of famous artists: Picasso, Van Gogh, Francis Bacon, Bosch, Baselitz, Philip Guston, Max Beckmann, and others. I pretty much like anything that’s in the modern art time period. I also adore Japanese art of all flavors from the old school landscapes to contemporary stuff and Manga art.”

“[…] I’ve been reading [comics] ever since I was a boy and still at it. Swamp Thing (old and new), Watchmen, Sandman, Hellboy, anything by Charles Burns, Fables, Books of Magic, Paper Girls, Saga, Buddha (by Tezuka), Bone, Amulet, The Walking Dead, to name a few in my collection.”

“Yes, my Doppelgänger and Nephilim [series] definitely have some Bacon influence. They are dark in theme, have a fairly solid background, and involve a lot of chance and improvisation both within the body structures and the textured backgrounds.”

In David’s first figurative series, his “Artist Portraits” series, many of these famous artists emerge on canvas in a blend of David’s and the artist’s style. His comic book and manga influence likewise can be seen throughout many of his series, whether as reference material or as thematic inspiration for some of his work.

Regarding his art process and how he plans or organizes his pieces, David discussed quite thoroughly how his pieces come to be:

Nephilim #3
Acrylic, Sharpie and Sealant on Canvas

“I think about a larger general idea I’d like to explore, such as power or exploitation, I think about what sort of human figures I’d like to experiment with, some general thoughts about style and composition, and how many I’d like to include in the set. […].

“I don’t tackle any details at all until I start working on an individual painting. When I’m focusing on a single painting, I usually begin with source images that I want to use for composition. […] From there, I start making vague decisions about other elements that I’ll include in the painting (such as including snakes to the interact with the main character) and what colors I might like to use.

“On the actual canvas, I usually begin with a pencil sketch that is very close to the original pic I’m using as a basis. From there I alter the pencil markings. This is pretty intuitive, so I just keep changing things until I see what I like. The pencil serves as a basic sketch for where I might place paint. The painting process is super intuitive. I have ideas about what I might like to do, but I rarely make decisions beyond what I’m doing in the moment. I change colors often, experiment with movements and blends, add, cover, etc. It’s really just a constant work of adding and covering elements that I don’t like. I evaluate the work about every 30 seconds or so.”

The process of creation is something I’ve personally been interested in. The mechanical aspects of various forms of creation are endlessly fascinating. Composition, color arrangement, grammar, narrative structure, chord progressions—these are all the architectures of paintings, music and stories we’ve all come to love. But then there’s this sort of black-box of intuition, where the mechanics of art end and the subtler mechanics of the psyche begin. There’s a sort of jumping off point, a place where you’re swimming in open water.

With David’s work, this jumping off point comes as soon as the brush begins spreading color across the canvas. There’s the underlying structure of the sketch, and the themes he plans to incorporate, and then it’s all based on intuition from there.

Da Vinci Portrait
Acrylic on Canvas

Beginning with his “Artist Portraits” series, there is a lean towards figuratism, as well as expressionist and impressionist styles. For each different artist, David mixed the style of the artist with his own personal way of painting, making portraits that reflect both his and the artist’s work.

“The artist series was an attempt to explore some of my favorite artists by incorporating elements of their style into a portrait. I was the one making it thought so it actually was more about me than them and how I thought about them, what I wanted to learn from them and their lives. […] I mostly chose artists that I admire and that I personally felt provided major breakthroughs in the art world, but that’s just according to my own bias.”

These portraits include Egon Schiele, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh and William de Kooning. The one exception to this blending of styles seems to be with Leonardo da Vinci, where, rather than blend styles, David includes personal, childhood icons with his portrait of a man who made incredibly iconic pieces of art.

Nephilim #5
Acrylic, Sharpie, Mixed Media on Canvas

In the next series, the “Nephilim” series, David pushes his artwork into an almost surreal space of impressionist figuratism—which carries on into the series after it, “Doppelgänger”. This series consists of incredibly muscular—at times grotesquely muscular—figures painted in a style that blends abstract with impressionist. The figures in these paintings strike intimidating and violent poses, and are presented over backgrounds of layered and textured color. However, the most striking feature of these paintings are the unreal, bulging, chorded muscles of the Nephilim—showing the unhealthy excess of power each possesses.

