The eldritch horror of capitalism

Recently I’ve been listening to Old Gods of Appalachia, a Lovecraft-inspired horror podcast set in my mountains. It’s been a lot of fun to listen to, not least because this story is situated within the deep history of Appalachia — of labor unions, witching, and yes, the occasional spot of racism. It doesn’t flinch from Appalachia’s darkness, but it doesn’t make sport of it either the way some big titles set here do. The people in this story are people, neither good nor bad (or sometimes a bit of both). But ultimately, the mines, the company, and to a lesser extent the church, become the embodiment of something too dark for our world.

This theme within the podcast got me to thinking of two other titles I’ve read in the past few years. The first is the well-known author N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became, a novel set in New York City that posits homogenizing capitalist entities such as Starbucks as arms of R’hley. Jemisin’s work conflates whiteness with an eldritch horror, or at least a susceptibility to its influence, which is notable since the destruction of the town of Barlo, KY, in Old Gods is in part triggered by burying several Black scabs in an unmarked grave as burnt offerings to eldritch forces. But there is also a subtext here about money and power, as one of the key plot points in The City We Became involves the cooptation of a nonprofit art gallery via generous donations to the board. The forces of capitalism are definitely at work in this tale, and Jemisin sees them as uncaring, homogenizing, and fundamentally destructive. While the economic systems have certainly mutated, the way they are used to oppress is frighteningly familiar.

The other title that I found myself reflecting on while listening is not explicitly Lovecraftian, but shares some similarities so I thought it worth mentioning. Hunger Makes the Wolf is by Alex Wells, and tells a Firefly-esque story about a company planet. That company planet reminds me deeply of the company towns my ancestors lived in (my parents still live in the company shotgun house erected for my great-grandparents when they came to work the local mine, though we’ve added onto it a good deal). This work imagines a future where the forces of capitalism have once more overrun the ability for working people to survive, much less self-determine, aided by the isolation inherent in intergalactic travel. And of course those capitalist company interests have weaponized (or been weaponized by) something not quite of this dimension.

There’s probably a reason these titles have been so enjoyable for me. Each is looking critically at different aspects of our global economy, and each is set in different time periods. But it seems clear that our past, our present, and our future are all defined by the concentration of power in the hands of the few, the pushing down of people based off their income and the color of their skin, and what solidarity we can provide for our neighbors in the face of such forces.


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