I’ve Been Thinking A Lot About John Lennon Lately… and Too Much About Death

I’M PRETTY QUICK to admit that John Lennon is not my favorite member of The Beatles. He’s not even my second favorite (Ringo) or even the The Beatle I say when I’m feeling particularly assholish.

That’s Pete Best, by the way.

If you’re wondering, it’s George. George Harrison is my favorite Beatle.

LOOK AT THIS BRO. HOW CAN HE NOT BE YOUR FAVORITE BEATLE?

Honestly, John Lennon isn’t even in my top 5.

And there were four The Beatles.

But, given that I, at one time, existed at the same time as John Lennon, and I am a The Beatles fan, I do think, from time to time, the perennial Beatles fan what if — what if John Lennon hadn’t been murdered on December 8, 1980?

That kind of question is called a hypothetical. You know who LOVES hypothetical questions — philosophers.

Philosophers call their hypothetical questions thought experiments.

A WELL-KNOWN PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHT EXPERIMENT, THE TROLLEY PROBLEM

Like a lot of people, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands to think about hypothetical situations. Since I (and everybody else) wasn’t going anywhere, I had to imagine situations and places i would go — if I could go out. You kinda have to when you can’t leave your house.

If I’d say there’s a silver lining to any of this, life during lockdown has been a godsend for my imagination.

Wait a minute. Who am I kidding? Covid-19 hasn’t changed a damn thing about my social life. I never go outside. And I’ve always avoided people.

Although Covid hasn’t altered my Schopenhauerian tendencies, it has affected me in one significant way.. Namely, life during quarantine has me thinking a lot more about death.

The past year has put me in a thinking about death kind of mood.

Covid has also got me digging through my old record collection. I’ve been listening to The Beatles quite a bit; John Lennon in particular.

My not-favorite Beatle.

Listening to “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”, and thinking how “Run For Your Life” is possibly the most red flaggy song of all time (Jesus, how did they not see that song was problematic?), my mind, unoccupied with actual thoughts generated by actual socializing, naturally drifted to the question,

what if John Lennon wasn’t murdered?

Never said I wasn’t a morbid bastard.

As I’m a philosopher. I tell myself A) I can’t just toss out some simple, over-asked hypothetical question, and B) That’s a genuine THOUGHT EXPERIMENT.

So naturally I had to dig a little deeper.

And then the question hit me: WHY was I asking what if John Lennon hadn’t died in 1980? My (first) answer was this: the reason why I (and every other The Beatles fan) asks “what if?” is because we believe John Lennon shouldn’t have died in 1980.

John Lennon’s death was, for lack of a better word, bad.

And if you’re gonna say death is bad and not also say the name Thomas Nagel, I’d suspect you weren’t a real philosopher.

Yep. I’m going Nagelian on this one.

John Lennon’s death (he was only 40) deprived him of what could have (and arguably what should have) been.

There would be albums of songs that would never be recorded. Lennon would never again have the opportunity to perform live. Fans would never see a full The Beatles reunion. With his death, Lennon’s sons were deprived of their father; Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, deprived of her husband. More importantly, John Lennon himself was deprived of the ability to engage in a long, active, (hopefully fufilling) life.

Any person’s death, not just John Lennon, is bad because death, as Nagel writes,”is an evil because it brings to an end all the goods that life contains”.

MAYBE IF JOHN LENNON WASN’T MURDERED HE WOULD HAVE STOPPED PAUL McCARTNEY FROM RECORDING “SAY SAY SAY”. NOT HATIN’, BUT THAT SONG IS WORSE THAN “EBONY AND IVORY

Now, if I actually left my apartment and had any kind of a social life, I’d end things right there, satisfied with my slightly Nagelian thoughts on a decades-dead rock legend.

But I’m a lover of wisdom. We’re never satisfied.

Not when it comes to a damned thought experiment, anyway.

So I kept thinking.

So…

The German not-actually-nihilist-but-existentialist philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, famously thought up a little mind blower of his own: Eternal Recurrence.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883), Nietzsche introduces the thought experiment. He writes:

“What if a demon crept after thee into thy loneliest loneliness some day or night, and said to thee: “This life, as thou livest it at present, and hast lived it, thou must live it once more, and also innumerable times; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh, and all the unspeakably small and great in thy life must come to thee again, and all in the same series and sequence—and similarly this spider and this moonlight among the trees, and similarly this moment, and I myself.”

The underlying question the demon is asking is a question of the quality of life. If you say yes to the demon’s proposal to repeat your life forever, you’ve probably lived a good life. However, if your answer is no, you better go do something with your life. It sucks.

Ok, we got some Nagel. We got a little Nietzsche — but what does this have to do with John Lennon?

I’m getting to that.

Alright. Let’s imagine some scientist (or demon. Wait — is there a difference?) invents a machine that can transport us back in time to Liverpool in 1962, right before The Beatles made it big in England. After some sight-seeing, the science-demon stakes out a spot to meet a pre-fame John Lennon.

The science-demon meets John, and because it’s a science-demon, it’s able to talk to John for a few minutes, long enough to, in a most serious philosophical tone, offer a proposal: what if I told you you will be in the most influential rock & roll band in music history, be more famous than you can possibly imagine, become fabulously wealthy, and more popular than Jesus, BUT 18 years from now you’ll be murdered by someone who wants to kill you precisely because you’re rich, famous, and more popular than Jesus?

It tells young John Lennon if he agrees to be a famous star of the screen, he absolutely will be murdered in 1980 — there’s nothing he can do to prevent it. Of course, if John, not wanting to die young, gives up a career in music, he’ll (likely) live a longer, but perfectly ordinary, life.

The question that John Lennon has to ponder is which life is the better life — that is, which life is worth repeating for an eternity?

Would John Lennon choose the presumably good life — the life of a rich and famous (and rich) rock star, doomed to die at 40

THEY DON’T CALL IT THE GOOD LIFE FOR NOTHING

Or, would he have chosen an ordinary, not-rich and famous (presumably longer) life?

IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A WHAT IF JOHN LENNON WASN’T FAMOUS FLICK, CHECK OUT SNODGRASS (2013)

That’s the question Nietzsche says we (all) must ask about our own lives.

Would you go back, Jack and do it again?

Of course we’ll never know what Lennon’s answer would be, but I have the feeling whatever he chose I’d still end up hearing “Say Say Say”.

Seriously, I like Paul McCartney. I like Michael Jackson. But that song sucks.

SOURCES:

Thomas Nagel. Mortal Questions. New York: Cambridge U. Press. 1979.

