On pop culture connections and voodoo.

Published June 30, 2012 by mandileighbean

I’ve decided that I get my best thinking done in the shower, especially when the water is searing hot.  If I open the bathroom door after such a shower and the fire alarm rings out loud from the steam, you can safely bet I’ve developed a real gem of an idea.  I took one such shower today because I was feeling particularly grimy; I went out with friends last night, drank way too much and awoke with the word “fancy” stamped twice upon my forearm.  Scattered across my bedroom floor were clothes, Hawaiian leis and Mardi Gras beads.  Clearly I enjoyed myself, but at a cost; my stomach was feeling funny and my head was pounding fit to split.  The intense heat didn’t help matters, either.  I had resolved myself to eating greasy food and watching sitcoms that cause me to feel bad about myself because I am broke, single, unemployed, still living at home and feeling particularly unfulfilled.  To be specific, I was watching “New Girl” with Zooey Deschanel.  I absolutely adore this show – the writing is humorous, clever and heartfelt, the characters are genuine and authentic, the plots are entertaining but not outlandish – and realized with not a small amount of trepidation that I am in love with Nick Miller, the lead male protagonist.  While all of my significant romantic relationships have been with fictional males, this one is the most promising because I’m learning a lot about myself and why I engage in such pathetic behavior.  For example, Nick and Jess taught me that “backsliding” is always a bad idea; if a relationship didn’t pan out, it is for a good reason and revisiting what is lost only serves to make things messy and disappointing.  Just last night, I was debating about reconnecting with Navy Guy – a guy I “dated” (I use that term loosely – we went out twice) briefly.  To do so would no doubt seem weird since it’s been months since we last talked.  I debated whether I wanted to initiate contact because I was lonely and bored, or if because I genuinely believe I missed an opportunity.  After watching “New Girl” and analyzing the episode’s thematic development, I realize that I did not miss an opportunity.  The Navy Guy was somewhat shady, only texted me randomly when he was lonely and bored and I deserve better.  Thank you, Nick Miller.

I was thinking about these episodes and how I felt compelled to have a romantic interest in a fictional character when an advertisement for the movie “Magic Mike” aired.  Like most women, I am eager to see this movie because it has gorgeous, half-naked men in it.  Does that mean I am objectifying males, behaving below my level of intelligence and participating in a double standard?  Maybe, but I honestly find my reaction to the movie interesting.  I want to see it, as I want to finally read Fifty Shades of Grey.  Women rave about both of these artistic endeavors and while some claim that the movie and the book are nothing more than pornography, others hail both as tools to which women can break down sexual barriers.  Whichever it may be, I find it fascinating that audiences are always interested in sex and sometimes by extension, romance.  What does that say about society, that we’re starved for sex or for affection?  Are we desperate for human contact or human connections?  Are the two invariably linked?

Look at the Twilight andTrue Blood phenomenons; in both series, inhuman creatures – monsters, quite literally – are romanticized.  What is the deeper meaning here, that being loved by a monster is better than being lonely?  Why is it better to be with a vampire or a werewolf or some supernatural being than to be with a normal human being?  Is it a love or interest in the melodramatic?  Is it just entertainment?  When you step back and study popular culture from a sociological perspective, it is quite fascinating.  I’m eager to apply such a lens to my own writing and reading habits.  I believe everything I write involves romance because I am starved for affection – we have already discussed this.  I make my male characters brooding or damaged because either they are a reflection of how I see myself, or because it adds suspense to a typically humdrum circumstance.  That being said, I would much rather have my writing been driven by character development rather than plot development.  I could craft the most exciting plot with explosions, intrigue and murder – but if there is not a single character to provide the emotional buy-in, then what is the point?

I think that’s why “Magic Mike” and Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight and True Blood are all so popular; they explore human relations in various ways.  Though their plots are different – significantly different in some ways – all involve men and women and what they mean to each other.  That will always fascinate audiences because we will never be able to figure such relationships out.  There is always some kind of mystery and that is both alluring and entertaining – even in this digital age where everything about everyone is made known.  Glued to the boob tube as I was today, I saw an advertisement for the new HBO show “Newsroom” and one of the lead actresses, I believe it was Olivia Munn, who said the definition of newsworthy has changed; it now encompasses whatever people want to know about and it seems that what people want to know about most is other people; i.e., celebrities and people of note.  That makes sense to me – you see it everyday when “Jersey Shore” has more viewers than a documentary on the environment.  Are our priorities skewed, or are we just being honest with ourselves and indulging what we truly are fascinated by?

