I’m Thinking of Ending Things Book Review

 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a book by Iain Reid. It’s suspenseful, often toying with the reader to make them wonder what is reality, and what is illusion. I’m actually lucky I even read this book, because it wasn’t my first choice. I had a slew of other books I was considering, but my sister pointed this one out to me. I wasn’t initially intrigued, because I figured I couldn’t get the same effect I would in a book that I would from a movie-format psychological thriller. I also thought the cover was trying too hard to be edgy. However, I was incorrect in my hypothesis about the suspense and horror.

We start the novel off with an ominous phrases. Could be taken as many things. “I’m thinking of ending things” occurs so often in the book, and it’s generally thought that our narrator is considering ending her relationship with her boyfriend, Jake. Our narrator, nameless, is going to go on a long trip with him to visit his parents. That’s where a lot of her thoughts about terminating things culminate. We get a lot of her inside thoughts, and things turn a little ominous. We hear about another character, The Caller.

The Caller is a secret that she’s keeping from Jake. This person calls late at night, leaving eerie voicemails. Whenever the call is picked up, there’s either breathing or an instant hang up. Her thoughts seem to flow back to Jake, and she thinks about how they met at a trivia night at a pub near their college campus. Jake is some kind of scientist, working in a lab. It’s not exactly said what kind of scientist, or what kind of lab. He uses big words and has an expansive vocabulary; his intelligence is referenced all the time.

At the end of the second chapter, we get a page of what seems to be a conversation between two nameless individuals. Not the narrator nor Jake, and it’s separate from the story the narrator is telling. It alludes to some kind of man that did something horrific. It’s not specific in who they people are talking about, or what exactly he did.

We then hear a memory that the narrator has that is particularly unsettling. Late at night, she woke up and looked out the window. There was an extremely tall man outside, she could only see his torso. He was evidently quite tall, and simply stood there. He did weird things with his hands, like rub them together every so often. But he just stood and seemed to be watching, even though he was taller than the window. Music was playing outdoors in addition to him standing there. And then he waves. That’s what makes it so weird, is that it’s not even a malicious gesture. Just a wave.

As they get to the parents’ house, things are even stranger. They live way out in the middle of nowhere, miles from much civilization. There isn’t really any introduction, no exchanging of names or anything that would be expected from a son bringing home his girlfriend from college. Actually, over dinner, the mother talks a lot about how she hears voices and her hearing is going. Then the mother wants to play a game, about impersonating someone. Jake has been quiet through most of the dinner. The mother insists our narrator impersonate Jake. It seems to irritate him, and then Jake imitates the narrator. She explains it as horrifyingly accurate, as if he were a real impersonation of her. After dinner, she goes to the bathroom, and ends up exploring the dark house.

She stumbles across the basement door, covered in scratches. Obviously, since this is a thriller story, she’s going to explore a place she knows she shouldn’t. She comes across weird paintings, girls with claw-like fingernails. She overhears the parents upstairs talking about how they were upset that someone had lost their job at a lab, hadn’t had a job in a long time. The narrator can’t hear them clearly, since they’re upstairs, but thinks they’re talking about Jake. She knocks over a few cans of paint and runs upstairs.

Deciding it was time to leave, the narrator says her goodbyes to the parents. The dad ends up not being around, and the mom seems like she’s almost pleading for her to stay. A little weirded out, she ends up deciding she has to go home. She has a really bad headache and just wants to get home, plus Jake was supposed to have work in the morning. Jake talks about how he had a brother with mental issues, he would follow people and make weird hand gestures, generally stalking people.

They stop at a Dairy Queen, and the girls inside seem like they’re less than pleased to be there so late at night, working. One girl mumbles how she’s scared for the narrator, that she doesn’t have to go anywhere if she doesn’t want to. The narrator doesn’t really understand.

As if the whole story wasn’t weird, they end up stopping at a school, still in the middle of nowhere, to throw out the cups. Jake gets out the car, it’s pitch black and snowing. He comes back and the narrator and him start to make out. Jake freaks and says there’s someone staring at them from inside the school, the janitor working over winter break. Jake gets angry and runs inside to confront the creepy watcher. The watcher also waved. After a while, the narrator gets scared and tries to go in to find Jake. She hears something like rubber boots, and finds an eerie message, the same message she’d been getting on her phone from The Caller. She runs throughout the school. But then the “I” narration switches to “We”. The narrator isn’t a girl. The narrator is Jake. The Caller is Jake. Jake’s parents aren’t still alive, they’d been dead for some time. “What are you waiting for?” in response to the voicemail message is repeated for four pages. The narrator comes to terms that they are Jake, they are unstable, and decides they want to end things. They use a coat hanger and jam it into their neck several times and bunch up in the closet.

