Part 4: What?

Happy Christmas Eve! I have made several decisions, one of which involved buying peach-flavored fizzy wine. I’ve also watched How The Grinch Stole Christmas, as has been family tradition since the 80s, and gotten sniffly at “Welcome Christmas,” and marveled at Dr. Seuss surreal architecture.

Speaking of surreal:

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Well, this is…an egg.

A headless babydoll egg.

Because babydolls are insufficiently creepy by themselves (hint: they are not).

With an envelope, and Christmas greetings. And puffed sleeves.

I could sort of understand if this were for New Year’s, because egg and hatching and new life and all that. I’m not saying it wouldn’t still be UNNERVING AS HELL, but I could understand it. But no. There is no understanding to be had here.

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As with the Goat Card, these kids have the only appropriate expressions for this situation.

he was made of snow

but the children know

that he came to life one day

May your holidays be free of creepy sun gods and their snowcromantic creations.

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These kids, however…I mean, clearly stoned. As you’d have to be.

You know how every survival horror game has one inexplicably plant-themed boss?

Yeaaaah.

Do the unopened buds also contain moppet heads?

One may well wonder.

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“Food that wants to be eaten,” is a known if disturbing trope in ads and occasionally fiction, but this…this is the final boss of the aforementioned  Victorian-Christmas-themed survival horror game. This balances Little Mermaid-style upon legs and feet totally unsuitable for the position, with EATING IMPLEMENTS STUCK IN ITS FACE, and it’s SMILING ABOUT IT.

Well, it’s smiling about *something*.

You don’t want to know what.

While the letters for “Christmas” are doing their best to ignore this whole…situation…the ones for “A Merry” have just given in to the eldritch horror.

(The carefully-balanced glass of milk/eggnog/PROBABLY ECTOPLASM SERIOUSLY atop its head would, naturally, be the only vulnerable point it has during the final battle.)

Merry Christmas, to those who celebrate it! Happy Tuesday, to those who don’t! And let us all be thankful that we’re not ruled by Fygge’Puddin, who dances mindlessly to the eternal piping of Bing Crosby.

 

 

 

On The Non-Consecutive Third Day of This Blog

…other members of the animal kingdom! Among other things.

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The problem here is not the pig-drawn sleigh. That’s cool. There’s a whole subgenre of gnome-and-pig cards, which friends tell me are because Nordic tomten (winter gnomes, basically) are often associated with livestock, and I guess “pig” makes more sense than “cow” or “chicken,” despite the fact that my impression from various media is that pigs are kind of mean bastards and more than happy to eat us when and if they get the chance. (Boar spears. Seriously.)

Even if these are humans, as the lack of beards suggests, your average pig is pretty damn strong, is my impression.

No, the problem is the mouths. *Everyone* in this picture has Joker faces, including the pig, and while I can credit the aquavit with the smiles themselves, not to mention the rosy cheeks, mouths are not supposed to go that far out.

That guy in the back, in particular, has Plans. They are not good plans.

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The kid here wears the only sort of expression that makes any sense under the circumstances.

This card comes *very close* to being normal. “I have come to greet you,” is an appropriate if slightly antiquated message, and indeed someone is being greeted in this photo.

As greetings go, it’s more “Hello, Agent Cooper, how’s Annie?” than “God bless us, every one!” though.

Christmas card with three moths

I HAVE KILLED AN INSECT WITH MY LOVE FOR YOU. BEHOLD ITS CORPSE AND KNOW MY UNDYING AFFECTION. UNDYING, UNLIKE THIS DEAD MOTH AT YOUR DOOR. MERRY CHRISTMAS.

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Christmas.

Christmas never changes.

The Fall of the British Empire In Christmas Cards Part II: BIRDS MAN

Okay so:

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I am aware that killing wrens is an old English tradition at Christmas, possibly for Sound Mythological Reasons but also because if you have your whole family in one place during the winter, SOMETHING is gonna die, and it’s probably better to lose a small bird than Cousin, IDK, Probably Wulfgar. (PROBABLY. I don’t want to dictate, especially if Cousin Wulfgar’s gotten really into blockchain.) But this looks like a robin, so why are we joyful about its corpse?

