Redecorating an Aging Villain: Thoughts on Project Vader

© Jordi Payà Canals with CCLicense

© Jordi Payà Canals with CCLicense

Darth Vader has been the personification of evil for several generations. Is the archetype he represents aging gracefully or not?

My first movie theater experience was The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. My mother and her best friend had to stuff their purses into the seat so it wouldn’t close up while I sat on it. I was blown away by all the explosions in space; fascinated by the snarky relationships between Luke, Leia, and Han; bemused by Yoda; and completely floored by this guy in a black suit and helmet with a deep voice. I loved Darth Vader so much that I had two action figures of him, purchasing the second after the first lost his cape and lightsaber in a particularly rough raid on a group of unsuspecting stuffed animals. I think he ended up in a mud pit after that one. Note that I never ever had a Han or Luke, although I had a Princess Leia, a C-3PO and two R2D2s. To be honest, I can’t imagine a world without Darth Vader because I’ve never had to live in one.

Darth Vader memorialized in a grotesque on the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., USA

Darth Vader memorialized in a grotesque on the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., USA Public Domain Image via wikipedia

Lord Vader has endured, despite Hayden Christiansen’s ham-fisted portrayal of Anakin and the questionable scripts of the prequels. I never cared to see him humanized and I’m sure I’m not the only one that preferred him either evil, dying, or dead. I still get irritated when the ghost of Christiansen’s Anakin shows up in the reissued versions of the original movies. This isn’t really Christiansen’s fault, at least not entirely.

The most attractive and, at the same time, the most repulsive elements of Vader were his anonymity and his inhumanity, which turned out to be lies. These lies are what kept him alive even as they poisoned him and the entire galaxy around him. His helmet is perhaps the best symbol of all of this. It’s a mechanized, futuristic piece of work with just enough Mongol warrior and Samurai to root it in fearsome mythology and stir up archetypal references in the collective unconscious. Like the Nazi SS uniform, the Darth Vader suit and helmet have evil connotations. Maybe it is best that time erode and crack open that image even further than his heroic final act did. At any rate, nothing can stop that now.

Curtains by Brian Morris Vader Project  Image © The Official Star Wars with CCLicense

Curtains for Vader by Brian Morris
Vader Project
Image © The Official Star Wars with CCLicense

Angsty teen Anakin may or may not have been a serious blow to the Vader image, but recent years have seen a far more interesting attack on the Vader helmet itself. Project Vader, put together by Dov Kelemer and Sarah Jo Marks of DKE Toys, reinterpreted the iconic image by sending helmet replicas to artists asking that them to create their own take on Darth Vader. In 2010, after being exhibited in the USA, Japan and England, one hundred helmets were auctioned off, each going for thousands of dollars. You will want to see all one hundred of them in this post from TotalFilm. Many are silly, some still verge on terrifying, but all represent cracks in the anonymity that initially made Vader scary.

Collage Vader by Dalek image © The Official Star Wars with CCLicense

Collage Vader by Dalek
image © The Official Star Wars with CCLicense

© Daniel is Clever with CCLicense Vader Project, 2007

© Daniel is Clever with CCLicense
Vader Project, 2007
Paint by Number Vader

Once a villain is deconstructed and recognized as human, he loses some of his iconic power, even as he gains our empathy. That doesn’t mean he, or she, is ultimately less frightening; it redirects fear from his image back into our own subconscious. We are afraid because we see ourselves reflected in him and we have to deal with the emotions that result. Project Vader does that beautifully.

Darth Vader was perhaps the first pop culture villain to allow himself to be dissected before our eyes, bravely paving the way for bad guys and girls like Gus Fring and Walter White or Francis and Claire Underwood, who are so much more than monsters. Thank you, Lord Vader.

Vampires vs Zombies: A Shift in Consciousness

Popular culture is an interesting barometer for shifts in thought. What do modern portrayals of vampires and zombies tell us?

© Michael Blomberg Bentsen with CCLicense

© Michael Blomberg Bentsen with CCLicense

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.

― Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies 

I hate the vamp jobs. They think they’re so suave. It’s not enough for them to slaughter and eat you like a zombie would. No, they want to be all sexy, too. 

― Kiersten White, Paranormalcy

 

Vampires and zombies are nightmare visions of the undead, of what it might cost to live out eternity in our current human bodies. They tell us much about what we fear and what we value. In recent years, the portrayals of these monsters has changed. Does this reflect a change in society?

