Violent anachronism

by Yule Heibel on April 1, 2004

Since I just wrote something about houses and bodies and frightening transformations and medieval fairy tales and classical myths, I have to add that I found David Weinberger’s link, offered on March 29 in his posting Hyenas on Leashes, beyond bizarre. (N.B.: I’ve never gotten the hang of doing trackbacks, sorry if this one doesn’t work, and that particular permalink doesn’t seem to want to work either, but at any rate, David’s entry is March 29 1:23pm.)

He links to this, which comes via a Dutch site that offers 2 additional pictures. Take a look.

These particular combinations of man and animal looked to me like some kind of awesome (and really scary) medieval bestiary, or an illustrated mythology: griffons, centaurs, that sort of thing. Not that medieval bestiaries scare me, but these photos looked scary the way some medieval peasant might have been awed by a bestiary. They looked fantastic and unnatural somehow, and I’ve been trying to jog the old brain to come up with why they should appear as such (to me, anyway). Is it the implied violence? But then, why would a Darth Vadar style futuristic get-up inspire less fear …? And the latter does inspire less fear in me: pictures of guys in uniforms with big weaponry don’t have the power to frighten me in the same way. Why? Because we’ve become used to our technologies, which are packaged largely as consumer goods, to be the purveyors of a violence and disruption we believe we can tame economically, but when faced with an image that reaches back in time, a whole new frisson makes its way up the spine? Shouldn’t the guy with the automatic weapon be scarier? Do we think that the guy with the automatic weapon is somehow “nicer” or saner than the guy with the hyena on a leash — just as we think the guy with the pitbull is probably unbalanced? But why think anyone with an automatic weapon can be trusted?


Mike Golby April 1, 2004 at 7:09 pm

I guess it takes one to know one… the original post spells out that the photographs “…were taken by guys who work for a south african cellphone company and were sent up to nigeria from johannesburg.” Our cellphone companies represent all that’s rotten with global business and they behave like rabid hyenas unleashed. In like vein, last night’s news carried an insert about a couple travelling with their neice south of Jo’burg. Hijacked by gun wielding thugs, the guy was left for dead at the roadside. His wife and neice were taken to a nearby squatter camp and raped. The police are investigating (heh…). This was followed by the discovery of a woman’s head in a local dam. Again, police are investigating, chiefly because this is the fourth head to have been turfed into the same dam. So it goes… but my point, Yule, is not that we live with a promise of horror or that which might at first strike the First Worlder as gruesome. It’s that violence is relative. The PTSD with which most in Africa live with comes in many forms and I must say, I’d be more afraid of the guy with the gun or the cell phone contract and the cop who does buggerall. The photographed Nigerians are actually bloggers out walking their pets.

Mike Golby April 1, 2004 at 7:18 pm

It’s the same PTSD that leads usually sane people to spell ‘niece’ as ‘neice’; twice. Interesting thing about the cop interviewed about this particular hijacking. He’s learnt from the politicians. On the defensive, he immediately explained that the hijacking was not the province of those investigating the guys who strew the same national road with rocks, thereby forcing cars to smash so that they can rob the victims (usually of their cell phones). They also drop rocks directly onto cars from freeway bridges… travelling alone at night, one becomes used to changing lanes when driving under such bridges. Ah well, it’s not all gloomy. We do have beautiful country and most people don’t do these things. Besides, if I’m ever nailed, I’ll get the last laugh. I don’t carry a cell :).

Yule Heibel April 2, 2004 at 4:19 pm

Mike, thanks for commenting, especially since you’re right there on the ground (in South Africa), while we’re typically just looking on. After I posted this, I thought, “duh, the obvious answer to the question of why these pictures disquiet you (and every other white person) is because you’re probably a racist,” and that’s obviously a factor. But it’s also the case that fearful surprise is based in economy, or rather, in how we are unsurprised when we think we’ve mastered something economically. In other words, I think it gets back to the terror that you’re talking about as routine experience, terror which may or may not reach into the First World eventually/ in one way or another. Economics (poverty) drives it, haves and have-nots facing off, exploiters and exploited; and at the same time there’s the pious wish that with the right economic intervention, all neuroses can be fixed. Well, maybe they can, and then again, maybe they can’t.

