Panel 1: Ecohorror on and off the Screen



Panel 1: Ecohorror on and off the Screen

“H(it)ler came from the Swamp: Bayou ‘Hicks,’ Ecohorror, and the Rise of Fascism in America”

Sara Crosby (Associate Professor of English, The Ohio State University at Marion)

Raw (2016): Ecohorror and Appetite in the Anthropocene”

Kristen Angierski (Ph.D. candidate, Cornell University)

“A Monstrosity of Scales: The Shifting Spatiotemporalities and Anthropocentric Realities of Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island

Jeffrey Marchand (Ph.D. candidate in English, University of Texas at Arlington)

“Spiraling Inward and Outward: Junji Ito’s Uzumaki and the Scope of Ecohorror”

Christy Tidwell (Assistant Professor of English and Humanities, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology)

Q & A

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47 replies
  1. Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

    Hi everyone! I am looking forward to the conference (for generative discussion and feedback, definitely, but also for some environmental humanities community and camaraderie).

    My paper on Raw, excised from a dissertation chapter on Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, thinks about the politics of authorial intention, appetite and its loss, revulsion as an ecopolitics, and the ways in which ecohorror might intersect with food studies (and even vegan studies) to make a case for intersectional animal rights in the Anthropocene. Some questions to consider: Given that factory farms are an unmatched environmental disaster whence people would rather look away, how can ecohorror media incite a politics of “witnessing” and to what end? How might my rendering of “appetite” be problematic, given the serious social problem of hunger (though it should be said that more people could be fed via a plant-based agricultural system)? And is thinking of the Anthropocene as a gravely “eating disordered” time– a time in which animal consumption is a kind of self-destructive cannibalism– a dangerous formulation that echoes the deeply fatphobic, apocalyptic rhetoric of “the obesity crisis”? I also did not have the time/space to reckon with some of the specificities of characterization (Adrien, for example, is a gay man played by a Franco-Algerian actor) and the film’s potential anti-imperialist messaging (the film’s climax is Adrien’s murder and consumption) so questions on that front would be welcome too. Additionally, I want to think broadly about “appetitive ecohorror” (ecohorror that plays with appetite and its loss) and Anthropocene ethics. If seeing Raw won’t make anyone go vegan, what else might it do (besides infamously make people faint in theaters)? Must it “do” anything at all? And how should one interpret/understand ecomedia creators who vocally do not want their media to be “eco” at all, and say so, besides simply disagreeing with them as I do here? Finally, I am also happy to discuss the wild phrase “vegan cannibalism” and the potentialities (or horrors) of lab-grown meat. 🙂

    Thanks very much for any and all responses and questions. I am grateful for them.

    • Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

      Thanks for this great presentation, Kristen! I watched the film yesterday in preparation for the conference and I loved it very much (although I didn’t think of ecohorror directly when I watched it so much as other specific films like Gingersnaps and Suspiria).

      I am – like you – baffled by the director’s insistence on rejecting animal rights or vegetarian interpretations of the film and find her reading of the scene in which Justine argues that animals can be raped to be quite odd. In fact, when I watched the film, I read that scene as indicating Justine’s difference, but since she is our protagonist, I saw it as a marker of her being special, not immature. Or as a marker of the others’ lack of empathy for animals.

      I’m interested in the ways our presentations intersect, even though our texts are quite different. I, too, am looking at the ways that ecohorror works with body horror (as well as cosmic horror). I frequently find that the two – body horror and ecohorror – are entangled and I think your way of thinking through disgust is a good explanation for why this is so often the case.

      • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

        Thank you Christy! I am so glad you loved it and weren’t too grossed out. It is definitely in the tradition of Gingersnaps and other dark sisterhood films, though I hadn’t thought of that! I see many linkages between our talks, too, especially the centering of “indistinction.” While in my talk, I focus on the ways in which Raw makes human and non-human meat “indistinct,” blurring the human/non-human binary and asking hard questions about foodways, in yours, you think about Uzamaki’s spiraling across species lines– human becomes snail, for instance (but also, interestingly, then becomes food for people).

        I am glad you’re with me re: Justine as empath and not moral child. I do wonder if I should pay any attention at all to what Ducournau says, but I think it’s representative of a type of theorizing that confines animals to metaphors.

