Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I taught you how to cyclops rock

Ray Harryhausen's creatures never looked real. They looked better than real. He gave them such meticulous, organic detail and then brought them to life. Their animation was graceful, fluid, savage, and electrified...all at once. They looked like they belonged to another world.
This is art.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Larger Than Life

There were giants in the earth in those days;...
-Genesis 6:4

It was that line from the Bible that led to creation of the Cardiff Giant. Standing at ten feet tall and weighing around 3000 pounds, the impossible man of stone is the subject of April's Monster of the Month.

Are you ready? Then we shall begin.

On October 16th, 1869, Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols of Cardiff, New York, were hired to dig a well by farmer William Newell. When their shovels struck something hard beneath the soil, they unearthed an enormous human figure, seemingly fossilized. Newell was quick to put the thing up for display, claiming that it was a petrified corpse belonging to the last of a lost tribe of giants. He charged twenty-five cents for people to take a look. The following day, business was so good that he raised the price to fifty.

Geologists and archaeologists cried foul, convinced that no such man could've once wandered the hills of Cardiff. Several evangelical ministers leaped to it's defense. The Giant drew such crowds that it was eventually moved to Syracuse under the new ownership of a group of New York investors. Famed circus proprietor P.T. Barnum leased the giant for three months. It cost him sixty-thousand dollars, but Barnum made sure he got more than his money's worth by secretly having a plaster duplicate made while it was in his possession. Upon returning the original, Barnum began displaying his copy, insisting that the copy was the genuine Cardiff Giant and that he one resting in Syracuse was a brazen sham.

Outraged by the sheer chutzpah of Barnum's claims, the owners of the true Cardiff Giant sued.The courts, firmly convinced that both giants had been fabricated, were unsympathetic to owners of the original. Meanwhile the newspapers had a field day, and P.T. Barnum was famously misquoted as saying "There's a sucker born every
minute." From out of the blue emerged George Hull, a tobacconist with a story to tell. Hull proceeded to bust the Cardiff Giant secret wide open, with the explosive revelation that he was the giant's creator. It turned out to all be a practical joke.

Hull was a life-long atheist, and in 1868 he had an especially fiery argument with a fundamentalist preacher concerning the line from Genesis that spoke of giants. Hull bought a block of gypsum from Fort Dodge, Iowa, claiming that it would be used to create a commemorative statue of Abraham Lincoln. The block was shipped to a German stonecutter in Chicago. Sworn to secrecy, the stonecutter carved the block into the giant. The illusion of ancient age was accomplished by staining the stone and wearing it down with acids. Pore-like pock marks were chipped into the stone using knitting needles. The completed giant was sent to Hull's cousin, William Newell, who buried it in his farm. The entire process cost Hull two-thousand six-hundred dollars, but Hull was delighted when it
was dug up a year later and caused such a commotion.

In 1870, the Cardiff Giant and it's plaster twin were legally declared hoaxes by New York courts, and the lawsuit was dismissed. That year, Mark Twain wrote "A Ghost Story" featuring the phantom of the Cardiff Giant haunting the plaster replica of his petrified body. L. Frank Baum wrote a poem about the giant the following year. These two Cardiff Giant themed works assured it's place in history. After an ignoble stint as a novelty coffee-table for an Iowa businessman, the Giant was
sold to the The Farmers' Museum of Cooperstown, New York, where it resides today. Barnum's plaster copy is currently displayed by in an arcade/oddity collection called Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Plague Doctors" or "It Weren't Called the Dark Ages for Nothin"

The Black Plague was one of the most lethal diseases that mankind has encountered. Not only was it responsible for the deaths of those it infected, but it also indirectly contributed to terrible famines as those millions who suffered from the plague were unable to work the fields. The total death toll was astonishing.

Medicine was woefully primitive and muddied with arcane practices born out of superstition and alchemy. Despite this reliance on crude mysticism, even the doctors could comprehend the danger of the plague and the majority fled for their lives. In their absence, groups of volunteers dedicated themselves to studying the disease, treating the victims as best as they could, and fighting further contamination. They were called Plague Doctors.