The article says that images like this were meant to remind Victorians that poor children were dying in the snow. I say that, first of all, maybe fix your society so that doesn’t happen rather than farming it out to the greeting card industry, and second, there is damned little Victorian media that doesn’t involve poor children dying in snow, except for the stuff that involves frivolous young women dying of consumption. Seriously, between Hans Christian Andersen and Louisa May Alcott, you can’t throw a brick in Victorian lit without hitting some winsomely perishing urchin or other.

Meanwhile, whenever a modern scold talks about the degeneracy of our times and the horrible things young people like, I’m like dude, people generations back had corpse photos and jewelry made out of dead people’s hair and COFFIN PLATE COLLECTIONS, so.

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Um. Well. Yes.

You say “jollity,” I say “torch-bearing bird mob.” Potato…potahto?

Where are they coming from? Nobody knows. Where are they going? I’m hoping not to my place. What do they want? Probably VENGEANCE. And suet.

Lead bird seems to think this is all in a good cause and bound to work out for the best; the two behind are doubtful, but go along anyway, maybe in fear of the two behind *them*. The one on the left, in particular, has the look of a songbird who will tolerate no dissent.

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Animal concerts? Sure. Drummer Bunny looks more like he’s playing an execution and *really* enjoying his job, but maybe that’s a drummer thing. (There’s a Little Drummer Boy/Spinal Tap crossover that nobody wants lurking around.) Okay.

But WHAT THE HELL IS THAT DANCING THING?

It’s like Dr. Seuss had a bad trip. Or like a bird melted, and then got pins stuck in it. I don’t know. I know that it’s on a box, and it clearly welcomes death. And that’s really all I need to know.

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Appropriate to the evening: a different article categorizes the below under “dead birds,” and…honey, no. Your innocence does you credit, but observe both the posture and the surroundings, most notably the punchbowl.

These birds are not dead. (Yet: if the expression of Cross-Eyed Bearcat there is less scandalized and more hungry, that situation might change.) No, no. I have been these birds–there was a week in college where I believe I was all these birds–and life, of a sort, went on the next morning.

I kind of wished otherwise, especially after the evening when my then-friend Jerry invented the “beef shot,” but death was not forthcoming.

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You know what? *Yes*, Victorians. These are owls on tricycle velocipedes delivering mail, and they are good and right. You’ve got living birds, doing a greeting-related thing, and that’s already clearing the (admittedly pretty low) bar set by previous cards, plus the one-escort-owl-to-post-carrying-owl buddy system is heartwarming and deserves its own film about how they learn to overcome their differences.

I’m not going to ask why, or whether these are small velocipedes or EXTREMELY LARGE owls, or whether Owl Post is authorized by the Crown in any way. In these troubled times, we all need postowls on velocipedes.

And white zinfandel.

Holiday…Special

Taking a break from my usual blog stuff because last year a friend linked me to this article about Victorian Christmas cards. The original author tries to be all understanding and nonjudgmental about the Victorians, and how Christmas was a new thing and they were trying to remind people about orphans dying in snow, but I’m solidly in the camp of “motherfuckers thought laudanum was the sixth food group and it shows.”

So, perhaps to make up for my lack of regular posting lately, perhaps just because what the ever-living fuck, the 1800s, the next few days will feature a selection of those cards and my reactions to them.

Part 1: Frogs? Frogs.

I don’t know why frogs, they’re not really a Christmas-y animal what with the amphibian-ness and the hibernation, but…frogs. Many of them dead.

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I am not, technically, sure if these inexplicably ice-skating frogs–who are wearing ice-skates but otherwise naked, by the way–are actually dead or if they’ve just fallen over while skating in “a beautiful row.” Is that blood beneath them, or just their reflections on the ice? Why would a frog, or indeed anyone else, smoke a pipe while ice-skating? Does the author/artist of this card probably have an entire room full of preserved frogs with accessories?

Answers are: “Looks like blood to me, I have no idea, and ALMOST FUCKING CERTAINLY.”

librarybirmingham02.jpeg I would like to believe that these are the same frogs, at a happier time in the future, but the presence of leg-splotches on all but the last leads me to believe that they’re a totally different frog quartet.  None of them look particularly thrilled about the situation, despite their well-coordinated boots and parasols, but on the other hand, “cheerful” is a hard face for a frog. God knows they could have it worse:

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Dear Victorians: PLEASE EXPLAIN ANY PART OF THIS.

