Validating Visitations

By Ashley Burns

“My name is Melinda Gordon. I just got married, just moved into a small town, just opened up an antique shop. I might be just like you, except from the time that I was a little girl I knew that I could talk to the dead… earthbound spirits, my grandmother called them. In order for me to tell you my story, I have to tell you theirs.” -Melinda Gordon before every episode of the show Ghost Whisperer.

For 107 episodes, young newlywed and self-proclaimed clairvoyant Melinda Gordon, played by Jennifer Love Hewitt, announced her otherworldly abilities to audiences in a conversational way. Broken up with scenes of the dead appearing out of nowhere and watching from afar, Gordon’s statement that her life has always been one that is intertwined with the spirits of the dead is spoken casually alongside mentions of the everyday. Owning a small business, small-town experience, and marriage are all things that everyone can relate to, or at least easily imagine. Regardless, there it hangs unabashedly in the air before the opening scene: the unnatural, unimaginable existence of the afterlife. This is what Ghost Whisperer is about.

Each episode, not including season openings and finales, follows roughly the same outline. A ghost is lost, confused, or angry, and somehow finds its way to Melinda Gordan. Piecing together vague clues about its life and death presented through disconcerting visions, Melinda is able to figure out why the ghost remains. Often, the concept of unfinished business is the root of the deceased’s problem, and always this business is connected to the living. After Melinda has convinced the loved ones left behind by the ghost that she is truly communicating with the dead, she delivers the ghost’s message and ushers the spirit into “the light.” Tears are shared, wounds begin to heal, and Melinda returns home to the day-to-day normalcy of a loving partner and a never-quite-renovated home.

Melinda and Jim

image via Tumblr

This is a story that we can understand; it is not, after all, a new element to the conversation of the afterlife. This, however, didn’t stop Ghost Whisperer from becoming incredibly popular, reaching its most successful season in 2009, with over 10 million viewers tuning into each episode of the fifth season. So, what about a story that has been told so many times before captivated so many people? Perhaps it is the same reason that the ghosts were so captivated by Melinda in the show: she makes the viewers feel important.

The idea of an afterlife often warrants two overarching beliefs: death either leads to an end or to. a continuation of existence, the latter often implying a “Heaven” as a reward for leading a kind and faithful life. While the show doesn’t invoke religious faith explicitly, Ghost Whisperer nevertheless suggests that not only is there an afterlife, but everyone is entitled to it. Furthermore, it is so warm, so inviting, and so perfect, that no soul would ever think of passing it by. Oh wait, they do. Why? For us of course.

Imagine being so important, so unequivocally intertwined with someone’s existence that this connection holds you back from eternal happiness. Or, imagine loving someone so much that it makes you second guess moving on to that eternal happiness. In this sense, Ghost Whisperer is more about how the existence of ghosts changes the meaning of existence for the living, rather than about whether there is an afterlife in the first place.

Consequently, many viewers’ conceptions about the importance of connectivity to loved ones even despite the barrier of death were strengthened even outside of simply watching the show for entertainment. Executive Producer of the show, James Van Praagh, who also happens to refer to himself as a clairvoyant and medium, saw an increase in attendance of his lectures after the airing of the first season. In referring to the popularity of the show and the increase in curiosity concerning the afterlife, Praagh said, “I think especially in a time of war people question beliefs, and I don’t think people are going to religions as much for answers. They are going within and being responsible for their own lives and their own quest for understanding.” (“Renewed”). In other words, interest in communication with ghosts is more often than not ignited by self-interest than a question of whether or not ghosts actually exist.

This attitude appears throughout the show in the sense that not only are the living characters always eventually convinced that their dead friends and family members have stayed behind because of them, but also the fact that it doesn’t take that much convincing at all. Keeping in mind that there is already a lot of unpacking and convincing packed into a 40-minute episode (loved ones are almost always somewhat skeptical of Melinda at first), it also doesn’t seem like a stretch for viewers to buy into what Melinda is selling. The characters seem primed to believe that someone they lost needed to come back to them. It comes as a relief, perhaps, to hear that they were not so easy to leave behind. Again, the show is not about the dead but how the dead increase the importance of the living. Even Melinda asserts in the pilot episode that she is not in the business of dying, but of living, and that “Death is just a part of it.”

Melinda in Nightgown

image via Pinterest

So, what happens when all is resolved, when Melinda Gordan has played therapist to the living and the dead and it is time to say the last, last goodbye? “The light” of course—that promised afterlife teased at the beginning of each episode. A fitting way to end, the light epitomizes what the show stands for. It comes to no surprise to viewers that the show’s “light” is not constructed of pearly gates and streets of gold but filled to the brim with other lost loved ones of the newly deceased, welcoming the now-satisfied ghost and reassuring the living. What else could everlasting peace and happiness be without the people important to us? As is seen by the pretty glistening tear down Melinda’s cheek and her smile as she turns away, Ghost Whisperer refuses to follow the narrative of terrifying specters, long-lasting purgatories, or atheist solitude. In this show, ghosts are about love and community, and how we make such an impression on the lives of others that it ripples into the afterlife. That, and, of course, long, dramatic nightgowns.

