Thursday, July 20, 2006

When Real Horror Gets Cute

Brad makes a good point in a comment he made on my post on pirates.
There are many stories and archetypes in our culture- even the culture that we realy to our kids- that are based on real, truly horrifying, events past.

Thinking about it, I've found it weird that there's some sort of cultural "Statute of Limitations" on these events that allows them to turn from horrifying tales of woe into gripping yarns.

I think that's a really interesting point, and I have to agree: after all, this guy was a real horror; I mean, there's still a lot of debate on the scope of his executions, but I would not call this guy someone like whom I'd like to dress at a party. Then you've got this young lass -- another cute costume, but the Vikings were a source of real terror. A major development in shipbuilding technology, the "castle" (as in fore- and sterncastles) was developed in the 11th and 12th Centuries to let archers shoot down into longboats -- in otherwords, to develop a sea-going fort. This wasn't done because the Vikings were handing out sexy party favors.

So how long is the "Statue of Limitations", and what/who does it cover? Fifty years haven't cleared the way for this kind of costume (thank the gods) and I wonder if any amount of time will. Haven't seen a "Pol Pot" costume either (and I hope we don't).

Most of the recent examples of Really Bad People who show up in costumes and such (at least in the US) are 30's Gansters and Gangsters' Girls (and people like Bonny and Clyde), as well as the Cowboys and Indians of whom Brad spoke. In many cases, I think that's an example of America's love for those who "rebel" against authority; but gosh, I wish less murderers were celebrated. Where are the Sojourner Truth costumes? The Martin Luther King Jr. costumes? The Gandhi costumes? Well, of course, those people are boring because they never killed people, right? Does it maybe have to do with some perverse admiration for people who are so powerful, so unbound by the laws that constrain normal folks like you and me, and who violate this (for most civilized folk) terrible taboo of actually taking another person's life? I mean, we're happy that they're brought to justice, but isn't there some awful little thrill when we add up the kill count in hushed and reverent tones, and seem (dare I say) a little disappointed if the number isn't high? It's not really a very pleasant thing to contemplate.

I wanted to make a special note about reenactors, whom I think are in a different class. I think that most people who reenact can't be doing it just because they think it's "cool". Anyone who runs around tick-infested fields in whole-body-covering wool costumes for days (and for battles like Gettysburg, in mid-summer) is not doing it just because it's "cool". And although (drat!) I didn't get to see it, I think there's a real value in having people see a reenactment, especially if one could actually get an accurate number of reenactors to show up. Can you imagine the impact of seeing (and hearing) tens of thousands of dead bodies and screaming wounded on a field? All you'd need is to come up with a "reenactment scent" and the horror would be fresh for a new generation. Would the smell cut down the "secret thrill" at the number of dead?

That's what we need to counter TV and movie violence: accurate smells. That'll shut that stuff down quick.

ETA: Okay, so maybe the statue of limitations against Nazi "cuteness" has passed after all...

Monday, July 17, 2006


Just went to see "Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest" last week; it was great fun. Yesterday, we went to the Mariners' Museum in Newport News and, of course (like practically every museum around here) there was an exhibit about pirates. It was aimed towards kids, mostly, and very cute, but one very cool part of it (and unfortunately rather small) talked about modern day pirates. There was a framed display of current models of radios and an AK-47 as an example of the pirate's modern sword. There was also a computer screen set up to display the International Chamber of Commerce's Weekly Piracy Report. It's a fascinating glimpse (via rather dry reports, I'm afraid) into current examples of piracy, which are anything but the romantic yarns spun by popular culture.