Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Alarma Mother Lode


Prior to a journey recently taken, I hit the Alarma (magazine) mother lode, and couldn't be happier about it -- despite the fact that nobody depicted in the magazine itself is particularly happy.

Every now and then, we need to reset the counter, energize, regroup. Call it what you want, but us humans we need a break from the grind, the hussle, the tide of hypocrisy, and that day finally arrived for me. I'd been as busy as a one-armed juggler editing a doco I'm very fond of, writing a screenplay, and finishing a novel. So, with some business pending in LA, I planned my culture hunt (that would make it c-unt for short), and left the house with an important address given to me by a friend. He knew of my penchant for all things Mexican and bizarre, and felt inclined to steer me in a fresh direction.

My idea of recreation (solo recreation, anyway) is usually movies and bookshops, so I'm constantly tracking the global release patterns and whereabouts of various movies. I never stop looking for the wild and wonderful books and magazines that aren't so easy to find, and my natural curiosity is rarely dampened. Gems like Alarma can't be found on-line or at a traditional newsstand. Unless you're living in Mexico, you've got to click into predator mode to track down these totally unique and audacious weekly magazines, you've got to be hungry, you've got to kick down doors, spill some blood, and venture into neighborhoods where nobody knows your name (not in English, anyway!)

After a visit to the wonderful Luis De Jesus bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard where I picked up a book on creepy dolls and a Bukowski bio, I headed for East LA with the fresh address. There, in LA's answer to darkest Tijuana, I stumbled upon the Alarma mother lode.

At first, I thought the Alarmas in the foggy plastic bag, placed high on a shelf to avoid the eyes of kiddies,  were copies of the same issue. Fortunately, I was dead wrong. When I presented the protective bag to the cashier, she tore it open and asked me if I wanted everything in the bag or just one issue?  I replied "Just one issue," but when six more fanned out across the counter like a lucky hand in a game of cards, my pulse quickened and I blurted: "I'll take 'em all. Gracias!"  I then added a cheerful  "Buenos noces!" as I departed with my brown paper bag of crime scene goodness. I had such a spring in my step, I could have leapt tall buildings with Superman.

I drove home in a state of excitement while listening to the Drive soundtrack and a podcast on, you guessed it!, obscure soundtracks (Mr. One-Track-Mind Rides Again!) Now and then, I'd pull an Alarma out of the bag and leaf through it impatiently under the dim interior light.

I'm sure my idea of a great day is several miles south of yours, but I'm certainly happiest when I'm following my own sun.

Enjoy these treats.


  1. I think my obsession with Heather O`Rourke is completely normal in comparison to the kind of stuff that you like looking at ! ! !.

  2. :) ebay has a few alarma. I remember the stands in Juárez having all sorts of magazines like this in plain site for all passing by to see i have shall i say some images forever imprinted into my hippocampus. What did you think of the imp 4? You might want to check out the book "Muerte!: Death in Mexican Popular Culture". Glad to see i am not the only one infected by the Drive soundtrack i was shocked at myself how i was moved by the electro pop cuts.. i tend to throw in the Bronson soundtrack song "Digital Versicolor" when i am listening to the Drive songs also. Thrilled to hear that you are working on new script, novel, ect...

  3. Anonymous -- I trust your hippocampus is still intact. The Imp 4 was/is amazing. So much depth about the culture, publishing in Mexico, and concepts of "pulp". I have 'Muerte-Death in Mexican Popular Culture'. Great book. I agree that the Bronson track should be thrown in also. It's superb. Always great to hear from you and I appreciate your recommendations very much.

  4. Anonymous/Hamster -- Old chap, if you can live with your obessions, they're normal.

  5. Those boys from Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel are turning Mexico into hell on earth. It's a shame, because it's a fine country.

  6. Mac -- I agree. A beautiful country being destroyed by a small minority who have no connection to their souls or the land. Very sad. Despite my interest in this material, I abhor the situation that is creating it.

  7. Just out of curiosity, what is it about these mags that has appeal? What do you find interesting? I know for me, when I was a teenager, I was simply shocked by real-life violent images. I didn't think they were cool or entertaining, yet my nervous system craved the sensation of being "attacked" by these images. This is consistent with my love for metal music, which is antagonistic on my auditory sense (I'm a fan of pushing my earbuds further into my inner ear whenever I listen to Decapitated or Meshuggah). I've also been a life-long amateur atrocitologist, researching crime, wars, and watching violent media. I've always had a deep connection with the subject of violence and have thought about it a lot. I think it has to do with that "honesty" thing you always bring up. Violence is real, so why not think about it and what it means to live in a world in which sentient beings harm one another?

