Filmmaker and comic author Hugh Hancock here again. Charlie's currently locked in his study babbling over blasphemous and forbidden tomes, so whilst we attempt to hack down the door with a fireaxe and get counselling for the guy to whom Charlie explained the hidden meaning of the Nightmare Stacks, I'm here with another blog post.
In the last couple of posts I've made over here (thanks as always to OGH for the invitation), I've been making the point that, both through necessity and lucky happenstance, the themes and subtext of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos are still very workable in today's world. In fact, they've acquired a lot of resonance thanks to advances in technology and society that run parallel to some of their main themes.
But still, the Cthulhu Mythos' core squamous, eldrich concepts were created just under 100 years ago at this point. They reflect the concerns of the time, like the sudden discovery that the universe is mind-blowingly, terrifyingly huge. And they have a few... issues for modern readers, like inbuilt xenophobia.
So what would a Cthulhu Mythos-equivalent for today, expressing the zeitgeist terrors of 2015 society, look like?
Bloody terrifying, that's what.
Because unlike Lovecraft, in 2015 we have plenty of experience with actual gigantic, inhuman entities with agendas entirely orthogonal to the safety and security of the human race.
One note before I begin: this article is explicitly about horrifying things in our current society. As such, I'll be hitting a lot of hotbuttons during the course of this piece.
They Know What You Did Last Summer
Lovecraft's concern was vast, alien entities who have no knowledge of, or concern for, the human race.
Our modern-day concerns are about vast, alien entities who have total, invasive, privacy-destroying knowledge of the minutae of the human race - and still have no concern for us.
In the era of Google, Facebook, datamining and intelligent advertising, the problem isn't that the alien entities who scare the crap out of us have no interest in us - rather the reverse. The aliens in our midst know when we've become accidentally pregnant. They know what pornography we watch. They can predict our behaviour and influence us to do what they want.
(Some of this is more or less accurate - as someone who buys quite a lot of advertising, I know that there are a lot of myths floating around about what targeted advertising can or can't do. But zeitgeist fears aren't about what's true, they're about what we fear is true.)
And this element actually fits rather well into the Cthulhu Mythos' core concepts - and it makes them a whole lot scarier.
Let's take Cthulhu, the Big Squid himself, for example. Beyond his Godzilla-like frame and immunity to nukes, he's written as having another power that gets less screentime. He talks in peoples' dreams.
In the 2015 version of the Mythos, Cthulhu still doesn't care whether you live or die, but he knows you better than you know yourself. And when he wakes, you get visions. Visions driven by the parts of yourself that you hide from the world, and the parts of people around you that they'd rather you didn't know.
In Old Cthulhu, our heroes manage to get into the West Wing, convince the President that Cthulhu is real, launch the nukes and watch helplessly as Cthulhu emerges from the blast, not only intact but now radioactive.
But what happens in that scenario with 2015 Cthulhu is far worse. Our heroes manage to get into the West Wing, ignoring the disquieting whispering they've been hearing for weeks now. They get to the President, which is rather easier than expected, because the many, many layers of security seem to be inactive. They explain the situation, and miraculously persuade the Joint Chiefs and the President to initiate a launch.
As the President keys in the launch codes, she starts on a soliloquy about her ex-husband and his treatment of her kids, for no obvious reason. The whispering's getting stronger. One of the Joint Chiefs is staring at pictures on his phone, and then he suddenly starts smashing it against the wall. He keeps on smashing until he's broken all the fingers in his hand and is working his way up his wrist. One of the Secret Servicemen draws his gun and shoots the other two in the gut before pulling a knife and starting to gut his colleagues, screaming incoherently about his experiences at boot camp. And then, just as the President hits the button, our heroes notice that the launch coordinates aren't centred on the mid-Pacific any more: they're centred on Sao Paulo, where the President's ex-partner lives.
And then Cthulhu makes landfall and eats everyone.
Cthulhu's All Around Us, And So The Feeling Goes
And that brings us onto another point about the terrifying entities that actually concern us right now.
Most of Lovecraft's entities are a long way away. And most of them only inhabit a single space.
Azathoth is a mass of bubbling chaos, but he's a mass of bubbling chaos a long way away. Cthulhu sleeps in Rl'yeh. Hastur inhabits dread Carcosa, or Hali, or at the very least somewhere that you can't get directions to on Google Maps. Even the Shoggoth are mostly chilling - pun intended - in Antarctica.
By contrast, the terrifying entities of 2015 aren't geographically located. They're everywhere. They can see everything, or at least everything that someone uploads a picture of, which is functionally close to everything and getting closer all the time. They can hear you, thanks to the handy microphone you carry around. And they're within arm's reach almost 100% of the day.
In 20s Cthulhu Mythos, summoning things was at least hard. You needed to reach across the vastnesses of time and space to cause Azathoth to incarnate and fuck your shit up. In the 2015 version, all of these things are right here.
Cthulhu listens whilst you dream. The bubbling chaos of Azathoth is here, only seperated from the physical world by the continuous luck of quantum fluctuation. When you go down on your boyfriend, the Black Goat Of The Woods With A Thousand Young hangs above you, just out of sight in the shadows, and her fluids drip down onto the sheets.
