Archive for Teaching

The Crocodile Woman: Emily Ritter [NON-FICTION]

Most education stuff I’ve moved to a different site, but this post is a transcript of someone who attacked me and admitted she’s a freakin’ monster, so I had to put it here.

NOTE TO EMPLOYERS: Never hire, and if you’ve done so, especially if you’re in education, IMMEDIATELY FIRE EMILY RITTER. The below reveals her attitude toward people with disabilities as well as her general ignorance about communication.

I am not merely giving this advice out of spite–although spite her I do–but because her attitude is, frankly, of the deep-seeded illegal sort likely to carry into the workplace, and the lack of understanding she shows of the rhetorical situation (Facebook-level public discourse as opposed to workplace-level discourse: the former favors frankness, at least in my audience, while the latter requires more politesse) and rhetorical purpose (hers to mock me, mine to expose her problematic attitudes through honed antagonism), as well as her increasing immaturity show a lack of professionalism ill-suited to teaching in what I believe is her field. I was assistant director of a world-class comp program for years. I know a thing or two.

Note that I have edited to get rid of Facebook junk. I am also offering clearly marked commentary. MS. RITTER ADDED THE CROCODILE PHOTOS WITHIN THE TRANSCRIPT AS SELF-PORTRAITS, at least metaphorically. The other images, including the croc below, are my additions for the sake of the blog.


Click to learn the origin of this frankly awesome image. The less inspiring true image of the monster in question is at the end.


Facebook_logo-2Andrew Cooper Update: Thanks to responders! I’d like more answers from the professoriate before I take action (although I don’t require it)–just don’t want to be accused rightly of not thinking things through before I make possible career-ending moves (which are likely deserved). [As none are responders here, I have deleted the list of names I tagged]

And feel free to comment, UofL College of Arts and Sciences, especially University of Louisville Humanities Ph.D. Program, as your Dean (Kimberly Leonard) and Director (Shelley Salamensky) are the alleged criminals in charge who maneuvered grad students into criminal choices. Tom Byers? What would you do with criminals at the place where you worked for so long? Or would you have me shut up and let the crimes go on?

ACADEMIC WORLD: I need your input. I believe that graduate students became involved in larger criminal activities of faculty and administration at a university. While I might grant that these adults did not fully understand that their obviously unethical actions were also criminal, and I assign more blame to those of higher rank who likely led them into the position where they chose criminal options, nevertheless, they are adults, and they made criminal choices. ERGO, do I treat them the same as the other criminals I am pursuing? Do I expose them as I would other academic criminals? Does being graduate students somehow give them shelter from the consequences of their criminal behavior? Conversely–do I have a moral obligation to inform the profession of these unethical, lawbreaking individuals before someone makes the mistake of hiring them? The answers do not seem obvious, although I lean toward treating all criminals equally.

whitehandsincuffsEmily Ritter · Friends with Tom Byers and 2 others

This showed up in my feed, and it piqued my curiosity. Could you clarify the allegations? If I’m reading you right, the university took one of your classes away and had another (unqualified) instructor teach it? Additionally, you seem to be alleging that the university disciplined you for inappropriate communications? Correct?


Andrew Cooper Emily Ritter, thanks for your interest. I am not going to rehearse the whole story here, but read here if you’re interested: FYI, I was never “disciplined” and was told the opposite in writing right until I got the termination notice. I am not publishing my 1500+ pages of incriminating evidence, as, like I said, I am working with the Attorney General’s office on a criminal investigation related to discrimination, retaliation, violation of open records laws, fraud, civil rights abuses (my own and students’), illegal intimidation and use of force (UofL police) and much more. I made no inappropriate communications, although they manufactured the illusion of them by taking some words out of context.

Honesty, or, Walking the Academic Plank


walk plank


Andrew Cooper Emily Ritter, this page establishes that much of what I claim is pretty much standard practice for UofL, a good school in some respects that just happens to be run by people I believe to be criminals:

The Criminal Aura of the University of Louisville


Emily Ritter · Friends with Alan Golding and 2 others

Aw. Thanks for your quick response. From the tone of your post, it sounded like UofL had grad students murdering hookers, laundering money through shady business practices, dealing illegal narcotics or engaging in otherwise serious criminal activities.

Andrew Cooper Tone is a weird thing. I wouldn’t bother asking if those types of crimes were in question–if I had that evidence, I would just call the police. My tone in asking, and my clear statement, was about being in a grey area. Your examples are not grey. However, those crimes are not the only ones that need prosecution. UofL’s years of crimes and bilking of millions of dollars demand restitution. Crimes committed by rich white people that immediately hurt thousands are arguably worse than dealing drugs on the street, but dismissive statements like yours suggest otherwise.


