When I was a kid, a little kid, there was a lady called Tipper Gore. She said that if I liked Heavy Metal and Dungeons and Dragons, I was going to become a murderer Satanist. Well, she was only half-right.
Later, after Ice-T was on the Colours soundtrack and I became obsessed with him, she said I would become a crack-smoking gangster.
A few years after that, bored, the moral guardians looked at video games and said that these would turn me in to a violent amoral sociopath. They would fuse out my feelings the way copper crystal burns through infections. A robot, who only wanted to game and murder.
Looking around my friends, who really just wanted to be elfs and sometimes, a small transforming plane robot thing, I suspected this was exaggerated.
What I would learn later is that these were what we call moral panics.
I grew up with Grim Reapers on telly bowling people down and AIDS! written over the top of the screen. It made us all a bit homophobic and afraid.
I got suspicious of them age 10.
Before I was born, it was street crime and drugs. Teddy Boys slashing up cops with razors and black guys on Angel Dust and more every day. No statistic said this was true. In the 1910s, it was White Slavery. Which did indeed exist, sorry identitarians, but was largely absent for decades by that point in history. Now, sex trafficking is discussed with few statistics invoked.
Moral panics. Each and all.
Then, around 2000 or so, there was a new one.
Now, you have to remember, the press, the British Press specifically, loved the Pedo. Our Kids were under constant threat of molestification. Which is doubly ironic as 20 years ago, when real sex abuse cases were coming to light, it had been ignored as vile fancy.
Suddenly priests became the new molestor-raven figure. We heard of nothing but priests swallowing up boys by the bushel-full. It seems that no matter what, a priest would take your son and do terrible things to him.
And, you know, some priests did. Yes they did. And yes, the Church did indeed act abhorrently. At about the same time, other scandals were coming to light. The Magdalene Laundries. The extent to which safe-sex practices had been sabotaged. Loads. I’m in no position to defend the Church and have no interest in it. Don’t get it twisted, here.
The entire criminology of the scandals, however, were twisted as tourbillions. In Austria, a hotline for all victims of sexual abuse announced 60% of it’s calls concerned “the Clergy”. There was no mention of which clergy. There was no mention of how many had been investigated. There was no follow-up on any of it. 60% was meaningless.
Belgium illegally sent cops in. The John Jay Report wasn’t criticised much by the people who’s job it was to stress-test it.
And on it goes.
Now, it became very clear that this was an ongoing problem in the Church, especially in how it had hidden this abuse and protected abusers, and that it desperately needed to be investigated all across the world. But the press was pouring… not even gasoline on a fire. Hand grenades.
Anyone who knows the faintest thing about human psychology was not shocked when the Church got seriously defensive. When you make it us vs them, don’t be surprised when Them doesn’t play nice with Us.
And yesterday, a new attrocity. A film that celebrated, no, lionised, a group of muck-racking journalists. Spotlight is a nightmare of bullshit politics and should be sneered at, not celebrated. Not by anyone who values justice anyway.
Moral panics are always going to be with us. But we like to think ourselves getting more rational, more savvy to media ways. I’m not sure this is true. Typing FAKE on a youtube video is hardly critical thinking, after all.
But let’s not be party to celebrating a group of crooks and panickers who made great copy out of destroying people before they stepped foot into court.
I’ve been a bit worried as I’ve been really disliking a lot of the work of women comic creators recently, especially writers. Made an effort and found some teams I liked. All women.
Flesh of White – Albino baby born in Tanzania. Art is a bit poxy, terrible colouring, but the story is bold and interesting. Worried it’s going to get a bit magical realist.
Monstress – I was ambivalent with the writing on the first issue but with 2 and 3, this is settling in. No more monstrous lesbians. More sexy monsters. But the art is the winner here. Amazing.
Sword of Glass – Fantasy that’s consciously drawing on non-European sources. Not sure about the story yet but it’s beautiful and strange and they ride around on cool leopards. One to watch.
Then I read Injection and Ellis is still struggling against his worst impulses and it remains his strongest work in years.
Let’s get weird.
The isolated brain is a concept many, many scientists and sorcerers have tried on since the beginning. Can you take a brain out of the body and keep it alive?
Not really, no. But people give it a go. If you’re feeling ghoulish, here’s Sergei Brukhonenko and Boris Levinskovsky and their dog head experiments.
Obviously, the below video has some dog grotesqueness.
They were hardly the first.
In the 1880s, a French doctor by the name of Jean Baptiste Vincent Laborde got a bit clever with it. Thirty years earlier, an Englishman claimed he revived a dog head after ten minutes. Laborde was a bit more ambitious.
Also, there was a debate going on in France about which was more humane. Traditionally, the guillotine was considered more merciful, but people claimed to have seen severed heads gnashing teeth, crying, all sort of horrible things. State-sponsored murder is supposed to be swift, merciless but not cruel (hi, Clayton Lockett) so this had to be investigated.
Provided with several executed criminal’s heads, he took one and attached it to a dog’s carotid. Another was injected with oxygenated cow’s blood. In each case, things happened. Eyes opened, jaws twitched, faces moved. But none of the experiments yielded much valuable data and so it was a while until science types would get stuck in to severed heads for a while.
In 1883, a man “powerfully muscled, movements of extraordinary agility, the ascetic and hard features, to acute small eyes, tormented fierce…” entered the home of Monsieur Ducros-Sixt and killed him and his sister with a stonemason’s hammer.
Arrested, the murderer refused to give a name, or even a profession. He did not deny the crime. So they called him Campi, just a name for the books, and found him guilty.
“Gentlemen judges want to take my head. They will take it without a label!”
His last words. They cut off his head and gave it to Laborde.