I found this book very unsettling. I loved every minute of it, though. I sat down and read it in a few hours, at nighttime. Night is the best time to read or watch something scary, it enhances the whole experience. I think this book could be suited for maybe high schoolers and college students alike, maybe older. Not middle school, there are some dark themes in it that might be kind of a lot. I think that the twist of the narrator not existing and the parents being dead was executed just right, better than I’m describing it. It’s not tacky, and it doesn’t leave the reader feeling like they were cheated. I’d really recommend it to anyone looking for a spooky book to read!

 

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Iain Reid

210 pages. Published by Scout Press. $14.99

An Analysis of Body Language in The Bald Soprano

Body language is an important part in any production because it can help communicate the tone to the audience. In this production of The Bald Soprano it was used to maintain a level of pseudo-serious comedy. UMF students put on the play with a clear comedic angle, which was enhanced by the kinds of body language used.

The first moment where body language stood out to me was the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Martin. It is not noted in the written play, but on stage the actors mimicked the body language of each other. For example, when Mr. Martin said a line and took a step forward, Mrs. Martin would say her line and take a step forward as well. They acted as mirrors of each other, which was an interesting addition to their complicated relationship. It is also a great use of body language to further exaggerate that they are essentially copying what the other says as well.

Watching carefully, I noticed that there was a place where the exact mirroring broke off, which makes sense in the context of what they were saying. All along, everything had been the same. They were in the same train car, from the same town, and lived in the same place. When they started talking about the child, Alice, things began to differentiate. Mr. Martin pointed at Mrs. Martin, but then she only proceeded to hold her arm out, etc. This was a subtle indication through body language that things were not truly the same, as Mary points out. They do not have the same daughter and are not who they each think they are. It’s amazing that the actors were able to indicate these differences on such a minute level.

While no other particular instance of body language displayed such critical information as this, there were other moments that were used to their advantage. Mrs. Smith seems like a drab character on paper, and even at the beginning of the UMF production. She, like the rest of the characters, talk about nothing of importance. However, when she opens the door to her home when the doorbell rings, she does so in such a dramatic way. She continues to have slightly over exaggerated body motions, especially after the Fire Chief enters. This use of body language displays how her character is secretly craving drama and attention that neither her husband nor lifestyle can give her.

The Fire Chief himself also used body language to his advantage. The actor onstage made the character come to life as he walked around like he owned the place. The Fire Chief came off as very confident and as someone who uses the knowledge of their attractive qualities to their advantage. When he interacted with Mary on the table in the front, he was clearly very into her in an exaggerated way. Whether or not the actress playing Mary was supposed to act not as interested, it created an awkward kind of comedy that was nonetheless successful.

The Bald Soprano reads as a confusing, boring play on paper, but can truly come to life when acted out onstage. The use of body language throughout the production lent to both its comedy and my personal understanding of the play.

Reaction to “The Bald Soprano”

 

I attended the Sunday matinee for “The Bald Soprano”. I was actually surprised at how much I found myself enjoying it. One thing that kind of stood out to me was the setting. It for the most part, it looked somewhat like a kind of fancy house, what with a leather sofa and a large clock, and portraits of our characters. But the wall stood out to me. It was blue, and didn’t seem to match the rest of our setting at all. Now, it could easily just be a stretch, but I thought it added a little something to the absurdity of the play. Since nothing else in the play really seems to connect, maybe the wall doesn’t connect with the rest of the background.

I particularly enjoyed Mr. and Mrs. Martin’s monotone dialogue in their first interaction. I hadn’t actually pictured them speaking like that to each other, but it added something comical to their words. Overall, the dialogue was still difficult to follow. I realize that the point is to not make any sense, but actually hearing it just made me understand that I was never going to understand what they were talking about.

