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This year’s Halloween theme (both in Ferrebeekeeper and our benighted democracy) is “Evil Clowns”.  Clowns date back to dynastic Egypt and they have always been liminal figures who have straddled lines between wisdom and foolishness, outcast and insider, living person and weird effigy, and even between good and evil.  Evil clowns really got up and running as a meme in the 19th century with stories like “Hop Frog” by Edgar Allan Poe, yet there is a critical precursor which I overlooked.  Back when I was young and innocent, I started a toy company with a mysterious & dodgy business person I met.  For some reason, running an international business proved impossible, but I loved making toys and I also enjoyed looking back through the history of toys which combines cultural, technological, and art history (and which stretches to before Eridu rose from the mud).  Evil clowns turn out to have a very direct link with one of the most successful and powerful toy concepts of the last thousand years.

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In the early 16th century, a German clock-maker known as Claus built the first known example of what we would call a “Jack in the Box” for a local princeling.  Claus built a wooden box which popped open when the user turned the crank.  Except it wasn’t a clown that popped out, it was a devil!  The French name for this toy is “diable en boîte” (devil in a box) which hearkens back to the first generation jack-in-the-boxes which were all devils.   Some toy historians speculate that all of this was related to a 14th century English prelate named Sir John Schorne who was said to possess a boot with a devil inside it (for reasons which are obscure).

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Fairly on, jack-in-the-box toys diversified from being just devils, but a lot of these clowns maintained a sort of Krampus-like demonic aspect to them.  Here are some photos I stole at random from around the web and I think they illustrate how alarming Jack in the boxes are (although people with sensitive and anxious temperaments could already tell you that–this is after all a toy meant to startle you)

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Gah! Just look at these puppies…and they were made for children.  Jack-in-the-boxes are already bad enough, but imagine if one of these things popped out.  The depraved marketers for the movie “It” made a jack-in-the-box featuring Pennywise, the evil clown from that movie (see below) but frankly Pennywise looks like he would be mugged by any of these older anonymous jack-in-the-box clowns.  It is hard to say anything with certainty when we are talking about nebulous and ancient cultural concepts, but I wonder if the idea of clowns as terrifying bogey-men didn’t come as much from generations of jack-in-the-box scarred children as from literary lions like King and Poe.

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We are in the second half of October and it’s high time to reveal Ferrebeekeeper’s Halloween theme for 2019!  Past years have featured themes like Flowers of the Underworld, The Mother of Monsters, Flaying, Necropolises, and, my personal favorite, The Undead.  A cursory glance at the top-selling masks at the giant costume shop on Broadway has made me realize that this year can only have one choice.  For mysterious reasons which probably have half to do with contemporary American politics and half to do with winding up an accursed jack-in-the-box found at the annex of Hell (insomuch as those two things are different), this is the year of scary clowns.  Who is Ferrebeekeeper to stand in the way of this tiny car filled with quasi-infinite dark pranksters?

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In 2019 Joker, Harley Quinn, and Pennywise rule the box office,  Pagliacci rules the opera house, and “Clown Girl” rules the Barnes and Noble (ok, actually, maybe I am the only person who read Monica Drake’s perplexing 2007 down-and-out in Baloneytown novel, but it has certainly stayed with me).

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Clowns are hardly a modern or even a western phenomena.  They stretch through almost every culture and, as we shall see, they trace their roots to the beginning of civilization (and probably beyond).  Carl Jung, who has many strange and interesting things to say, sees teh trickster as one of the oldest and most fundamental archetypes which humans recreate again and again.  On one hand the trickster is a figure of buffoonish comic fun, and yet,  the trickster’s nature has always been dual.  Let’s hear a quote from Jung himself (from Four Archetypes: Mother Rebirth Spirit Trickster):

In picaresque tales, in carnivals and revels, in magic rites of healing, in man’s religious fears and exaltations, this phantom of the trickster haunts the mythology of all ages, sometimes in quite unmistakable form, sometimes in strangely modulated guise.n He is obviously a “psychologem,” an archetypal psychic structure of extreme antiquity. In his clearest manifestations he is a faithful reflection of an absolutely undifferentiated human consciousness, corresponding to a psyche that has hardly left the animal level. That this is how the trickster figure originated can hardly be contested if we look at it from the causal and historical angle. In psychology as in biology we cannot afford to overlook or underestimate this question of origins, although the answer usually tells us nothing about the functional meaning. For this reason biology should never forget the question of purpose, for only by answering that can we get at the meaning of a phenomenon. Even in pathology, where we are concerned with lesions which have no meaning in themselves, the exclusively causal approach proves to be inadequate, since there are a number of pathological phenomena which only give up their meaning when we inquire into their purpose. And where we are concerned with the normal phenomena of life, this question of purpose takes undisputed precedence.