“The Nephilim is basically about power and how it leads to destruction and isolation. Some of the stories of the Nephilim were based off of biblical accounts, extra biblical accounts, and some of it I just made up in a growing narrative. […] The figures were all inspired by comic book art. I chose some of my favorite comic drawings as source material for the forms, mostly coming from modern Swamp Thing comics and Animal Man.

“I did a lot of experimenting with using markers, various acrylics and sealants to get the affects. Lots of back and forth between drawing with black sharpie, covering it with white paint, letting it dry, adding a sealant, adding more marker, etc. They are better to see in person because they have so many layers they actually have very thick textures. Some of them are actually quite heavy and have deep grooves.”

In much of David’s lore surrounding the Nephilim, there are themes of isolation and corruption, and we spoke about these themes in tandem together.

My primary thoughts were, does corruption lead to an isolation from the larger community? Or does isolation lead to corruption? Do we seek power because of our own corruption? Or does the search for and eventual gaining of power corrupt us?

Or, coming around to the first questions, is it powerlessness and isolation that urges us towards seeking power, and having that power as an isolated, “evicted” individual spurn us toward abuse of that power onto the community that expulsed us?

These are a complicated tangle of ideas to parse apart, and it was interesting hearing David’s take on the themes:

Doppleganger #9
Acrylic, Sharpie, Mixed Media on Canvas

“[…] I believe the corruption is both passed down and generated through personal actions. […] Though perhaps they desired to use it for good, the nature of the world must win out. Yes, their form does evolve over time. The more they use their power for evil, the more deformed their bodies become. The black form (the last in the series) is almost a purely spiritual form, but, in a sense, in the end the nephilim become fallen angles just like their fathers.

“I think power pretty much always lead to corruption, at least that’s all I’ve ever seen or experienced in this life. But I like your point that isolation could also lead to a hunger for power. A desire to change one’s destiny or perhaps hurt those who put one into a position of isolation. The thought that the ability to change circumstances and overcome others would lead to happiness is an interesting one. It’s very natural to think that way, but false I believe. […] All that being said, I don’t believe power itself is bad. I think there is a possibility of it being used for good…”

This corrupting influence—whether an inherited disfiguration or a maladaptation evolved across time—can be seen in the bodies of the Nephilim and in the heads and faces.

While the bodies certainly do have grotesquely muscular, powerful forms, it’s their heads transformed the most, and in many ways heads and faces communicate an individual’s identity.

With Nephilim #3 and #5, the rectangular and spherical-headed Nephilim, there’s a transformation to simplicity in shape, expression and simplicity, and a sort of self-dehumanization.

With Nephilim #3, the rectangular head reflects a flatness—an almost uni-dimensional, machine-like personality, devoid of warmth, compassion or empathy. It looks cold and calculating, like a computer screen, and the narrowness of its eyes and mouth might be the narrowness of its vision—it’s vision of power—and the narrowness of its ability to communicated with others—a narrowness of empathy and an inability to socially connect.

With Nephilim #5, the shape of its head is roughly spherical, but it’s like a head that’s been crudely molded and can’t decide what it is. It lacks any expression except for it’s tiny, slitted eyes and enormous, toothy mouth. This giant has lost any defining features, its vision has been narrowed to a tiny slit, and its mouth appears to be useful for little more than violence, consumption and animalistic vocalizations.

Doppleganger #8
Acrylic, Sharpie, Watercolor, Sealant on Canvas

Following a similar thread as the “Nephilim”, the “Doppelgänger” series features surreal, heavily muscled figures over a textured background of simple colors. With the “Doppelgänger” series, David pushes both the surreal musculature of his figures and a darker, more abstract vision of human nature through their entangled forms.

“The doppelgänger series is about a personal belief in the dual nature of humans. I personified it in these figures. A lot of it relates to personal inner conflicts I’ve had throughout my life. The forms are inspired by comic book art again. I did get more experimental with the forms than in the ‘Nephilim’. […]

“In my view most of the interactions are negative. Either one form dominates the other or the forms are in conflict. There is a very strong undercurrent of violence and domination. When I drew details on the forms, I got more abstract with the muscle forms sometimes making it close to a vegetative or organic bubbly form. This was all very intuitive. I used the basic shapes as my guide but created lines from a moment to moment basis.”

The “Doppelgänger” series immediately struck me when I first look through it. There’s a tremendous intensity to many of these forms, and the various emotions of each piece seem to be ripping out of each figure’s bodies (perhaps the internal force that’s turning these subject’s muscles into such grotesque shapes). The extreme musculature shows the power of these forces, but their inhumanness and occasional grotesqueness show how they warp the subject into something equally inhuman or grotesque.

