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Wednesday: In this waking hell I am / witnessing more than I can compute.

[Vulva, from the Spaced series 1 episode 'Art'.]Achewood's Cartilage Head reminds me of Vulva, but only in that he succeeds where she fails.

Vulva is a performance artist from the British TV comedy Spaced. Her former working partner Brian, now a painter working exclusively from negative emotions, remembers everything they used to do together in a halcyon light. Near as anyone can tell, of course, they pranced around local parks during the eighties and ripped off the music video for "Subterranean Homesick Blues," but Brian feels that they were doing very important work.

One day, Brian receives an invitation to Vulva's new show. It's built up as a massive to-do, a tremendous achievement, especially in Brian's head. Nothing he's done for years has been Important Enough to bring to Vulva, or so he now imagines. She was the scintillating talent; he was just... there. He conjures up a laughing, golden version of his beloved former partner, who then drips mockery all over him: "Abstract expressionism is so mid-to-late eighties." And, in fact, when he sees her again before the show, she doesn't disappoint; she condescends. "I can't believe some of the shit I used to do with you." So, off goes Vulva to perform the pinnacle event of her career with Hoover.

And it's shite.

Mind, of course it's shite. Spaced is nothing less than caustic with regards to contemporary visual arts throughout both series, frequently deservedly so. Further, Vulva and Hoover's performance more closely resemble what an outsider expects performance art to be, especially if their perception's been informed by the excesses of the seventies and eighties. But it's such shite. It couldn't be anything else, with all the buildup, all the ego-bluster. Sound, fury; shite. Only Brian was actually weeping.

Only Brian thought that it was beautiful. They'd let his friends in for free, and they didn't care. No one had cared; really. Barely anyone had bothered to show up.

[Cartilage Head's snaps - a juxtaposition.]

Tickets to Cartilage Head, meanwhile, can't be had on the open market. Cartilage Head is someone you have to know about. When someone offers you the tickets, you just don't turn them down. Even if you don't want them.

The average man, or the average cat, he doesn't want them. But he has to take them.

Ray Smuckles, at the crux of it all, is a coward. He's not built for trouble. Historical pornography falls into his lap. Possessed shoes lead him into prosperity. When the girls in his bed drink too much and cry, or pass out, he leaves them juice. He slips away. When the child in his charge is in trouble, he entertains his way out of the mess, or he turns a blind eye. Maybe he feels it's his job, ever since he and Beef heard the gunshot; who's to say. Either way, he was born suckling silver utensils, and that's probably how he'll die -- trouble's not a thing that Ray does.

Roast Beef has to know what he's doing, giving Ray the ticket. Roast Beef is a child of depression. Ray is a cartoon cat.

This can't be Cartilage Head's first barbecue. The pre-printed cards with which he communicates suggest he's been this way before. Everything about him carries a monogram and a style. His basic stage show is vaguely distressing -- dancing connective tissue, weeping all the while, pushing itself apart for show -- but it's no initiatory experience. It's no descent. Is it remarkable that he picks the cat in seat Z-11 for dinner? For all we know, there is no other ticket. You don't go to this show if you're ready.

Wine rises from below. This is another world.

Cartilage Head relishes the companionship. He craves the intimate audience; he's delighted to perform for you over dinner, if you're the one he's chosen. He can't be someone people eagerly seek out for company; at best, he keeps with Trouble Man and No-No, or possibly his ushers. More than likely, he draws up wine on his own. The test of a man isn't what he'll do when he's wanted; the test is when he's needed.

So he pushes himself apart for Ray's pleasure, to his peril. And Ray flees. This is the measure; contemporary occultists should learn from Cartilage Head. Such as Vulva convince themselves that they make a mark, or a statement; largely, they wrap themselves in nonsense and cosmetics.

Cartilage Head finds the ones who would betray a dying man. And feeds them.

Posted by Wednesday Burns-White at September 22, 2005 7:43 PM

Comments

Comment from: Sage posted at September 22, 2005 10:17 PM

Wow. Eric may geek out on analysis, but this post takes the prize in the "proving Gabe right" category. Maybe we can start a meme... "jumping the snark."

Comment from: Sage posted at September 22, 2005 10:18 PM

...or is it just intentionally a box within a box?

Comment from: Merus posted at September 22, 2005 10:21 PM

I think it's English, but I can't be sure. It contains English words, but none of the sentences were parsing.

Perhaps it was written by that God bot?

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at September 22, 2005 10:25 PM

You guys clearly don't know Todd.

You just don't know him.

That is okay. You still own pans, I'm sure.

But I know Todd. I know him.

Comment from: Harukami posted at September 22, 2005 11:00 PM

Sage... Merus...

Why the hell are you reading this blog if you don't want poetic analysis?!