In relation to dialogue, I thought the switch from British culture to American culture was interesting. I can’t remember a lot of specifics, but some of the things (like the food choices) might have actually been the same. And they still said “bloody” a few times, definitely a British term. So whether that was either an oversight or deliberately to add to confusion, I’m not entirely sure. I know that they were at least in the suburbs, and quite proud of drinking American water.

Another thing that I thought was made even more absurd was actually hearing the clock chime 20+ times. Several times. It’s one thing to read that it chimes a lot, but hearing it is both funny and unsettling. To add to how wacky the clock’s features were, it ended up shifting and slamming and opening up. I might have just missed it while reading, but I’m not sure I remembered that from the original play.

Speaking of unsettling, the Fire Chief and Maid were a little too convincing. Groping and ear biting, they really sold it. I had underestimated how weird this play was going to be, but they went there. Then again, the point of the play is absurdity, so it actually fits quite well. How many regular plays have such explicit displays of expression on stage?

While I thought the ending was funny, part of it seemed borderline scary. The actors were screaming and moving around all over the place, the lighting was changing, everything was in full discord. It was like watching a horror movie with people frantically scrambling around and screeching. Perhaps even af foreign horror movie, since I had no idea what they were talking about.

The Awkward Amusement of The Bald Soprano

Eugene Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano” is just as bizarre to watch as it is to read. However, even though the play retains its oddness factor when moved from the page onto the stage, the experience of seeing it performed is much different from the experience of reading the script. This most likely comes from the added visual aspect of viewing the play, and seeing how the actors choose to move and utilize the space on stage.

One of the most prominent scenes in which this is exemplified is the initial conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Martin, when the couple are trying to figure out where they’ve seen each other before. While the monotonous voices are similar to what is seen in the script, it appears very different on the stage. For example, in this production there was a lot more movement between the two actors than what was mentioned in the script. The couple’s movements often mirrored each other, and this highlighted the many repetitive lines in the conversation. The action made the discussion more interesting to watch as well, and captured the audience’s attention. The identical movements of the characters combined with their blank expressions and mechanical way of speaking highlighted the absurdity of the situation, often eliciting laughter from the viewers.

The comedic aspects of this scene did not end there. Towards the end of the conversation, Mr. and Mrs. Martin kneel on the arms of the couch, reach towards each other, and collapse dramatically down onto the sofa. These actions were not a part of the script, but they were quite entertaining to watch. The two remained laying awkwardly on the couch for the 29 chimes, and the length served to make the audience feel rather uncomfortable after their amusement at the preceding activities. This mix of mirth and discomfort was quite a common occurrence while viewing the play, whereas while reading the script often highlighted feelings of confusion instead.

Another part of the play that was both funny and uncomfortable was the interactions between the Fire Chief and Mary, the maid. While in the script it just states that Mary throws herself at the Fire Chief, it was much more awkward and prolonged in the play. The discomfort of the other characters is shared by the audience, with the added embarrassed amusement on the part of the viewers. The hilarity is increased with the dramatic gestures that accompany the recitation of “The Fire” poem, culminating with the maid being carried off stage by Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

The awkwardly comedic tone of this play persists through to the end, which consists of the Smiths and the Martins running around screaming nonsense at each other. While this was just plain bizarre to read in the script, watching the characters move around the stage while yelling weird phrases at each other was much more entertaining. The audience was clearly confused about what was going on, but still seemed to find the spectacle rather funny.

In all of the above instances, the actions and movements of the actors added something to the viewing experience that was not present when simply reading the script. The way that the actors moved and spoke added a much more amusing note to the play, causing it to be entertaining as well as baffling.

“The Uncanny” in The Twilight Zone

In Sigmund Freud’s “The Uncanny”, he describes the concept of the uncanny in psychoanalytical theory as, “that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar.” (825). Similar to defamiliarization, the idea of the uncanny is one which takes what is familiar and presents it in a new light. However, while defamiliarization presents the thing in a way that is pleasing, the uncanny is what is not pleasing at all, and is instead based in fear. Freud makes reference to the German word ‘unheimlich’  which directly translates to “unhomely”. He describes this as “the opposite of what is familiar; and we are tempted to conclude that what is ‘uncanny’ is frightening precisely because it is not known and familiar.” (826). The idea of the uncanny about the fear of things coming to light which were meant to remain unknown, or hidden under the familiar. The feeling of the uncanny manifests from fears which have been pushed deeply into the back of one’s mind, but remain present. These fears resurface when what is familiar no longer feels “homely”. This concept is often the basis of the 1950’s series The Twilight Zone, particularly in an episode titled “The Hitch-Hiker”.