 

© FICG.mx with CCLicense

© FICG.mx with CCLicense

The vampires of the 20th century became increasingly complex and increasingly attractive. Dracula went from a predatory monster who scaled walls and harvested children to a suave and debonair gentleman who preferred to seduce women before sucking their blood. Francis Ford Coppola went so far in Bram Stoker’s Dracula as to give Dracula a poignant backstory complete with transforming and eternal love, something that Bram Stoker would never have done a century earlier. Anne Rice’s novels, including Interview with the Vampire and Queen of the Damned, show the vampire as a tortured soul, always doomed to commit the evil he did not wish to carry out. The more we understand and sympathize with the vampire, the less terrifying and more pitiful he becomes.

© Sparkle in the sun with CCLicense

© Sparkle in the sun with CCLicense

The vampire legend has made another turn, this time into the realms of teenage romance. Walking around in the daylight, sparkling, and sitting through classes at the local high school, vampires seem to have lost their teeth. We even have the notion that a vampire can, through an act of will, resist murdering and find alternatives to drinking blood, like Bella in the Twilight series. There has always been an allure to the heightened senses and awakenings the vampire experiences. Formerly this was balanced by the horror of becoming a creature that must kill and destroy to stay alive. Is it possible that the hunger for experience has so surpassed our respect and love for others that we no longer fear becoming a monster, or do we see a new way of balancing our needs with those of others?

© Sarah G with CCLicense

artwork and image © Sarah G with CCLicense

The zombie’s path in modern culture is quite different. The origins of the myth lie in West Africa, where sorcerers known as bokors were reported to be able to reanimate corpses and have them carry out tasks. The zombi had no will and no consciousness and therefore could be used as an unstoppable assassin, one who didn’t even realize that it was dead. Richard Matheson’s I am Legend presented us with a population infected by a terrible disease that made them into vampire-zombie hybrids, both bloodsucking and devoid of consciousness. This was the inspiration for the zombies in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and the source of the fabled zombie apocalypse. Romero’s zombies never stopped attacking, so the human need for sleep and rest became a death sentence. And yet zombies were so dreadfully slow that any human who wasn’t caught off guard could escape pretty easily, supposing they were in good condition and the way out wasn’t blocked. Zombies were actually rather funny, lurching around, drooling and moaning incoherently. Who can forget Shaun of the Dead?

Around the time that vampires started to sparkle, zombies changed too. The film 28 Days Later, about an outbreak of illness caused by the bite of a monkey escaped from a scientific testing facility, was the first to mainstream the new zombie, one who could move very quickly. “Fast zombies” were in part the result of new camera techniques and technology, but they also represent a change in thought. The emphasis moved from the victims weakness and failure to escape to the superhuman abilities of the zombies themselves. Like a vampire who could eat garlic and stand against a crucifix, these zombies break the rules. It is terrifying.

© Thomas Hawk with CCLicense

© Thomas Hawk with CCLicense

If vampires reveal a fear of living at the expense of others, perhaps zombies reveal a fear of going through life in a form we feel is beneath us: either as unenlightened and unawake beings, or as beings incapacitated by addiction, debilitating disease, or mental illness. I would venture to say that, as we have extended our lifespans but not our quality of life, the zombie has become more frightening to us. Even if we adhere to good hygiene and a healthy lifestyle, diseases like cancer and mental illness can strike out of nowhere like a “fast zombie”. The fear of global illness and mystery diseases is so great that the CDC has a page of instructions for dealing with a zombie apocalypse, not because they fear the undead, but because they find it an effective way to get people to prepare for disasters in general. If you are ready for zombies, you are ready for anything.

From a Bygone Era: The Art of Kissing, 1936

© 50 Watts with CCLicense

© 50 Watts with CCLicense

1936 was a memorable year: Hitler’s Germany hosted the Olympics in Berlin and broke the Treaty of Versailles by stationing troops in Rhineland; Italy occupied Ethiopia; Franco rose to power in Spain; China declared war on Japan; Hoover Dam, then known as Boulder Dam, was finished; The Green Hornet debuted on Detroit radio; Life Magazine was born; Shostakovich finished his Fourth Symphony but was unable to premiere it due to persecution by Stalin; the last Tasmanian Wolf (aka Tasmanian Tiger) died in captivity in Australia; Margaret Mitchell published her book, Gone with the Wind; and the hottest summer on record in the United States created temperatures over 110 degrees Fahrenheit in many states.

