Friday, June 1, 2018

When Bedtime Reading Enters My Dreams

I had another one of those dreams last night, a dream I was caught in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. When this happened before, I turned the dream into the short story "The Wild Ones," which you can read in Love, Lust, and Zombies, edited by Mitzi Szereto.


I always love a good zombie story, and I still have crushes on SEVERAL cast members from The Walking Dead, but the specific reason for this zombie dream had to do with my choice of reading material before bed. It was TVTropes.org, which I have mentioned several times previously as a favorite resource.

Like Wikipedia, it's also a good place to follow a proverbial rabbit trail. As one writer on Tumblr once said, "Does anyone else go on Wikipedia to look something up and then click on a bunch of random links and then half an hour later you’re 10 articles deep into the inner workings of Vietnamese politics?"

I do; I suppose that's part of the life of the writer. The day I found Wikipedia's pseudohistory category was a pretty clear example of that.

My search into TVTropes last night began with Rihanna. I'd heard her song "What Now" on Spotify the other day. I hadn't seen the video in a while, but I remembered that I contained images of the singer doing some moves that involve contortions and other non-dance moves that may remind viewers of either a person with a mental illness or film depictions of a person who is possessed (by evil spirits, perhaps).

This is the official video from Rihanna's VEVO page on YouTube. It's not available for embedding as of this writing.

This screencap captures Rihanna as she begins to fall backward.
I wondered if anyone had commented about this on TVTropes. Music videos are written of and discussed on the site, and I wondered if anyone had added "demonic possession" or anything similar as a trope in the "What Now" video. Well, there isn't even a page for the "What Now" video. The single and its accompanying video are barely mentioned on TVTropes at all.

This caused me to wonder a very specific thing: When I imagine the trope of what "demonic possession" looks like visually, what am I actually thinking of?

A related question I'd been interested in the past month or so had to do with the origin of the zombie myth in pop culture. Wikipedia actually does a really good job of answering that one. When I think of a zombie, I'm largely thinking of the visual language created by George Romero in his Night of the Living Dead, which I watched as a child and have seen several times since. It premiered in 1968, before I was born.

A fascinating audio book I heard recently (having borrowed it from the library via the Libby app) was Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Dr. Monica Murphy. In it, the authors mention that George Romero's film was inspired by Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend. Matheson calls his infected, murderous undead "vampires," the book essentially inspired the modern myth of the zombie apocalypse.


In turn, the bloodthirsty, relentless vampires in the book and its subsequent adaptations resemble animals with rabies. The human fear of zombies is closely related to the human fears of disease transmission and the kind of loss of control associated with neurological diseases like rabies. (Note that in real life, rabies isn't transmittable from one human being to another - not easily, anyway.)

And all of that was interesting to me, but if you visit the page on demonic possession on Wikipedia, you get more of a religious and historical discussion than a pop culture one. So to dig a little deeper into the cultural history of film depictions of demonic possession, I visited the TVTropes page on The Exorcist. (You may remember this post about the ongoing cultural relevance of Pazuzu.)

But then somehow, from there, I ended up on the page for Jesus Christ Superstar, the 1970 rock opera by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. I've never seen the whole thing, only bits of it as a student in various Catholic schools. (I wanted to watch the TV version that aired earlier this year, but I missed it.)

If you go to TVTropes' Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV, i.e. opinions) page, you see there are versions of this musical in which Judas and Jesus are depicted with varying amounts of sexual tension between them. Now, when you say "Judas" to me, the first thing I think of is the Lady Gaga video. That is also unavailable for embedding, but it can be found here. Here's a little screencap:

Actor Rick Gonzalez (left) portrays Jesus, with Gaga as Mary Magdalene
That Judas? He's Norman Reedus, one of my Walking Dead crushes. I've been into him ever since my first viewing of Boondock Saints. And Judas x Jesus is the reason I had a dream about zombies last night.

It wasn't even a particularly scary dream; it mostly involved avoiding the darkness I Am Legend-style.

So if you're down to do a little wiki editing, someone could add some pop culture references to Wikipedia's demonic possession page and fill in some more of Rihanna's video tropes on TVTropes.org.

By the way, if you're really trying to give yourself nightmares, a good TV trope to explore is fold spindle mutilation. Read the real-life examples if you have a taste for gruesome reading, especially the Byford Dolphin diving bell accident story. It's both tragic and gross, if you're into that sort of thing. (And what human being doesn't have at least a little streak of morbid curiosity?)

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