The Secret Agenda Of Mesmer's Bauble
Autogynephilia as a TV horror trope in 1989: REPOST
Originally published in November 2022. We have grown many times over since then.
Howard Moore was AGP before it was cool.
When “The Secret Agenda of Mesmer’s Bauble” first aired in May 1989, “sex change” was still a fringe topic in America. No one had heard of autogynephilia.
Sexologist Ray Blanchard was still putting together his typology of autogynephilia. The political project to replace transvestitism and transsexualism with “transgender” was two decades away, and its harassment campaign against scientists studying autogynephilia would not be acknowledged in the literature until 2015 in Alice Dreger’s book Galileo’s Middle Finger.
Autogynephilia, or AGP — the self-love of a man, for the image of himself as a woman — would rather we did not speak its name.
Despite its protests against any ackowledgement of its own existence, however, AGP is ancient, so it was analyzed in story form before we even knew what it was. Here is one example.
Written by Joe Gannon and directed by Arman Mastriani, who both went on to long careers in television, “Mesmer’s Bauble” only got aired once under the longer title.
Made on a limited budget, it was Episode 20 in Season 2 of a mostly-forgotten franchise, Friday the 13th: The Series, which had no narrative relationship to the infamous slasher films starring the hockey-mask wearing, machete-wielding, undead Jason Voorhees.
The show plot surrounds a curio shop filled with cursed items, a trope that horror novelist Stephen King would also use in Needful Things, published two years later.
A pair of cousins, Micki Foster and Ryan Dallion, have inherited the store from their evil uncle, who sold his soul to the devil and paid with his life.
With the aid of an elder relic hunter named Jack Marshak, every episode is another tragedy of human frailty as the trio hunts the cursed items that have been put into circulation, always one step behind each of them as the morality tale unfolds.
“Mesmer’s Bauble” includes a rare screen appearance by Denise Matthews, aka Vanity. A protegé of the musician Prince who died all too soon like him, Vanity’s short career as a sex symbol ended with religious conversion and a public rejection of celebrity culture.
No actress of the era could better serve to illustrate the effects of pornified exploitation, even if the music business is not as powerful today as it once was.
Likewise, Howard Moore, the sad character at the center of the episode’s morality tale, is a pimply, awkward male obsessed with “Angelica,” the singer played by Vanity.
Played by Martin Neufeld, Moore finds a cursed necklace from the curio shop and becomes a Doppelgänger, able to both hypnotize his victims and then assume their shapes.
Changing your flesh is quite painful, and as with gender surgeries, Moore has to go through great agony more than once to get the “look” he wants. The episode belongs in the category of body horror, in which one’s own flesh inspires the fear.
Here is the full program for your weekend viewing. Although it is hardly perfect, fans of the show consider it one of the most unsettling episodes in the entire show run. Spoilers and analysis are below the embed. This is a free post, we are presenting this cultural relic under fair use for purposes of commentary.
Television writers always have to compromise with realism, so when they make a show that has black magic curio shop baubles, there are bound to be a few plot holes.
How does Howard Moore hang on to the bauble after the police arrive? Magic. Next scene. And so on.
The scene in which Moore finally devours his prey may be disturbing to trauma and violence survivors, especially trans widows. One might object that when Vanity asks “do you want me?” after seeing the stalker’s shrine in his apartment, that it makes no sense as realistic story, or that it is not informed by the real experiences of women.
As valid as these criticisms are under ordinary circumstances, a magic bauble plot device sidesteps them and turns the moment into a deconstruction of AGP.
Angelica, the singer portrayed by Vanity, is not a real woman here so much as the product of an industry that projects a false reality. Howard is obsessed with the false reality.
This is a moral fable, after all, and a horror show. Characters are supposed to make bad decisions based on their most unspeakable desires.
“I don’t want you,” Moore decides. “I want to be you.” It is a realization of what he has ‘always known,’ or now thinks that he has always known, about himself.
Neufeld does a terrific job of portraying this moment, which is familiar to anyone who studies AGP for any length of time. On transgender recruiting subreddits, this is called “a cracking egg.”
One could also object that when Micki grabs the bauble from Moore/Angelica’s neck at the end, there is no way he/she could not have felt it immediately.
True enough, but consider the symbolism of a woman simply denying womanhood to a man and instantly transforming him into a monster that everyone can see.
Change the record store to a GameStop. Have Howard kick over displays and shout “IT’S MA’AM!” at the staff. See it now?
A bunch of Howards were out on a New York street just the other day, fondling their silicone breast implants and foaming at the mouth with invective aimed at women on the steps of City Hall.
What was the crime those women committed, you ask? Saying “no” to the Howards, and thus breaking the spell.
Unmasked, AGP looks like male rage with silicone breasts and facial feminization surgeries.
After Micki returns the evil item to the vault, a conversation ensues in which the trio once again comfort and excuse one another for their collective lack of foresight and failure to prevent deaths.
“Don’t try to find an explanation for this, Ryan. It’s too bizarre,” Jack says.
“Look, what you were up against followed no strict pattern. There was no pre-determined goal.” True, and always true of Howard Moores in this world.
AGP has always been present in some small number of males, but the internet has connected and empowered their fantasies like never before, providing social media rabbit holes of love-bombing “community” in which the transgender phenomenon thrives.
A young man exploring himself looks to porn for anwers and encounters images that entice him down Tumblr, and then Deviant Art, and then r/transmaxxing, and before he knows it he is Howard.
“Do you think that either of you could have known what was in Howard’s mind?” Jack consoles the cousins. “He was so twisted by his fantasy that I don’t think even he realized what he wanted. By the time he did, it was too late.”
Indeed. About half of all detransition regret happens immediately after surgery. Placebo effects and euphoria will eventually wear off in others. Both types can be seen in Regretters, a 2010 Swedish documentary about detransitioners.
As with AGP, detransition is a forbidden topic, subject to systematic gaslighting by advocates of “affirmation” models for gender dysphoria. Apologists and denialists of both AGP and detransition/desistance must contend with the history of cinema and small screen where these things have always existed. Unpacking that history is one of our ongoing projects here at The Distance. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to share it and subscribe for more of the same.
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