That same year, in an attempt to codify the mores of his culture, Hugh Morris penned an illustrated pamphlet entitled The Art of Kissing. Take a look at excerpts in this delightful article from Brain Pickings. Today it seems frightfully chauvinist, blatantly heterosexual and titillatingly prudish. Some may also find it more than a tad hilarious, although the line is narrow between amusement and offense when confronted with such cavalier ignorance (and extremely moldy prose). Treating the whole experience of kissing and courtship rather like a hunting trip in which care must be taken to approach the target properly, The Art of Kissing creates a certain camaraderie among men, but is decidedly unromantic from the female point of view. I’m not sure I would find the “vacuum kiss” appealing, especially described in this manner! Looking back on what seem to be the teen-age years of our culture makes one grateful for the present, despite the struggles that still face us.

Ridicule is Nothing to Be Scared of: Adam Ant, Hero in the War Against Mental Illness

Adam Ant as the Blueblack  Hussar in the 1980s. This image used in accordance with Fair Use Policy.

Adam Ant as the Blueblack Hussar in the 1980s.
This image used in accordance with Fair Use Policy.

Mental illness is misunderstood and hidden. What would happen if we embraced ourselves and one another for who we are?

Adam Ant, born Stuart Goddard in Marylebone, England, burst on the scene in 1980 as the flamboyant lead singer of Adam and the Ants. His style was quirky, with a jerky delivery and a predilection for playing heroes, dandies, and pirates. Perhaps the last performer to capture the essence of the glam rock spirit of the 1970s, he was able to use the new medium of music video to his advantage. A former film and graphic design student, he storyboarded his videos and designed much of the elaborate costuming and make-up. The result was magic: Adam Ant was well beloved by legions of fans and Antmania went down in history.  He scored 10 top ten hits in the UK from 1980 to 1983 and, in America, Ant was voted the sexiest man in the world by the viewers of MTV in addition to placing many hit songs on the US market.

What fans didn’t know at the time was that Stuart had already gone through serious brushes with anorexia and suicide in the late 1970s which had forced him to drop out of college and had rendered him incapacitated for three months. It was after this that he changed his name to Adam Ant and started building Adam and the Ants. By the time the world recognized Adam everything seemed to be going very well. Peforming gave him a way of expressing himself and dealing with his issues.

In the mid 1990s things would begin to fall apart. An album, Persuasion, was not released by MCA records as planned and was shelved permanently. He was stalked by a woman who poisoned his fish pond, tried to kill his dogs, and showed up at his home naked while screaming obscenities. He managed to keep working through this turbulence until he was arrested in 2002 for throwing a car alternator through a pub window and threatening people with an antique pistol. He was arrested again in 2003 and institutionalized for mental illness. The next few years would be a trial by fire as he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and began to learn to deal with it. The medication would stabilize his mental state, but often resulted in a lack of creativity or even motivation to work.

Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Public Domain Image via Pixabay

“In the past I’ve been a robot. It’s been an out-of-body experience. Bipolar means up and down and that’s me… Music has always been the best medication. I was on sodium valproate for seven years…. I couldn’t get to sleep and I didn’t make love for seven years. My hair fell out and I couldn’t pick up a book as I couldn’t concentrate. I didn’t write a song or pick up a guitar in that time — and piled on the weight. I might as well have been dead.”.  –Adam Ant

In the last two or three years, as he and his doctors discovered the right doses of medication and he began to be more active, Adam has returned to performing. He has also created his own record label, Blueblack Hussar Records, and is working with designers to promote a new fashion label. Just last month he released his first album in 17 years, Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter. It chronicles the journey of the Hussar, the character with a white stripe across his face in his earliest albums, through hardship and punishment. This is Adam’s own journey, with snippets from his life woven into the mix. Some question whether a man of fifty-eight should be dressing like a pirate and making quirky music videos, as if that might be a part of his illness and should be hidden away. But this is his triumph: that he is able to remain true to himself, as creative and odd as he is. The honesty, bravery, and hope behind this album is inspiring. Adam Ant is finally the hero he always wanted to be.

“mental health needs a great deal of attention. It’s the final taboo and it needs to be faced and dealt with.” –Adam Ant

Videos via KoolMix32 and adamantdotnet on Youtube.

Seven Common Assumptions That Chain Creativity

Would you like to be more creative? Some common assumptions can chain our creativity and limit our experience of life.

