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March 31, 2003

Religious tat triumphant
Posted by Teresa at 11:53 PM *

There’s a war on, and these are serious times; but by god this is still Making Light, and this bit of religious tat has to be seen to be believed.

As I’ve observed here before, we know as well as we know anything in this world that artistic taste and judgement are not numbered among the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. (via Patrick, who got it from Tom Tomorrow)

Comments on Religious tat triumphant:
#1 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 12:48 AM:

If there were a God, that would make him hurl.

#2 ::: Maureen Speller ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 01:23 AM:

What Kevin said. I was not exactly prepared for that when I pulled up the picture. What worries me is not so much the person who thought it was a good idea as the people he or she thought it could be sold to. I'm not sure I want to meet the people who think it's a good idea to own such an object.

#3 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 01:44 AM:

Ah, but one of the Seven Gifts is Fortitude with which to bear up under stuff like this.

Maureen: Remind me not to introduce you to my family. I can easily see either my mother or my sister buying this.

MKK--me, I'm with Kevin

#4 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 02:20 AM:

What's really creepy is how doll-like and neotenous the soldier looks. In a hundred years' time, no one will be able to tell the difference between that, and the picture of the baby suicide bomber that was doing the rounds some months ago.

#5 ::: Christina Schulman ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 02:34 AM:

I've seen worse. My ability to be appalled by religious objet d'tack was pretty much burnt out by the Jesus Inspirational Sport Statues ( My favorite is the one where Jesus is keeping the basketball away from the little kids.

(Still waiting for Hosties cereal, though.)

#6 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 02:55 AM:

Ads for cutesy military kitsch like this turn up now and then in the coupon section of the Sunday paper. Alongside dreamcatchers and resin wolves and airbrush paintings of flying orcas and the like.

One was a fairly realistic baby boy doll dressed up like a roughneck Marine.

Christina, I love those Sport Jesus statues too, but wish that they'd make some up for Hindu kids, so we could buy figurines of Vishnu playing cricket and Ganesh bowling and such.

#7 ::: Barbara ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 06:28 AM:

If you think that was bad try this (from Neat Net Tricks)

07. AFTERLIFE TELEGRAM. Now let me get this straight, for a fee of "just"
$5 per word, these terminally ill patients will memorize my message and attempt to deliver it to my dearly departed when they have also left this
world. Your message, if you so choose, can be dropped off at . Now, who says the Internet
isn't just about the handiest invention in modern history?

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 07:29 AM:

Maureen, I don't doubt that some otherwise normal person out there thinks that statuette is Just Lovely. Do you suppose they'd think my flying pig, my jackalope, Patrick's plush dinosaurs, the knight and armadillo handpuppets, the sea anemone stuffy that hangs from the front room curtain rod, and my Batman, Wolverine, and Kevin Matchstick effigies, are in dubious taste? I worry.

Mary Kay, since my relatives have been known to prowl the net, I have to say that they all have impeccable taste. Their children are perfect, too.

Andrew, that figurine belongs to a known genre, albeit one that affects the serious art world the way UFO-contact enthusiasts affect manly hard SF writers. I refer, of course, to the Big-Eyed Kid. The style had its inexplicable heyday thirty or forty years ago, but it continues to pop up to this day. For more on this, go here and especially here.

Stefan, I thought for a second that you were referring to that entire class of objects as dreamcatchers, and thought it was an excellent word for them.

I know dreamcatchers proper are those little knotted nets inside hoops. They're the latest instantiation of the class of Useless Fiber Arts Projects, succeeding Ojos de Dios and the macrame owl wall-hanging.

Christina, Making Light has been on that story. BTW, would that cereal you're waiting for be Ghost Hosties or Christ Crispies?

Barbara, I can't see the downside. The terminally ill get a little money, which most of them need, and the customers get to feel like they've sent a message to their beloved dead.

