Sic Semper Semanis

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Frankenstein: The Doctor, the Monster, and the Monster Doctor

Since time immemorial, people have looked around themselves and asked questions about their very existence.   Does mankind have a soul?   Is there an organizing force controlling the universe?   What would happen if you stitched a bunch of pieces together from various dead bodies and then brought them to life by zapping them with electricity?   It is this last question that Mary Shelley first attempted to answer when, as a mere girl of eighteen, she wrote the novel Frankenstein, which is a parable about meddling with powers that should belong only to God. The conclusion she reached …continue reading

The Salem Witch Trials: Well You Know, It’s Something To Do

The Puritans are the only people in history who fled their homeland because they weren’t oppressed enough. A virtuous but abstemious group, at the beginning of the seventeenth century they found themselves beset all about by religious tolerance and jolly song singing, until the merry cheer of those around them was almost too grievous to be borne. Fortunately, God provided for them (as He will with His chosen peoples), and they found new hope in a land far across the sea, free from happiness, good weather, architecture, or any other dangerous comforts to the soul. These goodly Puritans buckled up …continue reading

King Tutankhamen: Still Dead, After All These Years

  It is a well-known fact that any English person can trick any American person into doing whatever they want, because they have such nice accents. English people just sound smarter than us. And Australians sound like they have more fun, but that’s probably only because they do.     Anyway.   Nowadays, if a person can resist the sound of those pear-shaped tones, they probably understand that just because a person sounds like they know how to read books doesn’t mean that they ever have. But for most of the nineteenth century into the twentieth, the children of Mother …continue reading

Minamoto no Yoritomo: The Father of Japanese Bureaucracy

If you’re like me, you’ve read Memoirs of a Geisha twice and got halfway through watching the movie, so you probably think you know everything there is to know about Japan. And then you remember that they currently lead the world in electronics and pod-sleeping, and that they can only express emotion through elaborate and overlong cartoons, so that adds some layers of understanding, and you think, all right, I kind of know what these people are about. And then somebody tells you about the used-panty vending machines and love hotels, and you think, okay, that’s fucked up but we …continue reading

Henry Ford: Taking Capitalism From a Nightmare to a Reality

Henry Ford is the type of historical figure that appeals strongly to a certain type of person. These people tend to have a lot in common with Ford himself, or at least to think that they do: hard working and humble, yet happily prosperous; curious and intelligent, but fiercely anti-intellectual; tolerant and forward thinking, but unshakably certain that they are better than everyone else and that Jews are trying to destroy civilization from the inside out, Ford’s acolytes stride confidently into the future, loudly proclaiming the outdated ideals of the past.   They are always American.   As for the …continue reading

The Tale of Babar the Elephant, or, Trunk of Darkness

   They say history is written by the winners. In the case of Babar, King of the Elephants, this is certainly true, because the only surviving records of the reign of Babar are the official documentation released by the pro-Babar contingency of the time, and many key details seem to be deliberately (perhaps suspectly?) left vague. Unfortunately, any alternate accounts of Babar’s kingship have been successfully destroyed and stricken from historical record, if indeed they ever existed. What I propose to do in this week’s entry of Dictator of the Week is to examine the accounts of Babar that have …continue reading

Marie Antoinette: Still Getting Too Much Credit, After All These Years

Marie Antoinette wasn’t French. Sorry. I hope you were sitting down for that. Marie Antoinette was the queen of France for twenty-five years, but she was actually from Austria. And I know that that’s a difference that might not mean much to you if you’re an American, because neither of those places has good pizza, but during the late 1700s it was a big deal. Austria and France were competing superpowers, so Austrian people and French people didn’t much care for each other generally. France in particular had a real problem with anybody non-French, and they especially weren’t into anybody …continue reading

The Story of How Cleopatra

Listen, I don’t know what kind of parties you go to or how often you get to talk about world leaders of ancient times, but if you’re the type of totally not weird person who goes to historical re-enactment toga parties like I am, I don’t have to tell you that you just can’t bring up Cleopatra without starting an argument. I once got into a shouting match with a roommate’s sister because I mentioned that Cleopatra was Greek and not Egyptian. Of course, there was blame on both sides. Cleopatra was not ethnically Egyptian and all of the Ptolemies …continue reading

Ivan the Terrible: Embodiment of the Russian Psyche

I grew up and currently reside in Los Angeles, which is arguably the most culturally diverse city in the entire world. When a poll was taken at my high school, asking which language a student was most likely to speak in any random moment, English came in third, with Korean nipping right at its heels (first was Armenian, second Spanish). My job brings me into close contact with dozens and casual contact with literally thousands of international travelers every week, and up until very recently I lived less than two blocks away from the Walk of Fame, one of the …continue reading

Nicolae Ceausescu: From Gypsy Caravan to Communist Monster

   Eastern Europe holds a sort of fascination for Westerners. Their dark, mysterious forests, their pungent, garlicky food, their deep, powerful superstitions. These countries seem romantic and mysterious – so mysterious that most of us would have trouble pointing them out on a map.    We think of the people of these countries – the countries that so many of our ancestors immigrated away from – and we imagine their bright, colorful clothing and their dark, luxurious body hair. We ask each other, what is up with those guys? Like, seriously. They can’t all be gypsies, can they? Why are …continue reading