Arousing the beast

In today’s comics feed, a One Big Happy that requires a double dose of pop-cultural moon knowledge to understand:

(#1)

A defiant gesture, a bit of lycanthropic folklore.

Posterior moments. First, you need to know the (relevant) verb moon. From NOAD:

2 informal expose one’s buttocks to (someone) in order to insult or amuse them: Dan had whipped around, bent over, and mooned the crowd.

That arch-defier of authority Bart Simpson illustrating the gesture:

(#2)

From Wikipedia:

Mooning is the act of displaying one’s bare buttocks by removing clothing, e.g., by lowering the backside of one’s trousers and underpants, usually bending over, whether also exposing the genitals or not. Mooning is used in the English-speaking world to express protest, scorn, disrespect, or provocation, or can be done for shock value, fun, or as a form of exhibitionism. Some jurisdictions regard mooning to be indecent exposure, sometimes depending on the context.

… As documented by [Angus] McLaren [The Trials of Masculinity: Policing Sexual Boundaries, 1870-1930 (1997)], “‘mooning’, or exposing one’s butt to shame an enemy … had a long pedigree in peasant culture” throughout the Middle Ages, and in many nations.

… Although the practice of mooning was widespread by the 19th century, the Oxford English Dictionary dates the use of “moon” and “mooning” to describe the act to student slang of the 1960s, when the gesture became increasingly popular among students at universities in the United States.

Note 1: the gesture has been around a very long time. However, a fashion for the practice swept through American universities in the late 1950s and early 1960s (I was there); it became a thing.

Note 2: English apparently had no conventional verb for the gesture until (roughly) the early 1960s, when the verbing moon came into collegiate fashion, along with the practice. From OED3 (Dec. 2002):

noun moon:

14. [metaphorical] slang. In singular and plural. The buttocks. Also: an act of exposing one’s buttocks, esp. as a gesture intended to shock or insult. [1st cite 1756]

verb moon:

4. slang.
a. transitive. To expose one’s buttocks to (a person, etc.). [1st cite 1964 Princeton Alumni Weekly 7 July 34/3 All we had was..abortive efforts at mooning the Yale team in their dugout.]

b. intransitive. To expose one’s buttocks, esp. as a gesture intended to insult or shock. [1st cite 1965 in an MA thesis on student slang; with oblique object in at: 1994  Guardian 29 July  ii. 9/4 The crew of a hovering American helicopter removed their trousers and mooned at the Russians.]

The practice and the name then spread from American colleges to other places and other contexts. Including to Australia. From the BBC News for Australia on 9/26/16, “Mooning and streaking outlawed in Victoria, Australia”:

Exposing your bare buttocks in public has been officially made a crime in the Australian state of Victoria.

Known as mooning, the cheeky offence was previously punishable under other laws but is now banned under specific legislation.

First-time offenders face up to two months in jail while repeat offenders could spend six months behind bars.

Lycanthropic moments. To understand #1, not only do you need to know about the practice of mooning, and its name in English; you also need to know details of modern folk beliefs about werewolves — in particular, the association of lycanthropism with the full moon. Then, the combination of lunar associations, to buttocks displays and to the transformation into a werewolf, is what makes Joe’s remark in #1 funny: if there were any (latent) werewolves on Joe’s team, exposing them to a full moon — to fully exposed buttocks — would cause them to shapeshift into ferocious beasts.

So, if you have the background knowledge, the strip resolves itself into a pun, turning on the ambiguity of moon.

On the lycanthropic front, from Wikipedia:


(#3) Quote from the 1941 movie The Wolf Man, just one step short of the full moon as the trigger for therianthropy (metamorphosis from human to animal form)

In folklore, a werewolf (Old English: werwulf, “man-wolf”) or occasionally lycanthrope (Greek: λυκάνθρωπος lukánthrōpos, “wolf-person”) is a human with the ability to shapeshift into a wolf (or, especially in modern film, a therianthropic hybrid wolflike creature), either purposely or after being placed under a curse or affliction (often a bite or scratch from another werewolf).

… Most modern fiction describes werewolves as vulnerable to silver weapons and highly resistant to other injuries. This feature appears in German folklore of the 19th century.

… Werewolves are often depicted as immune to damage caused by ordinary weapons, being vulnerable only to silver objects, such as a silver-tipped cane, bullet or blade; this attribute was first adopted cinematically in The Wolf Man [1941].

… Along with the vulnerability to the silver bullet, the full moon being the cause of the transformation only became part of the depiction of werewolves on a widespread basis in the twentieth century. The first movie to feature the transformative effect of the full moon was Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man in 1943.

The triggering effect of the full moon quickly became a central feature of almost all depictions of werewolves in popular culture, especially in movies and tv shows.

One Response to “Arousing the beast”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    I’ve long thought that the astronomical term “lunation” should be repurposed for mooning. A lunation is a single lunar cycle. Today (November 7th, 2018) begins Brown lunation 1186.

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