Don’t Look In the Cassone (It’ll Spoil the Ending)

I WOULDN’T SAY THAT I’m a classic film buff. I got nothing against movies filmed in black and white or against sometimes excruciatingly slow-paced films. I enjoy watching TCM (Turner Classic Movies) just as much as anybody else who can’t find anything else good to watch on TV on a Sunday afternoon. Occasionally, I’ll stumble upon a classic film I actually like.

Which is exactly what happened the first time I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope.
If you ask any even slightly serious connoisseur of film, they’ll most likely tell you that British film director, Alfred Hitchcock (1899 -1980), is one of their favorite film directors. That wouldn’t be surprising, considering that Hitchcock directed some of the most influential films in cinema history.

Although Hitchcock is renowned for his psychological thrillers (Psycho, released in 1960 is probably Hitchcock’s best-known psychological film), Rope, released in 1948, is, by far, Hitchcock’s most philosophical film.

In addition to being Hitchcock’s most philosophical film, Rope also includes one of the greatest zingers about philosophy, ever.

Phillip: Rupert only publishes books he likes, usually philosophy.
Janet: Oh. Small print, big words, no sales.

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Rope, based on the British stage play, which was loosely inspired by the 1924 murder of Bobby Franks by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, was called, by Hitchcock, a “gimmick”.

Hitchcock attempted to shoot the film as a filmed stage play, not-so-cleverly hiding film cuts by zooming in on the backs of the actors, a technique that was technically impossible in the day.

Although the film isn’t technically great (the film’s flaws are sometimes glaring), in 1948, the year of the film’s release, the homosexual subtext was more of a problem for studio executives than Hitchcock’s technical ambitions. The implied homosexual relationship between the film’s central leads, Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan, Played by John Dahl and Farley Granger (respectively), had to be removed to avoid violating Hollywood’s Motion Picture Production code.**

…despite the fact that the film’s two male leads, Farley Granger and John Dahl, and the screenwriter, Arthur Laurents, were all “it”, a word that Laurents said the studio used in place of the word “homosexual”.

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If you look past the film’s flaws (especially a dreadfully miscast James Stewart as the murdering duo’s former schoolmaster), Rope isn’t remotely subtle with its philosophy.
The philosophy in Rope is club-you-over-the-head-with-a-frozen-leg-of-lamb level philosophy.

There’s a full-blown discussion of Nietzsche’s Ubermensch during a dinner scene.
Although other films have done philosophy better, Rope is an important philosophical film − if not for the reason that Hitchcock’s underrated masterpiece demonstrates what happens when Nietzsche goes wrong. Or rather, what happens when the wrong people read Nietzsche.

Not to give anything away, but somebody ends up dead.

SPOILER ALERT.

 

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IS 1948 TOO SOON TO GIVE AWAY THE ENDING?

 

It’s not too great an assumption to speculate that the homicidal pair in Rope are the kind of guys, if they lived now, would be the kind of guys who’ll watch Fight Club and fall under the delusion that they must start their own fight club, posting videos of their backyard fights on YouTube.

Totally violating the first rule of Fight Club, by the way.

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And like Fight Club, the main characters of Rope are also examples of what happens when Nietzsche happens to morally ambiguous people.

So who is this Friedrich Nietzsche that the movies like to talk about?

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900), was a German philosopher and social critic, most associated with Nihilism. Nihilism, according to Wikipedia
“…is a philosophical doctrine that suggests the lack of belief in one or more reputedly meaningful aspects of life.

Nietzsche has been accused of advocating for and/or blamed for every bad idea from anti-Semitism to racism to National Socialism.

 

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BLAME IT ALL ON THIS GUY. IT’S ALL HIS FAULT

 

And like those who implicate Nietzsche in the rise of 20th century Nazism, the problem with Brandon and Phillip is that they got Nietzsche all wrong.

The problem with the film’s antagonists, Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan, is that they fancy themselves Friedrich Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, (often translated as “Superman”, but also translated as “overseer” and “transhuman”).

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They make a pretty big assumption, considering that the concept only briefly appears in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, published in 1883.

That’s where Nietzsche introduces the Ubermensch.

 

In the prologue, Nietzsche writes:
“The Übermensch shall be the meaning of the earth!
I entreat you my brethren, remain true to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of supra-terrestrial hopes! …Behold, I teach you the Übermensch: he is this lightning, he is this madness! …Behold, I am a prophet of the lightning and a heavy drop from the cloud: but this lightning is called Übermensch.”

I’m warning you all right now that in my effort to achieve some sort of brevity explaining Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, I will almost certainly butcher Nietzsche’s philosophy.

 

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PHILOSOPHICAL MISINTERPRETATION AHEAD

 

According to Nietzsche, modernity corrupts society. The old values that were the foundation of society pre-modernity (namely Christian values), no longer provide a meaning to life. The old values are no longer life affirming. The old, life denying values die. Without life affirming values, society needs a great man to emerge.

You know, to create a new morality and stuff.

Eventually, Nietzsche says, the Ubermensch arises. The Ubermensch is independent in his mind and spirit. He (it’s always a HE) overcomes the old values and creates new, life affirming values instead of following the old meaningless values.

Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan totally believe that this is them.

At this point I might add that the inclusion of the homosexual subtext of the film would have come in handy. Not only would including the homosexual subtext help to explain the murderers’ motivations, but, as Arthur Laurents states, the original stage play suggests that the two killers are romantically involved, and that at least one of the pair had a sexual relationship with the former headmaster.

Now you see why James Stewart was miscast.

 

Namely, as the Ubermensch, Brandon and Phillip believe they alone, like Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, decide morality. They alone decide who lives and who dies. In Brandon’s assessment, superior people like Brandon and Phillip possess the right to kill.
And because they are beyond the conventional rules of society, the pair decide to exercise their ubermenchness by killing their former classmate, David Kentley.

 

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EVEN WITHOUT “IT” BEING OBVIOUS, IT’S OBVIOUS

 

They murder Kentley because they are superior to him.David Kentley, and others like him, in the words of Brandon Shaw, are “inferior beings whose lives are unimportant anyway”.

Brandon says of David Kentley:

“The good Americans usually die on young on the battlefield, don’t they? Well, the Davids of this world merely occupy space, which is why he was the perfect victim for the perfect murder. Of course, he, uh, was a Harvard undergraduate. That might make it justifiable homicide.”

During a conversation at a dinner party, ostensibly thrown to celebrate a piano recital to be performed by Phillip (but also as a sick joke to gloat over getting away with committing the perfect murder), Brandon explains, or rather, justifies, his philosophical superiority and why he possesses the right to murder. Brandon says,

“Good and evil, right and wrong were invented for the ordinary average man, the inferior man, because he needs them”

Mind you, Brandon is explaining his ethic to the father of David Kentley, who is unaware, not only that his son was murdered by Brandon and Phillip, but also unaware of the fact that his son’s killers have hidden the body in a trunk upon which the dinner party, including David Kentley’s father and aunt, is served.

