I’m all over the place this morning. The weather has suddenly changed, it’s chilly, and I feel like I’m coming down with a cold, though that’s probably just this persistent hayfever. Other than sore eyes and a cough, I’ve had three or four good days since stopping the Benadryl but now I’m back at square one. Time to break out the non-drowsy alternative I bought the other day and hope it works. The weird bit about the Benadryl story was that I discovered I wasn’t actually taking the type that famously makes people drowsy. I was on the “non-drowsy” Cetirizine, though by “non-drowsy” it means only 14% of people fall asleep. It absolutely flattened me. This new tablet is Loratadine. Fingers crossed I manage to stay awake.
The upshot of this is that I plan on taking a bit of a break today. I’ve not stopped for few days and it’s now the end of the month. If there’s a day to fall asleep, then this the one. I also like to pause before I start a new month of articles to write. If I can stay awake, I will draw. If I can’t, I’ll read a book in the gaps between snoozing.
If I had written today, I’d have probably said something about the appropriation of symbols. I was thinking about it yesterday and specifically the swastika. It’s a perfect example of how something innocent can become sinister. It’s become a convention of modern horror movies, which constantly flip the meaning of innocuous objects. The most obvious example is clowns but, then, clowns have never been quite innocent. They also do it with dolls, toys, and tunes. I sometimes even wonder if that’s how Stephen King begins his book. Think of the most innocuous household object and make it possessed…
Thermos: A Dark Tale.
Hell’s Vegetable Steamer.
Henry: Story of a Serial Suction Device.
In terms of tunes, I suppose I’m thinking more about a “musician” from some years ago called Tiny Tim. Not sure he was that well known outside North America – I don’t recall him when I was growing up here in the UK – but he appeared on American TV and has continued to be remembered via Youtube. He played the ukulele and sang in a very strange warbling high-pitched voice. It was a strange act, made all the stranger by how he looked. You probably know his most famous song, though perhaps didn’t know he sang it. It’s his version of “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” and has a strange effect that was odd but not sinister until it appeared in the film Insidious in 2010. Now I can’t walk down a dark street and not start singing that song. Gives me the chills (though that might also be the hayfever).
There’s nothing magical about how these things switch but it can still be as surprising as it is disappointing. I’m only a mild aficionado of the Hawaiian shirt since I own a couple which I rarely wear. Yet as a fan of Robin Williams and Hunter S. Thompson, I appreciate their inappropriateness. They’ve become a staple of that school of American political journalism which doesn’t take things too seriously and therefore is pitched at exactly the right level to treat politicians. Today, however, I read in The New York Times that the shirt has become the newest symbol of the right-wing militia. The gaudy floral button up short sleeve shirt has become the uniform of “The Boogaloo Boys”, alongside the military gear and AR15s. (Side note: I really want to stick an apostrophe in there. If I could change one rule of English, I’d say using the apostrophe to puralize acronyms makes more sense than not using an apostrophe. Never looks right.)
There’s nothing particularly deep or meaningful I can say about this, plus I’ve just taken the tablet so I might be asleep inside minutes. It is, however, very indicative of our culture, in which we enjoy playing these games with visual language almost as much as the stories we tell. When Spielberg made Jaws in 1975, his technique was almost incidental to the great script. Yet the technique is really the thing many people remember, especially the use of the dolly zoom. Spielberg was one of the “movie brats”, obsessed with Hollywood and he took this one technique from Hitchcock and Vertigo. It was invented by Irmin Roberts, a second-unit cameraman, and was perfect for that movie. It keeps the main subject in focus but makes it look like their background is receding.
These days, the dolly zoom is still used but it’s not always about conveying the right mood. It’s often overused and has become a way for directors to reference their cultural influences. When you see it, part of your brain is meant to register: “ah, a literate filmmaker who understands the history of his craft”. That’s a very modern preoccupation. We understand language so well that we sometimes forget to do meaningful things with it. We battle over meanings in the way that I suspect there will be a long-running battle to stop Churchill becoming a symbol of the far-right in the UK. I suppose if liberals in America really want to piss off their opponents on the right, they should appropriate the flag of the Confederacy for their own ends. It really isn’t that unlikely, nor would it be that hard. We’ve always done it. It’s just that we’re now acutely aware that we do it and we perhaps do it too much. Some people even appropriate the donkey from an old eighteenth-century text and make a blog out of it.
It’s madness out there!