One night in 1911, a maintenance worker at the Louvre decided to go home with the Mona Lisa hidden under his smock. When it was discovered, all of Paris was positively scandalized by the theft of a painting which, until that night, no one really gave a merde about. Up to that point, the relatively small Mona Lisa was just one of a handful of Leonardos hanging in the museum. But when the news broke, throngs of Parisians bum-rushed the Louvre to see the empty wall space where the Mona Lisa had hung. Le police had no clues. They hauled in Pablo Picasso for questioning, but lucky for the cubists among us, he had an alibi. Two years later, the thief, an Italian carpenter named Vincenzo Peruggia was caught trying to sell the painting in Florence. Newspapers went crazy with the story, the Mona Lisa was plastered, above the fold, across the world, and suddenly, she became famous. Then in 1919, when Marcel Duchamp wanted to perform a symbolic defacing of a piece of high art, he drew a goatee across a postcard of her face and suddenly, she became sacred. The fame she achieved as a result of this theft fed on itself and fed on itself, leading critics and academics to wax intellectual about all of her superior qualities, yielding unending conspiracy theories and ubiquitous pop culture references, until she was widely considered the greatest painting in the world. But she is only celebrated because she is popular. …
Around the year 1700, Bartolomeo Cristofori was the Keeper of the Instruments for the Grand Prince of Tuscany. Cristofori was an expert maker of harpsichords, but a drawback to these plucked instruments was the utter lack of dynamics. No matter how hard you hit the key, the volume of the note was exactly the same.
So he set about to make a hammered instrument that could be played at different volumes. He named the result un cimbalo di cipresso di piano e forte (“a keyboard of cypress with soft and loud”), which was abbreviated over time as pianoforte, fortepiano, and finally, piano.
The most dangerous film shoot in history is widely considered to be the 1981 comedy adventure ROAR, starring Tippi Hedren, who suffered a broken leg during the 11 year production process, her daughter Melanie Griffith, who required facial reconstructive surgery, and many terrifying jungle cats, who were unharmed, and some even Taft-Hartleyed into SAG.
Over 70 crew injuries ranged from bone fractures, to scalpings, to puncture wounds to gangrene… many of which were included in the final cut of the film.
Yevgeny Vakhtangov was a stage actor in Russia around the time of the Revolution. He joined the Moscow Art Theater in 1911, and by 1920 was in charge of his own studio. For many teeth-gnashing theatre scholars—who struggle to choose between early Stanislaski’s stage-freight-based emotion-recalling inside-out acting, and late Stanislavski’s fake-it-til-you-make-it, just-pretend-why-don’t-you, outside-in acting—Vakhtangov is a welcome, if obscure, connective tissue.
Legend has it, he was once cast in a touring show with Michael Chekhov. After the performance every night, the two would find a local saloon and play pool. Vakhtangov was as average at billiards as he was brilliant on stage, and Chekhov almost always won. But one night, Vakhtangov ran the table. And then, he ran it again. And again. Aghast and agog, Michael Chekhov demanded to know if he’d been sharked all these months, to which Vakhtaongov simply said that he’d decided to pretend he was the greatest pool player in the world.
And so he was.
Here’s a grammatically correct sentence: James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher. Well, almost correct. You just need to sprinkle some curvy marks… James, while John had had “had had,” had had “had;” “had had” had had a better effect on the teacher. Without the commas and quotes and semicolons, it’s just a skipping needle. A blip in the matrix. Had had had had had nauseam. But throw in those little musical notations and suddenly I’m talking asides, I’m talking conflict, I’m talking the past pluperfect tense! That is, something that was in the past in the past. Suddenly a scene unfolds: James and John in some previous moment, endless rivals for the love of their creative writing professor—which, if they were anywhere in greater Syracuse when this went down, might have been, with any luck, George Saunders—going toe to toe on the pluperfect versus the past pluperfect. And the very sentence, the very sentence purporting to depict their syntactical melee, taking sides… siding with the winner, John. John’s not comfortable merely referring to the past, no. John must turducken a past within a past. Releasing so much meta-lightning that any sentence attempting to describe it will have its spirit summarily broken and be forced to do the same. But not with words, my friends. With sprinkles. It’s so dastardly. You’ve won the battle John, but by God you will not have had won the war. Damn …
When you sit down to learn Japanese Calligraphy, you start like anyone would, by copying a characters. And, like everyone, you flounder and your first character looks terrible. Your teacher waits for you to feel frustrated, as attempt after attempt winds up crumpled on the floor, until they finally lets you in on a little secret… Make the white space look the same and the ink takes care of itself. If you only dwell in the positive space, something very important winds up missing from your composition. Pythagoras once said “limit gives form to the limitless.” The Japanese have a word for this “Ma,” when the space around something helps to define it and give it shape. Here in the west, we have no such word. Empty space? Put an office park in it. But in Japan they have rock gardens and you can stroll around getting hip to the fact that that terrifying word “lack” might not be so terrifying.