The crime writer Leon noted “tried to revive with the blood of a dog for a few minutes, to talk about the bloody head. The experiment did not succeed…”
Now, that should be the end of Campi.
But here’s where things get weird.
People have always been attracted to death. Found a power in the corpse. Even today in Africa, the limbs of an albino are worth real money because of their spiritual properties. But this isn’t new. Gladiator heads, teeth, hair, blood, were healing to the ancient Romans. Hands of Glory were a well-known folk magic, the severed hands of hanged criminals had magical powers. Nooses that had claimed lives were popular talismans. The infamous witches flying ointment, the fat of an unbaptised child you’d drink. Sandy Childs, teenage child-murderer, stabbed and 8 year old to death and tried to get his fat. In 1995.
Someone removed Campi’s skin. With the purpose of using it as binding the medical reports that would be made on him. This was 1883.
Now, as an aside, in 1883, the world was three years away from having a car. Bacteriology was getting up and running. You could iron your clothes. This was not a primitive age.
Nevertheless, someone took Campi’s skin and transformed it into an amulet.
Most amulets are prophylactic. They protect. They prevent. But being near a death, an execution, was sometimes considered healing.
Who knows what the amulet was for, coins and the human skin of a murder, who’s brain was fed dog’s blood.
I think we make a mistake hiding our dead and our death. I think we error when we suggest the price of public hygiene is worth cutting away our morbid fascinations with our own ends.
Can you honestly say you’ve no use for something like this?
Because everything stopped working here, I’m on facebook as me, and twitter, as mrchristianread
Might be easier to talk to me that way.
To be a modern, cool writer, I’m blogging over at goodreads.
First up, a book I’m very much enjoying.
Hugo Gernsback argued that “chemi-geneticists” could allow black parents to have white children. The Hugo Awards are named after him.
Bram Stoker was an anti-Semite, Dracula is unarguably a ‘racist’ novel, and in some readings is an analogy for Disraeli, England’s Jewish Prime Minister. The Bram Stoker awards are named after him.
John W. Campbell argued for slavery. In the 60s. He thought the Watts Riots happened because some people were naturally slaves and were simply expressing unhappiness at not having masters.
King Kong is unarguably a racist and sexist -movie-. There’s a King Kong Award.
Taking Lovecraft, the most important fantastist of the 20th century off some awards because he’s a ‘vicious racist – is nothing. It means nothing. It is, at best, a politically empty gesture. At worst, it is an Orwellian rewriting of the past and grotesque hypocrisy.
“Art is neither a system for transmitting information nor a mode of self-expression. It does these things no better than any number of activities. Art is the seizure of a vision that exceeds language. It captures a slice of the Real and preserves it in an artifact. The work of art is fractal and open—an inexhaustible well of meaning and image overflowing the limits of the communicable. It is a way to the wilderness of the unconscious, the land of spirits and the dead. If great works of art are prophetic, it is because they disclose the forces that seethe behind the easy façade of ordinary time. I am not just thinking of the plays of Shakespeare and Sophocles here, but also of the poems of Emily Dickinson, the songs of Bob Dylan, the choreographies of Pina Bausch, the films of David Lynch. All of them are oracles.
The shaman enters the priestly society of the ancient world and is called a prophet. She enters modern industrial society and is called an artist. From the shape-shifting sorcerer painted on the cavern wall to Mr. Tambourine Man jangling in the junk-sick morning, a single tradition flows—backwards, like an undertow beneath the tidal thrust of history.
This tradition tears us out of the system of codified language and returns us to the dreaming depths where language first rose as the idiot stammerings of poetry. The shaman, the prophet, the artist: each knows the way lies not in the dry processes of logic but in the snaking courses of the heart. If art makes use of ideas, concepts, and opinions, it is only to subsume them in the realm of the senses, to push them to the knife-edge of lunacy where the primal chaos shows through the skin of objects, where all judgments are silenced and beauty, naked and terrible, is revealed.
Art doesn’t begin when you realize that you have something to say. It begins at the hour when there is nothing left to say, when everything has been said, when what must be said is unspeakable.”
-J.F. Martel, “Beauty Will Save the World”
The first experience I had of rotting bodies had been at Serre, where, as a battalion, we dealt with the best part of a thousand dead who came to pieces in our hands. As you lifted a body by its arms and legs they detached themselves from the torso, and this was not the worst thing. Each body was covered inches deep with a black fur of flies which flew up into your face, into your mouth, eyes and nostrils, as you approached. The bodies crawled with maggots. … We stopped every now and then to vomit. … The bodies had the consistency of Camembert cheese. I once fell and put my hand through the belly of a man. It was days before I got the smell out of my hands.
— British lieutenant Stuart Cloete on a burial party after the Somme, from his autobiography A Victorian Son
“I give and bequeath the annual sum of ten pounds, to be paid in perpetuity out of my estate, to the following purpose. It is my will and pleasure that this sum shall be spent in the purchase of a certain quantity of the liquor vulgarly called whisky, and it shall be publicly given out that a certain number of persons, Irish only, not to exceed twenty, who may choose to assemble in the cemetery in which I shall be interred, on the anniversary of my death, shall have the same distributed to them. Further, it is my desire that each shall receive it by half-a-pint at a time till the whole is consumed, each being likewise provided with a stout oaken stick and a knife, and that they shall drink it all on the spot. Knowing what I know of the Irish character, my conviction is, that with these materials given, they will not fail to destroy each other, and when in the course of time the race comes to be exterminated, this neighbourhood at least may, perhaps, be colonized by civilized and respectable Englishmen.”
From Virgil McClure Harris, Ancient, Curious and Famous Wills, 1911.