As David alluded to in his explanation of the pieces, with the doppelgängers, there seems to be this sort of reversion into a chaotic state, where the bodies of the figures are turning into stringy, tubular, or wet, bubbling, oozing states. The figures seem to be returning to the chaotic state of nature—to the bubbling, swampy morasses of life that we come from: the violent, grotesque state of nature modernity often tries to ignore, but that is ever present.

Doppelgänger #7, the white-background doppelgänger, is beating its identical twin—its clone, copy or its self—into a thick, viscous, frothing foam. The muscles on its body are on the verge of bursting—of popping with blood and bulging flesh—and even parts of its body seem to be turning into this bubbling, oozing material.

Doppleganger #3
Acrylic, Sharpie, Sealant on Canvas

There’s this blend of violence done unto the self, or possibly of self-domination and self-submission, and this reversion into a primordial, hyper-violent chaotic state—the animalistic and grotesque reality humans have emerged from.

Doppelgänger #3, the red-background doppelgänger, similarly has this reversion into a dissolving, deindividualizing state. The muscles have lost any real resemblance to a healthy body, and are more like piles of intestines strung up on a skeleton frame. The two bodies are intertwined to the point where its difficult to tell which limbs belongs to which body, and, at certain points, there seems to be an entire dissolution of a concrete, bodily form. There’s just this fleshy, dripping entanglement where individuality reverts to primordial flesh and organs.

Finally, there is David’s “Siren/Muse” series, which is David’s latest and still ongoing series. Here, David takes a large leap from the style of his previous two series, but still retains elements of his figurative style, and explores similarly dark and all-too-human themes.

“For the ‘Siren/Muse’ set, I really wanted to go with more colorful figures that were females. I didn’t want them to look aggressive or violent, so I gave them more of an anime inspired smooth appearance. I also wanted to convey a sense of ‘fake-ness’. […].

“This series is basically about a potential danger in the pursuit of beauty. Hence the toxic creatures. It made sense to meld music and art. They accomplish a lot of the same things. I also liked exploring the myth of the sirens and the myth of the muses. I do think they’re related. I guess with the siren there’s a draw toward sex that ends in destruction. With the muses there is a desire for inspiration and the ability to create perhaps at the expense or abuse of the muse herself. I think those are both about creation in a way. Both can end in the abortion of a desire. Both can consume and ultimately destroy. I really love contradiction and contrast.”

When I was first reading David’s explanation of this, I was reminded of story arc in the Sandman comic book series where an author has kidnapped one of the Greek muses and sexually exploits her in order to find inspiration for his books. I brought this up with David, and found that this was indeed part of the inspiration for this series.

“So glad you mentioned the Sandman story about the muse. That actually was what first got this idea for the siren/must series percolating in my mind! What an amazing story (by the way, Sandman is probably my fav comic series of all time). I was so drawn to the idea of someone abusing a muse in order to get inspiration it made me think that perhaps that is a deeper truth about the lengths people will go to grasp fame or fortune, much like the writer did in that story.

“It also melds the idea of sexual dominance, but really again just a picture of abuse for personal gain. I guess when you think in terms of a siren though the tables are turned. The female is in the position of power.”

Siren/Muse #1
Acrylic on Canvas
Siren/Muse #1
Acrylic on Canvas

As with our conversations over David’s other sets, our conversation of “Siren/Muse” delved down its own rabbit hole.

In modernity, there is a tension between fact and opinion. This tension likely goes deeper than most people realize, but one of the most obvious tensions comes from beauty and aesthetic. Can something be objectively beautiful? Is there anything that can be said to be truly beautiful?

Or is everything regarding beauty and aesthetic just an arbitrary illusion of the mind? Is there a tangible reality or truth to beauty? Or is it all arbitrary opinion?

“I do think there is definitely something objective about beauty, but I’m not really sure what it is. I just know that people often agree on what is beautiful, but if it were totally subjective maybe that wouldn’t happen as often. For me though, beauty is just what I find physically appealing to my eyes. The structure, composition, color, framing, etc. so many things go into it. And the more refined your eye becomes the more you are able to appreciate beauty, like a fine wine.

