Sunday, October 31, 2010

Monster Mashing

The problem with posting on holidays is that I always feel compelled to put up something festive, inasmuch as I can be festive. (I try. Lord, how I try.) After searching for some old, Greek-derived word that means something like “great pumpkin” or “vampire fangs” or “slutty nurse,” I eventually found one that meets the requirement for Halloween but, in doing so, is awful. But it’s not me-awful. It’s etymology-awful. So go blame etymology.
teratogenesis (ter-ə-tə-JEN-ə-səs) — noun: the development of congenital malformations.
Why this? Etymologically speaking, the word means something like “the origin of monsters.” Yep — the technical, scientific term for deformity means “monster.” Our predecessors were not polite.
Technically, the term can also mean simply “marvel,” and even in English that relationship still exists. Our word monster comes from the Latin monere, “to warn” or “to advise,” which is related to monstrare, related to the English demonstrate and meaning “to point out” or “to show.” In both uses, there’s the sense of a thing being seen, which I guess would be a vital component in the process of labeling a thing a monster. I guess you’d have to see something before you could declare it a monster, right?
Teratogenesis, however, comes from the Greek root teras, also meaning “monster.” Aside from teratology (which could be interpreted to refer to either mythological beasts or biological ones), most of the English derivations of teras refer to the unfortunate, human kind of remarkables. We have teratogen (something that causes birth defects), teratoid (something exhibiting abnormal development), teratoma (a tumor frequenting the genitals) and even teratophilia (sexual attraction to monstrous or deformed people). In light of this legacy of what really amounts to defamation, let me salute our differently-shaped brethren, apologize for the technical term (and, I guess, this post) and finally wish readers of all shapes (standard and non-) a happy Halloween. 

Previous strange and wonderful words:

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Two Googie Renés

Last week’s Saturday Night Live brought back a sketch that I don’t think ran on the show since Anna Faris hosted in 2008: Googie René, who sells awful discount goods. In the most recent appearance, he tries to sell stained, shit-smelling or otherwise befouled Halloween costumes.

Here’s the sketch:

And here’s the best part: the end shot, showing the store’s location.

Oh no! You probably wouldn’t want to shop there at all! But anyway the sketch was in my head this week, so I was surprised when I saw this on one of the blogs I follow:

I was also surprised that this photo made it onto the cover despite everything the woman in blue dress is doing. But more important than that: the exact same name. What the hell? The real Googie René — son of rocker Leon René — was actually kind of famous in his own right as a musician. So why would the Kenan Thompson character have the same name? I can’t think of any reason better than “Googie” being a funny name.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Festive Threat

Halloween is probably the only time of year during which you can arrive home and find a bloody knife on your doorstep and think “Yay! Fun times!” and not “Wow, I guess someone has it out for me.”

And yes, a decorative bloody knife is still a bloody knife by several standards.

Return of the Oceanic Air Mattress

Hey guys! Remember Cindy form Lost? You know — Cindy Cindy? The flight attendant who gives Jack the extra liquor in the pilot? And crashes in the tail section with Libby and Eko? And gets kidnapped by the Others? And gets brainwashed? And becomes a weird pseudo-mom to the orphaned, kidnapped kids? And then goes all Lady Rambo at the temple? And then we never find out what happens to her in the last episode? Because — um... Hey! Remember Cindy?

Well, the good news, everyone! I found her. She's alive and apparently free of her Australian accent, per this commercial for HughesNet, which I'd never heard of before yesterday.

In all seriousness, I'm happy to learn that Lost's B- and C-listers can find work, but is it weird to anyone else that I still think the actress, Kimberley Joseph, is brainwashed and that the all-too-innocuous-sounding HughesNet is a front for the Hanso Foundation? Clearly, if I give them my personal info, they will kidnap me and make me wear dirty clothes in a jungle… for no apparent reason.

In finding the YouTube clip online, I also learned Joseph in a commercial about a family that's way too enthusiastic about its Bissel-brand carpet cleaner.

Brainwashing. Carpet cleaning. Connection? Clearly, Bissel wants to steal your babies.

The same search also turned up Joseph as a host of an Australian fashion awards show from 1996 (which, by American standards is more like 1989). See Cindy the flight attendant with an unflattering — and clearly evil — up-do.