In this episode, a 27-year-old woman is driving across country from New York to California for a vacation, alone. She first sees the hitch-hiker after a minor breakdown in Pennsylvania, where he appears in front of her car and sticks out his thumb. She sees him again at the gas station a few miles down the road. Her fear grows quickly when she spots him for a third time 50 miles later, again in Virginia, again on the turnpike, and at a construction stop, a railroad crossing, etc. No matter how far she goes, he’s always there. Nobody else can see the hitch-hiker, which she learns from a Navy man who travels with her for some time. Eventually she gets to a phone to call her mother, as she needs to hear a voice, “A warm, familiar voice so I won’t lose my mind.” She is told that her mother is in the hospital from a nervous breakdown, due to the death of her daughter. She gets back in the car, and the man is in the backseat. She looks at him calmly, and the episode concludes.

It can be argued that the woman’s terror manifests from her fear of being alone, or particularly being alone with a strange man. She spends so many hours driving at a time, without seeing anyone familiar, that this man is created in her mind. He becomes a familiar face, but not one which brings her comfort. It’s common to have a fear of strangers, as we are taught from a young age to be weary of those we don’t know. The man is constantly described as being very plain, not particularly scary in his appearance or his actions. He is dressed in a drab, gray suit, and does nothing but stand in front of her. The fear does not stem from his menacing look, his violent actions, or his threatening words. He is frightening because he does nothing at all. He has become familiar in a way which does not make sense, and becomes a disturbing figure because his purpose is unknown. His reappearance cannot be explained as it isn’t logical, and this lack of logic in itself creates discomfort.

tz116.jpg

Most women can agree that they’ve been told at least once in their lives when venturing out on their own to fear strange men. Women are told not to travel alone, not to be out at night alone, not to talk to men you can’t trust. This woman is put into all of these situations, and faces this odd man, completely alone. The hitch-hiker has become the uncanny; the unfamiliar man who becomes familiar in an unsettling way. The man who must have cruel intentions. He is the fear which lived inside the woman the moment she set out for her long, lonely trip across the country. She is heading as far away from what is “homely” as she can get by car, and her desire to turn around grows with every mile.

“The Uncanny” and Boggarts

Everyone’s scared of something, and some things vary in their fright factor. This is where Sigmund Freud’s “The Uncanny” comes in. We learn about how fear is relative and depends not only on the individual, but the source of fear. The uncanny is essentially the opposite of aesthetics, described as “undoubtedly related to what is frightening- to what arouses dread and horror; equally certainly, too, the word is not always used in a clearly definable sense, so that it tends to coincide with what excites fear in general” (825). Here we see that the term is vague, but is generally understandable as something not pleasing to view and induces some kind of negative emotion related to fear.

Next comes the boggart from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I love the Harry Potter series, so I was naturally excited to apply the uncanny to this book. The boggart is a creature that changes its shape to whatever the viewer is most scared of. Professor Lupin further explains, “Nobody knows what a boggart looks like when he is alone, but when I let him out, he will immediately become whatever each of us most fears” (133). The condition is that the boggart will turn into something that the viewer is likely most scared of. This relates to the different levels of the uncanny, as explained by Freud when he writes, “people vary so very greatly in their sensitivity to the quality of this feeling” (825).

What I find interesting about the uncanny in this scene is the restriction that comes with it. The boggart seems to be able to only take on the fear of one person. That means what appears uncanny to one individual won’t have the same effect on another. This is pointed out by Lupin, saying, “He becomes confused. Which should he become, a headless corpse or a flesh-eating slug? I once saw a boggart make that very mistake- tried to frighten two people at once and turned himself into a half a slug. Not remotely frightening” (134). The boggart’s failure was in the dilemma it had at attempting to become as uncanny as possible to more than one person. Perhaps if someone was deathly afraid of slugs, the boggart could have succeeded in that instance, but alas.