Emily Ritter · Friends with Karen Hadley and 2 others

Well, you seem awfully pissed off. That’s pretty clear.


Andrew Cooper You would be pissed too if UofL had illegally violated your rights for 1.5 years.


Andrew Cooper I take it you would defend the criminals?


Emily Ritter

I try not to make assumptions about how I would feel under experiences I’ve never had. As for your other question, I’m not sure what you were asking.


Andrew Cooper As I have been arguing on my author page, the comparing the massive criminality of the people running a public agency like UofL to crimes such as “murdering hookers, laundering money through shady business practices, dealing illegal narcotics or engaging in otherwise serious criminal activities” creates a hierarchy. The crimes you name are street crimes–generally committed by the lower classes–whereas I am pursuing crimes committed by the upper classes, which also take tolls in lives and much greater tolls in capital, but you call them less “serious.” Ergo, you are making classist assumptions about criminality that favor the rich white folk in charge of UofL, exculpating them by calling their criminality less serious, a point I do not grant an inch.


Andrew Cooper Try not to make assumptions? You mean there’s a chance you wouldn’t be pissed if an organization discriminated against you, retaliated against you, and deliberately damaged your health for 1.5 years? Get real–or admit you’re a robot.


Emily Ritter

I think it’s pretty classist of you to suggest that “murdering hookers, laundering money through shady business practices, dealing illegal narcotics or otherwise serious criminal activities” are crimes generally committed by the lower classes.


Emily Ritter

Additionally, not engaging in creative reflection on knowledge I don’t have does not make me a robot. It just means I’m a little more contemplative than most. Frankly, in the small breadth of communication I’ve had with you, you seem to have some difficulty with using an appropriate tone for discourse. That may actually be your core issue here. You should work on that a little bit – especially if you are planning on pursuing a career in education.

[Side note: refusing to empathize with people does not make one “a little more contemplative than most.” I might argue that reading world philosophy that many people spend their lives puzzling over in one’s teens makes one a little more contemplative than most. Refusing to empathize just makes one a little less human than most.]

Andrew Cooper Think that. But you were listing examples of the types of “street” crime sensationalized on television. Of course the rich are on tops of pyramids when those crimes are organized as well–but the type of crime I am talking about is distinctly white collar, and that type people love to call less serious and let slip through the cracks.

white-privilegeEmily Ritter

I promise you. I am not white collar. If that helps you sleep better at night.


Andrew Cooper As a comedian asked on Larry Wilmore last night or the night before, why are poor people Republicans? Life’s mysteries. Advocate against your interests all you want.


Emily Ritter

Sorry. I’m not following you at all.


Andrew Cooper Clearly. And as for my tone… your advice on that is not fucking welcome. This is Facebook. And that you are not following me is unsurprising. And that I am uninterested in your career counseling is equally unsurprising. If you have actual insight on the topic of this thread, have at it. If you’re a UofL crony who wants to bark at me, go away.


Andrew Cooper And if you can’t imagine being pissed about being abused, you lack empathy, which means something is wrong with your brain.


Emily Ritter

Obviously you don’t respond to constructive criticism very well either. You might want to work on that as well if you are planning on continuing in eduction. Add that to your list of unsolicited advice. You’re welcome.

Does Ritter pass the definition test? FAIL!

Does Ritter pass the definition test? FAIL!


Andrew Cooper Show me where you were constructive–and prove you’re not a UofL crony–and I’ll apologize. But you can’t.


Andrew Cooper And I DO NOT WANT TO WORK IN EDUCATION with people who defend alleged criminals like James Ramsey, who deserve massive Fuck Yous, in my professional opinion.


Emily Ritter

I don’t have anything to do with UofL. I suggested you work on your tone. You have responded by insulting me with various imagined (and mostly incorrect) assumptions.


Andrew Cooper Scroll up to my author page link to see my profession.


Emily Ritter

An author who has no concept of appropriate tone and is unable to take constructive criticism? Hmmm. Good luck buddy.

[side note: I really wonder who she is to give someone with my publication record such “good luck” patronization… a bestseller? or just a jackass?]

Actually, she reserved another creature in the bestiary.

Actually, she reserved another creature in the bestiary.


Andrew Cooper Like I said, condescending, not constructive. What you call assumption I call benefit of the doubt.

[I was assuming she knew at least SOMETHING of what she wrote about. If she is, as I suspect, a composition teacher, she is white collar. Although comp teachers are in general horribly underpaid, since I used to hire and fire them, I would judge her value in the field at zero.]

Andrew Cooper What you call constructive criticism I call ignorance. Where do you get your superior wisdom? You’ve been insulting me nearly from the start.


