Monday, May 31, 2010

Dead Grotty in 1964

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary's entry for 'grotesque':

"Grotty, slang shortening, had a brief vogue 1964 as part of Liverpool argot popularized by The Beatles in "A Hard Day's Night.""

Behold, a member of The Beatles discussing the grotesque:

Make a note of that word and give it to Susan.

It's the new thing.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Will Your Privates Survive?

For all those who giggle when they hear newsreaders discussing 'sea men' on the news, game developers Zombie Cow have created a unique new video game called Privates:

"BRITAIN. Land of Hope and Glory-holes. Where pregnant, waddling teenagers take up the full width of the pavement with their oversized triplet pushchairs, unaware that their rampant, perpetual humping has filled them to the brim with all manner of grotty infections.

Privates is a platform twin-stick shooter in which you lead a teeny-tiny gang of condom-hatted marines as they delve into peoples’ vaginas and bottoms and blast away at all manner of oozy, shouty monsters. It’s rude, funny, bitingly satirical and technically pretty accurate if you don’t count the tiny people or the germs with teeth."

You see, the game's characters are 'privates' but they are also exploring 'privates' - so it's totally a play on words!! Oh, you got that already?

The use of the word 'grotty' fills me with excitement, because this is slang for 'grotesque.' It also strikes me as another example of the 'gross science' genre, especially given the game's safe-sex pitch:

"Zombie Cow founder Dan Marshall said the game is intended to indirectly promote safe sex through its dealing with condom use, sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancy and other themes. He said the game was written to follow the Personal, Social and Health Education guidelines of the British government's National Curriculum. "And the whole thing is essentially aimed at teenage boys," Marshall wrote. "That said, we're doing it in an entertaining, funny way so it's approachable by people of all ages. It's a really interesting project."

I like this idea, and not just because it's 'grotesque.' This game exhibits thinking outside of the box (no pun intended) because it approaches sex education via a media form that young people are attracted to, plus uses comedy to try and break down some of the shame barriers that prevent open discussion. A video game can't stop someone from having unprotected sex, but perhaps spending the afternoon shooting STD monsters is enough to make you think twice about it?

Here are a few early screen-shots:

The game will be a download for the PC and Xbox360. See the developer's website for more details.

[Via Kotaku and seattlepi]

Friday, May 28, 2010

Love Bites

First, a little disclaimer: this is really not about the grotesque. Just some vaguely related thoughts I've been having that needed to go somewhere.

There are currently three top rating vampire franchises in action: the Twilight series, True Blood and The Vampire Diaries. Each chronicles intense sexual desire and emotional connections between humans and non-humans. Each is also developed from a series of romance novels aimed at women.

The plots all have a similar premise: lady falls in love with gorgeous guy, only to discover that he is a vampire. Instead of running screaming to the cops, she decides to stick with her hot man-like creature and is introduced to a whole world of supernatural characters. Characters who have been living, as humans, in plain sight.

Most interesting to me is that the non-humans in each of these stories resemble humans to the point that the questionable nature of the human/ non-human boundary becomes a key plot device (a characteristic shared by other science-fiction shows such as Battlestar Galactica and the recent remake of V). When it comes to this distinction, it is the human woman's job to determine what constitutes true humanity and inhumanity. She duly falls in love across the human/non-human boundary, placing the essence of true 'humanity' in the heart or 'spirit' rather than the body of her non-human paramour.

I can't help thinking that this Beauty and the Beast scenario would be more meaningful if the vampires concerned looked more like the original Dracula ("gorged with blood... like a filthy leech"), and less like Calvin Klein models. (There is a new Beauty and the Beast adaptation coming out this year, starring a strangely good looking and very human 'beast.')

I also find it interesting that the human/non-human relationship is arranged along a female/male divide.