Wow! Brother Carl really did have some peculiar things to say.  What on Earth is he talking about?  Join me in the days leading up to Halloween and we will see if we can make sense of what he is talking about by looking at clowns in history and art, and running the trickster back to his/her ancient roots.

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Of course, trying to trap and analyze the ancient spirit of dark mischief doesn’t sound like a venture which is going to work, but at least there should be some spine-tingling surprises and some hair raising mishief (and maybe some funny pratfalls).  Anyway, it’s all in good seasonal fun.  What is the worst that could happen?

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Oh…

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Are you afraid of Lyme disease?  The tick-borne illness has become a major health concern in the Northeastern part of America and in Western Europe.  As many as 365,000 people are infected every year, and the number is growing (as is the habitat of the ticks which spread the disease).

There was a perfectly safe and effective vaccine against Lyme disease which was available in the 1990s.  It was marketed as “LYMErix” by the pharmaceutical company which is now known as Glaxosmithkline, but which was then called something else (has anyone noticed how the names of pharma companies themselves mutate and get weirder and weirder? it must be a side effect of the industry, but it perplexes me as to what the exact mechanism is).  Three $50.00 shots were needed, but they protected against Lyme disease to a high degree of efficacy (by allowing the immune system to immediately target the proteins on the cell coating of the Borrelia bacteria).

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Unfortunately, just as the nineties contained the seeds of today’s political stalemate, it was also a time when the misbegotten anti-vaxxer hoaxes, lies, and misinformation were starting to go mainstream.  The sad fate of LYMErix was an early harbinger of the bad things to come.  The vaccine was properly tested, vetted, and approved through the FDA’s lengthy and comprehensive approval process, yet some immune specialists at the FDA voiced a concern that Lymerix could cause autoimmune problems.  Extensive research found that it did indeed cause such problems…in a small percentage of hamsters.

This news (which was breathlessly reported by the media) came at the same time as the Lancet’s infamous & discredited false articles about important vaccines.  Some LYMErix users came forward with claims of agonizing super arthritis which they believed was caused by the vaccine (although the FDA’s tests and surveys found the same rate of such symptoms in vaccinated and unvaccinated populations).

Nevertheless the damage was done.  The pharma company pulled the product from the shelves over the bad publicity and it is has not been available since 2002…despite extensive evidence that it was safe and effective (albeit expensive).  By now the vaccine could be made generically for a fraction of the price…but phara executives are disinterested since they would have to fight an expensive PR campaign for low profits.  In the mean time high profits and free publicity are available to pseudoscientific quacks who gets rich preying on the fears of poorly educated or credulous people who do not know what to believe.

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To say nothing of goddamn lawyers…

Like the story of the world’s best and most life-saving antivenin, I find this story infuriating.  The market is touted as godlike and infallible by (highly paid) economists, but here is yet another abject market failure (although I am happy to share out the blame to scientific illiteracy of anti-vaxxers and to scary and not-very-good journalism).   I do not necessarily have a solution, but it seems to me that if drug companies are not addressing actual problems like antibiotic resistant superbugs, deadly snakebites, and Lyme disease while at the same time they are actively promoting and profiting from the opioid crisis, perhaps their cozy relationship with government funded research, government regulators, and with lucrative patents needs to be rethought.  We are seeing more and more market failures in every business sector (because of regulatory capture, monopolization, and, lately, good-old fashioned graft), but the biomedical ones are particularly chilling.  It’s time to smash some of these companies up, nationalize others in the name of public health, and to pour a great deal more money into public research which has public benefits.  As things stand now, the government, universities, and philanthropists pay for research and pharmaceutical companies come along and benefit from it with duopoly/cartel practices.

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There is an upside to all of this though. You can get a safe effective and harmless Lyme disease vaccine for your dog.  A lot of the people I talk to desperately wish that the health services available for their pets were available to them for the same prices.  Here is another example where our furry friends have cheaper and better care…because of market successes! Why is everything so complicated?

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It is getting to be the end of October and there is no reason to wait any longer for our special annual Halloween series–a series of posts about a specific unsettling yet evocative topic (which hopefully speaks to broader themes of life). In years past, Ferrebeekeeper’s Halloween edition has featured topics such as the mother of monsters, flowers of the underworld, flaying, serpents, and (a particular favorite) the undead! Where do we go from those awesome, spooktacular topics?

As you can see by glancing at the category cloud to the left, Ferrebeekeeper’s biggest new category is cities (or maybe you can’t see it, if you are looking at a cellphone or a particular browser or something…sadly, Ferrebeekeeper understands WordPress less by the day, but that doesn’t change my urban fixation).