#9 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 08:43 AM:

I don't have anything to say about the big-eyed kid soldier icon in question, but I would like to point out that the last three title fields make a nice "found art" sort of statement over on Patrick's blog:

Religious tat triumphant
Seymour Hersh pins it on Rumsfeld
As usual, it's all about him.

Not exactly haiku, but it dances along the edge of seeming really profound. Or maybe I should cut down on the cold medication...

#10 ::: Rivka Wald ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 08:53 AM:

Last week, our local paper's Sunday magazine section advertised a figurine of a teddy bear dressed up in full military regalia, complete with a Really Big Gun. It was horrifying.

I don't understand why anyone anywhere finds the concept of child soldiers sweet.

#11 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 09:11 AM:

I seldom exclaim aloud when reading even your weblog, Teresa. This time I did: "Ewwwwww!!!!" I commented.

#12 ::: Niemand ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 09:37 AM:

I always thought the cereal - when it came, as surely it must - would be Corpus Crispies

#13 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 09:44 AM:

This got quite a bit of play on MetaFilter, leading the wonderful comment of

"Shock and Awwww, isn't it cute?"

And what was acclaimed to possibly be the best comment ever made on MeFi. Someone commented on this that "Once again, and as always for the record, let it be known how much I love capitalism. -- kaibutsu" To which, the response:

Maybe it's not God's hands protecting him, it's the invisible hands of the market pushing him into battle. -- coudour75

#14 ::: Ter ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 10:45 AM:

Rivka Wald wrote: I don't understand why anyone anywhere finds the concept of child soldiers sweet.

They haven't seen anime, have they?

Teresa, this post needs a Spew Alert, so no one clicks on the link until they've removed any beverage at hand.

#15 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 12:33 PM:

I have nothing to say other than "What Kevin said, and especially what Andrew said," but I'll say it anyway.

This is exactly like the baby suicide bomber. Exactly.

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 12:39 PM:

I think we can safely say that the person who designed that thing has never read Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

#17 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 12:58 PM:

Rivka, I saw that Marine Teddy too, but I must have blocked it from my mind as Too Awful to Contemplate when making my list yesterday.

If I had to come up with a term for the entire class of objects in question, I might pick "spirit kipple," or "soul . . ." um, sump? block? crutch?

In the interest of full disclosure, I have on my mantlepiece: Werner von Braun moonship, Japanese greeting cat (gift), indian carved hawk figure (gift), resin timber wolf on a rock (gift), Astron Spaceman model rocket, mexican Day of the Dead skeleton dog (gift).

#18 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 01:52 PM:

Kitschkrieg. Are we winning the kitschkrieg?

(Actually it's Kriegeskitsch, but I like Kitschkrieg better.)

#19 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 02:02 PM:

On the "big eyed kid" syndrome:
I was watching cartoons Saturday morning (a guilty pleasure I allow myself a few times a year), and realized that most of the Japanese-based cartoons like Yugi-oh and Pokemon had the same eyes--even the animals. Huge, staring things; it was like being in a room full of crazed owls.

And off topic: WHY are cartoons so dreadful these days? Lord God, I never thought I would weep for the days of Speed Racer and Scooby-Doo!!!

#20 ::: catie murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 03:06 PM:

Wow. That caused me to blurt, "Oh my /gawd/" out loud and in horror. It's as well I work from home. Now I'm just sort of spluttering. Oh my /gawd/. OTOH, it spawned a chance to re-read a bit of 'Sinners in the Hands', so clearly not all is lost.

Emma: I give you Gargoyles, Batman Beyond, Samurai Jack (although not to my personal taste, it's good) and X-Men: Evolution as a buffer against the tremendously bad cartoons of today. Ok, some of them are comic-book spinoffs of a sort, but they're still good. I keep thinking the overall apparent quality of cartoons must be at least partly that I've just gotten older, but so much of it seems like such utter cruft.

'course, there are a whole heck of a lot more tv stations to fill up with programming than there were when I was 6, too, which makes me believe that the signal-to-noise ratio has lowered significantly in favor of the noise.

