Friday, February 19, 2010

Assimilating Monsters

Twitter Sonnet #113

Sickly centipede sergeants are stubborn.
Their glowing bellies burn with cinnamon.
Pixie psychopaths move so fast they burn.
To touch, wrap hands in layers of Charmin.
Bread insulates sandwiches from the void.
You can't have fewer forms of leaves, just more.
New haircuts shouldn't make you paranoid.
Telepathy's from a salon's back door.
World peace is spilt water on the sidewalk.
Step on a trench to break the Death Star's back.
The only clean bathroom's up a beanstalk.
Whiskey's all anyone can really lack.
The red pawns are frozen, sculpted acid.
Fake aliens make everyone rabid.

I've still been thinking about the Evelyn Evelyn controversy, specifically the issue of a work of art taken by the audience as a presentation of facts. The closest thing I can think of to Amanda Palmer's account of the sometimes horrific lives of Evelyn Evelyn being taken as truth without the artist's intention that it should be would be Orson Welles' War of the Worlds radio broadcast. What Palmer did was actually far less transgressive, as in the case of the War of the Worlds broadcast, people might have lost money and peace of mind in an attempt to protect themselves and loved ones from the threat of a Martian attack. Even so, one can't help but marvel at a brief period in time where many people were genuinely convinced by an artist that hostile aliens had come to earth. That fact is itself a valuable work of art, one that invites discussion about the nature of the human mind and the relationship of art to it.

And then there are works of fiction intentionally presented as fact, I'm thinking mainly of Picnic at Hanging Rock and the Coen Brothers' Fargo. In both cases, the deception was committed with the intention of adding weight to the events of each story, particularly important in the case of Picnic at Hanging Rock, which presents a mystery that's never solved. People going in knowing that it's a work of fiction are more likely to simply regard it as an unfinished story, rather than to contemplate it as a record of the unanswerable questions life can present.

The outrage over Evelyn Evelyn comes from a fundamental belief that stories are more important if they're true than if they're not. Somehow, performance artist Amanda Palmer has accumulated a lot of fans who see art as patently a form of escapism. People who are along for any ride so long as they feel safe, who are willing to discuss issues of gender, disability, and alienation so long as its from a theoretical distance. These are people who are desperately afraid of feeling at all violated and Amanda Palmer, whether she's aware of it or not, is an instinctive violator. It's one of the great things about her. It's necessary sometimes to break audiences out of their aloof, academic eggs and remind them that bodies of work aren't there so you can feel smug and on top of dangerous psychological issues--it's about feeling things, about being stripped naked. If you don't think that's necessary, then you mustn't know anyone with personalities preventing them from ever discussing certain issues or who are trapped by half thoughts they never dared to finish thinking and so are instead tortured by a million different, imagined possibilities.

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