While female vampires have relationships with male humans in sub-plots, the main relationship(s) are always gendered the opposite way. The 'your love for me will keep me safe from you' vibe that then structures this representation of female/male relations is intriguing. The lethal male non-human, tamed by his love of the lady, violently protects her fragile human body from the many evils of the world. But then, (most of the time) she ends up wanting to be dead just like him.

This longing for death is... interesting. I use that word too often. But it is. And what does this say about whiteness? (Excluding the glorious Aaliyah in Queen of the Damned, most non-white vampires are short lived or secondary characters. The only black vampire in The Vampire Diaries got staked and nobody cared at all. He was a good guy and everything... but no, not a peep.) It all reminds me of Richard Dyer's discussion of the link between whiteness and death.

Oh, always so cheerful, Gwyneth! Anyway, here is some vampire inspired music to get you ready for the weekend.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Lucky Brown Fairy

Just in case you were suffering the mid-week blues... I suggest you get happy with Unko-san.

“Unko-san,” a new anime series about a brown turd-shaped fairy with lots of luck, is fast becoming the rage among high school girls in western Japan. Short episodes of the anime are now showing in the Osaka area on Kansai TV’s “Otoemon” music program. The stories revolve around Unko-san — whose name is a play on the Japanese words for “luck” (un) and “crap” (unko) — and his quest for happiness on Lucky Island, which is populated by a host of other poo fairies.

You can also play Step Mania with the Unko-san theme song.


For us collector types there are key-chains and plush toys, so you can hug your little brown fairy nice and close.

I'm always amazed at how creative people can be with the humble turd.

[Via Pink Tentacle and Tokyobling]

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Marble Hornets

My brother just introduced to the YouTube series Marble Hornets, and I ended up watching the whole thing in one night. The videos are short handy-cam clips that, the story goes, are part of a huge collection of tapes made by film student Alex Kralie. I don't want to spoil the plot, but it's a clever and suspenseful example of low budget film-making.

One of the really cool things about this series is how its creators made use of interconnected YouTube and Twitter profiles to generate a sense of immediacy and authenticity as the episodes unfolded. The Twitter was updated with the 'real time' activities of the main protagonist as he investigated the mystery of the tapes. Along with the main YouTube account, there is also another account which has posted video responses that contribute to the plot and offer coded clues and threatening messages. This profile obviously 'belongs' to another character in the story, but you are never told who.

Here are the first few clips:

[Edit: you can't read the text properly in the intro when it's small, so you need to full-screen it]

The whole thing is mighty creepy, and it just gets worse from here on.

Without giving too much away, this series really explores the relationship between fear, sight, and monstrosity. The harder it is to make out the strange figure, the more horrific it becomes. This is something that is often missing from contemporary films, where representing the grotesque is often understood to be a matter of showing everything in excruciating detail.

I highly recommend checking this series out. But don't blame me if you can't go out in the dark by yourself anymore!


This song pretty much nails how I feel when giving conference papers.

Realistically, the chances of my colleagues eating me alive are slim. I think. Just in case, I always recommend presenting after lunch.

Everyone feels better after a sandwich.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Dirdy Birdy

Sometimes writing feels a bit like having a dual personality. One half of your brain is really dedicated and focused, while the other half is... well, easily distracted.


Back to work.

EDIT: oh who am I kidding *flash*

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Castle of Pedro Fajardo

Don Pedro Fajardo y Chacón (~1478 - 1546) was the much decorated 1st Marquis of los Vélez, and the 5th governor of Murcia, Spain. In between a variety of marital events, Fajardo commissioned a castle for himself, to be built in the latest fashion. At the time, a very particular style was taking Europe by storm.

What was this style? Here is a portion of the Metropolitan Museum's description:

"Raised at Isabella's court in the culture of humanism, Fajardo built a castle with a central patio, or courtyard, distinguished by opulent and fashionable decoration in the Italian Renaissance style, carved by itinerant Lombard stonemasons. In Spain this style was called a lo Romano, reflecting its origins in Roman antiquity. Designs for tiered candelabras and imaginary hybrid creatures like those around the patio's doors and windows were disseminated throughout Europe via prints and drawings by Italian artists inspired by the ancient monuments rediscovered in Rome in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The patio's carvings are amongst the earliest of this style in Spain and antedate any of the published designs."