 

References:

“Renewed ‘Ghost Whisperer’ Has Many Themes.” TODAY.com, The Associated Press, 3 Apr. 2006, www.today.com/popculture/renewed-ghost-whisperer-has-many-themes-wbna12138079.

Stereotypes, Toxic Masculinity: The Family Business

By Addison Paul

Saving people, hunting things: The family business.

These words are known to many as a tagline for the dark fantasy television series Supernatural. Created by Eric Kripke, Supernatural has become a long-running pop-cultural phenomenon complete with a loyal and eccentric fanbase. With its 15th and final season airing in 2019 – 2020, the show has inspired a passion for all things ghosts, monsters, and demons for many people. Supernatural’s cult following has earned it a chief position among television show fandoms, but for an internet environment that’s all about acceptance and diversity in entertainment, the series presents numerous cultural problems. The show revolves around stereotypical white men, namely Dean and Sam Winchester, as the main players, while women and people of color only appear as extras, often marked for death. For a closer examination, let’s delve into one of the famously parodical installments of the show: Season 3, Episode 13 — “Ghostfacers!” This episode is an excellent example of the repeated othering and stereotyping often ignored by fans throughout many seasons of Supernatural.

With Eric Kripke and Ben Edlund, also two white men, as the writers of “Ghostfacers!,” it’s no wonder that white men dominate the storyline. Released in the spring of 2008, this particular episode combines stereotypes of masculinity, homosexuality, religion, mental illness, and ghost hunting to prove the Winchesters’ supernatural superiority in comparison to the amateur and oafish Ghostfacers team. Not only does “Ghostfacers!” provide parodical commentary on the act of paranormal investigation, but it also features exploitative use of native American culture, a Jewish person making a casual Hitler joke, and a gay man as the sole victim of the ghost — all in 42 minutes. Cramming this much culturally problematic content into one episode could have been a result of the troubling 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike, but circumstances don’t excuse the central message of the episode: the better ghost hunters are stereotypically masculine white men, not the nerdy band of misfits representing some diversity.

The Ghostfacers team is made up of diverse people (at least by Supernatural’s standards) characterized by stereotypes and portrayed wearing ridiculous head lamps, operating shaky cameras, and working out of a garage. Kripke and Edlund lean into stereotypes surrounding the Ghostfacers’ diverse backgrounds as a crutch for cheap comedy. Harry shows the effeminate fear of a stereotypical geek, Maggie — the only woman and person of color in the episode — is an object of sexual desire, Kenny’s distant Cherokee heritage makes him a “licensed shamanologist,” Alan becomes one of the many queer characters killed for effect, and Ed even pretends to be gay to enlist ghost-Alan’s help,  exploiting his friend’s murder by thanking Alan for “teaching [them] how gay love can pierce through the veil of death and save the day.” The Ghostfacers are merely comedic relief compared to Dean and Sam, the burly, boot-wearing, heroes of Supernatural, affirming that the Winchester brothers, along with whiteness, hyper-masculinity, and heteronormativity, are the superior specimens of ghost hunting.

DLR Blog Ghostfacers

Image via Supernatural Wiki 

Additional cultural problems in “Ghostfacers!” stem from stereotypes of ghost behaviors and mental illness. This episode distinguishes between two types of ghosts: a death echo, a harmless ghost trapped in a loop replaying its death, and a violent spirit, a ghost wreaking havoc because of its violent disposition as a human. The three death echoes shown on screen died from gunshots, a train accident, and the violent spirit murdering Alan. These neutral ghosts all perished from external causes and are even shown as victors at the end of the episode. Daggett, the violent spitit, stole corpses from the hospital morgue to set them up in a horrific birthday party, and later committed suicide due to loneliness. Writers Kripke and Edlund use harmful stereotypes of mental illness and depression to create a shocking backstory for this character, making him the true villain and the epitome of a stereotypically evil ghost.

“Ghostfacers!” perpetuates harmful stereotypes to get a couple laughs and gasps out of the audience, but this kind of writing has more serious cultural implications. This episode creates pop cultural hauntings by associating negative cliches with ghosts and ghost hunters. By connecting women, homosexuals, people of color, and non-Christian religions with the supernatural, “Ghostfacers!” positions these traits and beliefs as “other.” Supernatural maintains such cultural hauntings throughout the series by reinforcing that Dean and Sam, who fit the cultural norms, consistently defeat or out-perform the people and creatures who fall into the category of other.

