SFFTV Special Issue CFP: Creature Features & the Environment

Creature Features & the Environment
A special issue of Science Fiction Film & Television
Edited by Bridgitte Barclay and Christy Tidwell

Creature Features & the Environment, a special issue of Science Fiction Film and Television (SFFTV), seeks essays that engage with creature features as a specific subset of environmental science fiction. Popularized in the mid-20th century as sf/horror, creature features are films with creatures of various sorts attacking, whether awakened from dormancy by radiation, discovered in distant locales, or accidentally created in labs.

Poster for Frogs (1972). Shows a frog with a human hand in its mouth. Text: A terrifying story of times to come when Nature strikes back!

Frogs (1972)

While some creature features, like George McCowan’s Frogs (1972), may be intentionally commenting on environmental issues, many are simply ripe for environmental readings. In fact, many creature features mushroomed from midcentury atomic fears but played more on the science-gone-awry aspects than on environmental devastation or human-nonhuman relationships. Analyzing these films with an ecocritical focus may unearth fears of science damaging the natural world, of the natural world as something we do not fully understand, or of the natural world seeking justice for environmental damage.

Additionally, the campiness of many creature features is useful to ecocritical readings and offers alternatives to solemn environmental discourse. Creature features, in fact, illustrate “bad environmentalism,” Nicole Seymour’s term for irreverent texts that provide an alternative to stereotypically sanctimonious environmental narratives. Drawing on Stacy Alaimo’s claim that “if we cannot laugh, we will not desire the revolution” (Exposed 3), Bridgitte Barclay argues in Gender and Environment in Science Fiction that creature features can be “pleasurably resistant texts” for delving into environmental issues with laughter and playful scares (“Female Beasties” 5). After all, while the science, horror, and environmental crises of some creature features may have real-world resonance, one of the stylistic components of the genre is also a great deal of fun – radioactive mollusks, jet-propelled turtles, colossal bunnies, and justice-seeking frog armies. Imagining how creature features can be framed as ecomedia therefore offers us new ways of reckoning with the Anthropocene – as well as the Capitalocene, Plantationocene, and/or Chthulucene.

We seek proposals for articles examining the relationship between creature features and the environment. Proposals engaging with global texts (outside the U.S. and U.K.) and with film and television from outside blockbuster cinema are especially welcome.

Proposed articles may consider the following questions (among others):

  • What do creature features contribute to conversations about environmental science fiction as a subgenre?
  • What do creature features contribute to conversations about climate change, nonhumans, and/or the Anthropocene?
  • What do creature features contribute to conversations about ecomedia?
  • How do viewers engage with creature features?
  • What social, political, or personal effects might creature features have?
  • How are the texts intentionally or unintentionally campy, and how does that campiness engage with or contribute to environmental discourse?
  • How does the cultural context of creature feature films impact their engagement with environmental issues?
  • How do creature features function as science fiction and as ecohorror?

Please send proposals of approximately 250 words and a brief bio to the special issue editors, Bridgitte Barclay (bbarclay@aurora.edu) and Christy Tidwell (christy.tidwell@gmail.com), by February 17, 2020. Notifications of accepted proposals will be sent in early March, and drafts of selected articles will be due by September 1, 2020.

If you have any questions about the fit of a topic for the special issue, please feel free to contact the special issue editors.

2016: The Witch

Writing my list of favorite movies for every year of my life left me feeling frustrated by the project’s limitations and made me want to write more fully about my choices, my reasoning for each year, and the runners-up (especially for some years with hard choices to be made). So I am beginning with 2016, and I will work my way back through time, writing about each year separately.

My choice for 2016 was easy, partly because I saw very few movies last year, but also because The Witch (dir. Robert Eggers) was just really fantastic.


Because this is a relatively recent film and also because I have only seen it once and have a faulty memory, this entry will be fairly general regarding plot, but here are some of the elements of this film that I loved:

