There are some things you come across and have to shake your head at in wonderment, even if you are no stranger in a strange land and thus not suffering from cognitive dissonance. Some of them may seem ordinary to you affect-blunted modernists, but try and imagine that you are looking at them through the eyes of a curious five year old child.
First, the chastity belt. Invented by the insecure swashbucklers who brought us the Crusades. Mentioned in passing in that terribly engaging book by Umberto Eco about the millennia old conspiracy to take over everything (Foucault’s Pendulum).
Second, the iron maiden. A metal coffin layered with nasty metal spikes, into which devout Christians blithely enclosed those poor souls predestined to die a horrible death. Slam the lid shut, and kiss your favorite heretic goodbye.
Third, the cat o’ nine tails. One whip wasn’t enough, apparently, and Master Tyree was bored, so after a few pints of rum and a weevil-infested biscuit he crafted a device that caught on like gangbusters in the Royal Navy and sparked a worldwide craze in scarification.
High heels. A diabolical creation from that same mutant Chinese who came up with foot binding. Apparently there is an unspoken consensus that women should not be able to run, or run away, which is entirely ignored by Deena Kastor, Paula Radcliffe, and hordes of women everywhere, including that 92-year-old woman who just ran the Honolulu Marathon. For every woman who loves her Manolos there is a Kenyan running barefoot in the mountains.
The whalebone corset. Another oldie but goodie from the Victorian era. All women should have 16 inch waists like Molly Bloom before she developed a taste for cream puffs. And men should, correspondingly, imitate the long-extinct passenger pigeon and puff out their tubercular 28 inch chests like Leopold Bloom.
Brylcreem. From the artificial spelling designed for easy trademarking to the entirely unnatural nature of the product itself, I am appalled and repelled. Yet fascinated. Its popularity with Royal Air Force pilots in World War II led to their nickname, The Brylcreem Boys. Ironically, Tony Gibson, the model shown in RAF uniform to advertise Brylcreem during World War II, was an anarchist and conscientious objector. My favorite use of Brylcreem’s “a little dab’ll do ya” jingle? That would be Nicholson channeling genius in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest just before they hit him with 50,000 volts.
And speaking of crazy ideas, what’s crazier than pouring lightning into someone’s head to see if it makes him feel better? Golfers flee the course holding 1-irons over their heads as the rain crashes down (on the theory that even God can’t hit a 1-iron), but our best scientific minds give us electrocution as a cure for what ails us while Texas tries to wear out Old Sparky. Vas ist los mit dat, meine freunde?