    Today, I don't seek out these kinds of things, despite having some of the tolerance I used to for it. I still haven't watched the video of the chainsaw beheading. I've seen a screenshot and that was enough. The last "investigation" into violence I undertook was reading "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined" by Steven Pinker. It's an amazing book and it made me hopeful for the future, to be quite honest. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. The author talks about the importance of violent media in our society. So cool, haha!

  8. Jesse -- as a non-violent person who is often repulsed by such imagery, the appeal is curiosity to some extent. I don't believe there are answers to everything as the brain is too complex, but I do know I'm drawn towards things that are (thankfully) beyond my common experience. I'm not into metal, but I appreciate it and understand your comments about it.

    The chainsaw beheading footage made me feel sick. Before I watched it, I knew it would, but I still watched it. 'The Better Angels of Our Nature" sounds fascinating. I'll read it. I'd recommend Jeffrey Kottler's "Lust for Blood" to you, a book on the why's of this subject. Personally, I think much psychology is flawed because it assumes there is a logic to the human mind. I don't think so. The mind is chemical, not mechanical. Chemicals are not predictable. This blog is an exploration of what interests me. Why? I'm not so sure. I just know there's a connection.

    The "honesty" thing is a big factor, I think. Doesn't make much sense to bury that which makes me/us uncomfortable.

  9. to add: it sounds weird, but the more I see, the more empathetic I am. That I know for sure.

  10. :) this is a perfect time to retell the parable from Natural born killers, "once upon a time a woman was picking up firewood she came upon a poisonous snake frozen in the snow she took the snake home and nursed it back to health one day the snake bit her on the cheek as she lay dying she asked the snake "why have you done this to me?" and the snake answered "look bitch you knew i was a snake!"
    looking threw a pragmatic eye my opinion is humans are a violent species as far as our history can tell. We had to be violent to endure threw time especially against predators who were swifter, bigger, stronger it was a absolute necessary and we fucked and killed our way to the top. yes i do think times are not more violent than in the past or maybe they are even more peaceful now than they probably have ever been but we have not been out of the jungle for very long and events constantly prove that across the globe.when the lights/electricity go out the beast in us comes out fast and hard. i think it is important to have a valve "creative outlet" to re lease the pressure when it comes to sex and violence in which takes many forms such as these images of death and such as a reminder of our "darker" nature within us and the reality of the planet we live on. In my opinion it can be healthy to have creative outlet because we don't know what is in store for us in the future and that "beast" that primal being might be needed again on a daily basis. I end this with A quote "There is a beast inside of man that should be exercised - not exorcised."

  11. jervaise brooke hamsterMarch 1, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    Why waste your time watching people being beheaded when you can watch beautiful gorgeous sexy young girls being buggered and sodomized ! ! !. Remember Phantom, the so-called "authorities" are completely approving of the violent images but they are completely disaproving of the sexual images, another reason why i prefer girls gaping wide arse-holes to death and destruction.

  12. jervaise brooke hamsterMarch 1, 2012 at 3:01 PM

    Phantom, i actually wasn`t able to watch the chainsaw beheading because i`m becoming less and less able to deal with the harshness and cynicism of the world around me, i would be very interested to hear your opinion on something though, a lot of people would be much more offended by my obsession with Heather O`Rourke than they would be by something as loathsome and hideous as the chainsaw beheading, for me that constitutes a world that seems to be the exact polar-opposite of the way that it should be, like i said, i`d really like to know w-HEATHER you agree ?.

  13. jbh -- why the West (and American, in particular) is at ease with violent imagery and uncomfortable with sexual imagery has much to do with religion and politics. Ironically, America is uncomfortable with violent and grotesque images of its own people/soldiers maimed and deformed by wars they've started or supported. Why? Because they want to send more naive recruits to these wars. America hides whatever's necessary to advantage its agenda. Sex has been demonized for a long time by the US. It used to be communism, now it's youth and sex (despite the fact that US commerce uses youth sexuality to sell its products). The hypocrisy is mind-blowing.

  14. jervaise brooke hamsterMarch 1, 2012 at 3:24 PM

    Phantom, when i watch those incredibly beautiful and magical images of gorgeous young girls bums gaping wide open (which is what i do most of the time strickly speaking) i really do wonder why anyone would ever want to waste their time watching anything else. Its so odd that we still seem to live in a world that (on the surface anyway) prefers images depicting pain and suffering over images depicting sexual pleasure, i find that so difficult to understand and comprehend (especially in the age of the internet).