Emily Ritter

Hey man, like I said, the post showed up on my feed. I was curious enough to ask questions. From our interactions, I’m pretty clear on what happened here. Good luck on your case.


Andrew Cooper Btw, I can see your friends–you are a UofL crony, ergo, a liar. Keep your clarity spawned by lies, and I’ll keep telling people like you to fuck off.


Andrew Cooper And if you’ve come to conclusions without analyzing evidence, I’m pretty clear on what kind of person you are, too.

Great title. Don't know the book, but click the pic for more.

Great title. Don’t know the book, but click the pic for more.

Emily Ritter

If everyone who had friends that attended UofL was a crony, the entire state of Kentucky would be cronies. That’s a pretty large population of people to offend. I’m sure Jack Conway doesn’t know anyone that fits in that pool though. Har. Just to be clear, I was being sarcastic there.

[Side note: her argument here is very stupid, as the friends in question are all UofL FACULTY, ergo, cronies]

Andrew Cooper Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway and I have already discussed concerns about his potential conflicts of interest, but thank you for making this point publicly, with all your UofL friends and your obvious UofL sympathies, as it will help make my case.

I think Mr. Conway seems good, but if Ms. Croc is right about him being guilty of cronyism, then he's a criminal. She should be careful about her implications.

I think Mr. Conway seems good, but if Ms. Croc is right about him being guilty of cronyism, then he’s a criminal. She should be careful about her implications.

Andrew Cooper Any other UofL-favoring attacks you’d like to share? Perhaps you begin to see some advantage in my tone.


Emily Ritter

You’re welcome. You are going to need all the help you can get.


Andrew Cooper Keep it coming. By the way, what do you do? I am going to publicize this conversation.


Emily Ritter

I don’t see any advantage in the way you communicate with other people. Of course, I only have this communication to judge you on.


Emily Ritter · Friends with Karen Hadley and 2 others

You are in your right to do whatever you want to do with your Facebook page.


Andrew Cooper Ms. Emily Ritter, you saw fit to advise someone with the finest education in English that the world can offer, as well as more than a decade of teaching experience, about tone, and then you condescended to me as if you had superior knowledge, which I allowed to go on until you reached a point where you gave me something useful. Had I been as nice, not used the word fuck, etc., you would have been nothing but a waste of my time. With UofL, my tone was often disliked, but the same thing often happened, and if you follow my links, months went by with no disciplinary action whatsoever–they finally terminated me, I argue, as an act of retaliation when they realized I would not stop pursuing my claims about upper admin’s wrongdoing. So you see, my tone is not as formed by ignorance as you have assumed, nor have my assumptions about you been as informed by ignorance as by, well, thought, something I recommend strongly to you. It’s too late for UofL.

L. Andrew Cooper By the way, look up the word “crony.” I still have friends, or at least people I like, at UofL, more whom I like than I dislike, actually. But I don’t mindlessly defend the U or attack its enemies (as you have attacked me) because I have friends there. That’s what cronies do. “Buddy.”

Another test--FAIL!

Another test–FAIL!

Emily Ritter · Friends with Karen Hadley

Man, you don’t know when to shut up. Do you? Add that to your list of unsolicited advice. I don’t need a synopsis of what has transpired between us. Within several short interactions, I’ve already made up my mind as to what kind of communicator you are. Have a great afternoon!


Andrew Cooper You’re writing on my page. You shut up! I told you to go away awhile ago. You know what kind of communicator I am with you. I like you less and less, and my communication follows. Making up your mind from limited evidence is a typical action for the small-minded.


Andrew Cooper Or just keep up the unsolicited advice, and I’ll keep enjoying how uninformed it is. I never understand why people come to my pages, bitch and moan, and then when I’ve defeated their arguments, accuse me of trolling and not knowing when to quit. My page. You leave. Your page, I leave.


Andrew Cooper And since you keep coming, here’s my advice: stop defending criminals, don’t comment on subjects about which you are ignorant, don’t advise acknowledged experts on topics about which you know little, and know when YOU are the person who needs to shut up.


Emily Ritter

This is just comedy now. Thanks for the entertainment.


Andrew Cooper Likewise. Prepare to have people laughing at you in lots of places.


Andrew Cooper And shut up already!


Emily Ritter ·LOL


Andrew Cooper You can’t do it, can you? The Evil Troll Force is strong with this one!

Emily Ritter I’m laughing so hard that I have tears coming out of my eyes. Literally.

Andrew Cooper Just keep it coming. I don’t need to insult you anymore. You just insult yourself.

Emily Ritter I’m sorry I can’t continue this conversation with you much longer Mr. Cooper. As much as it entertains me, I have responsibilities to attend to. It’s a lovely day. You should go outside and enjoy the weather. Maybe it will lighten your mood… and your tone. It looks like you could benefit from some sunshine.