 

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YOU SEE THAT THING RIGHT THERE IN FRONT? THE THING WITH THE CANDLES AND THE FOOD ON IT? THERE’S A DEAD MAN IN THERE.

 

There’s a problem with all this, tho.

And not just because murder, no matter how superior you think you are, is illegal.

The problem is that Brandon Shaw and Phillip Morgan aren’t Ubermensch material.

 

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THIS IS NOT THE WAY TO PROVE YOUR SUPERIORITY…YOU’LL RUIN A PERFECTLY USEFUL CASSONE

 

In the film, Brandon notes that the best kind of men die on the battlefield, something that neither he nor Phillip has done.

They are not strong men.

Not just not strong physically, but they lack strength emotionally.

Phillip is a weak follower. He follows Brandon’s lead because, by his own admission, Phillip fears Brandon.

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Nietzsche says that the Ubermensch is not driven by resentment of the success of others.

Quite frankly, the Ubermensch doesn’t care.

Brandon and Phillip are resentful of their former classmate. David is attractive and well-liked. He is intelligent, has good parents, and a beautiful fiancé.

A fiancé that Brandon once dated.

 

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BLAME JANET. IT’S NOT REALLY HER FAULT, BUT BLAME HER ANYWAY

 

The murder was driven more by their jealousy of David Kentley and their need for the approval of their former schoolmaster than it represented the Ubermensch assuming his rightful place in society.

The Ubermensch don’t need approval from nobody.

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What Brandon and Phillip fail to realize is that the Will to Power doesn’t mean to force one’s will on others.

When the former headmaster discovers what Brandon and Phillip have done, instead of being pleased by such a magnificent example of the Ubermensch in action, the former schoolmaster tells the pair that they are not superior beings or the masters of life and death; they had no right to murder David Kentley.

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The former schoolmaster is horrified to discover that his former students have used his lessons to justify murder.

The schoolmaster sees firsthand what happens when Nietzsche happens to the wrong people.

He is appalled at what he sees.

…and so would Nietzsche.

 

 

 

 

**If you’ve never heard of the Motion Picture Production Code, the code, also known as the Hays Code, named after stick in the mud and notorious fuddy duddy Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America president, Will H. Hays, was the set of dos and don’ts imposed on motion picture studio productions (for the purposes of preserving morals) released in the United States between the years 1930 to 1968, when the code was replaced by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) ratings system.

 

 

SOURCES:

https://philosophynow.org/issues/93/Nietzsches_Ubermensch_A_Hero_of_Our_Time

Rope. 1948. Screenplay by Arthur Laurents. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Rope Unleashed. 2006. Universal Home Video.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihilism

 

STRANDED

IT’S BEEN SOME time since the first half season of season two of Fear the Walking Dead ended.

I’ve had some time to sit back and think about what I saw.

For starters, I think the show is getting better.

It’s not great, but it’s better.

And secondly, I’ve noticed that some of the characters on the show are like walking philosophy.

The show should be called Fear the Philosophical Dead.

No. not really. It shouldn’t.

Although some characters are philosophically interesting,

Some, mind you, not all.

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NOPE. NOT INTERESTING ON ANY LEVEL

After watching Fear the Walking Dead for a season and a half, I think the most philosophically intriguing character on the show is the wealthy, debonair, and most importantly, mysterious captain of the Abigail, Victor Strand.

I gotta admit, when Strand was introduced, I was prepared to see the character die after a few episodes. You know, because, well, people like Strand have a habit of not fairing too well in the world of The Walking Dead.

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It seemed that Victor Strand was destined to become another victim of the being-a-black-guy-in-The-Walking-Dead thing, but he was an interesting character – by far more interesting than the characters we were supposed to be most concerned about.

The reason why I think Victor Strand is so interesting is because so many of the show’s philosophical dilemmas have to do with what Strand either does or says. Victor Strand is a one man philosophical conundrum generator.

I’ve spent a season and a half of Fear the Walking Dead trying to figure out exactly where Victor Strand stands philosophically. Is Strand a Randian ethical egoist? Is he a moral nihilist? An incredibly consistent utilitarian? An all of the above?

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More than a dozen episodes into the series and I still can’t figure it out.

When we’re introduced to Victor Strand in the season one episode “Cobalt”, we see Strand is one of many detainees imprisoned by the government.

We’re never told exactly why.

qeqtcbd

We witness Strand goading a mentally fragile man to the point of a mental breakdown. And we learn that Strand is a man who is willing to exchange goods for favors from the National Guardsmen who are guarding the detainee camp.

Strand is introduced as a man who is cool, calculating, and not encumbered by empathy for others. Strand initially displays all the traits of a classic Ayn Rand protagonist. Strand is concerned with one thing: his own interests. Rand writes:

… he must work for his rational self interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.

We can imagine a dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged next to Machiavelli’s The Prince and Sun Tsu’s Art of War on Strand’s bookshelf.

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MY BOOKSHELF, AS SEEN ON BUZZFEED

However, Strand quickly realizes that fellow detainee (and main character) Nick Clark is useful -insofar as Nick can serve as a means to Strand’s ends -namely, escaping from the detainment camp.

Using others to further your ends is not a very Randian thing to do.

Ayn Rand also writes:

Man -every man- is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself…

Although Victor Strand isn’t a very good Randian, he still abides by Rand’s principle of pursuing one’s happiness as one’s supreme moral principle. Strand does not allow the misfortunes of others interfere with his main task: surviving.

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Here are a few things that Strand says concerning his interests versus the needs of others:

 

[To Madison after she informs Strand that she sees some people at sea who need to be rescued]: I filled my mercy quota. Seven people saved to date.

Rules for Strand’s yacht, the Abigail: Please, let me explain the rules of the boat. Rule number one, it’s my boat. Rule number two, it’s my boat. And if there remains any confusion about rules one and two, I offer rule number three, it’s my goddamn boat. If I weren’t for me, you’d all be burned. You’re welcome.

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THE RULES FOR THE ABIGAIL ARE LIKE THE RULES OF FIGHT CLUB. IN THE END NO ONE PAID ATTENTION TO THEM

[Strand’s response after fellow survivors insist that the Abigail take on more passengers]: If I stop the boat, it’ll be to drop folks off, not take them on.

 

[Strand’s response when Madison insists that the Abigail take on an orphaned child]:
Children are the definition of dead weight.

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PICTURED: DEAD WEIGHT

Strand on the real danger in an undead apocalypse: You know what the real danger is on the ocean? People.