Ultimately, Supernatural remains a beloved pop cultural phenomenon, but it still presents issues with the writers’ controversial use of cultural stereotypes to affirm white male superiority, create cheap comedy, and present scary ghosts. The Supernatural fandom often ignores these cultural transgressions, preferring to instead celebrate the show for its campy drama and charismatic protagonists. “Ghostfacers!” spoofs and pokes fun at televised ghost hunting, and yet, Supernatural itself is a TV series frequently showcasing that very subject. The show’s ironic and amusing take on televised ghost hunting indicates that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but given its popularity and dealings with heavy topics, should Supernatural be held accountable for its problematic content? Or, is it better to let the show remain a haunted soap opera with little cultural significance outside of Tumblr?

 

References:

“Ghostfacers!” Supernatural, written by Eric Kripke and Ben Edlund, directed by Philip Sgriccia, Warner Brothers, 2008.

Isolation in The Unknown

By Jo Ladner

*contains ending spoilers for “Over the Garden Wall*

“Over the Garden Wall” has been a Halloween tradition for me ever since it first released in 2013. A short mini-cartoon series Cartoon Network did specifically for Halloween, it’s plenty spooky and full of Halloween tropes, with living skeletons, ghosts, singing frogs, two brothers—Wirt and Greg— trying to find their way home, becoming lost and isolated in the woods, and The Beast.

overthegardenwall

image via Bing Images

The Beast is a hulking shadow that lives in the woods of The Unknown (the place where Wirt and Greg find themselves lost), collecting spirits of lost children to use as fuel for his lantern. He remains elusive through most of the show, although all the people Wirt and Greg bump into warn them of The Beast and his spirit-snatching tendencies. What exactly is The Beast, though?

The Beast himself is a spirit—much like the ones he collects—and like most ghosts and spirits he relies on the energy of others to keep himself aflame, as he says, since The Beast is not capable of doing this himself. He needs someone else to fill of role of the lantern bearer and keep him alive, which plays into the common tropes that ghosts and spirits are not able to completely function by themselves and that they need a vessel in order to stay manifested (the lantern, in The Beast’s case). They require assistance, however willingly —or unwillingly— given, and that is what the lantern bearer does. They collect the edelwood to grind into the oil for the lantern, keeping it lit for The Beast, who isn’t capable of doing it for himself.

The Woodsman is the one who holds The Beast’s lantern though most of the show, and in the last episode Wirt is given responsibility for it for a moment when it’s accidently knocked from the Woodsman’s hands and Wirt picks it up. The Beast is a master manipulator, another common trope of ghosts, and in order to keep and motivate the current lantern bearer, he lies to them and tells them that a spirit of a loved one is the one in the lantern. He plays off their guilt of losing that loved one to get them to keep fueling the lantern. The Beast tells the Woodsman that the light is the spirit of his daughter, and for Wirt, he says it is the spirit of his brother, Greg. The Beast keeps the Woodsman isolated in the woods to keep him from learning the truth, and the action of this isolation accomplishes two things. It keeps the Woodsman in the dark about the state of his daughter (who, despite The Beast’s word, is home alive and well), and it alienates him from the other townsfolk. The townsfolk fear The Beast, and they hold the belief that “he who carries the lantern must be The Beast.” This belief immediately pegs the Woodsman as someone dangerous, and so the townsfolk stay away from him and he stays away from them. So, a cycle starts: isolation, alienation, then self-imposed isolation. The Beast is about to do the same to Wirt before Wirt questions who exactly the spirit in the lantern is. This is where we learn that it is really The Beast’s spirit, and Wirt blows it out and sends it back to the world of the dead.

The idea of spirits keeping people in isolation to feed them in seen in a few other characters in “Over the Garden Wall.” Lorna is possessed by a violent and murderous ghost, and Lorna’s aunt keeps her in a secluded house to keep the ghost from harming others. Quincy Endecott, while not haunted by a literal ghost, is haunted by the idea of one, and he barricades himself in his manor while his fear drives him halfway to madness. These two characters aren’t nearly as terrifying as The Beast, although, at first glance, they appear to be more terrifying. They are given physical bodies and appearances, while The Beast is nothing more than a shadow —the shadow in the corner of your eye, if you will. The Beast is given only a passing glance at first, but the longer Wirt and Greg, and by extension the audience, are left to think on The Beast, the scarier he becomes. He plays on the parental fears of losing one’s child, either to kidnapping or death, which you can see with the Woodsman. He uses the children’s fears of “The Scary Thing In The Dark,” the thing that can take them away (another thing we’re warned about). That’s what makes The Beast so terrifying: his ability to evoke fear in both children and adults through very similar means.

The Beast is not a traditional ghost in this sense, but he is still using the tactic of isolation to keep himself alive. And do we not see this in other ghost stories and in other haunted houses and locations? What about Jack Torrance in Stephen King’s The Shining? Elenore Vance in The Haunting of Hill House? Or even your local ghost story, warning you to never go into the woods just on the edge of town on your own?