Andrew Cooper You have been my sunshine, Emily Ritter, as so much has beamed directly from your ass.

Andrew Cooper LOL

Andrew Cooper And may you one day have the experience I have, and feel reason to be sorry for the shit you threw at me today–no one who has suffered what I have deserves to deal with people like you.

Emily Ritter · Friends with Tom Byers and 2 others
I’ll be sure to shed a single tear for you. One single, VERY dramatic tear.

Andrew Cooper Crocodile, I’m sure.

Andrew Cooper Now we see your true character in full relief.

Andrew Cooper And when you haven’t been able to eat or sleep like a human being for a year because of what your bosses do to you, may hordes laugh at you and cry similar tears of joy.

Emily Ritter · Friends with Karen Hadley and 2 others

Ritter added this photo.

Ritter added this photo.

Andrew Cooper At least you admit to being inhuman.

Emily Ritter · Friends with Alan Golding and 2 others

Ritter likes being a monster, in true UofL tradition

Ritter likes being a monster, in true UofL tradition

Andrew Cooper I write about monsters. I avoid them in real life. UofL likes them, though, so go back to your cronies and GO AWAY.


Andrew Cooper Don’t worry. I’ll be reposting it on my blog anyway.


Emily Ritter · Friends with Tom Byers and 2 others

HAHAHA! Thanks for the fun, man. I’ll be enjoying this one for awhile. I hope everyone in the world sees what a complete jerk you are. You don’t belong in a classroom.


Andrew Cooper Reread this thread. Reevaluate, if you have the intellectual capacity. Meanwhile, refer back to your cruelty for whatever masturbatory purposes you like. As a horror writer and blogger, when people are nasty to me, I am nasty back. Call me a jerk? Fine. But you shed a crocodile tear over someone who has suffered documented mental and physical–severe–distress from others’ criminal activity. I may come off as a jerk, but you come off as a sociopath, and most bloggers are jerks, and horror writers aren’t supposed to paint pretty pictures. Sociopaths are bad no matter what, though. That’s you in this conversation.

The most important test--the empathy test--FAIL.

The most important test–the empathy test–FAIL.


Andrew Cooper Btw, I won teaching awards virtually every year that I taught. The people who illegally arranged my ouster? Some of the worst-rated teachers at UofL. Fact-check time!


Andrew Cooper Btw, I captured all the stuff you deleted.


Andrew Cooper Looks like Emily Ritter wasn’t so confident in her position after all… deleted it all.


But before I captured it to re-present it to you. Emily Ritter, a genuine monster and proud of it, who loves to laugh and laugh and laugh at people with disabilities and what illegal discrimination and retaliation does to them. This woman BRAGS about her lack of empathy for other humans. Again, if anyone with conscience has anything to do with her, now is the time to stop.

I suspect the Emily Ritter in question, whose profile during conversation suggested she lives in Louisville, Kentucky, teaches for Spencerian college and is described here, on p. 11, but I am not certain this Emily Ritter is the same person. However, the correlation of details is strong. If you know otherwise, please contact me immediately.


Probably the Emily Ritter in this conversation, who at least until recently taught at Spencerian College?

Definitely the Emily Ritter from the transcript above

Definitely the Emily Ritter from the transcript above (but she totally reminds me of Heather from The Blair Witch Project)



REEL DARK, a collection of masters, has arrived

The converse is not true, but all monsters are hybrids, or at least John Locke thought so, and although I’d like to believe the human imagination isn’t limited in the way he says it is, I can’t think of a counter-example, and I’ve looked at thousands of variations on monsters and their subtypes around the world.


So last weekend, at the World Horror Convention in Atlanta, BlackWyrm Publishing and I introduced to the world our latest monster!

Reel Dark COVER 050415png

Go to Amazon to get the marvelous back-cover blurb that co-editor Pamela Turner crafted, but the monstrous gist is that it’s a book about film infecting the world with dark realities, so while we’ve got comedy, western, sci-fi, and, yes, horror, the bottom line is that it’s dark and smart and full of fresh voices and some amazing pros. Hal Bodner! James Chambers! James Dorr! JG Faherty! Amy Grech! Jude-Marie GreenKaren Head! Lots of other great people–accomplished poets, storytellers, and filmmakers as well–and I am honored to be in their company and to have had an opportunity to work with their words, to arrange them so that they can have conversations you can now overhear.

New from BlackWyrm Publishing

New from BlackWyrm Publishing


To round out this post, here’s my intro to the volume:

“The film delivers baroque art from its convulsive catalepsy. Now, for the first time, the image of things is likewise the image of their duration, change mummified, as it were.”
—André Bazin, What is Cinema?

