Spooktober Week 2: Nyx Fears and Being Scared Vicariously

I have a story for you all. I think it’s an important one if you’re to understand my perspective going into the topic for today.

See… I’m not a big fan of being scared.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. I do like a little fear in my media, so long as it’s in controlled doses. I chalk it up, ultimately, as a dislike of being out of control. I think this is why I like scary things like true crime – though they’re scary, I’m still exercising control in learning about these worst case scenarios. (As if, I don’t know, knowing more about Jeffrey Dahmer makes me more equipped to handle myself in a crisis situation. It’s not logical, I know.)

But things like scary movies or haunted houses… they’re fear for fear’s sake. And that’s the kind of fear I’m not a fan of. This has been true about me for as long as I can remember, but my particular hatred of purposefully scary things stems from one traumatic experience… my tragic backstory, as it were…

Before I entered high school and ruined my family’s schedule with marching band, we liked to go camping a lot in the summer and fall. It was the main way we vacationed – packing up our camper and towing it to some campsite, sometimes meeting friends, other times just hanging out as a family around the campfire. These were some of my most fun family memories.

In particular, I loved when we would go to campsites around Halloween. Many family campsites would organize Halloween-themed events, including trick-or-treating around the campers, costume contests, Halloween-themed karaoke, and all manner of fun spooky activities. And of course… there were the haunted attractions.

Often, these were hayrides, as is the one in this story, but there were haunted mazes and houses too.

But the hayrides… oh the hayrides. Great, lumbering tractors snarling, pulling behind it a wooden wagon filled with straw that somehow managed to poke its way into shoes, hair, mouths… even through the fabric of your pants. And then the tractor would rumble off onto some pre-determined path through the woods, as campsite employees dressed in Party City Halloween costumes and doused in fake blood hid in their pre-determined areas.

I don’t remember how old I was when I took this fateful ride, maybe ten, maybe even younger, but I do remember my friend Sarah, whose family we were camping with, nervous to go on it.

Confidently, I advised her, “Just imagine all the scary people in their underwear.”

After a long, long wait where me, Sarah, Sarah’s little brother Andrew, and our moms made up songs to pass the time, we finally boarded that chariot to hell.

I’ll be honest – I don’t actually remember much of what made this particular hayride so terrifying. Really, I only remember two things.

One: at some point in the ride, wet spaghetti was thrown at us from the bushes. I assume this was meant to simulate guts, but it was not very appreciated.

Two: During the ride, a man with a fake chainsaw leapt onto the back of the hayride, coincidentally where I sat with my face implanted into my mom’s glove (where, ironically, I could not picture any of the scary people in their underwear, because I could not see them), and Sarah had barricaded herself under the bench of the wagon. This was not very appreciated either.

And since that night, anything with “haunted” in it makes me nervous. My freshman year of high school, I was blackmailed into going into a haunted house at Universal Studios and even though it wasn’t that bad it was not worth the horrible anxiety I felt in the line leading into it. That same trip we went on Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride, and I felt that same terrible anxiety right up until I realized the ride was “Nightmare Before Christmas” themed for the holiday season, and that the ride actually wasn’t that scary.

And, even when my best friend convinced me to face my fears head-on when she invited me to come to Conner Prairie’s Headless Horseman night, which features, surprise-surprise, a haunted hayride, and I rode it, and it was perfectly fine… none of that changed my gut reaction to anything “haunted.”

No matter how many times I’m proven wrong about this, I’m convinced each new haunted thing is going to turn out like that first fateful hayride.

I apply the same anxiety I feel about haunted houses to horror movies. In a way, both are relinquishing control of my fear to an outside source, a source I cannot stop. Okay, I can stop a horror movie, but like… you know what I mean. I can’t just quit my fear, and since most horror movies are fictional, I can’t learn facts obsessively about them like I can true crime.

…Or can I?

So what does this all have to do with the topic for today? Well, today I’m talking about a Youtube channel I’ve become obsessed with lately – Nyx Fears.

