The No Good, Very Bad Thing that is Pan-Culturalism

“How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese_” ― Charles de Gaulle.png

I live in Texas. I was born and raised in Texas. But I was born specifically in North Texas. I now live in South Texas. But there’s a funny trick about a state so large: each part of Texas really is its own region. Remember the 6 States movement out of California? It was an idea that San Francisco and Los Angeles were fundamentally different from Culver City and San Jose and Compton. How could then, one governor, rule a state where each part of it is vastly different from its neighbor. Texas is very similar. Dallas is not Austin is not San Antonio is not Lubbock or El Paso or Del Rio. But yet we are all Texans. Pan-culturalism is a little like bit like. It’s assuming that just because someone is from a particular region: they all must be the same.

In our last post, we talked about how Disney can commodify cultures and pan-culturalism is part of it. It takes broad strokes from a specific culture that is unfortunately not as well-known over here in the West and thus makes it easier to understand (in theory) and then is reductive and out-right offensive to those who are in that representative population.

We’ll touch on an example that is close to my heart. Orientalism or Pan-Asianism (yes, I know the word is offensive and I hate it) is this idea that all of Asia is something that vaguely just resembles China. Let’s take Mulan as an example. Mulan as a film borrows from Korean clothing styles, Japanese iconography and Chinese mythos and iconography as well despite being a Chinese story set in China. And while, sure, I’ll pause for those saying:

But wait, Amanda. China was a major influencer of both Korea and Japan.

Sure, it was: through conquest. But they are not all the same place and as of whenever the hell Mulan is set, Japan and Korea were more stable as countries with their own distinct identities. This also reared its ugly head around Christmas-time for me. My uncle (who is African) LOVES A Christmas Story. Personally, I’m ambivalent about it. He was providing riveting live commentary during the movie and I immediately got stuck on the infamous Chinese restaurant scene. I was floored by this scene. And here’s where I’ll pause again for the:

It was a different time argument.

Yes, the blatant racism was a different time but the conflation of two cultures floored me. The restaurant is Chinese, thus the employees are assumed to be Chinese. So when they stumble of the Fa la la la la of a popular Christmas song, it’s patently false. China does have a concept of the “L” character. Japan is the one that does not. So the idea that Chinese immigrants would stumble over a fa la la is a cheap joke made by casual racists. And it’s frustrating to see a culture that is unique and thousands of years old be reduced to dragons, mysticism and handsome vases.

And it really only seems to be done with countries that are not considered to be The West. Sure, we romanticize and reduce European countries to broad stroke stereotypes but very rarely are they denied what makes them what they are. Sure, for many folks Switzerland, Germany and Austria may run together but we’d never just blanket call them “vague Germany”. But even many western countries have that issue. Each region of France is distinctly different considering which part it touches. England is different based upon region and not everyone sounds like Mr. Darcy and Germany: oh boy, Germany could be 4-5 individual countries depending on, again, who its neighbor is.

And I’ll pause here to talk about romanticization and stereotyping again. I’ve spent time in Austria and before my trip, I likely couldn’t tell you much about Austria despite what I learned from Axis Powers:Hetalia but in my mind I had a feeling it had to be mostly like Germany. It is not. And each part of Austria is special. Innsbruck is the capital of old Tyrol and has a haunted castle of nightmares and a golden roof. Vienna has some of the best yakisoba I’ve had in my entire life and Salzburg is mostly Mozart stuff. But we still paint the broad strokes of mostly German onto them. And those include that Germans are stoic, strict and punctual. None of those things are entirely false but you couldn’t apply that to every German man or woman ever in history. But very few of those actually impact other Western views of that land. But stereotyping is a strange sort of phenomena. They often do come from somewhere and that’s why they are so insidious. Do folks in the U.K. have an accent, ride trains and happen to be surrounded by castles: yes.  That also does not make all of them Harry Potter. We see this a lot with the United States that many stereotypes are rooted in something that was once a cultural artifact but are now just used as insults. For instance the whole concept of African-Americans liking fried chicken comes from years of systemic oppression and not having access to other cuts of meat. Now it’s used almost as a racial slur despite being rooted in something real.

But while we respect and coo over the differences between Dresden and Munich, we ignore the regional differences of let’s say India.

India is a part of Asia but it by no means can be lumped into the dragons and Ming vases of Chinese and Japanese orientalism. Incidentally, each region of India is vastly different from its neighbor. You cannot assume that someone from Kashmir is exactly the same culturally as someone from New Delhi. There are language, culture, religious and many other factors that make each part unique and while they all may be from the Indian subcontinent, they cannot all be broad stroked by one unifying culture.

Africa also distinctly has this issue. Across the African subcontinent there are hundreds of languages, countless unique religions including many Christians and you cannot assume that a person from the Ivory Coast is the same as someone from Tanzania. My uncle is from the Ivory Coast and my use of the French language was learned mostly from him still using the language of his homeland. But yet popular media still represents Africa as being mostly grass huts and hunter-gatherer societies despite the fact that Nigeria has a booming film and music culture

We’ll go back to another Disney example in Moana. While the story is Polynesian, it’s still reductive and goes back to a happy island folks with coconuts and ghost magic trope. While those things are important to some of the people that call Hawai’i, Tahiti and the rest of the islands that make up what we describe as Polynesia: it isn’t true for any one of them. Many of Polynesia were warriors, many were fierce fighters, they are not just strong navigators but also settlers and colonizers who tamed the land and ate all the moa.

