5 Ideas That Took On A Life Creators Never Intended
Making things is hard. You pour your entire soul into something, tinkering around the edges, perfecting every detail, and you still can't control what people do with it. There's no way the guy who invented Sonic the Hedgehog thought that he would become a porn icon. Yet here we are, living in a world where DeviantArt exists.
Sometimes the unwashed masses just take ideas and run with them ...
Haitains Create Zombies to Cope With Slavery and Colonialism, America Cannibalizes It
In a post- The Walking Dead world, a world in which we got a Zombieland sequel no one asked for, a world in which a movie called Zombie Strippers! was actually written, shot, and produced, it seems hard to learn anything new about zombies. We'd guess, though, that most American audiences have a blind spot to the Haitian origins of zombie mythology. In the 17th and 18th centuries, zombies emerged in Haitian lore as a way to understand and talk about fears associated with the brutality of French slavers.
While it's never a good time or place to be a slave, 17th- and 18th-century Haiti was an especially bad time and place to be a slave. Almost half the slaves died within a few years, and it was cheaper to import more slaves than it was to improve working conditions, which is an insane sentence we wish we'd never typed. Suicide rates were extremely high. A common belief was that in Africa, death would transport you back to paradise, but that in Haiti, you would be trapped in your body forever, working under the hot Haitian sun for the profit of your kidnapper. The Haitian concept of zombies was less "infected diseased cannibal" and more "soulless worker controlled by evil plantation owners." You no longer have individual agency; you are a zombie.
Zombies were so closely associated with Haiti that one of the earliest examples of zombie media in America is 1932's White Zombie, about an American woman who is turned into a zombie via potion given to her by a plantation owner. Instead of an infection, bite, or whatever, the characters in White Zombie could've avoided zombification if they simply hadn't gone to Haiti.
Since then, zombies have -- ahem -- consumed huge swaths of American pop culture. The most popular stories, though, couldn't be more different from the Haitian mythos. Instead of allegories for slavery, they've mostly become metaphors for Republicans or escapist fantasies about rugged survivalists. Instead of a metaphor for the loss of bodily control and systemic violence, zombies are now our greatest excuse for telling society that trespassers will be shot.
John Milton Sets Out To Write an Arthurian Epic, Accidentally Invents Brooding Antiheroes
The story of an epic civil war between Satan and God probably shouldn't read like Satan's PR team wrote it, but that's what you get with Paradise Lost. Satan gets the most narration time, and God ends up looking pretty disinterested in being God. It's a weird text, probably because John Milton wrote it after he went on the record defending regicide while working in support of England's first non-monarchical government. Kind of hard to write about the King of Kings when you yourself helped kill a king.
Even so, Milton's goal was to do for England what Homer did for Greece, and Virigil did for Rome: write an epic poem that would stand the test of time and give some academic clout to the English language. That worked out pretty well -- the poem is still considered a must-read by at least dozens of college professors who say "doth" unironically. But if you think about the hero of Paradise Lost, there's not really a King Arthur, Odysseus, or Hercules for the citizens of Brittania to uphold as some sort of aspirational hero. The most interesting character is Satan.
Milton probably didn't expect such a positive reception for the Prince of Darkness, but he ended up creating a whole new archetype: Satan as a brooding antihero. This characterization went on to become a stock hero for a generation of capital-R romantic writers, from Byron's Don Juan to Emily Bronte's Heathcliff to Stephanie Meyer's Edward Cullen. The Byronic hero is everywhere, with characters usually having mysterious pasts and shameful secrets, which they offset by being super sexy and fan favorites. Hard to imagine the guy who wanted to write 10,000 lines of poetry to "justify the ways of God to men" could've expected this kind of legacy.
"Greensleeves" Is (Possibly) Written By A Spurned Lover, Becomes a Popular Christmas Song
Anyone with a passing familiarity to Christmas, American capitalism's most important holiday, knows the song "What Child Is This?" You've probably ignored carol singers belting it out at least once in your life, or maybe mumbled through it at church, or heard it played by that one aunt who's a little too into Josh Groban.
