July 7, 2009

Episode 11: The Cassandra Complex

Very often true terror lies in what we cannot change, which is why the passing of time and death never fail to give us grief no matter how hard we try to accept them as facts of life. On the opposite side of the table is the belief that one can influence the outcome of future events and thus create better tomorrow or potentially fix past mistakes. Sometimes, this belief is the only thing that can get a person through a severe bout of crisis. "Tomorrow is a new day," they say when they try to bring back that spark of optimism. But ask Cassandra what she thinks of your tomorrow and you may get an unexpected warning - maybe your future isn't any brighter than your past, maybe it's far, far worse - just be wise and don't ignore her or what she has to say.

The Cassandra complex, also known as the Cassandra effect, is a term applied in situations in which valid warnings, concerns or premonitions "occur" but are dismissed or disbelieved. The term originates in Greek mythology, from Cassandra, the daughter of Priam, who was given the gift of prophecy and then cursed never to be believed. Cassandra was, thus, left with the knowledge of future events, but could neither alter these events nor convince others of the validity of her predictions. The concept has been applied in a variety of contexts such as psychology, environmentalism, politics, science, cinema, and philosophy, and has been in circulation since at least 1949 when French philosopher Gaston Bachelard coined the term 'Cassandra Complex' to refer to a belief that things could be known in advance.

Of course, the true horror of the Cassandra complex is not revealed until the prophecy relates to an event that is tragic or truly apocalyptic in its nature. The mythic Cassandra had seen the fall of Troy before it happened but nobody had paid attention to her warnings. Similarly, Nostradamus may have foretold many events of our pasts but none of his prophecies have ever been prevented from actually happening - then again, Nostradamus may have been a hack and his success is based purely on people reading meaning into his prose where there is none.

Terry Gilliam's SF masterpiece 12 Monkeys (1995) revolves entirely around this concept of the Cassandra complex with convict James Cole who travels back in time acting as the storied Cassandra. One of the strengths of the film is that it acts as a loop, reinforcing the idea that the future is just as "frozen in a certain position" as the past is and it cannot be changed either. Whether you believe in destiny and the cosmic order it implies or you would rather take the absurdist stance and assert that we are all victims of our own freedom, that time such as it is only keeps record of our actions is up to you; but seeing James Cole as a kid see himself die as a grown up man forever and ever is certainly a heartbreaking idea.

12 Monkeys is definitely not the only film that deals with premonitions and how set in stone they are - there is always the David Cronenberg classic The Dead Zone as well as the Final Destination series, not to forget others such as Omen (1976) and The Mothman Prophecies (2002).

Relating to the show itself, our dear friend FlavrSavr was a special guest, and not only introduced us to a very interesting band called Why? but also shared with us his own visions for the future. You can now download the show HERE or stream it by clicking HERE. Enjoy!

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