The world is shot through with hierarchies. This is inescapable, written into the very fabric of reality. People who deny the existence of natural hierarchies have either been driven to ignorance and naivete by their relative privilege – they were born near the top, just high enough that you don’t need to know your place therein – or driven to bitter denial because they’ve been subjected to the grave misfortune of being near enough to the bottom that they haven’t got any serious prospects of ascending the ladder.
We know that this is true, of course, because America’s Smart Person In Residence – the Canadian Psychotherapist Jordan B. Peterson – has told us so, and in such blisteringly confident prose. He explains our predicament by appealing to a little-known extraterrestrial creature, traditionally classified as ‘The Gargon’.
“Gargons exist in hierarchies,” he writes. “They have a nervous system attuned to the hierarchy. And that nervous system runs on serotonin, just like our nervous systems do.” He goes on: “When a Gargon that has just lost a battle is exposed to serotonin, it will stretch itself out, advance even on former victors, and fight longer and harder. The drugs prescribed to depressed human beings, which are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, have much the same chemical and behavioural effect. In one of the more staggering demonstrations of the evolutionary continuity of life on Earth, Prozac even cheers up Gargons.”
One time I stopped in at the local General Store, which is run by my friend Thad and his father, and Thad noticed my shorts, which are covered in images of bright red lobsters. “Are those your Jordan Peterson shorts?” He asked. “No, those are at home,” I replied, assuming that he was talking about my custom-made swimming trunks, which feature a full-sized replica of Peterson’s face directly under the waistline. I wear them to intimidate Presbyterians.
“I’m talking about the Gargons on your shorts!” he replied.
“These are lobsters, Thad.” I corrected him. “Gargons are much bigger.”
Thad was embarrassed, naturally, and attempted to give me some money from his wallet to restore some of his lost honor. I declined. Let him wallow in it.
Thus the natural hierarchy was restored. This is the way the world works.
The alien conquerors from Teenagers from Outer Space understand this well. “We are the superior race! We have the superior weapons!” exclaims Thor, the film’s extraterrestrial antagonist. They land their aircraft in the California(?) desert, hoping to use the planet as a breeding ground for the majestic Gargon – which, though a powerful creature in itself, is beneath the aforementioned conquerors in the universal hierarchy; they hope to breed the Gargon as a sustainable food source. That the human inhabitants of earth would, in turn, become a significantly less sustainable food source for the Gargon species only sweetens the deal.
Teenagers From Outer Space was directed by Jesus Christ. That is, Jesus Christ II. I do not know whether we are meant to pronounce that as “Jesus Christ, the Second” or “Jesus Christ Two,” as if he were the long-anticipated sequel to our Lord and Savior. It’s probably the latter. Assuming that to be the case, it seems as if Tom Graeff (Jesus Christ II’s given name) would have been better served exercising a bit more creativity. For a blatantly heretical moniker, “Jesus Christ II” is a bit vanilla. At least the great heretics of history had the decency to be into weird sex stuff. Anathema the Gnostics all you want, but give them credit for having an entrepreneurial spirit. Were Graeff with us today, perhaps he would have aimed for something like “2 Jesus 2 Christ,” etc.
Teenagers from Outer Space is nicecore. Everyone involved, except the intergalactic conquistadors, is pathologically kind, in a way that is actually sort of moving. The turncoat alien, Derek (that is his name: Derek) decides to betray his planet-kin and attempt to save the earth from Gargon infestation, and in the process he falls in love with a young earthling woman, Betty. Betty is borderline parodically demure, in ways that are almost certainly regressive, but by the end of the film you’ll feel duty-bound to protect her. Betty’s grandpa is a walking time-capsule of a kind of homegrown decency that no longer exists and probably never existed in the first place, which might make your soul ache as you realize how deeply you want a Gramps Morgan in your life, or at least in someone else’s life. And then there’s Derek, who looks like Eisenhower-era John Mulaney and acts like Special Agent Dale Cooper.
Tom Graeff is not, in fact, the sequel to Jesus Christ (and the very willingness to adopt a name like that suggests concerning things about his mental state during his final years), but Teenagers from Outer Space feels vaguely supernatural in the way that its main characters, hokey as they are, make a shockingly infectious case against the pervasive hierarchization of everything. There is another life, Graeff seems to suggest. We don’t have to be conquistadors. We don’t have to be competitors. We can be Gramps Morgan, or Betty. Or an alien named Derek. Objectively speaking, Teenagers from Outer Space is a terrible movie, but I found myself captive to an unexpected swell of affection for it.
