April 18, 2008

King Me

This week I put together an Ultimate Fan Quiz about Stephen King movies for AMC. The prize is a Jack Nicholson DVD collection, and watch out, that quiz is sort of goddamn hard. But in the process I got to watch clips and bits of a lot of really awful movies, as well as some really great ones, and though I now have an irrational fear of my household appliances (or perfectly rational, in King's opinion) I also have a new perspective on the films and books I crammed my head with when I was a young sprout.

Someone's paperback copy of Cujo was making the rounds in my seventh grade science class, from which I first learned the basic mechanics of masturbation. The fact that this act was performed as a gesture of vengeance by one of the book's more unsavory human characters was troubling to me, but for the first time I realized that reading grown-up books was the only way to find out all the things that Apache Junction didn't want me to know about. Thus through the extended King canon I also learned the mechanics of drug abuse, mental illness, and homosexuality (which back then almost always took the form of victimization or child abuse in his books). It was King who taught me about the importance of the clitoris, and about the loneliness and despair of death.

In eighth grade I read his novella Rage, which King himself took out of print when school shootings became the new hotness. Did I evolve or fester as I relished every word of his revenge fantasy about a gunman holding a high school hostage and gradually gaining the support of his captives? Was I better or worse in the years following as I explored my own version of high school hell and flirted with the notion of vigilante justice?

Stephen King evolved a conscience about the same time I was losing mine. Beginning with Dolores Claiborne and Gerald's Game, and onward through Rose Madder and beyond, King began to explore issues such as feminism, motherhood, lesbianism, and misogyny with a new fervor. He claims that his wife challenged him, pointing out that his female characters were often the weak links in his work. It probably also had something to do with his daughter Naomi revealing that she was a lesbian. This was a satisfying end to my personal addiction to King's works; when Desperation and The Regulators came out, I adored the latter and tolerated the former, and for one reason or another have never picked up another King novel since.

Okay, that's a lie. I ho-hummed my way through The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon during a lunch break when a copy arrived at the used bookstore I used to work at. And that's where it ended for me, for keeps.

Anyhow, because of the persistence of memory, I am what you could call an Ultimate Fan of King's writing and subsequent films. This quiz may seem pretty dry, but researching it put me back in touch with memories some very dark and confusing years-- years which can't be put aside as easily as a genre or an author or even an actual paperback book. It's true though that whatever you choose to put in your head remains there forever, something that we are very careless about yet which comes to define us utterly. Once I relied on the dark stuff to search for clues as to what was made me different. Now I write about it for a living, looking for the same patterns in culture at large. Does anything really ever change?

Enough navel-gazing. Just take the damn quiz already! (oh, and thanks to Chris for the Carrie image above, we dabbled in LOLCarrie for a while last year and I thought it eerily appropriate.)

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