When other survivors hitch a lifeboat containing a young woman and her mortally wounded companion to the Abigail, Strand cuts them loose, reasoning that the survivors can’t risk their lives to save people who may be dangerous -especially a dying boy (who will become a zombie when he dies).

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SERIOUSLY, I WOULD HAVE CUT THEM LOOSE, TOO

Everything Strand says strikes of Ayn Rand’s clearly  (at least Any Rand influenced) ethics. Strand clearly puts no man ahead of himself.

This is why Victor Strand is a fan favorite.

And yet, Strand has considered the interests of others, and even put his life on the line to save the lives of people in his group.

Strand not only helps Nick to escape the detainee camp, he also agrees to house Nick’s family and another family (the Salazar family) in his home and on the Abigail.

Although Strand lays down the rules for admission on the Abigail, we know he isn’t just looking after himself. Strand could easily pull up anchor and abandon the group when they leave the Abigail to explore dry land.

Yet he does not.

Strand risks his life to help Nick escape from the detainee camp and in the season two midseason finale, Strand, after he’s expelled from a temporary sanctuary, risks his life to save Nick’s mother Madison.

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ONE OF THOSE GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS, WHICH ONE DO YOU WANT FIRST KIND OF CONVERSATIONS

Wait a minute. Does this mean that Strand is a secret utilitarian? Is he masquerading as a Randian while clandestinely pursuing the greatest good for the greatest number?

Perhaps.

But could is it possible that Strand has given up on all ethics? Is it possible that Strand believes that in a world without civilization all things are permitted? Strand tells Nick that the only way to survive in a mad world is to embrace the madness. Is Strand preaching moral nihilism?

In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche writes:

He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.

Is Strand telling Nick not just to stare into the abyss but to leap headlong into it? Is Strand telling Nick to become a monster? Is Stand saying that all of the characters should become monsters?

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NICK, STARING INTO THE ABYSS

 

It’s worth noting that the first episode of season two is titled “Monster”. In the season two midseason finale, Nick Clark covers himself in zombie guts (a means of camouflage) and refuses to join his mother and Strand to safety. Nick chooses to join the horde of zombies that has overrun their sanctuary. Nick is last seen walking among the dead, one of the monsters.

Fear the Walking Dead is not a great show. Sometimes it’s not even a good TV show. But what the show lacks in quality it more than makes up for in philosophical interestingness. Victor Strand is just one of the philosophically compelling characters on the series. In a TV world dominated by reality TV it’s refreshing to find a TV show with characters that have us thinking about them and discussing a series days (sometimes months) after an episode has aired.

One can only hope that Fear the Walking Dead continues to be one of the most philosophical TV shows on television.

I’ve got my fingers crossed.

That years from now, when we talk about Fear the Walking Dead, we think of the show as more like Better Call Saul than like Joanie Loves Chachi.

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I’VE GOT MY FINGERS SO CROSSED

What Doesn’t Kill Me Makes Me Kelly Clarkson

I DON’T WATCH AMERICAN IDOL.

Never did.

Show’s almost over now. So I guess I missed my chance.

Although I’ve spent absolutely no time watching American Idol, I am well aware of some of the show’s winners and contestants: Clay Aiken, Adam Lambert, Taylor Hicks, Katherine McPhee, Sanjaya, Chris Daughtry, Ruben Studdard, Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, Fantasia Barrino, Bo Bice….

You get the idea.

Heck, I even know about William Hung.

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I wish I could forget that guy.

Honestly, I am still mystified how I know about these people.

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Oh yeah, that’s right. It’s because I watch TV all day.

 

Now, I know that some folks think that a TV show like American Idol is the epitome of mindless entertainment (mindless entertainment is our business), but even in the most mindless entertainment there may still be a philosophical nugget to be found.

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PICTURED: A PHILOSOPHICAL NUGGET

 

A philosophical nugget like when a former  American Idol contestant releases a song quoting Friedrich Nietzsche.

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NIETZSCHE ALWAYS HAS THE BEST BEATS

 

First off, if you’re unfamiliar with German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Nietzsche famously said in Twilight if the Idols (1888) “What does not destroy me makes me stronger”.

In German, that phrase would be Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker.

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Nietzsche wrote Twilight of the Idols in response to what he saw was the spread of decadent and nihilistic values in Europe. Nietzsche blames Christianity for convincing people to believe that strength and power are immoral and that weakness is a virtue. Nietzsche argues that society needs a transvaluation of values (he wanted to throw out life-denying values of Christianity in favor of what Nietzsche described as life-affirming values).

On the subject of Christianity, Nietzsche wrote

Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life’s nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in “another” or “better” life.

Nietzsche also wrote…

This eternal accusation against Christianity I shall write upon all walls, wherever walls are to be found – I have letters that even the blind will be able to see… I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one great instinct or revenge, for which no means are venomous enough, or secret, subterranean and small enough, – I call it the one immortal blemish upon the human race…

 

BEARS WILL KILL YOU

 

Nietzsche wanted a return of strong leaders like Julius Caesar and Napoleon.

Unfortunately for Nietzsche, Christianity is still around.

Apparently, God’s not dead.

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THE MOVIE SAYS SO. IT MUST BE TRUE!!!!!

 

Not that any of that matters when paraphrasing Nietzsche, anyway.

what doesn't kill you Fs you up

 

Although Friedrich Nietzsche died over a century ago, he remains a popular (and oft misquoted) philosopher.

Nietzsche’s influence is everywhere.

…including this guy’s T-shirt.

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I HAVE NO IDEA WHO THIS MAN IS, BUT I WANT HIS SHIRT

 

Have you seen Fight Club?

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The Big Lebowski?

nihilists

 

Listen to David Bowie?

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If you have, then you’re plenty familiar with the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.

 

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Like I said, I haven’t watched American Idol. But, when Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson released her fifth album Stronger in 2011, one song not only confirmed the unavoidable, god-like omnipresence of American Idol contestants, but also confirmed the unavoidable, omnipresence of Friedrich Nietzsche paraphrasing in popular culture.

 

This song.

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“Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”.

In the hit song, Kelly Clarkson sings,

 

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Stand a little taller. Doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone. What doesn’t kill you makes you a fighter…”

 

She also sings, “You didn’t think that I’d come back. I’d come back swinging. You tried to break me but you see”.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche wrote

Behold, I teach you the overman. The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of who the earth is weary: so let them go.

 

Ok, so maybe they don’t mean exactly the same thing.

giphy1

 

Kelly Clarkson’s self-empowerment anthem is all about resilience and overcoming haters, not necessarily about overthrowing Christianity.

koala

 

But listen: even though Friedrich Nietzsche and Kelly Clarkson aren’t talking about the same thing, the fact that, in 2011, a song by a popular artist quotes Friedrich Nietzsche AND that the phrase has remained popular more than one hundred years after it was written, proves that philosophy is still relevant in our popular culture.