What’s more, the spell the students use is further related to aesthetics. Evidently, as Freud tells us, “aesthetics is understood to mean not merely the theory of beauty but the theory of the qualities of feeling” (824). The Ridikkulus spell changes the shape of the boggart. “What you need to do is force it to assume a shape that you find amusing” (134) Lupin tells us. The boggart is donned in something that is more pleasing to the eye, effectively canceling the uncanny effect or emotions that arise from its initial form. Where the uncanny is a negative form of aesthetics, the change is positive. While the spell doesn’t necessarily apply a beautiful aspect to a boggart, it cancels the scariness of it out.

The Oedipus Complex in Harry Potter

One of the most well-known concepts in Freudian psychoanalysis is the Oedipus complex. This psychoanalytical theory stems from the story Oedipus Rex, where Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother. Freud believed that boys unconsciously desired their mother and wanted to kill their father. This complex can be seen in quite a few different texts, one of which is the Harry Potter series.

The entirety of the Harry Potter series revolves around the ongoing fight between Harry and the Dark Lord Voldemort. While Voldemort isn’t technically Harry’s father, he did, in a sense, have a hand in Harry’s creation. Voldemort hears about following prophecy:

“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.” –Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix, pg. 841

Now, this prophecy could have applied to either Harry Potter or Neville Longbottom. Voldemort is the one who decided to attack and kill Harry and his family, effectively “mark[ing] him as his equal” and making Harry into the Boy Who Lived. Therefore, Voldemort could be considered a kind of dark father figure to Harry. Harry is also a Horcrux, and houses a part of Lord Voldemort’s soul within him. Even though Voldemort is not Harry’s biological parent, there is still a part of Voldemort in Harry. The series ends with Harry’s final defeat of Voldemort, after he is finally rid of the piece of the Dark Lord that was inside of him. Harry then goes on to marry Ginny Weasley, a strong-willed, talented redhead (much like his mother, Lily).

The Oedipus complex is even present in the book where Harry has no real confrontation with Voldemort. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Sirius Black escapes from prison, assumingly with the intent to kill Harry. While at first Harry plans to stay away from Black as best as he can, not really understanding why Black would be after him, this soon changes. This transformation occurs right after Harry learns that Sirius Black is his godfather, and apparently betrayed his parents to Lord Voldemort. Harry is consumed with rage, and fully intends to kill Black when the two finally meet towards the end of the book. Thankfully Harry doesn’t kill Sirius Black, and he eventually learns that Sirius did not actually betray his parents. This allows the two to reconcile and form a meaningful relationship.

Even though the confrontation at the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban did not end with Harry killing Sirius, it is interesting to notice that the book still revolves around Harry’s struggle with a father figure. This shorter storyline mirrors the overarching fight between Harry and Lord Voldemort that persists throughout the series. It is also important to point out that almost all of Harry’s father figures die, both the good (such as Albus Dumbledore) and the bad (Lord Voldemort). The relationship between Harry Potter and the Dark Lord is the one that resembles the Oedipus complex the most, but Harry loses pretty much every father figure along the way.

The Uncanny in “Scary” Media

Belanna Morales

Blog Post #2

As a part of psychoanalytical theory, Sigmund Freud writes about “The ‘Uncanny’”. While it is commonly used as a word that describes “dread and horror”, the concept is far more complicated (825). Freud summarizes this simply as a “class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar” (825). Like many psychological topics, this specific kind of fear has its roots in childhood but also stems from the deeper well of general, primal human fears.

Another word that encapsulates “uncanny” its German counterpart, unheimlich. This too, seems complicated, as it “means what is familiar and agreeable” and also “what is concealed and kept out of sight” (827). The feeling of unheimlich occurs when that which is concealed, usually behind the familiar, comes to light. Typically, what is concealed is within the unconscious, like wishes, fears, desires, and primal fears. Unheimlich is also translated to the English “unhomely”, which again relates back to the concealment of unconscious thoughts behind what is familiar.

Uncanniness is commonly found within the paranormal category of horror, or scary, media. In class, the example of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was used as an example. While I did not watch that show as a child, I did watch Lost Tapes, which, as it sounds, is a show about cryptids shown through “real home tapes” about the creature. The episode “Vampire” scared me the most as a child. Watching it now, it is very clear that these are scripted tapes that are filmed with bad cameras, but even so, there is a sense of fear that can only be described as uncanny.

