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Our week of dark art continues apace…hopefully you aren’t too overwhelmed by the vistas of beauty and horror…yet…MWAHAHA… Today we feature an image from a living artist, Santiago Caruso, an Argentine illustrator who is well-known for creating unique artworks for horror literature.  Gustave Doré and Alfred Kubin have passed on their great reward, but Santiago is very much in the world of the living, so I am just going to post the one sample image above and recommend that you look him up or, better yet, go to his web gallery (so he gets the traffic for himself).  The picture above shows the mind as a haunted cabinet of curiosities–a conceit which appeals to me greatly. Among the oddities on display are a cornucopia, a snake skeleton, and a twisted dark duck, but clearly there is more in the cabinet…and more which might be in the cabinet.  The Latin epigram is from the great dark masterpiece of silver-aged Roman literature The Golden Ass.  Roughly translated, it says “That which nobody knows about almost did not happen.”  It makes one wonder what skeletons are in this ghastly closet (as though that was not already the foremost thought in everyone’s head as our ghastly election enters the homestretch).  Go check out Santiago’s other work (although some of it is pretty NSFW) and think about the strange curiosities in your mental cabinet…if you dare…MWAHAHAHA.

"Happy" the Happy Meal (a fully owned, fully licensed creation of McDonald's)

“Happy” the Happy Meal (a fully owned, fully licensed creation of McDonald’s)

Today Ferrebeekeeper abjectly drops all discussion of space exploration, art, literature, zoology, and history in order to concentrate on the biggest trending topic of the day–a disquieting animated character who takes the form of a weird toothy box. What’s the story here? Well, it turns out that, McDonald’s, the globe-spanning fast-food eatery has introduced a new mascot, “Happy” a happy meal box who wants kids to eat their vegetables and yogurt. The internet is awash in jokes about Happy’s lurid color, ambiguous motivations, and his oh-so-human (and oh-so-large) teeth. Mascots have been a subject of great interest to me ever since the black-and-white TV introduced me to the McDonaldland gang when I was a bright nervous child so I feel like we can do better for Happy (well, better than Gawker’s boilerplate jokes at least) and unpackage some of his history.

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McDonald’s is an American restaurant (actually considering its name & its obsession with cheap beef and potatoes, maybe it’s Irish-American) which began in 1940 in California as a barbecue joint. After the Second World War it changed into a hamburger restaurant and then spread its wings to become the most successful chain restaurant in history. One of the important steps of its evolution into an international corporate hegemon was developing a colorful crew of mascot characters to sell burgers, fries, and, above all, “the McDonald’s brand” to impressionable children (like me!).

The McDonaldland Gang (from a 1973 book cover)

The McDonaldland Gang (from a 1973 book cover)

In the early 1970s, an advertising agency introduced a whole team of mascots collectively known as McDonaldland to the world. The concept was based on the drugged-up fantasy landscape of H.R. Pufnstuf (a surreal puppet show which has cast long delirious shadows over children’s programming ever since it aired). True to the source material, the original cast was a disquieting mélange of weird beings: Mayor McCheese, a corrupt bureaucrat whose head is made of a cheeseburger; Hamburglar, a muttering lunatic thief; and, of course, Ronald McDonald, the dangerous-looking clown prince of the anthropomorphized fast-food landscape.

Grimace

Grimace

Some of the characters were quickly revised. Grimace was originally a villainous purple octopus with a monomaniacal love for milkshakes. Unfortunately early consumer tests determined that children were terrified of the multi-armed abomination. Flummoxed ad-executives were prepared to rework the entire concept, when one perspicacious adman came up with a brainstorm characteristic of the industry. “Let’s just rip his arms off!” he said. So Grimace–whom many people doubtless think of as a mitochondria or a rhizome—is actually an octopus whose arms were amputated by drunken 1970s admen.

"Good-Bye to All That"

“Good-Bye to All That”

The McDonaldland gang hit their heyday in the 1980s, when they were everywhere. Figures were abruptly retired (like poor Captain Cook) or changed, while new ones such as Birdie the breakfast bird made sudden appearances. Yet times change, and contemporary McDonald’s is trying to put McDonaldland behind them. Ronald McDonald has kept his position as a figurehead (much like Mickey Mouse) and the other characters sometimes appear in weathered murals or old playground equipment, but today’s advertising concentrates on pseudo-healthy communities of friends eating together and “lovin’ it”.

mcdonalds im lovin it button

The happy meal, however, continues to attract children with its colorful bag and complimentary toy. It also continues to attract regulators and litigation, so McDonald’s swung into action and created Happy. The animated box started out in the minors—France and Latin America–where he (it?) attained sufficient success to leap to the American market this month.