The take-away: Australian fashion also wants to steal your babies.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sex Coconut

You’d be hard pressed to find a more romantic, more evocative title for a Wikipedia page: “Legends of the Coco de Mer.” The name suggests some fancy, old collection of island-hopping adventures that you might find in the corner of some eccentric’s library. Or it could be a Nickelodeon game show. Either, really. But “Legends of the Coco de Mer” is how the page begins now. And this magical-sounding item of produce is the subject of today’s post.

Consider of this a follow-up to the post about the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, the bizarre sheep-plant combo monster that supposedly existed but, alas, did not exist. In that post, I talked about how the Wikipedia category for “mythological plants” included surprisingly few entries. However, the Vegetable Lamb wasn’t alone; it had the Sea Coconut to keep its company. And oh, what company it provides. The article reads like a dummy entry someone posted on Wikipedia specifically to get me to blog about it. If that’s the case, well done, sir or madam.

The largest seed in the plant kingdom, the nut of the Coco de Mer palm would drop to the ground and fall into the ocean, floating from its native habitat in the Seychelles to places as far away as the Maldives. There, people noted that the nut, when denuded of its husk, looked like a woman’s buttocks on one side and a belly and thighs on the other.

The current scientific name for the Coco de Mer, Lodoicea maldivica, was even preceded by a far more entertaining one: Lodoicea callipyge, the species name literally meaning “beautiful butt” and being related to one of my words-of-the-week, kakopygian, “having an ugly ass.” Naturally, people concluded that nuts resembling the sexy ladyparts wielded magical properties, and the nuts became highly prized. They also circulated stories about undersea trees whose fruit dropped “up” — that is, toward the surface. In a way, they weren’t off the mark. As it happens, the whole fruits had to sink to the bottom of the ocean, where the husk would eventually shed and the nut’s insides would rot, creating a gas that made them float to the surface and then far-off places. However, by virtue of their buoyancy, the nuts were also infertile, and I think there’s some irony in something that looks so sexual no longer being reproductively viable.

Eventually, humans inhabited the Seychelles and realized these fanny nuts were not, in fact, coming from upside-down, undersea orchards but from normal palm trees. And that’s when things really get weird. The Coco de Mer has female and male trees. The females bear the nuts, while the males produce long, phallic, unmistakably penis-like catkins.

Almost too much, right?

This combination of “Hey! These look like our naked women during sexytimes!” and “Those ones over there look like the parts what we have!” led to additional unfortunate conclusions: that the trees have physical intercourse on stormy nights, that the male trees uproot themselves to meet up with their arboreal sweethearts, that anyone who saws the trees mating would die or go blind (of course), and that the sexy Sea Coconut was actually the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. (Not sure how that last one squealed in there, but if it had been the case, I would imagine Eve wouldn’t have eaten the fruit on grounds that it tasted like shit.)

All of it hilarious and entertaining, I say. But I think it’s worth pointing out that the humans first observed the tree form of the Coco de Mer in 1768 — less than ten years before the Revolutionary War and, really, not all that long ago — and yet they still jumped to the most fantastical, implausible explanation for how the trees reproduce: tree sex, penis-vagina-style, which, now that I think about it, is also pretty damn self-centered. Funny how we act that way.

In conclusion: Omigod, doesn’t that thing look just like a butt?!

The horrible, wonderful intersection of food and sexiness:

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The License to Be Stupid

It’s been a while since I featured a super-specific German word on this blog. That’s why.
narrenfreiheit (NAHR-ren-fry-height) — noun: the ability and right of a jester to mock freely without being punished.
The pronunciation I’m offering matches how an English-speaker would pronounce the word, but I give that one because I feel the word has applications beyond the German-speaking world from yesteryear. I think a German-speaker would pronounce that double-“r” with a bit of a roll, but I don’t know how to write it out phonetically.

Literally “fool’s freedom” or “jester’s freedom,” narrenfreiheit refers to the days when the court jester could poke fun at whoever he chose, the logic being that a ruler surrounded only by yes men would never know if he or she were screwing up. In that sense, narrenfreiheit would be the antidote to “Emperor’s New Clothes” syndrome. Besides, jesters are funny. Let them do their job, royal court. And yes, Königin Giselberta does eat too much and her face does look a pig’s anus.

