Sunday, October 01, 2017

Stephen King's It and the Ideology of Trauma

Watch this.

The film adaptation of Stephen King's It is now the top-grossing horror film of all time. And since it's 2017 we're looking at a film based on a novel which deals with childhood trauma, alternate dimensions, sentient orbs, and killer clowns. Plus, ancient aliens, drowning and, oh yeah, a fucked-up scene depicting an underage gangbang.*

Plus, a secret society. Because it's 2017. And that's just the way it is.

A funny thing occurred to me today. There are a number of different productions of The Little Mermaid being worked on right now. Four different films, a ballet, a live TV show and a traveling production of the Disney musical. But what is The Little Mermaid all about, really? I mean, when you really get down to brass tacks?

It's really about a young girl entering another reality, our reality in this particular case. After a traumatic experience.

With the aid of sorcery.

Now, I've talked a lot about the Descent to the Underworld, a theme which famously plays a very central role in It. I'm not giving away any spoilers here, you can see it all in the trailers.

The earliest telling we have of this myth concerns Inanna, the prototype for Atargatis and subsequently the prototype for mermaids. She descends into the Underworld with Enki (god of the waters, among other things) to confront the king and queen of Hell and rescue Dumuzid (or Tammuz), her shepherd-boy consort. And from that point on we're off to the races.

We see a variant on the descent in the first Stranger Things, when Sheriff Hopper and Joyce Byers travel to the Upside Down to rescue Will. 

Wonder Woman, the biggest hit movie of 2017 so far, is a beat-for-beat retelling of Inanna's descent, done with such on-the-spectrum obsession with detail I can't help but wonder if it isn't actually a devotional text. And the Amazons themselves were based on the Hittite priestesses of Atargatis, aka the Big Mermaid.

Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz are variations on the theme, as is The OA, which is essentially an explicit Mystery cult narrative based on The Rape of Persephone. The very name Prairie - a synonym for meadow- tells us that's exactly what we're seeing since Homer tells us Persephone was abducted from a meadow and taken to the Underworld in Pluto's flying chariot.

So yet another traumatized child crossing dimensional barriers. Kind of a very old thruline we're looking at here. And you should probably know by now who else channeled Persephone.

Twin Peaks is a variation on the theme, more based on Orpheus and Eurydice. In that particular myth Orpheus descends to the Underworld to rescue his consort Eurydice, who was killed while fleeing from a satyr (read: rapist). Orpheus is allowed to descend into Hades and rescue Eurydice but only on the condition that he not turn back to look at her while leaving the Underworld. 

Since this is a Greek myth and everything has to end badly, Orpheus fucks up and does the one thing he's told not to do and Eurydice is lost forever. Then he's murdered by a pack of horny Maenads and his head and lyre float down a river before being enshrined in a temple on the Isle of Lesbos. The End!

In Twin Peaks, Cooper enters the Black Lodge - Hades, the Underworld, the dimensional rift, yadda yadda - to rescue Annie Blackburn but does so with insufficient courage. He loses Annie and is possessed by a demon. In Twin Peaks: The Return, Cooper returns to the Black Lodge to rescue Laura Palmer and change history - meaning he looks back - only to find himself back in the Black Lodge forever. The End!

We see variations on the Descent to the Underworld all over all kinds of sci-fi narratives: 2001: A Space Odyssey (with HAL's core as Hell), Star Wars (the Death Star), Aliens (the basement nest of the xenomorphs), Star Trek: First Contact (the Borg-occupied engine room) and both X-Files movies (the underground alien ship and the "underground" genetics lab.

Well, this little comparative mythology lesson is absolutely scintillating, I hear you say, but what the fuck does it have to do with reality?

Well, most of these descent stories deal with adults. It's a bit different with kids. 

So the question you really should be asking is how did all these kinds of stories become so dominant in our culture today?

Well, let's get back to MKULTRA.

"MKULTRA" is like "CIA"- it's more a shorthand for any number of bizarre human experiments the government undertook to try to control or alter the human mind, using drugs, weird tech, trauma, whatever. 

The cover story for this quarter-century, multimillion enterprise was that it was all concocted to develop mind-controlled assassins and interrogation techniques. Which is all bullshit because the very term assassin comes from the Nizari sect who were creating perfectly-functional mind-controlled assassins a thousand years ago, and pretty much everyone had perfected drug-driven interrogation techniques during WWII.

I think their ambitions were infinitely grander.

MKULTRA was the brainchild of Allen Dulles, the first civilian (quote-unquote) CIA director. Dulles had a cushy post in neutral Switzerland during the Second World War. By a sheer fluke of coincidence scientists in nearby Basel were experimenting with the chemical compounds that would ultimately become Lysergic acid diethylamide.

Dulles would also encounter the legendary Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who was treating Dulles' mistress Mary Bancroft for a psychosomatic sneezing condition. For a while Jung and Dulles swapped notes through Bancroft but later began to meet in person. 

Dulles wanted Jung to psychoanalyze Hitler, a practice we've since come to know as profiling. Apparently Dulles really hit it off with Jung and the two would often engage in marathon gabfests. Dulles even gave Jung a fancy spy name, Agent 488. But I'm pretty sure they exhausted the Hitler topic fairly quickly.

As many of you know Jung famously broke with his mentor Sigmund Freud (who he saw as a father-figure and swapped lovers with), and promptly lapsed into a fullblown nervous breakdown (or "Night Sea Journey") after which he dove headfirst into the occult, particularly the blood-soaked mysteries of Mithras, which centered on the notion of transcendence through ordeal. 