  • The score (by Mark Korven). From the very start of the film, the score is disquietingly effective. It uses low strings, recorded with a sense of the rasping physicality of the instruments, to imply the sinister elements of the world. As the family leaves civilization, the strings are pitched higher, hovering in dissonance with no real melody, and they build relentlessly in pitch and volume. At the end of this scene, female voices are added to the mix (witches?), all of which produces a great deal of tension and anxiety as the family approaches the wilderness. Throughout the film, the score uses the roughness of the instruments and dissonance to create uneasiness and alternates this with quietness and silence. I had to turn my sound way up to get all of the details, but this wide range creates incredible intensity.
  • The film’s horror is partly supernatural but mostly human – people become paranoid and distrust one another. In this way, it is building on the tradition laid out by films like Night of the Living Dead (1968; dir. George Romero), another favorite of mine. The real drama and the real monstrosity are not out there (zombies, evil goats, witches, whatever), but inside with the potential survivors. With friends and family.
  • This paranoia and uncertainty about who can be trusted also reminds me – in ways I can’t quite articulate yet – of Rosemary’s Baby (1968; dir. Roman Polanski), yet another favorite. Again, both rely on supernatural horror as well as interpersonal drama, but The Witch and Rosemary’s Baby also have some stylistic elements in common, I think. (I will have to watch The Witch again to figure out what’s triggering this sense of connection, however.)
  • The forest. The setting is a crucial part of the film’s horror. It looms. It lights up all the parts of my brain that both love and fear the forest as something larger and darker than human, something where creatures lurk, something where we can get lost.
  • Black Phillip. Okay, so there is a creepy goat (maybe Satan?) in this film. Goats are creepy enough in reality (just look at their pupils sometime!); adding the supernatural only intensifies this. For me, Black Phillip was incredibly effective, but also incredibly scary. The fear is in no small part related to the powerfully seductive message he presents: “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” Well, yes. Outside of Puritans, who would say no to that? Black Phillip is one of the reasons I am actually nervous to watch the movie again.
  • Feminism. Set in the 17th century, The Witch obviously predates what we could consider feminism, and it doesn’t attempt to ahistorically shoehorn in a feminist argument. However, it recognizes the in-built gendered power differential in the family and social structure of the time, the powerlessness of women and girls, and it places the figure of the witch as an empowering (and also frightening) alternative to that powerlessness. In doing so, it presents a compelling argument about the less-than-ideal position women and girls find themselves in – and have been in for centuries. Should she bow to social pressures, fit in, give up her power? Should she risk leaving everything she knows for the possibility of more agency in her own life? These are questions that continue to resonate, and I like the answer The Witch seems to provide.

It’s certainly possible that as time goes on and I see more of the movies released in 2016, I will change my mind about my favorite for this year, but The Witch left me unnerved and thinking about it for days, so it’ll be a tough one to beat. Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins) is the obvious contender, but I don’t know when I’ll get to see it. And, to be honest, the serious dramatic non-genre pictures, the ones that win awards and are “great films,” are often outranked in my personal preferences by genre film.

This highlights one of my central criteria for determining a favorite: will I want to watch it again? (Or, how many times have I watched and still enjoyed it?) The serious dramatic films are often not ones I want to watch multiple times (or that I think I can handle watching multiple times). But I want to watch The Witch again. In fact, I wanted to watch it again as soon as it ended.


Favorite Movie for Every Year of My Life: The List

Thanks to one of my friends on facebook sharing this A.V. Club post and a list of his favorites, I spent most of my free time on Friday compiling my own list. This was hard for me. Once I get to listing and ranking, I take it seriously, so I looked at lists of films released in each of these years, made shortlists of my favorites for each year, and then, for the purposes of this list, forced myself to pick only one favorite per year. Some years were ridiculously easy (No Country for Old Men has no competition in my eyes, though I know others disagree); others were almost impossibly hard (1992, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2011, for instance).

I see a few patterns in my overall list. First, my favorites tend far more toward comedy and horror than I expected – and sometimes both at once (Re-Animator and Shaun of the Dead!). I chose comedy or horror over serious drama at multiple points, even when I think maybe the serious dramas are actually better films; and many other times I chose comedy or horror because I simply hadn’t seen the major dramas of that year, tending to opt for something fun rather than something heavy more often than not. Second, I am a sucker for a musical. Note the choices for 2000-2002, for instance. My runners-up for 2000 included Billy Elliot and Dancer in the Dark, to further underscore this point. Finally, I enjoy big blockbuster sf and action movies more than I usually want to admit to (Independence DayFace/Off!).

1979 – Monty Python’s Life of Brian, dir. Terry Jones
1980 – 9 to 5, dir. Colin Higgins
1981 – An American Werewolf in London, dir. John Landis
1982 – The Thing, dir. John Carpenter
1983 – Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, dir. Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam
1984 – Ghostbusters, dir. Ivan Reitman
1985 – Re-Animator, dir. Stuart Gordon
1986 – The Fly, dir. David Cronenberg
1987 – Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, dir. John Hughes
1988 – Scrooged, dir. Richard Donner
1989 – Uncle Buck, dir. John Hughes
1990 – Edward Scissorhands, dir. Tim Burton
1991 – The Silence of the Lambs, dir. Jonathan Demme
1992 – Candyman, dir. Bernard Rose
1993 – Jurassic Park, dir. Steven Spielberg
1994 – The Hudsucker Proxy, dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
1995 – Sense and Sensibility, dir. Ang Lee
1996 – Independence Day, dir. Roland Emmerich
1997 – Face/Off, dir. John Woo
1998 – The Big Lebowski, dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
1999 – Galaxy Quest, dir. Dean Parisot
2000 – O Brother, Where Art Thou?, dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
2001 – Moulin Rouge!, dir. Baz Luhrmann
2002 – Chicago, dir. Rob Marshall
2003 – Mystic River, dir. Clint Eastwood
2004 – Shaun of the Dead, dir. Edgar Wright
2005 – Brokeback Mountain, dir. Ang Lee
2006 – Pan’s Labyrinth, dir. Guillermo del Toro
2007 – No Country for Old Men, dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
2008 – Burn After Reading, dir. Joel and Ethan Coen
2009 – Thirst, dir. Chan-wook Park
2010 – Even the Rain, dir. Iciar Bollain
2011 – Sunny, dir. Hyeong-Cheol Kang
2012 – Safety Not Guaranteed, dir. Colin Trevorrow
2013 – Snowpiercer, dir. Joon-ho Bong
2014 – The Babadook, dir. Jennifer Kent
2015 – Mad Max: Fury Road, dir. George Miller
2016 – The Witch, dir. Robert Eggers