A Merry Christmas to You! Be merry, like the frog who’s shivved his buddy and stolen his goods! Not like the dead frog! Who is naked, which is the normal condition for frogs, except that the other frog is wearing not only pants but a vest. No shoes, because *that* would just be ridiculous. Frog Clothing Standards apparently mean you can either wear shoes or anything else, but decency forbids both at once.

Was this a lover’s quarrel? Did they team up to rob a bank, and then Frog A didn’t want to share the…cash? (Note that the bag doesn’t say 2000 *what*.) Did Frog B threaten to sell Frog A out to the frogthorities, and thus A stabbed B with a frog-sized poniard after one last night of passion?

(A British friend points out that the bag is likely referencing the English “2,000 Guineas” horse race, so this is a scene of Frog Horse-Betting Intrigue.)

Whatever’s going on here, the “Y” in “Merry” has an umlaut, and that’s important to remember this holiday season.

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Well, nobody’s dead here. Yet.

I am not Amphibian Knowledge Girl, but don’t frogs traditionally eat these sorts of insects? It’s nice to see that the Christmas Spirit has transformed the traditional predator-prey relationship, and presumably there’s mincemeat for everyone…unless this is some kind of Arrangement the insect and frog worlds have worked out, and what we’re seeing here is actually the Ceremonial Death Waltz.

You will note that everyone is the same size, which leads to the conclusion that either a) this is one of those tiny poisonous frogs you get in South America, which to be fair are very cute, or b) there’s been a horrible nuclear accident and now there are bullfrog-sized cockroaches that KNOW HOW TO BALLROOM DANCE.

I mean, I accept a certain amount of Beatrix-Potter-esque animals-living-by-Victorian-human-mores, especially in Christmas cards, but Cockroaches In High Society is a new one.

Tomorrow: OH GOD BIRDS WHY

Not Drunk *Oc*cult History, As Such

But, thanks to an episode of The Blotter Presents, I’ve taken a pre-Thanksgiving read through Jeff Guinn’s The Road to Jonestown, and I mostly recommend it, insofar as if you’re into this sort of thing this is the sort of thing you’ll be into. I, full disclosure, am: in addition to serial killers, I’m here for any kind of “we have named ourselves after rock songs and are waiting for the aliens to emerge from the hollow earth and take us home”-style nonsense.

So I was passingly familiar with the whole Peoples Temple thing going in, possibly more so than the average person is. Read the Wiki article, saw one of the documentaries, read a couple of other books. Road comes off pretty well among them, and I’d say Guinn takes more of a look at Jones as a person than the others. He sometimes tries to sympathize more with the guy than I think is ever merited once he gets past like 18, but, on the other hand, dude was fascinatingly fucked up early on.

Which, by the way, once again, some more: being a “romantic” persistent asshole with women may not be a 100% dead certain sign that someone is going to go on and kill a bunch of people in one way or another, but it’s at least as good a sign as the infamous-and-discredited predictive triad. Like there’s this whole thing where High School Jones is into a girl, and starts hanging around her all the time, LIKE TOTAL CREEPS DO, and her boyfriend tells him to fuck off and he doesn’t and the boyfriend (who’s the Big Man on Campus) thinks, well, beating him up won’t change his mind, and asks the girl’s parents to talk to Jones, and they INVITE HIM IN TO WAIT FOR HER AFTER SCHOOL AND BRING HIM TO CHURCH WITH THEM, which, the creepy charisma of the guy aside,  WORST PARENTS EVER.

Seriously, and this is a sidebar, if your kid or your friend or whoever expresses that they’re not interested in someone and you start pressuring them to “give that person a chance,” you are an awful friend or parent. If you then invite that person to hang around you with the intention of getting them and your kid/friend together, especially if you don’t tell the subject of their attentions before that, you are an awful excuse for a human being, please get in the sea. This sidebar has been brought to you by a sitcom my mom was sort-of-watching the other night, and also by the parents of Jones’s HS love interest, no matter how hypnotic he was.