So take that, Marco Rubio.

joseph

 

 

….At least relevant enough for the title of a Kelly Clarkson song.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

Friedrich Nietzsche. The Birth of Tragedy. 1872 Trans. Walter Kaufmann. p. 23.

Friedrich Nietzsche. The Antichrist.

http://www.theperspectivesofnietzsche.com/nietzsche/nuber.html

“Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”. Composers: Jorgen Elofsson, David Gamson, Greg Kurstin, and Ali Tamposi. (From the album Stronger [2012]).

A Fate Worse Than God

AT THE END of the movie American Beauty, a post-murdered Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) tells us, the audience, that he is, despite all appearances, grateful for “every single moment of my stupid, little life”. Now, there’s a philosophical pinata in this movie, and it’s been written about and commented on by professional and layman philosophers aplenty.

A common theme that emerges among those who look at American Beauty philosophically (and I assume even those who don’t), is the question of the meaning of life. At first glance, Lester’s life seems pretty pathetic — loveless marriage, crap-ass cubicle job (from which he is fired), a daughter who propositions the neighbor kid to off her dad, not to mention Lester’s growing obsession with the best friend of his teenage daughter.

 

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NOT COOL, LESTER

 

We look at Lester and see someone worthless, someone who has let life pass him by, someone who, if he disappeared tomorrow, no one would notice. Lester’s life stank of the quiet desperation that Thoreau wrote of in Walden.

 

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SMELL THE QUIET DESPERATION OOZING OFF THE SCREEN

 

However, even though we know that Lester’s life has come to nothing, at the end, he’s still grateful for every single moment of his life. So, there are no wasted moments after all. At the end, Lester found meaning in something that seemed so meaningless. But for the rest of us, in the real world, how can we tell that, in the end, we’d be so grateful like Lester?

So, how do we determine that our lives are worth living?

The 18th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was nice enough to give us a method for solving one of life’s most vexing questions: Is my life worth living? Nietzsche’s solution? Eternal return.

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Nietzsche’s “eternal return” goes a little something like this: a demon come to you and says

“this life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it… every pain and every joy… everything immeasurably small or great in your life must return to you…” .

Nietzsche says if our response is that we “throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus”, that our lives are not meaningful. that is, if, at the prospect of having to live your life over again for an eternity, you greet the news as someone would greet a death sentence, you had better rethink how you’re living your life, and fast.

Because your life sucks.

Most of us would say yes to the demon if we had the possibility to change things we had done in our past — to improve on ourselves, to change things for the better. Most of us wouldn’t have a problem if the demon presented us with the situation that weatherman Phil Connors experienced in the movie Groundhog Day.

groundhog-day-quotes-3

Phil was stuck living the same day repeatedly, but each time he began a new day, he was able to change his actions. Eventually, Phil discovered that the point of repeating the same day over and over was so that he would change something about himself.

At the outset, Phil wasn’t a very nice guy. Repeating Groundhog Day allowed Phil to see where he was going wrong. The day became a kind of cosmic mulligan. He did it ’til he got it right.

It’s only when Phil improved himself was he allowed to move on to February 3.

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But with Nietzsche’ eternal return, there is no release. There is no moving on to the next day.

And absolutely no changing things, either.

What would we do if we realized that, unlike Phil, we couldn’t change what happened — that we would have to live every excruciating detail of our lives forever?

FOREVER.

I suspect that only after a few times, we would end up a lot like Michael Palin in the Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch “Deja Vu”.

It doesn’t take long before Palin’s nerves are frazzled, knowing that the same thing will happen over and over and over again.

monty-python-deja-vu-animated

(if you haven’t seen this sketch, watch it)

For some of us, there aren’t enough good times to make the truly awful times bearable for an eternity. For every fantastic, Mas Tequila-soaked birthday trip to Cancun, there’s that time that you were attacked by the neighbor’s dog, or the time you spent a week in jail for unpaid traffic tickets.

Those times sucked.

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Luckily, Nietzsche’s eternal return, the demon gives us a choice. We can decide whether we want to take the demon up on his offer or not.

But what if the afterlife (or whatever lies beyond this plane of existence) is more like what happened to Phil Conners?

What if we don’t have a choice? What if when our lives end, nature or God (or the Q collective) automatically pushes the “repeat” button? What if repeating our lives is something that isn’t meant to teach us a lesson about life as much as it becomes a punishment?

groundhog-day-quotes-10

There’s this movie that came out in the mid-80s called High Spirits. It’s really a forgettable movie, but there’s a character, Mary Plunkett, who is doomed to live the night of her murder for an eternity. Every night, she and her husband Martin reenact their wedding night.

That’s the night Martin murders Mary, by the way.

Martin accuses Mary of cheating (which she wasn’t), chases her down and, fuelled by his rage at her denial, stabs and murders her.  The next night it’s back to the same thing — chase and stab all over again.

 

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THIS IS RIGHT BEFORE MARTIN GETS ALL STABBY

 

By the time the film’s protagonist (played by Steve Guttenberg) witnesses the unfortunate ghost bride and her husband replay her murder, they’ve been at it for over a hundred years.

Don’t feel too bad for Mary Plunkett, tho. She is eventually released from her eternal curse by love. Love with Steve Guttenberg.

 

highspirits3

IF YOU’RE DOOMED TO RE-ENACT THE NIGHT OF YOUR MURDER FOR AN ETERNITY, MAKE SURE THAT STEVE GUTTENBERG IS CLOSE AT HAND 

 

Win some, lose some, eh?

But this poses a very interesting question.

Ok, Nietzsche wants us to find meaning in our lives, but what if the real meaning is in our death?

Or somebody’s death.

This relates to that punishment thing I brought up a bit ago, I swear.

There’s this idea that one’s life’s meaning has to be cultivated over a lifetime. That, taken as a whole, life either has or hasn’t meaning. But why is this so? There are plenty of people who say that their entire point of view about life changed in a single moment. All the meaning of one’s life can be crammed into one, singular moment. If so, why not live that moment for an eternity?

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That’s ok, if the moment we are living is A) worth living for an eternity, and 2) if it’s not one of those punishment moments.

What if… what if we are doomed to an eternal punishment; we have to live the single worst moment of our lives for an eternity?

In the movie Salvage, a young woman named Claire Parker is forced (again, for seemingly inexplicable reasons… well at first anyway) to live the day of her murder over and over. As Claire begins to realize that she’s repeating the same day over and over, she attempts to find ways to stop her murder from taking place.

Yep. If you’re thinking you just saw this plot in a movie released this year, you’re absolutely correct.