References:

Over the Garden Wall, created by Katie Krentz and Patrick McHale, with Elijah Wood, Collin Dean, Melanie Lynskey and Christopher Lloyd, Cartoon Network, 2013.

Chestnuts Roasting Over an Open Fire

By Brooke Lilek

*Chestnut: something repeated to the point of staleness; a trope

Phoebe heard a knock on the front door and froze.

An extreme reaction for someone who cannot sense death at her doorstep, but that’s Phoebe.

She tensed before checking the peephole. She found no one out front though. Phoebe threw the deadbolt into place and plopped down on the couch. Within 20 minutes, the knocking returned. But this time it came from the kitchen, a room Phoebe painted a disturbing fuchsia thinking it would fade to a softer color in a few weeks like hair dye.

Phoebe won’t be as bright as the walls of her kitchen, but this wouldn’t be any fun for you if she was.

Removing herself from the comfort of her couch, Phoebe tried to rationalize that the icemaker had kicked on.

Don’t bother believing Phoebe’s rationalizations. Let’s see how I can make her squirm.

She went into the kitchen to confirm her suspicions, but upon finding no ice, she conveniently remembered she broke it last week. Her heart pounded so fast it almost ran out of blood.

What should I make her afraid of? Nothing too easy, I’m taking up Phoebe’s whole night.

It’s all in my head, Phoebe thought. In the living room, she turned on Deadpool 2 to avoid hearing anything but Ryan Reynolds’, “and that is why the man bun is just a millennial mullet.” But more knocking at the door interrupted Ryan’s sultry voice.

She rose slowly and slunk towards the door. Peering through the peephole, Phoebe saw a man in a red jacket holding a pizza.

“$17.23, please,” said the delivery boy.

Pulling out 20 dollars, Phoebe said, “You didn’t stop by earlier, did you?”

“Nope, just this once.”

“Maybe you got the address wrong for another delivery?” She said.

“Yeah, no.” He said taking the money and leaving.

Phoebe set the pizza box on the couch and walked into the kitchen. She scrounged up her last Pepsi, which she dropped upon finding the pizza box open and a bite missing.

Perhaps you’d like more suspense?

Phoebe told herself she forgot she stole one heavenly bite before retrieving her drink.

As if someone could forget that so quickly.

Phoebe inched closer to the open box. The landline rang, freezing her lungs. Relax, it’s probably just mom, she thought, answering the phone.

What kind of scary story would this be if she didn’t answer the phone?

“H-hello?” she said. But only heavy breathing answered, and the line went dead. It must have been a wrong number, Phoebe thought.

Don’t worry, I won’t let Phoebe off that easy.

She looked at the pizza again. Just to be on the safe side, Phoebe threw the bitten slice away. Near the trash bin, she heard strange noises floating up from the basement, almost like a rusted window hinge creaking in the breeze. I should just go check, she thought, I’ll just close the window and it will be fine. She even imagined a raccoon sneaking past her and taking a bite of pizza.

It feels as silly writing that down as it does for you to read it, but I’ve already decided Phoebe doesn’t have much going on upstairs, so here we are.

With a flashlight in hand, Phoebe wandered into the depths of the house. Something deep inside told her turn back and shamelessly eat pizza while watching Ryan Reynolds leap around in a tight, red suit.

But you have entered a scary story, so she won’t do that. Her survival isn’t my top priority. Also, if you’re wondering why she didn’t turn on the light, you’ve learned nothing about Phoebe.

Halfway down the steps she called into the darkness.

“Hello?”

Something grabbed Phoebe’s ankle and yanked her down the remaining stairs.

Oh Phoebe, if only I hadn’t sent you into the basement.

Her head smacked the steps, breaking them from the walls. Cackling flooded her ears as her body slammed against the cement floor. Her vision swam as she looked around for the source of the insane laughter, but she saw no figures, only the glare of her flashlight as it rolled to the opposite wall.

Barely able to lift her head, Phoebe tried dragging herself back up the steps only to be flung backwards by the collar of her shirt.

“Stay,” a voice hissed.

She swung out her arm hoping to knock over her assailant, but her hand passed through what felt like maple syrup, not sticky, just resistant.

“Anybody, please! Help me!” Tears filled Phoebe’s eyes. She was dragged by her hair across the floor; cold concrete rubbed her skin raw. The laughter continued to fill the basement until Phoebe was practically breathing it.

“Please, let me g—” Phoebe started, but the Being gripped her throat. Cracks spread through the concrete surrounding Phoebe’s body. She thrashed her legs to no effect.

This may seem harsh, but if I just let Phoebe off the hook, who would read about her?

Pieces of concrete fell as sections of the floor split farther apart. Phoebe watched the outline of a head darken as her vision faded. Concrete walls rose to surround her limp body. She attempted to pry its hand away from her throat, but with every ounce of strength it gained, she lost hers. She fixated on its ravenous eyes.