“Personally, I’m obsessed with beautiful things because I love to consume them with my eyes. It’s much like enjoying a good steak or tasty beer. It’s very visceral to me and just flat out pleasing to my soul. But beauty can also be a marker that points to something beyond it. A deeper truth or a more lofty ideal. This is what creates such strong emotional reactions and perhaps has something to do with why people sometimes seek to destroy it.”

David’s “Siren/Muse” set has only just been started, with two completed pieces so far. One features a blonde-haired pop singer with green snakes emerging from behind her—similar, I would say, to not only the sirens and muses, but the gorgons as well. We have a beautiful woman, whose face implies pleasure, in front of a microphone onstage, with snakes surrounding her and facing the audience while her eyes are closed.

There’s a sort of narcissism here, being the center of attention and finding pleasure in one’s own existence as the center of attention. There are also a number of quasi-sexual phallic elements here, one being the microphone in front of the woman’s lips, the others being the snakes emerging from the woman herself. The microphone is where the singer projects herself—the center of her self-pleasuring narcissism, as well as the tool by which she holds the crowd’s attention.

Every man in the crowd might wish they could take the place of the microphone, and let the singer speak—or more—to them. The microphone might actually be the stand-in or an idol representing every man in the audience, almost like a voodoo doll by which she can manipulate from afar.

But this also comes at a cost, as everyone in the audience is ogling her. She loses her identity as well, and becomes simply an object of desire, just like the microphone is every man being turned into a tool to derive attention from. She is no longer who she was before she got dressed, put on her makeup and went on stage, she has become a sexual and artistic or musical object—her trade for siphoning the audience’s attention.

The snakes also hold additional meaning, as the snakes are what make her unapproachable. Though all eyes are on the singer, though every man in the audience wishes he could be the microphone she sings to, she is also writhed in fear and danger. Just as when we see someone we are attracted to, and freeze in fear, unable to think clearly or do anything but act like an idiot, we see the beautiful woman on stage singing to us, but we also see the fear of death around her like a venomous halo.

How often then do we seek to abuse, deface and destroy these beautiful things we are afraid of?

At times, these living idols, these people made living statues, are sources of inspiration. At other times, they are source of zealotry and obsession. At other times, they are the sources of our fear, contempt and resentment—the objects of our hate as much as of our love.

The second “Siren/Muse” piece possesses similar elements, though I won’t delve too deeply into these. The emotion of the singer is more lively, more energetic. Rather than snakes, the singer is surrounded with bees like loyal drones. With the first painting, the color scheme is roughly green, black and golden/yellow, which is somewhat suggestive of a dragon guarding gold. The second painting, by contrast, is primarily violet, blue and yellow, which contrasts cooler colors with the more energetic yellow body and red eyes of the bees. So, there is a calming effect, but there is still an awareness of danger. In the second painting, there is also the sexual implication of the microphone.

David’s art journey is still relatively early in its story. His works are still experimental in many ways, and his style and talent are still developing. However, the works he’s made so far are quite impressive. The emotions and ideas he’s able to capture in his paintings have drawn my own eye, and seem to be catching many others’ eyes. It will be interesting to see where he goes next with his “Siren/Muse” set, but it will also be interesting to see where he goes both with his work and with the themes he explores after this set.

There was much more we both could have talked about with each other regarding both his artwork and the themes surrounding his artwork (and, also, the long list of comic books we both love). Hopefully we can extend some of these conversations in the future.

In addition to his artwork on @davidcoffey_figz on Instagram, David also has many other pieces, primarily commission pieces, on his Instagram page @davidcoffey_artstudio. There are many beautiful paintings here as well, many of which follow a more impressionist or post-impressionist style. Please give his work a look and a like, and if you enjoy his creations, give his pages a follow.

The Art of Miguel Pichardo

Written by Alexander Greco

June 6, 2020

COVID-19
Mixed Media on Paper
June 2020

Hailing from Los Angeles, CA, Miguel Pichardo’s artwork has an incredibly unique, psychedelic blend of surrealism, abstraction and Gonzo-style artwork, which span across a tremendous breadth of style. Miguel and I first got in contact with each other over a year ago when I wrote my first article on him, and since then, his body of work has grown tremendously. In addition to talking about his recent developments in art, Miguel and I talked about his own growth as an artist over the last year, and the influence spirituality has had on Miguel and his art.

Since the last time we spoke, over a year ago, Miguel’s artwork has been getting more and more attention, including a restaurant and cafes his art has been featured in, including the Jesus Wall Brewery Artwalk in LA, and a number of projects and galleries he’s been involved with. Notably, Miguel has been working with Puzzle Crazy, a puzzle-making company who has been turning some of Miguel’s artwork into puzzles, and Miguel’s art was put into in the Pacha Moma Art Museum as a permanent installation.