Image result for lost tapes vampire

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yp966raSo5Q#t=6m40s

In this scene, we see the vampire creeping up to the child’s bed. While it is clear that the vampire is a man wearing a costume, that is not what makes it scary. One primal human fear is to be attacked, and humans are most vulnerable to attack when sleeping. I’m sure many of us have woken up in the middle of the night, unsure why, knowing only that we are afraid of what could be in there with you. Watching the creature about to harm this child, in his own home, is uncanny.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yp966raSo5Q#t=12m21s

This scene is demonstrative of the unheimlich. The vampire has its nest within the home of this family, making this situation unhomely. It is an unseen creature, coming to light although it should not have. It is uncanny to think that this family shares its familiar space with something unfamiliar and dangerous. The unknown is living among the known. Earlier in the episode, the vampire rips open and takes part of the boy’s stuffed teddy bear. In this scene here, we can see that it used some of the fluff to add to its nest. Again, the familiar and pleasant teddy bear is used in an unfamiliar, fearful situation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yp966raSo5Q#t=16m49s

In this final scene, the primal fear of helplessness is the unhidden that has come to life. It is common to have nightmares about something coming after you and being utterly helpless to stop it. Especially for this child, this fear is intensified because not even his parents can stop it from breaking down the door and chasing them.

These Lost Tapes, while clearly not scary in the conventional sense, produce real discomfort among viewers because of the uncanniness created by primal fears coming to light and the unhomely living space of the vampire.

Image result for lost tapes vampire

Roland Barthes “Toys” and Gender

In Roland Barthes essay Toys, he discusses the way in which toys are made to reflect the adult world, conditioning children to become accustomed to their expected roles and responsibilities as adults. “The fact that French toys literally prefigure the world of adult functions obviously cannot but prepare the child to accept them all…” (53). He goes on to talk about gender roles in toys, using the example of the baby doll geared toward girls:

There exist, for instance, dolls which urinate; they have an oesophagus, one gives them a bottle, they wet their nappies… This is meant to prepare the little girl for the causality of house-keeping, to ‘condition’ her to her future role as mother (53).

By conditioning children to find joy in or adapt to certain activities at a young age, they are likely to continue to conform to these roles as adults. To further study toys directed toward girls, I’ve looked more closely at ads for the Easy Bake Oven from the 60’s,  ”Poochie”, a toy line from the 80’s, and current ads from Toys R Us.

Poochie-80s_opt.jpg

Beginning with the 80s toy, the slogan reads, “A Poochie girl says what’s on her mind.” A Poochie girl, however, can only say what’s on her mind with the use of her cute, pink and purple puppy stamps with sassy lines like , “You drive me crazy.” Although the ad appears to be a progressive attempt to enforce little girls to be comfortable with “saying how she feels”, it seems to actually enforce the idea that she must still somehow be contained. Not only does this exhibit the obvious gendering of toys and how they relate to adult life, but it exemplifies the other piece of Barthes argument:

He is turned into a little stay-at-home householder who does not even have to invent the mainsprings of adult causality; they are supplied to him ready-made: he has only to help himself, he is never allowed to discover anything from start to finish (54).

In regards to this particular toy, the girl is not communicating what’s on her mind on her own, and learning how make her voice heard through her own discovery. She is instead given a pre-packaged set of “feelings”. This implies that she needs some kind of aid or excuse for speaking her mind.

Moving to the Easy-Bake Oven from the 60’s, this product sets the tone for the duties little girls are expected to have as women. The Easy-Bake Oven is the perfect example of a “ready-made”. It’s teaching girls to enjoy baking at a young age in a way that is simple, decorative, and fun. The cakes and brownies come in little packets that are as easy as add water, pour into the pan, and pop it into the miniature oven, then decorate.

The ad ends with a little boy coming along and eating the cakes and brownies which fill the table, replicating gender roles still common in the home at this time. The woman cooks and bakes, the man eats.

In regards to more current toys on the market, Lego Friends is a specific Lego line made for little girls. While they are advertising a toy which allows the child to build and create, the obvious differences between typical Legos, and these specific “girly” Legos, still creates division between genders. The set does not allow the little girl to build a car, a ship, a building, a plane, or super heroes, like Legos advertised to boys, but instead the pieces build a pink café. The main colors on the boxes designed for girls are pink and purple, while the boxes for boys are mainly blue. The significance of the café is that we are again brought back to a toy that prepares girls for tasks which require them to take care of others. The idea of serving is built into girls’ lives at a young age.