“The cinema combines, perhaps more perfectly than any other medium, two human fascinations: one with the boundary between life and death and the other with the mechanical animation of the inanimate… the answer to the question ‘what is cinema?’ should also be death 24 times a second.”
—Laura Mulvey, Death 24x a Second

These two quotations—from two of the most important thinkers about the cinema since mad scientists pieced it together from other art-forms in the late nineteenth century—tell us that even in the silent era that so few horror fans pay due, people saw a close connection between reels of film and the realities of horror and death. Our mission as editors was to find stories that offered dark, diverse perspectives on how far that connection between reel and real might go, and we wanted diversity in both the types of films people wrote about and in the writing itself. Rose Streif attends to the silent era’s neglect by horror’s mainstream in “Caligarisme,” and in addition to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919/1920), my own movie-obsessed madman narrator in “Leer Reel” riffs on many a silent: he jumps in time but has 1928 as home base. Arguably the first horror film, “The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots,” made by Thomas Edison’s studio the year regarded as cinema’s beginning, 1895, is just a few short seconds of a woman guillotined. The other contender for first horror film, Georges Méliès’s 1896 “Mansion of the Devil” (or “House of the Devil” if you want Ti West continuity) focuses on magical apparitions. People understood at the outset that just as the photographed, moving image made an action immortal, the immortality was “change mummified,” the immortality of the undead, and, as our debut poet Caroline Shriner-Wunn writes in “Confessions of a Woman of a Certain Age,” “The Mummy,” and some others we’ve scattered in between, the undeadness of the film real is not likely to be your sparkling friend. Think about a movie from 1900. Every frame that shows you a person is showing you a corpse. That person is dead. Chances are, if you’re my age, that person’s corpse looks younger than you do. And it’s smiling. Film, on average, advances at 24 images, or frames, per second. Those corpses are smiling at you 24 times per second. Cheeky bastards.

We selected stories that are dark (that was the point), so though we’ve got laughs and action and western and sci-fi and twisted relationships and WTFs, along with some light as well as extreme horror, expect chills, smart ones, as a thread. Our featured story, Hal Bodner’s “Whatever Happened to Peggy… Who?,” is fast, fun, and creepy on its own, but it pays double if you know mid-20th century American and British horror movies, quintuple if you’ve not only seen but really know Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), with bonuses if you know The Bad Seed (1956) or a lot of what Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were up to around then. Likewise, Jude-Marie Green’s “Queen of the Death Scenes” harkens to an age of screen queens that is behind us. Pamela Turner’s “Rival” riffs on 40s and 50s film noir with a twist; James Dorr’s title “Marcie and Her Sisters” points toward prime late 70s and 80s Woody Allen, but this editor’s opinion is that, intentionally or not, he manages in Jane Austen comic-horror adaptation territory better than many recent adapters have in several media. Sean Eads also takes us toward more contemporary territory with “The Dreamist,” on the Inception (2010) side of the postmodern mind-game.

Wait! Stop worrying! This ain’t a history book.

We offer you three sections, mostly short stories, with short poems providing different sorts of pleasure scattered in each of the three. Many selections could appear in more than one section,so we placed based on where we thought they leaned.

Part 1 is “Decaying Celluloid,” and selections here either center on specific films or specific genres. In addition to the stories by Bodner, Turner, Dorr, and Streif, you’ll find Shriner-Wunn’s “Last Show at Hobb’s End” especially meaningful if you’ve seen John Carpenter’s Lovecraftian In the Mouth of Madness (1994). Prepare yourself for a story that matches the inversion in the title of Jason S. Walters’s swan song to the classic Western “Low Midnight” (which makes me want to discuss post-Kurosawa samurai films with him… Walters understands bleak but doesn’t present it like Sam Peckinpah or even Sergio Leone). The section concludes with our featured poem, the inimitable Karen Head’s “Amnesia,” a layered reflection on watching/living David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001).

Part 2, “Framing You,” transitions from Head’s poem and focuses on how audiences—the “real” world—might get caught up, often in ways far more literal than most people would think possible, in media. Thinking about Amy Grech’s “Dead Eye” still gives me  hills; all I’ll say in an intro is that she derives horrific concepts from the multiple meanings of “frame” and “shot.” Shriner-Wunn’s brief contributions here focus on spectacle, particularly the spectacle of the mutilated woman and what its cultural appeal seems to say (if you don’t know about it, read the poem once before you web search the real Black Dahlia case). Jay Seate and Mike Watt take us into fictional film production worlds, where films have very different ways of absorbing their makers. Sean Taylor’s “And So She Asked Again,” has maestro Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960) and its legendary star Barbara Steele as major references, but it’s about obsession with the power of film more generally… and what it could deliver. Likewise, master storyteller J.G. Faherty concludes the section with a tale about a man who finds immense, horrific power in a camera.