I like your suggestion that the guys in the photos are bloggers out walking their pets. A sense of humour helps! And I hope you never “get nailed” or anything else. I’m not sure I’d do well dodging the bullets you face, especially not given that AIDS is exploding in Africa and that due to idiotic policies, too many people are walking around with the pathetic belief that sex with a virgin will cure AIDS, which doesn’t help to bring the rape rates down. Our current GP, here in Victoria, originally hails from the US, but as a highschooler she went to Johannesburg on an exchange and fell in love with South Africa. She vowed to go back there to live. After college in the US, she did. She married a (white) South African, went to medical school, became a doctor, and started a family. She first had a son, but when she learned that child #2 was a girl, she left and came to Canada because (as a doctor) she had seen too many raped baby girls. When she told me this, I thought she was crazy and/or exaggerating, but maybe I’m just too cossetted here. I don’t know, but I’d have a hard time surviving that kind of potential terror on a daily basis.

Yule Heibel April 2, 2004 at 4:26 pm

PS: By the “you” in the quote where I’m talking to myself about racism, I mean myself obviously, not you the reader or Mike the person I’m responding to. Just want to make that clear, so as not to piss anyone off. Naturally, I prefer to think of myself as wonderfully egalitarian and unbiased, but I think prejudice exists, regardless, and reactions to The Other typically brings it to light. So, yeah, those pictures blew me away at least in part because the men shown were not white, but black, and any lingering and possibly long-submerged pre-judgements about people based on race rear up. Then, once you start yanking on that chain (race), all the other crap comes down with it (fear of poverty, smatterings of xenophobia, clannishness, you name it). Strange creatures, we are.

Joel April 2, 2004 at 7:12 pm

What I see in these photographs is an extra security guard posted at the gates of Dove Canyon, a walled community near here. Another real image rendered into myth for the sake of “freedom to fear”.

I don’t doubt that the hyenas are tools of intimidation, more visceral than the abstract threats of repossession and loss of position that we have here. I find myself more disturbed by the walls, the presentation of self that holds that I — along with the rest of the world — am bound to be a threat to them by my mere existence as someone who has less money and less desire to live a paranoic existence. They may be hygienic about how they go about walling themselves off, but doubt not that there’s a brute force behind their protections, waiting to put us into a place of horror where no one can hear us scream.

brian moffatt April 6, 2004 at 8:45 am

How much is hyena in the window / the one at the end of the chain /
blah blah sing sing
…I wonder if he can be trained

I don’t why, but that was my first thought.. What sort of obedience class do you take a baboon and or a hyena to.? Excuse the split infinitive, or dangling participle or whatever the hell it /they is/are.

What sort of food do you buy? ‘Boon Chow? Can a hyena be paper trained? Where do they sleep at night? In bed with you? Under the covers or on top? Is there a leash free zone in the local park where the hyenas can run free? Do the local papers have an Adopt a Baboon feature? What size bag does the responsible hyena owner carry in order to poop and scoop? Are they allowed in restaurants, on the subway? The owners I mean. What do you say to the owner when the hyena starts dryhumping your leg?

Cops on horses. Skinheads with pitbulls. Nigerian cell phone salesmen with hyenas. I mean, yeah…it all makes sense.

Is it just me or is the brutality winning? When I see this sort of thing in person – a beast at the end of a chain, here, more often than not a really stupid teenager with a pitbull – the beast in me rises.

I find these visuals rather provacative. I really do just want to get a baseball bat and get the boots in first…. a kind of pre-emptive strike.

I’m racing to beat the fear.

Yule, I’m wondering when Telus will add hyenas to their ad campaigns. (For those not in Canada : Telus is a cellphone company. Their TV ads show various beasts – tree frogs, potbellied pigs etc. – jumping to it, running to join Telus. On a stark white background. With catchy retro pop tunes. They are bizarre. The people at Telus I mean. Not as bizarre as the cellphone company called Fido though.) I think it would make for some great in-mall promos. Don’t you? What is the connection between all these animals and cellphones? Are portable phones the new breed of pets? When one dies you flush it down the toilet with the goldfish?

Yule, I know you’re busy but get back to me on my two way pager.

Heel, Spot.

brian moffatt April 6, 2004 at 8:49 am

And another thing: can we all agree that nobody uses trackbacks, that no one knows how.

Yule Heibel April 8, 2004 at 2:00 am

Ha, too funny about Telus, Brian! Since I don’t have tv, I haven’t seen the ads, but my phone service is via Telus and now that you mention it, all the insert advertising in the monthly statements features all manner of amphibians, cute monkeys, and such… Hmmm, strange. Maybe cellphone rays really do fry the brain?

Anonymous August 24, 2005 at 1:27 pm

Your site is realy very interesting.

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