Monday, February 26, 2007

Witch Trials, Peasant Uprisings and the Strange Case of Jon-Benet Ramsay


I've been doing a lot of reading in world history and civilization ... the witch burnings and witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries are very strange. They coincided with waves of peasant uprisings...

A coincidence?

Not a coincidence?

Peasant uprisings occurred throughout Europe from the late fifteen hundreds until well into the late sixteen hundreds. What was the reason for them? Basically, the peasants were angry about the growth of absolute monarchy -- an autocratic rule that looks a lot like what today we would call dictatorship. The autocrats were definitely cruel. We have to remember that this was a time of drawing and quartering. Religion played a big role because of the Reformation -- Protestants questioned the authority of the papal structure.

Likewise, people questioned the authority of the absolute monarch, especially if he happened to be cruel or repressive, or abused his power.

I'm thinking now about a rather strange phenomenon that also had to do with another perceived abuse of power. For some reason, at that point in time, it was believed that powerful and dangerous women lived among the normal folk and bewitched their animals, children, and crops. This was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

What precipitated this rather bizarre belief? One has to wonder if some of the aristocrats found it convenient to deflect attention from themselves by stirring up witch hunts. Perhaps more than a hundred thousand people were prosecuted throughout Europe on charges of witchcraft. Although larger cities were affected first, the trials spread to smaller towns and rural areas as the hysteria persisted well into the seventeenth century.

If fomenting internal discord was a good way to put a cap on the peasant rebellions, it was an effective stopgap. The peasants did not pull out the guillotines and use them on the gentry until a hundred years later.

I've read a few transcripts from the witch trials. After a few stretchings on the rack, the women tended to confess to anything. They weren't even in it, like John Mark Carr and the Jon-Benet Ramsay confession, for the celebrity. Nor did they confess in order to establish paternity, as in the case of Anna Nicole Smith and her daughter, Dannielyn.

I think that the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts were a bit different. Reading about the witch trials in Europe in the sixteenth century has made me curious, though.

Lessons from history....

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Who's the Daddy? Anna Nicole a Human Komodo Dragon?

Audio file / podcast.

One of the Marshalls needs to come forward and settle it once and for all that J. Howard Marshall II's frozen sperm was used to impregnate Anna Nicole Smith, and the father was not one of the twenty or so pretenders, even if one is Zsa Zsa Gabor's Prince (formerly known as Hans Robert Lichtenberg). Where's Zsa Zsa in all of this? She's 90 and an invalid after a tragic 2002 car accident. I suppose she likes the idea of being married to a stallion. I thought of Catherine the Great. I also thought of Royal Lippizaners. That's another story, though. In the meantime, I'm thinking Komodo Dragon. I'll get to that later, though.

Let's get back to the Anna Nicole "who's the daddy" media circus. Could it be Howard K. Stern? He is currently being held out as evil incarnate.

Could it be one of the others? We seek concrete evidence, but without a narrative framework, and without multiple working hypotheses, nothing makes much sense.

Even with them, the multiple working hypotheses we're regaled with -- the conspiracy theories, and the fantastic speculations -- have more in common with fairy tales.

At the center of the maelstrom was Anna Nicole Smith herself -- a simulacrum of Marilyn Monroe -- a copy that serves only to reinforce its "copiness" and to refer back to the real. But, in this case, the real was a copy and a construction. What do we do?

The copy-Marilyn Monroe (Anna Nicole Smith) began to fold in on itself. It began to suggest the falseness of itself. The more vapid (slurring or incoherent) Smith's performance, the more she became a caricature. The more cartoon-like the image, the more it pointed to the real, the original -- even to the point it erases the real. It also simultaneously erases itself. It is the copy that, when held to the light, looks garish and cheap, and even makes the original seem garish and cheap -- not by association, but by pure action of mind.

What was the original anyway? I would argue that the original construct -- the Marilyn Monroe -- was a tongue-in-cheek lampooning of male visual fantasy. Yes -- the image was male visual fantasy lampooned -- "punked" as it were.

What is rather tragic about Anna Nicole Smith's simulacrum of Marilyn Monroe is that is seemed to lose the humor embedded in lampooning straight males. After all, we live in a rather different self-reflexive world, and television has made a history of making a visual echo chamber of itself. Let's think of The Simpsons, as an example. It is absolutely impossible to enjoy The Simpsons without a high level of television sitcom and popular culture literacy.

Could Anna Nicole Smith have been a better object of Borat's desire than Pamela Anderson? It's hard to say. Anna Nicole Smith seemed to be stuck right in the middle of an endlessly repeating scene from How to Marry a Millionaire. The pink she surrounded herself with in The Anna Nicole Show was punctuated by flashes of impossibly small dogs and exotic animal print throw pillows.

As Anna Nicole decorated and redecorated her house, she approached it (and her body) as would any good Hollywood starlet, which is to say she mutilated it.

But for some reason, we loved watching.

Anna Nicole Smith utterly effaced the boundary between the real and the unreal, the constructed and the re-constructed. She embarked on an endless reification process, an ourobourous-like self-swallowing, self-devouring metamorphosis. We could see the transformations occur as she bloated, shrank, bloated and shrank again, and as she slurred, stumbled, and drooped her eyes.

In the end, though, something strange happened. Anna Nicole Smith, although she was ostensibly simply a self-constructed copy of a self-construction (the Gatsby-esque Marilyn), seemed more real.

It was all about Daniel. Anna Nicole was a mother. She gave birth, and kept Daniel at her side. We saw him grow up. We saw her devastation at his death only three days after the birth of her daughter, the paternity-challenged Dannielynne (sp?).

The way she grieved was touching in a way that does not seem to have been a part of the Marilyn Monroe persona, and we had the sense that Anna Nicole disintegrated at the death of her son. The construction deconstructed. The grief was the ultimate effacing mallet of fate.

Perhaps it will turn out that Anna Nicole Smith is like the virgin Komodo dragon that gave birth to five Komodo pups on (of course), Christmas Eve, in a zoo in northern England.

That would be the ultimate irony and the ultimate gift to the media circus. The copy has finally been able to copy itself.