Beached Az: Whale and Seagull meet Poseidon

Beached Az is an Australian series of short animations about a New Zealand whale who gets stuck on a small tropical island and becomes friends with a local seagull.

It has simple designs, and simple dialogue: sample:

Whale: “Oh No! I’m beached! I’m beached as!”

Seagull: “What are you doing, bro?”

Whale: “Dude, I’m beached as!”

Beached Az, series 1, episode 1.

It’s very funny, most of its humour coming from word play, repetition, and those accents. Whale and Seagull speak in the Australian approximation of a New Zealand accent–the a sounds like an e, i sounds like a u, the o sounds like oi, es sound like is, and so on. Seagull offers Whale a chup (a chip); Whale says ‘no I only eat plenkton (plankton).’ Their talk, too, is peppered with Kiwi slang–they often refer to each other as ‘bro;’ and say ‘sweet as,’ instead of awesome. Australians love making fun of how Kiwis speak, and this show offers a concentrated dose of friendly trans-Tasman mockery.

And it’s a sweet little series–of harmless and pointless conversations, with the occasional moment of depth and seriousness. Which brings us to Poseidon.

I just kind of Nep-tuned you out

In the opening to the third series, Whale and Seagull have the opportunity to be really serious, when they meet Poseidon, the god of the sea. Poseidon’s despondent because of the pollution and rubbish in the sea. Whale and Seagull try to change the subject and cheer up the gloomy god, but Poseidon’s not having it.

Beached Az: Cygull and Whaleborg

He takes them on a journey into the future, to show them what the oceans will become–dirty, built up, and full of robots. Indeed Seagull and Whale become cyborgs (Cygull and Whaleborg), but if Poseidon is making a point, it’s lost to the duo, who delightedly play with their robot powers, until the god loses his temper and shouts:

Poseidon: Yes I suppose your particuar situation has possibly improved, but we can’t allow ourselves to be befuddled by technology while nature is DYING!

Poseidon takes them back to the present, and tries again:

Whale/Seagull: Aww, Poseidon!

Poseidon: I was showing you the future to show you how bad it gets.

Whale: If you’re God of the Oceans, why don’t you just change it then. You’re powerful as.

Poseidon: It doesn’t work like that. I can’t affect humans’ free will. They must realise they’re not separate from nature, you’re part of nature–

Seagull: Aw, sorry, I wasn’t listening there. I just kind of Nep-tuned you out.

The environmental dilemma in a nutshell–a desperate nature god, ignored by mates who just want to chat and muck about. But of course the point is made–if humans don’t do something about our relationship with the world, we too are in big trouble.

Consulting the Urban Dictionary on the term ‘beached az,’ I find that the phrase has entered the vernacular–to be ‘beached as,’ is not at all like anything ‘sweet as.’ It’s to be in deep trouble–to be beached, like the whales that sometimes wash up on New Zealand shores–to be out of one’s depth, and up a creek without a paddle. Choose your simile or metaphor: the point makes itself.

Beached Az, meantime, is doing its bit to help the world–through sly humour and using Poseidon as a hapless straight-man, a foil to the chat of Seagull and Whale. Perhaps if humans are paying attention (and not Nep-tuning things out), some of the message will get through.

–Elizabeth Hale

BTS, Dionysus, and the agonies and ecstasies of art.

Bangtan Sonyeondan, or BTS, is a South Korean pop sensation.* The seven-member band debuted in 2013 and has grown to be one of the world’s top groups, with a huge and dedicated fanbase who appreciate their soulful explorations of what it means to be alive–as humans and as artists.

That’s the key to their song, ‘Dionysus,’ which is part of their Map of the Soul album and tour. In Map of the Soul, the band takes its inspiration from the work of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (as explained by Murray Stein). Focusing on the idea of the persona, the mask that we all put on when we present ourselves to others, Map of the Soul explores different aspects of the band’s creative identity and personality.