And yeah, he was good at what he did. One of the things about Road is you can see how people got sucked in, because Jones–as many abusers, cult leaders and otherwise, do–used legitimately good causes in the service of his own ego and power. Integration is great! I would say that socialism is great! Social justice was, and is, a real concern…and because of that, toxic people use those things to serve their own ends, and toxic people just get more toxic, as a rule. So you start out thinking that hey, this guy has some decent ideas, and he legit does some good, and you ignore some signs because okay, he’s under a lot of pressure because of society and his duties and so forth and okay, he has a temper but he was clearly provoked, and then you’re being screamed at by a whole group of people because you Don’t Believe Enough in the Cause (which can mean voicing some concerns about the ease of getting hundreds of people to Russia) or getting put in a hole because you didn’t sell enough copies of Dianetics or, y’know, cyanide in the Flavor-Aid.

Jonestown is the best example of Started Out Doing Good Stuff, Ended Up Horrible*, and so a lot of works about it, including Guin’s, spend some time trying to figure out at what point things started going south and when they’d gone too far for anything to be salvaged. Was it when dude started passing off rotting chicken meat as tumors he’d “miraculously” removed from people? When he started manipulating his followers’ sex lives to get himself a harem? The We All Must Move to CA Because Nuclear War bit, which to be fair was probably a lot more plausible in the 70s? I think the “we have to have communal bathrooms because wanting privacy while you shit is a bourgeois hangup, maaaan,” is a pretty huge red flag, but…the 70s, again.

I believe Sarah Bunting said on her podcast, and I agree, that Jones’s personality was pretty clear pretty early: the stalker thing, the holding-extensive-funerals-for-pets drama, his propensity for turning things that happened (his parents having a troubled marriage) into things that maybe are the same vague shape and color as “happened” if you squint a lot (his dad being physically abusive), the ability to tap into what people want to hear and present himself as on the side of Right and Justice to inspire loyalty or avoid both hard questions from others and examining his own decisions. I don’t know if having someone like that in charge, even if they’re working for a genuinely good cause, is ever going to end well.

One of the themes that keeps repeating in Road is that it could’ve been okay if Jones had known when to give up. There are all these points where the Peoples Temple is in Indiana or California (one day, I will write a book about how fucking weird California is and has been for like centuries, and it may or may not also be weird Labyrinth fanfic with the serial numbers filed off, I have PLANS) or whatever, and people like them okay, everything’s fine, and then Jones freaks the fuck out because someone out there might not like him, or someone has more followers or a better reputation, or the Temple isn’t expanding (this is a super American form of bullshit, this “anything that’s not expansion is failure” mentality, like, do we want cancer to be our role model? APPARENTLY WE DO) or people leave, and he just makes everything worse, forever.

It’s sort of like what I wrote about Pet Semetary a while back. Life is full of not getting exactly what you want. Reasonable adults will look at that and think, well, maybe that wasn’t possible under these circumstances, or, well, maybe I made a mistake here, or, well, but I’m still doing basically okay here in a number of ways. (Or, in the case of Pet Semetary, well, this is completely awful, but there’s nothing I can do about it that wouldn’t make things worse.) But then there are people whose reaction to not getting what they want when they want it is to decide that this is because People Are Conspiring Against Them or their allies have Failed Them or whatever allows them to not face the Mick Jagger-style facts.

This does not end well. Ever. Even without evil spirits lurking around in Maine, this does not end well.

So: appreciate what you have, accept your limitations, or at least eye your limitations in a reasonable way that allows for fault, or chance, or the fact that the world doesn’t revolve around you. And remember that working for a good cause is not a justification for abusing people.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Shit For Which I Judge You, Media Edition

Because Shit For Which I Judge You, Personal Relations Subcategory would be a whole book, and let’s not even get into SFWIJY: Personal Grooming. (Chapter 7: Wearing Toe-Delineating Jogging Shoes Anywhere But Jogging).

I’ve been meaning to write this ever since the whole “Joker” thing came out, but really I’ve been thinking about it for a while.

Because on the one hand, I absolutely agree that there are no “guilty pleasures” in reading or watching TV, people can like problematic things without being horrible themselves, and anything you like is a valid thing to like…about 90% of the time.