#21 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 03:43 PM:

When I first saw this ... figurine, I was unable to process it all at once. For many long moments, I thought that the cute Precious Moments soldier was standing in front of acrylic mountains -- and then the awful realization hit me. I choked out, "My god, they're hands!"

I'm afraid that my grandmother, if shown this ... item, would exclaim, "Why, isn't that cunning!" She'd probably put in on the window sill next to the antique (replica) vials of colored water and the candlestick made of an old bottle with wax dripped all down the sides.

It reminds me of a piece that a local artist, Denise Boie, had in the Minicon art show a while ago. It was a greeting card, with two adorable Precious Moments-type characters on the front, one of them with his head adorably cocked to the side, both of them dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia. When you opened the card, it said, "Welcome to the neighborhood!" On the back, the copyright was held by Intolerant Moments, Inc.

#22 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 04:31 PM:

I used to think that my Grandmother, of blessed memory, had a taste for kitsch. But I am proud to say that she would have drawn the line considerably before we got to My Little Marine.


#23 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 04:54 PM:

The difference between the baby soldier and the baby suicide bomber is that being a soldier is an honest, honorable profession, necessary to the protection of innocent life and the maintenance of freedom.

#24 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 06:03 PM:

You're right, James. There's a world of difference between the two.

However, I reserve the right to make fun of and be dismayed by teddy bears with guns.

#25 ::: Not a Fellow Elitist ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 06:05 PM:

It must be wonderful to wallow in your superiority over people who would contemplate purchasing this obviously tacky item.

Have any of you served in the military or have relatives in the military?

If this stinkin' little statue brings peace, joy, and relief to some mother who has a son in the military, it's worth its weight in gold.

#26 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 06:18 PM:

Teresa: If I tell Not A Fellow Elitist to, "Fuck off and die" will you disemvowel me? My limited stores of patience are entirely depleted.


#27 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 06:23 PM:

"Have any of you served in the military or have relatives in the military?"

Yes, and yes. Of my direct knowledge, a goodly number of other people in this thread have also served.

How about you?

#28 ::: Not a Fellow Elitist ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 06:42 PM:

James, I apologize if I offended you. Your post was about the only one that didn't raise my blood pressure.

As for your question: Yes, and yes. I've also had close relatives die while serving in the military.

Mary Kay (love the cosmetics, my mother-in-law sells them by the way, they're HUGE here in flyover country), sorry if I offended you as well... but I notice that rather than address the points in my post, you attacked me personally.

Let me re-state my question... how many of the regular posters here actually know and regularly speak with/are friends with people who don't live in a large city, lean politically to the right, and don't think that G. W. Bush stole the 2000 presidential election?

If all of your conversations are with people who have similar views, you will end up with an extremely limited outlook on life.

You can listen to National Public Radio AND Fox News Channel!

Good Health to All.

#29 ::: Lis Carey ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 08:21 PM:

Dear Not:

I don't think you know the audience you're addressing.

#30 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 09:08 PM:

Not: Well you know, accusing me of wallowing in my superiority sounds like a personal attack to me so I responded in kind. As I said, my stores of patience are completely depleted. And do you have any idea how tired I get of the Mary Kay thing? I hate pink. As most of my relatives are the sort of people you describe in your second post, and some of them have served in the military, I guess my answer to that question would be yes, I'm way familiar with that other mindset. And it's one of the reasons I no longer live in Oklahoma, or anywhere else in flyover country (as you so charmingly put it). I grew up there surrounded by that and I'm well out of it. I really don't give a shit how elitist some anonymous person thinks that makes me.


#31 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 10:13 PM:

If Not thinks that Teresa is "wallow[ing] in her superiority over people who would contemplate purchasing this obviously tacky item," he or she is picking the wrong fight with the wrong person.