I picked this one because I like that Germans once again have a term to refer to a concept that would take other languages several phrases to explain but also because I’m interested in whether such a thing exists in the modern U.S. We have comedians who lampoon politicians (the cast of Saturday Night Live in a good year, for example) and bloggers who take down celebs (like Perez Hilton did until last week, when he stopped because everyone hated him), but we don’t have anyone who actually has the license to mock everyone and anyone with impunity. Sarah Silverman takes on ignorant, racist personas as a joke, but even people who understand what she’s doing still get pissed when she crosses a line and, for example, says the “c”-word on TV. (The racist “c”-word, not the lady “c”-word.) And, as I learned, certain people are always off-limits. Take a harmless dig at Obama’s toddler-aged niece after she sleeps through his inauguration speech and just wait for the hate mail to come.

I guess, then, that we don’t have narrenfreiheit now the way it once existed, but I suppose our clowns don’t mock with as much purpose as a court jester might have. All that being said, a good comedian wouldn’t miss an opportunity to get a laugh out of Königin Giselberta’s very clearly pig-anus like face.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Funny Little Brazilian Frog

If you told me I was going to receive a frog-related email, I would have assumed it would be about the Scrotum Frog. Nope.
I saw a post on your blog, “funny little frog,” and I was wondering if it means something, like an expression. I’m Brazilian, and I am asking this because of a Belle & Sebastian song called “Funny Little Frog.” I'm trying to figure what it means.
Sérgio from Brazil
I love that this blog allows people to send me these kinds of emails, scrotum-related or not. I told my new friend Sérgio that the Bell & Sebastian song mentioned in this post title doesn’t refer to any English idiom that I know if, aside from our cute tendency to refer to gurgly phlegm as “a frog in the throat.” It doesn’t mean anything else, does it?

Frogs, previously:

She Laughs Again

So remember when I discovered how the laugh from “Situation” ended up in “Macarena”? But I couldn’t locate any of the hundreds of other songs that also use the same sample? The mystery has been solved. Ironically, by posting the piece as I did, with me having given up searching for a list, I arrived at it. I noticed on Google Analytics that someone found my post on the Alison Moyet laugh by searching some terms that I hadn’t thought of, and right there in the second hit was Who Sampled Who, an indisputably awesome database of songs that have been sampled in other songs. So here, then, is a list of songs that use the laughing effect from Yaz’s “Situation.”

A warning: It’s a mixed bag, in the way that a bag mixed with different kinds of shit is still technically a mixed bag. Sad to think that the last post hit the worthwhile samples with Los Del Rios and Samantha Fox. Nonetheless, the laugh can be heard in a not-terrible 1982 Ser & Duff track that’s vaguely Girl Talk-like in its sample craziness. Hear the laugh at the 5:54 mark.

It’s also in Simon Harris’s 1988 track “Bass,” the video for which is at least educational about how weird pop culture got at the cusp of the 90s.

It’s in the 1990 Deee-Lite track “What Is Love?” (and no, it tragically has no relation to the Haddaway song of the same name). Listen for Alison’s laugh about six seconds in.

Some drag queen named Ondina used it in her 1997 song “Summer of Love,” about twelve seconds in. The resulting track sounds remarkably like a spoof song from “Deep House Dish.” I think Bill Hader would play Ondina.

A 1990 atrocity, “Tequila,” by the group Latino Party, features it around 1:47 in. The song sounds like a cross between a jock jam and what an ill-fated Fly Girl would have heard in her head as she fatally overdosed.

And it appears in the 1999 Belgium dance track “Party Time,” which I can only imagine being useful to cults for brainwashing purposes, what with its incessant chanting of “Tonight is party time / It’s party time tonight.”

Though Heidi Montag’s 2009 song-like thing, “Body Language,” steals almost every part of “Situation,” it weirdly omits the laugh. Also, no joke: It’s legitimately the best song on this list. But that could just be the brainmelt talking.

Despite all this I still like “Situation” and don’t blame it for this parade of horrors. And I think the real take-away here is yet even more proof that the easiest way to arrive at hard-to-find information online is to post what you have and let the information find you. Take that, traditional research.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

No, It's Just That My People Are Nordic

A few words in defense of Betty Francis (formerly Betty Draper):
And she just can’t stop doing it, the screaming and the blaming, even though it’s been going on way too loudly for way too long and no-one has any sympathy for it any more. Betty can’t let it go; now that she knows how to be angry, and how to let people know that she’s angry, she just can’t stop. I mean, consider: It took her several years, three kids, and countless life-altering, scandalous revelations for her to be able to talk to Don the way she now talks to Henry Francis pretty much every day. In previous seasons, when Betty was upset in the middle of a business dinner, her hands just went numb, or she threw up in the car on the way home. This season, she stomps off to the bathroom and has an out-and-out fit. She’s hit the mother load. We all said we wanted Betty to get in touch with her anger, but we expected that anger to look admirable and positive and feminist. We didn’t consider that it might just be anger. That she might just not bother to think about how she was serving the world or women or the audience when she finally got to the point of rage.
Read the rest here. I wholly agree.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Team Faye

Mad Men spoilers abound, but watch the goddamn episode already. Why are you reading a blog when you could be downloading it right now?

