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This Is For Me

4 days ago. May 9, 2021, 4:39 AM

You were expecting a block of text! But it is I, an AUDIO FILE!

So, yeah. Cultural Clean-Up is a lot of fun, and I love it. But, this is something I've always wanted to do, and I feel like CCU is the perfect subject material for it. So, if you want to listen to a stranger ramble about the narrative relevance of classical literature to the modern world, you'll need to exercise your ear holes instead of your eye globes.

The name has been changed to "We Love This Stuff!" or WLTS for short, and we currently have three episodes available, which can be found in the following places:








Google Podcasts:


Pocket Casts:


Radio Public:

1 week ago. May 4, 2021, 4:03 AM

Nights, with stars unblinking.


A shoreline rock, waves unbroken.


Blood and salt on false pillow talk.


June awakening, and


staircase ascension.


Mountains with verdant choirs


With rolling plains of calm.


Violent beasts, disruptive


But loving.


A home,


Warm, and perfect,


Just as she is.

1 month ago. Apr 9, 2021, 12:22 AM

The lifestyle is a lot of work. Like, a *lot* of work. Even a very light iteration of a bondage relationship requires more attention and effort than a vanilla relationship, something that requires a great deal of time and effort itself.

Some days, I really need the chance to take it all off my shoulders. To just drop it, and take a breath.

And some days, I need my sub. I need to feel the affirmation of someone's ultimate trust. I need to feel that one ounce of control in a world that's entirely out of my hands. I need to feel the love and intimacy of someone whose whole attention, mind, and heart are focused solely on me.

And I'm lucky to have a sub that gives me all of that.

I love you, baby.


2 months ago. Mar 7, 2021, 1:08 AM


Yeah, I was gone for quite a while. Had things to meet, people to do. But I dearly, dearly missed writing dissertations on random, non-kinky shit for a BDSM site. So, here we are.


Today, we're talking about something very, very near and dear to my heart. The wholesome, family friendly tradition of two men gathering a crowd of people so that they can watch those men beat each other into unconsciousness.


Boxing is... weird. Culturally, I mean. The average person's image of boxing is American boxing. The shorts, the red gloves, the ring (called 'the ring' despite being four sided. We'll get to that). "But how did we get there? How did boxing start? Does it involve gay wrestling?" I can answer all of these questions, dear reader. And yes, it does involve gay wrestling.


Unsurprising to anyone who's met a human being, we have a penchant for violence, and the commodification of violence as a sport goes back pretty damn far. The oldest living depiction of such comes from Sumer, the earliest pillar of what would be Mesopotamia, the earliest recorded human civilization. The reliefs depicting this precedentary pugilism are, ya know, three damn thousand years old, and Father Time loves vandalizing shit, so it's not 100% clear what the circumstances are behind the images in these reliefs. But it's kinda hard to misinterpret the image of two men with hands wrapped in cloth punching each other in the face. Some historians claim that the Sumerians had a kind of duel system present in their society, where you could settle beef with your neighbor by squaring up and throwing hands. But, I can't find any literary source on this, so I'm pretty sure those guys are just trying to sound like they have the answer because if they don't, it's a threat to their ego as "smartest guy in the room". Weirdoes, just go to therapy already.

Moving on from insecure historians, our next major point in history is Ancient Greece. I'd like to point out that contests of hand-to-hand prowess pop up in almost every civilization in the world, but it's typically a minor sport with minimal patronage or investment. We'll be focusing on points of history where it was a major thing.


Oh, the Greeks had a vested interest in the sport of two big, burly men slamming into each other? Please, contain your shock, I know.


Greek boxing took the form of pankration, a boxing-wrestling mixed style of fighting, the grandfather of modern MMA. Contestants fought naked (this is the Greeks, after all), with the goal of either driving their opponent into unconsciousness, pushing them out of the ring's boundaries, or pressuring them into surrender with submission holds. So... yeah, gay MMA. I don't know what you were expecting when I said "Greek", but it should've been this.


What makes pankration notable is that it was BIG. Like, a sport in the first Olympics levels of BIG. Chariot racing was the main line event of sports in the Greek world, but pankration fought tooth and goddamned nail (hehehe, see what I did there?) to take that crown, and at certain points in Greek history, the ledgers of bookies handling bets would suggest it came close on several occasions. This is the first time in history we see boxing in any form take the center stage of a nation's sporting events, the first time we're drawing *massive* crowds to an event like this. We'll see this again soon.


Next up is 13th Century Russia.