‘Dionysus’ explores their artistic identity–the relationship between individuality and creavity, between seriousness and partying, between pop and art, the joys, the madness, the ecstasy of creation. To do so, it refers to the god Dionysus, the Olympian god of wine, vegetation, pleasure, festivity, madness and wild frenzh:

DIONYSOS (Dionysus) was the Olympian god of wine, vegetation, pleasure, festivity, madness and wild frenzy. He was depicted as either an older, bearded god or an effeminate, long-haired youth. His attributes included the thyrsos (a pine-cone tipped staff), a drinking cup and a crown of ivy. He was usually accompanied by a troop of Satyrs and Mainades (wild female devotees). “Dionysus”

The lyrics of ‘Dionysus’ refer explicitly to these ideas: it’s BTS’s exploration of what their art means–indicating they are more than a cynically manufactured pop act, they’re serious artists with a purpose–and, like the god Dionysus, intoxicated by the act of creation:

Just get drunk, Dionysus.
A liquor in one hand, a Thyrsus in another
Transparent crystal glistening art
Art is also a drink.
You dunno you dunno
You dunno what to do with
I’ll show you.
Ivy and rough wooden mic
In absolute breath
There is no sound coming out.

BTS, Dionysus, trans.

In their performance, one can see they share the ultimate party god’s androgynous elegance, whimsy, and also power. Like Dionysus, they sometimes carry a thyrsus–a wand that symbolises frenzy, creativity, power, joy. And they’re highly aware of its symbolism: for BTS the microphone can be as powerful as the god’s thyrsus: here’s their leader, Kim Nam-Joon, aka RM (‘Rap Monster’) making that point on stage at the Melon Music Awards:

RM (Rap Monster, leader of BTS), with his thyrsus:

Carrying this thyrsus means being committed not just to the party, but also to the ecstasy and agony of art. And with ‘Dionysus,’ BTS seems to be making the statement that it is a serious creative force, with a serious purpose: the rebirth of the soul through art.

When we’re out there
Anywhere in the world stadium party ay
Born as a Kpop idol
Reincarnated artist
Artist Reborn Again Artist Reborn Artist
Whether I’m an idol or an artist
It’s important.
Art is this too much too much yeah yeah
The new record is a fight with herself.
Lift the toast and take one shot
But I am still thirsty.

BTS, Dionysus, trans.

Too much too much, but not enough at the same time! BTS leaves us thirsty for more. It’s a rich and powerful song, with links to the Map of the Soul concept album that make it meaningful art, for creator and for audience. And it shows that the pathways to and from the classical are constantly moving about–taking us from Korea to Ancient Greece and back again, around the world, finding in the figure of Dionysus a symbol of the agony, and ecstasy of art.

–Elizabeth Hale

*Before a couple of weeks ago, I had only vaguely heard of BTS. I’m grateful to my NZ friend Sarah James, who emailed me asking if I knew about ‘Dionysus,’ and then gave me a call to explain the finer points of K-pop. Susan Deacy informs me that one of her team is writing it up for the Our Mythical Childhood survey.

Sweepus Underum Carpetum–little bits of Latin in Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing

Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing (2000) is a classic of Australian picture book art. It’s the story of a boy who is out and about looking for additions to his bottle-top collection, who sees a ‘thing’ on the beach–a great big, red sore-thumb of a creature, half coffee-pot, half-lobster, totally different from everyone and everything around it. The boy, being a boy, and thus perhaps open to moments of spontaneous creatiity, plays with the Lost Thing until dusk, then takes it home with him. His indifferent parents barely notice, but the boy realises the Thing needs to find a home of its own, and the pair set out on a quest that takes them through the city. It’s A dystopia: an anonymous industrialised city, where no one looks at each other, and communication takes place in formulae and rubber stamps.

It looks like the city of The Lost Thing is a very dull place indeed, and dullness is all-pervading and inescapable. The boy, for instance, is involved in collecting bottle-tops when he sees the Thing, and immediately returns to his collection once he has solved its problem: the tragedy of the story is that the Thing is never accepted, integrated, or even recognised by the society it stumbles into–its happy ending is to be sent back to where it comes from, taken care of by The Department of Odds and Ends, which the boy consults to find out where the Thing belongs.

Shaun Tan, The Lost Thing

The Federal Department of Odds and Ends helps the boy sweep the Thing under the carpet (or into the closet), in accordance with its motto, ‘sweepus underum carpetae.’) The boy narrates how he and the Thing make their way through the city until they find a mysterious doorway to a magical world, full of bright, colourful, curvy beings–the antithesis to the dull, angular city.

