Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Not What Zorro Meant At All

I'M WARNING YOU AHEAD OF TIME that I'm not feeling inspired, so you're not going to get my quote/unquote "A" game today, but I feel oddly compelled to weigh in nevertheless, given how particularly disappointed I am in recent developments involving what can loosely be termed Humanity.

When I sneak a peek outside my narrow confines at the greater world at large, folks, what I'm seeing hasn't been at all pretty, unless you want to call it pretty gruesome. The behavior I'm seeing out of my fellow humans is not all that encouraging, what with reports of multiple beheadings -- so final an act of revenge that the accepted spectrum of normal murdering is just not quite getting the job done. When removing someone from the ranks of the living via a run-of-the-mill stabbing or shooting doesn't do justice to your special brand of crazy, where else can you go except entirely severing the head from the rest of the body?

Just like committing suicide, the means of murder are fewer than you might think, if like me you've given this sort of thing some thought. I think I've given some thought to almost everything, such is the frequency with which my mind wanders afoul of the course of normality during the waking day.
The first decapitation in the news took place July 30 on a Greyhound bus rolling across Canada of all places. In a surreal touch that sounds like a cross between Carl Hiassen and Quentin Tarantino, "Some of the 37 passengers were napping and others watching 'The Legend of Zorro' when Chinese immigrant Vince Li attacked Tim McLean, allegedly stabbing him dozens of times. As horrified passengers fled from the bus, Li severed McLean's head, displaying it to some of the passengers gathered outside the bus, witnesses said. He then began hacking at the body." Witnesses said the attack "appeared to be unprovoked," and if like me you're a student of aberrant behavior, you're saying to yourself right about now: Boy, you'd hate to see what this guy would do when he IS provoked. O Canada, good luck with getting any shuteye on a bus for about, oh, the next thousand years.

Later, this Vince Yi character, according to one witness, actually starts eating the unfortunate McLean fellow, but that's cannibalism, which is a whole other sphere of human dementia outside the narrow purview of this present post.

But let's not absolve the media of their fair share of culpability in this matter, having reported the atrocity in the first place. Just like the sensationalist news business to focus on the one bus ride that ends in a bloody beheading instead of all the occasions passengers are transported safely to their destinations without seeing one of their own savagely decapitated on the way.

Our second unfortunate episode occurred last Sunday on the small Greek island of Santorini, where an enraged man is accused of beheading his now ex-girlfriend in a rampage that sounds like something even the Coen Brothers would have turned down as too gory if they came across it in a movie script. Police have not released the name of the accused madman, but perhaps a more definitive legal term than "accused" should be employed in this case, as the man "drove around the village of Vourvoulos exhibiting the woman's head," according to the AP report. That's the kind of thing that is unlikely to endear you to your prospective in-laws, and Greeks should know better, being of a culture where family is so important. Somewhere the guy, who worked at a local restaurant, went all wrong, accused of killing his ex's pet dog in the same heinous manner.

Again, most disagreements between a man and a woman do not end with one party deliberately hacking off the head of the other. Yet is it me or does the media not seem obsessed with featuring the few where a bad argument ends not with hurt feelings and a few well-timed curses, but with major, irreparable artery damage to the head and neck area.
No need to point out that no Americans were involved in these savage acts of carnage, but I'll do it anyway. And another thing that nobody else will bring up, the white elephant head in the room, if you will, is that beheadings are deeply terrifying and yet comical at the same time. Gallows humor by definition is black and morbid, and you have to believe the French Revolution stand-up comics working the Guillotine circuit had the masses howling for more with their Robespierre imitations and puns about keeping your head while everyone around you is losing theirs. What is it about lopping off someone's noggin that brings out the funny like few other means of murderous mayhem? I mean, take crucifixion... please. I don't know one good crucifixion joke, and you probably don't either. Death by stabbing, burning, hanging, poisoning, head bashing, drowning -- all room clearers if you're thinking of holding court at the next cocktail party. But with the right crowd, the mere mention of disembodiment and the mood is set for merriment.

Yet even decapitation takes a back seat to an even more frightening species of head chopping, the lopping off of Mr. Happy, a la Lorena Bobbitt. There is a whole Website of jokes devoted solely to that '80s touchstone moment when she took their marital problems into her own hands.

I'm sure sudden penal removal has its own storied history, but let's cut away from that for a while and consider for a moment the history of human beheading. Terms like capital punishment and capital crime derive from the Latin word caput, meaning head. The Bible is rife with references to beheadings, most famously John the Baptist, who lost his while preaching the Word to a really tough crowd. And in a development which says a whole little about the so-called progress of Man, savage political violence in the form of beheadings is alive and well these last few years in Iraq, the crade of civilization for those of you keeping score.

Someone with even more time on their hands than me could write a treatise or two about how this sordid history of decapitation throughout the ages, as well as in various religions' mythologies, is embedded into who we are as a species. I mean, even in cartoons this kind of stuff is more than prevalent, it's elemental, from the old Looney Tunes to Ren & Stimpy and Itchy & Scratchy to whatever it is the kids are watching up there in their rooms with the door shut these days. Is it all an accident that these beheadings get the biggest laughs from children -- perhaps even buried deep down is a nervous laughter: the primeval satisfaction that it's someone else getting his head chopped off, not me, and that makes it pleasing in the most basic human way. Why else are we not immediately horrified by the image? And when we do seek horror or terror as mass entertainment, a good old beheading via chainsaw is just what the box office ordered. Perhaps that same instinct drove the Ancient Greeks to incorporate bloody stories like the one where Perseus, after pursuing Medusa to the ends of the earth (talk about your frequent flier mileage) , cuts off her head, then sticks it in a bag and carries it home. Exhibit A, perhaps, of an elaborate insanity defense on behalf of mankind.

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