Teresa has a lifelong fascination with tacky religious art, and to characterize her as feeling "superior" to people who purchase it is to make a very serious error. Her remark that "we know as well as we know anything in this world that artistic taste and judgement are not numbered among the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit" is entirely serious. If Not, or anyone else, reads Teresa as inviting us to feel a wholehearted prideful superiority to the consumers of cute big-eyed US Marine figurines, they are mistaken. We are talking about a woman whose adult conversion to Catholicism had as much to do with her attraction to medieval saints' tales as anything else. Yeah, confronted with "Lord, Bless This Defender of Freedom," we tremble with awe and laughter. But if it's a high-and-mighty superior laughter, we haven't got the whole point. Back to work! Five pounds of flax!

#32 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 10:14 PM:

NAFE, will you please drop the pseudonym, grab a beer, pull up a chair, and join the conversation? I don't feel like I have to apologize for anything or anybody, but Mary Kay there's from Oklahoma, I'm from Central Arizona, Jim and both his siblings were career military, Erik's ex-military too, and hell, the rest of us aren't idiots, okay? There's not a one of us who would dream of grieving some mamacita with a kid in the service. At the same time, we are honestly amazed and appalled by that statuette. Heck, I said as much in my remarks to Maureen. Go back and look.

Besides, I have this weird medical condition that makes it impossible for me to lie about finding the statue funny. Honest.

#33 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 10:18 PM:

As to whether we have friends in the military or who are political conservatives, oh, go fly a kite. You have no idea who you're talking to, he said, as politely as possible.

#34 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 10:20 PM:

And the NSA.

#35 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 10:23 PM:

Patrick, we're doing that thing again.

#36 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 01, 2003, 10:46 PM:

But it is awfully cute...

#37 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 01:05 AM:

Christina Hurlman wrote: I've seen worse. My ability to be appalled by religious objet d'tack was pretty much burnt out by the Jesus Inspirational Sport Statues

Mine was F'ball Jesus. I looked up the statues this morning. One of the kids is handing off to Jesus. The other is trying to tackle him. I've been wondering for hours if it's a mortal or a venial sin to tackle Jesus, and if it makes any difference if he doesn't have possession?

#38 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 01:44 AM:

Automatic first down and 15 years in Purgatory?

#39 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 02:09 AM:

Personally I blame Hummel for this sort of kitchy-figurine stuff.

But then, I could see myself, when I was 11 and my brother was in the Navy, and the Cuban Missile Crisis was hot, possibly being comforted by something like this. I was terribly worried about him.

I'm not sure I understand what an adult would see in it, though, unless it's for one of those mothers (or grandmas or aunts) who still see their sons (or grandsons or nephews) as "little boys" even when they're 6 feet tall.

#40 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 02:23 AM:

"I have this weird medical condition that makes it impossible for me to lie about finding the statue funny."

Teresa, it sounds like you need a tube of Ironline ointment.

#41 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 02:14 PM:

"Adult conversion to Roman Catholicism"? We really do need to catch up...I hope this happened during the dozen years or so I spent in Deep Gafia, or I'm even more clueless than everyone already knows I am.

#42 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 02:45 PM:

Don't worry, Chris. I've already told the Inquisition that you're harmless.

Stefan, what I said about the medical condition is literally true. It's called cataplexy, and it's part of being a narcoleptic. When something both strikes me as funny and takes me by surprise, I collapse like a puppet whose strings have been cut. It's impossible to pretend that you didn't think a joke was funny when you're lying flat on your back on the floor.

How do people around me cope with this? Simple: If you made the joke, you get two points, and you have to help me back up. A partial collapse -- say, dropping to one knee -- scores one point. And unless I'm crossing a busy street or walking up or down stairs, I'd always rather hear the jokes and fall over than not hear them.

#43 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 03:18 PM:

Teresa, thanks for lying on my behalf...they didn't torture you, did they? Like by making you look at Keane Kids dressed as Salvadoran hit squads or something?

