Scary


A few days ago Violet Towne and I were down on the south coast of Victoria on a short break. On a day too rainy and bleak to be at the seaside we dropped into an antique and junk place for a rummage, as we like to do, and I was delighted to discover, in one of the more secluded nooks of the building, a framed print of one of the Giovanni Bragolin ‘Crying Boys’.

I was surprised to find that VT did not know the story of the ‘curse’ associated with the Crying Boy, and I thought I might take this opportunity to recap it here for others of you who may not have encountered this quirky piece of urban legend.

Giovanni Bragolin – known also as Bruno Amadio – was a trained classical painter and probably painted the original Crying Boy portraits – all variations on a similar theme – sometime in the early 1950s. It is likely that they were created specifically to sell to tourists as a money-making venture. Whatever the case, at some point Bragolin was evidently fortunate enough to secure a deal to have the paintings copied and printed and made widely available in English department stores in the late 1950s. There were probably many thousands made.(i)

For reasons that escape me personally, the Crying Boys were monumentally popular and ended up in households all over Britain (and elsewhere in lesser numbers). And there they hung for decades, doing nothing more confronting than offending the sensibilities of those with good taste. Until…

On the 4th of September 1985, Britain’s popular tabloid, the Sun, ran a story about a fire that destroyed the home of Ron and May Hall, a working class couple from the town of Rotherham in South Yorkshire. The couple put the blame for the blaze on the ‘unlucky’ portrait of the Crying Boy which hung in their living room, which – according to the report – escaped the fire completely unscathed. Not only that, said the Sun, but it was common knowledge among firemen that there had been numerous other instances of this same scenario unfolding in blazes across England: homes devastated by fire, watched over by the completely untouched portrait of a Crying Boy. The picture, the firemen said, was cursed.(ii)

The next day the Sun ran a followup story claiming that their offices had been flooded with calls from readers with pictures of the Crying Boy on their walls, all fearing that they might become victims of the jinxed painting. And so the legend of the Curse of the Crying Boy was born.

Some stories are just made to gather momentum, and this was one. Everyone had a ‘friend of a friend’ who had been affected in some way by the image. Rumours grew that not only did the painting survive house fires, but it could not be burned even if you tried. People who attempted to get rid of the picture fell afoul of bad luck, and some even reported seeing it move on the wall all by itself.

To add kerosene to the flames, it turned out that there were numerous incarnations of the Crying Boy theme painted by other artists – it was a veritable plague of Crying Boys. As I mentioned earlier, they were – puzzlingly – exceptionally popular, and the conjecture must be that in the 70s and 80s in England, if there was a house fire anywhere there was a fair to middling chance that the tenants were in possession of a Crying Boy. This possibly goes at least a little way towards providing some basis for the idea of the curse, but in all probability it can mostly be put down to a case of overactive imaginations and rumour run riot.(iii)

The Sun (perhaps in a moment of conscience, but probably more because they knew how to ride a story to death) did a shout out to readers who were afraid that the picture might bring them ill luck. Send them to us, they said, and we’ll dispose of them for you! The offices of the paper had soon accumulated a staggering 2,500 copies of the Crying Boy, which demonstrates two things clearly, I think: just how popular the damn thing was, and also how frighteningly superstitious the readers of the Sun were.

In an act that just smacks of the British tabloid mindset of the 1980s, on Halloween 1985, Sun employees stacked the prints into a huge pile and they were set ablaze by a popular Page 3 girl. It could only have been more perfect if she’d been topless.

An urban legend isn’t quelled quite so neatly, though, and the Curse of the Crying Boy didn’t simply go up in smoke with the bonfire. Over the next decade it neatly transmogrified from fleeting newspaper titillation into full-blown myth, and lives on today, with many new riffs on the original story. Hang a Crying Boy next to a Crying Girl (yes, they exist too), it is said, and the bad luck will be thwarted. Hang ten copies of the Crying Boy together and the bad vibes are similarly dissipated (you’ll need some good luck finding ten copies these days, though). Whole narratives have arisen around the artist who painted the original picture and the supposed identity of the Boy himself, all with little or no basis in fact. Stories of disasters involving the Boy now come from countries all across the world and he is so embedded in popular culture that he even sports a Facebook page, of sorts.(iv)

But I can sense the question on your minds, Faithful Cowpokes: did I buy the copy I saw? Sadly, I didn’t. I probably should have, but the truth is that I wasn’t totally familiar with the version hanging in the antique shop, and didn’t know if it was ‘the real deal’ as it were. That’s why I snapped the pic of it that you saw above – I wanted to check its provenence (there was no mobile reception, otherwise I’d have done it on the spot).