Waves of heat beat against Phoebe’s back. The depths of Hell rose to trade her life for the Being’s. She found herself wondering how Deadpool 2 ended and sighed knowing she would never find out.

Maybe I should have let Phoebe eat some of her pizza. A last meal so to speak.

Blast from the Past: Revisiting Cultural Hauntings in the DLR with Founder Dr. Mix

By: Kylie Poling

Dr. Deborah Mix, Professor of English at Ball State University, obtained her BA at Oglethorpe University, and her MA and PhD at Purdue University. Dr. Mix’s area of expertise relates to experimental writing, especially poetry. Her current published works include literature by Gertrude Stein, Toni Morrison, and many others, ranging in topics from educational pedagogy to 20th-century women’s poetry. She will rejoin the Digital Literature Review for its next issue. Dr. Mix was one of the founders of the DLR, its first ever issue focusing on cultural hauntings. Next year, the DLR will revisit cultural hauntings with Dr. Mix once again at the helm. Recently, Kylie Poling, member of the editorial team for the DLR, conducted an email interview with Dr. Mix to discuss her plans for next year’s journal.

Kylie Poling (KP): Please describe your academic background and/or anything you think is important for readers of the DLR to know about you.

Dr. Deborah Mix (DM): Along with Adam Beach, I founded the DLR back in 2013. Also, despite the course’s focus on ghosts, I’m generally too chicken to watch scary movies or TV shows. So I’ve read The Haunting of Hill House, but I haven’t been brave enough to watch the Netflix series. Sad but true!

KP: Why did you decide to rejoin the DLR this year?

DM: I’m excited to be back with the DLR and to see all the ways the journal has grown since that first year. The technological landscape is so different now than it was 6 years ago, and I know I have a ton to learn. I’ve also continued to think about the ways we, as a culture, are haunted. I’m particularly interested in conversations about ways of understanding absences and erasures.

KP: The theme next year will be similar to the first year the DLR was published. What excites you most about revisiting this topic?

DM: When we chose the ghost theme for the first issue, there were dozens of texts we wanted to teach but didn’t have the time to cover. I’m excited that I’ll get to go back to that list again for this new issue. There will be one repeat on the reading list–Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which is incredibly powerful and important–but everything else will be new for 2019-2020.

KP: What are the leading theories you plan to address in the course?

DM: We’ll be drawing on some psychoanalytic theory, critical race theory, queer theory, and feminist theory. What haunts us? Why are we haunted? What can hauntings tell us?

KP: How do you plan to make DLR different this year than previous years?

DM: I’m hoping to experiment with some digital humanities approaches–mapping, text mining, and more. 

KP: Every year the professor teaching this course changes. What is your teaching philosophy and how do you think that will impact the course?

DM: I teach from a feminist perspective, foregrounding students as makers of knowledge. I want to balance my own agenda for the class (and clarity about assignments and expectations) with real autonomy for students to define our areas of inquiry, their individual projects, and the trajectory for this issue of the DLR

KP: What are you looking forward to most in the class?

DM: I’m excited for the chance to spend an extended period of time on the subject of ghosts and cultural haunting and to learn from the students on the DLR staff. (I learned a ton the last time around.)

Check out more about cultural hauntings in the 2019-2020 edition of the Digital Literature Review, coming in Spring 2020!

References:

“Deborah Mix.” Ball State University, www.bsu.edu/academics/collegesanddepartments/english/connect-with-us/faculty-staff/faculty/mixdeborah.

Mix, Deborah, PhD. Personal interview. 22 March 2019.

Feasting in the Future: Food Within Dystopia and Utopia

By: Maggie Mayer

Food is an integral part of daily life. It has the power to comfort, to connect others, and celebrate a shared heritage. Even more simply, food is a necessity to live: so it is understandable that food has become a constant image and metaphor within dystopian and utopian genres. There are many interpretations of what delicacies would be available in a perfect society and what scraps or modified food could be scrounged up within a dystopia. Food might come in the form of a decadent meal that never runs out, as in The Land of Cockaygne, or a more utilitarian meal of yeast culture vats in Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel series. These descriptions seem like they have contrasting meanings, but these meals are more similar than they appear, and they play a large role in bolstering the overarching theme of a story. 

Utopias are often thought of as an ideal world where one can acquire anything they desire, and food is no exception. The medieval poem The Land of Cockaygne depicts “rivers great and fine / Of oil and milk, honey and wine” and a house made of pies, flour-cakes, and puddings that kings and princes would dine on (Claeys and Sargent 88-89). The entire poem sets up this decadent world where it is impossible to want for anything and the meals are all of 5-star quality. The ideal life, right? This is not always the case, as the gluttonous portrayal of food within the poem is used to show the corruption within the church and acts as a commentary on negative parts of human nature. Monks are seen getting drunk and going against their vows of chastity. Even in such holy places, corruption and the worst parts of human nature can be brought out. This is seen again within utopias such as Julian Barnes’ novel The History of the World in Ten and a Half Chapters, which looks at a man who dies and goes to heaven, where he can do whatever he wants and especially eat whatever he wants. The first morning in heaven he eats “pink grapefruit, three slices of grilled streaky bacon, two fried eggs with the yolk looking milky because the fat had been properly spooned over it in the cooking, and the outer edges of the white trailing off into filigree gold braid” (Barnes 310). He orders breakfast for lunch, and breakfast for dinner, until eventually he grows tired of what he has been eating for the past millennia. Barnes presents this as a commentary on how humans crave change and, even in the ultimate utopia of heaven, would never fully be satisfied.

