Lovecraft and Racism

HP LovecraftH.P. Lovecraft was a unique artist with a powerful gift of imagination. Unfortunately, his wildest flights of fancy left him incapable of seeing past his ethnic and racial prejudices, which were extreme even for his time.

A writer who created worlds as fantastic and detailed as those of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lovecraft’s place in literary history is indisputable. His purple prose, thick and tendinous, can be difficult to read. But once you give yourself over to his words, relax into the soupy dread he cooks up, you cannot help but become a fan.

Lovecraft’s racism, bald-faced and stubborn, is nevertheless the gristle that irritates, oftentimes making his delicious prose otherwise unpalatable. Born of a genetic predisposition towards anxiety and possessing of an incipient xenophobia, his racism and ethnicism is the expression of a morbidly frightened man. Whatever the source of his racism, it matters little. It is the most odious thing about his writing. (He wasn’t particularly science-positive either.)

I could draw out specific examples — it’s frightfully easy. The poem that WFA 2011 award winner Nnedi Okorafor quotes in her petition to have Lovecraft’s name and visage removed from the award is a particularly horrifying example. “The Rats in the Wall” is nigh impossible to stomach for what Lovecraft chose to name the black cat that features prominently in an otherwise fantastic yarn. Even on the rare occasions where Lovecraft attempts some semblance of equanimity towards other races and ethnicities, it falls painfully flat, reading as the worst sort of backhanded pandering. “The Transition of Juan Romero” comes to mind:

It was not long after my arrival and employment that Juan Romero came to the Norton Mine. One of the large herd of unkempt Mexicans attracted thither from the neighbouring country, he at first attracted attention only because of his features; which though plainly of the Red Indian type, were yet remarkable for their light colour and refined conformation, being vastly unlike those of the average “greaser” or Piute of the locality. It is curious that although he differed so widely from the mass of Hispanicised and tribal Indians, Romero gave not the least impression of Caucasian blood. It was not the Castilian conquistador or the American pioneer, but the ancient and noble Aztec, whom imagination called to view when the silent peon would rise in the early morning and gaze in fascination at the sun as it crept above the eastern hills, meanwhile stretching out his arms to the orb as if in the performance of some rite whose nature he did not himself comprehend. But save for his face, Romero was not in any way suggestive of nobility. Ignorant and dirty, he was at home amongst the other brown-skinned Mexicans; having come (so I was afterward told) from the very lowest sort of surroundings.

Juan Romero is noble, see, just not that noble.

It’s not my intention to beat up on Lovecraft. That’s the job of clickbait sites who have just discovered what fans have known all along, and who are trying to give an author who, three-quarters of a century after his death, has soared in popularity, the Mel-Gibson treatment. Any maybe he deserves it.

The point is this: We know better. We can correct Lovecraft’s mistakes, apologize for his character flaws, and make some measure of amends as we create in the sandbox he left behind.

This is what we humans do: Celebrate accomplishment, condemn failings, and build on a reconciliation of the two. It was a slave-owner who wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The history of my country has been one of building on the accomplishments of men who were all too fallible. The struggle goes ever on.

That is what we are doing with Miskatonic West. MW has a diverse cast representing a broad spectrum of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Lovecraft created a wildly heterogeneous cosmology. To meet it with a homogeneous cast would be a sin.

The first season also touches on the Pacific Coast Native American tribes, treating them not as the ignorant primitives of so many Lovecraft stories, but rather as brave human beings who stood up against the unspeakable unknown. Running the risk of cultural appropriation is a concern. We don’t want to go too far in fetishizing other cultures, pandering, or engaging in a superficial multi-culturalism for the sake of multi-culturalism.

Harry, Noah, and I can only go about this with the best of intentions, open honesty, and sensitivity. And by acknowledging that we are making reparations for where an otherwise incredible author fell horribly, miserably short.