I just finished the last Mad Men of the season, and damn, did I underestimate this show's ability to surprise me. Though I suppose I should have figured that Faye's potential as the new Mrs. Don Draper ended when we found out that she just can't deal with children, since that nixed her from the life of the new, (somewhat) more moral Don.

A thought on her name: I wonder if I'm overreaching in wondering if Jon Hamm's experiences on 30 Rock might have played a role in naming Faye. After all, is Tina Fey not a woman who kicked ass at what many had considered to be a men-only job? Is Liz Lemon not a woman in a similar plight of the impossible balance between a woman's career and her desire to have a family? I'm sure Fays and Fayes and even Faes abounded in the 60s, but it was only tonight — when I realized I wouldn't be thinking about Dr. Faye Miller anymore — that I considered that Hamm's absorption into the Saturday Night Live-30 Rock clique has such that it might have just crossed Matthew Weiner's mind.

And it's not like Mad Men characters' names don't sometimes reflect personalities. Just see how much mileage you can get with Don Draper.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pretty Phantasmagorical

May I please present the opening to the 1976 BBC miniseries Children of the Stones, the entire run of which I watched while housesitting this summer. Though the show was intended for children, it incorporates some profound and complex themes about time. It often verges into creepy, unexplained territory that I liked, even though I watched it as an adult and even though the lights and film make much of it unmistakably phony. Think of it as, let’s say, the best episode ever of Are You Afraid of the Dark, just with accents.

I’m posting this clip, however, to let you all at the opening “theme song,” an atmospheric little choral composition that nicely sets the mood.. until the singing begins building up. This would normally indicate an upswing in tension. However, in the show (and in every single opening sequence) it kinds of builds to nothing aside from boulders, clouds and a musical, chaotic babble that suddenly falls into an in-unison sigh of relief that I came to interpret as the singers simultaneously running out of air and fainting. I thought it was funny, both in how often it figured into the show and how effectively it killed any air of mysticism.

And yes, by the way, I watched this because of Lost. And yes, I, ever the logophobe, dreaded the opening production company logo. Is it bad when the production company logo scares me more than the show itself?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dogs of Colorado

Because my out-of-town correspondents know to pitch me what I like, I can now present to you the following two items. Both are dog- and Colorado-related. First, proof that someone in Colorado has an affinity for dogs — and more of a sense of whimsy than I would expect from a state I associate with rocks, trees, altitude and other outdoorsy qualities.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, Coloradan dogs can shoot laser beams from their eyes, which would explain the curiously low cat population.

More as these stories develop.

Palmyra Is in the Room

Random fact about something I care about but you may neither know nor care about: The Soul Coughing album Ruby Vroom is named after Ruby Froom, the daughter of singer Susan Vega, who consented to the honor only if album title was slightly modified from her daughter’s actual name.

Given that the girl is now old enough to Google herself and may not want to sort through page after page of Mike Doughty fanpages, I’d say Vega made a good call. Of course, now that I posted this, it will show up whenever this girl Googles herself. If so: Hi Ruby! Your mom is cool!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

If Your Wedding Takes Place in Africa

I enjoy offering readers glimpses into the mundane that quickly turn surreal and unpleasant. Not even the local weather is safe.

From a strange public service announcement regarding the plight of Third World inhabitants, via Buzzfeed.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

She Laughed for Twenty-Eight Years

This is a post about a laugh that you have heard before if you have any awareness of pop culture. Think of it as a pop music equivalent to the Wilhelm Scream.

Though I like to consider myself someone with a good knowledge of 80s music, I occasionally discover an artist that has escaped my notice. The all-too-frequent cause? Britishness — theirs, not mine.  I sometimes forget that that little island over there has culture (or something approaching it), and that the less-brightly-burning stars of the motherland usually stay there, resulting in total confusion for us American media gadflies when we run across headlines like this one: “Sinitta ‘texted Cole over Gamu X Factor axe.’” There are at least three things in that sentence that I don’t understand. If you can explain it, don’t. Just don’t.

