Stuff I’ve Been Reading

– I finished Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, and it is just as good as everyone has said, even better, and I could not put it down. What a last line! Goosebumps. Now onto the sequel! Off with her head!

Sophie in North Korea: amazing commentary and photographs.

“I Will Ruin Him” – a pretty harrowing piece about being stalked. He appears to have written a book on his experience, and if this essay is any indication, it will be very upsetting reading. I have been stalked in a similar manner. It feels just like he says it feels. It is a “personal emergency” because your name is being attacked. Your reputation.

Olywn Hughes SPEAKS. What a perpetual crankypants. But hearing from Olywn is so rare, I ate this up.

— Fascinating photos and commentary about the Salton Riviera, outside of Palm Springs. Of course this makes me think of one of my obsessions: the boat cemetery in Central Asia, although the Salton Riviera is not quite a worldwide environmental disaster. Still, the eerie photos compare.

— Member the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare of the 1980s and 90s? Sure, you do. Well, Jessa Crispin (aka Book Slut) informed us that it is the 20th anniversary of that scare, and she has a ton of fascinating links. The Frontline documentary on False Confessions was horrific, a living nightmare. Things may be shitty but at least I didn’t falsely confess to murder, under brutal interrogation, and at least I didn’t have memories implanted in my brain by charlatan therapists that I had been forced to drink blood by my satan-worshipping daycare worker. So one thing led to another and I am now deeply engrossed in Kenneth Lanning’s 1992 FBI report on the Satanic Ritual Abuse phenomenon. Lanning actually did not go along with the flow at the time, always thought that this was a false scare, that therapists were capitalizing on it, and that people were being “given” false memories through coercive therapeutic techniques. Thank goodness for brave critical thinkers. Strangely enough (and wonderfully enough), one of my favorite writers, Joan Acocella (I excerpted heavily from her book of essays recently) has written a book on the “MPD” phenom around the same time, which wasalso tied into the SRA scare. I have the book, and will read it soon. Acocella is a dance writer, but her topics are wide and varied and I love that she would have taken on this still-controversial subject.

Interesting essay about suicide, and the prevalence of suicide in English history (there are a couple books coming out on the topic).

Numerous believers have made themselves desperate by nursing a sense of their own unique culpability. This kind of suicidal despair – convincing oneself that one is permanently cast out from the possibility of forgiveness – is terrible to read about. Take William Cowper. He was destined for the law, a profession for which, due to his morbid fear of public speaking, he was wholly unsuited. The prospect of being examined in 1763 at the bar of the House of Lords drove him to a series of frantic measures. About a week before the examination he bought a half-ounce of laudanum. Unable to consume the fatal dose, he thought of escaping to France. He resolved to drown himself, then tried to stab himself with his penknife, and finally hanged himself with a scarlet garter which broke just as he lost consciousness. On coming to, he heard the sound of his own groans and assumed he was in hell. A period of bitter misery ensued; Cowper attempted suicide on at least one further occasion. But conversations with his brother and chance readings in the Bible began to chip away at his certainty that he was the helpless prey of a furious, vengeful God. On July 26, 1764 he picked up a Bible and opened it, randomly, at Romans 3.25: “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God”. In an instant, Cowper found strength to believe in the redeeming power of Christ, and was lost in tears of grateful ecstasy.

— My friend Dennis Cozzalio, he who helms the indispensable Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, pulls out all the stops with a magnificent post about special effects, from Superman to Life of Pi, but honing in on Zelig as the real groundbreaker. Not to be missed.