Image via Google Images

These ornate descriptions of food and critiques of our society do not stop with utopias. What a character eats can often reveal some information about that person, as well as their setting. George Orwell portrays food as a way to clue the reader in to how drab the society within 1984 is and reveals how Winston Smith, the protagonist, is a simple man. They eatboiled cabbage, “regulation lunch-a meal pannikin of pinkish-grey stew, a hunk of bread, a cube of cheese, a mug of Victory coffee and one tablet of saccharine” (Orwell 64). This is a stark contrast to the contraband food that Winston Smith receives from Julia such as real sugar, bread, jam, milk and coffee. All simple, homey foods, but they act as signifiers of the past and taste like manna from heaven when a person cannot legally have them. There is also the SecretBurger from Margaret Atwood’s novel The Year of the Flood. Much like soylent green being secretly made of people in the fantasy/mystery film Soylent Green(1973), the SecretBurger is made of unknown meat that is mashed together. The novel explores what it is like for the government and large companies to expect members of society to take their word on what they are consuming and trust their business practices.

A large part of many food representations in literature relates to the notion that controlling food can be a way to control the masses. Keeping people in a compliant state through the use of spiked food makes it so that they will not act out against the dominating class. This is accomplished through the upper-class hoarding all of the higher quality goods and forcing the lower class to eat unidentifiable slop. In both dystopias and utopias, rationing food and forcing the different levels in a caste system to eat differently work to control the people within the fictional worlds. Such control is effective because food is necessary for survival. This control is evident in The Handmaid’s Tale when every single thing the handmaids eat is controlled and, once again, food acts as a signifier of control. Gilead had taken over; “Every piece of fruit had a thought process behind it — when she gets oranges, the implication is, ‘Okay, they conquered Florida.’ If they had artichokes, it meant they conquered California. The evolution of Gilead was always in mind” (Drabble 1). Control and class stratification are common themes throughout many dystopian and utopian narratives, and food choices and descriptions reflect not only the state of the society, but the characters themselves. Through the descriptions of meals, the reader can better empathize with characters, understand what they are going through, and fully understand how oppressive these societies can be.

References:

Anonymous. “The Cockaigne.” The Utopia Reader, edited by Gregory Claeys and Lyman Tower Sargent. New York: New York UP, 2017. 87-92. Print.

Barnes, Julian. “Chapter 10 The Dream.” A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters:. London: Vintage, 2016. 310-20. Print.

Drabble, Margaret. “Margaret Drabble: Utopian Meals.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 20 Dec. 2003. Web.

Lazar, Mona. “Food in Two Dystopian Worlds. A Comparison: Orwell’s 1984 & Huxley’s Brave New World.” DAZIBAO – Par 1060 En Voor 1060 !N.p., 09 Feb. 2017. Web. 21 Mar. 2019.

Orwell, George. “1984.” George Orwell – 1984 – Part 1, Chapter 5. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2019.

Promoting the Hunger Games

By: Fila’Sha Finley

Have you ever wondered how The Hunger Games became so successful? The Public Relations Director has your answers!

Executive Summary:

The first annual Hunger Games will be implemented in Panem in a couple months and I am one of the reasons that the Hunger Games will be so successful. My name is Fila’Sha and I am the Public Relations Director for the newly invented Hunger Games. I am going to give you all the inside scoop on what it takes to make a nationwide event. Now, some of you may be thinking how dare you help make these barbaric games successful? Let’s start off with the rationale behind The Hunger Games. The Capitol started the games to quell the rebellions in the districts and to bring everyone together in the spirit of national pride. The games, with their lottery system selection of tributes (contestants) and the competition to outwit other districts to win the games and bring glory to a district, are necessary in order to keep the peace among the districts. There is lot to get done in terms of coordinating and planning that comes with executing the perfect Hunger Games.

In order to make the Games successful we have a target for every district and the citizens in The Capitol.

With a budget of $2,000,000, we plan to target this audience through innovative social media campaigns, interactive announcements, and community engagement. The Capitol will love these games because they are a form of entertainment that will also promote the greater good of maintaining order among the districts. 