The trick to smuggling is to hire a mediocre art director. The well-loved beauty of this prohibition-era truck’s faux-haphazard lumber placement is a dead giveaway. Any driver behind this truck would instantly fall into a reverie over the gorgeous patterning. Too much sacred, not enough profane.
Ducks are wearing wolf masks.
You can never unsee it.
We love you, duck. Just be your beautiful self. There’s no need for this.
You spend all your time and money getting a feature film off the ground. Risk everything. Every relationship. The dream comes true. It hits the theaters. Does well. Careers are launched. But even then, even then, you can still fall prey to the hapless, random absurdity of brutal coincidences…
The Advertisers of Axe Body Spray pursued “insecure men” as a demo. They were ironically too successful, as Axe is now the smell of insecurity.
On April 6, 1967, Doug Hegdahl of the US Navy was blown overboard from the USS Canberra in the Gulf of Tonkin. He swam for several miles before being picked up by Cambodian fishermen, who turned him over to the North Vietnamese army. At the Hanoi Hilton, he decided to play dumb with his interrogators, turning up his bumpkin demeanor and country accent. He pretended to be illiterate, and performed feats of such dimness around the camp that he became known to his captors as “The Incredibly Stupid One,” and was thus free to roam around, harmless as they thought he was. He used his access to memorize the names, capture dates and personal information of 256 fellow inmates, to the tune of Old MacDonald Had a Farm. His information proved crucial when he was released. Socratic Irony is when you pretend to be dimmer than your opponent, so that they reveal themselves. This is one of the more audacious examples in history. E-I-E-I-O motherscratcher!
On my honeymoon in Oaxaca, I met an Australian pharmacist who told me the story of a young couple who came to her in a panic, desperately seeking the morning after pill. It was a regimen of two pills to be taken immediately.
She handed them the pair of pills and said, “take these right now.”
They looked at each other, took a breath, and each took one.
Take a couple hundred thousand ants, chewing a swath through the jungle. They’ll cut a fairly straight line until they get to a stream. Then they’ll chew their way along the stream until they find a crossing. Then they’ll chew their way back to where they left off and continue the straight line.
Interview one of them along the way and he’ll just say he’s keeping the ass of the ant in front of him in relatively the same place. But take all of them together, and they’re thinking fairly clearly with one brain. Acting together, they can bring the mountain to Muhammed. Even though they don’t realize it.
(Hat tip to Alan Fletcher. )
One cold and dreary Sunday afternoon in Scotland in 1740, David Hume trudged across a bleak and windy heath to his favorite public house. As he walked, he imagined the warmth of the fire he knew would be crackling on the hearth, the greeting of the blokes he knew would be sitting along the bar, and could almost taste the suds at the top of the creamy stout. He arrived, greeted the blokes, took his first sip of stout by the aforementioned and predictable fire and thought, “ahhh, this is that authentic and meaningful, total 1740’s Scotish pub experience.” But something bugged him. The taste of the stout, the pop of the logs, the laughter of the blokes… his suddenly realized his brain was running these sensations on separate tracks like some sort of pre-industrial ProTools session… but it was the chord they played inside him that convinced him they had any meaning. And then it struck him… he was the chord they played. There was no David Hume sitting in that pub, there was only a bundle of sensations and experiences traveling simultaneously through the same noodle. And so, faced with the sheer terror of having no self, he dutifully got shitfaced.
If everything is weird, then nothing is weird. And everything is weird. You? What you think is normal? That’s some weird shit. And if that’s weird, what else is weird? Fucking, everything. So nothing is weird. So everything is its own version of normal. So judgment is a pretty weak reaction. Don’t be weak. Be weird.
But, you wonder, what about studies? Studies that have shown things? Don’t they point to some form of normalcy? I have bad news. Actually I have bad news and worse news. The bad news is: normalcy isn’t a word. It was made up as part of a campaign slogan for Woodrow Wilson. The worse news is: “studies” that show things about “us” are almost entirely performed on very weird populations: Wealthy Educated Industrialized Rich Democracies.
As such, judgment of weirdness is inherently flawed. So shine on you deranged diamond.