Comment from: Chris Anthony posted at September 22, 2005 11:01 PM

Huh.

Parsed for me.

Comment from: miyaa posted at September 22, 2005 11:04 PM

I think I got Wednesday's post. Maybe.

A lot of it is reference to what happens in the series which ended (I think) on the 22nd. It's probably something like a parable or an allegory of how Roast Beef is such a dick, and worse. (Like we need proof.)

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at September 22, 2005 11:05 PM

Haru -- careful about the line. There is a line, it is over there, and one must be careful to stay on this side of it. For it is a line. And one must be careful. For the staying.

I know Todd. I know him.

Comment from: Harukami posted at September 22, 2005 11:12 PM

Ah -- Sorry, Eric. :) I'll do my best to avoid toeing it in the future.

The line, that is.

The line that was toed.

Comment from: Gaiadea posted at September 22, 2005 11:47 PM

Wednesday, I just love that you know Spaced. My brother-in-law hooked me onto the DVDs a few years ago. Of course, living in the US means that no one else shares my special love.

Am I the only one besides Wednesday who's seen the Vulva episode?

Comment from: Nate posted at September 23, 2005 12:26 AM

See, I came into this with the link over on the snarkoleptics LJ group. But the ending (and Wednesday's post) sort of put most of it in perspective.

REALLY WEIRD perspective, kinda Tim Burton meets Frank Lloyd Wright perspective, but perspective nonetheless.

Comment from: Prodigal posted at September 23, 2005 12:46 AM

No, Sage, this proves how tragically wrong Gabe was.

Comment from: Doc posted at September 23, 2005 12:49 AM

It worked for me, possibly because the achewood boards have been giving much love and analysis to this arc over the last week or so.
Though for the record I have no idea what Spaced is but I think I understood ok, didn't detract from my enjoyment at all.

And here I was just going to post to congratulate Wednesday because she obviously got this storyline, in all it's bizzare glory. Though I do disagree on one point: this is the first time CH has done this. He would want it to have meaning and a fake death is meaningless, the printed up cards is just because he is a perfectionist like many great artists.

Eric, the Todd reference, are you threatening shankings?

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at September 23, 2005 1:14 AM

Man, Doc I know Todd. I know him.

Sadly, Ray forgot that no one should ever be a cock to a stranger. ever.

Comment from: siwangmu posted at September 23, 2005 1:25 AM

See, I had a similar "it looks like English..." reaction, but it was comedy awesomeness for me, because clearly the problem is my ignorance. I mean, I don't know the show, I don't know Achewood, I have no idea who Todd is and I really can't fathom his relationship to my ownership of pans (unless--eccentric way to comment on something seen as ubiquitous and normative?).
So, yeah. I kinda enjoy reading this for the sheer "I so don't understand here" value, although if I'm not careful I'm sure I'll start putting the pieces together.

And, uh, I think it's possible that the person who said the looks like English, but... thing may have meant something like I mean, where it's me not understanding, not "Your language is silly!" Lord knows I've been moved to post something as vacuous (how do you spell that?) as "Wow, I don't understand enough to comment here!" before, although if I have now insulted the person I'm trying to potentially defend, well, then I just suck.
Also, to top it off, the illustration almost certainly is a garden-variety "Here is a picture of what I am talking about" illustration, but it also functions, for the boggle-minded, as the perfect wtf icing on the cake.

(Thesis: Such posts as this, while not actually incomprehensible, are really fun to experience without said comprehension.)

Comment from: siwangmu posted at September 23, 2005 1:26 AM

And of course, by the time I'd finished writing that, Eric had explained like, half my questions. Bad Eric! Don't be helpful at inappropriate times!

Comment from: Connor Moran posted at September 23, 2005 1:28 AM

As an US resident who has the Spaced episode referenced above totally memorized, I must give this article a hearty "yay!"

When Spaced fell into the lap of my friend-circle post-Shawn of the Dead, it dominated our lives for a good six weeks. I don't think there's an episode I've seen less than three times, and the Vulva episode is the one we watched the most.

'Cause, y'know, zombies

Comment from: quiller posted at September 23, 2005 6:44 AM

Chinchilla, chinchilla, chinchilla!!!
That's about how surreal this all seems to me.

Comment from: Merus posted at September 23, 2005 7:55 AM

"See, I had a similar "it looks like English..." reaction, but it was comedy awesomeness for me, because clearly the problem is my ignorance. I mean, I don't know the show, I don't know Achewood, I have no idea who Todd is and I really can't fathom his relationship to my ownership of pans (unless--eccentric way to comment on something seen as ubiquitous and normative?)."

I still can't remember how to do the block quotes.

But that was pretty much my reaction. There was no way in hell I was going to understand the post, seeing as I had absolutely no points of reference to go on, and thus decided to have some fun as the outsider confused by the jargon and the esoteric references.