The beak-faced figure to the left may seem like he crawled out of a nightmare, but his outfit was actually the world's first Hazmat suit. Although the nature of the disease was not understood, the Plague Doctors sought to protect themselves as best as they could. Underneath their heavy black robes, they wore leather aprons, along with boots and gloves of leather. The bizarre bird-like mask was stuffed full of aromatic herbs and spices, in hopes that it would filter out infectious elements (as well as cover the ghastly odor of plague-ridden Europe). The wide-brimmed hat was like a policeman's helmet: alerting others to the Plague Doctor's presence and authority with its distinct design. Frequently they carried canes to prod dead bodies and use as levers to move the cadavers aside.

The Plague Doctors were severely ill-equipped to deal with the crisis, but tried to save as many lives as possible, while their own ranks were progressively ravaged by the plague. As that hellish era eventually came to a close, medicine was changed forever in Europe. The arcane procedures of the pre-plague era were cast aside as witchcraft, and a more practical approach was adopted. While this new generation of doctors were only slightly less ignorant of pathology than their predecessors, it was an important step towards the development of medical science. Despite limited effectiveness, the innovation of the Plague Doctor's protective costume was undeniable, and the modern Hazmat suit has its roots in this Dark Age get-up.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Death Worship At the Borderlands

The border between Mexico and the United States is currently a raging storm; a storm of such intensity that many things previously under the waterline have whipped up to the surface. As the deep extent of drug-trafficking and gang violence is revealed, a unique religion has also received unprecedented media attention: the worship of the Most Holy Death, sometimes called La Nina Blanca but more commonly referred to as Santa Muerte.

Mexican culture has always had a unique relationship with the concept of death, dating back to the time of the Aztecs. The ancient celebration of Mictecacihuatl, queen of the underworld in Aztec mythology, fused with Spanish Catholic traditions to become the modern Day of the Dead festival, held every year on November 2nd. During this time, it is believed that the souls of the dead can commune with the living and join in with the pra
yers. It's also a commercialized bonanza, with a plethora of a skull-adorned and skeleton-themed merchandise available for both the Mexican citizen and the American tourist.

In keeping with the blending of Aztec and Spanish traditions, Santa Muerte owes equal measure to Mictecacihautl and the Virgin Mary. While occasionally depicted in a masculine form reminiscent of the Grim Reaper, Santa Muerte is almost always a female skeleton draped in colorful gowns. Her shrines typically have a carved wooden representation, dolled up in wigs and dresses. She's a fickle goddess, prone to jealously and spite, and unimpressed by virtue. One can only remain on Santa Muerte's good side through the liberal use of offerings. She is particularly fond of tequila, cigars, candy, fresh fruit, and marijuana. One can also purchase a variety of icons, cards, and tokens in Santa Muerte's image to better facilitate prayer. In exchange for allegiance and reverence, Santa Muerte is said to lend a cadaverous hand in financial matters, protect the family from crime and violence, and aid in the recovery of stolen property. The Catholic Church had condemned Santa Muerte as a pagan diety, and
assert her worshippers are practicing "black magic." While the Church is fine with weekly symbolic cannibalism, the notion of a garishly dressed skeleton is clearly over the line.

Believed to have emerged in the 1940's, the worship of Santa Muerte is largely confined to the impoverished and crime-ridden bordertown slums in Mexico and United States. Like the folklore figure Jesus Malverde (a drug-trading hybrid of Robin Hood and Jesus Christ), Santa Muerte has been widely adopted by the drug-traffickers, kidnapping gangs, and prostitution rings that operate out of these areas.

While anthropologists have been studying Santa Muerte for years now, "La Nina Blanca" has come to prominence due to the recent crisis at the border. On March 24, 2009, the Mexican authorities destroyed thirty shrines in Tijuana at the behest of the surrounding communities. A self-appointed Santa Muerte church leader from the town of Tepito responded by announcing a "holy war" against the Mexican government and the Catholic Church. In turn, the Mexico City Archdiocese released a statement labeling the followers as "terrorists." In an effort to distance themselves from the inflammatory statements from Tepito, small groups of Santa Muerte worshipers have taken to the streets to hold parades complete with Santa Muerte effigies. Whether or not this will develop into a religious schism has yet to be seen.

Further Reading:
The New God in Town
Article on the destruction of Santa Muerte shrines

Friday, April 10, 2009

Mindless! Formless! It hungers for human flesh!


You may know of them as "blobs" or "amorphous jelly-devils." Starting in 1896, nearly seventeen enormous masses of flesh have washed ashore on our beaches. They were clearly organic, and while some appeared to sport the odd tentacle or fin, they were largely without distinguishing features. The globsters had no distinct head or limbs, no internal organs; just quavering, slimy flesh.

