Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cultural Dependence

Have you missed me? It’s been a busy few weeks. I went to Germany and even had an email account hacked. And how about the whole Balloon Boy fiasco? Richard and Mayumi Heene are awful but the media did not help the matter. Why report on real news when there’s live footage of a boy hurtling through the sky in a UFO-esque contraption, most likely on the way to his death? Veracity is secondary, it’s the story, what we think we see or want to see. Do we really want to see a tragedy involving a kid? What do you see?

In Oakdale, California, David Nunez’s father excavated a “football-sized rock” ornamented with what the two men saw as an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, according to this Boston Herald story. Of course, “the caramel-brown and chalkboard black hunk of gneiss, a banded metamorphic rock that started out as sandstone and shale” dates back millions and millions of years. This shape was created around the same time as the Sierra Nevada Mountains, way before humans and human stories spawned. Merced College humanities professor Max Hallman gets it: "Culturally, people in India may have seen a Hindu goddess on it. If you’ve never heard of the Virgin of Guadalupe, you wouldn’t have seen it. Visions are culturally dependent.”

What then, Professor, can we deduce about the culture of Braehead, Scotland, where the purported image of Christ has been spotted on the bathroom door of an Ikea? According to this Telegraph UK report, visitors to the men’s room see Jesus and Gandolf. As such Madonna of the Toast stories go all of this is pretty standard. Here comes the curveball: the Ikea claims that the face is intentional, and meant to portray Benny Anderson of ABBA. As a spokeswoman said: “Swedishness is engrained in every part of our stores."

I love it when corporate branding and national identity mingle, especially when some late 1970s pop music joins the mix . . .