Considering that I manage to do this to someone else with alarming regularity, I was just havin' some fun.

But siwangmu is entirely on the money here - it started off explaining about Spaced, and that's fair enough, but then it descends into an area where I have no map, no compass, and someone's got their hands over my eyes and saying "many sayings to sayings for being us sayings" and then there's the green Angelina Jolie on the side there and my brain breaks down.

So if you'll excuse me, I shall take my leave, and go play Psychonauts. Be jealous!

Comment from: UrsulaV posted at September 23, 2005 8:30 AM

I am reminded of a conversation I have played out, in myriad variations, at conventions. A customer will come up, look at the art, be amused by the battle hamsters and whatnot, and then will hit one of the Weird Paintings. (Generally the lemonlopes for some reason.)

They will stare at it for about a minute and then say "I don't get it."

"It's a lemonlope."

"Huh?"

"Like a lemon...antelope...cruises the savannah...?"


At this point, one of two things happen. They usually break into a sort of incredulous laughter, either in understanding, or in astonishment that I, a grown woman, am at a convention expecting people to buy this sort of foolishness. Either way, fine by me.

But every now and again, they will stare at the piece some more, and then say "I still don't get it."

"Well, it's like an antelope..."

"No, no. I get that part. I just don't get IT."


And I am left struggling to explain that there is nothing else to get. You got it all. Subtext? We don't need no stinkin' subtext! Some things you do--like write lyrical poetic analysis about performance art and webcomics--because the world is a cooler place after you're done.

However, the best bit is that at least twice now, somebody has gone away, brow furrowed, as they tried to make sense of the inherently somewhat nonsensical, and returned a few hours later to shell out money for a print of the piece that they still don't get. Frustrated bafflement, in small doses, is good for the soul.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at September 23, 2005 8:35 AM

I could have got this post, even though I know not Spaced, because I started reading Achewood just before this storyline began, solely on the basis of the preponderence of recommentation for Achewood from this blog's management. But I don't get Achewood so oh well.

Comment from: JimRob posted at September 23, 2005 8:42 AM

That's just brought my vague sense of 'Now what am I thinking of...' into sharp focus. Connection made. Thanks, Wednesday.

To my mind Achewood's treatment's of a different order to Spaced's. It's funny and justified to take the piss out of bad performance art, but not a difficult feat. While showing performance art so that it's funny, disturbing and significant at once - and doesn't resemble the idea of it you carries around in your head - is more impressive.

Perhaps Spaced, in the late-nineties, had to tackle it head on because Brit Art was saturating the creative world with generally-incomprehensible work. Onstad has enough space (geographically and temporally) to make less reactive use of the idea.

Comment from: J.(Channing)Wells posted at September 23, 2005 8:54 AM

There are two types of people in this world: Those who do Know Todd and those who do Not Know Todd.

Comment from: Alan Sharkey posted at September 23, 2005 9:20 AM

Of course, Vulva was actually a bloke called Ian.

(I love Spaced. Coincidence time: I was watching this episode two days ago with the Sci-Fi Society at the university I go to. Just after watching, of course, Shaun of the Dead.)

Comment from: kirabug posted at September 23, 2005 9:23 AM

Y'know, this did bring up a question though: in the shooting strip, if Roast Beef's mom had twin boys, who's the other? Is it Ray? I'm so confused.

Ursula, how many of your readers just go, "Hey, cool! Lemonlopes!"

Cartilage Head finds the ones who would betray a dying man. And feeds them.

Whereas XXXYYY attempts to create dying men and fails miserably even when Vanderbeam grants her permission to do so.

(Merus, the blockquote tag is simply <blockquote>.)

Comment from: Wednesday posted at September 23, 2005 9:32 AM

Alan: well, I'm not going to give away all of the Vulva. Not like that. Just part of the Vulva.

kira: Roast Beef has a brother named Showbiz.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at September 23, 2005 10:19 AM

"So if you'll excuse me, I shall take my leave, and go play Psychonauts. Be jealous!"

I would, but I'm playing through a clean run of We Love Katamari, because I haven't unlocked everything in English yet. I don't have time to be jealous.

"Alan: well, I'm not going to give away all of the Vulva. Not like that. Just part of the Vulva."

Man, that takes me back to high school.

Comment from: UrsulaV posted at September 23, 2005 11:09 AM

Hmm, hard to say. A fair number. More than insist they don't get it, certainly...

Comment from: WestRider posted at September 23, 2005 11:37 AM

I don't know Spaced, but this storyline on Achewood has been really intense for me, and Wednesday has managed to NAIL exactly the same vibe in her post. It almost feels like this post is an organic part of the Achewood strips. It definitly makes me want to find the time to read through the archives again. Onstad has some amazing stuff going on here.