This is my list as of this weekend, but I’m having doubts about a couple of entries, and I plan to write more about my choices – perhaps year by year – over the next couple of weeks (or months, depending on how my schedule plays out).

ASLE 2017 Roundtable

Today, my usual co-conspirator (Bridgitte Barclay of Aurora University) and I got our acceptance for ASLE, the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. The conference will be held in Detroit this June and centers on the theme of Rust/Resistance. I am so excited to be going again! ASLE is my scholarly home, where I find the most interesting connections, meet the coolest people, and come away the most excited about new possibilities for scholarship and teaching.

Our roundtable is called “Resistant Discourses and Strategies of Recovery: Exploring Gender and Environment in Science Fiction.” Aside from Bridgitte and myself, it will feature Carter Soles (The College at Brockport, SUNY), Michelle Yates (Columbia College), Stina Attebery (University of California, Riverside), and Tyler Harper (New York University). It will include papers on sf texts ranging from the 1950s to the last year or two, including 1950s creature features (like The Wasp Woman), Soylent Green, WALL-E, the Mad Max franchise, Upstream Color, WALL-E, Her, Ex Machina, and – our lone novel – Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312.

Our paper titles given an even better sense of the roundtable’s specific topics and theoretical concerns:

  1. “Remixing Reproduction: Queer Intimacy and the Ecology of Sound in Upstream Color” – Stina Attebery
  2. “Saving Eden: Masculinity, Civilization, and Environmental Nostalgia in Soylent Green and WALL-E” – Michelle Yates
  3. “Mad Max: Beyond Petroleum?” – Carter Soles
  4. “‘Either you’re mine or you’re not mine’: Controlling Gender, Nature, and Technology in Her and Ex Machina” – me (Christy Tidwell)
  5. “(En)gendering Nature in Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312” – Tyler Harper
  6. “Camp Resistance: Animal Avatars and Gender Exaggeration in 1950s Creature Features” – Bridgitte Barclay

I’m a particular fan of Carter’s paper title. I agonized over my own, on the other hand, and still don’t love it. Someday I’ll develop a knack for title-writing, I hope.

This should be a fun and productive conversation about gender, environment, and resistance across a range of sf texts. Any readers who may be at ASLE this year should come see us!

CFP: Gender in Science Fiction Ecomedia

Bridgitte Barclay and I are currently working on a book proposal exploring gender in science fiction ecomedia. The following is the call for papers for the project. We hope to receive lots of exciting proposals! Please pass this along to anyone you know who might be interested.

CFP: Gender in Science Fiction Ecomedia

There are many important studies of gender in science fiction and a growing number of studies of environmental science fiction, but these fields rarely come together and are even more rarely specifically applied to science fiction film, television, and other media. We wish to fill this gap and invite contributions exploring gender in science fiction ecomedia. Projects might address the following questions:

  • How do gender and environment intersect and/or influence each other in or across science fiction media?
  • How do varying media forms influence representations of gender and environment in science fiction? Does television, for instance, provide different opportunities than film? Or video games than either of those? Etc.
  • How might examining gender and environment together in non-print media influence ideas about or definitions of science fiction as a genre?

We are open to projects on any non-print science fiction, but we particularly wish to encourage projects exploring new media and forms outside of traditional film and television.

Please submit abstracts of no more than 300 words and a brief CV by August 1, 2016, to Christy Tidwell (christy.tidwell@gmail.com) and/or Bridgitte Barclay (bbarclay@aurora.edu). We have been strongly encouraged by the editor of the Ecocritical Theory and Practice series, published by Rowman & Littlefield’s imprint Lexington Books, to submit a proposal. For those asked to contribute, we anticipate completed essays of approximately 15-18 pages will be due by March 1, 2017.

Guest post at Pop Culture Academy: Donald Trump and Michael Scott

I recently wrote a post about Donald Trump for a friend’s blog (Pop Culture Academy) arguing that, in many ways, Donald Trump is essentially Michael Scott from The Office. This is partly in response to another friend’s post about Donald Trump and pro wrestling. Both are worth checking out – if I do say so myself.

Michael Scott