Seen today the movie looks like a standout in Allen’s career, one of the most original and innovative movies of the decade of the 1980s, regardless of its comparatively insular qualities and supposed lack of thematic scope. But Zelig’s real impact, as it turned out, was in the suggestion of what could be done with that familiar newsreel imagery. Cinematographer Gordon Willis ingeniously mocked-up and graded down the gorgeous monochromatic imagery he perfected for Manhattan and Stardust Memories so that footage of the “little lost sheep Zelig” could be seamlessly integrated into the same picture with historical figures like Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge and even Adolf Hitler. The meager audiences that turned out in theaters marveled at Willis’ achievement— Zelig and Willis were even mentioned on the front cover of the highbrow film journal People magazine upon the film’s release, a level of mainstream coverage which would require a sex scandal some 10 years later in order for Allen to duplicate.

— Speaking of not-to-be-missed essays by friends of mine, Steven Boone writes a magnificent essay on Spike Lee and Django Unchained which is the best thing I have read on the controversy, and on the movie itself (which I really liked, with a couple of minor quibbles). But it’s a challenging work of art, and I had been dying to know Boone’s take. So there it is. A pretty raucous comments section too.

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14 Responses to Stuff I’ve Been Reading

  1. Desirae says:

    Oh, man, the satanic abuse stuff. I was talking with a friend about the whole recovered memory fiasco not long ago and ended up falling down a wiki-hole and sending her a whole bunch of links. I’m so going to read that FBI report. One of the most interesting (and also sad) things I came across when I was reading about the McMartin case was what the writer called the “locked box” theory of child psychology. It was this idea that children’s minds are “locked boxes” and that in order to get info/truth from them you had to question them really intensely and push hard at them. Of course we now know it’s the opposite – kids are squishy, impressionable sponges, absorbing everything we throw at them. No wonder those poor children attending the McMartin daycare got confused.

    Crispin’s review of the Sybil Exposed book is also great and I want to read it so bad now. I love the point she makes about this seemingly neverending supply of newborn babies – they take a long time to grow, guys, and people tend to notice when they’re gone. It’s not like you can just walk into a hospital and stroll off with a bunch of babies stuffed in your bag. And I had no idea that MPD was totally made up – I figured it was exaggerated, but the brain is such a strange place that it seemed sort of possible. The thing is that disassociation and memory blackouts are both very much real and are responses to trauma, or sometimes other things like drugs, etc – they just aren’t a mental illness in themselves. So at least some of the so called MPD cases were people with real problems who didn’t get helped at all.

    • sheila says:

      It is such a rabbit hole, right, Desirae?? When you hear about these coercive tactics with kids – even with adults (like in the False Confessions doc) – you can see why people (either fragile, or too young to understand their own boundaries yet) start to question their own reality. Really scary stuff! That “locked box” theory sounds like a load of horseshit – I am very glad much of this has been discredited, but I still think there’s a lot of it floating out there.

      And yes: blackouts and dissociation are very real things – but somehow it got all muddled by therapists who wanted to make a name for themselves (at least as I understand it). I’ll have to read Acocella’s book on the whole controversy – I am sure it will be fascinating.

      I am so glad someone else is a bit obsessed with this whole SRA thing!

      • sheila says:

        and what is interesting about Lanning’s report is how he really was this lone voice in the wilderness, saying, “None of this is going down, y’all”. The brave lone critical thinker. I really admire him.

        • Desirae says:

          Yes, thank god for the people who can keep a clear head. The most chilling thing about the Sibyl case is that she confessed to her therapist that she’d been faking it – and the therapist just kept going. There’s being wrong, and then there’s pure professional greed – and that’s what applied to Dr. Wilbur. She willing to go forward with something she knew was a lie because it would make her career. On that note, did you know that Freud’s famous Anna M (or whatever she was called), the case study he used to support all his weird theories of development where people want to have sex with their parents, had been sexually abused? And she told him so, but when he was going to publish his study he was pressured to leave that out, so he did. So basically there was always a very clear and obvious explanation for her behaviour and he ignored it. That made me so mad when I first heard about it. I really don’t like people who claim to be men or women of science and then ignore evidence.