The book concludes with Pt. 3, “Pathological Projections,” the smallest and likely weirdest group, as their uniting feature is that they take a (usually kind of abstract) aspect of the medium of film itself and expand it into a (generally fairly messed up) story. Russ Bickerstaff kicks it off with ruminations on the 24-per-second concept in the dark sci-fi “24 per second: Persistence of Fission.” James Chambers suggests the medium may be the monster in “The Monster with My Fist for Its Head,” and in “Queen of the Death Scenes,” Jude-Marie Green finds that manipulating the medium’s immortal qualities could have unwanted side effects Shriner-Wunn’s “The Mummy” recalls Bazin but again goes fuller monster; “Cigarette Burns” by Jay Wilburn finds a perspective on the horror of being in the movies that nothing else I’ve read captures in the same way. My own story… well… it’s last. You get your money’s worth without it. You don’t have to read it. Perhaps you shouldn’t. The narrator is looking at you while you read.

—L. Andrew Cooper
April, 2015

Open Letter of Natal Day Thanks

Dear Natal-Day Well-Wishers:

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

ÁgætisByrjunCoverI am feeling better today than I have in a long time, and a lot of that has to do with you, this digital community that has gradually started paying attention to my writing—because you like horror, or film, or cultural philosophy, or some other aspect of what I do—and have largely come together as never before during the last month as I’ve shared more about my personal life than ever before.

And today, which is my birthday, this guy who recently couldn’t think of anyone other than his partner to list as an emergency contact on a medical form is experiencing a digital reversal. I’ve heard from more of you than I can acknowledge. I’ve never experienced a feeling like it. I am humbled.

If all were right in the world, I’d be talking with some awesome students about one of my favorite films– rather predictable for a film prof–Fellini’s 8 1/2, which was my only real plan for the birthday itself, other than being chill.

FelliniEightandaHalfI’m sorry I don’t get to have that conversation and others, conversations that must be being led by someone, although I’m unaware of anyone with remotely similar qualifications on hand. I feel like students I care about are being cheated out of the education they signed up for, and I can do nothing about it. The solution isn’t for me to submit to unreasonable demands—it’s for unreasonable demands to cease.

melancholia_newsitebigIn any case, the world doesn’t have to be completely right for it to be looking much better. Kafkaesque trials march on, but I am not a modernist in that I believe only in serious games if they allow interactive play. In other words, any conjecture that I would do harm to myself or others when, no thanks to any university, my writing and scholarship are doing better than ever, is as false as any conjecture that I am not in a highly defensible position, one that is owed quite a bit of justice that I do not believe to be as unattainable as it would be in Kafka’s world.

The darkest hour is just before dawn.

House-1986-Movie-1And just remember: always look on the bright side of life!


Yours in sanity,

L. Andrew Cooper

Tortuous Fantasies of Power and Fame (Re: Reel Splatter and Me)

BlackWyrm Publishing (click and scroll down the alphabetic list to find my novel Burning the Middle Ground) is a noble but small press, a minority entity that offers innovative fiction not overtly calculated to match pre-sold subjects with large, predictable demographics.

Examples of the overtly-calculated appear in paranormal teen thrillers, which use vampires and other love-softened supernaturals (pre-sold subjects) to titillate literate adolescents (a large, predictable demographic). Or, perhaps more controversially, consider the “literary” novel, which uses trendy topics from history and the news (pre-sold) to assuage the liberal guilt and class insecurity of bourgeois New Yorkers and New Yorker readers (a large, predictable demographic). Anything that cannot be made recognizable as pre-sold and pre-matched, however erroneously, with the often demographic-defying mass American readership is unlikely to appear under imprints of the “Big Six” publishers that sell more than 50% of what Americans read.

At this point I could make this blog quite interesting by claiming that the 50%+ figure, lower than many people suspicious of Big Media might expect (maybe I should do more homework about the source?), justifies one of these assertions:

1. Print fiction is a dead art form!

2. Under the laws of capitalism, free thought is illegal!

3. Corporate hegemony and global capitalism dictate our lives by limiting our representations of ways to live!

All of these claims are tempting, and when I’m in a bad mood, I’m inclined to believe them, but I have been unable to convince myself of their extremes’ veracity. If I believed such critiques, would I really bother with print fiction or, for that matter, thought? On the contrary, I believe all fiction is necessarily formulaic, and I actually like for my demographic to be served with mass market goodies. I therefore see the situation as bad news / good news.