Comment from: WestRider posted at September 23, 2005 11:44 AM

Also, nice catch on the back reference, Eric

Comment from: Alan Sharkey posted at September 23, 2005 11:45 AM

"Man, that takes me back to high school."

Takes me back to every single day of my life.

Comment from: Zaq posted at September 23, 2005 12:05 PM

Cartilage Head terrified me. Not because of what he is, what he looks like, what he does. None of that bothered me in and of itself. What bothered me is that the entire setup... The theatre, the show which is so popular that you can't get the
tickets open market (meaning that people voluntarily go to watch this), the dinner invitation... was exactly the kind of scenario which used to wrap itself around my brain and give me nightmares as a child. It's like Onstad was rummaging through my childhood dreams and terrors and came across this and said "Hmm, that's fascinating..."

I'm not claiming I invented Cartilage Head per se. It just feels an awful lot like it.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at September 23, 2005 12:06 PM

Now, to be fair, there's so much nonsense out there that it can be difficult to determine whether or not there's a purpose behind the nonsense. I've noticed people have a much easier time accepting nonsense with a purpose as opposed to, say, lemonlopes (a distant cousin to Gary Larson's Spamelopes, perhaps?).

Though it's worth noting that nonsense with no purpose can end up doing greater things than nonsense with a purpose. I learned that lesson ten years ago.

Comment from: Phil Kahn posted at September 23, 2005 12:17 PM

Thanks, Weds. I'm a few steps closer to getting it now.

Comment from: SeanH posted at September 23, 2005 12:23 PM

So, um, am I the only person who finds Wednesday's writing really clear? I have no more problem understanding her than I do Eric, or anybody else. I really don't get all these comments about how she's confusing.

Comment from: Phil Kahn posted at September 23, 2005 12:26 PM

Admittedly, I'm finding much confusion as well. But I think I have a clearer direction into where Cartilage Head is all about.

I did ask for an explanation, so I can't be choosy on the kind that I get.

Comment from: 32_footsteps posted at September 23, 2005 12:42 PM

Maybe it's people just not understanding what she's referencing. Admittedly, I've never seen Spaced. And I don't read Achewood. So I'm precluded from every understanding it. So I'm just rolling with it.

Comment from: madbaker posted at September 23, 2005 1:29 PM

While you still have me, this post definitely lost me.
I have no clue what it is talking about.

Comment from: SeanH posted at September 23, 2005 1:55 PM

Maybe it's because I have a signed collector's edition DVD set of Spaced. But I do think Weds explained Vulva enough that the relevance was easily understandable. And it's not just this post, I've heard this complaint about Wednesday before, and I didn't get it then either.

Comment from: EsotericWombat posted at September 24, 2005 3:36 AM

Nah, you're not the only one. I found it very clear and I've never heard of Spaced.

one has to wonder how Roast Beef would have reacted to Cartilage Head. But then again, I suspect that that's a non-issue, and that Beef was never meant to see the show; that he was given the ticket because he is the only one from whom Ray would accept it.

But seriously... Ray, armed with his Incan medallion of chill, still got fucked over mentally at the sight of Cartilage Head. I'm not sure Beef would have made it to the end of the performance.

Comment from: Sage posted at September 24, 2005 9:06 AM

Apologies to Wednesday for the harshness of my first post. I won't pretend I didn't mean what I said, but the way I said it was mean, and I'm sorry. Shoulda took mom's advice about not saying anything at all...

To answer Harukami's question (hopefully without toeing the line), it's not that I don't like analysis -- I do, and that's why I read Websnark now and again, because Eric and Wednesday have shown some remarkable insight at various times; he with PVP (especially the revelation that Max is actually a good guy), her with at least one very interesting breakdown of a Jack Chick tract, if not more. And those are just one example each off the top of my head.

I just think you can overdo it, is all. Eric has overdone it before and he'll probably do it again. Wednesday, too. But they clearly like it, and they clearly care enough about the art form to do some critical thinking about it. So if my opinion means something to them, then cool, and if not, then that's cool too.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at September 24, 2005 10:45 AM

I really don't get all these comments about how she's confusing.

Wednesday confuses me when she discusses matters with which I'm not familiar, as happens more often with her than with Eric, which is not her problem.

Comment from: Eric the .5b posted at September 25, 2005 6:50 PM

I will say, this is the first Achewood bit linked from Websnark that I've found interesting, in a nightmarish sort of way.

*dodges boos, hisses, pity, and contempt*

Comment from: buggeroff posted at September 27, 2005 5:25 PM

Hahaha "shite", hahaha, rubbish. You completely misrepresent the Spaced episode, and are generally cack. I'll punch your plums.

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