This is what I was ruminating on in the long, hot shower I took this evening, cleansing myself of the grime from the night before.  I decided that I like mystery- I am thrilled by a handsome stranger on a train who doesn’t give me a second glance with his sunglasses and headphones on.  He is elusive and I have a myriad of imagined possibilities of who he is and why he’s listening to headphones and wearing sunglasses.  I spent Wednesday evening in New York City with my friend Dominick, and we watched beautiful men in Central Park.  Some ran, some playfully tackled their girlfriends, some lovingly held hands with their boyfriends and it really drove my point home; this life is all about the connections we make, and so is the best art.

That being said, tonight’s prompt is not romantic. Enjoy.

PROMPT: “During his third night out of town, a traveling business man discovers a voodoo doll in his hotel room.”

PIECE:

Bill had been enjoying his time out of town.  Even though it was for business and he had spent the majority of his time attending boring, long-winded conferences and being hunched over yellow legal pads, scrawling notes with a tired, cramping hand, Bill was happy to be away; it offered the opportunity of gaining some perspective.  The town was tiny and cramped – everyone knew everyone, and everyone liked to talk.  Indeed, it seemed that Mrs. Marshall, the cashier at the local convenient store that operated at all hours and sold cigarettes at the lowest price allowed by law, knew Carol was going to divorce Bill’s sorry ass long before he did.  She had, in fact, told her husband all about it.  Mr. Marshall just so happened to work in Bill’s office and walked into Bill’s cubicle to offer his condolences on the failed marriage.  Bill had met Mr. Marshall’s mumbled sentiments with genuine surprise; aside from a lack of communication and a lack of sex, he had assumed things were fine, rolling right along.  Couples had dry spells, no?  Every marriage hit a rough spot, right?  Bill arrived home that afternoon seeking both clarification and reassurance, but Carol had only sucked in air between her teeth and shook her head slowly.  Bill had lost his drive, she said.  Where was the passion and the aspiration?  Bill was old and tired, she had complained.  She was moving up and on and out – all in one fell swoop.

Bill supposed none of it mattered anymore, seeing as how the marriage was over, Carol was a bitch and he was coping in his own way.  He was thinking about all of this perched on the end of the bed in his motel room.  It was an oppressive dry heat in early July, so he had the door kept wide open.  The air conditioner was busted and besides, he liked watching the flickering streetlamps and the imitations of life that passed by, with intimate conversations – not a single passerby knew that he or she was being observed and therefore, exhibited genuine and authentic behavior which Bill found fascinating.  Carol had never been genuine with him, not until the end of everything and that kind of betrayal and disappointment kept Bill from being genuine with anyone.  Instead, he was a stranger – a kind, pleasant, smiling face at all the right places, but still a stranger.

He was taking a deep swig from the amber bottle in his right hand, allowing his eyes free range, when they fell upon an odd-looking doll behind the door which was propped open.  Bill hadn’t seen it before, though he had been in the same room for three nights, and that was decidedly strange.  It sent goosebumps along his arms and spine.  Bill set the bottle on the floor beside his feet and then carefully rose, employing slow and halting steps as he visually examined the doll.  The details were exquisite; it was a balding man in his late thirties, with worried eyes and a downturned mouth.  He was wearing a business suit and could have been anyone of the numerous men Bill called colleagues.  More fascinated than frightened, Bill stooped to pick the doll up when he had reached it and taking it into his hands, Bill realized what it was.

It was a voodoo doll, and it had a single pin in its back.

Bill should have gasped and dropped the doll to the floor.  Bill should have removed the pin delicately and called the police.  Bill should have placed the doll somewhere safe from abuse and misuse, and inquired about the proper way of destroying said voodoo doll.

Bill didn’t do what he should have; matter of fact, he rarely did.  It was something Carol constantly complained about.

Bill looked at the doll and thought about the year he had had.  He had been Carol’s doll, hadn’t he?  She had left him bruised and broken, lying about erectile dysfunction and telling anyone who would listen that Bill was no longer vibrant and had lost the will to live.  Old and tired?  Bill?  She was harsh and cruel.  Bill would have given her everything, and had given her all that she had asked for.  Not to say he was blameless in the dissolution of the marriage but hell, didn’t a man get points for trying?  He had never hit her, cheated on her or lied to her.  So what if he wanted to take it easy when he got home from work?  Was that a crime?

Bill was sick and tired of feeling the proverbial pins people stuck in him – Carol, his boss riding Bill all the time and sending Bill to the conferences he didn’t want to go to with no monetary compensation, growing older and being afraid of what it meant to do so.  Why couldn’t he be the one to stick it to someone, at least once?  Bill removed the pin from the back of the doll and stuck it in the doll’s leg, after a barely noticeable moment of hesitation.

Somewhere, a complete stranger howled in pain.

Bill breathed easier.

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