So how does one balance all the cultures of the wind? Well, as I always say, to the research! If you’re working on, curious about or just plain wamt to expand your horizons: research the individual country you wish to discuss or discover. There are countless resources available to you to find out more about what makes other places so great. And there are plenty of examples I am leaving out because unfortunately, this topic is vast and large and it makes my head hurt to think about for too long.

Pan-culturalism is casually racist, patronizing and flat out exhausting. The differences that make cultures unique are special, sacred and important. And since the criteria that seems to make a culture its own versus one that is swept up with its neighbors seem to be troublingly colonialist, nationalistic and well, to put it bluntly, a tool used by dominant powers to patronize other nationalities and it’s high time we stop such a practice.



Dear Kanye West

It seems we living the american dreamBut the people highest up got the lowest self esteemThe prettiest people do the ugliest thingsFor the road to riches and diamond rings.png

Let’s get a little mood music going, shall we?

Hello, Mr. West.
I’m sure you won’t read this (though I’d be certainly flattered if you did) but it felt appropriate to address you formally regardless. I’m a longtime fan. No, really. I still have the censored copy of your first album College Dropout that my aunts purchased for me under the condition that I accept the censored version that Walmart so graciously offered to us back in the mid-2000s.

I wanted to talk to you today about how important your album was to me and why it’s been so difficult to watch you go a little bit insane.

So when I was younger, back in high school, I loved your album. I loved Jesus Walks. I loved your message. And there’s a reason for that and it’s sort of personal. But I’m in the spirit to share, so I’ll do it. I’m culturally abandoned. I’m not very tied to my blackness. I was raised in a mostly white neighborhood and had very little of the struggles that the average African-American youth faced. I didn’t traditionally struggle with money. I faced very little racism. We lived in nice areas and I was smart, in a good school and was surrounded by mostly white people and had mostly white friends. I just simply did not have the experience of the “average” African-American youth in America.  And while my father’s taste in music was diverse, my aunts had less diverse tastes in music. And while I was being raised with my aunts, it was easy for me to get lost in a sea of J-Pop and heavy emo music.

And then College Dropout arrived.

Mr. West, your album was fantastic. It still is, I can’t and won’t take away the greatness of your album. By focusing on more universal struggles like inferiority and boosting those feelings that are inexorably tied to race, you helped me tap into my blackness: even if it was only for a moment. Songs like School Spirit and All Falls Down were emotional, raw, intense but still clever, humorous and authentic. Your rhymes addressed so many of my concerns and feelings with hip-hop and rap and while sure, they still were misogynistic and homophobic: I ate College Dropout up. And you even managed to tug at my Catholic heartstrings. Not too many African-Americans I knew back then were Catholic, hell, most of my friends weren’t Catholic. You, Mr. West, became like the Catholic friend I never knew I needed.  And when your next album: Graduation dropped, I was even more sold. Heartless seamlessly blended style and genre while Good Morning was literally my moodboard song for months.

And then it all seemed to go to hell. I’m empathetic to the loss of a parent. I understand that one can even go a little mad after someone you love dies. But, you Mr. West, Mr. Fresh… you went more than a little mad. You proclaimed to be a god over and over again. Which, by the way, one Catholic to another: isn’t in any of the catechisms. You hooked up with some strange hellbeast (though most know her as a Kim Kardashian). Procreated and continued to spout out racially divisive, culturally insensitive and outright outlandish nonsense from then onto now.

Your music has seemed to suffer as well. While there was always a healthy level of egotism in all your music, it was in the past, almost self-deprecating. Now, you think you’re a god-king. Now, you’ve alienated your friends and fanbase. I worry about you. I know facing mortality is difficult. I know being surrounded by people who either don’t get you or only valid you can be trying. I get that being creative, being a creator and being an icon must be exhausting. But I want you to know; I need you to know, that you were an important part of my teen years and that I’m grateful for that.

Thank you.



Thoughts from Wakanda: Musings after Seeing Black Panther

I was afraid to see this movie.

I was afraid that people were going to cinnamon roll the hell out of this film. I was afraid that people were only going to see a diverse cast and ignore any flaws or faults in this film and mostly that has not been true.

Dear reader, I really liked that movie. I loved that movie. It isn’t perfect, but while it’s still fresh in my mind: I wanted to pen down a few of the thoughts about The Black Panther and what it means right now to be black, to be African-American, to be a nerd and to leave a movie theater while pterodactyl screeching.

  • Okay, so Alamo Drafthouse decked this movie out with some of the best promo material and all. Seriously, I’m getting spoiled to the Drafthouse. And all the previews made me giggle.
  • I had the pleasure of seeing this movie with my friend who is also named Amanda and she is white and real talk: she was way more excited to see this movie than I was and we spent a lot of time talking about the fact that this movie is objectively more important to me but she was the one screaming about Wakanda.
  • We also got to have several moments where she wanted to compliment women in beautiful African dress but didn’t feel it was right, so in those times I acted as her surrogate: not that I didn’t also find these outfits beautiful, I’ve seen them before and they don’t hold the same meaning to me.
  • Additionally, I don’t think much of Africa: I came from a family that was never much tied to our own blackness. Remembering Africa meant remembering Slavery and my family chose to focus on bettering their lives than remembering a land so many of us didn’t know.

Here’s a good place for me to talk about my position on and history with Black Panther before the Marvel movies. Truthfully, my favorite run of his was during the 90s and 2000s when he was very much rooted in radical Afro-excellence while also still being very much the blacksploitation character he was created to be. I never had an issue with that as a youth but also fully know we cannot have the superhero equivalent of Coming to America now in 2018.
Let’s actually talk about the movie now: there will likely be spoilers.