For any major art lovers reading this, Pacha Moma is an insanely cool museum that features some incredibly talented and imaginative artists (so it’s no surprise Miguel has been featured here). I’ll post links to them, as well as links to Puzzle Crazy, at the end of the article.

Another major aspect to Miguel’s artwork is his focus over the last year on being able to connect more with his art and art process on a more intuitive level.

Untitled
Acrylic and Marker on Paper
June 2020

“Currently what I been doing with my work is that I’ve been practicing letting ‘the flow’ take over and kinda in a way let it create itself. I’ve found so much pleasure and satisfaction through that technique. I’ve gotten countless commission offers, but I turned them all down for the reason that I am focusing my time on creating what I enjoy. 2019 was a very magical year for me, if you will. I learned a lot about myself, as well as directing myself where I want to be. So yes, the goal for the future to me is becoming more clear.

“[…] I used to do it and it would take me hours to get in that zone. And now that I understand better that ‘zone’ I can tap into it faster. Some people also call it the ‘flow zone’ like you become fluent with your craft. Which create real master pieces. I believe.”

This style of creating art becomes especially impressive when you take into consideration the amount of detail in each piece. The ideas seem to be pouring out of Miguel’s head onto his canvas.

Jazz
Acrylic on Paper
March 2019

I think one piece that epitomizes this improvisational style is Miguel’s painting, “Jazz”. Named after one of the most improvisational and wildly flowing styles of music, “Jazz” zig-zags, twists, curls and loops across the canvas like a vision of controlled chaos. There’s somehow both a precision and a wildness to this painting. Miguel talked a bit about “Jazz” with me:

“I love this one for its simple yet powerful composition. What this piece represents to me is just the vibe of jazz the motion the rhythm the emotion of it. This piece brought back memories of my buddie Grover who has passed away. When I was a kid, he would express to me how much he loved bebop. As I was creating this piece I had him in mind as well. At the time I was have trouble with pricing my work. I finally stuck with a price and the piece sold for the price of $2000 which for me was a sign to have faith in my gut feelings or my intuition.”

While Miguel’s style can vary quite a bit from piece to piece, in general, this wild energy of controlled chaos is practically a staple in Miguel’s artwork. Some of them seem almost alive with movement and personality.

Cosmic Siren
Acrylic and Ink on Canvas
June 2020

Once you get to know Miguel’s style enough, it’s impossible to mistake for anyone else’s style, but it’s still difficult to pin that style down, as it can vary so much from piece to piece. Some paintings, like his recent painting, “Cosmic Siren”, or his painting, “La Catrina”, have a heavy Cubist influence on them, while others range in style from Kandinsky-style abstraction to Ralph Steadman’s Gonzo-style of art. Still, Miguel’s art, though similar in many ways to these styles, blends these elements as much as it breaks free of any of these molds.

In pieces like “The Buddha” and “Enat”, there’s a mix of some realism, and then a sort of static or sheen of color—clouds, lines, splatters, constellations, swirls, sprays.

With “The Buddha”, the Buddha’s eyes have been replaced by twin nebulae of specks, spots, dots and blots. Miguel almost creates a new atmosphere, or a new fabric of reality in some of his pieces. Maybe he’s peeled back the mundane, crisp and clean surface of material reality, and revealed the chaos beneath it all.

“Enat” more deeply enters the realm of realism, though it depicts the ancient and somewhat abstract “Venus of Willendorf”, but even hear, there is that slight mushroom-haze of specs and spots and spatterings of color. This same messy atmosphere or peeled back reality can be found in a wide variety of pieces.

Miguel’s still life paintings, “Florero de Septiembre” and “Still Life Cacophany” are rich and dense with this atmosphere. In “Florero de Septiembre”, the air and the color of the background seem tangible, like I could reach out and grab the fabric of yellow-golden light, hold it like it was clay, or like the air itself was paint. “Still Life Cacophany” is an explosion of colors and lines coming alive with extradimensional energy. Here the blurred lines of slight realism and wild abstraction make the painting feel like its exploding both in front of you, and like the image is coming alive and moving in your head while you’re looking at it.

