Are skulls really about death?

sugar-skulls-post

yorick

“That skull had a tongue in it, and could sing once…”

A cranial puzzle that enshrouded the musings of a mind, a teardrop that once enlivened its bearer, an abyss that articulated thought, cavernous sockets providing a gateway to a gaping maw that, even in death, alludes to something rather than nothing

…death, danger, machismo. Evil. Fear. Caution.

It’s easy to be philosophical about skulls but the fact of the matter is that before pop culture defiled one of symbolism’s most iconic metaphors (with pink bows and heart shaped glasses) they were pretty much as scary as crap – ominous in their blatant attachment to death. A bleak reminder of human mortality. What better object than a skull, once sheathed in living matter – sharp in its contours, unforgiving in its glare, relentless in its presence – to burden itself with society’s reverent trepidation?

By nature humankind fears that which it cannot comprehend. And death, intrinsically enigmatic, is equivocal in its ability to attract and repel with simultaneous force. Rather than ignore the beastly object, we render it artistically, we rant and rave about it, we tattoo it on our arms and emboss it on our clothing. We can’t ignore it; it is, after all, a part of us.

So be it.

rrskulls_easy_small_mirrorA more interesting question than “Are skulls really about death?” (yes, they are) is, “So, what’s the big deal? Death, right? We all do it.”

Obviously…the thought of death sucks (unless it’s perceived to grant a reprieve in some way) – it will probably hurt, you leave behind loved ones, you might never get to wear that kickass pink dress you bought last weekbut, ultimately (a small fyi), we’re all gonna die.

What happens after is what really matters.

It makes the most sense to suppose that the fear invoked by a skull is fuelled by one’s perception of the afterlife. Surely, if Heaven is part of a person’s ideological dogma, death is not something to fear. Right? Heaven (or whatever utopia) presupposes the continued existence of a soul. So death might hurt but, considering eternal life, it’s a brief moment in time. Yet the great irony is that often those who have the biggest gripe about skulls are those who, in fact, believe in an afterlife. Religion – it’s a bitch.

The problem is that skulls, along the way, have become synonymous with evil. So they have a bad rap. But it’s important to remember that although skulls will never detach from the deathly aura that imbues them, they are, after all, mere objects (inanimate in nature); it is human beings that wield them with evil intent.

Arguably, skulls have been unfairly vilified.

Luckily, not only is Popular Culture an iconoclast but it loves a good villain. Pop Culture, with its mass production, its sequin, gold beading and bountiful bling has looked death in the face sons-of-anarcy-the-reaperand said a big “Fuck YOU! I’ll chuck some glitter on you and see how you like it!” And, as it turns out, skulls look quite good in pink. Rebelling against its own ideology, society, through Popular Culture, has undermined its aversion to death by caricaturing its most applied weapon. Using skulls to pelt mortality into the gut of humanity with unbridled, unashamed force, is no longer relevant.

Well, that’s not quite true. Not everyone subscribes to the doctrine of Popular Culture, and, in certain contexts, skulls can be truly fearsome (fear the reaper…and all) but times have changed – ideology has evolved and so too have the symbols attached thereto.

“Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.” -German Proverb

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