It's an English hymn that asks if this baby in this manger is Jesus Christ, and I don't want to spoil anything, but, yes. Yes, he is, song.
The lyrics were written in the 1800s based on a traditional melody. However, the first published lyrics were about a spurned lover whose lady ignores his affection--basically a 16th century incel. The first lines are actually "Alas, my love, you do me wrong / To cast me off discourteously," and the green color of her sleeves may be a reference to enjoying sex outside. Shakespeare even has a joke about it in Merry Wives of Windsor. When two women realize the character Falstaff is trying to woo both of them, they decide to enact revenge and make multiple references to "Greensleeves" while doing it. There's a popular, though highly unlikely, idea that King Henry VIII wrote the song while unsuccessfully courting Anne Boleyn. Luckily for Harry, he and Anne eventually married, and we're sure the pair lived happily ev-- ah, jeez, shouldn't have looked that one up.
The hymn lyrics were written a couple hundred years later, in 1865, with no apparent motivation than the words fit the melody. Poet William Chatterson Dix and composer John Stainer, collectively called Dix Stainer (by, us, right now), just slapped the two songs together and published it as a Christmas carol. So there you have it--roughly 300 years' turnaround between "ballad for incels" to "happy birthday baby Jesus." We can't wait to see what future generations do with current pop music.
A Wife Spikes Her Husband's Dinner to Punish His Cheating, Creates a Massive Food Fad
If you've been on the internet for the last five years, you've probably heard of Nashville hot chicken. Crispy, Mars-red fried chicken so spicy Anthony Bourdain called eating it, "A three-day experience." The dish has gotten popular in recent years, with KFC rolling out a version in 2016 (being turned into a value meal by Yum Brands is how you know you've made it), but it was a staple in Black neighborhoods in Nashville for generations before.
What's wild is that hot chicken was never meant to be edible. It was designed as a revenge plot -- one that backfired profitably. The legend goes that egregious womanizer Thornton Prince came home too late and too drunk for the last time. His girlfriend, instead of getting mad, started cooking up some fried chicken for breakfast. Fried chicken was his favorite dish, you see, and anyone who's ever been drunk before knows there is nothing wrong with fried chicken for breakfast, goddamnit, now turn the lights back off. Instead of simply frying, though, she threw every spice she could think of in the oil, including some unidentified crop from their home garden.
The dish was meant to burn Thornton's esophagus to a husk. Instead, he asked for seconds and thirds. He later developed a recipe of his own with his brothers, who apparently were also fans of cayenne pepper poops. They opened a restaurant that's been going for almost a century and inspired hundreds of copycats -- all based on a recipe intended to be punishment.
The Book of Revelation Is Intended As A "Hang In There," Gets Morphed Into an Obsession With The Literal World Ending
One of the more batshit and metal books the Bible has to offer; Revelation is filled with apocalyptic predictions, dragons, sex workers, fire, plagues, and trumpets. Basically a first-century version of Terminator 2's opening scene.
There's a lot of talk about the end of the world, bad people being thrown into a lake of fire, and good people going to paradise. It's no wonder that a cottage industry of doom-and-gloom prophets has sprung up around it throughout history.
There's a problem, though: ancient apocalypses were never meant to predict future events -- they were supposed to help people reading them get through whatever oppression they were facing at the time. Turns out, apocalyptic fiction was just as popular a genre back in biblical times as it is today. Only instead of wandering hordes of zombies or roving gangs of leather-clad car enthusiasts, the genre was full of trumpets and horned beasts and heavily-coded metaphors about evil governments. People have always thought life-ending disaster was just a few years away; they just had different ways of warning each other about it. Taking Revelation 100% literally would be like building an entire church around the idea that we need to watch out for a literal manifestation of Immortan Joe.
There's even an argument to be made that the writer of Revelation was warning early Christians to keep their heads down and endure political persecution until things get better. So no promises of Jesus and an angelic army wielding flaming swords, no creepy antichrists from a vague Balkan state, no fire and plagues. Just a nice pat on the back and an, "It gets better."
Top image: AMC