Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Smile, You're on Panoramic Camera!

When I was a child, the most fun thing to me—but also the scariest—was a skeleton. I was obsessed by the knowledge that a person had that strange structure underneath it all, that a smiling face hid a death grimace. It was, I admit, a morbid fascination; death called early in my life and left its mark on my family. 

It made me dream of becoming a doctor. I learned the names of all the major bones and I pored over the illustrations and overlays in the “H" (for human body) volume of our red leather set of World Books.

My Halloween costume of choice was, of course, a skeleton. It consisted of a black nylon jumpsuit-sort-of-thing with the tibias and fibulas, the sacrum and the clavicles rendered in glittery, glow-in-the-dark paint. The mask was a skull with a spider crawling out of the nose hole.

On our black-and-white Zenith, I happened to see Jason and the Argonauts do battle with an army of skeletons. Now THAT was scary! How exactly do you kill skeletons? You can thrust swords and spears right through them and they’ll just rattle on; they’ll keep on coming!

All of this came back to me when I went to the dentist last week. I had the panoramic x-ray, the one where you stand still and the camera travels around your head, scanning as it goes. Here were new and accurate pictures of my own leering skull. It’s not fun or scary anymore, but weird it is. Still. 

It's strange to me that humans are able to stand because the architecture of death—the memento mori—lies within us. And that “Remember, you will die!” message jangles like a jawbone all through world art—visual and literary—and perhaps through all the accomplishments of science and technology.

Pop culture, saturated as it is these days with vampires and zombies, complicates the message some. Whether we should fear the undead or love them is apparently the question pop culture wants answered.

Might not our morbid fascination be the collective unconscious's guilty verdict on a society that vacuums babies from the womb while it pleads mercy for Satanic criminals?

Do we, at some level, individually and/or collectively, identify with the undead? Are we afraid that we will die or that we already have? 

Or are we the weaponless ones in a battle with an army of skeletons?

Or . . . is this, like my dreams of being a doctor, just a childish, passing phase?


  1. Wow! Great post, Muse. I know how to kill skeletons--chop their bony necks off!

  2. Very thoughtful post. My take on it is that we fear death and by magnifying the scary parts of it like skeletons and gory undead ideas, it separates us from the real truth and reality that someday I will be the skeleton. *shudder*

  3. I admit having the weird thought at times that we are all skeletons walking around -- it's just that right now they're covered.

  4. I have had two hip replacements - my skeleton looks half cyborg.

  5. intriguing thoughts! never much liked skeletons myself, but they do make for a scary army!

  6. I too used to have a fascination with skeletons when I was a child. My most disappointing Halloween was when I was about five and wanted so badly to have one of those black costumes with the skeleton figure on it. I really wanted to be a skeleton, but my parents wouldn't give in and instead dressed me as a clown. Oh, what a let down! It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized that most people find clowns to be more scary than skeletons.

    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out