To update the Mythos to 2015, we need to assume that the problem isn't summoning them: the problem is avoiding them turning up anyway. And if you do want to summon them, it's terrifyingly easy. A few words, the right geometric shape, and terrible, sanity-destroying power is at your fingertips.
Oh, and talking of summoning things...
We are Young, We Are Free, We Are Heading For Insanity
One of the criticisms I've heard people level at Lovecraft is that in a world where we're not all terrified of people of different skintones the whole 'hidden cult' idea just doesn't work.
And my response to that tends to be 'Wait, what? Are you even living in the same century as me?'.
Because in 2015 we don't need to imagine the existence of hidden, malefic cults dedicated to sanity-destroying ends. There's hundreds of the bastards right there on any social media service you care to name.
The wonderous thing about the internet, of course, is that it allows people who share common interests to come together, form communities and not feel like they're alone in their weird little interest.
And the horrifying thing about the internet is... exactly the same.
There's a community for everything out there. Really into poodles? There's a community for you. Really into Zen philosophy? There's a community for you. Really into fucking 5-year-olds? There's a community for you, too, and it's easily accessible.
Forget about the DarkWeb - Tor and Onion routers and Freenode, oh my - which would usually come up at this point. Studies of pedophile websites show that most of the child pornography out there is accessible via the regular old internet, if you've been given the link. Likewise violent white power movements. Likewise howto manuals on suicide or anorexia.
It doesn't take much imagination to extend that to the Lovecraftian mythos. In 2015 Cthulhu Mythos, the insane cults looking to summon their dark masters aren't hidden in deepest Africa, and they aren't easily distinguishable by skin tone.
There are five of them in your home town. You went to college with the guy responsible for sourcing their sacrifice victims. They've got a forum and a Facebook group, they're uploading YouTube videos, they're considering starting a subreddit and they've got a Meetup in Birmingham next Thursday. Can you make it? It'd be awesome - we need two more to join the bloodletting. We thought about Kickstarting it but it was against their terms of service.
(Or perhaps it wasn't. The hidden, underground Kickstarter, where talented young occultists compete for funding from jaded oligarchs...)
All of this gains added tone - that being the tone of a creature screaming - from another iron-clad rule of the internet. No matter how bad the thing you're looking at on the internet is, there's something worse behind it. For the most abusive and manipulative PUA website, there's the PUAHate guys, who encourage self-mutilation for 'attraction points'. Think the pro-anorexia communities are bad? Try the pro-rape communities, dedicated to teaching best practise and encouraging their members. And so on.
So the question doesn't just become, 'where do the insane cultists trying to summon Nyarlathotep hang out?' (The answer to that is, obviously, www.reddit.com/r/theroyalpant/ , because /r/nyarlathotep went inactive in 2012 and /r/crawlingchaos was registered by some heavy metal band.) It also becomes 'and what's the thing lurking in their shadow that's even worse?'
Greed Is Good. Absolute Greed Is Absolutely Great
Which brings me to my final sanity-blasting point.
(I'm not even going into our improved understanding of mental health here, by the way. There is literally no school of psychotherapy that does not provide enough nightmare fuel to power a Mars mission.)
The prevailing flavour of fear in 2015 is one of inequality, uncertainty and insecurity. Jobs are vanishing. Capital is accumulating at the top. The few are becoming overwhelmingly wealthy, whilst the rest get to participate in the 'Sharing Economy' of zero-hour jobs, constant hustle and zero safety net.
(Or at least, that's the perception. I'm actually quite optimistic about where society's heading in a lot of ways, but this is a fear-and-horror article, and that's certainly the fear and horror that a lot of people are feeling right now.)
Say what you like about the Cthulhu Mythos, but at least it was an equal opportunities apocalypse. The stars come right, the Old Ones rise from their slumber, and everyone either goes psychopathically insane or dies horribly, possibly one right after the other.
That seems far too nice for our 2015 Cthulhu.
So here's a thought.
What if there's some room at the top? Or at least, at the same level as other long-term viable races in the Cthulhu Mythos universe - the Great Race, the Mi-Go and so on?
What if a few humans will survive? May even, in fact, get to wield some of the science that the Old Ones possess; live forever, and have incredible wealth and power by human standards?
Of course, you'll have to work for it; work harder than everyone else. Out-compete 100,000 other people for a chance at the prize. Impress your bosses - erm, sorry, I mean 'The Old Ones'. Hustle. Do what others won't.
If you read startup advice, which I do, you'll see the phrase 'do what others won't' crop up quite frequently in regards to the path to success. And that's... rather alarming, if you think about it in a certain light.
So yes. This is the new, caring Cthulhu Mythos. You're not doomed. Your children aren't doomed.
All you have to do is prove that you're more worthy than the people you're competing against for the favour of the Elder Gods.
All you have to do is...
Do what other people won't.
Doesn't that sound better?
If you'd like to read more of my squamous, eldrich rantings, you can find me at @hughhancock on Twitter or follow my current projects via email. If you'd like a mild unicorn chaser after all that, have a watch of a slightly lighter take on startup culture meeting Cthulhu Mythos horrors, available through your friendly local horrific privacy-destroying inhuman entity right now. Or if you want to see what I do with some of these horrifying ideas, follow Carcosa, my comic, as it develops.