Our current social campaigns focus on showcasing the residents of The Capitol the different locations where the Games will be held. For example, there are rainforests, as well as other tropical and desert simulations. We will play up the exoticness of these locations and the way they will disorient the district tributes, thereby adding to the stakes and excitement of the Games. We will also use social media to promote our event that is mentioned below. T.V. and radio campaigns are at the core of our publicity game plan; these campaigns will reflect the goals of The Capitol.

Because of the large geographic target, T.V. ads will be the best way to reach our audience. We will send out mailers as well to make sure people have a physical copy of our plan and what we want to implement. The mailer will include information on what The Hunger Games are and the rules of the Games.


Situation Analysis: 

The Capitol needs to support the ideas of The Hunger Games before we can implement them to the districts. We will be persuading the residents of The Capitol that supporting the games is in their best interests.

Statement of Purpose:

To implement the Games and ensure there is a victor.

Target AudienceThe Capitol                                                                         

The Plan: Convince citizens of The Capitol that the Games are necessary and entertaining. 

Goal: To advertise the new way to keep peace called, “The Hunger Games”.  

Objective One: To promote viewership for The Games.

Strategy One: Launch a “Hunger Games” commercial campaign.

Tactic One: Target Capitol households with ads.

Description: 30 second advertisements

Deadline: Rolling (10 commercials a day) 

Budget: $525,000

Evaluation: Monitor profile insights/analytics.

Strategy Two: Increase targeting with print ads. 

Tactic One: Send mailers to The Capitol residents.

Description: Distribute mailers through Panem’s post office. 

Deadline: Rolling

Budget: $450,000

Evaluation: Include unique URL to measure response.

Tactic Two: Run radio spots during prime time.

Description: Air on local radio stations, focusing on those targeting young teens. 

Deadline: Rolling

Budget: $400,000

Evaluation: Measure an influx of website visits from targeted area at time of airing.


Timetable:

TacticDeadline
Air commercials during daytime television showsFeb. 15, 2145
Send mailers to The VillagesMarch 15, 2145
Run radio spots during prime timeMay 15, 2145 

Budget:

TacticBudget
Mailers to the CapitolCreatives to make mailers Postage$445,000
Air commercials during daytime televisionProductionDistribution$525,000
Radio spots during prime timeProductionDistribution$400,000
Total Budget$1.4 M

Challenges:

  1. Districts
  2. Support from residents 

Additional Benefits:

  1. Peace in Panem
  2. Entertainment
  3. No more wars

We will direct a wide variety of advertisements at the Capitol in a four-month span. This will get the residents excited for the first ever Hunger Games to take place in Panem. Through the T.V. advertisements, radio segments, and mailers we should be able to gain the audiences’ interest in the games, and particularly in the competition it promotes among the districts. The tagline for the campaign plays on the element of change in the Game’s tribute lottery system, proclaiming, “May the odds be ever in your favor.” This line will be central to both the T.V. and mailer ads. I hope this campaign gives you an idea of how the games will be promoted and what it takes to implement a successful campaign.

A Guiding Star in a Dying World

By: Rachael Carmichael

In “The Rain,” a Danish post-apocalyptic series, a group of survivors fight to keep their humanity and search for hope in their newfound dystopia. Two siblings, Simone and Rasmus Andersen, are forced to take shelter in a bunker with their parents when a deadly virus sweeps through Scandinavia by rainfall. The siblings’ father is a scientist who works for the corporation Apollon, who created the well-equipped bunkers. He leaves his wife and children in search of answers. After a short while, Simone hears someone trying to get into the bunker. Thinking it is her father, she opens it, revealing a stranger who has been exposed to the virus. Knowing her family will be infected if he touches them, their mother quickly tackles the stranger and she too gets exposed to the rain and dies. While the idea that nature can turn against humans is hair-raising, the fall of morals within mankind becomes more sinister in this series. However, ultimately, “The Rain” shows that those living in a dystopia continually rely on hope to help them cope with their dystopian conditions.

With both parents gone and no knowledge of what is going on outside of the shelter, the siblings only have each other for support. Isolation still seeps into their lives, being left alone for six years after their mother’s death and their father’s disappearance. As they prepare for their journey above ground, a group of five survivors come in search for food and shelter. After being forced out of the shelter by covered vents that cut off their oxygen supply and held at gunpoint, the siblings quickly realize that their once normal world has been replaced with one where the strong and clever make it out alive. Survivors struggle to hold onto their humanity, doing whatever it takes to survive. In this new survival-of-the-fittest environment, Simone is tasked with keeping her brother and herself alive. In order to assure their safety, she convinces the strangers that she knows where all of the other Apollon bunkers are, which will keep them alive. The other group hesitantly invites them to travel with them to another bunker where Simone discovers her father’s possible whereabouts. 

Image via Google Images

During their journey through Copenhagen, Lea, one of their new group members, believes that Simone is a symbol of hope and calls her “their guiding star” (“Avoid the City”) in the third episode, proving that even though their world is in shambles, there are still glimpses of light to be found in darkness. The loss of hope, as well as the potential for it, brings people together. While the group only has each other and feels like they are not able to trust anyone else, the idea of finding a better life reminds them why they continue to survive. 