 

happy-death-day-poster

WARNING: VIEWING THIS MOVIE MAY INDUCE FEELINGS OF DEJA VU

 

But, it seems that no matter what she does, Claire always ends up at home, where the murderer brutalizes her before murdering her and burying her body in a field.

We (the audience) think, like Claire does, if she can just figure out what’s going on, much like Phil in Groundhog Day, she can break the cycle.

giphy1

But here’s the thing. She’s not repeating her murder to figure out any meaning about her life at all. In the grand scheme of things Claire really doesn’t matter.

alternatena

It’s because it’s not about her life, it’s about her death.

Claire is an unwitting participant in someone else’s punishment.

She’s not stuck in her own eternal return, she’s struck in her murderer’s eternal return.

The murderer is being punished for murdering Claire, her boyfriend, and a bunch of other people.

The murderer is condemned to feel her pain, but the only way he can feel Claire’s pain is if she feels the pain of being murdered.

 

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I WONDER IF CLAIRE’S FAVORITE SONG IS “EVERY DAY IS EXACTLY THE SAME”?

 

Watching Salvage made me think… if a person chooses to take the demon up on his offer, exactly whose lives are involved?

Is everyone you know also doomed to be a part of your eternal repetition?

Is eternal return a group effort or is each person’s recurrence solipsistic?

…and if that is, how can I be sure I’m not in someone’s eternal return right now?

If I’m in something like Salvage or Groundhog Day, and if everyone else isn’t repeating as I am, who are these people that I am dealing with? Are they convincingly realistic- looking holograms like on the holodeck of Star Trek:The Next Generation? If they’re not, are they just facsimiles of the people you know?

 

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ONE OF THESE YOUNG WOMEN IS THE REAL PATTY. THE OTHER IS AN UNCANNY IMPOSTER

 

If I get to know those hologram people, do I really know the people that I thought that I knew once time returned to normal? If someone opts out of eternal return do they disappear from mine???

You know, this may have all been an exercise in overthinking.

I should try to just sit back and enjoy what I’m watching instead of analyzing everything for it’s “philosophical significance”.

 

 

But not High Spirits, though. It’s really not a good movie.

While On A Walk

I HEARD THAT NIETZSCHE said that most (good) philosophy is done while one is on a walk.

That is to say, that getting out into the world does more to stir one’s mind than does sitting in a university, speaking to other people who do no more than echo exactly what we already think or say.

I think that’s true.

Sometimes, however, going out for a walk only results in experiences that only confirm why so many people out there, myself un-excluded, claim that they hate humanity.

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It’s not just a claim. I really do.

I thought that I would try, for god knows for what umpteenth-number time, to rid myself of the practice of seeing things so negatively.

grumpy

I thought that I would try to see the bright side of life, as suggested by the Monty Python song.

I think that there must be some higher force at work somewhere in the galaxy, because every time I attempt to see the worthiness of humanity as a whole, my hopes are dashed and I only end up confirming that people, as the Slipknot song says, equals shit.

Why the relentlessly negative and bad attitude towards people, you ask?

hate-people

To get back to Nietzsche, I was out for a walk. Nothing monumental, just a short jot before it really got (gets?) hot outside. You see, here, where I live in SoCal, there is no such thing as a gradual climb in the temperature. It’s cool one day, and 101 degrees the next. Go figure.

Anyway, I was out for a walk. Just like Nietzsche wants us to.

My walk kind of started off nice, mostly because I literally  hadn’t been out of the house all week. I gazed at the green grass, deeply inhaled the aroma of fresh-cut lawns, and listened to the chirping birds. I was deep in thought of what I had read the night before, a chapter from Kurt Vonnegut’s Man Without A Country. In the book Vonnegut said that he likes talking to people. I don’t. But I, having newly committed myself to sunny up my personality, decided that I would at least try to enjoy the company of others.

At the very least I could get in some thinking about things philosophically.

 

giphy

DEEP PHILOSOPHICAL THOUGHTS GOING ON RIGHT HERE

 

So I was out for a walk.

I realized I was enjoying my walk because I wasn’t bothered by anyone else’s company at that time.

…since I was walking alone.

But that’s kind of besides the point.

Now, I know that there are people who, for reasons that only they and their god know, decide that they should shout out things to people walking on the sidewalk or along the road.

I’ve personally never understood this phenomenon.

Well, that’s precisely what happened while I was attempting some Nietzsche-inspired walking.

Usually, if someone says something it’s something incoherent. It’s like the person shouting whatever decided to shout something, but then decides to back down — but only after the words have already left his mouth. It’s almost always a he who does it.

 

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THIS DUDE IS GONNA SAY SOMETHING…I GUARANTEE IT

 

Usually, the words they say aren’t so clear. But his time, it was a loud and clear “fuck you!”

This really left me confused.

Not to mention that it broke my chain of thought.

Now, really. It’s not that the words themselves offended me. They didn’t. I’ve said that particular phrase to other people on more occasions than I care to remind myself. But, usually, at least in the case that I’ve used that particular phrase, the person to whom the comment was directed deserved to have it said to them. I was just walking on the sidewalk.

And when I looked to see who said it, the guy seemed pretty angry, too. He looked really pissed off.

Schopenhauer pissed off.

 

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IMAGINE THIS FACE DRIVING BY SHOUTING “FUCK YOU!” OUT OF THE WINDOW

 

How can I explain what happened to me? I thought, for a moment, that I might have done something to offend the guy in the car. I thought about what I was wearing — just a pair of blue jeans and a black t-shirt. That usually doesn’t get people that worked up. I was wearing a backpack, but there’s nothing on my bag I think would upset anyone. I had taken all of my Leftist political patches off of my bag.

Besides, I don’t think by the looks of this guy that he would have noticed if they were still there.

For a few moments, I really thought about why that guy would have said shouted “Fuck You!” at me.

For a moment I wondered if Nietzsche himself manifested in the flesh and shouted “Fuck You!” at me while I was walking?

I actually attempted to figure out if any of the (limited) list of philosophers I know of ever addressed why people feel the need to shout things to people who aren’t doing anything to them. I couldn’t think of any.

Kant probably did. He wrote about everything.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought that there must be some explanation for why this is. Some deep-seeded philosophical need to express one’s ontology by shouting “Fuck You!” at people one doesn’t know.

There is, but I guess that, in the long run, the answer is psychological rather than philosophical.

That means Hume would probably know why.