The sport itself doesn't really change form, outside of losing the wrestling aspect from Greek pankration. Dudes, punching, wrapped hands, we get it. What it does have is Kulachniy Boy, the Russian name for their boxing sport, and what makes Kulachniy Boy special is that, while they did have 1-on-1 matches, the much more popular form took the place of straight up Team Deathmatch. Two teams of five dudes lined up in walls facing each other, and the team to push the other out of the ring won. Fuckin' sick.


We see a drop in interest for the sport of pugilism after the Fall of Rome, but as European society marched on and civilized men had to find *some* way to exercise those violent tendencies, we see a massive spike in fist-fighting as a sport in 18th century London.


Pugilism first starts to rear its head as a sport in the mid-to-late 1600's, but it really ignites after the turn of the century. Side note: where the term "boxing" actually comes from is totes unknown, but the most dominant theory is that it started here. To keep the fight from spilling all over the place, fighting pits had to be made. I don't know if you've ever tried your hand at carpentry, but with flat boards of wood, building a square is much easier than most other shapes. The early rings were boxed shape, so... "boxers". Look, I never said these guys were very creative, okay? You take that many left hooks to the dome, see if you can think of something better.


What makes English pugilism of note isn't just its popularity, but its advancement of safety. In 1743, champion pugilist Jack Broughton introduced a set of rules and regulations to help protect participants. Chief among them was the down-count. If a fighter went down and couldn't recover in 30 seconds, the round was over. Turns out, that prevents a *lot* of brain damage. In practice, this made for a wildly different sport from what we see today. The number of rounds for a match could easily hit 20+, with a scant few hitting triple digits, as no actual limit to the number of rounds or a score system was in place. Fighters in need of a quick breather could drop to a knee, and get a few seconds to recover before getting back up. Y'know those soccer players who fake injuries just to take up the clock? Yeah, this is the boxing equivalent of that. No one would do anything about it for a hundred years.


In 1838, the London Prize Ring Rules were introduced by... somebody. I'll be real, I can't find a source on who wrote this ruleset. I guess whoever wrote them wasn't cool enough to be remembered. The rules themselves are long AS FUCK, and incredibly intricate and well thought out. This is where we first see the banning of 'dirty fighting' (ie, headbutting, eye gouging, kicks to the groin), the disqualification of a fighter for certain behavior (prior to this, if you lost, but walked out before the ref could call it, the match was called as a draw. Bullshit, right?), and the establishment of rules as to what shape and size a ring needed to be (in less official matches, the starting line could be drawn in such a position that one fighter would have his back fully against a wall of the ring, which may or may not have had pointed nails driven through it. Brutal). 1838 marks where we see the arrival of what we'd identify as modern boxing. In 1867, this gets cemented by the Marquess of Queensbury ruleset. Published by a welsh sportsman named John Chambers and financed by the eponymous lady, these rules were pretty much the same as the LPRR, with the exception of reducing the down-count to ten seconds from thirty, and requiring some type of glove. No glove, no horrible long term brain damage. That's a substitute for love to boxers.

From here, Western boxing hasn't really changed much since. With the march of technology, we've developed more protective gloves, mouth guards, boots and mats that help mitigate damage to joints, but the sport itself hasn't changed much. Now, for the most part, boxing and its derivatives dominate in America. Because we're just like that. Parallel to pugilism, modern MMA arose from martial arts circles, and has come to occupy a similar slot in public perceptions (Look at that sentence, I'm a fucking master of alliteration).

This has been pretty heavily focused on American and European fighting traditions. While I'd *love* to go on about the fighting traditions of other parts of the world so that everyone can get the spotlight, this is already longer than Andre the Giant's gastro-intestinal tract, so instead of my world famous quippy humor, I'll leave everyone with links to good reading on the traditions of other parts of the world.

Dambe, a martial art originating from the Hausa people of West Africa:

Muay Thai, MMA's cousin from Thailand:

Silat, another southeast Asian fighting style that sees commodification at times, and has pretty deep ties to several religious practices:

Jiu-Jitsu, a Japanese martial art that migrated to South America, especially Brazil, and sees continuous popularity as a spectator sport:

9 months ago. Jul 18, 2020, 2:48 PM

Anyone who's followed this blog for long enough (which, by the by, you people are crazy and I love you) will know that I'm a martial artist, and that it's a big part of who I am. Just short of a year ago, I had a pretty big existential crisis because I realized just how rusty I'd gotten without training, and the thought of "If I'm not a martial artist anymore, then what am I?" hit me like a freight train. The point of all this being, it's a big deal to me. But, despite this importance, even I struggle to work out every day. It's hard, bro. The thought "Do I really *have* to?" will crop up as the days drag on.

And that's it. There it is, right there.

