The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft
(“The Call of Cthulhu”, August or September 1926)
So pretty much everyone in the genre at this point is reflecting again on HPL, his racism, his work, and our reaction to it, then and now.
My friend Don Webb recently wrote a great bit about Lovecraft’s virtually unprecedented (please correct me if I’m wrong) literary generosity; his mythos was a kind of freeware, open-source franchise, the like of which has never been seen before or since. The Lovecraft circle shared memes and tropes, god’s and monsters, promiscuously. As with VHS triumph over beta, the PC’s triumph over the Mac, android’s numerical superiority to iPhone, and as in the success of open source and AA, there is a power in making and sharing something without locking it down and installing a turnstile.
HPLs generosity of course, was bounded by his racism; there were no POC in the Lovecraft circle, that I know of. And again. Correct me if I’m wrong.
Reading the different takes on the mythos, the different voices, added to its reach and strength; again, there wasn’t much out there like it. Eventually we’d have big media franchises and shared worlds and share-croppped fiction with big names enlisting young blood to keep some best selling series alive, but somehow, this was not and isn’t the same thing.
You have to go to comics for this kind of weirdness; the cacophony of voices and characters, of shifting twisting uncertain backstories and ever changing realities. And of course there you have the domination of something like a studio system, ruining everything.
But all this is tangental to the short point I wanted to make, which is that people of a certain age recall enjoying HPLs work and are now more or less embarrassed or ashamed at themselves for being, as the apology goes, people of their times. The angst, the fights, the howling, is how we deal with the cognitive dissonance. To fans of a certain age, HPLs racism was reflected in virtually everything we consumed.
And so, we didn’t notice it all that much.
The little rascals on TV before school, with Buckwheat’s fantasy of tap dancing back to the ghetto with the trucks filled with watermelons; Johnny Quest’s mentor Steve screaming at the black savages; Disney’s apology for Racism, the Song of the South, complete with charming songs and animation.
HPL fit right in.
The little Rascals started saying ‘edited for television’ at some point and I was so stupid I had _no idea why_. The Warner Brothers cartoons started getting whittled back; I wouldn’t see the WW2 stuff till I was in my 30s. Disney trunked the Song of the South and pretended it had never existed. We all moved on. But HPL stayed frozen in time even as the mythos metastasized, like some hideous tentacled thing encased in arctic ice.
So Buffy could have a Stereotypically Strong Female Lead and the first seriously foreground gay relationship (of course it ends tragically) AND a succession of Cthulian Big Bad Story arcs. The racism may have been integral to HPLs vision but the ongoing echoes of HPL let that aspect mostly fade away.
And to get to the core of it, Cosmicism, the HPL universe, is darker than racism; its darker than nihilism; God(s) exists and they hate us or we are beneath their notice.
To Cthulu, #nolivesmatter.
If cosmicism is true (it could be) then HPL is just another flawed prophet carrying with him a racial stupidity that was pathetic even in his time; crappy science, crappy understanding of genetics and race. Like Michael Crichton’s climate skepticism. Just another genre writer grinding a stupid ax while also doing Other Things.
A modern take on cosmicism can bring with it the understanding that, we are all the same sluggoth slime, crawling back up the evolutionary ladder from the Old Ones polluting ooze; our pathetic status as half intelligent misbegotten garbage apes is shared equally by all races because races mostly don’t exist the way we think they do, or HPL thought they did.
The modern era can eat and excrete cosmicism and carry it forward without batting an eye, which in fact it is doing happily; the racism in it is no more integral than racism is to any religious faith or creative endeavor.
Long live Cthulu!
Good night, HPL.