I've been thinking a lot about elementary school lately.
Despite the fact that I went to a Catholic school in St. Louis, my early education came with a healthy dose of progressive politics. There was a hard-line on church doctrine, to be sure, but matters unrelated to sex and procreation were presented to us in a surprisingly liberal framework. Environmental concerns were probably the biggest social issue of the day for us: Fern Gully was pretty much required viewing; Ronald McDonald came to educate us on the benefits of recycling; wildlife experts extolled the virtues of conservation. Second to that, though, was multiculturalism. Looking back, I don't think a semester went by without a speaker from what seemed to be an exotic land or culture coming to introduce us to the wonders of life in Sao Paulo or Barcelona or some other faraway-but-kid-friendly land. Despite the general ethnic diversity of St. Louis proper, our school was pretty white bread, and I suppose it was the administration's way of opening us up to the rest of the world. I don't remember all of our speakers, but there are a few that left particular impressions on me, regaling us with tales of Carnivale or soccer culture or life with rare birds. There was always some lesson to be learned; our visitors were eternally wise, in spite of their generally young age. Looking back, I figure that most of them were in their twenties or thirties, but for a group of eight-year-olds, they were ancient and wizened world explorers coming to us with lifetimes of experience and knowledge.
And that's what I've been thinking a lot about lately.
The original version of this article took on a much different form. It was far less wistful, harder edged, and much more biting. You should, right now, be reading a piece of hard-hitting investigative journalism, assembled from multiple interviews with numerous individuals and threaded together along a chain of diligent fact-checking and dogged investigation. CineDump is comprised of a small yet dedicated team, and together, we've done a considerable deal of work over the previous week to develop a story on a very pertinent issue affecting popular culture in general and horror culture specifically: the role of women in creative capacities. Those with their ears to the grounds probably have an idea of what I'm talking about. Unfortunately, the phrase "small yet dedicated team" translates to "brilliantly creative" just as well as it translates to "without money or lawyers."
That, unfortunately, means that the article you were originally meant to see won't quite be seen.
I'll say here that my dedicated fellow editor and CineDump founder Jessie Hobson stood by whatever decision I made in submitting this article, even if that meant potential legal issues for the page as a business entity and himself as a private individual. I'm immensely grateful to him for that and it's an editorial decision that makes me proud to be a part of CineDump. Yet for as much as my heart beats for the cause of women in horror, and as much outrage as I feel about particular events of late, I cannot in good conscience place him, CineDump, or my own family in financial peril. The victory would be proud but it would be small; no greater goal would be achieved, no fantastic entity vanquished.
Therein lies both the gravity and minutiae of the situation: For all of the seriousness of the matters being discussed, they occur with far too great a frequency for a single victory to be much of a victory at all.
Let me step back from trying to tiptoe around a particular incident and discuss the broader concern in general: despite the tremendous strides they've made in horror since the beginning of the new millennium, women still face great difficulty in being taken seriously as creative forces. I could go into a Biblical litany here of the fantastic female writers and directors who have given us new classics over the course of the past fifteen years; each of them can go into similar litanies about how their sex has, at times, become a liability for them. One actress whom I interviewed earlier this year-- an actress with writing, directing, and producing credentials under her belt-- recalled to me how she was once asked to make out with another girl as part of an audition for a role that didn't include nudity or lesbianism. Another recalled how she was accused of using fellatio to secure positive press. (In the interest of full disclosure, none of the female directors or writers whom I've interviewed over the course of my career have ever offered to orally service me in exchange for positive coverage). From the most successful studio directors to the scrappy young ingenues just beginning, female directors across the spectrum will recall how allegations, demands, and insinuations regarding their sex and sexual orientation have plagued their careers and acted as stumbling blocks to being taken seriously within the industry.
Stepping back, it's difficult to see the same obstacles being faced by men.
The indie horror boom of the last decade has produced just as many successful male directors as it has female; their rises have been just as meteoric. Yet one would be hard pressed to find accusations of the V/H/S directors winning spots in the anthology by going down on anyone, or vicious rumors of the ABCs of Death crew earning their credentials in debased orgies with studio executives. The presumption, in assessing a young, male horror director's career is that he was dark enough, twisted enough, smart enough, creative enough, warped enough in the head to stand on the shoulders of giants and produce a great work of scare cinema.
The presumption in assessing a young, female horror director's career is that she's an awesome fuck.
It's an attitude that achieves quite little, yet wreaks untold damage. It engenders no creativity; it fosters no reconciliation between the sexes. It opens no doors to greater frontiers in the horror realm.
And this makes me think of elementary school.
One of the most profound multi-cultural speakers we ever had was an Italian gentleman who introduced us to the pleasures of traditional puppetry. He was a small, swarthy man with thin, slicked back, jet black hair, and wore what was the first real handlebar mustache I've ever seen. Though he was, almost certainly, in his forties or fifties, his wrinkled face still radiated a cherubic joy, and when he smiled, his fine, dark eyes glowed with an exuberance that would make anyone think he was just a wrinkly high schooler about to go out on his first date. His lilting, high voice, faintly accented, was perfect for narrating his puppet shows, and the delicacy of his handiwork made his figures move with a fluid grace that made even we cynical 90s children delight for the duration of his show in the idea that these were tiny, legless people living a secret life in a miniature, multicolored world. Despite the vividness of my memory, I can recall only one of his sketches; yet it is one I have thought about often in my life, and one which I have found myself constantly ruminating over for the past week. I believe that it was based upon an old folktale, though from whose culture, I can't say for sure; it is, quite possibly, a story to be found in every culture in the world.
The sun and the wind, being the sort of crass frenemies that the elements often are, entered into a discussion one cloudy day about which of them held more influence over the mortal realm. Each found superiority in his own attributes, and, in doing so, felt himself a greater power over the lives of men. Spotting a young man in a cloak traveling along a dusty path, the sun and the wind decided to engage in a brief contest: They would each exert their greatest powers in order to remove the man's cloak. Whoever could force the man to take it off would be declared the winner of the contest.
The wind, going first, blew as hard as he could; he made the trees to shake and leaves to dance in spirals. Branches fell and a bitter chill swept over the entirety of the land. Yet try as he might, the wind could not move the cloak from the man's shoulders. Each gust, each buffeting strike, only caused the man to cling tighter to his protection against the elements, until at last, the temperature having plummeted ten degrees, he was shambling slowly along the path with his cloak twisted tightly around his trembling body.
Then, it was the sun's turn.
The sun shone his rays as brightly as he could. He generated light in such a blessed degree that the bilious clouds began to dissolve into an iridescent, azure sky. The chill in the atmosphere gave way to a soothing warmth, and tones of ocher, sepia, and rich gold flowed over the land so freely that small animals, hidden away in their burrows from the cold, began to creep out and peer about this wonderful new world. Trapped moisture in the sky generated gossamer rainbows dangling wanly above the clear horizon.
And, moved nearly to tears, the man pulled back the hood of his cloak to gaze in wonder at the awesome beauty around him.