"Have to". It's such a powerful phrase. Two words, six letters, and it can kill your love for *anything*. As soon as you "have" to do something you love, it's a chore. It's longer your choice, it's something you're being held to. Anyone who has striven to perfect their art and do it for a living, only to have their drive killed as soon as they do it for pay, stands in testament to this. The human brain is such an incredible, powerful thing, and to misuse it will always lead to failure. Your mentality, the way you approach something first in your thoughts, is the most important step in accomplishing something.

"Okay, that's cool and all, but what does this have to do with bondage?"

One, this blog is 95% NOTHING to do with bondage, and you should expect as such by now. Two, I was getting there, ya impatient brat.

The thought occurred to me that, while this affected me with martial arts, it also applies to relationships. "I have to" is the death knell of a relationship. Love becomes resentment, commitment becomes obligation, and warm affection grows cold. As soon as you start thinking of time with your significant other as something you "have" to do, you've fallen for the trap, and you're on the road to things coming to a slow, painful end.

"Wow. Dark. So, what do you do about it?"

It's simple, actually. "Need".

"I need to be with you." "I need to play tonight". "I need to tell you how much you mean to me". Thinking of it as your "need" shines a whole new light on things. We "have" to pay taxes, stop at red lights, wait in lines, meet with our in-laws. All the things we do, but wouldn't if we had the choice. We "need" to eat, drink water, sleep, and do all the things that sustain us, and bring us fulfillment. Moving your mentality on anything, but especially relationships, from the former to the latter will do a great deal to improve your drive to do that thing, and make it something that brings you happiness again. Trust me, I'm a professional.

9 months ago. Jul 13, 2020, 4:40 PM

"Austin! You're alive!"

Indeed I am! Turns out, Borderlands 3 is highly addictive. Who knew? But, I've pulled myself away from the murderous lead winds of space to bring you another CCU.

So, let's talk vampires.

If you think about it, it's pretty weird just how fluid the myths of vampires are. "Vampires" originate from Eastern Europe, but so many creatures from all over the world share similarities with the overarching vampire mythos that they just get steamrolled into it, like a giant corporation eating up its competition. The Mayans even had a *god* that was pretty much a vampire. But, like, even more bloodthirsty. Because South America loves metal shit like that. However, there's one trait that unites the chaotic mess that is vampire mythos.


Werewolves, trolls, and other monsters of the woods tend to just behave like animals, rushing down prey and ripping it to shreds. Vampires, in general, take a different tactic to their hunts, luring prey in with mesmerizing beauty. Sometimes they let their prey survive for as long as possible to get return feedings, or even get their target to fall in love with them, and allow the monster to feed of their own volition. Vampires are also steeped in much more mysticism and "rules" than their peers. Can only enter a home if invited, burns in sunlight, can shapeshift, but only at certain times of day, and a wild rose stalk lain on their coffin will seal them inside. Vampires carry a slower, creeping horror to them than other monsters, and while they've been around for as long as European culture has, it was only with the advent of gothic horror novels that this mess of a mythos was codified. You might've been expecting a different iconic vampire novel to appear on CCU first, but he gets enough attention.

Let's talk Carmilla.

Written in 1872 by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, the novel follows an aristocratic young woman, Laura, whose family takes in a young woman who seems lost and ill, the titular Carmilla. Over time, the vampire Carmilla makes herself at home in their mansion, and begins feeding on Laura at night. While Carmilla's health improves, Laura's worsens. However, before Laura's life can drain fully, she detectives her way through the plot, and puts together that Carmilla is actually a very old vampire through notes left by former aristocrats, and a portrait of a centuries old Countess that bears a striking resemblance to her. Carmilla flees the family once a vampire hunting doctor arrives, but he also detectives his way to her tomb, where she's found sleeping in blood within her coffin, barely breathing with her eyes open. Some people just sleep weird, I have no room to judge. The vampire hunter drives a stake through her heart, cuts off her head, burns the remains, and dumps the ashes in a rushing river. Laura's father takes her on a tour of Italy to take her mind off of how a bloodthirsty monster molested her in the night, but it turns out PTSD isn't cured by a vacation, and Laura bears the trauma for the rest of her life. But, they spend some quality time together. Hooray!