This style was the grotesque, of course. Emperor Nero's Domus Aurea, or 'Golden House,' was the rediscovery in question; an extravagant palace covered in gold leaf, precious stones and paintings of fantastical bodies. After exploring the ruins of the Golden House, buried for centuries under layers of dirt, excavators coined the term 'grotto-esque' in reference to the wild designs that covered the walls of its underground recesses.

Fajardo must have been a bit of a hipster, getting in on the grotesque trend at the very beginning. In the early 1900s, according to the museum, the owner of the castle removed and sold the grotesque carvings. A guy called George Blumenthal ended up with them, and went ahead and stuck them on his New York townhouse. I hope it was a really big house, otherwise you can only imagine how ridiculous they must have looked.

In 1964 the museum finally ended up with the carvings, albeit in the form of two thousand separate marble blocks. Some assembly required.

Finally, I visited them. And took lots of pictures. So here they are, (allegedly) the earliest examples of the grotesque style found in Spain, a lo Romano, over 500 years old:

The level of intricate detail is extraordinary, especially when you consider that these designs were carved from stone. The effect is quite magical from a distance as well. It is all so 'busy' that the figures seem to move and twist. I really loved the bearded tadpole-man on the staircase. I'm not sure, but it looks as if he has a bunch of grapes for a tail:

No opportunity to embellish was wasted. Even the tops of the pillars had faces peering out of them!

I was unable to get clear shots of the window frames higher up on the wall, but you can still make out some of the designs.

I could look at these all day.

Anyone who has the opportunity to visit this collection should definitely do so. It is on the first floor of the Met museum, and forms an important part of the European Sculpture section.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cultural Grotesques II

During my visit to the British Museum last year, I noticed that certain sculptures in the Greek/Roman exhibit were grouped together under the heading of 'grotesque figures.' In a post titled Cultural Grotesques, I commented that this arrangement could be seen to illustrate the subjective and contemporary nature of the term 'grotesque' as it relates to certain bodies, specifically the aged, disabled, and racial 'Others.'

So, what should I see during my visit to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, but a remarkably similar grouping of figures... The following statues were brought together in a case titled "Realism in Hellenistic Art" in the Roman section (click to enlarge):

Note: the 'type' referred to above links to the realistic depiction of age, and the larger associated statue is this one:

I didn't get the whole caption for some reason, but you get the gist of it.

These small figures were in the case right beside the Realism case shown above:

The first two are explicitly related to the 'grotesque dwarf' in the Realism case, by virtue of their status as 'grotesques' in the museum description. The third is understood to be a 'grotesque head.'

While none of the heads in the Realism case were explicitly described as 'grotesque heads,' their close proximity with the head labeled 'grotesque' above arguably draws them into a discursive parallel. Likewise, while not all of the bodies present in the Realism case were called 'grotesques,' the presence of more than one body with that label has a defining effect upon the group as a whole.

By marking these particular figures as grotesque and dividing them from the rest of the collection, both the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum actively engage with and produce the grotesque as a cultural category. They also endorse and perpetuate a Bakhtinian understanding of the grotesque as that which is in direct opposition to the 'classical' style of seamless physical perfection.

I'm not suggesting that the depiction of aged, non-white or alternatively shaped bodies is not remarkable in the context of Greek sculpture. Rather, I'm interested in the effect that sectioning and regrouping these bodies might have in a museum environment today, especially when using the term 'grotesque' as one of their unifying characteristics. By linking the elderly body, the non-white body, the disabled body, and even the anorexic body, the Realism case might be seen to reflect a notion of shared marginality that says less about history and more about contemporary views of the body. It is food for thought.