Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

the age when little girls are banished

another thing i learned about from reading amelie nothomb is the tradition of the living goddess, or royal kumari (meaning virgin), in nepal. apparently, one young girl at a time is selected as an embodiment of the goddess talehu and kept on display in a palace in kathmandu. people from all over come to see her and attribute to her powers of great healing. even the power of the king is supposed to be derived from her.

the living goddess/girl is selected at age 3 or 4 based on her astrological chart and is, according to legend, expected to possess some 32 physical attributes that are indicative of the goddess. her fearlessness is allegedly tested by subjecting her to sights of ritual animal sacrifice and she must correctly identify the robes of the previous living goddess, presumably by sensing their sacred power. descriptions of horrific selection and initiation rites were disputed by rashmila shakya, a kumari who later wrote a memoir called from goddess to mortal. in any event, the girls are taken from their families, kept in isolation and put on display until the start of their menses, when the goddess is said to vacate their bodies.

there are several legends said to be behind this tradition, all of them having to do with the goddess punishing the king for some slight or another and hiding herself in the body of an "innocent girl." the king then had to find the particular girl where the goddess had hid herself.

here is a picture of the current living goddess. she is carried because, as divinity incarnate, her feet are not allowed to touch the ground. nothomb offers up some gruesome descriptions of how deformed they become after years of immobility. this one is just at the beginning of her reign:

i'm interested in this idea of goddesses vacating the bodies of adolescent girls.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

from the files of r. mutt

why i am psychologically wired to love the sarah silverman program

for a few weeks of the year, the sarah silverman program comes on my television and i am happy. the show is mind-bogglingly bizarre and i feel like i understand it in my bones. sarah and i (and her writers) seem to have the exact same frame of reference in terms of television, namely sitcoms from the 70's and 80's. it's like the show is made by someone who was raised exclusively by a television, who has internalized the formulas so thoroughly that there is no distinction between tv and life. this season in particular seems to be focusing on this non-existant boundary, as her eponymous character repeatedly appears on television, both as a character of her character and on talk-shows within the show as herself. in the most recent episode, she actually appeared as a judge on a court-tv show with herself, appearing on a television screen, as the defendant. she's like brian o'blivion on drugs - "whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. therefore, television is reality, and reality is less than television... that's why i refuse to appear on television except on television." margo jefferson refers to michael jackson as "a living museum of black performance styles." i would go so far as to say that sarah silverman is a living museum of tv-personality styles that are as familiar to me as my own family. but she mixes them up in thoroughly unexpected ways, as if we are watching a small child playing out what she sees on television and the fantasy of herself as a heroic tv character.

as a satire, she is mainly sending up self-riteousness in all its forms. characters become passionate crusaders for non-issues such as the right to have breakfast without being interrupted by a storyteller, driven entirely by either self-centered grievances or a desperate need to evade responsibility. just like on the tv news, fabricated, ridiculous arguments are made and developed with conviction, forcing detractors to challenge them at face value, despite their utter lack of credibility. feel good sitcom moments where somebody finally sees something from someone else's perspective and they share a meaningful moment are turned deliciously on their heads and are the deranged heart of her comedy. usually what brings about the change of perspective is nothing more than an appeal to narcissism. at the end of every show, sarah shares what she has learned in a tone of naive wonderment, but of course it is never what she was supposed to have learned: "...i learned whether you are gay, bisexual, it doesn't matter, you know … because, at the end of the day, they're both gross. but mostly, i learned that elderly black women are wise beyond their years … but younger black women are prostitutes."

my relationship with tv has in many ways followed an addiction/recovery model. growing up, i watched as much tv as possible. there was no one monitoring me and generally no one watching with me. my life centered around it. i made lists of all the shows i watched and schedules of which shows i would view throughout the day. and i loved all of it. it was a glorious replacement for attentive parenting. there were a few shows that rubbed me the wrong way, but i watched them anyway. now i never watch tv. i find it confusing and frightening. it is not just a political stance, it is self-protection. when i decided to stop, i had dreams all night long for weeks of disturbing fragments of television shows being vomited up by my unconscious. it's like my soul was detoxing. then the dreams tapered off and i was free to do things with my time other than watching tv. so when i tune into her show, which is wholly informed by the era of television in which i grew up, it's like i'm having trippy flashbacks to my time as a user. and it feels weird knowing that all this time that world has continued even though i have abstained from its currents. but sarah silverman honors that era of my life by simultaneously paying loving homage to it and exposing the core of its insanity.

p.s. here's hoping that my boundary between tv and reality is soon to dissolve, as sarah is now dating the son of my parents' close friends. sorry len, but i might have a new best friend on the horizon.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

mommy dear, tell me please, is the world really round?

my mother has always told me that i look just like her, but i never saw it until...

i guess identity really is all in the hair and make-up.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

a solution to social anxiety

thanks to the most recent love of my life, amelie nothomb, i have acquired not only hours of blissful literary engagement, but some fascinating trivia as well. in tokyo fiance, she writes about the unusual profession of "the conversationalist." from her book:

"the japanese have invented an extraordinary profession: maker of conversations. they have noticed that the fastidious requirement of speech is the bane of dinner parties. in the middle ages, when there were imperial banquets, everyone remained silent and that was all to the good. in the nineteenth century the discovery of western customs incited distinguished people to speak during meals. they discovered forthwith the tedium such effort entails, and for a time they assigned it to the geishas. these geishas rather quickly became increasingly rare, and japanese ingenuity found a solution by creative the profession of the conversationalist.

the conversationalist, before each mission, receives a file containing the seating arrangement and the identity of the guests. he (or she) must learn all he can about each guest within the limits of propriety. during the meal the conversationalist, microphone in hand, moves around the banquet table and says,
'mr. toshiba here, president of the well-known corporation, would probably say to mr. sato, who graduated with him from the same high school, that he has not changed a great deal since that time. mr. sato would reply that the intensive practice of golf has helped him to keep in shape, as he said as recently as last month in the asahi shimbun. and mr. horie would suggest that in future he grant his interviews instead to mainichi shimbun, where mr. horie is in the position of editor-in-chief...'

all this blah-blah, certainly not very interesting, but no worse than what you hear at dinners in the west, does have the uncontestable advantage of allowing the guests to eat in peace without feeling forced to speak. what is most astonishing is that they actually listen to the conversationalist."

i wonder how this would work at an irish pub.