It’s not difficult.  Writing for a diverse cast of unique characters is an absolute delight. We are all people with universally felt desires and fundamental needs. In a cosmic sense — certainly in a Lovecraftian cosmic sense — we are so excruciatingly small, painfully impotent, our differences are infinitesimal. Unnoticeable.

We all go mad in the end, no matter what we look like on the outside.

Help Kickstart a Lovecraft-inspred Webseries

I’ve blogged before about Miskatonic West, the Lovecraft-inspired webseries that I’m co-writing with Harry Kakatsakis, and that was created by Harry and Noah James Butler.

The Kickstarter campaign to get the ball rolling on production has gone live:

To contribute to this project, follow this link.

The first Lovecraft story I ever read was “The Tomb.” Being the sort of person who is drawn to musty, old paperbacks, I’ve found myself perusing many a shelf in many a used book store over the years. I say “found myself,” and I mean it. The mere sight of a used book store is enough to trigger a kind of somnambulistic trance; a waking sleepwalk wherein I follow some unnamed spirit to those dusty, worn shelves crammed with long-forgotten yet perhaps once well-loved books.

How intoxicating! The aroma of binder’s glue and paper breaking down, mixed with the faintest trace of mildew. The muffled silence of those shelves.

It was on one such shelf I found a Del Rey-published copy of The Tomb and Other Tales. The cover, depicting a human figure cocooned in spider’s webbing, mouth frozen in a scream of terror, promised hideous delights within. I began reading “The Tomb” there in the aisle, and soon after bought a treasure worth so much more than the dollar-fifty pricetag scratched in grease pencil on its inside cover.

I had heard of Lovecraft before, via my favorite author, Robert A. Heinlein. In his book, The Number of the Beast, a group of adventurers find themselves hopping through different literary universes. For instance, they visit Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom and L. Frank Baum’s Oz. The only catch is that all four adventurers must have read the same book prior to their journey. They write up a list of all the books they’ve read and compare notes:

“Is H.P. Lovecraft on that list?”

“He only got one vote, Zebbie. Yours.”

“Cthulhu be thanked! Sharpie, his stories fascinate me the way snakes are said to fascinate birds. But I would rather be trapped with the King in Yellow than be caught in the worlds of the Necronomicon.”

I knew him by reputation, and he did not let me down.

It is a delight to play in the singular, unnatural sandbox Lovecraft left for us. Along with Harry and Noah, I’m having way too much fun building our own eldritch sandcastles, and I can’t wait to share them all with you.

Bad Telemarketing Poetry

I did a brief spin through a telemarketing gig a week ago. It lasted for less than a week, but not because it was unbearably awful — it was surprisingly pleasant! Nope, I landed a long-term temp day job that is paying me handsomely for my brainpower. That’s a nice feeling, and it’s keeping the lights on at Maison du Snapper.

While I was at the telemarketing gig, I got the idea to write way-too-sincere poetry about telemarketing. It amused me to no end. Perhaps it will amuse you, too:

Bad Telemarketing Poetry 1I.

don’t hesitate

jump right in

waste no time

get to work

to dial …

… dial …

… dial …

and hope someone picks up

 

II.

dregs seeking out dregs

hoping chance will sweep us away

together

desperate for a connection

we did not know we missed

longing for that voice

we’ve never heard before

clinging

carressing plastic

trying to remember what the

real thing feels like

 

III.

some people

just want

to defeat you

don’t listen to their words

their broken, hurtful words

listen to their motivation

their true

hidden

intention

and pity them their inhumanity

 

IV.

madly dialing numbers

desperate to hear a voice

any

voice

pick up

hear me speak

talk to me

tonight I’m not selling

tonight you’re not buying

tonight we are two

humans.

 

V.

it is not a personal failing

to miss a connection

no one is to blame

for bad timing

to hear your recorded voice

is not to resent you

(how much I would prefer

a conversation!)

I am here; I know you’re out there

living our lives

Bad Telemarketing Poetry 2

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Existential unemployment …

Existential unemployment ...

Have Confetti Cannon … Will Travel!