  • The casting is AMAZING. There is not a single role that feels out of place or wrong. There is no one role that stood out more to me but dammit everyone was great.
  • I will say it was powerful as hell to see a movie full of beautiful, strong and important black people on screen. So powerful that I did not know that was something I needed until I saw it.
  • The action set pieces may be some of the best done by a Marvel movie: and while they’re actually pretty scarce: this is not as action-heavy as say Civil War was, it was still amazing.
  • The new suit is great, the special effects are great and the soundtrack was great.
  • I did not expect this movie to take me on the emotional ride it did. This movie is not dead parent approved but I am okay with that.
  • Also, how dare another comic book movie make a villian that ends up making more sense than the hero.
  • Andy Serkis is a treasure and it’s so good to see him on screen.
  • Martin Freeman is also a treasure and his American accent is quite good.
    • I was very impressed by this.
  • It was AMAZING to see women of color use technology and be more brilliant than Tony Stark in places.
  • The entire plot of how to deal with African wealth vs. African-American struggle hit me like I did not expect a comic book movie could.
  • I was giddy over the use of Zulu weapons and formations.
    • Seriously, this was like a LARP of the Deadliest Warrior episode that pitted Shaka Zulu against William Wallace.
  • Stick around for that post-credits scene. It did upset me but it also did make me smile a little bit.
  • Killmonger is a very human character and his deadpan reactions to things added levity in places there needn’t be levity.
  • There was not a single character that felt out of place and that’s good for a Marvel movie.
  • The small cultural touches made me giddy. Killmonger’s scarification, the tattooed heads of warrior women…lip plates. ALL OF IT made me so happy. Yes, it is pan-Africanism but in the moment it was AWESOME.
  • There are lines in this movie that are so well-delivered that I almost choked on my Mr. Pibb several times. And that’s a damn good thing.

Now in this confluence of praise, I do have some issues with this film:

  • Killmonger is complex and his narrative is very interesting…is a word…it very much did remind me of the actual Black Panther party for better or worse. There’s just one problem with this: we have learned from history that militant African-Americans is not the way to promote equality. And his words ring so true in this era that many people likely will not see this as a problem: and that is the problem.
  • That’s actually just a general issue I had with the film that it does seem like the “villain’s” point of view is likely now one shared by many and in making such a sympathetic antagonist, his viewpoint: which mind you is wrong, seems very okay and normal and a valid way to feel.
  • This is a minor nitpick but the pan-Africanism did start to wear on me as the movie went on. There are so many different languages, religions, clothes and mannerisms that make each country in Africa unique so to see them all sort of just appropriated for the sake of a cool shot: it’s a minor pick but it did wear on me. And while in one breath I can say it’s cool, it also isn’t ideal. And yes, I know this is a fictional African-land but you’re in my world now, so deal with the nitpick.
  • Also there’s a Gorilla tribe that says to be loyal to Hanuman, who is a Hindu deity, which irked me. Not to say there are not Hindu people in Africa: but I’m sure the screenwriter needed a monkey god and just happened to find one.
  • This movie is tensionless. That isn’t a bad thing but despite all the hardship: we know T’Challa will be okay. We know he’s gonna be in Infinity Wars. But a lack of tension isn’t all terrible: just an annoying part of the whole franchise thing.
  • That post-credits scene did upset me a little because it didn’t seem like it was doing much but setting up the next movie and normally I’d be okay with that but as of yesterday, it made me the angry.
  • Some of the humor is meta and out of place and even though I laughed, it is still weak writing.

But all of that side, this movie is iconic and important. I never felt attached to being of African descent but for a moment, in a theater full of people in their finest cultural garb or even those of us just in dresses from Forever 21. I felt an attachment to a fictional place like no other. I felt beautiful and strong for being African-American and I didn’t feel weird for being black, being a geek and loving technology. This movie was the film we needed right now with our current…concerns as a nation and planet. And sure, I had problems with this movie but I am not going to let my personal issues with it diminish how important this film must be to people of color and people in general.
This is the opposite of Wonder Woman for me. Wonder Woman was a passable movie that you couldn’t critique because of how important it was. Black Panther is a great movie that also happens to be very important and while it isn’t perfect: it’s very easy to ignore those flaws.
But this movie is very much a product of today, right now and where we are as a nation, as people and as humans on this planet. It’s one of the biggest reasons I do not think this movie will age well: I think it so perfectly encapsulates what it means to be of color in an unkind world right now. This is not a perfect movie but considering that I walked in assuming that I would not like it and left hooting should tell you just how I feel about this film. It’s political, emotional and real and all coming from a character most only know because of his brief comic book marriage to a more iconic superhero.
I won’t say Wakanda Forever, because that isn’t the goal and shouldn’t be the goal. The goal is to be kind to each other, be better people and help when appropriate. So with that being said: Wakanda For Now.
And long may T’Challa reign.

To Court the Mesmerist

Nature may be as selfishly studied as trade. Astronomy to the selfish becomes astrology; psychology, mesmerism (with intent to show where our spoons are gone); and anatomy and physiology, become phrenology and palmistry.”- Ralph Waldo Emerson Nature

A fraud, quack, and a healer? Franz Anton Mesmer’s controversial concept of mesmerism had shaken not just the scientific community but the social community of the 18th century. Mesmer’s concept of “animal magnetism” or “mesmerism” became a massive discussion point for those in social circles, political offices and literary groups. The mesmerist became a cheater, a villain and one who could control the weak and manipulate the masses. Literature has long since viewed this figure under a negative light until Edgar Allan Poe in his work The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar did his best to redeem the mesmerist as not a fraudulent thief to devoted healer.