Nyx Fears, or May, is a Halloween-loving movie and media critic who creates hilarious and fascinating critical analyses of mostly horror movies. She’s probably the exact opposite of me in that she really embraces the macabre and the horrific, both in her personal style and in her tastes. She decorates her living space like it’s Halloween all times of year and, most pointedly, she enjoys horror movies.

And this is my new favorite way to consume horror movies. May’s analysis is filled with admiration for the craft of horror film, and she always has a fascinating take on each movie. And I’ve found that this method of consuming horror… well, it just works for me.

Maybe it’s lame, but as much as I dislike being scared, there’s something fascinating about horror that I often find myself unable to enjoy thanks to my particular issues with being scared.

But May’s videos are the ultimate solution. She takes great horror movies, steps back from them, and presents them in a humorous and informative light. Not only does this allow me to experience them indirectly, but it also, in some cases, has made me more willing to watch horror movies less as an uncontrollable source of fear, and more as a piece of art with a message.

Now if she could just convince me to figure out my problems with haunted hayrides…

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Spooktober Week 1: A Lyrical Analysis of “Unfinished Business”

October is here! And if you’re a human person in the world, that means you’re either getting excited for or are already annoyed by the constant and all-consuming Halloween fever everywhere. The weather is getting colder, the leaves are changing colors, the pumpkin spice lattes are being made, and it’s time to get spooky.

Or, if you’re a regular here on this blog, you might remember that last year I had a themed month. A musical themed month, actually. And I thought that was a pretty fun time, so I decided to do another theme for this October. Will this be a yearly thing?

…Maybe!

But for this October I suppose we’re going a little traditional. For all this month I’ll be taking on spooks, scares, horrors, and more. And for this first week, I wanted to start with a song I’ve been lowkey thinking about doing an analysis of since the beginning of this blog. “Unfinished Business” by White Lies.

First, a note. While this song is originally by White Lies, I became familiar with this song via the Mumford and Sons cover. There’s two reasons why I prefer the Mumford and Sons cover to the original, and one is that I heard the cover first. The second reason will come up in a bit, promise.

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Humanizing Technology – “Reply All”

You can say I’m a bit picky about my podcasts. With the exception of one, “My Favorite Murder,” all of my most-listened podcasts are within the McElroy series of products (two of which I’ve written about: MBMBAM twice, and TAZ). And while all of those podcasts concern many different topics, they all tend to be comedy-focused and more… shall I say… talky? That is, they’re just a group of people who sit down every week and talk.

Though it would be admittedly on-brand for me to enjoy NPR’s line of podcasts, because I do love NPR, I’ve never really taken to the more “journalistic” podcasts out there. And that may also be weird because I’m studying journalism in school. (Though my explanation for why I still don’t like journalistic stuff might be a blog post for later).

So Gimlet’s “Reply All” is not my normal cup of tea, podcast-wise. It’s a lot more in line with those NPR podcasts I’ve never been able to get into, each episode containing a journalistic story about how the internet affects and is affected by people.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow, that’s a pretty broad topic,” congrats! You’re absolutely right. “Reply All” runs the gambit of topics from a new bill’s affect on sex workers’ safety to Pizzagate to the story of a pet YouTuber to an interview with a dominatrix who is paid to gain remote access of her customer’s computers for their sexual pleasure.

All that and more can be found within the episodes of “Reply All.” And I think it’s that incredible variety that just keeps me clicking on episode after episode.

Let me give you a few examples.

The first episode I listened to of theirs was Episode #104, “The Case of the Phantom Caller.” It’s one of their Super Tech Support episodes, an episode where a listener writes or calls in with a tech problem that just can’t seem to be solved by normal means, and journalist PJ Vogt does his best to solve it for them.

In this particular episode, caller Jodie has a strange and seemingly supernatural problem – she works for a company answering a toll-free phone line, and for months now she’s been getting mysterious calls from many different numbers… all just ambient noise or snippets of recorded conversation, as if she’s just been dropped into an environment. One recording sounds like she’s in a basketball court watching a game, the sound of sneakers squeaking on the gym floor audible over the chatter of the crowd. In another, what sounds like a storm siren begins to wail over ambient nature sounds.