Oh, and anyway, as if I’d hang it in my house. Are you crazy?

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UPDATE: The Crying Boy spotted on eBay in Israel. Printed on a magnet! (WARNING: May cause your fridge to burst into flames)

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UPDATE #2: VT bought me one for a present! It now hangs in my office.

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Footnotes:

  1. Actual statistics are hard to come by, with various reports citing quantities from 50,000 to a quarter of a million, but given the widespread popularity of the prints, and the fact that they still turn up in junk shops on the other side of the planet, we can be fairly sure that a large number of them were made. []
  2. No fireman actually said this, as it turns out, but the Sun was very happy to let the implication stick. []
  3. There are many ‘supernatural’ explanations, of course, but they are banal and tedious and probably without any foundation in fact. You can, if you are so inclined, chase them up via the excellent Fortean Times redux of the Crying Boy Curse. []
  4. It’s a bit of a pathetic effort, really, and could be HUGELY more entertaining in my opinion. []

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The last year has veritably flown by, Faithful Acowlytes, and we find ourselves once more at the beginning of our favourite festival: World Homeopathy Awareness Week. At this time we remind ourselves that it is our responsibility – nay, our duty – to make sure the world is aware of homeopathy, and today on TCA I will be doing my bit, because I believe everyone should be aware of homeopathy. Specifically, I think everyone should be very aware of what a total crock of shit it is.

Over at World Homeopathy Org we learn that this year is a very special year in which we are focussing on homeopathy for trauma and disasters.

Via a series of rotating banner images, World Homeopathy Org is giving us some idea of just how awesome and amazing homeopathy truly is with its many and varied uses. The image above, for example, tells us that homeopathy is surely your first stop after being struck by lightning – something of which I was unaware, but there you go.

Homeopathy is a sure-fire prophylactic for bad weather in general as we see in our next slide.

Yes, the debilitating effects of stormy seas can be addressed by homeopathy – remember, we don’t mean merely seasickness here, because this is Trauma and Disaster Week. No, my friends, we’re surely talking about the medical aftermath brought on by massive storms and tsunamis. Homeopathy is a veritable life preserver for such events…

As it is in the case of cyclones and tornadoes…

I know it’s the first thing I’d think of after my house was ripped to smithereens by a 400 mile per hour wind.

“Goodness, that was terrifying. Better take some homeopathy to help with this severed artery.”

Homeopathy also comes into play in the tragic circumstances of awful graphic design.

In this case, we see a graphic designer almost at the point of suicide after depicting himself quite badly as being almost at the point of suicide. He really needs homeopathy.

Homeopathy is also what you should turn to in the traumatic event that you discover you have freckles and have been processed with a crummy Photoshop filter.

Well, it can’t hurt, right?

But seriously folks, back to the war zones.

If you should find yourself being on the wrong end of a policeman’s truncheon whilst simply attempting to carry out your job as war correspondent, why not pop some Arnica 30c? It’s also good if you get tear-gassed. Fumbling around to find the bottle will surely take your mind off the excruciating acidic blinding sensations for, oh, a nanosecond or two. And if you’re really bolshie, maybe you can smear a little Natrum Phosphoricum ointment on that thug attacking you – he really looks like he needs some calming down.

But the next slide is getting down to the nitty gritty.

Here we see a young girl who has plainly lost everything she has, and is in the depths of despair. If there is something she really needs here, it’s homeopathy. Am I right?

And should the disasters get even more terrifying – we’re talking about world scale cataclysms brought on by wayward asteroids – homeopathy will really come to the fore.

When I look at the above image, I am seriously hoping that the people in those houses have dosed themselves up sufficiently on Calcarea Carbonica and Arsenicum. It’s surely the only way they’re going to survive ten million tons of water crushing them into a soggy bloody pulp.

The last slide in our presentation gives us an overview of the incredible range and depth of possibilities that might be addressed with homeopathic insight:

My goodness! Terrorism, droughts, volcanoes, landslides, nuclear radiation, bombings, blizzards, avalanches and locusts! Is there nothing that can’t be made better with homeopathy? That’s a rhetorical question, because no, there isn’t.