Despite its age, several things still make Carmilla distinct in vampire literature. First, it predates Dracula by twenty-six years. A lot of the cornerstones of vampire mythos originate in Carmilla: the vampire that can pass as human, growing stronger after feeding, growing weaker as they starve, sleeping in coffins, the luring hunting method mentioned above, and the complex execution method necessary to kill a vampire, we see all of that in Carmilla first. Second, is the manner in which we see vampires hunt. Carmilla starts the novel off weak and feeble. If anyone knew what she was, they could kill her with ease, or at the least wound her horribly. She presents a threat not because she can rip the family to shreds, but because she's a stranger that can infiltrate their home with grace and social agility. For example, there are several times where Laura's father asks her when she'll be healthy enough to move on, and Carmilla deftly turns the not-so-subtle eviction back on him, saying that it's horribly rude to kick a helpless girl out onto the streets. She gets a guy to *apologize* to *her* for almost kicking her out after overstaying her welcome. Anytime the conversation drifts towards the painting that resembles her, or her family, or her past, Carmilla turns everyone's attention to something else, either by faking feinting spells, or sly manipulation of the conversation towards what she wants it to be. While werewolves rip your heart out like animals, a detachment from society that exists beyond the walls of your home, Carmilla solidified vampires as a threat that's a part of human society, a threat that bypasses that safety, that sanctuary that is your home and the people around you. Humans have always found safety against natural predators in our communal numbers. What makes vampires so horrifying is that this protection becomes a shroud of cover for this threat to sneak up to you unnoticed.


That's the horror aspect of the novel. Now, let's talk about lesbians.

Go watch... literally anything vampire related, and you'll probably notice that vampires come in two flavors: 1.) Horribly ugly monster with a face full of knives, and 2.) Hunky bad boy/hot lady in leather. And over the years, #1 has fallen far, *far* out of grace in favor of the latter. Vampires' dominating trait of being hypnotic, alluring hunters naturally gave them a path to using sex appeal to pull prey towards them. If you're going to follow *anyone* down a dark alley to get murdered, it'd most likely be for the promise of boinking said person. And while the flagrant sexiness is a more modern invention, the underlying sexual themes go all the way back to Carmilla. However, when I say "underlying", I don't mean the kind of 'SuBtLe' homo-eroticism you see in the likes of Twilight fanfiction, the kind that carries itself with all the subtlety of a crackhead swinging a sledgehammer in a china shop. No romantic involvement is ever conducted between Laura and Carmilla. However, their interactions carry a very small hint of intimacy, alongside the natural intimacy of how vampires feed. This, paired with Carmilla's feelings of guilt over having to kill to sustain her own life, make her an incredibly endearing, likable character, both to the reader, and through projection, to our POV character, Laura. Though nothing ever happens between Laura and Carmilla, there's enough hints weaved into the narrative to convey to the reader that there's *something* intimate between them. Although that something turns out to be "one is slowly killing the other", most people auto-completed that thought to something much more sexual, and even romantic. And this leads into another important milestone in vampires: Carmilla's humanity.


Carmilla kicked off another trait found in modern vampires, something incredibly important to their longevity in our culture: the idea that they could still retain their humanity. Her successor, Dracula is a cold hearted killer without remorse, but because the more emotional Carmilla came first, the gate was opened to the idea of your horror monster having motivations and thoughts other than "kill the protagonist". Carmilla is a *person*, who feels affection, and guilt, and nervousness, and the full range of human emotions. Part of what makes vampires scary, alongside zombies and other undead, is that you could be turned into one. They used to be human, and now they're not. You're human, and one day, you could no longer be human *just like them*. Earlier in vampire horror, this aspect hit home through its absurdity. "T-There's no way I could end up like this monster. R-Right?" the Victorian thinks to themselves as they quiver in their bed at night. But with the advent of Carmilla and her emotion-wrought humanity, this aspect of vampires is driven home much harder. Not only did they used to be people, in a lot of ways, *they still are*, and this makes the prospect of becoming one seem much less absurd. There's always been this wall between people, and their monsters. Monsters were these things that lived... *over there*. In the dark, in the woods. Separated. Something foreign to the human world, to human society. Something on the other side of our walls.


Vampires demolished that wall, and it was Carmilla that took the first swing.

10 months ago. Jun 26, 2020, 2:43 AM

So... this one's gonna be different.

You know what's great? Daydreaming. It's wonderful. You get to just zone out, and let your imagination put on a little show for you. It's great.

But for some people, some times... it's less great. For some of us, that imagination, that internal narrative, the train of thought: it's not their own. To varying extents, some people just can't control their own thoughts. The reigns are out of their hands, so to speak, and the thoughts that come to the person are less them putting on a show for themselves, and more of a trainwreck they're forced to watch.

The vast majority of intrusive thoughts come in two spicy flavors: violent thoughts, and sexual thoughts, and both tend to have similar causes. The person in question has to suppress feelings that they don't have a healthy outlet for, and their feelings surface as intrusive thoughts, their brain's way of making them confront the feelings it would be more convenient to ignore. 