Franz Anton Mesmer, an Austrian physician, had idea and it was simple “all animated bodies including man were affected by a magnetic force which also mutually influenced the celestial bodies and earth” and by ‘controlling’ those magnetic forces, one could then in theory control the entire human body. This control typically led patients into “violent convulsions, crying, laughter, or other physical symptoms which was then suspended by an extreme lack of energy.” Mesmer was also known for his use of what became his famous ‘baquet’ which was a system of rods and tubes filled with various substances such as opium, alcohol, and arsenic. Many claimed to be healed by Mesmer prompting investigation by both German and French medial commissions. Most of these reports found Mesmer’s miraculous claims of healing the sick and curing an entire menagerie of illnesses baseless. But despite overwhelming evidence that mesmerism is little more than the power of suggestion people claimed and do continue to claim to be healed by mesmerism. Were these people actually cured or was it merely psychosomatic? Did they believe they were cured so they were?

Mesmerism is not a new concept just coined by one individual, the power of suggestion or pure charisma has been employed as an effective means of control since the Druids and further by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Means of control using mesmeric qualities including the use of psychotropic drugs, threats of violence and manipulation of the individual, but pure mesmerism should never involve such means. At its very worse, mesmerism is little than the placebo effect in which those who believe they are receiving medicine for whatever ails them, get better despite only being given sugar pills.

Mesmerism can be found in faith healers using the power of charisma to control the masses, even considered to be found in Freud’s psychoanalysis which was said to be little more than Freud monopolizing the emotions of fragile women. Mesmerism also morphed into the early 20th century snake oil salesman who through galvanism and countless tonics and elixirs could cure anything from melancholia to consumption most of said elixirs contained copious amounts of alcohol or opium, ingredients bound to brighten anyone’s day or at least ‘clear’ them of their symptoms.

Modern reincarnations of mesmerism include hypnotists that claim that any of the body’s issues can be fixed by unlocking the inner power of the self, with the facilitation of a hypnotists and often copious amounts of money spent on sessions and tapes and time spent in offices for visits. And the benefits from said therapy can be anywhere from weight loss, the curing of disease and uplifting the mood.

The placebo effect is not harmful, but if that is the case where do most literary figures and social figures for that matter conjure up the idea that mesmerism and Mesmer’s idea of controlling the body to be such a horrid thing? The people who followed Mesmer were willing and praised him for his miraculous cures of various ailments and diseases. The upheaval over Mesmer came most from the Transcendentalists.

The Transcendental movement began as a response to the Jacksonian era spending and industry. The Transcendentalists included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman valued individualism over all else, sought to find themselves through Nature and the eternal oneness that was the universe. The concept of valuing the self above all else was directly violated by mesmerism. The idea that someone could control the body contradicted their concepts of individuality and it one is able to control just one person, then by interconnectedness we are all controlled.

Many Transcendental writers railed against Mesmer as the craze hit the United States. But while most were naturally critical of any individual that could claim healing with just suggestion, the Transcendentalists vilified Mesmer and his work in the only way the Transcendental writers could, through their writing. But the Transcendentalists also were strictly against phrenology as well, the study of bumps on the head which could be connected to any aspect of the human from assertiveness to virility.

Such pseudosciences were just as damning as the views of the Calvinists and Puritanical which they had strived so hard to distance themselves from and their deterministic views that provided no place for personal expression or uniqueness, did not celebrate the specialness of the self and its relationship with the universe and with the Divine. One’s entire being can be controlled by magnets and their entire lives were determined by various and random bumps upon the head. These concepts were ones fundamentally the Transcendentalists couldn’t support.

Edgar Allan Poe had been noted for his blatant disliking of the Transcendentalists and their works and ideals. His views on life and the afterlife were radically different than the soft and connected views of writers like Emerson and Thoreau. It was his life experiences mostly that lead him down a path to viewing these certain pseudosciences with less hostility. Having lost his mother at an early age to tuberculosis and his child-bride to the same crippling disease, he like most was ready and willing to accept more non-traditional answers to the large questions of life and was not content with the answer simply being ‘the eternal oneness’. He was a believer in phrenology and further, mesmerism.

Poe has often been noted for his use of many forms of science and psuedoscience in his work, his extensive use of anatomy to create more gruesome horror stories. His use of the occult and the supernatural to raise suspense and his mastery of universal human experience to stir up the sympathy and emotion of his readers.

His work, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar surrounded the concept of the mesmerist doing his very best to use his art to do good for his patient, Mr. Valdemar. The narrator, our mesmerist, had noticed that no one had used mesmerism “in articulo mortis” (Poe 721) in believing that “Death might be arrested by the process.” (Poe 721). He decided to attend to his friend, Mr. Ernest Valdemar, who had been suffering for a long time of a dreadful illness, most likely tuberculosis. Our mesmerist cited having “put him to sleep with little difficulty” (Poe 721) but found that his patient was never “positively, or thoroughly under my control” (Poe 721), claiming that to be a function of his patients’ nerves due to his condition and to the physical deterioration caused by his condition. The mesmerist is called back to Mr. Valdemar’s home finding the man on his deathbed. Mr. Valdemar agreed to let himself be mesmerized, and hence frozen right at the point of death, with the hopes of in theory living in sleep forever. The mesmerist succeeds in mesmerizing Mr. Valdemar, bringing sleep to the man just as he was about to die, and controlling at least part of the dying man’s body though not all of it.