Most recently, the 80s singer who came to my attention is Samantha Fox, who had a worldwide hit in 1986 with her debut single “Touch Me (I Want Your Body).”  I don’t know how, exactly, but she just existed in a cultural blind spot for me until this week. And it was one of those instances where the person I’m talking to says, “Oh, when you hear it, you’ll recognize it.” Nope. No flicker of recognition. In any case, Fox has continued to record through today, releasing lesser hits and a dreadful cover of Dustry Springfield’s “I Only Want to Be With You” that would maybe tie Kylie Minogue’s remake of “The Loco-Motion” as the best musical evidence aliens could use to support a plan to mercy-kill our planet. Truth be told, I didn’t even dig any of her songs all that much, but I’m posting one, “I Wanna Have Some Fun,” for this simple reason: It contains a laugh that I’d heard before around the 1:30 mark.

Here, see if you’ve recognize it:

If you’re like me, you heard that echoing laugh and immediately thought of the song “Situation” by Yaz, which features the laugh about twenty seconds in.

And if you had ever been stuck in traffic next to someone who was blasting “Macarena” — and this happened to me this year, I should note — you would have had an opportunity to hear the laugh again. Evidence: here. (And no, I’m not embedding a video of “Macarena” on my blog, because I have standards, and I will only write about bad music most people don’t already know. And yes, the laugh only can be be heard in certain versions of the song, which I know because I actually watched a five-minute-long video for the wrong one, thus necessitating a second listen-through of a different version. Hell christ.) Take my word for it, the laugh is there, right at the beginning.

So what’s up?

It turns out the laugh belongs to Alison Moyet, the female half of Yaz (and, later, the singer of “Love Resurrection,” which doesn’t suck and the video for which features camels). Wikipedia and a few dozen other sites claim that anywhere between several songs and thousands of songs also feature the laugh, but I can’t find anywhere that lists these. I’m genuinely curious to know. These invisible pop culture trends fascinate me, and now I’m wondering if other songs I know have this lady’s throaty laughter, still echoing, hauntingly, as if she saw something funny in a tile bathroom.

Hit the jump for more examples of the Moyet laugh. (And I will warn you now that from here on out it’s a mixed bag, inasmuch as a bag mixed with different kinds of shit is still technically a mixed bag.)

The Moyet laugh can be heard in a not-terrible 1982 Ser & Duff track that’s vaguely Girl Talk-like in its sample craziness. Hear the laugh at the 5:54 mark.

It’s also in Simon Harris’s 1988 track “Bass,” the video for which is at least educational about how weird pop culture got at the cusp of the 90s. You can hear the sample just after the one-minute mark.

It’s in the 1990 Deee-Lite track “What Is Love?” (and no, it tragically has no relation to the Haddaway song of the same name). Listen for Alison’s laugh about six seconds in.

Some drag queen named Ondina used it in her 1997 song “Summer of Love,” about fifteen seconds in. The resulting track sounds remarkably like a spoof song from “Deep House Dish.” I think Bill Hader would play Ondina.

A 1990 atrocity, “Tequila,” by the group Latino Party, features it around 1:47 in. The song sounds like a cross between a jock jam and what an ill-fated Fly Girl would have heard in her head as she fatally overdosed.

And it appears in the 1999 Belgium dance track “Party Time,” which I can only imagine being useful to cults for brainwashing purposes, what with its incessant chanting of “Tonight is party time / It’s party time tonight.”

Finally, though Heidi Montag’s 2009 song-like thing, “Body Language,” steals almost every part of “Situation,” it weirdly omits the laugh.

Thing is, I’m not sure that the Moyet laugh actually adds anything to any of these songs aside from just making them part of this weird group that features the laugh. The meme exists only to continue the meme. Which, I mean, good for it?