That’s it. That’s the story. Not especially profound, I know, but I never said it was. And don’t ask me what the moral is. I mean, I can’t say that the thing actually belonged in the place where it ended up. In fact, none of the the things there really belonged. They all seemed happy enough though, so maybe that didn’t matter. I don’t know. . .

Shaun Tan, The Lost Thing

It’s a slippery little story–the boy sliding out from any sense of knowledge or understanding of his actions, or of the Thing. Is he helping it? Is he shoving it out of the way? Is he solving a problem, or complicit in a continued set of injustices? Don’t ask the narrator. The subtitle of The Lost Thing is ‘A tale for those who have more important things to pay attention to,’ ironically suggesting that those who don’t read it, or notice the story, are those who are in most need of a dose of creative thinking.

A tale for those who have more important things to pay attention to…

But for those of use who ignore more important things, there is a great deal in The Lost Thing to enjoy observing. And for me, on my quest to chase up the Classical elements in Australian literature, there are the mottoes: each one from a different ‘government’ department. There’s The Federal Department of Information (ignorare regulatum); the Federal Department of Tubes and Pipes (plumbiferus ductus). The Federal Department of Economics (consumere ergo sum), The Federal Department of Censorship (illuminare prohibitus), and of course, The Federal Department of Odds and Ends (sweepus underum carpetae).

Tan’s sly sense of humour is in full view in details like these. These little dog-Latin tags are the only Classical elements that I’ve found in The Lost Thing. And they’re beautifully appropriate for the society of Tan’s novel–a long way from the vivid extravagance of Classical myth–the Classicism of branding and advertising, of signs and labels, of bureaucracy and pencil-pushers–Latin, the language of Virgil and Ovid, put into the service of administrative meaninglessness, perfect for a society of grey men, women, and boys, who look up only briefly from their bottle-top collections to notice the glorious Lost Things of the world, too busy to realise that they themselves are lost…

–Elizabeth Hale

‘Everybody loves being Romans’–Roman Day, with Peppa Pig

I’ve seen quite a few Peppa Pig episodes in company with my niece and nephews who used to be extremely into the show. They’re moving on, but that doesn’t mean it’s over for me, especially not when a delightful clip like this one comes my way (thanks to Anne Rogerson!)

Peppa and George are hanging out with Grandpa Pig, when Granny Pig comes home from role-playing as Romans with her friends. Plonking a pair of spare centurion helmets on the kids’ heads, she teaches them how to march around crying ‘veni vidi vici,’ and helps them make a mosaic in a mud-puddle. When George doesn’t want to have a bath to get the mud off him, Granny Pig reminds him that the Romans loved baths. Eventually it’s time to go home. ‘Tempus fugit,’ they say, and Grandpa Pig gives the kids crowns of leaves to signify that they’re emperors. ‘veni vidi vici,’ says George, and everyone rolls around laughing.

Peppa and George love being Romans.

Everybody loves being Romans.

Role-playing grannies, centurious, emperors, tempus fugit, veni vidi vici, mosaics, baths, helmets and laurel wreaths. What more does one need to know about being a Roman, especially from Peppa Pig? I can’t think of more. This is a great little introduction to the ancient world–gently done, and in such a way as to lead kids to want to know more.

–Elizabeth Hale

Our Mythical Milestone

A short post to say that the Our Mythical Childhood survey has had a major milestone!

Our Mythical Childhood Survey

There are now 1001 entries lodged in the survey. This means: 1001 works of literature, film, storytelling and other forms of popular culture, all inspired by mythology of the ancient world. It means works by nearly 300 researchers, gathering material by over 1110 creators, from over 38 countries.

It means works by people from all sorts of places, with all sorts of ideas and approaches: material that is aimed mostly for young readers; material that aims to give expression to their interests and concerns.

It means a great deal of effort and work on the part of the team–gathering material, writing and reviewing entries, checking, proofing–making sure that the survey is rigorously produced so it is as useful as possible.

I’m very proud to be part of this project: it is conducted with the goals of inclusivity and openness, intellectual and creative inquiry, and it’s expressive of the best kind of collaborative endeavour.

Have a look at the survey: there’s something there for everyone. And if your favourite work is not yet mentioned… be in touch–we need to know, and to share…

Liz Hale