February 19, 2013

Responsible Magic: Maureen and Rachel Thorson in conversation on Labyrinth

Maureen: You have no power over me!
Rachel:  That's what you think.
Maureen:  True. But if I say it loud enough, maybe I will vanquish David Bowie. So…rough guestimate...how many times did we see Labyrinth?

Rachel:  Hmmm...as a child I'd estimate between 5-10. Then I saw it le zillion times in college once I bought the DVD.
Maureen:  Yeah, I think we rented it a bunch of times when mom and dad went out. That and Monty Python!
Rachel:  I was thinking about it and I can't actually remember the first time I saw it. It just always WAS.
Maureen:  Yes. Labyrinth. Eternal and Forever. I still have nightmares about the truth-telling and lying doors.
Rachel:  Oubliette. Scariest ever.
Maureen:  Also, good SAT word!
Rachel:  Yes, but that was horrifying to me. Nobody to talk to but the walls.

SAT horror!

Maureen:  But David Bowie loves you too much to let you stay down there! I had no idea who he was. Mom and Dad's record collection didn't exactly run to Glam Rock.
Rachel:  I had no idea either, until later. And then I was confused as to why he agreed to it, except for the being so awesome part.
Maureen:  Yes, and just you know that David Bowie always wished he could be mad chillin' out with goblins, manipulatin' crystal balls.

Pants o' Power
Rachel:  Plus the crotch shots. Since the goblins aren't any higher than waist level, they are constantly panning across his package.
Maureen:  OMG, yes. Such a different vision of sexuality than anodyne boy bands. Did you think the people that made the movie really understood how wonderfully perverse that was?
     Rachel:  I've thought about it and I kind of have this idea of them watching the final cut and being like, "Ok, balls. Did YOU GUYS realize how much wiener action is going on?!" whilst cameramen with dirty minds snicker. Or maybe nobody can tell David Bowie to downplay his junk without getting slapped.
Maureen:  Ha! Other generations had James Dean or Marlon Brando as the bad boy boyfriend who wants to control you and who you don't take home to mom...we have Goblin David Bowie.
I kind of like how Sarah is trying to get her little brother back, but the movie doesn't really make it seem like "Hi, girl. You know you should just stay home with babies." No! You should go out and beat the hell outta this slimy sexy goblin dude and be like "don't mess w/my brother, and no more head games."
Rachel:  Yes, although I like when David Bowie says that line about how all he's done is what she asked. She caused the kidnapping, even if she didn't think calling on dark powers was actually going to work.
Maureen:  Yes...but your evilest boyfriends are always like that. "Baby, I thought you liked it this way." Bleh.
Rachel:  I mean I guess the sexiness of him is born out of what Sarah wanted her villain to be.
Maureen:  Yes, that's true. Lady sexuality -- it can freak even a lady out. At least you should be aware of the flip sides of power dynamics.
The freakiest part of the movie for me is the Junklady who tries to tempt Sarah with all her old toys. "Don't love people, love things. Old crappy things." That idea of refusing to grow up now seems really really creepy to me. Like women who use babytalk voices. CREE.PEE.
Rachel:  I was always really freaked out by the fiery guys. I hated their song.
Maureen:  Oh yeah. The ones that throw their heads around?
Rachel:  Yeah their song is totally freaking weird. "Rockin’, rollin’ and reelin’ with the mackin’ sex appeal" = I scared.
Maureen:  Yeah, it's like grown-up stuff is scary, but you can't stay a kid forever either. Where is a young girl supposed to turn?
Rachel:  Ludo

Maureen:  Always turn to Ludo. And Sir Didymus.
Rachel:  And Lancelot...the dog that is a muppet...and then isn't...and then is!
Maureen:  I was just thinking how, other than the Junklady and the stepmom who yells at Sarah in the beginning, there are really no female characters. All of the people Sarah meets are guys.
Rachel:  Yes, she doesn't exactly have any role models.
Maureen:  I know! Poor Sarah. Mean stepmom, gotta grow up takin' care of babies and fending off goblins.
Rachel:  Yes, although I wish I could get my students to learn the all-important lesson she learns: Stop whining!
Maureen:  Yes. Big girl pants. Don't expect other people to do everything for you, but don't let them take advantage of you either. That's sort of what the Goblin King offers -- oh, I'll take care of you (if you become my living doll).Eeek!
Rachel:  Join me on my MC Escher staircases!

Who left this labyrinth here?

