Thursday, July 14, 2016

Faces of Death

We've got to start off with the following phrase: the denial of human creatureliness. My stars, what a great twist of words, as cruel as any knife.

(B)eing an animal is threatening because it reminds people of their vulnerability to death...
--multiple authors, see link above

A few days ago, doing those things we do that we don't share with most others - showering and getting a look at my body's age and particulars - I was thinking, as I have before, of how I wish it were a different sight. Thinking about how age has changed things, how annoying bodies can be, not trapped in amber and constantly energetic and healthy got me to thinking (a) of all those things we are told we can do about that and, inevitably, (b) the people who do the most to give some plausible lie to the necessity of age and our animal nature.

Image: Wikipedia
Obvious choice? Heck yes.

If I'm honest, Dita von Teese actually occurs to me most often when I think about these things. She actually is lovely, but the image she's crafted - I sometimes wonder how well it will age. Perhaps it is her vintage spin that makes me look to the ways some of the Hollywood glamour goddesses who inspired her ended up; and at forty-four, you wonder how much mileage is left in her career of being alluring. The Kardashians are an industry, and nobody expects humanity of them, so contemplating how they age just means looking at Momma K and shrugging a bit.

But the fundamental point is, artifice is the denial of the animal.

There are times I revel in artifice. But the thing with me is, there are also times I revel in being an animal - in the biological status of my existence, as much as the spiritual or intellectual (or silly). In some ways, the best PART of getting dolled up (and note the word choice there, hah) is the way we start off - sweaty, sparse-eyebrowed, with imperfect skin and no ornament. For me, "gooping up" as my friend TEO and I used to call it, is an emphasis of artificiality, not of myself. When I go out in any sort of drag, it's not a presentation of myself, but of the things I like or find funny or a neat idea I had with hair or makeup, something archly and specifically NOT myself.

Anyone who believes I have purple hair - or those eyelashes - is not my responsibility to counsel.

Anyone who believes I am significantly younger than I am - well, I have two lovely parents certainly to thank. Assuming we take the cultural worship of youth as read.

For those less than eager to take on the entirety of the paper whose abstract is linked above, consider this. An interesting look at death, indeed, and possibly informative of more than America's own current state of politics.

Study subjects who were prompted to talk about their own death later rated their support for Trump 1.66 points higher on a five-point scale than those who were prompted to talk about pain generally.
--Max Ehrenfreund, Washington Post

The old "May you live in interesting times" joke comes to mind. Not only because ALL times for humans have been interesting, harrowing, joyous, and terrifying all at once, but because the first and foremost draw of Trumpery has been how interesting he is. He's entertainment, as well as a valve for the release of all those unseen things we hold inside; hatred and anger and fear. He's a really big show.

Image: Wikipedia
I chose this because it's about as dignified a shot of The Donald as I can find in fair use rules,
and the juxtaposition with someone notorious for his flamboyant looks was irresistible.
And he's really smiling.


It is common received wisdom that art and comedy are born out of our knowledge of death. Fashion and cosmetics are too, which is interesting given their connection to human sexuality, itself the only means toward immortality in providing for procreation.

Politics is death. And sometimes suicide is the way humans meet death.


I both revel in my creatureliness and play with those toys of denial. Most of us do the same in one way or another, saving contemplation of death for special occasions, but not actively denying it. Life just doesn't leave time for it, mostly. We get caught up in the day-to-day, and that works both in our favor and against us - it is all to easy to forget to deal with those parts of life that have to do with its cessation.

It is perhaps precisely because all times are interesting that we simultaneously gorge on it, and then need to retreat from it, and on a humankind scale this leads us to bewildering socio-political behavior. American media would have it that the Brexit vote came largely because people voted for exit thinking "this will never happen" and now they all wish they could take it back. How far this gibes with reality is debatable, but not a debate I wish to be party to. It's an interesting sort of finger-shaking version of "journalism" (a word that's been in scare-quotes for years now), but a curious look at the fear of death in itself. A few weeks go, Brexit looked like Roman decimation in broadcast media; right now, we're forgetting about it and "la-la-la-I-cant'-hear-you"-ing all the way to Sodom, most of the day-after pearl-clutching forgotten, at least amongst us unwashed masses. There isn't time to think about it.

Three days ago, I'd never heard of this dang Pokemon walking game, and now it is EVERYWHERE, both in hilarity and more finger-wagging ("don't play Pokemon games in the Holocaust museum" was an actual thing this morning).

Fantasy is our way of denying death - if we focus on what we find most beautiful, desirable ... death loses its hold in our minds, because those things are as strong for us as the unknowable inevitabilities of our bodies.

By writing, I revel in the creatureliness of my characters, and my own - and because I write fiction, I can deny it ALL. Nothing is real, and if I write about those things that frighten me most, that is not real either.

This is the essential appeal of horror.

The ultimate fantasy is control.

We seem to be exerting the fantasy of control by going out of control an awful lot lately.

Why *wouldn't* people rather contemplate the curiously human and artificial face of a Jenner or Kardashian ... ?

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