Eventually Mr. Valdemar’s condition grew to be that of a dead man’s, “there was no longer the faintest sign of vitality in M. Valdemar” (Poe 726). The mesmerist left his patient after one week of intense observation , returning in seven month intervals to check in on his patient. Mr. Valdemar as reported by his nurses “remained exactly as I have last described him.” (Poe 727) in the same lifeless and near vegetative state. During his visit, the mesmerist had tried his best to rouse his patient like any attentive physician would, but found the task increasingly difficult. Though the answers the mesmerist receives from Mr. Valdemar as the trance deepens become increasingly disturbing, not sure if he wanted to wake up and face the pain of death or to stay asleep and let his consciousness lay dormant for all eternity.

Mr. Valdemar’s condition continues to become increasingly worse; the only words the patient uttered were “dead!” (Poe 728). What happens next was an unexpected turn for the worse for our patient and the mesmerist treating him “his whole frame at once—within the space of a single minute, or even less, shrunk-crumbled, absolutely rotted away beneath my hands. Upon the bed, before that whole company, there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome—of detestable putridity.” (Poe 728).

Poe’s depiction of the mesmerist as little more than a dedicated healer, not the traditionally evil manipulator of the masses. Poe’s mesmerist was only doing his best to save his friend given the one talent he had and it followed along the more traditional notions of the mesmerist being more healer than villain. The moral though of the story is that no matter what the intention, death cannot be stopped even with science or magic. Despite Poe’s relationship with mesmerism being a more positive one than most of the other writers of his time, his views remained the same on the absolutes of life, and no one of any level of skill can stop those.

Contrastingly, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Blithedale Romance shows us a very different aspect of the mesmerist, a more wicked incarnation whose only real goal was not to help the community, but to gain as much money and power as possible using his art as more manipulation than assistance. Hawthorne, despite being an Anti-Transcendentalist himself did share more views with the Transcendentalists than Poe, his work The Blithedale Romance was meant to show that communal living as such popularized by the Transcendental writers of such publications as The Dial and other Transcendental publications could not and would not work in reality. This tale was meant to be cautionary but used a very particular figure to highlight the main concern of any communal living situation: the appearance of someone who can control the weak and thus bring the entire community to its knees with just the control of one or two key figures.

The mesmerist in this work Professor Westervelt is a man of science but is revealed to be a master manipulator. But another key distinction is that he is known in the novel as a magician with the abilities more of hypnotist, using his mesmeric powers to control the mysterious Veiled Lady to do his bidding “.she was a phenomenon in the mesmeric line; one of the earliest that had indicated the birth of a new science, or the revival of an old humbug.” (Hawthorne 35). Westervelt is meant to display the negative forces at play with not just high amounts of intelligence but the drive to use that knowledge for malicious purposes. Though, the members of Blithedale found the act of the Veiled Lady mysterious and exotic.

The one fear of the Transcendental writers, that people would be so caught up in the act that they would be willing to look past the more sinister aspects of control of the body by outside means. Westervelt’s description is also radically different than the warm and caring mesmerist of Poe’s work. Westervelt is cold, calloused and even described as statuesque, having little concern for the life of his patients or his partner the Veiled Woman. He also displays a high level of pride, showing little sympathy when Zenobia commits suicide, even judging her for a foolish death.

Hawthorne’s depiction of the mesmerist is more along our view of modern hypnotists or 20th century snake oil salesman that they are fine as long as it only affects one or two individuals in the home but as soon as it begins to affect the community, problems arise. It was not uncommon for mesmerists to travel from city to city bringing their exhibits to the country, similar to Westervelt’s exhibit which just happened to be in Blithedale. The other concern lies in that these exhibits became distractions from work and more important societal tasks. The other key issue with communal living, is that if someone doesn’t pull their own weight and find themselves distracted by the wonders of the outside world, work doesn’t get done and the entire community could easily collapse.

Mesmer claimed that he could control trees with his baquet and with the powers of mesmerism and with that he captivated an entire generation. Mesmerism was at the time considered to be a real and actual science. But the idea where mesmerism began to become baseless and another one of the major grievances of the Transcendentalists was when Mesmer and his followers claimed clairvoyance with the use of mesmerism.

Clairvoyance along with other forms of divination and magic were strictly against the Transcendentalists. Clairvoyance in its simplest form is being able to read the thoughts of others. Many have claimed to posses such a power through various means tarot cards, crystal reading and by simply being born with the gift of mind-reading. The more sinister cousin of clairvoyance is little more than mind-control. If one can read the thoughts, other thoughts can be supplanted and then the entire mind can be controlled.

But controlling the mind, body and other objects did not just stem from Mesmer and mesmerism, older forms come from the Haitian voodoo priests who claimed that with curses and elixirs they could control the body and mind creating the fabled zombie curse of voodoo. The victims of the zombie’s curse remember very little before being put under the zombie spell but then are forced into work and slavery by the voodoo priest. The science behind the voodoo zombie came about in the 1980s where it was discovered that a very special toxin found in puffer fish was found to be a powerful toxin and a powerful paralytic agent which means that it could easily destroy both the blood and nerves and paralyze the body, consistent with the reports of the zombies looking dead medically and physically according to the doctor’s reports.

The reports of mesmerism working with such great success can be accounted for with more than just the placebo effect. His famous baquet, which included plenty of ingredients that could in fact make patients feel better without actually solving a single problem, could account for some of the great stories of success. Alcohol and opium in combination can easily make one feel better hence the wild usage of opium in the medical community to treat everything from toothaches to tuberculosis.