These forms of Happy never made it out of France: McDonald's does not need two mascot controversies at once

These forms of Happy never made it out of France: McDonald’s does not need two mascot controversies at once

With his loopy eyes, boxy form, and infinite hungry maw, Happy seems like he could almost be a throwback to the McDonaldland era. Yet he is patently a computer animation rather than a human-inhabited puppet. Additionally his putative raison d’être is to convince kids to pursue healthier eating habits. According to McDonald’s own press release:

McDonald’s today introduced “Happy,” a new animated Happy Meal character that brings fun and excitement to kids’ meals while also serving as an ambassador for balanced and wholesome eating. Happy will be introduced nationwide May 23, and will encourage kids to enjoy fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and wholesome beverages such as water or juice.

That certainly sounds admirable, but adults take one look at Happy and shudder. Moreover his true purpose is obvious to us (after all we have spent a lifetime eating under the golden arches): he is obviously meant to sell McDonald’s products to kids. It’s easy to be cynical about him—but I now look back at the strained look on my parents’ faces as they endured the burglars, killer clowns, evil octopi, and pirates of my youth with new understanding. Corporate mascots are friendly monsters who entice children to buy sundry unnecessary goods and services. Kids should get used to brushing them off as soon as possible. It is fine preparation for adult life when the corporate monsters take off their googly eyes and apply their coercion more directly.

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Spider Gate to Hoveton Hall Gardens

Spider Gate to Hoveton Hall Gardens

There are few images as powerful and straightforward as a door.  Doors represent change and transition —when one steps across the threshold one has literally moved on from one place to another.  This apparently simple purpose of doors has a deeper metaphorical aspect as well: a pauper daily walks by the gates of the palace but they do not open for him; a baby is carried out of the hospital into the world; an inmate is dragged into a prison and is held there by the portcullis.  The most dramatic doors are huge operatic gates which represent significant transition.  These magnificent structures tend to be found outside palaces, parks, insane asylums, and cemeteries, but sometimes they seem to have no purpose at all…

An ornate gate outside St. Petersburg, Russia

An ornate gate outside St. Petersburg, Russia

As we approach Halloween—the one night of the year when the doors between this world and the next are thrown open (well, according to myth anyway), it is appropriate to celebrate the  foreboding gates in our world. Below is a gallery of magnificent gates–not all are truly gothic (a few images of non-gothic gates were too good to pass up) but they are all affecting and impressive.

University of Chicago: Cobb Gate

University of Chicago: Cobb Gate

Town Gate at Suakin (Anthony Ham)

Town Gate at Suakin (Anthony Ham)

Gatehouse at Ballysaggartmore

Gatehouse at Ballysaggartmore

Gate to Chirk Castle, Wales

Gate to Chirk Castle, Wales

Crown Hill Cemetery Gate

Crown Hill Cemetery Gate

Forest Hill Cemetery, Boston

Forest Hill Cemetery, Boston

Unknown Gate

Unknown Gate

Private Modern Gate

Private Modern Gate

Gothic gate in old park in Taitsy

Gothic gate in old park in Taitsy

Gate Lodge to Annesgrove Gardens

Gate Lodge to Annesgrove Gardens

Gate to Fort Canning Green, Singapore

Gate to Fort Canning Green, Singapore

Gate to Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn

Gate to Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn

Gate to Hood Cemetery, Philadelphia

Gate to Hood Cemetery, Philadelphia

Neubrandenburg Town Gate

Neubrandenburg Town Gate

A rich person's iron gate

A rich person’s iron gate

Mount Royal Cemetery , Montreal

Mount Royal Cemetery , Montreal

Unknown Abandoned Gate

Unknown Abandoned Gate

Gate at Oxford University

Gate at Oxford University

Gate to Walled City of Rothenburg

Gate to Walled City of Rothenburg

Steven King standing at the gate of his house in Bangor Maine

Stephen King standing at the gate of his house in Bangor Maine

Traverse City Insane Asylum, Michigan

Traverse City Insane Asylum, Michigan

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