Davy Crockett is on the hunt! MNT presents: MEATFEST 4: Skin at the Monday Night Tease! Photo by Andrija Bloom.

Davy Crockett is on the hunt! MNT presents: MEATFEST 4: Skin at the Monday Night Tease! Photo by Andrija Bloom.

Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, the greenest state in the land of the free, raised in the woods so’s he knew every tree, kill’t him a bear when he was only three …

You can’t have Davy Crockett without Beautiful Betsy, his rifle. If you’re toting a prop rifle in a burlesque show, it had better do something fabulous. Hence: My Betsy is a confetti cannon. At least, half the barrel is — the rest of the “gun” is just for show. I’ve been meaning to post a tutorial on this for some time.

A disclaimer: THE CONFETTI CANNON WORKS ON COMPRESSED AIR. You can easily injure yourself or others if you don’t use common sense! Only use this to blast confetti, and NEVER POINT IT AT PEOPLE, ANIMALS, OR FRAGILE OBJECTS. In fact, now that I think about it, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO BUILD THIS THING. I’M A (self-trained) PROFESSIONAL.

When I perform the Davy Crockett number, I aim the rifle at the ceiling, above the audience. The blast of confetti looks awesome, and then it drifts down onto my adoring fans — double awesome!

Here we go …

The Pieces Parts

Here are the ingredients for my confetti cannon:

  • a length of 3/4″ PVC pipe
  • 1/4″ (inner diameter) vinyl tubing
  • 3/4″ male – 1/2″ female reducer
  • 1/2″ male – 1/4″ barb hose adapter
  • a tapered inflator nozzle (comes in a blowgun or air pump kit, along with a mattress inflator, sports ball needle, etc.)
  • CO2-powered bicycle tire inflator with — VERY IMPORTANT — screw-on Schrader fitting.
  • A couple of small hose clamps.

If you squint, you can almost make out what this is a picture of.

And here’s why you need a screw-on Schrader fitting. You’re going to attach that tapered inflator nozzle to the CO2 inflator. Attach one end of the vinyl hose to the nozzle, and hose clamp that sucker in place.

Look, I’ll be honest with you. You may not actually need the hose clamp. I’m a Nervous Nancy, however, and I want to make sure my connections are as tight as possible.

I'm a Nervous Nancy

Place (and by place I mean “shove”) the male end of the reducer into one end of your PVC pipe. I used a little E-6000 to glue it in place because, again, Nervous Nancy.

Here’s the genius of my confetti cannon: The hex head on the reducer keeps it from entering the pipe. Meaning there is no risk of accidentally propelling a hard brass fitting into the air when you activate this thing.

Insert the barb hose adapter into the reducer, put the hose on it, and clamp it. (Note: you’re going to want to put the hose through the hose clamp before you attach the hose to the adapter.)

Fill the PVC pipe with confetti, and activate the tire inflator. Huzzah! confetti cannon!

Now here’s a problem: My Beautiful Betsy is 50 inches long. I want to fit it into a standard-size suitcase for air travel. It needs to be collapsible, and so I’ve accomplished this with the addition of a couple of pieces of hardware.

Step One

Here’s what the connection at the PVC looked like.

Step Three

And here’s what it looks like now! I unscrewed the barb hose adapter from the reducer, and inserted a 1/4″ quick connect coupler and male plug with 1/4″ female plug. Now this part of the confetti cannon breaks apart …

Step Two

Like so! The gun stock is being broken into three pieces that I will assemble after I arrive at my destination. I’ll source the CO2 cartridge locally so I don’t have to travel with a compressed air cartridge. (I don’t know if it’s legal or not to travel with CO2 cartridges — I don’t really care. I like the idea of showing up in another town and looking for a bicycle shop. Gives me a chance to take in more local flavor.)

So there you have it: an inexpensive confetti cannon that can be built in a couple of hours.