        I am persuaded by your understanding of ecohorror as an entangled form that spirals outward and inward– such a great image. I think in the age of big agribusiness– where animal bodies are daily ripped open and apart– body horror is always also ecohorror in that it inadvertently alludes to everyday bodily invasions with serious ecological consequences. (But admittedly, it takes a few cognitive jumps to get there!) Thanks very much for the comments and ideas!

    • joeheumann says:

      Robin and I liked your piece, really like Raw, and wished it had been available when we wrote our chapter on Gendering the Cannibal:Bodies and Landscapes in Feminist Cannibal Movies. We feel, from our work, that many people don’t want to confront their desire for meat based diets. We have examined numerous documentaries on meat production (Film and Everyday Eco-Disasters) and countless cannibal films. It’s hard to say what would change peoples minds about consuming meat. Showing Franju’s great Blood of the Beasts sends many students to the door, but they are happily eating their burgers again within a day or two.

      • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

        Thanks very much Joe and Robin! I should say that your work is all over my dissertation and that your specific readings of Jennifer’s Body and American Psycho continue to influence the way I think about “feminist cannibalism.” (I also love your piece on Wall-E, which I use in my Literature and Climate Change class.) Anyway! It is comforting (sort of) that scholars who have studied “meat” and its grosser representations for much longer than I are also baffled by the general non-response to these unsettling ecomedia. (Earthlings is the only film I’ve ever known to change someone’s mind, permanently.) It’s frustrating to get to the “So what?” of an argument for a paper like this and have to meekly say: Well, it asks hard questions and makes people think, for a second. A dark kind of optimism: the problem of factory farming cannot be ignored forever, I think. Thank you very much for commenting!

        • rlmurray50 says:

          Thank you for your thought-provoking take on *Raw*! How exciting to read that our feminist cannibalism chapter influenced your work. Feminist cannibal horror film directors like Julia Ducournau and Ana Lily Amirpour (loved The Bad Batch–2016) clearly connect eco-horror with gendered bodies and what Christy called body horror. Vegetarian cannibalism brought to mind the silly claim in *Twilight* that vampires could be vegetarian if they drank only nonhuman animal blood. Comic takes on eco issues seem to work best for my students. They responded well (at least initially) to *How to Boil a Frog*.

          • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

            Thanks very much for the text and film ideas, Robin! Vegetarian vampires– how interesting. (That maps precisely onto the vegetarian vs. vegan tension: Are eggs also meat? Is milk a kind of flesh? Is it intellectually coherent to refuse flesh for animal rights reasons but to eat yogurt? You can probably guess how I’d answer these questions.) I love the idea of incorporating more eco-comedy into my teaching. I can sometimes find humor in ecohorror but it’s of the darker, anarchic, and “hysterical” sort.

            • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

              From a vegan perspective milk and eggs are flesh. And obviously now a part of the industrial food complex. Yogurt is milk. Vegans would say no. Robin and I are both Veg Heads, but only about 95% so. It’s hard to get to 100%. Note that from an industrial perspective, the more people turn away from dairy, the faster western food companies provide alternatives: Milk and yogurt made from soy or almonds etc. Egg substitutes and cheese substitutes. Burger and hot dog substitutes. It’s freaking out the conventional industry to be slowly assaulted by newer food industries. But the bottom line is people love their red meat, chicken, veal, fish. And the richer countries become the more they want of it.

              • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

                Oh I should have stated this more clearly: I wasn’t asking those questions in earnest (I have been vegan for years) but saying that those are the types of questions one might pose to vegetarians. The vegan vs: vegetarian divide seems to me to echo the silly idea in Twilight (which Robin brought up) that vampires who only drink animal blood would be vegetarian. (If you want a super aggressive version of this– vegans hating on vegetarians, arguably counter-productively and often problematically– you can look to the subreddit “r/vegancirclejerk” (sorry for the crass name)).

                I am so here for all the substitutes, some more than others! Have you tried the Beyond Meat burger? 🙂

                • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

                  To clarify even further: In the same way that calling an animal blood-drinking being a “vegetarian” seems silly, some animal rights activists think being vegetarian and not vegan is silly– or intellectually incoherent. (Not necessarily what I think!)

                • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

                  I have tried all sorts of alternatives and use many of them in cooking. It’s fascinating to look at the attempts to repurpose plants into things that look like turkey, chicken, beef, etc. It’s fascinating to look at all the vegan bacons, frankfurters, kielbasa, etc. It’s a pathway for some and an interesting side effect of trying to convince people to go meatless. The idea of putting kale and other greens into what looks like “meat patties” is a new interest. There are people out there who want to be helped towards a veggie lifestyle. Making things look “normal” is one way. But most people do not want to know how their food is produced, especially their hot dogs. That’s why I find it amusing to see healthy ingredients processed and pushed into faux intestines and called sausage.
                  Vegans hating on veg heads is an old story that gets re-introduced every few years or so.
                  I don’t worry about the circle jerk reference . The Circle Jerks are one of my fave punk bands.

                  • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

                    The phenomenon of vegan meats gets a lot of “omnivores” or “carnists” incensed, though I’ve never been able to totally follow the logic of the anger/confusion. I think the idea is: If vegans think meat is murder, then why are you trying so hard to eat it in artificial forms? (The question makes no real sense to me. It’s not as if vegans hate the taste/texture of meat or should hate the taste?) I think your understanding is spot on. Vegan meat helps people transition. Others would say fake meat reinforces and normalizes the eating of flesh. The “vegan police” can be merciless!

                    The enthusiasm for lab-grown meat is also fascinating. That seems like a whole lot of work and expense when, as one of my vegan friends says, “you can just eat a bean taco.”

                    • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

                      It is the logic of perfection. Having known vegans through the decades, many have grouped to together for support, and then applied strict rules that govern behavior. It’s a tad bit too religious for me, no matter what the intentions.
                      Thus, vegans not wearing anything of leather, not getting into a car with leather in it, etc etc
                      It’s a lifestyle choice that then determines ones outlook and behavior and one can be judged by standards that appear to be clearly drawn.
                      Fudge that with faux meat, faux leather etc and people lose it. Religious police are usually a drag, but that’s why people group up.
                      The Vegetarian is really interesting to me for the observers trying to understand the actions of the main character. A meat based society can react violently to outliers. Each observer tries to align their perceptions to the resister and fail, but not before intruding on her actions in all sorts of approaches. And it’s really beautifully written.

    • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

      I finished The Vegetarian a few days ago, but not sure whether to ruin it by watching the film of it. That’s one interesting novel. Robin has it now. I love the way it circles around the heroine from so many points of confused view.

      • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

        I haven’t watched the film either. The novel is so good, though upsetting. I am especially interested in its treatment of restrictive eating disorders (self-eating, in a sense) as perversely ecologically sound. Yeong-hye in a way is the best environmentalist there is, treading so lightly on the earth that she gradually floats away from it entirely. I see the novel as a commentary on the dangers of ethical perfectionism, but I would also critique it for making that case first via vegan eating (the trope of “veganorexia” is something Laura Wright writes about in The Vegan Studies Project).

  2. Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

    Hi! This is Sara Crosby with “H(it)ler Came from the Swamp.” Apologies for the shakiness of the filming and the verbal typos. (Sorry, Bernice not Beverly Murphy.) My mother broke her neck last month, and so I was rushing to record this while I was back in South Louisiana taking care of her and waiting for Tropical Storm Alberto to knock out the power. It’s been a crazy month.

    Thesis of the talk . . . America’s key eco-metaphor for political corruption and fascism or demagoguery, the “swamp,” as in “drain the swamp,” originates, at least partly, in the shocking events that occurred in 1930s Louisiana: the political activation of Cajuns and other “swamp people” that initiated the rise of Huey P. Long and threatened to overwhelm the nation’s (more or less) democratic order. I walk you through some of the hysteria around Long and his “swamplanders”– the explosion of articles, artwork, cartoons, novels, films– to uncover the genealogy of an inverse “rural gothic.” Instead of evil “hicks” setting upon unwary tourists who’ve wandered into the hinterlands of America, the swamp marches into the nation’s capital to menace America with an even more unsettling ecohorror.

    So . . . this argument is part of a book I’m writing about ecohorror and the oil industry’s colonization of South Louisiana. The next part of the argument will look at how Big Oil tamed those scary swamp people and turned them/us into docile political supports with a well-coordinated propaganda campaign that included films like Louisiana Story, Jimmy Stewart’s Thunder Bay, etc. If you can think of any texts– primary or secondary– that you think I really should take a look at, I would truly appreciate any tips. Any helpful theoretical concepts I should make sure to engage? I suppose the “big” questions here I want to address are: how does the fossil fuel industry colonize a nation? What does that have to do with the popular representation of swamps and swamp people? And how do we untangle ourselves from it?

    • Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

      Really fascinating talk, Sara, and I’m interested to see your development of this in your larger project. I think what I’m most intrigued by is the way that these people (and the environment they’re associated with) and their representation seem to shift. In the “swamp people” / “drain the swamp” construction, they are threatening and dangerous, but they are also sympathetic figures (displaced, mistreated, etc.). Although you end by asking about whether they can be “de-swamped before the swamp drains into America,” do you think that another direction might be possible? Could there be an embrace of the swamp people as a crucial part of America? And, related, an embrace of the swamp itself as vital and diverse rather than monstrous?

      • Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

        Hi Christy! Short answer to your questions: Yes! I was still parroting Locke Langley a bit with that ending. Should have made that clear. I think validating and valuing the swamp is going to be key to so much progressive political and environmental and feminist work. It would mean a major re-setting of our most fundamental metaphorical frames and most pernicious narratives. It would mean re-doing Beowulf and the great American political novel to move us beyond that stupid man v. nature plot that defines the conquering white/ male/American against the menacing dark/feminine/swampy other. I think horror, especially ecohorror, is where a lot of this reworking is being done now. In a South Louisiana context, Anne Rice really kicked this off in the 70s and is still working it, and sometimes those stupid reality shows about South Louisiana will sneak in a reframing even while they seem to be reaffirming the man v. swamp heroic narrative. But doing this re-narrating requires facing grief and guilt and loss, while investing beings other than big Beowulf daddy with rights and power. Not always easy to do.

        Thank you for the questions, btw. I’m about to go watch your talk now. Looking forward to it!!

    • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

      Hi Sara! First, I am so sorry about your mom. I hope you’re managing.

      For what it’s worth, I didn’t find your talk to be shaky at all (and why didn’t I think to simply film a Powerpoint instead of putting myself through the unique terror of watching oneself speak?!). 🙂 Your parenthetical comment about “backdoor queen” made me laugh out loud, so thank you for that.

      I think this is a beautiful argument. Of particular interest is your inversion of ecohorror’s actors’ movements: from hidden away scary places that one can avoid by simply…avoiding…like a factory farm… to those scary locations’ inhabitants coming to your house (in this case, the White House). (This made me think of factory farm escape stories (that is, when a farmed animal breaks free from a truck on its way to the slaughterhouse and is “granted” life). The horror of the factory farm breaks out of its rural hiding place. This is just an association I had, nothing you need to respond to.)

      Some questions or ideas: Your brief discussion of the “swamp hag” has me thinking about the association of Louisiana with voodoo and the series “American Horror Story: Coven.” Here’s a link to a scene with “Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau” on her gator throne: In the series, Louisiana (New Orleans) is mystical, magical, and home to the descendants of Salem’s witches. What does it mean that New Orleans is the home of “dark” magic in the American imagination and all the racialization that implies? Another, though non-fiction, contemporary Louisiana “witch” story is the Dee Dee Blanchard murder. It might be irrelevant to your argument, but a documentary on Blanchard and the daughter who killed her is: Mommy Dead and Dearest. So I guess a question would be, how do you reconcile these dark witchy associations with contemporary Southern Louisiana’s “docility,” politically-ecologically speaking? Of course no rush to answer and forgive any geographical ignorance that these questions might imply! Take care.

      • Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

        Hi Kristen! It’s so nice to finally meet you, even virtually. Your question about “Voodoo” is so apt. I’m writing a chapter about America’s cyclic “Voodoo” hysteria and how that has impacted representations of South Louisiana and facilitated exploitative resource extraction in the region (esp. timber and oil). So . . . to answer your question specifically . . . how to reconcile the “docility” and the “dark witchy associations” . . . The opposition is actually necessary to maintain the extraction industry’s hegemony. We Cajuns were not always reliable supporters of the oil industry– or any big, rich conglomeration. And as long as we remained recalcitrant and independent, we were placed in a category of otherness connected to blackness. We were even called Acadian n-words. This kind of othering had very real and violent consequences– as it did tenfold for African Americans obviously. For instance, my great-great uncle was murdered by an ex-Confederate officer in a dispute about whether my family was white enough to marry into a German family. A white jury in New Orleans refused to even indict the killer, largely because of the suspicions about our community’s whiteness. In the 1940s and 50s, when the oil industry and whiteness came calling and asked if Cajuns wanted to sign up– we’d just have to promise to be “docile” and cute rather than resistant and scary and not ask too many questions about environmental impacts– well . . . wouldn’t you? But of course we can always lose our newly-acquired and shaky whiteness, our marginal American-ness, and I think the “dark” and “Voodoo” association actually helps keep Cajuns and South Louisiana docile and scrambling to connect ourselves to the modernity and whiteness the oil industry still appears to offer.

