Last week, I came across and article that namechecks, among other things, Medusa, the basilisk, "The Ring," a Monty Python sketch, Stendhal Syndrome, Lady Godiva, a song called "Gloomy Sunday" and that creepy "Red Room" Flash site that allegedly infatuated my new little friend, Nevada-tan. These subjects wouldn't readily seem to share any quality warranting their presence in the same article. And before I read the Wikipedia entry on "Motif of harmful sensation," I wouldn't have expected anything other than something I wrote to include them all, either.
To explain, the motif of harmful sensation is a rather clunkily named phenomenon in which a person is killed or otherwise harmed simply by perceiving something, usually visually or aurally. For example, the video tape in "The Ring" causes people to die, whereas most video tapes do not. Looking at Medusa's face also kills people — though, by turning them to stone, though I suppose that total body petrification should kill someone as well. Looking at most other people, however, does not result in this effect.
I have been aware of this notion for some time, and even been attracted to it, though I never thought to put a name to it or anything. (If I had, I think I would have picked something better than "motif of harmful sensation." Maybe something like "thing-that-isn't-usually-bad-is" or "bad perception thing" or "gooberstumpis" or something.) The motif of harmful sensation, as the Wikipedia calls it, is quite an old concept that has arisen repeatedly in various world cultures.
- Like Medusa, the mythical medieval animal called the basilisk, a bird-looking serpent that could turn people to stone just by looking at them.
- There's a plant called the mandrake that supposedly emits a human-like shriek when it is plucked. The shriek causes instant death.
- The Stendhal syndrome is a supposedly documented effect in which people become dizzy or ill after viewing a painting or other work of art that they find particularly dazzling.
- The Chuck Palahniuk novels Lullaby and Diary. In the former, hearing the lyrics to a certain song causes instant death. In the latter, a woman's drawings cause a severe form of Stendhal syndrome.
- "Gloomy Sunday," also known as the "Hungarian Suicide Song," a little ditty that purportedly drove scads of Hungarians to kill themselves. (I've actually heard the Billie Holiday version of the English translation and like it quite a bit.)
- The whole thing with the number of God in that movie "Pi."
- A Monty Python sketch in which the British invent a joke so funny that anyone who hears it will die laughing. The joke is then used as a weapon against the Germans in World War II.
I'm not sure why I find this so fascinating, but I think it might have something to do with that fact that these things, if they existed, would be forbidden to be perceived — unless you had a death wish, of course. So on top of never being able to see them because they're not real, I would be dead if I had seen them. Shoot.
[ link: the full article ]