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Once, not long ago, cities were rare or non-existent(try to imagine that), yet, as humankind continues to relentlessly expand, all the world is becoming one continuous city.   To thoughtful people who worry about the future of the biosphere, this fact represents a horror of a whole different magnitude than imaginary monsters, spooky gardens, or even the all-too-real homicidal maniacs of yore.  The forests, the steppes, the coasts, the farmlands, even the uncompromising desert…they are all going.  What we are left with is a homogeneous sprawl of concrete and plastic habitats where people drive their deadly benzine buggies from one identical shop to the next (or simply sit all day in taupe offices staring at screens filled with hateful numbers and rules for rich people).  It is a truly chilling dystopia–and it is here already!

So, up until Halloween Ferrebeekeeper will feature lost and destroyed cities, necropolises, evil metropolises, and twisted urban horror, but for this introductory post, I will just present…[scary melodramatic music] an infographic map! [disembodied screaming].

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Here is the United States reassembled and blocked out by land use. Upon initial perusal, this graphic (from Bloomberg, 2018) seems pretty encouraging. Cows! Forests! Wilderness! National parks! Our great empty continent will be the land of the free forevermore!  Yet, as we concentrate more on what is really there, it is increasingly astonishing.  There is a lot of pink and red! If the United States were a garden and the map’s pink and red bits were statues, we would say it was a statue garden.  Admittedly, the non pink and red portions of the map convey their own shocking aspects as well.  How come a 30th of our nation is given over to economically unfeasible and environmentally unsound ethanol production? What the devil is a Weyerhaeuser? GOLF? Seriously? I have never met anyone under 50 (or anyone who was not a white dude) who ever even played it. Now I am not without sympathy for middle-aged white dudes. Yet apparently this dumb game takes up more space than say, Connecticut.

[Also, I apologize to our international readers: I would love to see the world this way, but it looks like the metrics might just not be there yet.  We will have to take the United States as an exemplar for the moment]

Anyway, this is a long introduction for 2018’s Halloween special: Cities of Horror and the Dead (which will get more spooky and less preachy as we go on).  This is also a good starting post for really thinking about how cities are inexorably growing and how we are engineering them to be asphault dead zones.  I live in a city (indeed, THE City), but I worry about what the planet will be like if Earth becomes more of an ecumenopolis. Cities can be more scary than any place I know of.  Yet if they come out weird and creepy it is because they were poorly put together.  The scariest horror movies I know are the ones where the protagonist chases the monster straight into the mirror.  What could be worse than finding out you are not the hero, but a villain? Cities are that mirror. Let’s see what we can see in their shining dark depths.

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Mastiff Bat Vessel (Moche, 50-200 AD North Coast, Peru, Earthenware)

Mastiff Bat Vessel (Moche, 50-200 AD North Coast, Peru, Earthenware)

Longtime readers will remember that Ferrebeekeeper has a great fondness for the magnificent art and pottery of the Moche, a civilization noted for sophisticated agriculture, ultra-violence, and, um, magnificent art and pottery. The Moche lived in the rich coastal lands of what is now northern Peru. In the past we have written about their art of sea monsters and human sacrifice, and of waterfowl. Today we look at Moche bat-themed art.

Crescent-Shaped Ornament with Bat, C.E. 1 - 300 (from the Brooklyn Museum)

Crescent-Shaped Ornament with Bat, C.E. 1 – 300 (from the Brooklyn Museum)

Double lobed whistling bat sculpture (Ca. 450 - 800 A.D.) the bat makes a chirping/whistling noise when water is poured out and air is blown in

Double lobed whistling bat sculpture (Ca. 450 – 800 A.D.) the bat makes a chirping/whistling noise when water is poured out and air is blown in

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Gold Bat Ornament (Moche)

Gold Bat Ornament (Moche)

Bats were beloved subjects of much pre-Colombian art (I owe everyone a post about the bat in Aztec art and myth). Although they were great artists, the Moche were scary people who were always sacrificing and garroting and flaying (more about that next week) and excarnating and hanging corpses everywhere. Yeesh… Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bats of Moche art are scary creatures with grimacing monster teeth and near-human expressions of malice and grief.

Early Intermediate (Moche IV), Mochica Molded stirrup-spout vessel, A.D. 500–700 Ceramic with red and white slip North coast, Peru

Early Intermediate (Moche IV), Mochica Molded stirrup-spout vessel, A.D. 500–700 Ceramic with red and white slip North coast, Peru

Moche IV ceramic stirrup spout bat form effigy vessel

Moche IV ceramic stirrup spout bat form effigy vessel

Sadly we don’t know precisely what place the bat held in Moche mythology. In fact we don’t know anything about Moche mythology except what we can intuit visually. However there are lots of bats to visually interpret and it seems like a safe bet that they had a chthonic underworld meaning (as they do in Western art and culture). These bats are demons and monsters born of the dark night-side of the human spirit.

