Ostensibly a review of two current exhibitions in Britain--one a celebration of P.T. Barnum on his 200th birthday, the other an collection of work by Ronald Searle--the article "Cartoon Grotesques Let us Face the Real Horrors" on yesterday's Times Online also provides a nice discussion of the insuppressible human interest in grotesquery, curiosities, and the monstrous.
From the article:
We think we live in an age of individualism and “diversity”, but if you look around at advertising, entertainment and much of public life a strait-jacket of approved normalities closes around you. It is partly visual: for both sexes there is an approved shape and style: slim, toned, smart-casual, shiny hair, good teeth, minimal wrinkles. In outlook, too, there is an approved norm: middling-liberal, metrosexual, environmentally aware, vaguely concerned about “issues” but carrying religious or political opinions with studied lightness and a self-deprecating Blairy grin...You can read the whole article by clicking here. For more on the Barnum exhibition (entitled "Humbug!"), click here; click here for more on the Searle exhibit. Thanks, Mike, for sending this my way.
Yet we secretly crave grotesques, extremes, impossibilities. We know that there are wild dreamers, crazy prophets, monstrous oddities and inconvenient passions far beyond our tidy sexuality. We yearn for weirdness that explodes the mould and doesn’t care. Deep down, we know that if we don’t confront it the strangeness will haunt our dreams or jump us down a dark alley.
So we go looking for it. Some find it in art, from Hieronymus Bosch to Salvador Dalí, some seek horror films, some the most twisted pornography or sadism. Millions eat popcorn while watching Orc armies, the Smurfy fantasy of Avatar or the bizarrerie of Tim Burton’s Alice. Many, guiltily, find it in news reports of real suffering and mutilation, or in voyeuristic TV programmes about illness or obesity. But real or invented, we have to confront abnormality lest it take us by surprise...
Image: "Barnum's New American Museum, circa 1866" From About.com.