Biologists were baffled as to the origin of these strange lumps of life. Their blank, glistening forms rendered them unidentifiable, and they were often in such advanced states of decay that examination was difficult. Several tentative explanations were offered, including the theory that these were the hideously decayed remains of large sharks or even malformed octopi. The lack of scientific consensus allowed for the circulation of some gleefully implausible theories that the globsters were undersea mutants or ancient sea-monsters. This assured the globster's place in cryptozoology lore.

Modern DNA analysis closed this long-unsolved case in 2001, when a pale-green globster washed up in Newfoundland, Canada. This time, scientists were able to arrive before decomposition and preserved the thing for further study in their laboratory. Tests concluded that the globster was a huge hunk of fat from a sperm whale, sloughed off and separated from a carcass. While this doesn't necessarily explain the other globsters, it's a safe bet that they have a similar origin.

Or is that what they want us to think? Were these advance scouts? Are we looking at an invasion? Have globsters infiltrated the government?! Board up your doors and windows. The Glob War is coming.

Would you like to know more?
-An overview of the globster phenomena
The BBC's hard-hitting story on the Chilean Blob (winner of the Hyper Kitchen's Best Headline of 2003 award)

Ingenuity and Anxiety

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Queen Wasp Go!

Hot on the heels of The Fly, came Roger Corman's rip-off The Wasp Woman. Dig this: Janice Starlin is an aging owner of a cosmetics line who insists on continuing to model her products, despite her vanishing good looks. Naturally, she seeks out an eccentric scientist experimenting with the rejuvenating qualities of Royal Jelly. Initially, the Royal Jelly-based formula seems to do the trick and Starlin gets her groove back. And then... Something Goes Terribly Wrong and Starlin transforms into a homicidal wasp woman. Hijinks ensue.

As you can plainly see, the poster is a winner. It's classic: a shirtless guy in grip of a colossal queen wasp with the face of drowsy woman. The pile of bones is also a nice touch. Sadly, this scene never happens in the actual movie, nor does it accurately depict the wasp woman (which resembles Susan Cabot wearing an ill-fitting fuzzy wasp mask). A 1995 made-for-TV remake featured a creature that bore a stronger resemblance to the poster, but the movie as unwatchable its predecessor due to cheesy T&A shots and godawful CG special effects.

Do yourself a favor and just watch The Fly instead. The Wasp Woman will just leave a sting.

Still not convinced? Watch the trailer.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Maverick from Another Planet

Gabriel Green ran as a write-in candidate for president in 1960 and 1972. Although he was a third-party candidate and could not afford the advertising materials that his political rivals employed, Green had an ace up his sleeve and had secured the endorsement and aid of a difficult-to-reach demographic.

You see, Green had assistance from beings from another planet.

Green was a native of Whittier, California (the same area that launched Richard Nixon to superstardom). A graduate of the Woodbury Business School of Los Angeles, Green worked as a photographer under the employ of the Los Angeles school system, taking pictures of children and faculty for yearbooks. In 1957, Green founded the "Amalgamated Flying Saucer Club of America, Inc." and announced to the world his fantastic encounter with humanoid aliens. Three years later he launched his first bid to become the president of the United States, representing the Universal Flying Saucer Party.

Green claimed that the aliens had taken him for a long space voyage in their flying saucer, and showed him their home planet of "Korender," orbiting around the star Alpha Centauri. They were wise and benevolent humanoids, and created a permanent telepathic connection for Green to communicate with them across the vastness of space. They also, according to Green, helped him gather votes when he was campaigning.

Green ran on a platform of reform, peace, expanded social services, and low-taxes. He explained that the inhabitants of planet Korender had helped him devise a new political philosophy of United World Universal Economics. While campaigning, Green also claimed that he had graduated from UC Berkeley in 1953 with a PhD in physics, and had contributed to the development of the Standard Model of particle physics. Presumably, he hoped that pretending to be a scientist would give a much needed boost to his comparatively lackluster credentials.

