What will become of me?

(Mild warning: some distasteful aspects of the human body.)

Today’s Bizarro:

  (#1)

(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbol in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there’s just one in this strip — see this Page.)

What the cotton bolls seem to fear is dirt and grime, but especially contact with bodily effluvia. From NOAD2:

noun effluvium: an unpleasant or harmful odor, secretion, or discharge: the unwholesome effluvia of decaying vegetable matter. ORIGIN mid 17th century: from Latin, from effluere ‘flow out.’

So: fluids (sweat, saliva, human milk, vomit, urine, feces, semen, vaginal fluid, blood), accumulations or discharges (toe jam, nasal mucus, eye discharge / sleep in the eye, navel lint, earwax, smegma), and smells (especially those resulting from bacteria in the armpit, in the crotch, on the feet, in the mouth).

The bolls seem especially wary of sweat, snot, smelly feet, and dirty underwear (implicating sweat, genital discharges, urine, and feces).

In the 20th century, artists ventured boldly into effluvia territory. Especially notable: Gilbert & George. From Wikipedia:

Gilbert Prousch, sometimes referred to as Gilbert Proesch (born 17 September 1943 in San Martin de Tor, Italy) and George Passmore (born 8 January 1942 in Plymouth, United Kingdom) are two artists who work together as the collaborative art duo Gilbert & George. They are known for their distinctive and highly formal appearance and manner in performance art, and also for their brightly coloured graphic-style photo-based artworks.

… Some of their work has attracted media attention because of the inclusion of (potentially) shocking imagery, such as nudity, depictions of sexual acts, and bodily fluids (faeces, urine and semen). The titles of these works, such as Naked Shit Pictures (1994) and Sonofagod Pictures (2005), also contributed to the attention.

One example, in which G&G subjected their own bodily fluids to microscopic examination:

  (#2)

Then there’s sweat:

  (#3) Marlon Brando in 1951, with sweaty chest and armpits

Effluvia can be repellent or attractant, depending on context and personal tastes. And sweat can, it seems, convey useful information subliminally. From “Studies Explore Love and the Sweaty T-Shirt” by David Berreby in the NYT on 6/9/98:

When it comes to love, sex and friendship, do birds of a feather flock together? Or is it more important that opposites attract? The argument is so old that even Aristotle mentioned evidence for both sides.

Recently, a new chapter has been opened by researchers who say that for at least one type of gene people find difference sexy and sameness boring — and that they use their noses to tell which is which.

Among the recent studies [back in 1998; this is old news] are those of a Swiss group that used sweaty T-shirts to establish that people can sniff out genetic difference, a Chicago team that concluded from its study of a religious community that genetically similar people tend to avoid marrying one another, and a New Mexico study, again using T-shirts, that claims women at their most fertile time of month will prefer the odor of the fittest-looking men.

The genes in question instruct cells to make the proteins of the Major Histocompatability Complex, one of the immune system’s key markers of identity.

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