The development of friendships and love interests in the face of isolation leaves the characters feeling more whole again. Simone and Rasmus have found a new family among the other survivors, showing that blood is not the only thing that makes people family. Even with the destruction of the world, their livelihood has become a little easier, more bearable, and worthwhile. The desire to survive and rebuild their world motivates them not only to find answers about the destruction of Scandinavia, but also to heal themselves. The demons of each character’s past are brought up throughout the series, showing how the dystopia has affected them in different ways. They use each other to not only help them move forward from external destruction, but internal as well.

Prodigious corporations, like Apollon, want extreme power. While they are living a utopian life with the hopes of inevitable fame and fortune, those outside of this corporation are living in a hellish dystopia. They live their lives in fear, kept in the dark by their enemies. Watchers will see that Apollon’s need to be a hero is not justly obtained. Simone’s group become the heroes when they take action after believing Apollon may be the cause of the genocide. Even though the survivors do not have answers as to what they should do next, they continue to focus on living to the best of their abilities. They refocus their new goals, finding hope in other things that will keep them determined to continue living. Sometimes the only thing victims of a dystopian world can do while they wait out the vile treatment is to survive and continue dreaming of a better future. There is strength in numbers and sometimes that’s enough.

References:

Christian Potalivo, Esben Toft Jacobsen, and Jannik Tai Mosholt, creators. The Rain. Miso Film, Netflix, 2018. 

“Avoid the City.” The Rain, season 1, episode 3, May 4th 2018, Netflix.

“Keep Your Friends Close.” The Rain, season 1, episode 6, May 4th 2018, Netflix.

Childlike Imaginings and Positive Thinking in Disney’s Tomorrowland

By: Kirsten Cooper

When seeking out a modern utopian work, Tomorrowland stands out because it depicts a substantial first step to solving some of the world’s problems. Tomorrowland is a movie based loosely off of the Disneyland theme park which explores the possibilities of the future that bears the same name as the film. In the movie, Tomorrowland is a futuristic other dimension created by scientists of Earth who then inhabit the place to peacefully pursue knowledge. Scientists of Tomorrowland have a device that can see into the future on Earth. They see that Earth will end soon. Casey, the teenage protagonist who will not lose hope, Frank, an older and less optimistic ex-tomorrowland-er, and Athena, the sophisticated AI who catalyzed this chain of events, work together to prevent the end of the world. For the intended audience of children, the film’s message inspires hope. When analyzed, the film provides an important guide for shaping children’s worldviews. While a message of “never giving up” may seem commonplace in children’s films, this movie separates itself. Tomorrowland offers, in the context of a utopian world, the solution of positive thinking as a means to help save the world.

Image via Google Images

The movie works to suggest that the beginning of a solution to the world’s problems is to believe that the problems can be solved. When children are inspired not to lose hope over issues such as climate change, they may grow up to become scientists, inventors, and discoverers. Casey is optimistic and her dreaming, in and of itself, is the key to saving the world. In the film, themes of hope, positive attitudes, and perseverance are weaved throughout. These themes are important because they help children gain an outlook through which to view the world around them. The main character challenges the pessimistic older character Frank. When he asks if she would want to know the future and the exact moment she would die, Casey responds that she would want to know, but that she would not believe him. When he says it would be absolutely certain, she states “don’t we like make our own destiny and stuff?” (Tomorrowland, 1:05:07). When she says this, the probability of the Earth being destroyed flickers from a 100% chance to a 99% chance.

When children grow up seeing the world as a place where problems can be fixed, they will invent and create solutions that people with more pessimistic world views could have never dreamed of. While suggesting that a positive attitude can solve all the world’s problems may seem a bit overstated, Samantha Rae says in her TedxUofM talk, “A positive attitude can be an essential stepping stone in developing the ambition needed to tackle some of these seemingly impossible issues” (Rae). When children are brought up with the ideal that nothing is impossible, then consequently more things become possible to them in life because of their outlook.

Utopias are designed so that people can dream of what a better world would look like and how attaining such a world could be accomplished. The utopian ideal most expressed here is the power of positive thinking. In the talk, Rae states, “When everyone seems to be giving up and a situation seems so hopeless a positive attitude can be a driving force for change, but that change is only possible with the belief that things can and will get better” (Rae). With this understanding, adult viewers can better understand the impact the movie could have on the perception children have of the world. Tomorrowlandsuggests utopia is possible by giving the children who watch the film the sense that they, too, can become world changers.

References

Tomorrowland. Directed by Phillip Bird, Walt Disney Pictures, 22 May 2015.

Rae, Samantha. “Positivity: The Power of Choice| TEDxUofM.” YouTube, Tedx Talks, 6 Apr. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4nbt6afV3o.