        As to awesome witchy cases, check out Clemintine Barnabet.

        And thank you so much for laughing at my joke.

        About Raw . . . I’m making my way through the movie now. (I have to do it in snippets when an 11-year-old is not around to be traumatized.) I really enjoyed your talk and especially how you grappled with the director’s telling obtuseness. The scene at the lunch table when Justine argues that monkeys can be raped, can suffer that violation, and the “mature” response is that she’s being stupid and degrading to women or femininity by equating women with animals . . . ugh. I’ve had this same argument so many times. The assumption is that it’s dehumanizing to women to connect them to animals. Fair enough. But the real power move, the real trick, of course, is to “dehumanize” animals in the first place so that the threat of equating women and animals becomes dangerous. Anyway . . . I wonder if you look at other cases where a group was made un-rapeable– “lewd” (single, poor) women in 16th c. England, slaves and African American women in 19th c. and 20th c. America, etc.? I know you said the word “un-rapeable” was awkward, but I actually think it’s brilliant of you to connect this idea to the un-eatable or cannibalistic. I would love to see you run with it.

        Also . . . I’m sure everybody and their uncle have mentioned Soylent Green and all the Wendigo texts to you. Probably not particularly relevant, but cannibalism . . . Early American conquest narratives also express all kinds of anxieties about sacrifice and flesh-eating– on both sides.

        • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

          Hi again Sara! Nice to meet you virtually, too. I am very interested in your book project and I appreciate the thorough response! Wow, ok, so if I can paraphrase: the oil industry essentially held out a (white) hand, bribing the Cajun populace and promising some form of economic security and distance from “dark,” “Voodoo” blackness in exchange for silence, for playing the industry’s game and smiling politely. Some thoughts:

          -Your blending of personal and political history is very powerful.

          -I wonder if Hurricane Katrina had any effect on Cajun “docility.”

          -Oh dear, yes please keep an 11-year-old far away from Raw. I am glad you’re with me re: the troubling concept of “dehumanization.” That very logic requires a non-human other to foist violence upon to make much sense. Monique Allewaert does a great reworking of dehumanization (“reclaiming” (that might be too strong of a word) a kind of “parahumanity”) in Ariel’s Ecology: Plantations, Personhood, and Colonialism in the American Tropics. I’m sure you’ve already read and re-read her book and its chapter(s) on swamp ecologies!

          -Perfect, helpful connection– thank you! I have not looked deeply into the idea (and “reality”) of “un-rapeable” populations historically, but it’s definitely worth sitting with longer given that the capacity for suffering is still not granted equally among humans, let alone non-humans: (I also sometimes get “Plants feel pain” as a carnist response to animal rights advocacy (as if responding to stimuli = sentience) so the question of “edibility” and “inviolability” remains fraught.)

          I am writing about the Donner party now (a fictionalized version of their story, The Hunger by Alma Katsu) and who gets eaten first– who is “closest” to the animals and therefore most easily reduced to “meat”– is definitely racialized. The novel is drawing on the Wendigo texts, but if you have a particular version or re-telling you like, I would love a suggestion! Thanks very much for your generative ideas and questions! I appreciate it.

    • joeheumann says:

      Robin and I really liked your oil piece. Especially your concern with how the oil industry creates effective public relations campaigns to make oil drilling an important part of peoples lives. We wrote a chapter on this very area in Film and Everyday Eco-Disasters called The Search for the “Golden Shrimp”:The Myth of Interdependence in Oil Drilling Films. It focuses primarily on films like Thunder Bay and Louisiana Story, both of which attempt to argue for the introduction of oil drilling into South Louisiana. So we were really interested in your take on this area.

      • Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

        Thank you so much for the reference! I went ahead and ordered your book just now. I suppose my angle on it is fairly personal. I’m trying to figure out why so many people in my community– even after BP and Katrina, even facing down the actual disappearance of our land and homes– still won’t say boo about the oil companies that were primarily responsible for causing this disaster. What’s happening in South Louisiana doesn’t seem exactly parallel to the devastation wrought in other petroleum sacrifice zones, at least not in the response of the people affected. The oil industry was so effective not just in its self-poofing propaganda but in actually replacing the identity of a community with one it had constructed.