So what does any of this have to do with MKULTRA?

Well, Dulles was a very sharp guy. Jung probably showed him his beloved Mithraic Liturgy of the Paris Codex, which pretty much sounds like the account of a guy who was beamed aboard the Starship Enterprise while tripping balls on magic mushrooms. 

And by "pretty much," I mean "exactly."

I'm sure Jung pontificated about this all being evidence of the collective unconscious and the hero's journey and so on and so forth but Dulles-- who was pretty much only interested in finding things he could weaponize-- probably read it for himself and said "this sounds like some poor strung-out junkie got grabbed by some commando team and loaded onto a flying fortress. A damned-weird flying fortress that shouldn't really exist in Ancient Egypt or Rome, but whatever."

And his next thought was "I'll have the boys back in Washington see what they can do with this. But first things first- one of those damned eggheads at Sandoz has got something he wants me to see."

Now, there's a kind of stupid meme out there that's been boiled down to "the CIA created the counterculture." I don't know if guys like Joe Atwill or the late Dave McGowan are actually making that specific argument, but that's how it's been handed down through the game of Internet Telephone.

Of course, the CIA did no such thing. There was a counterculture already. What the CIA did was weaponize it. 

The Counterculture as we know it can be traced back to early 20th Century Switzerland (surprise, surprise). I think you could make a pretty solid argument it dates even further back to the Burned-Over District or the Oneida Community, but let's start with Ascona.

The Ascona Movement were hippies in pretty much every way that matters. They were into nature and ecology, vegetarianism and alternative medicine, the occult and paganism, feminism and free love. Ascona would have a major influence on the Wandervogel, the post-WWI German youth movement that wandered the countryside looking to get back to nature. Ascona luminaries like Otto Gross would have a major influence on Jung.

Ideas and practices of the Wandervogel were subsequently appropriated by the nascent National Socialist Party for the Hitler Youth. The Wandervogel themselves were abolished and outlawed as soon as the Nazis took power.

So one of the theses put forward by modern theorists is that the American counterculture was created in order to break up the family and destroy the social fabric. I think this is actually true. But what did they intend to replace it with?

Ah, therein lies the question.

I can't say for sure but I think an aggregate of some of the SF and fantasy we've been seeing is a fairly reliable barometer of the intended endgame, as far as it goes. 

And what we see is a world of perpetual conflict where children are taken from their parents at a very early age and trained for whatever purpose has been chosen for them. If this all sounds kind of like ancient Sparta, you're not too far off.

Parents naturally want to shelter their children and protect them. I'm certain caretakers and teachers feel the same way for the most part. But, as with parents, that's not always a given. 

With the State? I doubt it's much of a consideration. I'm from Braintree, don't forget.

This is why I never drank the Harry Potter Kool-Aid. Everyone looked at Hogwarts and saw Never-Neverland. 

I look at Hogwarts and see Sparta. With wands.

So what does this have to do with It?

Well, what the novel is really about is a group of children who are essentially deputized (and given an occult weapon) by an external entity (the space-turtle) to risk their lives fighting an existential threat, children who are then prematurely sexualized.

Similarly, Stranger Things is also about a group of children who are literally deputized (by the sheriff) to go up against not only an existential threat but also men with automatic weapons.

We see this over and over again in children's fantasy and for the most part it's been harmless. But now these themes are being increasingly presented in a more realistic setting and with graver stakes. 

Think The Hunger Games.

I'm not saying that these aren't examples of effective storytelling. The point here is that too often we take kneejerk stances on things - based in increasingly-obsolete assumptions- and fail to ask ourselves is this inert or benign thing being weaponized? Are those perfectly-innocent castor beans being used to manufacture ricin? 

Because there's a difference.

Here is why this worries me. I don't think this old trope of traumatized child turned interdimensional travel agent- again, which we read about in It- is just fantasy. I think some people actually believe this, have believed it for a very long time and want to weaponize it. 

I also think there are a lot of people who think the Spartans were on to something. I think there are a lot of people who think the only problem with kids are their damned parents. If it weren't for parents we'd be a super-race by now.

It's kind of the reason I'm not exactly sure if Childhood's End was just imaginative sci-fi or a business plan. 

What is that book really about? It's about a race of demons who come to Earth and usher in a global dictatorship in order that Earth's children might become post-human. The demons don't really give two shits about us, they've come for our children.

Similarly Star Trek: Discovery presents us with a child who is taken from her home, raised in the stringent regimentation of the Vulcans and magically transformed into a five-foot tall woman who can kick the ass of a seven-foot muscleman.

Yeah, that's not the way it works in reality. Sorry.

Whatever we might see in the movies or TV, the plain fact is that deeply-traumatized children usually end up as deeply-traumatized adults. In other words, in the real world seriously-traumatized children tend to grow up a lot more like Laura Palmer than Harry Potter.

I really believe this is something we need to think seriously about as we see more and more of these stories come to dominate the cultural conversation.

* King's novels are filled with weird sex, both textual and subtextual.

NOTES: I'll point out here that Allen Dulles' lover Mary Bancroft took part in the original Nine seances. Which were in Rockport, Maine. 

I think Rockport popped up in the news again recently.

Heinlein made the argument in Starship Troopers that children couldn't be delinquent but that parents were. Meaning the parents were responsible for their children's behavior because if they misbehaved it meant that the parents were delinquent in their responsibilities to properly discipline them. 

This of course is a novel that argues that only soldiers and veterans should be given the right to vote.