Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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Snakes, Owls, Tree Frogs on a Plane

Filed under: Headline Shooter

So Bjork arrived at her Times interview wearing "white rubber rain boots and a sweater with a knitted owl across the front," and that sounds like a great outfit that I'd like a lot. Now that swans are carrying bird flu, a fact that upsets me quite a bit but probably upsets Bjork even more, will she sport fewer avian flourishes, or more, in solidarity? Will the owls, and birds in general, that have been preoccupying designers diminish with the murdered turkeys?

I think they won't; I think they'll proliferate, just as National Geographic specials multiplied as the rainforests were cut down. (Remember that great essay about how we have no idea how little there is left of the wilderness because there are so many nature shows? Was it in Harper's, maybe, sometime in the '90s?) I think we'll need to wear more birds, made soft and friendly, and have more bird figurines in our houses, chirping in unsinister ways. It can't be a coincidence that all the fun of Snakes on a Plane is happening as we head for the release of United 93 and the five-year anniversary of September 11.

Alongside its other virtues, art can fuzzify fear, taking the edge off the badness and making demons into friends. With whimsical birds and silly planes, we're creating a cuter version of the fallen world (that could be a description of Bjork, too). Martin McDonagh, let's say, distills humans' obvious debasement into an even bloodier one, and I admire the artistry and honesty. On the other hand, there are the ostriches in Twilight of the Ice Nymphs, sticking their heads into everything and getting feathers everywhere, totally mortal and still heedlessly gawky in their enthusiasm. I like things with feathers, I confess.

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