Moche Vessel (Early Intermediate period) Bat demon

Moche Vessel (Early Intermediate period) Bat demon

Probably Moche (?) AD 200-500

Probably Moche (?) AD 200-500

All of these grimacing fanged bats with bared claws and anguished eyes make me think of the Moche people themselves—caught up in their centuries-long game of bloody worship and savage status. I wish I could help them, or even understand them, but they are gone. All we have are their skeletons and their beautiful dark art.

Moche - Pair of Gilt Bat Appliques. Loma Negra, Peru.

Moche – Pair of Gilt Bat Appliques. Loma Negra, Peru.

Gold Nasal Ornament with bat (Moche)

Gold Nasal Ornament with bat (Moche)

Donut in the Northern Gloom (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, Color Pencil and Ink)

Donut in the Northern Gloom (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, Color Pencil and Ink)

As I promised, here are some sketches from my little book which I carry around with me and draw in.  The first one, above, is another one of my enigmatic donuts.  This one seems to exist in the gloomy darkness of evening.  A fire burns on the horizon as a grub-man calls out to a woman with a scientific apparatus.  The reindeer seems largely unconcerned, by these human doings.  In the picture immediately below, an orchid-like flower blooms by some industrial docks. Inside the pedals it offers rows of cryptic symbols to the viewer.

Fragmipedium (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Fragmipedium (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Here is a quick sketch of Manhattan’s San Gennaro festival.  I walked to the corner of the street to draw the lights, wile my roommate got her fortune read by a jocular and likable (yet ingeniously avaricious) fortune teller located in an alcove just to the right of the composition!

San Gennaro in Little Italy (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

San Gennaro in Little Italy (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

I sketched a cornucopia with some invertebrates while I was waiting in line at the post office (there was only one clerk who had to deal with a vast line of Wall Street characters sending elaborate registered packages around the world). It was not an ordeal for me–I had my sketch book, and was getting paid to wait in line!  The guy beside me stopped playing with his infernal phone-thingy to watch me draw.  Note the multiple mollusks which flourish in the painting.  I think the ammonite has real personality

Cornu, cornus (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Cornu, cornus (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Last is a seasonal composition which I really like (maybe because I used my new brown pen, which thought I had lost).  A lovable land whale cavorts among autumn plants as monstrous invaders monopolize a cemetery.  For some unknowable reason there is also a bottle gourd.  The ghosts and bats are part of the October theme.  As ever I appreciate your comments!  Also I still have have some sketches (and general observations) from my weekend trip to Kingston, New York.

Autumn Land Whale and Miscellaneous Others (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

Autumn Land Whale and Miscellaneous Others (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015, color pencil and ink)

King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)

King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)

Back in the beginning of September I put up a short entry about a pet king cobra which escaped a terrarium in central Florida.  The post was meant to satirize our sad national obsession with celebrities and compare the fatuous cult of celebrity with our fascination with poisonous snakes.  Unfortunately the satire did not quite work since poisonous snakes really are fascinating (and since a #*&*ing king cobra actually did get loose from a lunatic’s house in Florida).

I really don’t like celebrity.  It is a serious problem which humankind has and it makes us do all manner of deeply stupid things (although I am willing to change my stance…if I get really famous).

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Sigh…

Anyway, savvy readers were left asking, hey, is there still a king cobra on the loose? Whatever happened to the poor snake?  Answers were not forthcoming until yesterday, when a woman who lives in a house near the cobra’s owners was putting laundry in her clothes dryer.  She heard a sad hissing from under the machine and decided to call animal control. Soon the renegade snake was back in captivity (in the nick of time too, since a tropical king cobra would be unlikely to survive winter in central Florida.

Artist's representation of Florida suffering from severe snakebite

Artist’s representation of Florida suffering from severe snakebite

A CNN article about the snake’s recapture contains this incoherent but strangely plaintive paragraph

Valerie Kennedy, the wife of “Airplane Repo” star Mike Kennedy, told FOX411 the snake “was found last night at 11p.m. The poor thing was in pretty bad shape. His eyes are fogged over. He hasn’t eaten a thing since he was captured.”

Now children at the local school will be allowed back outside for recess and “Airplane Repo” star Mike Kennedy (the snakes owner, I guess?) will be able to hang out with his immensely toxic pet (who sounds like he needs to scarf down some rats).  It’s a happy ending for everyone…although I am leaving my clothes in the dryer for now.

Drawing by John Erickson

Drawing by John Erickson

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