Fragile Brain Shield by AllAllucinations with  CCLicense

Fragile Brain Shield
by AllAllucinations with CCLicense

We have incredible minds. The mind helps us perceive and make sense of the world around us, constructing a worldview and processing information to support that view. For this reason, the mind can also be a powerful weapon of oppression. If we hold particular beliefs without any power of review or adjustment, we become easier to control, less independent, and less individual.

Here are some common assumptions which bind creative people, presented with some pop culture slogans for a little whimsy.

Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids! Creativity is only for artists.

Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Public Domain Image via Pixabay

From Fortune 500 companies to parents interacting with their children, everyone benefits from creativity and a sense of play. Projecting the attitude that “normal” people are hard-working and dull while artists are colorful children is a wonderful way to divide creative people from the masses and devalue both groups. Lean in, I’ve got a secret. You can be as creative and as playful as you want to be, wherever you are. I’m not saying everyone will like it, but the potential lies within you.

I’m a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, she’s a Pepper, we’re a Pepper, wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too… If you want to get ahead, you need to conform.

In any profession there are role models. They can be inspiring and wonderful people. Unfortunately, we tend to try and emulate their success by becoming their clones and submitting ourselves to the worst side of peer pressure. Trying to be someone else is an excellent way to be unhappy. Wouldn’t it better to be yourself, even when it means you don’t fit in?

No place for second best. If I can just be perfect, I’ll get the job.

CCLI by HikingArtist.com on Flickr

© HikingArtist.com with CCLicense

Young people are advised to pick one thing in life, concentrate on it and try to be the best at it. This is a trap. Focusing on being number one at all costs will alienate your neighbors and destroy the moral fabric of your life. Cheating to win isn’t really winning; ask Lance Armstrong. It’s the simple things that we forget to be grateful for that are the building blocks of life and creativity… our families, our friends, our pets, nature… The list is endless. If we can’t enjoy these things, no amount of productivity or success will fill the void created by their absence. Why not be a dreamer and stay interested in people and the world around you instead?

Where’s the beef? Everything that isn’t “serious” is fluff.

CCLI by alexik on Flickr

© alexik with CCLicense

To build and maintain a human body takes nutrients that come from different foods. Eating only beef for a week would not help us feel or be healthy. Some question whether beef is good for us at all. The body requires a more balanced approach. Is a human spirit any different? Go ahead, have a salad. I won’t tell anyone.

Oh, I’d love to be an Oscar Mayer Wiener… That is what I’d truly like to be… ‘Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener… Everyone would be in love with me! Fame brings love and satisfaction, and with it greater artistry and artistic freedom.

Our culture idolizes celebrity. Conventional wisdom says if we reach more people and make them like us, we will feel better about ourselves. What we overlook is that, in order to “sell” ourselves to great numbers of people, we have to become a mass-produced commodity. Who really knows what is in a hot dog?

No pain, no gain. If it doesn’t hurt, it can’t be worth anything.

CCLI by slim45hady on deviant art

© slim45hady with CCLicense

This isn’t to say that we should avoid pain at all costs. There will be things in life that hurt us and make us want to quit. I’m talking about courting pain. Some examples? The guy that exercises every day until his body screams for him to stop. The artist who thinks exacerbating her own mental suffering or loneliness will make her art better. The actor who thinks he has to be an alcoholic to play an alcoholic.  Pain is there to get our attention so that we can  do something about a situation that isn’t working. So if something really hurts, try doing it in a different way or not at all.

Leggo my Eggo! The success of other people poses a threat to my success.

Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Siblings get into arguments simply because of proximity. Maybe X is feeling a little tired and irritable when Y walks over. Pretty soon both are screaming at each other, “I hate you! You are breathing my air!” We like to think that we outgrow this behavior. The truth is that when someone is successful we tend to react as if there is a limited amount of success to go around and that person is bogarting it. Relax. Be happy for other people. When you have some success it is nice to be able to invite true friends to the party.

Sound familiar? At Synkroniciti we seek to free people from the chains in their minds. Would you like to join us?

In the near future, Synkroniciti will be announcing some new experiences available to our fans and readers, including web-based projects for those around the globe who would like to collaborate remotely, and workshops for those in the Houston area. We are very excited to take the next step in our journey.

Slogans are from Trix Cereal, Dr. Pepper, StockRunway, Wendy’s, Oscar Mayer, Jane Fonda’s Workout Videos and Eggo Waffles.