Thursday, 12 November 2020

Cults, Politics and the 2020 Election

I know I've been quiet lately. It's been a pretty mad few months, and hoepfully normal service, inasmuch as anything you could call normal, should be resuming imminently. 

In the meantime, here's a video. My close pal Avril Korman is the only person I know who has so far correctly called every development of the American election. She's been doing videos about the process on Facebook which have been getting a ton of and the other day was asked about why some of the political groups currently active in the US seem like cults. She tagged me in the ensuing discussion, and we agreed to talk about it on camera.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Room 207 Press Webinars #12: The Atrocity Tour

Few things are as synonymous with the pop culture idea of the cult as the great cult atrocity stories: the Manson Family murders, the cult massacre at Jonestown, and the siege at Waco have become irresistible gravitational forces of narrative. 

They have defined the idea of what being in a cult is, have become pop culture artefacts in their own right. And they have inevitably influenced film and TV, both in the sense of film adaptations of the stories, and in films inspired by them. 

But of course, the mythology of these stories isn't the whole deal. We talk about “drinking the Kool-Aid”, we talk about Manson and Waco and what happened in those places, but the stories we know aren't necessarily the truth. To what extent then can fiction really give us an in-road to understanding these real-world tragedies? Should we even attempt to approach them?

In this part of the Cult Cinema lecture series, I’m going to look at how these events have become part of the cultural lexicon and how their transformation from fact into legend has been portrayed on the screen, and what this can tell us about the conditions that make these abuses become part of oour mythology. 

The event is going to be conducted via Zoom, as ever, and it is going to be held on Monday 14th September, twice, at 8pm UK time, and 8pm Eastern Time (US/Canada). Although tickets are £10, subscribers to my Patreon, which also gives you access to videos of previous talks and other patron-exclusive content, get in free.

You can become a Patron here. 

Tickets can also be booked here:

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Room 207 Press Webinars #11: Evangelical Horrors – the cinematic politics of fundamentalist Christianity

When Jerry Falwell Junior hit the news recently, it came as a surprise to some and no surprise whatsoever to many. The son of the notorious televangelist of the same name (only, you know, Senior) had been the President of Liberty University since his dad died in 2007, but unlike his dad, who as televangelists go was at least some variety of sincere, Falwell Jr has been prone to doing stuff like posting pictures of himself on Instagram with his pants down, and recently it's come out that he was involved in a specific sort of poly triad with his wife and a hot pool boy or something. The evangelical world has predictably been going crazy about this, as you'd expect. 

Don't worry about the Boy Falwell – he's going to be fine, and sure, Liberty have finally managed to get shot of him. But consider this: Falwell was blackmailed about this poly thing in 2016, because when you're a big proponent of family values stuff and hating on queer people, being poly (albeit poly in one of the most depressingly vanilla ways you can be, of course) is not an optic you want to get out there, and Donald Trump's people made it go away. And in return, Falwell did not endorse Ted Cruz – an awful human being to be sure, but a committed and sincere evangelical believer – and instead endorsed Trump. And the evangelical vote went to Trump. 

I don't think that this is going to make any difference at all to how evangelicals vote in the US in November. Why is that? Why is it that the only people who seem to think that Falwell Minor feeding his entire faith community to a man who conforms closely to the Biblical descriptions of the actual freaking Antichrist are not the people who you'd think would be bothered?

There's a question. 

It's a subject close to my heart, since I spent several years in the thrall of the evangelical version of Christianity and got to know

On Monday 7th September, I'm going to be looking at the prominence of American evangelicalism and its history through the lens of how modern evangelicalism is presented in cinema and TV, and how that illuminates the power, influence and reach of a faith that can be quite persuasively be argued to have departed from historical Christianity. From Righteous Gemstones and Greenleafs to gay conversion camps and Biblical archaeologists, we'll be tackling the religion of the American Empire, and interrogating its flaws.  

It's going to be held twice at 8pm UK time, and again at 8pm Eastern Time (US/Canada) via Zoom. Backers of my Patreon get in as part of their subscription, but regular tickets can be purchased from this link or via the widget thing below. 

Monday, 31 August 2020

Sects Education #6: The Children Act (2017)

(Spoilers.You know the score.)