          • sheila says:

            I did know that about Freud. (Have you seen Dangerous Method?) It’s especially dismaying since his theories have been used to “explain” sexuality for so long – and it’s done a lot of damage. I don’t want to throw him out with the bathwater – I think much of his work was important, especially in terms of bringing the sexual subtext out into the open – but some of his theories – especially about women/orgasm, all that stuff … has been pretty harmful.

  2. sheila says:

    // It’s not like you can just walk into a hospital and stroll off with a bunch of babies stuffed in your bag. //

    hahahahaha I know. It’s absurd.

  3. sheila says:

    Also – there is the problem with therapists of groupthink. Unquestioning acceptance of a theory – there’s a whole scene in Change of Habit (an Elvis movie of all things) that shows the forcible restraint of a child with autism, which was very new at the time – part of the Attachment Parenting therapy (also new) – and it was controversial, and apparently rightly so. I am no expert. But I do know that these theories were accepted without a lot of peer review and critical analysis.

    • Desirae says:

      Yes, there really is a problem with groupthink in therapist circles – and I wonder if it’s because there isn’t really a rigorous way of testing psychological theories the way there is in other sciences – it’s hard to apply the scientific method to human behaviour because we aren’t predictible chemical compounds. Everything we do is so variable and reasons for that behaviour, equally so. In addition, it’s such a young science. It’s not that long ago that lobotomies were thought to be a good idea. Even recently I heard there’s been some controversy about Opositional Defiant Disorder (as far as I can tell this is fancy-speak for “my kid is being an asshole, help”) and the treatments used for it, and how former patients are saying they were screwed up by it, etc.

      Some of what facinates me about the satanic ritual abuse thing is that it’s not just ludicrous but OBVIOUSLY ludicrous. Satanic rituals, seriously? Is this Salem circa 1600? And yet the mental health community not only believed it, they practically created it. Like everyone (except apparently Lanning) lost all good sense at once and bought into the paranoia. Plus the way it ties in to the growing Christian right that was becoming more powerful at the time. I also think sometimes people want to believe in some huge, sinister conspiracy because it’s more interesting than regular old abuse, or a mentally ill lady getting delusional about something happening to her child.

      • sheila says:

        Desirae – seriously, yes, the SRA thing is fascinating. And that it has so quickly been forgotten, yes? Like: who really remembers it now (except for, clearly, you and me). Lanning is interesting because he worked in the Behavioral Unit of the FBI and worked on sex abuse of kids for his entire career. He understands the need for social workers and therapists, he understands that victimization must be taken seriously and talked about – that we mustn’t deny that these horrible people exist. But that very awareness can be turned into an overly-credulous mindset, if you know what I mean. This is clearly a hot topic – you never want to re-victimize a victim by NOT believing them. I think that was in operation too: therapists never wanting to be on the “bad” side of not believing the horrible stories, and possibly re-victimizing someone.

        And I agree with you: people want to believe in conspiracies. It’s comforting. It makes us think that someone, somewhere, is in charge.

  4. sheila says:

    Desirae – here is the book I mentioned about MPD (as well as the SRA thing) by Joan Acocella. I haven’t read it yet, but I love her writing so that’s next on my list:

    Creating Hysteria: Women and Multiple Personality Disorder

    • Desirae says:

      Thanks for the rec, I look forward to seeing what you have to say about it (if you choose to write about it here). I just tried to buy a used copy on Amazon but shipping was crazy high ($18) so I’m just going to have to keep an eye out for it in local bookstores. I am also going to look for Exposing Sybil this weekend at Chapters – I got a giftcard from my Uncle for Christmas so that will be a freebie, yay!

      • sheila says:

        I just started Creating Hysteria this morning. It’s already making me see red (a basically coercive therapist who made her patient much much sicker – the patient ended up suing the doctor). So disturbing and interesting.

        Good luck with finding the Sybil book!

        • sheila says:

          Desirae – I am reading Acocella’s book now and it is making me FURIOUS when I read what was done to these poor people seeking therapy. Outrageous.

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