It was a similar case to the Victorian treatment of syphilis with mercury. Syphilis is a chronic sexually transmitted disease that stayed with the person for their natural lives, at the time there was no known cure for the disease which afflicted people in every social strata like no other disease had, but one of the most common treatments for the disease was the toxin mercury. The mercury would have eventually killed the patient at about the same rate as the syphilis, but often times the insanity and violent mood swings that came with mercury poisoning could make the patient believe they were not as sick as they thought. Though it was found with later research that the mercury did provide some ‘relief’ from the symptoms by destroying bacteria in the body along with all the other vital body tissues.

We modernly use herbs and other forms to treat many diseases including St. John’s Wort, a naturally occurring yellow flower, for depression. Valerian, a natural herb, for the treatment of anxiety. Other herbs like rosemary, mint and thyme for such healing purposes as cleaning wounds, relieving pain and speeding recovering.

Another modern incantation of the mesmerist lies within a fear we all face, being controlled by an outside and evil force. Cultists for years have employed similar means as the mesmerist, using drugs and the power of persuasion to get people to follow their message. Cult leaders like Jim Jones convinced hundreds to follow him into death by using threats and drugs to control the members of his cult, a bit extreme for the mesmerist of the 19th century but not entirely uncommon.

My fascination with the mesmerist? It stems from my mother’s own personal experiences with hypnotism. She found that her hypnotist was bringing up memories of hers that she thought to be laying dormant within in. She claimed that she had lost weight, conquered her agoraphobia, and even had the confidence to go out and date after my father’s death. She encouraged me to try it thinking it would cure all of my problems as well. I tried one appointment and noted that this ‘professional’ had made such outlandish claims that came to be just as baseless as Mesmer’s supposed control over trees. The appointment began with her asking me a battery of questions about my past and family history. She then went on to try to lure me into some kind of trance. Perhaps there are claims to the idea of being too intelligent to be hypnotized. I found the entire experience to be just a waste. But I was then allowed a very privileged place in watching my mother’s appointment. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before, the same battery of questions but my mother fell into a deep sleep-like trance. And was now revealing information I was not aware she even knew. Pieces of memories long lost to time, words and phrases my mom never used, this trance just didn’t seem real. It seemed like the powerful use of suggestion, and as long as my mother believed this doctor was helping her, she was in fact curing herself. But at what cost, outside of losing some major respect points with me her daughter? These sessions often hours long cost my mother $150 each. And she went to one every week. This was costing my sick, unemployed mother thousands just so that she could work through her own problems on someone else’s time. What made it worse was that I was helpless in the entire situation. My mother believed she was being helped, so she continued the treatments. I found myself in Coverdale’s shoes, wanting so badly to help the Veiled Lady find her freedom, but this wasn’t just an anonymous broad, this was my mother.

Our fascination with the mesmerist is simple. We are afraid of the mesmerist and his power. We do not want to be controlled, by anyone. Even ourselves to an extent. We fear that someone with little effort could come in and use our own mental weakness against us and use that for evil. And not just for the sake of evil, but even for the small things, controlling us for money or for even emotional power. We naturally want to be free and anything that controls us concerns us greatly.

The difference in opinion between the two authors is the same as the two varying opinions of the act of mesmerism itself. One side sees it as a legitimate way to help society by unlocking a power that is within all of us. One side sees it as a direct violation of the human spirit and a painful intrusion to the self. Moreover, the power this figures gain in society could in theory uproot our entire concepts of democracy and individuality, values the average American holds very dear.

We fear the mesmerist because there is a part of him in all of us. We use persuasion to win cases in court, charm our way out of bar tabs and seduce others into choices they would not usually make. But the implications to that control and the extent of the control forced upon others is entirely up to the individual. Poe’s view finds our mesmerist as a man of science, only doing his part to try and help relieve pain as per Mesmer’s original design. Hawthorne sees the mesmerist as a villain, trying to manipulate those around him to bring order to its knees. Both aspects are not entirely false, but it is up to the reader to decide where we place this character. As harmless medical practitioner or charming fraud whose only goal is to make money and use the weak. What we must understand is that to an outsider, is that the teachings of Jesus Christ very well can look like little more than mesmeric trickery.

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, and Tony Tanner. The Blithedale Romance. Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks, 1998. Print.

“Mesmerism.” The MYSTICA.ORG. Web. 01 May 2012. <;.

Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2007. Print.

Some News!

Some News.jpg

Hello, all.

How’s your day going? I hope it’s been well! You may have noticed some changes around the site! I am now more social than ever.

After much protesting, I finally made a proper Youtube channel that’s full of panel videos and even a cosplay tutorial!

I also made a Tumblr account for generalized short musings.

And on top of all of that, I have an Instagram now for the ever so elusive photo of the real Amanda.

Thank you all for stopping by and to those who have stayed with me for so long.

Please check out all the places you can find me and as always, stay fantastic!



The Case for Gatekeepers

We build too many walls and not enough bridges. (1).png

I come from a darker era for comic book fandom and really, general nerd-kind. I remember being told over and over again that I wasn’t a real fan because I was biologically female. I was told that I couldn’t be that into comics. I was clearly just doing it for attention. I was clearly just there because I only thought the covers were pretty. And psychologically, that’s really hecking damaging. It’s frustrating having to constantly prove that you are a fan of something. I was quizzed, questioned and dismissed so many times that I just came to accept it and now that we are in a halcyon era of comic book movies and nerd acceptance but maybe… just maybe gatekeeping wasn’t so bad in places.