        • joeheumann says:

          Well, in the same book we look at Blue Vinyl in our chapter Give Me Shelter: The Ecology of Homes and Homelessness. Back to Lake Charles, Louisiana, and other states where the local population has to contend with life long poisoning. From oil, vinyl production asbestos production (the film Libby, Montana). You’ve seen Blue Vinyl?

        • Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

          For one more recommendation, I taught Petrochemical America by Richard Misrach and Kate Orff (a book of photos and infographics all about south Louisiana) in my environmental lit/culture course this past semester, and it was extremely effective. It might not introduce new information for you, since you’re already quite familiar, but it might be interesting to consider as another approach to the topic and the setting – both in terms of genre and media.

        • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

          Charles Stivale has a book called Disenchanting Les Bon Temps: Identity and Authenticity in Cajun Music and Dance. I don’t know if you know it, but it is taking on some of the subject matter that concerns you and your work.

        • rlmurray50 says:

          Thank you for buying our book! We hope you find it useful. You might also look at responses in predominately African American communities such as Mossville, Louisiana. Nice work!

    • CAHagood says:

      Hi Sara!

      I really enjoyed your talk and learned so much from it, particularly about portrayals of Huey Long. I really admire the care you are taking with understanding this multivalent and powerful figure of the “swamp” and “swamp people.”

      One thing that really interests me and sometimes vexes me about the phrase “drain the swamp” (and especially about hearing it reappropriated in 2016) is that actually draining swamps has proven, in so many cases, not to be a good way to clean things up, but a great way to create another, much messier, situation. There are so many examples of reclamation efforts on a grand national scale that have failed, leaving a wild tangle of ecological and economic issues that have become less, not more, manageable with time. This old “man versus nature” / Hrothgar versus Grendel struggle aside, environmental history has helped us understand that a total control approach to managing wetlands is both problematic and, in very real ways, dangerous, especially to economically and socially vulnerable populations.

      But surely that history looks different in the era you are writing about, and I guess that’s what I’d like to know more about: how have Cajuns figured in the environmental history of south Louisiana, especially with regard to wetlands reclamation, and how does that history influence the representation of the swamp and its people in the texts you are discussing? Does the political effort to “drain the swamp” align with historical programs for flood control and reclamation?

      Again, thanks for such a wonderful presentation. I’m looking forward to exploring the others in this panel–everything looks really intriguing!

      • Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

        Thank you! These are great questions. Let me address the second one first about the connection between the political metaphor and actual swamp draining. Short answer: the political metaphor helps drive the stupid engineering. Elsewhere in this book I discuss the fraught history of wetlands– how they have been seen as anti-modern “wastelands” that need to be drained and tamed, etc. Of course, we know now, and we even really knew then, that this was stupid and that wetlands were incredibly productive and important. Literally “draining the swamp” was always political, in that it was more about a display of power and control, than anything terribly practical or sensible. When you drain the swamp, you tame the swamp dweller, who is often regrettably independent and recalcitrant. When you levee the hell out of the Mississippi and dump all its freshwater and sediment off the continental shelf, instead of renewing wetlands, then you show your badass top-down control of nature, even if it means you promote massive coastal erosion. As John Barry showed, even when the river was being leveed after the flood of 1927, a vocal minority of engineers pointed out the stupidity of this approach. But the political need to “drain the swamp” outweighed the actual dangers of draining the swamp.

        Now about the second question as to the role of Cajuns in the history of wetlands reclamation and in representations of the swamp. Well, most of the wetlands in South Louisiana were not “reclaimed,” but rather canaled for oil pipelines and transport, which opened marshes and swamps that had already been starved by levees to deadly saltwater intrusion. Also, Cajuns of course are not a completely homogeneous group, but, for the most part there’s been a cultural tendency to work with and utilize wetlands (for hunting and fishing) rather than destroying them. They have been places of retreat– where tyrannical powers leave us alone– and of sustenance and fun. However, starting in the 40s, many of us made devil’s bargains with oil companies, who wanted to put “just a little” canal through (which grew into massive open water eventually), or had our land straight up expropriated by oil industry outsiders with shady paperwork. To ease this taming of the marsh and swamp, oil companies like Standard spread around a little cash and promoted very effective propaganda vehicles– buying newspaper editors and local politicians, as well as putting out texts like the film Louisiana Story. This propaganda basically amplified the supposed cute backwardness of Cajuns and the benignity of the swamp (rather than their recalcitrant scariness) and showed how our welcoming (rather than shooting at) oil derricks, etc. would make us modern and powerful and rich. We would be bayou hicks (or coonasses) no more! So swamp and Cajun were reconceptualized as benign and docile helpers of industry. This is where we got the cutesy “stage Cajun” you see in films from Thunder Bay to The Waterboy. You still see it in the “aw shucks” version of us you get in Swamp People. By the 50s, then, swamps and swamp people became just fine, even tourist attractions, as long as they’re supporting industry along the Gulf coast. They’re still “other” but no longer threats to be eradicated at least.