  15. Forgive me, this is a bit long, but I think we're having a really cool discussion here, so I hope I won't be asking too much by expecting you to read this! I will gladly read any short novel you post on here as a response!

    I think curiosity is a good example of why real-life depictions of violence and death draw people to view them. I don't think it's morbid either. These events do occur in real life. Shouldn't we become familiar with them? We used to bury our own, after all. Here is one thing I think that separates someone like you, Mark, and people who wouldn't dare look at such violent imagery: You are more comfortable contemplating death. We are going to die some day, and magazines like Alarma provide ample evidence for that fact. Despite this, I know you don't need an afterlife to go on living happily. I think films (horror, action, etc.), "dark" art (paintings, music, photography, etc.), literature, and studying history (true crime, war, etc.) offer us a gateway into this final "destination" for sentient beings like humans. Someone else (Anonymous) also mentioned how art gives us a chance to get in touch with our dark side, a "creative outlet". I can honestly say that I watched films like Inside (from France), Videodrome, or I Stand Alone because I was having an internal dialog with myself. It's been a strange journey, which is still ongoing, but I've learned a lot about myself by interacting with movies.

    It does seem counter-intuitive to think that watching media violence can make you more empathic, but you know what? I agree. I've been inundated with extreme imagery via movies and photos throughout my entire life. Any time I'm in a room with other people, I can pretty much guarantee that unless I meet someone like myself, I've seen more media-violence than everyone else combined (however, I've seen very few instances of real-life violence, but enough to affect me forever). During this time, I spent five years as a vegan, even as I watched movies like Cannibal Holocaust! Simultaneously, I haven't been in a fight and I've even walked away from people after they've stroked me in the face. I avoided a conflict rather than engage in one. Nowadays, violence in media affects me more than ever before. Many people believe that media violence desensitizes people, but I think it has had the opposite effect. Viewing media violence is a form of perspective taking. It allows us to think about situations we aren't in. It gives us an opportunity that real life may not provide to imagine the consequences of actions. What is interesting - and this goes back to that "violence in decline" theory - is that any time a person has accused someone of being desensitized by violence in media, it is by measuring their response to violence in media, not real-life violence. Whether it is John Doe in Se7en or a concerned parent talking about how hard it is to shock people these days, people have less opportunities for real-life violence and our only opportunity to feel worried is with responses to fictionalized violence. When Se7en came out and gave us a sobering view of humanity, the United States was experiencing what is known as The Great American Crime Decline. Our popular entertainment had more images of death by violence, yet less instances of death by violence occurred in society. Kind of strange, right? I think those of us who keep coming back to films that we know will haunt us, like Martyrs or Irreversible, are the true moralists. We know the good and bad in the world and value confronting both with our "obsessions," which allows us to think about how we can make our lives better.

  16. I have to recommend that you check out current literature in the field of neuroscience. It turns out, there is a correlative neural network for every single memory you have. Specific brain regions are more active during different mental states. Certain kinds of external stimulus trigger the release of specific neuro-chemicals, which influence our mental state. Activity in brain regions that handle specific muscle functions can actually be measured a full 300 millisecond before that action is carried out. Did you know that there is such a thing as the Rage circuit in the lower brain of mammals? You can stick an electrode into the Rage circuit of a cat brain and watch it try to attack you as if you were prey, but once the electrode is removed the cat won't treat you as prey. It turns out much of our experience of consciousness is rooted in mechanical biological activity, but this activity isn't perfectly reflected in a human's use of logic. Humans are definitely more emotional than logical. Deliberative thinking is the hardest thing for a brain to do, but it is possible. Modern neuroscience is giving us the uncomfortable message that we are not the authors of our own thoughts, but the field is still developing and there are competing theories that claim otherwise. The book "The Better Angels..." is written by an experimental psychologist and he uses evidence from neuroscience and neuroanatomy to talk about the human brain and what is going on at the level of the brain during violent behavior. It is a truly eye-opening book. I think you will love it. I will look up the book you recommended as well!

    I have to say, I have been endlessly amused by jervaise brooke hamster's comments every time I visit this blog. I have a nearly identical taste in sexual content (amongst other ones too), so I find his obsession with it relatable and utterly hilarious at the same time. I think watching pretty young things is far more preferable than chainsaw beheadings, but I don't necessarily think the former is the future! I laughed until tears came out of my eyes when I read that on an earlier blog you posted, Mark. Thanks for providing this refuge, man!

    Now, I want more of your thoughts, please!!! Or anyone else's.