It was a tight race, but Green failed to win the 1960 election, eventually dropping out and endorsing Kennedy. Two years later he ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in California. Green took a brief sabbatical from the world of politics to write Let's Face Facts About Flying Saucers, an account of his meeting with extraterrestrials as well as reports on other flying saucer sightings. Five years later he began his second presidential campaign, this time from Iowa. Again, he met with defeat. Green retired to California, where he occasionally spoke at UFO conventions and New Age gatherings. He died in Yucca Valley, California, on September 8th, 2001.

Green was just one of many people who claimed to have been contacted by aliens during the fifties, but he remains one of the most obscure possibly due to the political incompetence of his alien allies. Whether or not the inhabitants of Korender have selected a new candidate to fight for the principles of United World Universal Economics has not been disclosed.

Further Reading:
Let's Face Facts About Flying Saucers by Gabriel Green
UFOs and Popular Culture by James R. Lewis

Sunday, April 05, 2009

God is Electromagnetic

Over the course of human history, countless people have tried to commune with the Supreme Being of their choice. In a time when Jesus has apparently decided to make guest-appearances on slices of toast, it seems that more and more people are experiencing the mystical. But there remains that sad minority of people who, try as they may, just can't seem to muster up a religious vision or "out of body" event.

Worry no more! At last the rest of us can gossip with the godhead! Even today's man-on-the-go can be Born Again, thanks to a miraculous new device invented by a Canadian scientist named Michael Persinger. Persinger was already controversial for his claims that UFO experiences are hallucinations produced by electromagnetic waves emanating from shifting tectonic plates. Through this research, he began investigating the similarities between UFO sightings and hierophanies. He noted that temporal lobe epileptics had reported seeing Saints during seizures.

To test his theories, Persinger created a device that stimulated the parietal and temporal lobes in the right hemisphere of the brain using magnetic fields. The original apparatus was installed into a customized snow-mobile helmet, although subsequent versions were far more hi-tech. 80% of those who took part in Persinger's experiments claimed to have perceived an ethereal being in the room, felt a connection to another intelligence, or felt as though someone that they knew had died.

Persinger had received earlier criticism during his UFO work for slipshod testing procedures and leaping to conclusions. His new brain experiments drew much of the same criticism, but he still had his supporters. Susan Blackmore, an English writer on the subjects of psychology and memeplexes, agreed with Persinger's conclusions and reported having an "extraordinary" experience while using the machine. This could, however, be attributed to her documented pre-existing interest in the paranormal and her "extraordinary" experience could very well be a manifestation of the Observer-Expectancy Effect. Swedish researchers attempted to duplicate Persinger's experiments, making sure to use double-blind conditions. They decided that the results were inconclusive, especially after failing to induce potent religious feelings in famed atheist Richard Dawkins. Persinger countered that the Swedes had not followed his complete procedure, and that the subjects were not sufficiently exposed to the magnetic waves.

Is the machine holy or is it a mere hoax? Is god an hallucination? Regardless, the Hyper Chefs conclude that the device is ultimately unnecessary, and that people will believe anything in the right circumstances (or with the application of the right drugs). If you will permit us a Soap-Box Moment: extraordinary claims always require extraordinary proof, and no claims are more extraordinary than those made by religion. Such things should never just be given the benefit of the doubt. We assert that all evidence indicates it is mankind who writes the recipes, and that there is no celestial Chef de Cuisine breathing down our necks. Without such cultural and conceptual restraints, people can be free to cook up whatever they want.

For better or for worse.

Further Reading
-The Telegraph's articles on the subject
Wired Magazine's article on Michael Persinger
-The BBC's assessment of the Dawkins test

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Poetry of Black Bart, the P 08

Here I lay me down to sleep
To wait the coming morrow,
Perhaps success, perhaps defeat
And everlasting sorrow.

I've labored long and hard for bread,
For honor and for riches,
But on my corns too long you've tred,
You fine haired sons of bitches.

Yet come what will, I'll try it once,
My condition can't be worse
And if there's money in that box
Tis munny in my purse.

-Charles E. Bolton (1835?-1899?) aka "Black Bart, the P 08". Stagecoach robber. Over the course of his career, he stole $6009.52 worth of money and valuables from California stagecoaches. He was ultimately arrested and served four years in prison, getting off very early for extremely good behavior. Of his time as a robber, he said "I never robbed a passenger or ill-treated a human being."

Wallace, Irving and Wallechinsky, David. (1975). "Footnote People in American History." The People's Almanac.89: pp.1-8. ISBN:0-385-04060-1