The question is this: who is repeatedly calling Jodie? How are they calling from so many different numbers? And most importantly… why?

I don’t want to spoil the answer, but let me just say this episode gripped me from beginning to end. When I first started listening, I was eating a quick lunch before heading off to my first day at my new internship, and I was sitting on my dorm room floor with a bowl of chili on my lap just astounded by what I was hearing.

And not to give anything away, but when Vogt finally figures out the answer, it’s a triumph. It’s nothing supernatural or even anything particularly spectacular… and yet, the answer still astounded me.

I’ve grown up with computers and the internet. I’ve never known a time where they weren’t easy and accessible. And yet I’ve always found the internet to be a place of mystery. It’s the easy anonymity, I think, and the crazy amount of access to information that, combined, often makes for some of the best and most puzzling unfinished stories, because even with seemingly unlimited information at our disposal, there’s still so many stories that end in a question mark, so many internet mysteries that never fully have an answer. Yet, the people behind “Reply All” don’t accept that. They work until an answer is found.

Take, for example, the special two-part Episode #102, “Long Distance.” After receiving a scam phone call from a company claiming to be Apple, Alex Goldman goes on an investigation spanning months where he tries to discover what compels the people behind these companies to scam people out of hundreds of dollars, and what keeps them from getting caught.

But what is really fascinating about this episode, at least to me, is the human element it lends something I’ve never really considered human. These scam phone calls were something I always acknowledged as something that happens, but it was something that inhuman robots did to people… not something people did to people.

That’s another appeal behind this podcast. Even though it concerns itself often with technology, there’s a really human element beyond it all too.

So, with that all being said, I highly recommend “Reply All” the next time you’re looking for a podcast fix. You’ll be glad you did.

At 20, Gratitude

This last Tuesday, I turned twenty and… yeah, I’m not quite feeling it yet.

I guess that’s probably normal. After I turned 13 I didn’t believe I was a teenager for a long time afterward. Though maybe I truly wasn’t a teenager for a long time afterward. These age distinctions sometimes feel a little too sudden for something that in reality is pretty gradual.

But in the eyes of aging conventions, I guess I’m a capital A Adult now. Not a lowercase one, like I was when I turned 18.

I figured I should probably make a post commemorating my second decade on this Earth, but I wasn’t really sure what I would say except… well… this. Strap in, folks. It’s story time.

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Heck, Let’s Start a Radio Show!

Shorter post this week because I have a really cool announcement for you all!

First of all, this one’s a bit time sensitive. My blog posts always go up at Sunday at 8:30 a.m., so if you’re here close to that release time, you might still have a chance to listen to our show live! We’ll be on here at 11 a.m.!

So, I was involved with my on-campus radio station, WIUX, all of my freshman year, but at the time I was kinda too… well, anxious to do any actual on-air work. But this year, with an entire year of college under my belt I decided now was the time to have a show.

And then, sitting down to apply for the show, the full weight of what I expected myself to do laid down on my shoulders. Right then, as if spurred on by fate, my good friend Marisa was like “Hey, are you applying for a WIUX show? Do you need a co-host?”

And so, Marisa and I began to formulate an idea for a radio show – Pork Soda n’ Peaches. A show where the song selections aren’t based on genre themes, but instead based on lyrical themes. Every Sunday at 11 a.m. we’ll have a new lyrical theme – like “songs that seem like love songs but actually aren’t” or “songs where the singer has weirdly specific expectations for their lover.”

As you probably know from the content of this blog (I’ve already done two lyric analysis posts here and here), this show’s theme is really up my alley and I’m excited to share my lyrical enthusiasm with the world! Plus, I think having Marisa with me as my co-host will really diversify the music we play. So not just the same old hipster stuff from me over and over again! Yay!

And what’s with that title? Well, I’ve been keeping it hush on the interwebs for the most part because that will be covered in our first episode, but since it’s entirely possible you’ll be reading this far after our first episode has come and gone, our title is a reference to two songs. One is Pork Soda by Glass Animals, a song I’ve analyzed right here on this blog. The other is a favorite of Marisa’s, a song called Peaches by The Presidents of the United States of America.