Sommers3.pngheli_1.jpg

The Norse in Films: An Extrapolation of Roland Barthes’ THE ROMANS IN FILMS (by Chris Forest)

Throughout his essay, The Romans in Films, Roland Barthes addresses the tendency for cinema, especially in his times, to fall back on symbols and tropes that are neither fully artificial, nor fully grounded in the reality beyond the silver screen. Specifically, he sites how Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar tends to fall back on the use of the roman fringe haircut, so as to help cast his mostly non-roman actors in a more convincing light. In fact, Barthes considers this use of the hair-cut a bit excessive, citing that “some of them [are] curly, some straggly, some tufted, some oily, all have them well combed, and the bald are not admitted, although there are plenty to be found in Roman history,” (26.2-4). In so discussing this recurring symbol, along with the excessive sweating attributed to the “violent, cataclysmic operation” of thought, as Barthes so sarcastically words it, he helps to address the silliness, even deceitfulness, of these depictions of ancient antiquity (27.40-28.1). In relying on these visual cues, they help to infuse falsehood into the truth of what was Rome, muddying our perceptions of the great civilization until we’re left with an artifice bearing only aesthetic similarities to the original. In effect, “they postulate a ‘nature’ which they have not even the courage to acknowledge fully,” (27.17). In such a way, the film becomes devalued, for it brings to the table something that is neither new and invented, nor something grounded in time-tested truth. It’s an empty depiction of the source material, which lies in a dissonant grey area between overt superficiality and an honest attempt at accuracy, which, especially by modern standards, only helps to take away from the film.

Of course, Barthes assertions need not be limited to the Hollywood depictions of Rome, either, for there are many other ethnic groups and civilizations that cinema has half-heartedly depicted for the sake of art. Consider, for example, the many depictions of medieval Scandinavia, with it’s blood-thirsty Vikings, wearing their horn-crowned helms as they pillage, plunder and make merry through pop-culture. To the casual onlooker, these things are so normalized that they’ve been taken for granted, to the point that even the most modern depictions of them hold to these tropes, as historically inaccurate as they’ve been found to be. Consider, for example, how they’re shown in this trailer for For Honor, a new and highly anticipated fighting game where Vikings are pitted against Knights and Samurai after a great calamity:

Strong, stoic, and raring for battle. They’re the height of Anglo-Saxon virility, some might say. This is the symbol we’ve crafted in the Viking’s wake. This is the inner warrior many men wish to breed within themselves. And yet, it could never speak for the full depth of who they really were. Even the term “Viking,” we’ve found, refers not to the whole of Scandinavian civilization, but to the smaller percentage of pirates and raiders who came out of a larger, far more colorful people than the common movie goer (or, in the above case, gamer) would care to believe.

To begin deconstructing this symbol, consider the iconic helmet, with it’s animal horns. They’ve come to represent a certain inner animosity, epitomizing the inner animal the Scandinavians unleashed in battle. However, no historical evidence exists to suggest such helms were ever worn into battle. In fact, overwhelming evidence suggests that it’s an invention of Germanic operas, during a time of German nationalism around the time of the eighteenth century.

Furthermore, they weren’t all brutes and thugs. Quite the contrary, many were proficient sailors and traders, able to make it to North America at a time when modern compasses weren’t even a thing.

Overall, like Mankiewicz’s Romans, how we depict the Vikings today is largely a hybrid between the truth of what happened in those days and an invention by those cultures that preceded them, seeding lies into the public consciousness as if they were truths. That said, though, what is true is the fact that these terrifying, fascinating raiders have come to symbolize everything we fear, and yet also everything many male individuals aspire to. Free, strong, stoic and proud, the symbol of the Vikings have mustered men together in the name of virility, as a token of Germanic nationalism, an avatar for a gamer’s fiery determination to succeed, and many other facets of manliness across the ages. In effect, they say more about us than they do about the historical Scandinavians themselves. So, even if they help to paint a deceitful picture of the way things were long ago, they still speak to us on a deep, visceral level. Perhaps such is why the myth of the Norsemen still survives, even in the wake of the truth.