Homeopathy! The cure that’s so effective that nearly two centuries from its inception no-one can provide a single incontrovertible example of it actually working.

Let’s close with our favourite video of homeopathy’s most persuasive spokeswoman because, well, because I know you want it. Happy World Homeopathy Awareness Week, y’all!

Yesterday I was blissfully unaware that I was living in dire peril of Saurians chipping my heart. Today, the scales have fallen from my eyes. Yes, my friends, the Infernal Saurians want control of you, and they will stop at nothing to get it.

Not only that, they want to chip your heart and things. I don’t even want to contemplate what that ‘and things’ means. It sounds too terrible to be true. Suffice to say, if we all join forces with cosmic-people.com (WARNING: SANITY-SAPPING RAINBOW ALERT) a colourful future of unchipped hearts is ours!!! How do we do this? With a petition, of course.

The success of which will assure us of a world peopled with Aryans in tunics sporting garish tastes.

Beam with love! And may Ptaah radiate his Rainbow Blessings upon you all!

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Thanks to the ever-vigilant Hugh for finding this one.

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Sometimes, Faithful Acowlytes, teh stoopid in the world overreaches itself and becomes just plain criminal. Today, as Exhibit 1, I give you:

Homeopaths Without Borders.

No, dear friends, this is not some kind of Tetherd Cow parody of the worthy and quite awesome Médecins Sans Frontières, although it’s so fuckin’ unbelievable that it’s hard to accept that it’s anything but a cruel prank. Yes, you understood it correctly: these are homeopaths who model themselves on Doctors Without Borders(i) and travel to poor countries like Haiti to spread useless superstitious nonsense based on the brainless ‘medical’ intuitions of an 18th century German village doctor. This, to my mind, is a tragedy of vast proportions.

Volunteers Sally Tamplin, Holly Manoogian and Alyssa Wostrel traveled to Port-au-Prince on May 23 and returned home on June 3, participating in the longest, most intense undertaking in that country by HWB. Responding to requests by charitable groups in Haiti, the volunteers worked not only in the capital but also traveled to sites in the countryside. Their ten-day schedule was a whirlwind of compassionate homeopathic intervention.

Intervention? What – they were visiting sick Haitians with poor access to medical care and substituting no medical care at all? Yeah, that’s what I call intervention, alright, although I fail to see where the compassion comes in.

When I see the pictures of middle-class white women (they are mostly women, it seems) on this site smiling and hugging little black kids, it makes me furious. I know they are probably all just misguided and good-intentioned and even believe that what they are doing is helpful, but I just want to point something out here: people in places like Haiti who are in desperate need of good medical care look at these healthy, rich Americans and trust them to be bringing that same standard of health to their own country. These borderless homeopaths, however, didn’t come by the possession of their good health via superstitious nonsense. They are healthy solely because of science; science that improved their knowledge of nutrition; science that gave them a good understanding of hygiene; science that made childbirth relatively safe; science that gave them immunity against polio and measles and smallpox and tuberculosis;(ii) science that allows their society to understand insect-borne diseases and keep them under control. And let’s be clear here: there is NO science in homeopathy. None. When one of these homeopaths contracts a serious infection back home in their own wealthy country, they don’t treat it with some silly sugar water potion. If they do, they die. These privileged people have become so ignorant of the powerful scientific basis upon which their standards of health are built, that it has become completely transparent to them. They apparently think they are healthy just because.

As I contemplate this situation, though, I strangely begin to find myself in agreement with one of the basic notions of homeopathy. According to homeopathic beliefs the more dilute a homeopathic remedy is, the more powerful its effects – as I’m sure you already know. I propose, then, that Homeopaths Without Borders act on this basic tenet of their practice. Let’s say one homeopath leaves Haiti- surely the positive effect of Homeopaths Without Borders on the Haitian people increases. If a few more leave, the beneficial effects become stronger still. And if we really ultra-dilute the pool and ALL homeopaths leave Haiti, then I think you’d agree that they would be doing the most good they could possibly do.

Let’s see if they can fault the logic in that argument…

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Footnotes:

  1. Although they make it VERY clear on their site that they are in no way affiliated with that organization. One speculates that you don’t put a notice like that on your front page unless someone compels you to do so… []
  2. Although science is losing that battle somewhat as TB rapidly evolves to become resistant to antibiotics. []

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