Listening to your boss go on a tirade about how everyone else on the floor is wildly incompetent, when suddenly it occurs to you that you could *probably* bury a pen in his neck with enough force to cut his little speech short? Ever stumble on a fetish you tell yourself you find grotesque, only to drink your coffee in the elevator to your office and find yourself wondering how Linda from accounting would look in a studded leather corset as she stomps on your balls and calls you a pig? Congratz, champ! Welcome to the club!

Now, there's two things to take note of with this particular phenomenon of the human psyche:

1. The presence of intrusive thoughts is *not* an indicator of intent to follow through on the subject of your thoughts. The vast majority of American office drones report thinking about braining their supervisor with a brick at random intervals of the day. If such thoughts trouble you: you're not a murderer in waiting, you're just a person.

2. The presence of intrusive thoughts, if you have the self-critical skills to see this through, can be a wonderful view into your own psyche, feelings, and where you are in your current mental state.

"I get the feeling you're about to pull from personal experience. Austin, was all this just a set-up for a more personal post?"

I'm so glad you catch on quick. This is why you're my favorite, dear reader.

My own intrusive thoughts are typically conversations. Specifically, arguments. I'm just driving, thinking about how to improve my shotgun loadout in Call of Duty, and all of a sudden I'm thinking about a non-existent conversation, that has never happened, and never will happen. Invariably, *something* happens. A snide remark, a change in tone, an inconsiderate act. *Something* comes from my conversation partner, and it makes me mad. Yes, I sometimes get mad at conversations in my head. Duly note, intrusive thoughts are on the *lighter* side of mental illness. This shit gets crazier the deeper you go. Obviously, I would never take this out on whoever I imagined having the conversation with, that'd just be silly. Like the old joke of the wife dreaming that her husband is cheating, and demanding he apologize in the morning. At first, to deal with these I just bit my tongue, sequestered myself with the media of my choosing, and let my feelings run their course until I'd calmed down.

However, after a little digging in my noggin, I came to a realization: I *really* love confrontation. You know that feeling, when you're in traffic, and some jackass cuts you off, so you blare your horn and give them the finger, and they pull over and start to get out of their car? For me, I get *fucking giddy* when that happens. My hands tremble. My heart races. Not out of fear, out of excitement. Like a kid getting closer and closer to the front of the line for a rollercoaster. I absolutely *love* getting into a shouting match with a stranger, getting to take every ounce of aggression I have and just dumping it on them with abandon. It's exhilarating. It's cathartic. Not gonna lie, confrontation is *almost* as good as sex. I'm a civilized man (and more importantly, a smart one), I would never go out looking for a fight, but damn does it feel good when one finds me. Back to the topic at hand, I noticed a trend with my intrusive thoughts: the faux-arguments always cropped up when it had been a long time since I'd last had someone get confrontational with me. That deep, intense love of releasing all my anger and aggression doesn't just disappear because I didn't have a healthy way of letting it out, it manifests somehow. And that "somehow" would be my intrusive thoughts. The realization of this connection doesn't do much in terms of dealing with them, but it is good to further understand them, with the potential to better predict them, or address them from a position of understanding, as opposed to being in the dark.

I know I tend to end these CCU's with a zinger, but since this was a personal post with a CCU stood on its shoulders inside a tall trench coat, I think we can break from tradition just this once.

10 months ago. Jun 17, 2020, 9:55 PM

I have a grievance with this community. I love it, I sincerely do, but we've got a problem to work out, you and I.

Our terminology is too damn specific, and we're not open minded enough towards alternative iterations of our familiar tags.

Like, take this for example: Switch. Generally, a switch is someone who literally switches between Dom roles and sub roles. However, there's *so* much more nuance to it than that. How much does one individual swing towards Dom? Towards sub? Do they need to regularly switch roles? Are they just versatile? People hear "switch" and get a very specific image in their head. It's like saying "All Doms are ego-centric sadists who only like beating their subs red and bloody". It's silly, is what it is, and as an unorthodox switch, I've had to deal with it my entire time in the lifestyle.

And I'm guilty of it too.


I think the average member of the lifestyle will also get a certain image in their head when it comes to the terms 'cub' and 'cougar'. Probably something like a sugar momma-type situation. And, yes, I'm guilty of being presumptive too. I assumed the domination of such a dynamic could only go one way. I assumed the nature of such a dynamic could only be a soft, gentle one. And I assumed wrong. To be honest, I've always had a preference for older women, but I never would've considered myself a cub. I tried my best to stay financially independent of my partner. With the exception of the occasional switch-up, I'm almost always in a Dominant role. I didn't fit the template of a cub I had in my mind, so why would I ever consider myself one? 