#44 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 10:52 PM:

Well, yeah; but they mistook the fact that I had collapsed paralytically on the floor and was making faint sobbing noises as evidence that I had maxed out on suffering.

#45 ::: Antony Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 05:30 AM:

That's horrible! Euwww! Should have come with a sick bag!

Then there are the Sporting Jesus statues mentioned earlier, some of which are unintentionally funny (while some just look dubious) although sadly they missed the chance to have Christ on a Bike. Also, in the 'soccer' one he should have been in goal as everyone knows Jesus Saves (but Beckham scores on the rebound).

I bet Kevin Smith thought he was being really ironic when he came up with Buddy Jesus for "Dogma". That looks tasteful and refined compared to these.

#46 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 07:14 AM:

Although I found it appalling at first, there are lots of people out there with a son, or grandson in the armed forces. And I bet each of those people sometimes think of their little soldier just exactly as depicted in that statuette, for all he's 23 years old and built like a brick shithouse.

It's still aesthetically extremely grim, though.

#47 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 01:37 PM:

Teresa - an understandable error. I myself have been (in early days) concerned for your ability to breathe in that state.

But then, when the joke is that funny, I've been concerned for my ability to breathe -- and with better reason.

#48 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 04:40 PM:

James D. Macdonald wrote,

"The difference between the baby soldier and the baby suicide bomber is that being a soldier is an honest, honorable profession, necessary to the protection of innocent life and the maintenance of freedom."

It's admirable that you should stand up for the military you served in, honorably I am quite sure.

But I trust that you're experienced enough to know that not everybody thinks of soldiers - certainly not all soldiers - that way, and that they often have good reason not to. And that supporters of terrorism believe that terrorists - their terrorists, anyway, are doing the honest and honorable thing. Indeed, under sufficient provocation, many normal anti-terrorists can be convinced to support it. Do you remember how O'Brien tricked Winston and Julia in 1984?

This is not relativism. Who is actually right is another question, particularly when we're discussing these soldiers and these terrorists.

But the baby soldier is carrying a combat weapon, capable of just as much killing as a terrorist body bomb.

And regardless of who actually is in the right, marketing an armed baby soldier in the belief that the soldiers are in the right is exactly the same as displaying an armed baby terrorist in the belief that the terrorists are in the right. To me here one is more shame-making, the other is more horrifying; both are nauseating.

#49 ::: Pfish ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 05:47 PM:

*returns from Googling the phrase "flyover country"*

You learn something new every day.

*wonders if the Sporting Jesii include Christ on a pogo stick*

#50 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 05:56 PM:

Wow, Simon, I really disagree. The difference is that the soldier may kill (or may not, but never mind), but the pure object of being a suicide bomber is to die, not just to kill. Little kids being encouraged to commit suicide is...well, it's where I draw the line on my nice PC cultural relativism (normally a Thing for me).

Real question: does a picture of a little boy dressed as a cowboy (with six-guns, which can also inflict death) bother you?

For me, the baby soldier in the God-hands is revolting because it's kitsch, not because it shows a child dressed as a soldier. I played cops & robbers as a child, and did dramatic death scenes when shot (concussed myself one time falling out of a tree in the process); is that like dressing as a suicide bomber?

I see a real sharp dark line here. I'm astonished that you don't, but that should not be taken as disrespecting your point of view, nor should anything I've said.

#51 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 07:58 PM:

Xopher, I don't draw a sharp line between a suicide bomber and other forms of terrorists. Every terrorist I've ever heard of has been ready to die for the cause, and goes out there prepared to do it if necessary. I don't see a bright line there.

Terrorists are ready to kill, and die, for a cause. Soldiers are ready to kill, and die, for a cause. There's a huge difference in terms of auspices and uniform-wearing and sneak attacks and so forth, but that doesn't apply to the soldier doll and the bomber baby, who are both meant to be clearly identifiable.