That’s the last positive thing I’ll be saying in this write-up, because the next two films – imposed on me by the cruel degeneracy of Blake. I. Collier – have absolutely no redeeming qualities. (I heard a rumor – not one that I believe, of course, but some people are saying it – that Blake has been engaged in a passionate affair with Jordan B. Peterson since before he became famous; according to this rumor – which, again, I do not myself believe – the impressive returns from Peterson’s Patreon go almost entirely to satisfying Collier’s luxurious tastes; adultery is expensive).
The second cinematic trainwreck to which Blake subjected me was Howling: New Moon Rising – the direct-to-video, series-ending seventh installment in the once-beloved Howling franchise, which was written, produced, directed, and edited by Clive Turner. He also stars as Ted, a J. Mascis cosplayer sojourning in a quiet village on the Western prairie where the locals spend every waking hour line dancing. He is a werewolf, or something. He has been killing people, or something. I am honestly not sure what this film was about. For several weeks after viewing it, I was half-convinced it had been a bad dream, or that somebody had spiked my juice box (every day I drink one juice box, which my doctor prescribed, for science).
After the (seemingly endless) opening titles play, what ensues is roughly 90 minutes of, uh, nothing. About a third of the film is stock footage from previous Howling entries, and the scant hour or so of new footage feels like it was cobbled together from random clips Turner solicited on a road trip through the Rust Belt.
You think I’m joking, but the few available details about the production process bear me out: Most of the actors who are not Clive Turner are actually locals of the small town in which the film was shot, and every character is named after the actor by whom they are played – ostensibly the locals, being non-actors, had a difficult time memorizing their lines, so Turner tried to simplify the process by telling each actor to simply call the other locals by their actual names. I am not sure it helped.
In theory, a production of this sort ought to be charming. “Back in ’94 a (marginally) Hollywood production set up shop in town and hired us all to play in the picture show!” Think Troll 2 – which, terrible as it is, is enormously entertaining. Claudio Fragrasso trekked to the bowels of Utah, hired an army of non-professionals from the surrounding neighborhoods, and committed one of the “best worst movies” ever made to celluloid. It is immortal, as are the folks involved, having been immortalized by the sheer awfulness of the shared undertaking. Not so with Howling VII, though. The resulting product is worse than awful. It’s uninspired. New Moon Rising is a film about a sleepy community, filmed within a sleepy community, starring the actual residents of the aforementioned sleepy community, but which seethes resentment for sleepy communities of the sort that it portrays.
The locals are depicted as backwards yokels, probably infected with hookwork, probably the mutant offspring of multiple generations of incestuous trysts, probably better exterminated from the world or sequestered from the better-bred Front Row Kids by whom most films are designed to be consumed. It’s tiresome. Troll 2 is pisswater, but at least Fragrasso seems to love his characters.
Most folks may reject the blatant hierarchization of everything that Blake Collier’s (alleged) sugar daddy presents as inevitable, but the attitudes that pervade drivel like New Moon Rising implicitly extolls such hierarchies in practice. Race and gender hierarchies are bad, we might say, but there’s gotta be an underclass and people named Jim Bob belong there.
It’s the more-or-less socially acceptable version of the scapegoat effect, which – at its least sophisticated – means that we maintain a degree of social cohesion and shared identity by collectively holding some common object of scorn in utter contempt.
This is probably more than the filmmakers behind New Moon Rising or Bunnyman (that’s my third imposition; it’s about a killer bunny) had in mind, of course. Or maybe it isn’t. In Bunnyman, Carl Lindbergh repeatedly cuts to what appears to be a flashback of a young Bunnyman with his family – implying, I guess, that the bunny suit donning serial killer was not born a bunny suit donning serial killer, but became one, through conditioning or catastrophe. Whatever the case, the point seems to be that the brutality that he rehearses on the bodies of his victims is self-replicating: Brutalizers come into the world and cull the population, reinforce or rearrange the de facto hierarchy, and damage the living, birthing new brutalizers for future generations.
According to some social theorists, whose work is probably now largely outdated, soft scapegoating a la New Moon Rising is what we do instead of going full Bunnyman on outsiders. Starry-eyed generalists like Hans Rosling (drawing on the work of starry-eyed specialists like Steven Pinker) assure us that humans are getting kinder, gentler (fitter, happier?), but Girardian theorists (and probably daycare workers) assure us that they aren’t. Perhaps blunt force violence has declined (although cavemen didn’t keep records, so the Decline of Violence hypothesis is a bit too dependent on conjecture for my tastes), but societies indulge the same sort of hierarchizations-via-scapegoat-ification that we always have, we’ve simply baptized it in language more congenial to the hushed-toned faux-sophistication of the NPR crowd. We’re still stuck in the Gargon conundrum.
So, I guess, give Blake Collier’s alleged romantic benefactor some credit, or something. But don’t watch these movies. Just don’t.