Pushing Thirty

and shedding pretentions

Skulls: A Cultural Acquiesce

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but skulls are in. If you want to be cool, get a shirt with a skull. Or a belt. Or draw some skulls on your canvas shoes. Probably a skull on a sundress would be cool, too: it’s way ironic.

So, what’s the deal with skulls on everything? They’re everywhere.

Like, a few weeks ago at an apparel store Bran pointed out a t-shirt I might like. It was a floral print. Hawaiian orchids. I rock Hawaiian Orchid floral prints. But I said, Honey, the bunch of flowers are in the shape of a skull. And, sure enough, she could see it after I said it.

And then, another time this summer, I saw a cute 3 year old girl with adorable blonde curls running around some suitcases at the airport. When her mother called her and she turned, I saw that the words Rock Star were written on her t-shirt. And below them was a grinning skull. It suddenly wasn’t so cute. Kind of grim, actually.

I’ve only got one guess as to why this is taking off. After the Black Plague killed half of Europe, there was a noticeable spike in skeleton art. A global plague has quite an effect on people’s world views, sort of like Lehman Brothers and Merill Lynch just suddenly going under. The rules had changed. Life was no longer as stable as everyone thought. It was like death took a big black marker and underlined “inevitable” five or six times in everyone’s script. For awhile people were just scared, but then they did what people do and got on with their lives, and incorporated tragedy into pop culture. So just after the Black Plague you see a lot of skull-art.

And maybe that’s what’s going on today, in post terrorism-attack America. Not that we’re out of the woods, but its been years since 9/11, and maybe that’s enough time to take the edge off the fear. And global tragedy like genocide in Africa is no longer shocking because the sustained drone of news reports has deafened us like factory machinery. And as a nation we just survived another round of hurricanes that made the levies swell and sent tropical storms to places as un-tropcial as Kansas. So maybe all of America, like pummeled insurgents slowly standing amidst the rubble with our hands in the air, are surrendering to reality.

We get it: we’re going to die.

Now would someone just buy me a graphic tee for Christmas, one with a skull in the middle of a coat of arms and something written in latin so I can die cool? And if that doesn’t quite do it, get me an iTunes gift card because there are some indie rock bands that would go great with my life-soundtrack: this year it’s melancholy and sombre and reflective , a pop-dirge, because its not hip these days to act like you’re going to live forever. You’ve got to get it through your thick skull that you could die tomorrow and today is all you got. So we surrender, but like movie stars in a Cold Play dawn.


September 24, 2008 - Posted by | elegy, limitations, Religion, writing


  1. Interesting..you have done your research. I just assumed that with the popularity of the Pirates of the Carribean movies that have made it big in the last 3 years this had become a fashion statment. Who doesn’t wanna look like Johny Depp? Plus I was watching this documentary on the History Channel about pirates and apparently the skull was used as their symbol for decades. It was/is used to strike terror into the hearts of those at sea. The pirate ships would put up a “friendly flag” such as a British Flag and then when the ships were close enough to attack they would raise the black flag often with the shape of a skull on it as kind of a last minute warning(prepare to become one of us or die fighting)

    Comment by Nina Thompson | September 24, 2008 | Reply

  2. after looking into this, i see that fashion afficionados agree: Johnny Depp’s pirates made skulls cool again.

    But I think that some of the things i hit really set the stage. maybe.

    Comment by bretmavrich | October 23, 2008 | Reply

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