Then I met my cougar.


She amazes me in so many ways, and one of them is opening my horizons, teaching me things without teaching. She's shown me what I already knew, just in a different light. That our terms are flexible. That they mean what we need them to mean. That they fit us, not the other way around. 


And I love her for it <3

10 months ago. Jun 14, 2020, 10:37 PM

"Trope" is a general term for a standard practice in story telling. The supernaturally empowered hero slays a monster. A member of the rom-com couple drops their papers, and the other helps them pick it up. The detective, sitting at his desk, has an attractive woman who's "nothin' but trouble" walk in his office with a case. We've all seen them a million times, but tropes like these are staples of their genres for a reason. They're effective tools in the hands of a talented writer, who can do some cool stuff with a narrative by playing the tropes straight, subverting them, or twisting them in interesting ways. One of my favorite pillars of narrative story telling is also one of the oldest: The Chosen One.


The basic premise of the trope is fairly straight-forward: Our protagonist is selected by an exterior figure/authority for a certain purpose, typically slaying monsters or stopping an especially nasty evil from tearing up the world around them, although the purpose of the Choosing can be incredibly varied. Now, right out the gate, there's some intrinsically interesting aspects to the trope.


First, there is an immediately established, deeply personal relationship between the Chooser and the Chosen. Given that one is giving purpose, prestige, and typically a sick power-up to the other, even if the two have no previous relationship, the Chooser and the Chosen become very important to each other. King Arthur, in all of his adaptations, will always have an emotionally invested relationship with either the Sword in the Stone, or the Lady of the Lake depending on which one is at play in that particular adaptation. Even if he's never met the Chooser of his story before, Arthur typically has a lot of his feelings related to his validity as the true king wrapped up in his Chooser.


Which brings us to our next benefit of using the trope: an intrinsic character trait in our protagonist's identity. Typically, being the Chosen One is very important to the Chosen One's sense of self. Coming back to Arthur, expect a lot of his adaptations, especially more modern ones, to have at least one arc focused on Arthur doubting whether he's fit for the job. Pulling a more modern example, we have Avatar Korra. To summarize a *lot* of backstory and world-building, the world of Avatar has supernatural martial artists called "benders", who can each manipulate one of the four elements: wind, water, fire, and earth. The Avatar is a Chosen One, a regularly reincarnating figure, and the only one who can bend all four. The follow up series to Last Airbender follows Avatar Aang's successor, Avatar Korra (if I haven't made it clear, this is your spoiler warning for a damn cool show). At the end of the first season, Korra has three of the four elements taken away from her, leaving her only able to air bend. Now, this is a *very* traumatic experience, as Korra is characterized as having the entirety of her identity and self-worth wrapped up in her role as the Avatar, and having that taken away sends her plummeting into a deep depression, with the emotional climax of the whole arc tying up when she connects to Avatar Aang (something the Avatars can just do), and he uses a power unique to him to restore her bending, saying that Korra could only undergo the growth she needed by being laid low and weak, as she'd spent her life feeling invincible, and needed a mouthful of that bitter, bitter humility burger. Jumping back to antiquity, we get a much less cosmic Chosen One in the form of Sun Wukong from Journey to the West. The plot is such: The Great Heavenly Buddha needs a mortal to trek westward and retrieve some MacGuffins, and said mortal will need bodyguards along the way. The Monkey King himself is chosen for the task, and is promised forgiveness for his many crimes against heaven if he follows through on the job. Now, a very recurring thread through Journey to the West is that Sun's charge, Tripitaka, gets continuously kidnapped by demons. This occurs with such frequency that the group just gives a tired, collective sigh after the twentieth time, but there comes one kidnapping where a demon 100% gets the drop on them, blinding Sun, bamboozling the others, and whisking Tripitaka away in one fell swoop. Humiliated, disheartened, and separated from his master, Sun Wukong throws his hands up, and declares defeat. The reason this kidnapping means so much more than the others is that at this point, Wukong has gone from grumpy thug physically leashed to the quest, to a sincere believer in second chances and the path to his own. With Tripitaka getting snatched again, Wukong is starting to feel as if he's unfit to follow through on his quest, and by extension, is unfit to have a second chance in life. Wukong himself is immortal eight ways to Sunday, a wildly powerful martial artist, and can turn into a giant six-armed monster, but his greatest weakness is the mass of complexes and self-doubt in his head, all of which are rooted in his being Chosen to prove himself not-an-asshole anymore.