 

allan_ramsay_-_david_hume_1711_-_1776-_historian_and_philosopher_-_google_art_project-e1458577182775

LOOK AT THIS GUY AND TELL ME HE DIDN’T SHOUT “FUCK YOU!” AT PEOPLE WALKING DOWN THE STREET WHILE HE RODE BY IN HIS CARRIAGE

 

There is some not-so-deep seeded need in some people to yell at people — the more shocking the statement the better. And since you’re in a car, and your intended shockee is walking, you’re long gone before the person ever gets his bearings straight enough for a proper response, whatever that would be.

What would be the proper response? An “ok, thanks buddy” or a “well, good day to you, too”?

I’m guessing that, on this subject at least, philosophers may not have spent any time thinking on why this is so; why people feel compelled to shout things at people walking down the street.

That would mean that at last there is something that philosophers don’t have an opinion about!

 

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ASKING PHILOSOPHERS ABOUT PEOPLE WHO SHOUT “FUCK YOU!” FROM CARS SHUTS UP PHILOSOPHERS BETTER THAN DUCT TAPE

 

So, I guess my queries on the subject are better directed to the headshrinker than to the guy boring his class to death with examples of Gettier problems. Maybe with the proper philosophical insight, we’ll eventually figure out how and why anyone would find the need to shout “Fuck You!” to passersby by way of some epistemic debate or metaphysical claim.

I’m more than certain that some philosopher has some opinion about it.

They can’t leave any subject untarnished by their supposedly expert thoughts about everything.

I never did get those deep thoughts like Nietzsche said I would, though.

 

Ash Williams and the Meaning of Life

“life is a tale, told by an idiot,  full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
— William Shakespeare

IT SEEMS STRANGE to say that I like my horror movies with a coherent plot. I seems even stranger to say that I appreciate a horror movie that has philosophical significance. And now, I intend to write about not one, but three films that possess both plot and philosophy: Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy.

SAM RAIMI'S "THE EVIL DEAD" TRILOGY: MORE PHILOSOPHICAL THAN KIERKEGAARD.

SAM RAIMI’S “THE EVIL DEAD” TRILOGY: MORE PHILOSOPHICAL THAN KIERKEGAARD.

The Evil Dead, subtitled “the ultimate experience in grueling horror”, released in 1982, and it’s sequel (?) Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992), follows the adventures in terror of Ash Williams, who, along with an assortment of companions, unknowingly (through the recitation of passages from the Necronomicon, or Book of the Dead), conjure up evil spirits that, over the course of the film, knock off each of the unfortunate unintentional conjurers “one by one”.

The first film of the trilogy The Evil Dead, starts off with nothing spectacular: five college kids (including Ash, his sister Cheryl, his girlfriend Linda, his buddy Scott, and his girlfriend Shelly) head up to an isolated cabin in the woods (not The Cabin in the Woods — That’s a different movie. And an entirely different moral situation) where they drink moonshine, smoke weed, and generally do what young folks in a typical horror flick set in an isolated cabin in the woods do.

A GROUP OF COLLEGE KIDS GO OFF TO AN ISOLATED CABIN IN THE WOODS AND WHAT HAPPENS?  YEP. THEY HAVE DINNER.

A GROUP OF COLLEGE KIDS GO OFF TO AN ISOLATED CABIN IN THE WOODS AND WHAT HAPPENS?
YEP. THEY HAVE DINNER.

While snooping around the cabin, Ash and his male companion, Scotty, stumble upon an ancient reel to reel, which just so happens to be the property of an archaeologist who just so happened to be translating passages from an ancient Sumerian text containing incantations and rituals for demonic resurrection.

Playing a mysterious reel-to-reel tape containing ancient Sumerian demonic incantations….what could possibly go wrong?

ASK CHERYL WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU PLAY INCANTATIONS FROM THE NECRONOMICON AND THEN GO WALKING IN THE WOODS

ASK CHERYL WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU PLAY INCANTATIONS FROM THE NECRONOMICON AND THEN GO WALKING IN THE WOODS

Well, as expected, reawakened evil immediately sets to systematically possessing and killing (most horrifically) each of the young, nubile campers.

As dawn breaks, Ash, the lone survivor, emerges covered in blood from the cabin. But as Ash breathes a sigh of relief, having survived an encounter with the evil dead, we follow a remaining evil spirit through the woods, through the cabin, eventually running headlong into Ash himself as the camera fades to black.

We assume that Ash has not escaped the evil dead, but is the last of its victims. That is, until 1987, when Evil Dead 2:Dead By Dawn was released.

It’s been rumored that Sam Raimi, having taken so much heat for the excessive violence of the first Evil Dead film, wanted to make a movie that was more appeasing to the censors.

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This may explain why Evil Dead 2 is less of a sequel than it is a remake of the original film.

The film opens as Ash and his girlfriend Linda are heading up to the totally deserted, so far away from civilization that, if you were attacked by an onslaught of demonic forces, no one would hear you screaming cabin in the woods.

Once again, Ash, while rifling through someone else’s stuff, stumbles upon an old reel to reel containing a recordings read from the Necronomicon.

THIS IS THE NECRONOMICON. DO NOT READ FROM THIS BOOK

THIS IS THE NECRONOMICON. DO NOT READ FROM THIS BOOK

And, as expected, Ash and his girlfriend are besieged by the spirits of the evil undead. After beheading and dismembering his girlfriend, Ash is (eventually) joined by a different group of Red Shirts, including the archaeologist’s daughter, Annie, her assistant Ed, a hillbilly with a serious case of hyperhidrosis named Jake, and his too cute for this guy in real life girlfriend named Bobby Joe.

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NO, YOU ARE NOT WATCHING “THE EVIL DEAD” ALL OVER AGAIN. THIS IS A TOTALLY DIFFERENT MOVIE.

As this film ends, Ash and Annie must read from the Necronomicon to send the evil back to its own time. During the film’s climax, Annie is killed (she’s stabbed in the back with the Kandarian dagger), but the beleaguered Ash is sent back in time with the demon.

Luckily for Ash, this time he is not unarmed, and he slays the evil creature with a blast from his shotgun (his “boomstick”).  Evil Dead 2:Dead By Dawn ends as Ash is being hailed as a hero.

The last of the trilogy, Army of Darkness, opens where Evil Dead 2 leaves off. Ash finds himself held captive by a medieval army, being led off to his death. During Ash’s trip, he guides us, by way of voice-over, through a flashback. We once again see Ash and his girlfriend Linda (this time played by Bridget Fonda) heading up to that God-forsaken cabin in the woods.

most interesting cabin in the woods

We’ve seen it all before: Ash and Linda head up to the cabin, Ash finds reel to reel, Ash plays reel to reel, Linda is caried off by demonic forces, Ash battles the evil dead, Ash goes back in time, Ash ends up a slave on his way to death. However, the adventure (this time) does not take place in the cabin. Ash must retrieve the Necronomicon and banish the evil dead by reciting the words: klaatu barada nikto.