These songs aren’t random selections either. For us, they represent the spectrum of lyrics that deserve appreciation. Pork Soda is a deep song that’s fun to dive into the lyrics of, but just as fun are the simple, humorous lyrics of Peaches. Both are worthwhile and fun lyrics.

Anyway, this blog will return to its regularly scheduled programming next week, but I hope this week you’ll consider checking out our show (or if you missed it, check us out next week at that same link!) Or, you can follow the show’s twitter here! (You’ll be able to get sneak peeks of our themes every week there, and even a chance to contribute music to our show!)

We Can Do Better than This: “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” Review

I know I said the same ting last week but… I had a completely different idea for a post this week (in fact, the very same idea I had last week, go figure) but then.. my dorm floor sat down to watch another Netflix original movie.

Unlike last week, though, I have no warm and fuzzy feelings for this movie. Oh god, no. “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” is the wildest trainwreck of a movie I’ve ever seen and yet somehow it also manages to be completely unfun to watch.

There’s… a lot to unpack here. Normally for a review I would do a general overview of the plot with a spoiler-free recommendation on whether or not you should watch it, but… just like… don’t waste your time. Instead, I’m gonna give you a brief (and incomplete, but we’ll get to that later) synopsis with my commentary throughout because I’m fairly certain there’s no other way to capture what makes this movie such a forest fire.

First of all, let’s get the biggest thing out of the way first. The biggest praise I’ve seen thus far for this movie is praise for its diversity. “Sierra Burgess”‘s title character is a plain-looking fat girl and she doesn’t go through a makeover at any point in the movie in order to snag the hot, football guy. Rah rah, hooooray, whatever.

Here’s the problem though…. this is a bad movie. So diversity doesn’t really save it at any point. But, if you connected with this movie because of the diversity, because Sierra isn’t model-thin like so many of her rom-com contemporaries… I get it. But just hear me out for a second.

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Warm n’ Fuzzy – “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” Review

After a long time of really wanting to, I finally sat down on Friday night to watch Netflix’s new movie of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” and tl;dr it was amazing and totally deserves a watch.

I was a little concerned when I heard that this book was being made into a movie, honestly. I’ve read all three of the books in this series and they’re definite favorites, and it’s always a bit scary to watch movies made out of books you love. But thankfully, the movie lives up to the quality of its source material.

Much of the discussion I’ve seen surrounding this movie is about the diversity of it – the story surrounds Lara Jean Covey, a 16-year-old mixed-race girl in a story normally reserved for white characters. The story doesn’t shy away from Lara Jean’s Korean heritage, and instead integrates it purposefully into her character, while also allowing her to play the normal romance story roles. It’s a great example of what more stories should do going forward, and I definitely think it’s valid that so many people are talking about this aspect of the movie in a positive light.

But I also think this movie has a ton of other great things about it, and I wanted to talk about those aspects for a moment. As is the case for my other reviews, I’m gonna give a general overview of the story and a bit more of an explanation of my thoughts on it without giving any spoilers away, then I’ll be taking a spoiler-laden dive into it for those who have seen it or don’t care about spoilers.

Overview (Spoiler Free)

“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” is about Lara Jean, a junior in high school who lives with her older sister Margot, younger sister Kitty, and father in Virginia. Lara Jean loves to bake and has a penchant for fantasy. Though at home she’s outgoing and sentimental with her family, in school she is a shy, reserved girl who mostly stays out of school politics.

Throughout the course of her life, she has had crushes on five different boys, all of whom she decided to write a letter to in order to sort out her feelings for them. She stores these letters in a hat box in her closet, addressing them but never intending to send them out.