Am I uncomfortable with little kids dressing up as cowboys? Not much. One difference is that firing his six-shooter isn't the raison d'etre of a cowboy; shooting his rifle is the principal function of a soldier. Another is that the cowboy kids presumably wanted to do it themselves; neither the soldier doll nor the bomber baby was the product of an infant imagination. (An infantile imagination, maybe.)

I'd be a lot more uncomfortable with a little kid who eschewed dressing up as a cowboy in favor of being a cattle rustler or train robber.

#52 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2003, 07:33 AM:

Simon: there's another difference. Dying isn't the raison d'etre of a soldier, and it is of a suicide bomber. For a soldier it's a risk; for a suicide bomber it's a goal.

People who actually want their children to die (as opposed to bravely risking death, a distinction they see even if it's meaningless to you or me) have no right to keep them; I believe all children have the right to be raised by people who want them to live and thrive.

Also, there's a bright line (IMO) between terrorists (suicide bombers or not) and soldiers: the latter do not (by task) target civilians; the former do. This is almost a definitional difference; soldiers who deliberately target known civilian targets would thereby become terrorists.

And you should listen to my Russian-Jewish officemate on how the Israelis who bombed British targets before independence weren't really terrorists...because they didn't target civilians, so they claim.

#53 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2003, 07:39 AM:

Oh, and: do you really think the kids who dressed as cowboys were at all focused on, um, cows? The roundup was not really thought of, at least when we were playing Cowboys & Indians when I was a kid in the 60s. It was about shooting Indians and other cowboys, and being shot by them.

Of course, in my family we weren't allowed to have toy guns after 1963. We continued to point our L-hands and say bang, however.

#54 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2003, 09:53 PM:

Simon, cattle rustlers look just like cowboys, and train robbers don't necessarily look any different.

I honestly don't know what you're on about. I can't imagine a kid only wanting to play cattle rustler or train robber. That's way too much plot, unless you can get the other kids to cooperate with you, and they aren't going to want to play the same scenarios over and over again -- it's downright un-kidly.

My parents had five kids in five and a half years, a ready-made mob for all occasions. I don't recall any of us ever engaging in worthy cattle-punching activities. That was just as well; we knew some real cowboys, and if we'd played at being them, we'd have been out building stock tanks and fences in the back yard. Mostly we engaged in running gunfights. Cap pistols make a cool noise, but they don't fire as reliably as your finger.

We also played WWII combat. Bone-dry dirt clods make wonderful grenades, exploding in a deeply satisfactory burst of fine sandy desert soil the instant they hit anything. Projectile weapons were otherwise frowned upon, not for their moral quality but because my mother lost an eye when she was eight to a kid playing with a bow and arrow.

Kids play at being whatever it's fun to be. Their games are fluid and improvisational, and don't map onto adult moralities nearly as much as some adults think they do.

#55 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2003, 11:03 PM:

Onward to some other issues. I don't like your equation of soldiers and terrorists. So they're both ready to kill and die for a cause? So's anyone who's willing to kill and die at all, including gangbangers, drunk drivers, and the guy who shoots his wife and kids and then himself. I deny the moral equivalence of these things.

Being a soldier isn't just about being willing to kill and be killed. It's assumed that that may come up, but many people who serve in the military never once find themselves in that position. Being a soldier is also about submitting yourself to military discipline, and operating within military logic and procedure. It changes the people who do it, and I don't fully understand that because I haven't been there, but I can see that it happens. It's also about promising to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. That's important.

In the weeks after 9/11, fighter jets were a constant circling presence in the sky over New York City. There may have been people who objected to them, but everyone I knew loved having them swooping overhead. As Patrick put it: "Our military, our Air Force -- up there protecting the transsexuals, conceptual artists, and political deviants of New York City."

It's a lot like something I discovered during my first year or two in New York City. A lot of people habitually say bad things about police officers. But then, late some night, you're riding the subway, and you're alone, and though you don't want to admit it you're more than a little bit nervous. Then the door opens at the far end of the car and in walks a NYPD transit officer, and at that moment you realize that he or she is beautiful.