Magic Clown
Mixed Media on Paper
June 2020

And with others paintings, the fabric of reality seems to erode even further. “Magic Clown” and “Al Fin de la Jornada” are barely clinging on to any semblance of realism. Small threads of realistic detail tie them to something tangible, but a surreal madness has all but overcome the paintings’ subjects.

With “Magic Clown”, the edges of objects have frayed in many places, and in other places, complete chaos has poured out or emerged forth onto the canvas. The crown of the clown’s head is all but nonexistent, and some unbounded limbo-world is exploding out of it. In “Al Fin de la Jornada”, reality has given way to geometric forms blooming out of the subject’s neck, shoulders and chest. Their mouth has transformed into pillars and skyscrapers of lines and color that run off the edge of his face.

My Anxiety Yesterday
Marker on Paper
April 2020

When all semblance of reality breaks down, when humans people are little more than the colors and shapes of ideas of personalities, a psychic geometry of identity, we find highly abstract pieces like “The Sheriff in Town”, “My Anxiety Yesterday”, and “Una Noche”. Pieces like these show an almost final breakdown of reality, where anything tangible or bounded becomes almost formless.

Still, this doesn’t fully describe Miguel’s broad range of style. There’s collages of colliding faces and forms, such as with “Relajate”, or psychedelic fauvist art, reminiscient of Alex Grey, such as “Mama Pacha”. There’s jaw-dropping blends of styles, such as with “Look Forward”, and there’s even a painting of Patrick star losing his mind on acid with “Patrick Star ‘Woah’”.

I can try and articulate these things to you, and I can try to box Miguel’s artwork into this category or that category, but you’ll have to go look at more of his artwork with your own eyes to really get his unique style.

Much of this unique style comes from Miguel’s own spiritual connection to his work.

Spiritual Being
Paintmarker on Paper
June 2019

“This is one of my favorite pieces it’s titled ‘Spiritual Being’ which is basically a self-portrait of my spirit. The significance of this piece is basically the awareness of my connection to the great spirit and that I am a part of it and that I have complete faith in it. As well as gratitude. On the right side you can kinda see another face. Which to me is my spiritual mother. I believe she has always been with me guiding and protecting me

“[…] The hands up on the being (me) signify surrendering to god or the ‘light source’, which creates or births faith, which in many circumstances has brought me peace and understanding.

“The great spirit, or God, or source or the universe I believe to be everything literally. I believe that we are all connected to everything in many different ways. I believe there is so much that we can’t even imagine, imagining the entirety of ‘it’. I believe it is so complex that that we as humans cannot fathom in anyway. So yes, my belief is closer to Native Americans’.

“And yes, ‘Spiritual Being’ the piece was not planned in anyway. It just came out as I went. I built on it. And after I finished it I looked at it for a while and saw the significance in it..but as you can see on the piece . It is in mostly rainbow color and pattern. Which to me represents light. I believe we are in our highest connection with god when we are in light form. A rainbow is created by light. The half skull half human face represents that I am aware of what will happen after death. For I believe I’ve died already in this life once. That’s a long story. But what I experienced was the most significant thing that had ever happened to me hands down. But to answer your question yes. I believe My consciousness or intuition guided me in doing the piece. And the reason I found out after I did it.”

Untitled
Sticker

This spiritual connection is evident throughout much of Miguel’s work, which features a wide range of religious themes and iconography. These pieces include “The Buddha”, “Mama Pacha”, “Duality”, “Reborn”, and an untitled drawing with a Mother Mary-like figure. However, this spirituality may spill over into other pieces that might not be overtly religious.

In many religions, just as Miguel mentioned, the Great Spirit, the One God or Monad, the Source, the thing from which reality emerged is everywhere and in everything. From beautiful, cloudy skies to incomprehensibly large galaxies to city streets and empty parking lots. This Spirit fills everything in the universe, permeates it just like atoms and molecules, and likewise, this Spirit might be filling each of Miguel’s pieces of artwork.

In addition to spirituality, Miguel discussed the inspiration for one of his pieces, “Waiting in Time”, and how he’s changed throughout his life:

Waiting in Time
Mixed Media/Collage on Canvas
April 2020

“This one is titled, ‘Waiting in Time’. What it represents is an adolescent me waiting for answers to all my questions. Closure to all my doubts. Around the time I was working on the piece I was receiving some of those answers and closure. And that’s one example on how 2019 was very mystical or magical for me. I was finally using consciousness to bring in what I was waiting for. Even though there are many other favorites of mine.