        (Perhaps it’s coincidence but this shift also coincides with the invention of the word “wetlands,” as opposed to the morally-freighted “swamps,” and the official U. S. government recognition that they might be useful. I think it’s plausible that the finally-successful experience of Big Oil in using/taming the wetlands along the Cajun Coast might have played a weird kind of role in that. Maybe.)

        Hope that kind of answers your questions?

  3. Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

    Hi all, I’m excited to be part of this great panel on ecohorror, and I hope you’ll feel free to ask me any questions you might have and make any suggestions about other texts or ideas I might consider in my analysis of Junji Ito’s Uzumaki. Japanese culture and manga are not actually my primary area (I mostly focus on U.S. culture), but I’ve been looking for an opportunity to say something about this text since I first read it. For those of you who teach horror, I’ll note that Uzumaki teaches really well, too, and my students found a lot to discuss in it.

    • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

      Thank you for all the definitions, even as you expand and complicate them! I honestly had never heard of “cosmic horror” before. Have you thought about this manga in relation to Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, which also seems to blend body horror, plant horror, cosmic horror, and ecohorror? I am going to get my hands on this text asap.

    • rlmurray50 says:

      Hi Christy, Your talk worked well for me–it encouraged me to watch Junji Ito’s Uzumaki! If I get a chance to watch the film in the next couple of days, I’ll leave a better reply. For now I would like to thank you for introducing me to this film!

    • Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

      Hi again, Christy! So . . . I have a question that I hope is not too irritating. But I wonder how compatible you think ecohorror and cosmic horror are — on an epistemological as well as ethical, mostly ethical, level? Human-induced climate change and Cthulhu don’t seem like exactly interchangeable disasters. Humans don’t have any responsibility for the old gods or Area X (mostly) or spirals, and we can’t do anything about them but suffer and melt and die. But ecohorror– even goofy texts like Sharknado– underlines human responsibility or at least points in that direction. Cosmic horror exculpates and disables us. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Lovecraft was a lunatic racist who was terrified of immigrants and nostalgic for some fake pure New England Brahmin past. Cosmic horror tends to be reactionary, and it seems to me that the turn to cosmic horror, particularly as it accompanies petro-narratives like the Cyclonopedia, etc., is the final form of fossil fuel propaganda: telling us we can do nothing but accept this beyond human disaster. But Exxon and BP are not agents of Cthulhu, no matter what South Park says. So . . . I guess what I’m saying is . . . I’m a huge fan of cosmic horror, and I will love reading this manga. And I see how it reflects a psychological truth about how overwhelming the human impact on the planet has become, but I worry that it elides the “human” in that horror and so lets us off the hook. Maybe that’s why I enjoy it. It’s soothing for a guilty or angry conscience.

      • Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

        Not an irritating question at all. This is something I’m wrestling with. I think part of my response would be to clarify that I don’t mean to say that climate change and Cthulhu are interchangeable. It might be more accurate for me to say that the emotions induced and our perceptions of them are – if not interchangeable – very similar. I think it’s important to acknowledge this sense of being overwhelmed because it ultimately is a significant part of how we respond (or don’t) to climate change and environmental destruction. I think this is actually a big part of why I want to bring cosmic horror and ecohorror together – while cosmic horror alone can elide the “human” in its horror, ecohorror often (though certainly not always) relies quite heavily on anthopocentric models of the world that still put humans at the center and give us as a species a great deal of power – maybe too much. I will definitely keep thinking this through, though.

        On Lovecraft, yeah, he’s awful as an individual – cosmic horror goes well past Lovecraft, though, and I wouldn’t want to limit the discussion of the genre to him and his particular issues – even though I did for expediency in the presentation. He’s the most obvious representative, but he didn’t start it and he doesn’t own it. So while his xenophobia and racism do *definitely* shape his vision of the world and the cosmos, as I develop this further, I’ll probably want to bring in more instances to show how cosmic horror reaches past him, too.

        • Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

          I think you’re right about cosmic horror. I’m looking at it through Lovecraft-colored glasses a bit too much. His precursor, Edgar Allan Poe, was far more ethical and environmentally-conscious. Not to toot my own horn on this, but I wonder what you’d think of my articles on Poe and if they might be useful? I had one come out in ISLE a couple years ago, and I just had one come out in Poe Studies. In that one, I actually talk about the Old/New Weird just a bit. Matthew Taylor’s article(s) on Poe’s post-humanism might also be good to look at.

  4. rlmurray50 says:

    This is a response to “A Monstrosity of Scales: The Shifting Spatiotemporalities and Anthropocentric Realities of Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island” by Jeffrey Marchand.

    Thank you for your exploration of popular film in relation to shifting temporal and spatial scales perhaps required by the Anthropocene. I would be interested to read how you might apply your methodology to eco-horror outside the “animal attacks” sub-genre.

    • jmarch71 says:

      Thank you for your interest in my work, and I appreciate your question, as it is one that I have been attempting to think currently. One of the ways that I have been trying to work through this is by positioning these types of ecohorrors as apocalyptic narratives and, conversely, by attempting to position the dystopic post-apocalyptic trend in current film as, ultimately, a type of eco-horror. In doing so, I have been working with such speculative films as Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, which has similar opening credits to that of the two films discussed here. However, my focus in these types of films has shifted to the representation of the human/plant relationship as represented through the trope of seed saving. In these types of post-apocalyptic films that feature seed-saving tropes, human and plant spatiotemporalities converge forcing us to reconsider survival and/or flourishing in terms of other-than-human rhythms and senses of place. Of course this work is still in process, so I would be interested in further suggestions of films that might help me make my case

  5. jmarch71 says:

    Hello, all! My name is Jeffrey Scott Marchand from the University of Texas at Arlington.

    I am really excited to be part of this conference and am intrigued to see how the next two weeks play out and the conversations that may emerge here. Thanks to all the other panelists here (I have only briefly listened to the talks, so I will require another listen/watch through for more extensive comments).

    As for my own talk, I am attempting to work through the limitations and the possibilities that are inherent in the eco-speculative film genre. This talk is part of a larger work that I am in the process of writing entitled “‘This is the Place:’ A Posthuman Guide to the Apocalypse, or Becoming-World through Pop Culture.” I am attempting to work with apocalyptic ecohorror narratives in pop culture through the posthuman lenses of critical animal studies, plant studies, race studies, and queer theory. As this is a work in progress, I welcome any comments and/or recommendations for other texts that may be relevant to my cause.

    • Kristen Angierski, Cornell University says:

      Hi Jeffrey! I really enjoyed your talk. First, I think the rejection of snobbery when it comes to pop culture films is (when it comes to all things, really) absolutely necessary. Are there really academics who still explicitly malign the popular? Yikes. I also appreciated the turn to ethics: to what these films can *do.* I wonder, more concretely, if you think these films can create behavioral change or if they “merely” allow one to inhabit the dizzying spatio-temporal hyperobject space of the Anthropocene? In my own experience with critical animal studies and animal rights activism, films (from violent documentaries set on factory farms to cute, fuzzy animal stories) do not seem especially likely to turn anyone on to more sustainable foodways. I am not of course asking for a solution to this enigma.

      I was also interested in what you wrote above about ecohorror as dystopia. You might be interested in this quote: “To think of these ‘end of the world’ narratives as cautionary tales is to assume the position of the liberal blessed, those happy few for whom conditions of scarcity, violence, volatility and ‘existential threat’ are not part of day-to-day existence. When one looks at some ‘end of the world’ scenarios – such as the most recent Mad Max installment – what ‘we’ see is a ‘future’ where water has been seized and is conspicuously wasted by the parasitic few, in order to dazzle and enslave the barely surviving many. How is it possible to view films of this type and say that it is easy to imagine the end of the world? This is not the end of the world, but what the world is, and has been, for the majority of humans.” _Anti-Catastrophic Time_ Claire Colbrook (2017) (and non-humans, I would add– especially those living out their torturous days on “concentrated animal feed operations”)

      That is not a critique, but just a way of thinking– against catastrophe– that you may already be reckoning with in your work!

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