This week in podcapping brings equally engaging content from our two podcasts but vastly different genre discussions. “Overdue” dives into horror fiction, while “The Bechdel Cast” covers an early iteration of the teen high school genre film. With both podcasts headed by just two hosts each this week, they remind listeners that the strongest content often comes down to dialogue between just two people.
Horror fiction is practically synonymous with one very well known writer: Stephen King. Writing horror apparently runs in the family, as this week’s author, Joe Hill — real name: Joseph Hillstrom King — is actually Stephen King’s son. On the father-son writers, Andrew states, “He’s that guy, Stephen King, who writes about evil clocks and clowns . . . and is basically the dad of every horror writer but is literally Joe Hill’s dad.”
Hill’s 2013 novel “NOS4A2” (pronounced “Nosferatu”) follows Victoria “Vic” McQueen, who, as a young girl, discovers she has a gift for finding misplaced things (including both objects or unanswered questions). The story’s villain is Charles Talent Manx, who targets children and takes them for rides in his car (whose license plate reads “NOS4A2”) and transports them to a terrifying playground that he calls “Christmasland.” Vic is the only child to ever escape and has spent her life trying to forget him. Decades later, Manx, intent on making up for what he lost with Vic’s escape, kidnaps her son.
Hill originally wanted to distance his own writing from his dad’s, so he shortened his name before the publication of his first novel, “Heart-Shaped Box,” in 2007. Soon after the release, however, he confirmed his identity after Variety published a piece mentioning it.
Andrew and Craig discuss how comparisons are bound to be made between the two writers, admitting that they will likely do just that in this episode. Andrew, citing his contextual research, notes that with “NOS4A2,” his third novel, Hill seems to be inviting those comparisons — he directly references details from King’s works in the plot.
As for the plot, Craig was impressed with how Hill handles the horror genre, in that all of the scary or gory details directly serve the development of the story or its characters. All of the stakes are clear, Craig asserts; none of the characters are getting hurt for the sole sake of hurting (a phenomenon often referred to as “torture porn”). Andrew brings up an interview with Hill, in which the author states that successful horror must derive from a place of empathy.
Later, they discuss the depiction of a female protagonist written by a male writer. Craig notes that, from his perspective as a male reader, Hill seems to have put a lot of thought and care into creating Vic. He emphasizes her complexity — which stays consistent throughout many different ages, as the plot spans many years — and the fact that she is never oversexualized.
Overall, Craig was content with the experience of reading the novel. He describes it as being “about people trying to exert their will on the world and how that can go badly,” making a successful case for “NOS4A2” as a horror fiction worth your time.
“The Bechdel Cast”
For this week’s episode on the classic teen film, “The Breakfast Club,” Caitlin and Jamie break from tradition and hold their discussion without a guest.
“The Breakfast Club,” one of writer-director John Hughes’ most famous works, follows five high school students from different cliques who are forced to spend the day together in Saturday detention.
Caitlin and Jamie start the conversation by acknowledging that, despite the faults of the film that they are about to delve into, Hughes accomplished something with his directorial career that wasn’t being done previously: treating teenagers’ stories seriously. They discuss how there weren’t many movies being made for and about teenagers before Hughes, and that the genre is broad now.
While Jamie notes her appreciation for the attention given to each of the film’s main characters, she points out issues of representation when it comes to the female roles.
First off, the character list is male-heavy, with only two women — popular “princess” Claire (Molly Ringwald) and “basket case” Allison (Ally Sheedy). These two characters, as Jamie points out, represent extreme character types, making them neither attainable nor relatable to viewers.
Further, Claire and Allison barely interact. Allison hardly speaks and, at the end of the film, is revealed to be a compulsive liar. This is played as a joke but is actually sending a problematic message. As Jamie points out, the film seems to be saying, “‘Don’t listen to anything she says — nothing true comes out of her mouth.’”
When Allison and Claire finally do interact for the first time, it’s an antagonistic moment. Allison participates in the pressuring of Claire to admit she’s a virgin — which itself has its own issues. And the only interaction the two females have one-on-one is when Claire gives Allison a makeover, which is also an issue on its own as it presents Allison’s worth as being tied to her appearance — especially when Andrew (Emilio Estevez) shows interest in her directly after the makeover.
Finally, their last major qualm with the film is the relationship between Bender (Judd Nelson) and Claire. Bender is verbally abusive toward her, and there isincluding a threat of rape that is played off as a joke. Plus, there is the scene in which Bender is hiding under the table from a teacher and puts his head between Claire’s legs, under her skirt, after spotting her underwear. The hosts discuss how even Ringwald has acknowledged this scene as sexual assault in a piece she wrote for the New Yorker, revisiting her John Hughes collaborations in the age of #MeToo. The characters never address this moment again, and Bender still gets the girl in the end.
This movie technically passes the Bechdel Test (because of the makeover scene between Claire and Allison), but the rest of Caitlin and Jamie’s conversation proves how much more there is to the question of female representation, even in the most beloved movies.