There's a streak of almost habitual military-bashing in our society. I think that's a very bad meme. In my view, it's my military, just like it's my country, my laws, my political system, my government, and my flag. They're all precious, and I refuse to cede any of them.

#56 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2003, 12:08 AM:

One more subject, which is the statuette itself. I can tell you where it comes from. The neotenic figure in the chocolate-chip cammie is the descendant of Margaret Keane's big-eyed kid paintings. I doubt he was sculpted for the first time for this statuette, and suspect rather that he's a repainted version of a figure that's already seen use elsewhere. The same goes for the hands, which are variant "praying hands" done in lucite.

It's possible the figurine was sculpted afresh for this commission. It doesn't matter. Whatever the exact sequence of events, it will have been given its neotenic form for one reason: because the big-eyed kid is one of the standard tropes of this kind of art.

Do you remember around the end of this past December, when I found an exceptionally weird gift catalogue and ranted about its merchandise being random recombinations of tropes? Thus:

It's like someone took the Lilian Vernon and Walter Drake gift catalogues and ran them through a blender, randomly recombining nouns and adjectives: Crystal-beaded water bottle holder. Plush trout doormat. Foosball business card holder. Soft-sculpture birthday cake hat. Beaded dachshund change purse. Green glass dill pickle Christmas tree ornament. Biker guardian angel. Santa Claus waving an American flag.

Materials science and manufacturing techniques get more complex and sophisticated by the year, and the future's getting weirder by the minute. It may be that we've reached the point of no excuse, where any subject may be modified by any trope and the whole concretized as an article of commerce, a sort of kitsch singularity; raising the dreadful possibility that this kipple may actually, in sober fact, be what we (collectively) (in some sense) want.

The statuette is just like that: a synthesis of existing tropes. It's the "Praying Hands" motif, variant God's protective cupped hands; the use of colorless transparent materials to indicate incorporeality; the cute big-eyed kid; the chocolate-chip cammie; and a prayer for the person or persons involved. Put them all together and you have that statuette. I honestly believe it's an error to read too much intent into it.

#57 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 05:22 PM:

Xopher [this is a repeat of what I wrote in e-mail]: the difference between the cowboy's raison d'etre and his occasional act of killing people seems to me greater than the difference between the soldier's raison d'etre and his occasional act of dying-with-full-knowledge (that he would die), but you're right about one thing: I know nothing about what little boys do when they play cowboys. (That was not a feature of my childhood.) If by "cowboys" they mean the likes of General Custer or Billy the Kid, then yes, I'd find it disturbing.

Teresa: Sure, soldiers do other things. But a soldier not willing to kill, when the occasion arises, is not much of a soldier. I would hope that would apply even to deskbound Pentagon bureaucrats with beer bellies. Jessica Lynch was a company clerk, and she killed. Insofar as this is a legal war at all, she was right to do so. I am pleased to learn she had that skill and that courage. I am not anti-soldier.

But by this token, soldiers are dangerous, as dangerous as terrorists. (You are just as dead if you are killed by a soldier as by a terrorist.) Lynch was a soldier, not a toy representation of martial spirit. A toy assault rifle is not appropriate garb for a big-eyed baby toy soldier, any more than it is appropriate to dress a baby with toy bombs.

That there is a difference between the professions of soldier and terrorist, I already addressed. That this does not make a difference in representations of those professions, I also already addressed.

You write, "I can't imagine a kid only wanting to play cattle rustler or train robber." Then there's no problem, is there?

I do not believe I am reading too much intent into the statuette. It is lack of intent - more precisely, lack of thought - which I am reading.

#58 ::: Eloise ::: (view all by) ::: July 02, 2003, 02:32 PM:

Since the links seem to be dying, as they're no longer selling them, here's two more links to the raw photo, just in case.

Also, a copy of the original ad:

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

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