The Grotesque

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In order to critically discuss the representations of the grotesque in art and popular culture genres and to understand what these representations tell us about the social and cultural ideas concerning the body and its boundaries; I will firstly attempt to explain the term grotesque and identify its context within today's society. In order to do this I will revert back to the earlier notions of the grotesque within the carnivalesque era as a way to understand and compare the modern day notions of such a term. I intend to concentrate on grotesque representations within television, film and performance stage shows as well as looking into the way in which women and their bodies have been related to the grotesque. I will look at where this perception has evolved from and how there seems to be an urgent desire within social and cultural realms to control the body and maintain the boundaries that have been constructed within society.

The definition of the grotesque often proves to be problematic; some would perhaps identify ugliness to be its minimal prerequisite, however this is understood to be a modern day concept of the term. Harpman explains that during the renaissance the ‘grottesche' was perceived to be beautiful and ‘pure fantasy' (Harpman, G 1982). ‘Such things do not exist and cannot exist and never have existed' (quoted by Wedekind, G. 2005). Although this perception has evolved throughout the years and it is now perceived to be connoted with subjects of a natural nature. The term ‘grottesche' derives from the end of the fifteenth century in Italy when decorations were rediscovered of merged creations of human, animal and plant forms in Rome. The notion of the grotesque as a concept that is far removed from reality has been questioned within today's society due to changes of identity within culture and acceptance of subjects removed from the norm. This is often portrayed within talk shows, such as ‘Jerry Springer' where it is not unusual for shows to present transsexuals and transvestites in a celebratory manner. There is a fascination with this sort of grotesque, and the notion of transsexuals and transvestites being discussed possibly causes repulsion to some, however at the same time these sorts of topics produce fascination within society. Harpman sees this sort of portrayal within the media as responsible for diluting the meaning of the grotesque, he asserts that there has been a ‘blurring of distinction' between the compatibility of different forms within society; ‘nothing is incompatible with anything else, the marginal is indistinguishable from the typical'(Harpman, G 1982) The term Grotesque is defined in the Oxford dictionary as strangely distorted, bizarre and ugly; however it is apparent that representations of the grotesque within society are much more varied and complex and this is portrayed within art and popular culture.

Representations of the grotesque have had presence within European culture for centuries; in particular within ‘carnivalesque' culture in the Middle Ages. The grotesque was celebrated within carnivals and represented the escape from the boundaries of social controls, presenting notions of equality and community to those participating. There was a great emphasis on bodily functions and orifices which were considered revolting, ugly and obscene. These themes were considered to be attacks against the ruling classes as the grotesque body represents everything the classical body tries to defeat and conceal. Eating, drinking, defecation, birth, death and sex are all essential principles that are apparent within carnival activities; these show the negative and positive aspects within the grotesque and its relation to the body. Where all these individual principles are accepted within life; the notion of them being fused together seems inappropriate to many, therefore they are often categorized as grotesque. Food provides efficient examples in order to explain this; it...
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