So far, we've been focused on how the Chosen One's Chosen status affects him, but this trope is so much stronger than affecting one character. For an example of this, we're jumping to the 2011 Thundercats reboot, a show that all evidence suggests only myself and, like, seven people watched. Here, Main Character Guy Lion-o is our Chosen One, Chosen by the Sword of Omens to be our protagonist. Surprisingly, this choice has more of an impact on Tygra, his older brother, than it does on Lion-o. See, Tygra has "protagonist" practically tattooed on his forehead. He's stronger, smarter, more charming, funnier, better with the ladies, and just a bigger all around badass than Lion-o. But, the sword chose Lion-o, *not* Tygra, and this compounds with some pre-existing insecurities to build a lot of resentment between the two, with the majority of their early narrative development spinning around the axis of them working out their issues. As it turns out, people can have a volatile reaction when they're shoved into a supporting character role so abruptly. Who would've thought?

Ok, a trope that carries intrinsic characterization for the character it's tacked onto, and can have rippling effects in the surrounding cast. Pretty neat. But are we stopping here? Lol, no, I'm *far* too long-winded for that. Emotional release can be difficult to pull off in a narrative, and one of the hardest parts is execution. It helps when your narrative climax can be triggered by a single action. One act, carried out in a matter of seconds, actually carries a massive load of emotional investment, and can much more easily be placed in the story where it will hit with the most heft. A single action... like a Choosing. Let's talk Wynonna Earp.


The show follows its titular character, Wynonna, descendant of Wyatt Earp, as she uses a magic revolver called the Peacemaker to kill monsters. While it has some... less-than-spectacular writing in its romance subplots, the main plot, especially the writing around her gun, is spectacular. See, the gun is semi-sapient, and chooses who may or may not so much as hold it, let alone fire it. Willa has a younger sister, Waverly, but because Wynonna is the elder sibling, the Peacemaker only allows her to use it. Literally all of these rules are toyed with, or outright thrown out the window, because the Peacemaker is a fickle bitch, and I love it. At particularly critical moments, it likes to jam and refuse to fire for anyone, not even Wynonna, when it feels like she's making a mistake. It also allows other people to use it when the situation necessitates, such as if Wynonna is incapacitated and someone like her sister is the only one who can use it. This fickle nature results in scenes where, very suddenly, the established rules of the Chooser are twisted, dropped, or defied, which keeps the viewer on their toes, and the edge of their seat.


Overall, human culture is flooded with Chosen One stories. However, there's still value to be found in the trope, there's still cool stories to be told with it. And I think that's neat.

11 months ago. Jun 13, 2020, 3:20 AM

     I have a specific memory from my childhood. I was at a sleepover, just myself and a friend named Kyle. His dad had grilled hot dogs and a steak for himself, so we’d eaten well before watching movies. We watched Scream, a 1996 slasher film. It’s a fairly strong piece of horror, if unoriginal and bland in comparison to its contemporaries. What makes Scream stand out is its effect on me. We went to bed shortly thereafter, and I couldn’t sleep. The film wasn’t particularly frightening during its viewing, but it lingered in my head as I was lying in bed, trying to find sleep. My friend thought it would be funny to get up for water, and on coming back, pretend that the film’s antagonist was attacking him, and had stabbed him. He had really just held a bunch of snipped ketchup packets to his chest, and squeezed down on them with dramatic effect. Silly as it was, having just watched the movie and sat in silence with it on my mind, his prank was enough to scare the ever-living shit out of me, to the point that I had to swallow my pride, and call my parents to take me home. Scream has a special place in my heart for that horribly shameful story, but a lot of horror cinema holds this property, this ability to creep into our psyche, and root itself there like a virulent weed to never be removed. Out of everything I’ve ever consumed, no piece of horror media has ingrained itself so well, even things that traumatized me as a child, as The Shining.


     Released on May 23rd, 1980, The Shining is a film adaptation of a Stephen King novel of the same name. The plot follows a family of three: Jack Torrence, his wife Wendy, and their son Danny. Jack is a failing writer and an alcoholic, who’s looking for employment, and finds work as the winter caretaker of the abandoned Overlook Hotel. The family must spend the winter, alone and completely isolated in the mountainside, at the hotel. However, as time passes, the effects of the hotel begin to set in. Whether the hotel is haunted, or the isolation begins to drive the family collectively insane is left up to ambiguity, but regardless, a madness infects Jack and drives him to attack his family with an axe. There’s no easy way to put it, The Shining is the story of a man being driven to hurt his family, and that deeply personal horror, combined with the unknowable nature of the Overlook itself, form a story that has embedded itself in viewers’ minds for thirty years, and has no intention of leaving.


