Communication and Construction of Monstrous Embodiment
June 15-16, 2012

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Grotesque Bodies

If you are passionate about film and television monsters, featuring explicit gore, graphic violence and depictions of various taboos, Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media might have the right ingredients to satisfy your particular appetites. To be more specific, Intensities No. 4, December 2007, offers a special edition entitled Mysterious Bodies, containing a range of brilliant essays on alien bodies, vampires, ‘Gothic’ body parts, sex and violence in the Muppet Show, the dead bodies of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and many others.

Gerard de Lairess, Plate T.55, "Abdominal Organs, Uterus
and Placenta of  a Pregnant Woman" from Govard
Bidloo's Anatomia Humani Corporis (1685)
Images are copyright the University of Toronto Library
The edition includes an article by Peter Hutchings entitled ‘Grotesque Bodies and the Horror of Comedy in League of Gentlemen’ which deserves special mention, especially for its illuminating comments regarding the show’s dark humor, acceptability, graphic depictions of decomposing, dissected grotesque bodies and its distinctiveness resisting simplistic explanations and contextualization.

Opening the article, Hutchings writes:
The comedy show 'The League of Gentlemen', which first appeared on British television in 1999 and ran until 2002, was probably not to everyone’s taste. Themes explored through three series and a Christmas special included murder, kidnapping and imprisonment, incest , monstrosity and deformity, masturbation, transvestism and transexuality, dead children, cruelty to animals, the imbibing of urine, erotic asphyxiation, vampirism, voodoo, implicit cannibalism (a rare moment of restraint), limb grafting and a plague of nosebleeds. Add nudity, some violence and gore, the occasional use of the word 'fuck', and an obsessive fixation on bodies marked in various ways as grotesque, and you end up with a most unusual recipe for TV comedy.
This ‘unusual recipe’ produced a clever work whose very cleverness, in Hutchings' view, shielded it from ‘accusations of vulgarity and coarseness and made it a suitable object for critical praise.’ The show, comparable to Monty Python, intelligently invokes comic and horror traditions creating a rich fabric of cultural references. Hutchings also reflects on the characters’ physical grotesquerie, which served as a starting point for the show’s characterizations, driven by obsessive desires and impulses and the role of transvestism where the male performers frequently play the roles of both male and female. The article concludes with an illuminating examination of the grotesque bodies in terms of horror, parts of which deserve to be quoted in full:
Cornelis Huyberts, Thes: 7, tab. 2 (Brain with pia mater,
arm of a child, hydatiform mole, fetal membranes,
lips), from Frederic Ruysch,
Opera omnia anatomico-medico-chirurgica 
In this veritable parade of attractions, grotesque bodies provide some continuity, with body-anxiety a major theme, albeit one that is modulated in different, generically specific ways as the show progresses. The deployment of grotesque bodies, defined in relation to both comedy and horror traditions, also helps to articulate the peculiar televisual character of a show that seems very much to be defining itself in terms of the limits of what can actually be shown on television. (…) Repeatedly, the emphasis is on what we cannot see, with the limits of our vision of ten associated with partially glimpsed bodies. We cannot see the source of the infected meat (although we might presume that it is human flesh), we cannot see the monster above the shop, we cannot see Barbara in all her transsexual glory. Instead the show alludes to extra - televisual generic worlds that are not fully representable within television itself, with those allusions drawing the attention of an audience – or at least a generically knowledgeable audience – precisely to what they are missing. 
Finally, the monstrous, dissected, infected, distended, distorted and transgressive bodies featured in this article remain rich in allusions and contradictions, leaving us wondering, intrigued by their distinctiveness as we fill the gaps with our own imagination. Whether your exploration of monstrous bodies as depicted in both film and in television concerns gender politics, sexuality, horror, humor, the grotesque, gore, explicit violence, fetishism, breaking taboos and numerous others, the articles featured in this edition might inspire criticisms or simply - spark your research interests and encourage your imagination.

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