Back when I was on OKC, any guy with Ayn Rand or Richard Dawkins in his “favorite reads” profile was an automatic nope. That’s easier–that’s nonfiction, and obnoxious nonfiction. Thing is, Catcher in the Rye or Fight Club would also get the pre-smartphone equivalent of a left swipe, despite the fact that a couple of my friends really like both of those things and are not horrible people. Here’s why:

Where fiction is concerned, I don’t judge what you like, because any work of fiction is a complex ball of different elements and so is any given person. When I was ten or so, I was really, embarrassingly into Gone With the Wind, basically because I was a dumb white girl and the book had a lot of descriptions of really pretty dresses and being the prettiest girl ever. Now, thinking back, I still think it contains nuggets of sadly wasted potential–the psychological effects of going through a major war at sixteen, no matter how justified that war was, how much ruthlessness is required to protect yourself and family, the hidden depths of “soft” people under pressure, the way misunderstandings and just being stupid get in the way of relationships, the propensity to love someone for what they represent that’s gone rather than who they are–but they’re buried in a hip-deep layer of racism and a slightly more shallow one of sexism, and I’m not going to advise anyone to start wading through that. Kipling? Racist as all fuck, and also there’s that poem where he spends a verse insulting his son and son’s wife for choosing not to have kids, but there’s still a lot of his work that speaks to me. How to Be A Fan of Problematic Things: it’s a whole subject, other people have covered it.

And even when you can’t put a name on what you like, sometimes a work–well-written or not–just pushes your buttons. Romance is full of things that do not work in real life, or that readers absolutely would not want in real life, that just push people’s buttons. YKIOK, and you don’t have to explain it.

You do kind of have to label it as such, though, and that’s where the judgment comes in. Someone who likes Wuthering Heights might have a thousand different reasons for it–admiring the writing style, liking to watch the train wreck, finding the portrayal of women and class interesting, having encountered it at a time in their life they’re nostalgic about, and yes, even It Is Fucked Up But Heathcliff Gives Me Pantsfeels. Someone who legit thinks it’s a wonderful story of deathless romance, on the other hand, is someone I’m going to avoid, especially if they’re over 25, because they have some ideas about romance that will make me want to scream until I shatter glass. “I dig Catcher in the Rye because it’s an interesting portrayal of an unreliable narrator,” doesn’t say anything about you, but “Holden Caufield is a sympathetic character and a voice of truth for our age,” does, and none of it’s good. You can like Lovecraft, and I do, but thinking the man had a point about all those swarthy foreigners is not okay.

Human nature is human nature. If I know you, I’m more likely to assume you have non-fucked-up reasons for liking what you like, and, to be honest, if I don’t know you I’m going to go by demographics when deciding whether to give you the benefit of the doubt or not. There aren’t nearly as many POC, women, or LGBT folks who think Tyler Durden has a point as there are white cishet guys who do. I’m sure there are people in those other categories (especially white cis women, OMG, we’re awful) who defend mass shooters and incels because Well They Were Picked On So You Just Have to Understaaaaand their Paaaaaain, but most of that bullshit I’ve heard has come from white men. For that matter, I’d have been way less skeptical about “Joker” as a whole if the director had been Taika Waititi or Patty Jenkins rather than Bropants McDudeface.

Sidebar: when I say “skeptical about,” I don’t mean “I think everyone who watches this is an incipient serial killer” or “theaters should refuse to show it” or any of the other slippery-slope ridiculousness that the Reddit Crowd tends to yell about. I haven’t seen anyone say or imply that. Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, it’s a big Internet, but what I tended to see was:

Person: “Ugh, no thanks. If I wanted to hear mediocre whiteboys whine, I’d save my $20 and hit 4Chan.”/”Really, DC? Read the room much?”/”…fuck no.”
Forty-Seven Twitter People With Anime Avatars: “ZOMG CENSORSHIP FREEZE PEACH DON’T JUDGE BY THE TRAILERS EVEN THOUGH THAT IS LITERALLY THE REASON TRAILERS EXIST FIRST AMENDMENT!”

Aaaanyhow. Like what you like. It’s fine. But if what you like has massive problems–and not just “all your faves are problematic,” which is true, but real Yikestastic works–maybe be prepared to, or pre-emptively, explain your reasons, or at least indicate that you recognize the Yikes!ness.

And don’t like Ayn Rand. There’s never a good reason to like Ayn Rand.