The story begins as Margot is moving off to college in Scotland, leaving Lara Jean “in charge.” Though she’s nervous about this prospect, she does her best to set an example for Kitty and deal with the change with grace. Then, unexpectedly, Lara Jean’s letters disappear and she soon finds, to her horror, that they have been sent out to all the boys on her list. Though one is addressed incorrectly and returns to Lara Jean, all the rest go out, including one to Josh, Margot’s ex-boyfriend who Lara Jean has been crushing on secretly for years, and one to Peter, the somewhat arrogant lacrosse jock who up until recently was dating Lara Jean’s former best friend.

Afraid of making Margot upset, Lara Jean devises a plan with Peter to pretend to date him, to serve the dual purpose of making it clear to Josh that Lara Jean isn’t in love with him and to make Peter’s ex jealous.

It’s a fun and heartfelt movie, well-acted, with great music and a really intriguing storyline. If you’re not someone who enjoys YA romance fare, you probably won’t like this one, but if you do it’s a standout in its genre for the relatable and round main characters and delightful writing.

A Deeper Dive (Spoiler Time)

The biggest mark of a good adaptation is that it retains the feeling of the source material. Every book-to-movie adaptation must be a little changed, but the most important thing is that the soul remains intact, and I think “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” does this perfectly.

What I loved about the books so much was the feeling they gave me. Jenny Han’s style of writing and the world she creates is warm and loving, like the literary equivalent of a cup of hot tea on a rainy day spent inside.

The movie captures this feeling surprisingly well thanks to the wonderful acting of Lana Condor as Lara Jean, who sells the reserved yet loving character so well it’s like she was exactly who Han had in mind as she was writing it. Plus, the soundtrack has an indie flair but still holds onto a nostalgic, gentle sound that matches this feeling.

And that’s good, because this story is primarily a character-driven one, and pays a ton of attention to the way characters relate to one another. Overall, I think the movie does a good job holding onto the strong characters, but there were a few missteps thanks to the fact the story had to be cut down for time.

As I’ve already mentioned, Lara Jean’s character is still well-developed even in the pared-down time. Her little character traits that made her so relatable and real in the stories – her messiness, her love of baking, her particularness for tradition – is still there and well-integrated. Peter’s character is explored well too, I think, never making him compromise on his sometimes obtuse personality in order to mold him into a likable romantic interest. Both characters’ flaws are explored well, and overcoming those flaws is what makes viewers root for them and their romance.

Unfortunately, a few characters, namely Chris, Josh, and Gen, don’t get as explored as they do in the books. This makes sense, because following the plotlines that give all three of these characters a bit more roundness would have probably taken away from the central focus of the story – Lara Jean’s quest for emotional vulnerability. I suspect there might be adaptations of the two sequels of this book, so I’m optimistic that one if not all o these characters will be explored further in those.

Though I really do wish Gen in particular had gotten even a whiff more of depth. Though in the books she is a real mean piece of work, she is later revealed to have deeper motivations to dislike Lara Jean beyond “she kissed my not-yet boyfriend that one time while playing Spin the Bottle.” Though I thought the “It wasn’t tongueless to me!” line was hilarious as an explanation as to why Gen does the horrible things she does, it does cheapen and possibly take away the possibility of further exploration of her character in the possible sequels.

Still, the primary emotional conflict, after all, is Lara Jean’s struggle to open herself up to anyone except her immediate family, and I can’t fault the movie too much for not being interested in exploring her backstory with Gen. That emotional line is well established and followed through, anyway.

But what really makes this movie, and this story, fun is the woven threads of fun plot tropes it uses to great degree. The fake dating trope is the big main one I want to talk about, because it’s not only a fun trope, it’s also really well integrated into the themes of the movie.

After all, the only reason Lara Jean enters the fake relationship with Peter is because she’s attempting to avoid emotional vulnerability with Josh. And from the get-go she’s making strict rules with Peter to avoid being emotionally vulnerable with him, too. But it’s that attempt to appear emotionally vulnerable with Peter to the outside world that provides Lara Jean’s first brushes with love. So, not only is the trope exciting to watch play out, it isn’t forced in the narrative thanks to the thematic connections it makes.

Overall, this is a fun movie and something I’d definitely watch again. And it really made me hope for adaptations of the entire series (Netflix, please).