Posts Tagged ‘mesoamericana’

Faces of Death

28 April 2009

Chris Norris recently deployed the term “asteroid porn” for a certain gratuitous style employed by those writing about meteoric catastrophe:

Here is a brief summary of a typical piece of asteroid porn. Dinosaurs are peacefully grazing (or browsing, or doing whatever) on a warm sunny day (or at sunset, or some other time of peacefullness) when they see a big fireball fall out of the sky. It hits the Earth so hard that larva comes out, like a big bursting geological zit. The larva shoots up hundreds of miles into the air and comes down, setting fire to, like, the whole planet. All the forests are on fire, and all the dinosaurs are on fire as well. Then there’s this big blast wave, and it’s so big it goes round the world, like, 5 times at the speed of Concorde, and when it hits the burning dinosaurs they all get blown into burning pieces…

You’ll want to read the entire post.

Not all porn is so literate though.  Books, television, film and, most especially the internet abound with visual artworks that operate in the same vein.  One well-worn style adopts a “dinosaur-eye view,” typically peppering the foreground with a tyrannosaur, hadrosaur or ceratopsian or some combination thereof.  A few enterprising artists even manage a nod to Charles Knight.

picture-4The players in these epic finales span a comical range of emotive reaction to the impact, from “wha?” to “HOLY EFF!” to “screw extinction–I’M GOING TO EAT YOU!!!” A few contemplative dinosaurs, cast in silhouette, even appear rather philosophical about their impending demise.

And of course, it’s a nearly irresistible vehicle for a one-liner:

picture-5Large pterosaurs offer a convenient excuse to adopt an aerial perspective that permits a more graphic celebration of “the junk” (the bolide that is).  Plus there must be a sense of clever satisfaction tat comes when you work Quetzalcoatlus into a painting of Mesoamerican Armageddon.

picture-6Another popular technique takes yet another step back to show what the hypothetical Troodon cosmonauts would have seen.

This view shifts the victim role from the dinosaurs to the planet itself. It also lends a certain historical anonymity to the event–this could be a catastrophe in the distant past, or the not-so-remote future.  In fact, some even depict an anachronistic geography that necessarily implies the latter to the careful observer.

picture-8It’s tempting to speculate that this orbital perspective might not have occurred to an artist working prior to the advent of satellite photography.  A similar argument has been made regarding the link between the Victorian “aquarium craze” and the subsequent proliferation of artworks adopting an underwater perspective (Clary and Wandersee 2005).

With their melodramatic flair, stereotyped compositions and limited pool of motifs, these images might easily be regarded as derivative at best and sure, pornographic at worst.  Much like metal album art.  However, these depictions will also afford ample fodder for a future, likely poor, overeducated and underemployed, generation of science/art historians interested in the cultural impact of late 20th Century neo-catastrophism.  Unless we are all wiped out by an asteroid first.

Coming up: Stravinsky, climate change and the Bataan march

postscripto: Huh, look at that.  300 microecos posts in just over 3 years.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

A note on the images:  All are thumbnails gleaned from Google Image searches of “asteroid impact”, “dinosaur extinction” etc.  They are reproduced here for the purposes of discussion only.  This is a cultural studies blog.  Deal.

Snatch Bat

17 February 2007

Habilidades Força: +7; Combate: +3; Esquiva: 2½; Salto: +11; Natação: +3; Furtividade: +5; Corrida: +12; Preparo Físico: +5; Caça: +3.

Sorry about that title, I couldn’t resist. Given the popularity of a previous microecos post about a Mesoamerican deity, I feel compelled to engage in a bit of rampant parablogging and direct my loyal readers toward Darren Naish’s recent post about extinct giant vampire bats and the vampire headed mayan ‘demon’ Camazotz. It’s part of a larger series about sanguivory.

Sweet dreams, don’t let the Desmodontids bite!


It was when they were sentenced to the Bat House, they made their first mistake, in accordance with their destiny. Hunahpu decided to peek outside the blowgun and see if it was morning yet. When he did so, a bat sliced off his head and it went rolling out onto the ballcourt of Xibalba. His brother called all the animals together, asking each to bring its favorite food. The coati brought a squash, and with the help of the gods this became a new head for Hunahpu. Meanwhile the Twins told a rabbit to hide outside the ballcourt. (source:

Were first nation Americans carving squash-heads long before the import of European Samhain traditions?

The amphibian Xipe Totec

14 April 2006

Spring, as the frenzily copulating Swainson’ses across the street will tell you, is a time for reproduction, rebirth and regeneration. But Nature, scrupulous accountant that he-she is, demands competition, carnage and sacrifice in return for all that blooming Qi. As Darwin put it in The Origin:

We behold the face of nature bright with gladness, we often see superabundance of food; we do not see, or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life; or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings are destroyed by birds and beasts of prey; we do not always bear in mind, that though food may be now superabundant, it is not so at all seasons of each recurring year.

And while, as Darwin notes, we may personally do our best to ignore the harsh realities of the season, our religious traditions do their darnedest to remind us. Some one billion or so practicing Catholics are fasting today, Good Friday, ostensibly to mark the date a dude was “nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change” (in the words of Douglas Adams). Jews will be celebrating their own spring holiday, Passover, this weekend, remembering a spate of plagues, the decimation of a reproductive cohort, and a hasty flight into a forbidding desert.

The Mesoamericans had their own grisly spring rites, centered around this guy:

Xipe Totec, “Our Lord the Flayed One”…Sort of an Aztec cross between Demeter and Leatherface.

Which brings me to this article appearing in this week’s issue of Nature, documenting an odd behavior observed in one species of a curious group of legless amphibian known as caecilians (you’re breaking my heart). It seems that the devoted mommies offer up their own skin (amounting to up to 1/7th of their own body weight!) as a meal for their recently hatched young:

While this kind of parental investment is rather common in the animal kingdom (think milk and placentas), this is a rather dramatic example of motherly love to say the least. Interestingly, in other species of caecilian that give live birth, the young feed on the lining of their mother’s oviduct during gestation, which the authors of the current study propose as a possible precursor behavior to the skin-snacking (I misread the abstract, the authors in fact suggest the reverse). As mentioned in this news article on the study it is fairly common for other amphibians to feed on their old skin after shedding.

Happy spring and don’t forget to give mom a call this weekend!


Head on over to Rigor Vitae and Afarensis for much more. Carel’s post is accompanied, as per usual, by some awesome art (this time a Scaphiopus couchii doing his/her best Gene Kelly impression).