Let’s take a minute to go over some vocabulary. Gatekeeping is a sociology and recently appropriated fan term that essentially means more “experienced” fans act as, well, gatekeepers and use their knowledge in a certain property or fandom to keep novice or newer fans out. We see this sort of phenomena in a lot in the cringe-inducing comic book guy in most television shows. Think The Simpsons or the literal entire cast of The Big Bang Theory or literally any other popular thing. They all have the same comic book dude who can’t hold a conversation about anything real but will be mad at you if you don’t know exactly what shade of pantone pink the Star Sapphire uniforms are. The normal avatar for this sort of person is usually a white, cis, hetero male and because of that, the view of any other fan that is of color, queer, or female (or a combination of any of those things) is somehow immediately less of a fan. This is also sometimes called fan-gating but that term makes me giggle so I’m just going to use gatekeeping.

The problem is that Gatekeepers think they’re doing a good thing. They think they are protecting their beloved media and often times, they are. Comic books were not always as mainstream as they are now and the knowledge so many comic book fans had (have) was not always valued and was often a source of ridicule and persecution. I was often teased for being able to recite Etrigan’s spell from memory. (I still can, don’t judge me.)

Now, let’s be clear. I am in no way advocating for the gatekeeping of ye olden days. That gatekeeping meant to keep women, queer folks, POCs and others out of comic books, videos games and the like because it was a white man’s hobby. And while, no, that isn’t the view of every comic book fan or generalized nerd human it certainly was the driving force for many of them in the comic world in the 90s and early 2000s (when I was a young impressionable comic book reader). To this day, there are still men who insist that girls only read comics for cosplay and that POCs simply don’t read comic books (It’s almost like black people didn’t make their own comic book line or anything like that…).

Here is also where I’ll pause for all the folks who think that me being quizzed over the canonical order of the Robins in Batman is a valid thing to do as I try to purchase a comic book from a store. (Real thing that happened: ask Carlos.).

I’ll wait.

Glad to have you back. This chapter in Moon Knight was getting a little intense.

So after all that talk about how dehumanizing, exhausting, racist, sexist and miserable gatekeeping was and is…why would I possibly ever say that maybe it isn’t so bad?

Remember that statement I made about comic books and other geeky, nerdy things now coming into mainstream popularity? That was not a thing even 10 years ago (back when the first Avengers movie was barely a concept and we were all still angry at Joel Schumacher for ruining Batman.). And there were plenty of people (me included) who have now found themselves in a curious place. Suddenly, the things we love(d) are now very popular. And that means those folks that teased many of us (me included) now suddenly very en vogue. I’ve had old high school friends suddenly claim that it’s so cool they know a cosplayer: the same folks that 10 long years ago was a sore subject and the butt of many jokes towards me. Now the jock that used to make fun of me for liking The Green Lantern is very excited about Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

Now, can people change? Sure. Am I being a little petty? Always. But I think it brings up a valid point. With the influx of new fans, the conversations can be a little strained now. Now we have plenty of folks who say they know comics based on the movies but likely couldn’t tell you much beyond that. Now, casual fans are fine and I love them but most casual fans don’t claim to be experts. It’s the folks that will step to other fans and say they know comics but only do because they’ve seen Captain America: Civil War three times. In so many other fields, I am a dirty casual. I’m a casual gamer, pretty novice with RPGs and while I used to be a strong tournament contender in a few things, I’m by no means as good at Street Fighter as I used to be.

“Stay in your lane.” is a shorthand for that kind of thing I use a lot and a few of my friends have picked it up, too. When Carlos and Ricky are talking stats in Tekken, I tend to shut up and let them. If they ask about stitches, well, it’s my time to shine then.

Another aspect of gatekeeping is one close to my heart and a topic we’ve tackled before. It’s the topic of having convictions, discussions and not being reduced to name-calling when someone doesn’t agree with your ship. During many a gatekeeper’s conversation, I’ve had to defend which Lantern Corps I was in. Which Harry Potter house I was sorted into. I had to explain why I liked a comic and had to prove my knowledge of it frequently. And sure, it was demoralizing and exhausting but it made a fan with iron-clad convictions. When I was on my dear friend Heather’s show ( seriously, listen to it and enjoy several minutes of us fangirling over each other. ) we discussed this sort of phenomena and it comes down to attachment styles. Because I had to constantly fight and prove what I loved an why I was a fan: I have now been able to form secure attachments to my fandoms. Newer fans that have not had to constantly prove themselves have formed insecure attachments often times because they are not being challenged. Because of that, any challenge is perceived as a threat on their person rather than an often times valid criticism of the piece of media they wish to defend.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I wish for the same horrible experience I had as a fan to happen to newer and casual fans. No, not at all. But there is something to be said about challenging a fan. I have this problem a lot with recent film criticism where Internet critics will bash a thing from a comic book movie even though it is likely the most authentic part of the film.

There’s something to be said about being challenged from time to time. There’s something to be said about having to defend your ship. There’s something to be said about being proven right or wrong. And there’s always room for a good, spirited conversation that doesn’t devolve into racial slurs and casually calling someone a homophobe.

In the comments: I’ll be answering questions and ranting about how amazing Damien Wayne is.

Thanks for reading!


A Whole New Commodified World


_Stories are one of the means by which a culture preserves its identity._Edward Zwick.pngI have vivid memories of being in high school and parroting the Cantonese version of Honor to Us All. My anime club officers and I did our best to mimic the language that was foreign to all of us and we made plenty of of mistakes in our pronunciation but we were earnest students and it wasn’t long before we had the whole thing down. But there was one big problem: none of us were Chinese. Most of my anime clubbers were white, a few of us (me included) were black (albeit very culturally abandoned African-American youths) and a few of my anime clubbers were of Asian decent but were Vietnamese or Korean. The long and short of it is: none of us were Chinese and this was a brief moment of cultural appropriation. Come to think of it, I as an African-American human person running Japanese culture clubs for over 10 years is another grand moment of cultural appropriation.