80s music, previously:

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Word for When the Dust Settles

A strange and wonderful words hat trick: a single term that can mean three different things, all of them pinpoint specific.
pulveratricious (pull-ver-uh-TRISH-us) — adjective: 1. (of birds) nesting on the ground. 2. dust-colored. 3. covered with dust.
The word comes from the Latin pulvis, meaning “dust,” which also gives us the English pulverize and which is related the words pollen and polenta. With birds, pulveratricious refers to the habits of certain birds that wallow in dust as a means of cleaning or maintaining their feathers. As William R. Long notes, such a bird would be called a pulveratrix, though the term is unfortunately not often used anymore despite how well it describes these birds’ habits. Pulveratricious doesn’t show up in most dictionaries, but Wiktionary at least has it, though only with the bird-related definition. It’s cited in various placed online, however, to also mean “dust-colored,” which is logical since that’s how anything would if it played in dust all day. Finally, it’s noted even still fewer places that it can just mean “covered with dust,” which kind of also means “dust-colored,” depending on how you look at it.

I think the take-away here is that when you’re eating polenta, you’re really just eating dust. Well, that’s what I took away. Now, to sing us out, the lovely and incomparable Pulveratricious Springfield.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sour, Dried Grapes

For various reasons, I’ve had to think about the TV show Dallas, which in turn reminded me of the existence of a CBS parody miniseries called Fresno. It starred Carol Burnett as Charlotte Kensington, the matriarch of a family working in the cut-throat raisin industry, propelled by the by the motto “We dry no vine before its time.” Fresno also tok digs at the plethora of other “scheming white people” shows that were popular in the day, like Dynasty and Falcon Crest. Overall, it doesn’t hold up as well as I would have liked it to, but you have to respect any series built on the joke that Fresno is a festering crap hole. Having actually been through Frenso more often than any good person should (once), I’m amused by the opening titles featuring sweeping shots of a weirdly verdant version of the city.

Also pretty great: The above video also includes Fresno character Bobbi Jo Bobb (Teresa Ganzel) singing the show’s country western love theme, which begins with the lyrics, “Just because you’re a migrant worker / Don’t mean we have a migrant love.”

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Rene Magritte Would Be Proud of Colorado

A report from a correspondent near Denver: Road signs there are nonsensical, contradictory perhaps poorly planned.

I blame the altitude-thinned air.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Old Man Justice

I’ve pulled pixel art from Game & Graphics before, posted it here and raved about the crazy nostalgia aesthetics. This morning, I’m doing it again: the backdrop from the courtroom scene in Chrono Trigger. It was perhaps the only intersection of judicial drama and video games in all of my pre-teen years, and I’m fairly certain it set me up to find all subsequent, real-life courtroom proceedings to be lacking in grandeur.

Regardless, you have to admit that it’s a lovely pixelated representation of stained glass — certainly as lovely as you will likely see today.

Law, Order and Skeez

Theory: The Law & Order: Special Victims Unit opening song sounds like a porn soundtrack version of the regular (now former) Law & Order theme. And given that SVU deals specifically with victims of sex crimes, that seems to be somewhat in poor taste. (Different from porn tatste.)

Your thoughts on the subject are welcomed.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pleased to Meet You, Vegetable Lamb of Tartary

Given the considerable amount of human storytelling recorded since writing was invented and given how much people rely on plants to live, one would think that the Wikipedia category for “mythological plants” would offer a multitude of tales about half-plant, half-man hybrids that each amaze and delight. One would be wrong. As of now, this particular Wikipedia category offers only five pages. Sure, more can be found in the “sacred trees” and “dryads” subcategories, but really? Even disregarding not-so-mythological plantmonsters like Charlie Brown’s kite-eating tree and Swamp Thing, I’m a little surprised that more stories about monstrous plants haven’t been mentioned frequently enough to at least warrant a dozen entries.

I’m not saying that the wikiskipping that lead me to this page was for nothing, however, because the slim pickings still offer some gems.

Like the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary.

Yep, you read that correctly.

Everything in that name means exactly what you think it would: The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary is a mythological plant that people believed grew sheep as fruit. (And I swear I’m not making this up.) In medieval times — back when people thought ghosts and wet air caused disease, it should be noted — this plant supposedly existed. The sheep-fruit looked and acted much like the non-vegetable-derived sheep, only they were attached to their herbaceous hosts by an umbilical cord. The sheep-fruit grazed as they pleased until they ate all the greens reachable within the umbilical cord-mandated radius, at which point both sheep and host plant died.

