Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The News in the News

From the inception of this project, my spins on these stories have always been linked to how the media treats them, and how those treatments get others to react. Here then is the story of Pamela Latrimore, as told by her on eBay, where she is in the process of selling this brain scan, where in the cerebral folds of her brain she has discovered the Virgin Mary.

Nothing shocking about that, right? Jesus and Mary have popped up in ultrasounds and MRIs plenty of times. It’s not even particularly surprising that it looks like this item will sell for more than $700. What’s interesting is how this event, for Latrimore, has spurred her campaign for awareness about Agent Orange dioxins that have long been polluting her hometown of Jacksonville, Arkansas. In her words from eBay: “Some do not see the image some do. I'm not here to dispute that. I see it and I think it is a blessing and a miracle. The miracle to me is people are now aware of this town.”

Yes, her explanation of all this is erratic in terms of spelling, grammar and capitalization, but this abstract from a November 4, 1991 issue of The Nation proves that Latrimore is not exaggerating the severity of illnesses and environmental issues that have plagued this town since the end of the Vietnam War. Apparently, the Vertac Chemical Corporation stored various toxins all over the town: “It is opined that no one knows for certain if a house or backyard isn't directly on top of a yet-to-be-identified toxic dump.” Yikes!

Latrimore says she is very ill and while she and others have long fought to save themselves, their town and other towns that suffer the same plight, dead ends are all they seem to hit. But now, this image of the Virgin Mary has garnered national media attention, including a potential appearance on CNN (according to Latrimore).

I’m just tuning in to this issue today. I can’t verify Latrimore’s claims, but searching around, they don’t strike me as outlandish. What does it say about the culture of media when real human suffering does not receive proper reporting until a purported image of the Virgin Mary in a brain scan becomes a part of the story? I’d say that the media, at least the mainstream media (CNN, I’m talking to you, too), has conditioned us to consider tabloid stories as hard news. That’s why banner headlines on AOL and Yahoo inform us about reality television dramas. If that’s your thing, fine, but that ain’t news.

More on this as it develops . . .

Update (12/18/08): The MRI sold for $730, going to an anonymous California bidder. With more than $100,000 in medical bills, this was clearly not about the money for Latrimore. According to this WFTS report, she is actually disappointed that the auction only received 21,977 views over the course of 10 days because she was hoping to raise even more awareness about the pollution that plagues her hometown of Jacksonville, Arkansas. It doesn’t seem like that CNN appearance ever happened – maybe it was too much news?

Friday, December 12, 2008

If Everyone Else Does It, It Must Be Okay

Connie Covert from Idaho Falls, Idaho, has come out of the closet. No, wait, she’s come out about her closet. According to this Local News 8 report, Covert first noticed an image of Jesus on this door in her home over 30 years ago but “was afraid to tell anyone fearing she would be called crazy.” All of the stories about Jesus and the Virgin Mary showing up in all sorts of places inspired Covert to make her secret public. Of the people she has shown, only about half see Jesus, while others see a hobo or a horse. I kind of see Macho Man Randy Savage.

Covert is not religious, but she interprets the face as a sign that something has been looking over her for decades, especially since her life is tragedy free: “Trailer hasn’t burned down or anything.” The article doesn’t establish any specific reason for Covert’s confession, though it does make clear that she has no intention of selling the image on eBay.

Attitudes change with the times. Sure, there is still plenty of bigotry and racism out there – all over the world – but it is fair to say that culture at large, as filtered through the media, has become more accepting of pretty much everyone and everything, even, apparently, how people will think of you if you claim to see Jesus, Mary or Mickey Mouse in a water stain. What once might have resulted in your neighbors inconspicuously whispering about you has become something of a status symbol, or at least a way to attract some attention and get your fifteen minutes of fame.

Maybe that’s the essence of this shift in perception, that getting noticed, being on the news, even for less than complimentary reasons, is the status symbol. Because if you read enough reader comments tagged on to the end of these Madonna of the Toast stories, plenty of people like Covert get ridiculed, pretty harshly at times. But, no matter what people write and say about you, if your story is out there, circulating all over the world, then you have arrived: I can be Googled, therefore I am.

Hopefully Covert doesn’t regret making her story known.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sold – Jesus Doggie Door Goes for $1,185

The title says it all. No word about whether or not the winner of this auction is going to pay extra for Roger Bowman to accompany the framed object to its new home, but the sale does seem official. Scroll down to read more about this story.

Believe it or not, I do read about more than questionable iconic forms showing up in surprising places. I actually read books, ones without pictures even. Check out The Millions if you are interested in my favorite reads of 2008. Contributors to the annual A Year In Reading comprise a roster of today’s most interesting and acclaimed writers.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

An Ode to Salsa

Recognizable faces and shapes have appeared on a dizzying array of substrates, formed by jet streams and condensation, frothing oatmeal, rust, wood grain and now, salsa – my favorite condiment. Of course, no proper story about a salsa-splatter Virgin Mary could originate anywhere else but California. After living there for 5 years I can attest to the glories of California salsa. Thanks to the close proximity of so much amazing produce, the state’s Mexican food is often accompanied by a range of salsa as varied as these Madonna of the Toast tales. Pineapple, watermelon, apple, mango, corn, pumpkin seed, tomatillo, heirloom tomatoes – all of these flavors of salsa exist. Free avocado salsa so plentiful you can fill a cup and drink it? Head to Cancun in Berkeley (portion of the famous salsa bar pictured above).

So to Bakersfield, California, we go, where, according to this FaceBakersfield story, Elvia Alvarez was making salsa. Some of it splattered against the wall, forming what Alvarez immediately recognized as the Virgin Mary. Since it has appeared, Alvarez also says her house has smelled like roses, although there are no roses in the house, or neighborhood. Such a scent may come in handy if she leaves that stain on the wall. Odors aside, Alvarez believes the image to be a sign from God that people should learn to treat one another better.

As you can tell from the photograph, this is a pretty standard tomato salsa that Alvarez was blending, nothing more than tomato, chili peppers, onion and cilantro. With the exception of tomatillo salsa, I prefer a chunkier, rustic salsa, hand-chopped and mixed, so a recipe like Alvarez’s doesn’t come out as spicy ketchup. I like my salsa to have a bit of crunchy texture, so those spikes of cilantro, jalapeno and onion really contrast with the tomatoes.

While its carbon footprint is questionable, one of my favorite salsas to make in the winter is mango salsa, thanks to the abundance of cheap South American mangos found at my Astoria produce stand of choice. Let them get really ripe and then chunk them, scrape all the flesh off the pit with a spoon, letting the juice run into the bowl, add some onion, garlic, cilantro, jalapeno, lemon, salt, pepper and you have a top-notch mango salsa, good with chips, on fish tacos or dolloped into a bowl of chili. If you’re really lucky, some of the mango juice will run down your wrist, hit the counter and congeal into the face of Frida Kahlo.