This is the sixth and final part of my wrap-up of the Life, The Universe, and Everything 2018 writer’s conference held in Provo, Utah between February 15-17.
The Female Body as Text: Symptoms and Subversions of Systematized Dystopic Oppression in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta
Mari Murdock presented an academic look at how women fight oppression in a dystopian society.
She started with a summary of Michel Foucault’s idea of a carceral continuum, social constructs that imprison us. This includes everything from detention and time outs to stop signs. Disciplinary systems are omnipresent and panoptic – everyone is always watched. In such systems, we end up disciplining ourselves. Bodies are docile and capable.
She then continued with a summary of Susan Bordo, who specifically looks at women’s bodies. Standards of beauty, weight, and fashion can imprison women, as well as workplace harassment. Physical marks can be read as a text. Anorexia, agoraphobia, and hysteria are reactions to an oppressive culture.
In the dystopian world of V for Vendetta, women are controlled in different ways. The wealthy men in this world are often overweight while the females are all thin and sexualized. Evie has age regression suggesting a trauma has left her emotionally stuck at a certain age. She calls herself a baby as a defense mechanism. She has an asthma attack even though she hasn’t had one since she was a child. She calls for her mommy and daddy.
Evie’s hairstyle throughout the book indicates her psychology. When her head is shaved, she can start over fresh and by the end of the book, she has the same hairstyle as her father, indicating that she has achieved adulthood. In the last image we see of Evie, her smile is the same as the smile on V’s mask. She becomes Eve, the mother of a new creation, using anarchy to destroy the old broken society, but also using anarchy to create a new, better society.
An interesting discussion on how to write characters with abnormal psychology. Callie Stoker pointed out autism is unique for everyone who has it. Some indicators are difficultly understanding subtext, sarcasm, and body language. People with autism may pacify themselves with rocking, fidgeting, or playing with tags. They don’t follow social rules like acknowledging when they hear someone. She related a story of someone with OCD thinking a writer got OCD wrong in their book, but then realized the writer actually got it right, OCD is just different for different people. In the end, nobody is completely normal.
Daxon Levine advised that when writing about trauma disorders to ask yourself what are your character’s triggers? How aware are they? Do they think they’re normal? Do they have justifications for their abnormal behavior? A narcissist doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with them. Disorders manifest differently for different people. Mental illness is something that usually doesn’t go away, but people come up with ways of coping better. People with schizophrenia are often depicted as having visual hallucinations even though this is quite rare. Auditory hallucinations and paranoia are more common. He also pointed out that there is disagreement in the field of psychology as to whether dissociative identity disorder (multiple personalities) actually exists or not. In the end, nobody is just plain insane. Ask yourself in what way are they insane.
Laura Henriksen said abnormal psychology helps everyone understand how their own brains work. It might seem like someone’s behavior just comes out of nowhere, but there’s an internal experience that gradually bubbles up and suddenly explodes. Reactions can often be counter intuitive since everyone reacts in their own way. Rape victims sometimes become promiscuous and throw themselves at men. Anything can trigger a panic attack. She related a story of someone who panicked whenever she saw a head of lettuce because it was associated with a trauma. People with schizophrenia sometimes assign meaning and give religious significance to mundane things. It’s rare in adolescents, more common as a person ages. Dissociative identity disorder isn’t how it’s often portrayed. The two different personalities are actually aware of each other. It’s kind of like one person having two different opinions about something. Mental illness is not a motivation. Ask yourself what does the person gain by their actions? Sociopaths aren’t automatically evil. Everybody’s unique. Be specific.
Real-World Magic Systems
What is magic? D. J. Butler provided several different definitions during his presentation. Some think of magic as the original understanding of the universe that preceded religion. Magic is a way to feel control over a chaotic world. It grows out of a will to dominate. Early magic was animistic – people believed everything has a spirit that can be changed. There was also the idea of a collective soul. Exorcism was used to heal disease. An authentic magic system should look like science in the sense that it has laws.
How is magic different from religion? Again, there are several answers depending on who you ask. Some say religion is collective while magic is individualistic. Or magic is what’s forbidden by society at large and religion is what’s allowed. Maybe magic is what’s practiced by the lower class. Religion is cyclical while magic is a reaction to a crisis. Religion is what we do, magic is what they do. When a religious person wants something, they pray humbly, when a magic practitioner wants something, they use a spell to demand it. Or maybe there is no difference between magic and religion. An authentic magic system should look like a religion.
Before the Protestant Reformation, everybody practiced magic. Not just witches, but also priests, peddlers, doctors, farmers, thieves, etc. There’s a Greek Egyptian papyrus in which the Hebrew god is invoked for a magic spell. Mormons used to use baptisms to heal sickness and there are lots of stories about someone’s sacred garments protecting them. Is this magic or religion? The line between the two is very blurry.
One important thing to remember, is that historically, magic has a lot of the same content as religion. Spells are used the same way prayer is. Spells are for healing, to get good crops, for financial gain, etc. There are no fireball spells.