“[…] I feel like yes, I have changed a lot since that way of thinking. The state of mind I tried to portray in ‘Waiting in Time’ I now understand why I went through all those challenges that I went through as an adolescent which were like karmic cycles repeating so that I can understand more about ‘the afterlife’ understand not anchoring yourself to materialistic state of mind, or to practice living without ego. Which I haven’t accomplished. I believe I now understand and need to start practicing that life style more and more. So that’s the current position I feel I’m in. I feel like I’m entering a new chapter in my spiritual life.”

What I love with this painting is all the tiny details and shapes that comprise the image as a whole. It’s almost like there’s no solid image or figure here, it’s just a formation of fragments of images—even in the landscape around the younger-Miguel and the sky in the background.

I don’t want to put words into Miguel’s mouth, but, for me, it’s like the collection of memories coming together into how we remember the person we used to be. It’s all the photographs in our heads being taped together into a collage that forms a single, solid person, but it’s still a haze. Miguel in this picture seems hazy, maybe only halfway there. In fact, his face in this picture is only halfway there. It’s half normal and half almost alien or monster like. The mouth is almost entirely inhuman, and the teeth look almost like a mismatched collection of wrong shaped, wrong sized pieces, stuck together because there was nothing else to stick in.

“Waiting in Time” as a puzzle (it’s a metaphor within a metaphor)

There’s this puzzle we’re trying to put together of who we once were in order to figure out who we are now (coincidentally, you can buy this painting as a puzzle from Puzzle Crazy).

There’s this puzzle, and at the end, it gives us the image of our identity. The pieces are all made of memories, little bits of emotions and old sensations or feelings, and thoughts we had that we halfway recall. If you pick up all the pieces of who you once were, you get to put them all back together the way you want. Become someone new.

One of the last things we talked about was art pricing.

Miguel mentioned a bit about pricing his art, so I asked him if he had any advice for other artists who are looking to start selling their work:

“Pricing art. There is still no real set structure in pricing art. Just like the freedom of expression is so vast, so is its pricing. If you know a little about the art market, you know paintings have sold for crazy amounts. But basically, there are is way a lot of artists have used to price their work, which is by square inch. So, like $2 the square inch. Which is what I do, but sometimes I price lower or higher depending on the piece, but for the most part that’s how I do it. And as time passes the $ mark increases as well as my popularity.

Reborn
Oil Paint on Paperboard
February 2019
The King and Queen
Aerosol and Acrylic on Canvas
June 2019

“I guess I’m still kinda new to all this stuff. I feel I still have a lot to learn, but at the same time, I’ve learned a lot in the time I’ve been doing it. Keep in mind, I’m a dad, and my time is divided. And my advice to other artists is just do it. Do it all. We have Google and social media. We have it all in the palm of our hands. Haha all you need is the initiative of starting and finishing. Things are gonna go wrong just like everything else: there is its good times and bad times. Just keep pushing.

I would also say ask questions. If a gallery doesn’t wanna show your work, don’t feel bad keep going! Always practice optimistic mentality. That will help with longevity, and also invest, invest invest. You gotta water the tree before it gives you fruits haha.”

There’s a lot to be learned from Miguel. He’s a father of two children, and, before Covid-19, was working a full-time job, and still managed to find time to make this insanely cool artwork (so shut the fuck up with whatever excuses you have). He’s stuck to his artwork, and keeps consistently growing and developing his style. He’s open to branching out into venues and ways of showing or selling his art.

Reborn
Oil Paint on Paperboard
February 2019

Possibly most importantly, Miguel’s style is genuine, authentic. There’s no mistaking this style, and Miguel incorporates the things he finds most meaningful into his artwork, especially his spirituality. Miguel’s art comes from somewhere deep, beyond the rational, waking mind. It’s like he opens up this faucet somewhere deep in his unconscious or in his soul, and all these thoughts and emotions and images come spilling out onto canvas. It’s brilliant to see, and if you haven’t checked out more of his artwork, you need to.

You can find Miguel on Instagram @9ichardo. If you want to check out the Pacha Moma museum, they can be found on Instagram @pacha_moma. If you want to buy one of the puzzles made with Miguel’s artwork, or check out some of Puzzle Crazy’s other work, you can find them on Instagram @puzzlecrazyuk, or look them up on Etsy at www.etsy.com/uk/puzzlecrazyGB.

Please give them all a look, follow them if you enjoy what they do, and support artists and other creators in whatever way you can.