Of course, Ash fails to say the words correctly.

And this, my friends, is where the philosophy begins.

The original The Evil Dead seems simple enough — it follows the formulaic plot employed by dozens of genre films: stick a group of twenty-somethings in a remote place and kill them off one by one. Throw in a few obligatory boob shots and some pot smoking before someone gets sliced in half or shot through the head with an arrow.

The plot of The Evil Dead (and similar films) is pretty repetitive, except I do believe that The Evil Dead is the only horror film that I know of that contains a scene where a character is violated by a tree. Not with a tree, by a tree.

FOR REASONS CONCERNING THE LETTERS NSFW, I WILL NOT INCLUDE A GIF OR FILM CLIP OF THIS SCENE

FOR REASONS CONCERNING THE LETTERS NSFW, I WILL NOT INCLUDE A GIF OR FILM CLIP OF THIS SCENE

But there is something else at work here.

It is the character Ash himself.

As The Evil Dead closes, we are left to assume that Ash has suffered the fate of his companions. Yet, Ash returns in Evil Dead 2. Not only does Ash come back, he comes back with his girlfriend Linda , and we know that Linda died in the previous film.

NOT THE SAME LINDA

NOT THE SAME LINDA

Ash, however, seems completely unaware that any event that is happening in this film already happened in the first film. Now, we could take the films at face value assuming that Sam Raimi liked the plot of the original film so much, and enjoyed torturing star Bruce Campbell so thoroughly, that he felt the need to remake his first film.

That might very well be true.

However, we are given a clue that there is something else going on on a deeper level.

While searching through the Necronomicon for the incantation that will send back the evil spirit to its own time, Annie and Ash happen upon a page bearing a picture of a man standing, arm raised up holding a chainsaw.

THESE AREN'T THE PAGES WITH ASH ON THEM BUT HE WAS TOTALLY IN THE NECRONOMICON

THESE AREN’T THE PAGES WITH ASH ON THEM BUT HE WAS TOTALLY IN THE NECRONOMICON

When Annie flips to the page, Ash gasps. He tells Annie that he feels as if someone has just walked over his grave. The picture in the Necronomicon looks, with an exception of the image wearing a pair of white pants, like Ash. Annie tells Ash that the traveler was predicted to come to vanquish the evil. Ash remarks that the traveler “didn’t do a very good job”.

THE NECRONOMICON PREDICTED THAT THE TRAVELER WILL SENT THROUGH THIS VORTEX

THE NECRONOMICON PREDICTED THAT THE TRAVELER WILL SENT THROUGH THIS VORTEX

Finally, in Army of Darkness, Ash is thrust back in time where, with chainsaw on hand, he leads Richard and his army in a battle against the deadites. The priests tell Ash that he is the traveler that was predicted to save the people from the forces of evil. And, as Ash observed in Evil Dead 2 , the traveler didn’t do a very good job.

Ready for the philosophy?

When I first noticed that there was something odd about the continuity of the Evil Dead films, I had assumed that the underlying plot was time travel. It was easy enough to assume this because in Evil Dead 2 destroying the evil required opening up a portal in time.

IF IT WORKS FOR STAR TREK, WHY NOT FOR AN EVIL DEAD FLICK?

IF IT WORKS FOR STAR TREK, WHY NOT FOR AN EVIL DEAD FLICK?

That was before I had heard of Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence. Nietzsche posited that we can judge the overall value (or meaningfulness) of our live by asking ourselves this basic question: would you want to live your life over again? Nietzsche, being the excellent humorist that he was, added one small catch — the life that we live eternally would be the exact same life that we had already lived. We cannot change a thing about our lives, we must live each day, month, hour, and second as we had lived the first time around — for an eternity.

eternal

Ash, at first glance, seems to be stuck in some sort of loop. He seems to be repeating his life over and over (at least three times). However, not only does Ash seem unaware that he is repeating his life, each Evil Dead film is slightly different from the one the preceded it.

NOT THE SAME LINDA

NOT THE SAME LINDA

In each film, the group at the cabin is different. In each movie, the actress playing Ash’s girlfriend Linda is different. And each ends differently. So, in a strictly Nietzschean sense, Ash’s life is not the same. Also, Nietzsche’s question is one about life’s meaning. There seems to be no such meaningful scheme for Ash. Ash just goes through the motions and learns absolutely nothing in the process. The fact that Ash seems unaware of the fact that he repeats the same routine suggests that Ash could not make the decision to live the same life repeatedly as Nietzsche requires for eternal return. So, by my estimate, Ash’s cabin in the woods-based adventure, is not Nietzschean.

So what is it then?

As I was eliminating Nietzsche, I started to think of another doomed to repeat himself kind of guy: Sisyphus.

Sisyphus, having been condemned by the gods, is doomed to push a large rock uphill, only to have the rock slide back down the mountain when he reaches the top. For Sisyphus, he is condemned to repeat the same futile act for an eternity. No matter what Sisyphus does, the rock will roll back down the hill.

Sisyphus’ punishment sounds more like Ash’s predicament than Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence.

The first clue to this interpretation of the Evil Dead trilogy came in Evil Dead 2, where Annie and Ash are looking through the Book of the Dead. To the viewer, the picture of the traveler clearly is Ash, and Ash’s reaction suggests that the man depicted in the book is him. Annie tells Ash that a prophesy tells us the the traveler was sent to the past to destroy the evil, which suggests that there are higher forces at work in the scheme of things.

Prophesy tends to deal with matters that are assigned by the gods (or God) that humans must abide by or fulfill. So, we can (somewhat safely) assume that Ash’s predicament may have been arranged by the gods, like Sisyphus.

So, like Sisyphus, perhaps Ash has been condemned to repeat the same futile act — namely having a succession of girlfriends named Linda killed by evil demons, being sent back in time to rid civilization of evil demons, and ultimately screwing up, which will require him to repeat the task all over again.

But, unlike Camus’ Sisyphus, who ultimately finds happiness in his condemnation (he comes to gain happiness through the attempt to roll the rock uphill. The rock staying there is no longer a goal that Sisyphus seeks), Ash remains unaware that he is condemned to repeat his life over and over again.

On the DVD commentaries for the Evil Dead films, both star Bruce Campbell and director Sam Raimi express a disdain for the character Ash. It seems that, from their point of view, Ash may be too stupid to figure out that he has been to that cabin before. For example, Sam Raimi calls Ash an “idiot, coward and a braggart”.

In the end, Sisyphus is able to derive some meaning out of his futile existence. However, Ash Williams, it seems, is condemned to live a life best expressed by Shakespeare.

Ash Williams’ life is full of sound and fury, but ultimately it signifies nothing.