How We Do

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This is the Doodlebug. Her name is actually Felicity, but no one calls her that. We took the Doodlebug to the vet a few weeks back for her regular check-up, booster shots, and to have an evaluation done on one of her teeth that seems to be giving her some trouble. She was running a little bit of a fever, and so they decided against the booster shots and instead did a blood test in preparation for the dental work. As it turns out, our little sofa loaf (she is a bit of a napper) is anemic.

No sweat, put some iron in her diet, right? Nope. Anemia in dogs doesn’t work like anemia in humans. It could be caused by an infection (like what’s going on with her teeth) or it could be cancer. Or some sort of autoimmune issue. It could be a whole bunch of scary things. She’s on a treatment program right now, and she appears to be responding well (red blood cell count up the last time she was checked, about a week ago!) so we’re hopeful it’s one of the less frightening issues.

Needless to say, the vet bills are stacking up. But rather than make an outright appeal for financial assistance, my wife and I are doing how we do: We’re making stuff and selling it. To be specific, we’re making Doodle appliqué pillows, similar to the prototype pictured (along with the Doodlebug) above. If you’re interested in picking up a Doodle pillow and helping us get the Doodlebug the doctorin’ she needs, please follow this link to my wife’s website. And thank you!

Kermit Imposters + Tutorial!

A brief history of Kermit doppelgangers and a bonus tutorial!

I finally get to take the wife to see The Muppets: Most Wanted tonight. I got to see it a couple of weeks before it opened (I know a guy) and I’m stoked to see it again. I enjoyed The Muppets, but it felt like a reboot, and more of a vehicle for Jason Segal than a MUPPET movie. I’m not complaining! Kudos to Segal for doing the damned near impossible (judging from recent history, i.e. Muppets in Space): making a GOOD Muppet movie!

The Muppets Most Wanted puts the Muppets front and center. And it introduces us to a new Kermit imposter, Constantine, The World’s Most Dangerous Frog!

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Image snatched from the Muppet Wiki: http://www.muppet.wikia.com

But this isn’t the first time Kermit has been replaced …

Kermit the Pig

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Image snatched from Muppet Wiki

In a second season episode of The Muppet Show, the pigs takeover the show. Performed by Dave Goelz, this is probably the most frightening of the Kermitgangers. At least it was to me as a little kid!

Robot Kermit

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Image snatched from Muppet Wiki

Season one of the Muppet Show gave us this guy, who seemed like an explosion of Kermit id — up to no end of mischief. We also get  a Kermit take on the old Marx-bros mirror gag! (A gag that is revisited by Kermit and Constantine.)

Lenny the Lizard

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Image snatched from Muppet Wiki

The Steve Martin episode of The Muppet Show is my all-time favorite. Martin shows up to host only to discover that it’s open audition night at The Benny Vandergast Memorial Theater (better known as The Muppet Theater nowadays). The only show to air without an added laugh track, the laughing and applause you hear is coming from the crew and performers watching the performances. Great stuff.

Baskerville the Dog (in Fozzie Bear-esque polka dotted tie and brown porkpie) kills in his audition as comic. Fozzie gives him the ol’ vaudeville hook and yells, “Next!”

Says Kermit, “C’mon, Fozzie, you’re taking all this too personally!”

Next up is Lenny the Lizard (Richard Hunt) auditioning to be the emcee.

“NEXT!” yells Kermit.

Kermit the Forg, Kermit the Gorf, Kermit the Grof (Honorable Mentions)

Not really Kermitgangers per se, but this bit from Sesame Street stands out in memory:

BONUS! Make Your Own Constantine PEZ Dispenser Tutorial!

And now, because the internet is fueled by DIY and lists (and cats, but the wife is allergic, so I’ve got nothing), it is with almost patriotic pride that I present to you the Make Your Own Constantine PEZ Dispenser Tutorial!

STEP 1: Obtain a Kermit PEZ dispenser:

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STEP 2: Using a fine point Sharpie, draw a mole:

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STEP 3: You’re all done! “Hi-lo! I yam Kyermeet the Frerg …”

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What did YOU think of The Muppets: Most Wanted? What sort of pointless tutorial would you like to see next? Let me know!