To further illustrate the point, I will reproduce the passage Wikipedia offers from Henry Lee’s 1887 book The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, which, given its publishing date, I hope to god is a history of the myth and not an explanation for how this sheep-plant could exist. Wikipedia is unclear.
Lee describes the legendary lamb as believed to be both a true animal and a living plant. However, he states that some writers believed the lamb to be the fruit of a plant, sprouting forward from melon-like seeds. Others however believed the lamb to be a living member of the plant that once separated from it, would perish. The vegetable lamb was believed to have blood, bones, and flesh like that of a normal lamb. It was connected to the earth by a stem similar to an umbilical cord that propped the lamb up above ground. The cord could flex downward allowing the lamb to feed on the grass and plants surrounding it. Once the plants within reach were eaten, the lamb died. It could be eaten once dead, and its blood supposedly tasted sweet like honey. Its wool was said to be used by the native people of its homeland to make head coverings and other articles of clothing. The only carnivorous animals attracted to the lamb-plant (other than humans) were wolves.
Decidedly unintelligent design. MEDIEVAL PEOPLE: THIS IS WHY MIDDLE AGE FOR YOU WAS SEVENTEEN. But it did not stop with sheep. Goose-plants also were believed to exist.
The Minorite Friar Odoricus of Friuli, upon recalling first hearing of [the lamb-plant], told of trees on the shore of the Irish Sea with gourd-like fruits that fell into the water and became birds called Bernacles. He is referring to the legendary plant-animal, the Barnacle Tree which was believed to drop its ripened fruit into the sea near the Orkney Islands. The ripened fruit would then release “barnacle geese” that would live in the water, growing to mature geese. The alleged existence of this fellow plant-animal was accepted as an explanation for migrating geese from the North.
The presumed explanation for these beliefs (that, by the way, make me so grateful to have been born in 1982) goes back to two sources: a desire to explain the existence of cotton (because watching cotton grow apparently couldn’t cut it) and the fern Cibotium barometz, the species of which name is a Scythian word for “lamb.” The plant’s rhizome, when stripped of its leaves, has a certain wooly appearance that sort of looks like a little lamb. See?

How anyone stretched these sheep-looking husks into stories about sheep-fruit, much less got anyone else to believe them, boggles my twenty-first-century mind, but then again I shudder to think how they’ll laugh at us in the future. (“To think of it! Back in the late twentieth century, people thought the computers would fail and the world would end! The fools! And now we’re all married to computers!”) Honestly, I would rather that the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary were real, but just like how it’s not witches who sour our butter and demons who cause our nocturnal embarrassments, life is dull and nothing is fun.

Monday, October 4, 2010

“Please Don’t Kill Me, Mr. Ghostface! I Want to Be in the Sequel!”

Alas, Tatum didn’t survive for Scream 2, but her death scene in the now fourteen-year-old slasher flick still fascinates me. I like that she uses brains to fight the killer off — and damn nearly succeeds, unlike so many ill-fated blondes in such films — but is ultimately done in by the trait that perhaps most identifies her as a horror movie bimbo: her boobs. If only she had rocked B-cups, she would have likely fit through the kitty door in the garage instead of getting stuck, having it rise (rather implausibly, but I’m not complaining) and getting crushed to death. There’s something Freudian in that both her one chance at escape but and her death come as a result of the kitty door. And don’t think that I’m being too pervy for calling it a “kitty door.” It’s generally called a doggie door, yes, but in this movie we see a cat run through the door only moments before it kills Tatum.

Over at Stale Popcorn, the author is proceeding through the Scream trilogy, scene by scene. And though I’ve been enjoying the posts, I’ve been waiting all this while to see what he’d make of Tatum’s big scene. He picked out one screen grab of when Tatum first comes face-to-mask with the killer. It’s noted that the way the killer towers over Tatum adds to the sadness and unrealness of the shot in a way that’s not so apparent when the film is in motion, and I agree. Really, with a shot like this, it’s clear already that Tatum wouldn’t be leaving the garage alive. As if the blonde girl ever stood a chance.

Aside from dispatching one of the few horror movie victims I’ve ever cared a bit about, the scene is also notably because the victim names the killer. Tatum, thinking it’s Randy playing a joke, fake-pleads, “Please don’t kill me, Mr. Ghostface. I want to be in the sequel!” in the breathy voice of a bad actress. That name, Mr. Ghostface, is the closest the series ever came to naming the Scream costume, and it’s that name that still appears on the Halloween versions to this day.

Way to make a legacy for yourself, Tatum, even if you won’t be around to see your old friend terrorize the likes of Emma Roberts, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell and Hayden Panettiere. I’m still not sold on Scream 4, but I have to admit: It’s an interesting cast they’ve jumbled together.

Scream, previously: