The Wikipedia page for Grotesque really opened my eyes to the meaning of the word. I just thought it meant bizarre and ugly, but that’s just the simplified and watered-down modern version (which exists with most words, like we discussed in class). The word has roots in art and architecture, which I think is actually how it’s used in “The Galaxy Reconfigured,” at least in Ruskin’s quote about “a fine grotesque.” Here he’s referring to a feature of Gothic architecture, which can refer to what we know as gargoyles (it says that gargoyles are only the ones used as drain-spouts). But, I think the subsequent uses of grotesque dive deeper into its broad meaning, which is, as one passage in Wikipedia puts it, “a crucial, and potentially universal, anthropological device that the societies have used to conceptualize alterity and change.” I also like the synonym “incongruous” because it refers to an inharmonious disconnect with the world, like how “The Galaxy” describes it as “broken and syncopated”. This broad meaning seems unrelated to Gothic architecture, until you discover what gargoyles were all about.
It sounds like grotesque’s early meanings always described a form of expression that defied the standards of the time, stirring up controversy and fear, while also encouraging new thought (e.g. people thought “gargoyles ruin architecture,” or “gargoyles freak me out,” or “what about the children!”, but chimeras and horror films wouldn’t be the same without them). Today’s grotesque, particularly in new media, provoke the same types of responses in people. This includes all the “filth,” as my grandma would put it, on TV and all that obnoxious new music kids listen to these days. Both of these are mediums of rapid change (meta-mediums, like the internet), constantly bringing about the latest annual, monthly, or weekly trend, like… charlie sheen, dub step, nayan cat, etc.
People are always seeking something different in their lives, something offbeat, whether it be a new kind of spooky statue on their roof like in olden days, or a new song to blast in their car stereo that would make old people’s ears bleed. The new media allows the grotesque to be put out there, available to the public, whether its popular or unpopular, whether its sane or insane (i.e. nayan cat). I think we need these breaks from the norm to inspire innovation and make the world interesting. The birth of the internet is the perfect example of the grotesque leading to universal change – inspired by a grotesque idea, pursued by some grotesque research, eventually evolving into a world-wide meta-medium which encourages the grotesque itself.
So I think Second Life is definitely a grotesque medium – as incongruous with the world as you can be really. I won’t lie, I was a little embarrassed about using Second Life in the computer lab because it’s kind of an odd thing to be talking to your computer, haha. So, I moved somewhere more private – I guess that’s a natural tendency, for really offbeat things to be driven into the shadows. But the internet is the safest haven for all things grotesque, and I think the world is better for it.