Last night, my wife and I went to see Iron Maiden’s “Legacy of the Beast” tour right here in Brooklyn. The show opened with Churchill’s speech into “Aces High“, complete with a replica Spitfire flying about while Bruce Dickinson bounced about stage. With their characteristic bombast, they rocked out for an hour and a half or so, mostly playing fan favorites such as “2 Minutes to Midnight“, “The Number of the Beast“, and “Hallowed Be Thy Name“. Needless to say (since it was Iron Maiden , the show was totally awesome:
Maiden is well known for being a very literate and operatic metal band. Many of their songs focus on historical topics; the two songs that are perhaps their best known, “The Trooper” and “Run to the Hills”, are about the Crimean War and the white man’s destruction of the American Indians, respectively. They have a 13-minute-plus version of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. A song about Alexander the Great. An 18-minute piano-based suite about the doomed British airship, the R101. Many of these tunes are subtextual; they’re putatively about some topic or another, but also comment on modern society.
Meanwhile, in the Victorian era, there were no heavy metal bands to use allegorical lyrics to make points about modern society. There were, however, stereoviews! Hence the bevy of “genre” views, which we do not spend much time on here at Brooklyn Stereography. Genre views came in a veritable cornucopia of topics, from humorous scenes of children misbehaving and receiving a scolding to racist caricatures of Black Americans displaying their “favorite watermelon” and all sorts of other pickaninny hogwash. There are Suffragette views. There are “hard work pays off” views, and many other aphorisms were turned into stories told in pictures. Then there are the morality plays.
Stereoviews as Morality Plays
While one can only do so much with a single still image, sometimes “so much” can be “enough”. In terms of messaging, morality plays from the Victorian era used a lot of common themes in their stories. There is almost always a protagonist – hero or antihero – central to the scene. This protagonist is implied to have performed some action, either praiseworthy or blameworthy. And there is something in frame which punishes or rewards the protagonist based on the action. Let’s take a look at an example of this genre:
This image demonstrates the above story elements down to a T. The monk (protagonist) has broken his fast (blameworthy) and is thus visited by a demon and a spiritual apparition (punishment). This view demonstrates some further trends in genre cards of this era. There is an element of humor here, even if it is macabre humor. There is repetition. The monk has robes, a bible, a rosary – who could doubt his profession? There are numerous booze bottles, loaves of bread, and so on – it’s not like he snuck a biscuit. And for his trouble, he is visited both by a devil and a ghost – no wonder it looks like he’s suffering from a myocardial infarction!
Exaggeration is full-tilt in this view, as it is in a good opera, a Krampus card, or an Iron Maiden ballad. This stereograph doesn’t send a message, it bonks you on the head with one. And when you have but a single image with which to convey a message, you want that bluntness. Now besides telling an enjoyable and slightly titillating tale, I don’t know who the target audience for “Fast Day” is. I don’t reckon that many monasteries came equipped with Holmes scopes. So perhaps the message is intended to be more general – honor your god. The same message that underlies Coleridge’s epic “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” – and Iron Maiden’s song based on it.