The bad news is that we’re not likely to see very much innovative work coming directly from the bestseller-mills. “Literary” fiction, like “genre” fiction, relies on narrative and market formulas, but the literary distinguishes itself from the (other) genres by hiding its formulaic buttresses. These buttresses generally involve narratives about underprivileged people who have experiences that ultimately affirm the lives of the privileged by revealing the importance of Understanding. They sometimes involve privileged people confronting the malaise of their own incapacity to achieve Understanding. The former approach tends to engage with identity politics; the latter tends to engage with quasi-experimental form, existential angst wearing postmodern shawls. Hybrids welcome.

The good news is that fiction doesn’t have to be innovative to be enjoyable.

The better news is that the independents publishing the less-than-50% of novels are putting out a huge amount of material, a gush of books in which any droplet is unlikely to be a standout but could be, especially if it moistens appetites, perhaps some of those in the more-than-50% sector who deign to splash through them like the Trevi Fountain in La Dolce Vita.

Image borrowed from an Italian site about Fellini

Now then, I’m thinking about all of this stuff because I want to be realistic about the prospects for my novel Burning the Middle Ground, which will rely not on the +50%’s market muscle but on people like YOU if it’s to reach all the people who might find it vastly entertaining and thought-provoking. In other words, I am at the mercy of viral flows and appetites–word of mouth, word of Facebook, word of Twitter, word of words.

And now my thinking flows into other media.

David Bowie was, according to some, the first publicly traded individual. We could, at one point, buy stock in the man’s as-yet-unspecified artistic productivity and then share in the profits of such activity. But anyone who stakes her or his life on the buying power of the public, particularly if the stakes involve something as personal as art, is, in a sense, publicly traded. The artist’s fortunes wax and wane according to the investments of distributors and consumers. Bowie knew this truism and made his market activity a profound metaphoric reflection on a much broader phenomenon.

As a novelist and film critic working outside mainstream channels, I have small, ambivalent hopes of gaining anything like the profile of a David Bowie. I am, nevertheless, interested in what having that kind of market power could enable me to do, not just for me (narrow narcissism gets boring rather quickly) but for others I happen to like.

The fantasy of market power fills my head today because, in my class on the American Horror Film Since 1960, I hosted a Skype session with film director Mike Lombardo of Reel Splatter Productions. I have seen a great many short horror films in my time, and I have talked with several filmmakers who share Mike’s ambition. Mike, however, is the first person I’ve met in a purely-business fashion who has convinced me, however unintentionally, that he has a shot at becoming a true celebrity in my chosen field. I picked up his first collection of shorts, Suburban Holocaust, at Louisville’s Fright Nights Film Festival in July 2012. I’ll admit that I was shopping for someone to become a part of my teaching agenda, but only Mike got a follow-up email. While some of the other films I saw were competent, Mike’s had something different–self-awareness without cliched mise-en-abyme, humor that accentuates horror (and vice versa), and writing that makes characters seem more like the students I work with every day than flat Hollywood stereotypes. The work is allegorical but avoids the pitfall of taking itself too seriously; it is disgusting but avoids the error of assuming that extreme gore alone can carry a horror film to success.

In short, Mike Lombardo’s Reel Splatter is where I hope the horror genre is going. What a thing to stumble upon while casually shopping a crowded festival!

In an email to Mike after the Skype, I paid an awkward, self-indulgent compliment to the tune of, “Hey, if anybody ever asks me who I’d like to direct the film version of Burning the Middle Ground, I’d put your name right at the top of the list!” This awkwardness involves layers of fantasy–the fantasy of having the power to sell my novel’s film rights wrapped around the fantasy of also having the power to lure a director who writes his own good stuff into working with mine–but I think, perhaps, these layers reveal what is most attractive about working in the less-than-50% indie zone. Just as small presses offer an alternative mode of publishing, and indie cinema offers an alternative outlet for film art, the indie world offers an alternative fantasy of power and fame.

Sure, I dream about my books reaching an audience wide enough to support me in a luxurious lifestyle, but at least a little more realistically, I dream about my work reaching a substantial audience that trusts me enough to take my advice about other art to consider.

If I had such an audience, I’d say to them–“Hey, look at Mike Lombardo!” I can’t judge my own artistic potential, but I have judged his, and I think it’s considerable. However, I know that the majority of people who have such considerable potential do not get a “breakout” moment to achieve stardom. If whatever capital I get from my own endeavors allows me to give a bump to an artist like Mike who deserves a breakout as much or more than anyone I’ve met, I’d feel enormous satisfaction in the accomplishment.

I really don’t think I have such capital yet, but just in case, do have a look at Mike’s work:

Last House on the Left: Old-Fashioned Eyefuls

My course “The American Horror Film Since 1960” was cancelled today for a university function, so the two-class discussion of Last House on the Left (1972) has to be whittled down. I tend to come to class with a list of talking points and then follow the students’ interests anyway, so I don’t know if even two full classes would get us where I intend to go with this blog, which is a fairly uncomfortable place.