Jack Nicholson and Wendy Duvall’s performances as Jack and Wendy Torrence are easily two of the most important aspects of the movie. The two were absolutely lambasted for their acting on the film’s release, as the 70’s movies leading up to The Shining were characterized with clean, sharp acting styles, and their performances here are anything but that. Stanley Kubrick, the film’s director, pushed the crew to film take, after take, after take, with some of the film’s most iconic scenes going well into the triple digits of attempts. This was deliberate, as with every passing take and every rejection from the editing team and Kubrick, Nicholson and Duvall grew more exhausted, unhinged, and manic, with these traits reflected in their performances. Nicholson appears sincerely deranged and dangerous, and Duvall appears absolutely terrified for most of the film’s length.


     Another wildly important aspect of the film is its camera work. The spaces of the Overlook are made to feel vast and empty, with the characters often framed by gargantuan amounts of empty space, particularly in the numerous scenes that take place in the hotel’s lobby. This wide open camera work accomplishes two goals: One, it truly conveys how empty and abandoned the Overlook is, driving home how isolated the Torrences are. Two, it makes other scenes, with the characters in close proximity to each other in smaller rooms, feel much more intimate and claustrophobic by comparison. It’s the isolation of that first point, and the breaking of that isolation, that marks the start of the film’s dive into maddening horror.


     The hallway scene is famous to an incredible degree. It shows Danny riding his tricycle down the halls of the Overlook, the camera following close behind as he takes the turns at as fast of a speed as his little legs can peddle. Suddenly, he turns a corner, and at the end of the hallway stands two little girls. At least, that’s what they *look* like. They’re far enough away that we can identify them as bipedal humanoids, and enough specific features in their clothes and faces to identify them as likely human, but they’re also far enough away and obscured enough that we can’t be 100% sure. The camera then cuts to Danny’s face, and the boy looks terrified as he stares down the two figures, paralyzed in fear. This is the moment that the isolation the movie has spent around forty minutes building has been absolutely shattered. The character, and the viewer, have been completely convinced that the Torrences are alone in the Overlook, with everything from the sound design, to the narrative, to the camera work reinforcing this fact. The little girls are disturbing in the highest regard, not only for their visually disturbing design, but for the fact that they just shouldn’t be there. It’s also in this scene that we see The Shining’s formula: a character is presented with something horrific, we see their reaction to it first, then the viewer is shown the scare, and finally the character responds to the scare. Later in the movie, after Jack has fallen entirely to his madness and Wendy is desperately searching for Danny, we have the Wolf Man Scene, one of my favorites in the film. Wendy ascends to the top of a staircase, turns to her right, and looks shocked. The camera shows us a room at the end of a hallway, with a man in a furry suit kneeling down and bending out of frame. He leans back, revealing that he’s wearing a distorted, animalistic mask, and stares at Wendy. A second man, sitting on what appears to be a bed, leans into frame and also stares at Wendy. She begins hyperventilating, and runs away in terror. What scares me so much about this scene is the complete mystery of the Wolf Man’s presence. In the novel, he attacks Danny more directly and more aggressively, with his intentions displayed much more… obviously. However, here, the Wolf Man and his companion are complete enigmas. Will they attack Wendy? Are they armed? Are they even there, or is she going crazy, like her husband?


     Now, I’ve mentioned the original book several times. Stephen King himself absolutely loathes the 1980 film, and pushed for a tv mini-series in the 90’s, as a more accurate adaptation of his novel. And… as much as I respect Mr. King as an author, it’s a sad truth that sometimes, an artist’s work finds new, and better, life in the hands of another. Kubrick’s film carries itself with an air of mystery and suspense that never alleviates itself from our senses. The Overlook is never “solved”, never defeated. The Scooby Doo villain isn’t unmasked, the great riddle is never answered. While the novel and tv adaptation answer very clearly that the hotel is haunted, Kubrick’s film is cloaked in unanswered questions. The threat of the situation doesn’t come from the hotel itself. It isn’t trying to kill the Torrences, it’s trying to get them to kill each other, an especially sinister goal that it carries out with a detached, sadistic glee. There is no getting around it, the Overlook itself is a character. In the novel and tv adaptations, this character is a clumsy “Wizard of Oz” type figure, noisily pulling levers to make cardboard cutout ghosts pop up to scare us. In Kubrick’s film, this character is a monstrous entity, hidden in the dark corners of our perception, pulling strings with careful, delicate intent to terrify us.


     I wrote before about why I love horror, and I think The Shining is the best example of this feeling. The Overlook Hotel chills me to the bone. It’s intimidating, threatening, suffocating. And no matter what, I can never forget it.