Babies on spikes


Gallows humor

One day I came home from running afternoon errands to find my then-middle school daughters sitting on the sidewalk in front of the house torturing their Barbie dolls.

The girls had shorn their dolls’ hair and had scrubbed off much of the plastic on the dolls’ inflated breasts which now looked like the side of a cardboard box (they sanded the naked fronts of the dolls on our sidewalk).

I wasn’t sure whether to be horrified at the maiming or praise the girls for their feminist act.

They strung up the Barbies: necks were tied with dental floss to a wire coat hanger, creating a gallows of hanging dolls.

At Halloween, most folks tolerate such youthful experiments.

My daughters grew up to pursue more constructive arts in the same vein: writing plays and dissertations on female power, social justice and communicative acts.

They traded doll maiming for literary criticism, and I am in awe of their clever and thoughtful prose.

Today our neighborhood is strewn with skeletons and spider webs as families ready for weekend trick-or-treaters.

Most of the lawn horrors lean toward the silly, with gravestones that read:

Izzy Dead

Ima Goner

Barry Deep

But no Barbie mobiles.

I’m tempted to buy an arm-load of baby dolls at the Goodwill and stick their heads on spikes on our front lawn.

My lawn version of a Stephen King horror story, where innocents—like the baby dolls—are slain for no rational purpose except to show that evil exists.

I don’t share King’s views on evil, preferring to shift his sensibilities in a more humorous direction.

Jonathan Swift accomplished this exceedingly well by infusing satire into his well-known treatise on curbing starvation and poverty in 18th Century Britain.

Swift recommended fattening babies for market and sold for supper, thus solving over-crowding and hunger.

Swift’s Modest Proposal employs satire, which comedian Eddie Izzard adopted 270 years later in his standup, Dressed to Kill.

Hmm, Izzard smiles: “Babies…taste of chicken.”

Lest you leave today thinking the blog tasteless, consider Sigmund Freud’s response to gallows humor:

The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to let itself be compelled to suffer. It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows, in fact, that such traumas are no more than occasions for it to gain pleasure.

Today’s blog is dedicated to Megan and Rachel: may they be forever irreverent

#native science

Sigmund Freud’s quote on humor is from Lisa Colletta’s 2003 book, Dark Humor and Social Satire in the Modern British Novel (Palgrave)


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, framing, journalism, Native Science, writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s