We’ve talked about cultural appropriation a lot but I wanted to talk about a very special kind of cultural appropriation: the Disney variety.

Disney has a long history of picking, choosing and sanitizing the history of many different cultures. Moana features the culture and language of Polynesia. Pocahontas is the very whitewashed version of the story of the real life heroine and Native American. Lilo and Stitch features a mostly native Hawaiian cast and Mulan borrows from many Asian cultures and practices. The main feature of that which makes it appropriative is that Disney is still a mostly white-led company. And even though Moana featured many people of color as voice talent and as researchers, the leads of Disney are still wealthy white men that then get to profit on this somewhat indigenous story.

This is especially troubling for me because as the little culturally abandoned person I am I find myself more drawn to narratives that are not my own. I fell for stories like Mulan and Moana because they were so unlike my own. I did my best to commit the songs to memory and tease apart the language that was so unlike my own. I sold my soul to Japan years ago, so such a desire to flee my own narrative makes it easier to cope with the narrative that was meant to be written for me. But what is the issue with culture and Disney?

Let’s be honest: Disney is a company. They have items to sell. Parks to market and all sorts of other things to put in front of the eyes of children and their parents. This means that Disney has to sanitize parts of history. Pocahontas is a stellar example of: literally none of it happened that way. The Disney way of telling the story puts all the blame on one greedy white man and tries to Devil’s Advocate the whole racism thing. Which is…let’s just pause for a minute to think of how troubling that is. But in their attempt to make this story more palatable for children, they ruined a perfectly good narrative. The real story of the native peoples and their interactions with colonists is far from safe for children but is a harrowing tale of survival and the pain of cultures being forgotten and rewritten due to technological superiority. Princess and the Frog has a very similar problem with race considering its black protagonist and Jazz Age setting. Tiana is so self-actualized she’s hardly a character and Lottie and her family are rather accommodating considering that they still essentially own Tiana’s mother. Because remember kids, the reason she couldn’t own the restaurant was because the bankers were worried about a woman running a business all by herself. No other factors. Nothing else. Nothing at all. What systemic racism? No, eat more French donuts.

Disney tries to fix this issue by ignoring colonialism entirely with Lilo and Stitch and Moana. But the same main issues remain: Disney is not doing anything to benefit the communities it is taking inspiration from and just because there are occasionally people of color behind the screen does not mean it is actual representation. This is particularly interesting with how Disney uses language for music. Some of my favorite Disney songs are not in a language I grew up with. Honor to Us All centers around a very old and distinctly Asian view of marriage and what it means to be a good daughter (though as a Southern debutante, I can admit those feelings aren’t too far off the mark for someone in my position). My favorite parts of Moana feature a language whose words are very unfamiliar but with more familiar sentiments. Heck, my favorite part of Pocahontas is the opening song sung in the native language of the Powhatan tribe.

I want to talk about merchandising for a moment since it is also a key part of this whole cultural appropriation thing. And no, we’re not going to talk about the little brown-face/brown-body Maui costume that Disney decided was a good idea last year. But the buying and selling of cultural artifacts to help bolster support for a movie is dubious at best. I remember being a kid and McDonald’s selling a copy of Pocahontas’ necklace from the movie but the idea behind such a necklace does hold some significance for the Powhatan tribe.

Moana had similar issues with native pieces and accessories suddenly becoming en vogue again. All the shell jewelry and tribal prints.

But wait, Amanda, someone shouts from the edges of the comment section: This isn’t the only time Disney has messed around with other cultures. What about Hunchback of Notre Dame or literally most other Disney movies. Here’s the problem with that: cultural appropriation is a neutral term but it’s mostly a problem with a colonizing culture appropriates a colonized culture. So not a problem for Disney to go French for a while but it is a problem for them to go pan-Arab for Aladdin. (We’ll talk about pan-culturalism soon because I have thoughts!)

And what’s interesting is how wrong this all feels now in hindsight. Cultural appropriation is made painful by the fact that really only the company (Disney, in this case) benefit from taking over or taking aspects of a culture and no one (short of the occasional actor or cultural specialist) really benefit from them making a powerhouse movie like Moana or Coco. And while the cultural impact is huge like with Coco (that cannot and will not be denied) who benefits when someone buys an mp3 of the soundtrack or gets a hoodie or t-shirt from the movie. What about when someone goes running around with a sugar skull t-shirt without knowing the story or meaning behind them? Insidious, isn’t it?

Actually an interesting work around to this came about from a conversation about porgs with Carlos. For those of you who have been living in a cave, porgs are a new and adorable Star Wars. Porgs are adorable and the reasoning behind them is very practical. They are little digital costumes for the local puffins that could not be removed out of every shot in the movie The Last Jedi. Porgs are adorable and the reason is interesting but the fact that Disney now is profiting so much out of a necessity is strange. Carlos mentioned ratherly quickly “It’d be cool if they just gave some of the toy sales to help the real puffins out.” and that was very valid. What if some of the money from Coco or Moana went to cultural centers or to organizations that support these at times at-risk communities or populations. Is this just another form of tokenism: sure, probably. But it’s tokenism that could prove more valuable than letting an entire generation grow up with a sanitized narrative and none of the context behind what is so compelling about the narratives told by other cultures.

Next time, we’ll talk about pan-culturalism!