“We stopped checking for monsters under our beds when we realized they were inside us,” reads a quote often misattributed to the Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight. The presenters at July 14’s "BAASICS.5: Monsters" event at ODC Theater capitalized on this concept, examining both modern monsters (though not “cars and corn syrup,” as one emcee mentioned at the beginning of the event) and monsters of yore.
In past years, the organization has explored provocative topics such as the future (more weighted toward a possible uprising of robots rather than the nagging question “What am I going to do with my life?”) and psychiatric and neurologic disorders by juxtaposing science and art. It’s easy to find the right balance between the two for these past themes, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this year’s event.
It ended up being a lot less grisly than I’d imagined — with the exception of a video clip depicting maggots violating a honeybee. (I can never unsee that.) I felt as though I were in a college lecture hall, viewing PowerPoints — which were much more aesthetically pleasing than the Papyrus-laden slides my freshman year history professor used — and listening to professors, each with an exceptionally dry sense of humor.
Presenters, ranging from shark conservationists to artists, shared their definitions of a monster, often turning the tables on common misconceptions. David McGuire revealed that more people die from vending machines than from shark attacks, emphasizing how it’s truly a man-eat-shark world out there today. (Ahem, shark fin soup…) Closing presenter Brynda Glazier tackled societal expectations of beauty and normalness, drawing inspiration from her personal life as her brother is disabled, expressing this through seemingly ugly and monstrous sculptures.
BAASICS’ associate content producer Georgeann Sack — described in the program as a “neuroscientist by day and science communicator by night” — also performed low-key acoustic songs as a segue between presentations. In fact, her music was so low-key that I often had trouble hearing and understanding her, although I’m sure the lyrics to her song “Vampire Love Song” were clever. Sack’s standout performance was her rendition of the Creepshow’s “Zombies Ate Her Brain,” which sounded a little like a singer-songwriter’s DIY GarageBand-recorded music.
However, the biggest letdown of the event were the short videos. With topics such as malaria research and glowing plants, the videos had potential but ultimately came off as too sterile. The two video shorts seemed as though they were filmed with a cheap digital camera — that highlighted distracting background noise while researchers spoke — and edited in iMovie. Other audience members were just as unimpressed as my friend and I were — I heard some people in the row behind us begin a slow clap after the second video.
Art and science weren’t exactly joined in holy matrimony at this event. To me, BAASICS.5 was more like an evening well spent in your friend’s apartment — you know, the friend with a great appreciation for art who’s basically a living, breathing encyclopedia of weird shit — and can talk endlessly about it. Bring up Bigfoot and they’ll mention how the highest number of reported Bigfoot sightings originate from Humboldt County and slyly attribute this to the inhabitants’ altered perceptions. And did they mention how there’s a pseudo-porno titled Bigfoot’s Wild Weekend? (Here’s looking at you, Jill Miller!) Maybe zombies are more up your friend’s alley and they created an amazingly detailed zombie survey for people to fill out. (Your hard work definitely paid off, George Pfau.)
As for me, I checked off “Zombies are Vaudeville performers,” “The apocalypse is ‘the big one,’” and “After death, you take harp lessons” as my answers to Pfau’s zombie survey, which I picked up in the lobby afterwards. The real highlight of the event was being exposed to modern takes on tales as old as time, if the outside of the survey brochure, a Where’s Waldo-inspired scene even featuring Michael Jackson from his “Thriller” days, is anything to go by.