The bottom line: on rewatching Last House on the Left, potentially one of the most offensive titles on my syllabus, I was again disappointed because it isn’t violent enough. Don’t get me wrong–the rapes and murders of two girls at the hands of Krug and his gang are even more graphic than I remembered, and as I get older, I tend to feel more rather than less sick to my stomach as I see such things on screen. What left me wanting more was the third act, the revenge that marks Wes Craven’s opus as a remake and Americanization of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960). The killers wind up at the home of one of their victims, and the girl’s parents serve up bloody justice that includes toothy castration and a prescient chainsaw (Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre appeared two years later).

Having just read a partial synopsis of the extreme violence that plays as just deserts, you might be wondering what more I could want. It’s a fair question. The seemingly safe answer is that I want to see the criminals suffer just as much as their victims, meaning that as a spectator I buy into the eye-for-an-eye justice that critics typically read as debasing the vengeful parents, making them mirror images of the people who have destroyed their daughter. And thus I would seem to be caught up in the film’s exposition of the violence at the heart of American culture, the violence sustaining the Vietnam War contemporary with Craven’s film. To recognize that the film works on me simultaneously justifies my decision to teach it (it really is more than exploitative garbage!) and exculpates my private bloodlust as a symptom of culture, which I can enjoy from a cozy and distant intellectual plane.

If only the answer were that easy. As the film sifts through various brain cells, I realize that the way it makes me feel raises questions about my political opposition to capital punishment. At least since I saw a certain movie released in the year 2000 (SPOILER ALERT–click only if you don’t mind knowing), my position has been that although in abstract principle I don’t object to state-sanctioned murder, I don’t see a way for any state to administer such punishment fairly, so I cannot will my abstract principle to be concrete law (and yes, friends of Kant, the preceding sentence is full of deep inconsistencies). And yet in Last House on the Left, I want the killers to die horribly, and I want the police who arrive at the end to approve.

Last House avoids some ethical messiness by not showing any real legal response to the vengeful parents, Dr. and Mrs. Collingwood. It even spares the Collingwoods the worst moral ambiguity by having Krug’s heroin-addicted accomplice-son, who doesn’t participate directly in the crimes and even tries to stop them, commit suicide at his father’s urging rather than fall victim to the Collingwoods’ wrath. Bergman’s version of the scenario doesn’t let wronged-parent bloodlust off so easily, but then again, it’s set safely in the distant past and thus lacks Last House‘s overt cultural correspondences. But the trouble is that I think I’d like Last House more if it went all the way, eschewing both Bergman and Craven’s ethical escape hatches by having the Collingwoods be even nastier.

So what does that say about me?

I don’t think it means I have to start supporting the death penalty. My own house may be on the political left, but I don’t really think this film places it far enough down the street to change its zip code. While Last House does raise the issues of class found in Virgin Spring–the Collingwoods are accustomed to wealth and education far beyond “animal” Krug and his friends, so their imposition of the death penalty mirrors a bias of the state’s–it also leaves no doubt about the criminals’ guilt. If the state could ever be as doubtless on this point as the film’s spectators, if the state could be as total a witness as Last House‘s camera, which sees all facts that are see-able because it constitutes the film’s entire visible world, I’d have to re-evaluate my political platform. It can’t, though, so I don’t.

It does mean that my investment in extreme aesthetics, in art that goes places I’d never want to get anywhere near in real life, potentially runs deeper than the “gore does political and philosophical work” position I’ve articulated in Gothic Realities and Dario Argento. For me, violence’s onscreen absence is potentially more of a problem than its presence, however much its presence may turn my aging stomach. Since I see so much of the violence against Last House‘s murdered girls, I feel a need to see a comparable amount of violence against their murderers, which is an aesthetic if not a political endorsement of eyeful-for-an-eyeful, which is uncannily similar to and yet significantly different from eye-for-an-eye. What I want to see is not coextensive with, and even opposes, what I want to be (both in the sense of who “I” is and what “I” thinks should exist). But what I want to see reveals an aesthetic conservatism even as it resists political conservatism. Gosh darn it, I demand symmetry and proportion, which means that while on the surface I champion cinema that seems profoundly messy, deep down, I share the biases that have defined Western art for millennia. I pose at being edgy, but really I’m an old-fashioned guy.

Granted, the students in “The American Horror Film Since 1960” probably don’t see me as particularly edgy or particularly anything other than professorial. Last House on the Left celebrates its 40th this year, so how could it really be on the edge of anything other than senility? This is one of those cases where I’d strongly prefer not to listen to my gut.