Maureen:  Ha, yes! Although if you went to live with the Goblin King, I suppose you could listen to him sing “Dance, Magic, Dance” anytime you want. Another song with weird and somewhat unsettling lyrics.
Rachel:  and “As the World Falls Down” and “Within You” . . . Dreaaaamy. Big fairy tale overtones too...
Maureen:  YES.
 Rachel:  Bite this magic apple (er peach), Snow White (I mean, Sarah).
Maureen:  Yes, but the prince is also your wicked stepmother!
Rachel:  Twisted!
Maureen:  Also...walk down this yellow brick road (er, labyrinth).Or Alice in Wonderland. One of the things that most drew me to Sarah was that most of the people she meets are so unpleasant!
Rachel:  Yes, although I have to say that in the beginning Sarah isn't very pleasant either. And actually, a great many of the characters she meets in the labyrinth are trying to help her, in their own way.
 Maureen:  Yes. I kind of like the fact that Sarah's not pleasant. She gets better, but through her own choosing.
Rachel:  She has kind of a Peter Pan complex going on; she doesn't want to grow up. She doesn't stop being annoying until she starts to make more mature choices.
Maureen:  Yes, and I think the Junklady bit really shows you what the consequences of not growing up are...this very circumscribed, controlled life.
Rachel:  Yes, being weighed down by things you think will comfort you.
Maureen:   EXACTLY.
Rachel:  Also, I think another lesson is not to believe you are the center of the universe. Jareth makes her into the center of the story and gives her what she thinks she wants and she has to decide...nope, I'm going to face reality.
Maureen:   Being caught in a fantasy is so much worse than just dealing with the truth. You may not be the Prettiest Princess, but you also don't have to be trapped in that narrative.
Rachel:  But it does have shiny, leather-clad appeal. You can imagine yourself on a down day saying, "Oh ok screw free will, rule me."
Maureen:  Yeah, all this choosing is very tiring...how 'bout some sexy goblin? "Goblin Queen" has a nice ring to it.
Rachel:  Exactly. Free will can be exhausting because you have to live with yourself when you make a really bad choice.
Maureen:  But at least YOU chose it. You didn't get stuck with what someone else decided for you.
Rachel:  No, of course. The point is that it's better, but you can see the temptation to give it up some days. Have you read Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market"? It kind of reminds me of what happens to one of the sisters when she eats the forbidden goblin fruit. She starts to fade away in the real world, because she lets herself cross over into Faerie. That temptation to be something more than an ordinary mortal is a repeated motif.
Maureen:  Yes, although the whole movie is really Sarah working to undo the mistake of calling the Goblin King to take her brother.
Rachel:  Yes, her mistake is instead of just being mature and talking to her parents or agreeing to help with her brother being like, WAH! Ima call on some supernatural dudes. WAH! And it is always a mistake in fairy tales to do so...you can ask Rumplestiltskin to help you weave, but later you have to pay.
Maureen:  Yeah, man. DO NOT ask goblins, dwarves, wizards, or old ladies who live in gingerbread cottages for help.
Sarah's victory is really kind of an odd inversion...she finds power by simply realizing other people don't have power over her. Or that their only power is in getting her to believe they have power over her.
Rachel:  Yes, and she realizes that the problem wasn't Toby; it was her attitude toward the whole thing. She chose to see it as a burden instead of as a responsibility or even an "honor" that her parents chose to trust her with him.
Maureen:  Poor Toby. He's just minding his own business, being a baby, wearing awesome striped PJs.
Rachel:  I know. He looks like a strange little caterpillar.
Maureen:  Hee! I think he would have made a good goblin. Wasn't that what was going to happen to him?
Rachel:  Yes. Which makes you ask yourself...Are the rest of the goblins former babies?!
Maureen:  Oh wow! Maybe David Bowie has a whole castle full of 14 year-old girls who hated babysitting so much they called on the Goblin King to take their brothers away. Like Bluebeard. For the tween set.
Rachel:  Yes...you can spirit a lot of ladies away with pants like that. Plus he turns into a freaking beautiful owl.
Maureen:  Srsly. I wouldn't exactly kick him out of the labyrinth myself. Okay! So, final thoughts...
Don't whine; take responsibility for your choices, and don't trust David Bowie.
Rachel:  And also...maybe something like it's ok to have a little magic in your life as long as you don't expect it to solve everything...which goes back to the taking responsibility thing.
Maureen:  Yes, Sarah does end up with all her otherworldly friends visiting her in the real world. Magic!

Maureen Thorson lives in Washington, DC, where she co-curates the In Your Ear series at the DC Arts Center and acts as the poetry editor of Open Letters Monthly (openlettersmonthly.com), an online arts and literature review. Her first book of poetry, Applies to Oranges, was published by Ugly Duckling Presse in 2011.

Rachel Thorson lives in Querétaro, Mexico, where she teaches high school English, belly dances and stalks the wily English phrasal verb.

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