In The Children Act, Emma Thompson plays Mrs Justice Fiona Maye, a judge with a reputation for making decisions on divisive and high profile family cases. At the start of the film she makes the call to allow a hospital to separate a pair of conjoined twins, knowing that one will die rather than both, against the parents' wishes. She is called upon to make a judgement about Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead), a boy of 17, only a few weeks from adulthood, who is sick in hospital and needs a blood transfusion to live. The boy is a Jehovah’s Witness, and neither he nor his parents wish the procedure. The hospital seeks an injunction to enable them to save the young man’s life. Fiona's marriage is however faltering – her husband (Stanley Tucci) announces he's planning on an affair – and in a lapse of judgement she goes to see Adam in hospital. He turns out to be bright and they connect over a song (her passion, it turns out, is music, and so is his). Of course she makes the judgement to save his life. He survives, turns 18, and begins to pursue her, because he has a crush on her. She rejects him eventually, but because of her own emotional state, does not know how to respond appropriately, and the ending is inevitable, tragic and wholly predictable.

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Room 207 Press Seminars #10: Your Move, Darwin – humanity, hope and meaning on the Planet of the Apes

Some science fiction franchises are more evolved than others. 

When Disney announced the acquisition of Fox, one of the big surprises was the announcement that plans were afoot to revive the Planet of the Apes franchise. First very loosely adapted from Philip “Bridge on the River Kwai” Boulle's novel La Planete des Singes, the story of an idealistic misanthrope stranded on a planet where evolution had taken a sideways lurch became notorious for having one of the greatest twist endings in history, a genre-defying mindbender that turns boilerplate space opera into something strange, disturbing and thought-provoking. A run of poetically scripted sequels and two TV series followed, both retreading the original tale, but more pertinently exploring how we get from a planet of humans to here. Revived by Tim Burton in 2001 and then with a run of three perverse, thrilling and hairy prequels from 2014 through 2017, the enduring low-key popularity of the series seems to defy all received wisdom: with a movie series that invites us to root for the end of human rule is anything but monkey see, monkey do. 

It seems bananas that Planet of the Apes might have endured for so long. What is it about these adventures that strikes such a chord with viewers? Why do these films tell us so much about ourselves? 

On Monday, I'l be asking just that in the next Room 207 Press Seminar. As ever, backers of my Patreon get a free ticket to this, and access to the videos of all previous seminars. 

It runs twice, as usual, at 8pm BST and then at 8pm Eastern Daylight Time (US/Canada). The ticket gets you into either or both sessions.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Room 207 Press Webinars #9: Sects Education: The Dark-Eyed Stepchildren of Mainstream Christianity

If you've ever walked past the Jehovah's Witness stand, or closed the door on them, ot had a strangely intense conversation with a pair of clean-cut young men with “elder” written on their badges, you know that the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of the Latter-Day Saints exist. And they're not alone. What about the Seventh Day Adventists, the Christadelphians and the Exclusive Brethren? 

How do you feel about them? And what does cinema tell us about these sometimes secretive, isolated offshoots of Protestant Christianity? Can we gain insight through film? 

 This week's Zoom seminar is about just that, as I provide an introduction to Christian Sects and look at how they're portrayed in everything from serious dramas to quirky comedies. Find out what The Children Act has in common with Napoleon Dynamite and Son of Rambow.  

The talk is as ever going to be held twice, on Monday 17th August, at 8pm UK time and 8pm Eastern Time (US/Canada). Ticket cost is £10, but Backing my Patreon for as little as $1US a month not only gets you a season ticket to all the talks, including this one, but access to videos after the fact, along with all the other benefits.  

Sects Education: The Dark-Eyed Stepchildren of Mainstream Religion

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Cult Cinema #30: On the Pagan Village Conspiracy

The Wicker Man (1973); Kill List (2011); Midsommar (2019)

(There will be spoilers, as ever.)

Before I even define what one is, I need to say this: outside of works of fiction, there is no such thing as a Pagan Village Conspiracy. Hold that thought.

As a fictional concept, a Pagan Village Conspiracy film has some or all of the following: an outsider protagonist goes to a rural area where they come into contact with a community who turn out to be engaged in pagan or occult practices. Every significant character in this community is part of the conspiracy, which is not usually centred around the pagan/occult practices themselves, but in how they relate to the status of the protagonist. “It was you they wanted all along” is by far the most common twist in the Pagan Village Conspiracy Movie.