Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Tag: dante

Stock Photo Hell: The End

Stock Photo Hell

cartoon winking devil that looks suspiciously like Bob Dobbs

Live from the Satanic chapter of the Church of the Subgenius!

Circle Nine: Betrayal

Betrayal of Benefactors

If he used to be as handsome as he is now hideous,
And raised his eyebrows in contempt of his creator,
One can see how every bit of ire, envy, and despair

Derives from him. I was totally astonished
To see his head had three faces:
The one in front, facing us, was red;

There were two others, joined to the first
By a seam that began at the center of the shoulder;
The three became one at the crown.

-Canto XXXIV, Mary Jo Bang translation


And we come to the final canto, the final sub-circle of the final circle of Hell. And it is this: Satan, enormous, with three mouths, constantly chewing on the three worst traitors of all time: Judas Iscariot, Brutus, and Cassius. The wind from Satan’s six eternally-beating wings keeps the lake of Cocytus frozen; his tears and drool are what make up the lake. It is a literal lake of Satan’s frozen tears. Satan is only described in the 34th canto of Inferno, which is significant because Purgatorio and Paradiso only have 33 cantos. The entire Divine Comedy gets 100 cantos total, and that extra canto goes into Inferno because Inferno is the place of excess. And in that extra canto lives Satan. Dante’s final point is that the most-tortured soul in hell is Satan himself. Satan, condemned to forever masticate the worst of humanity. To never swallow or cease weeping. And in order to progress to Purgatory, Dante and Virgil climb down to where Satan is sunk deep in the earth…they climb down to the pit between his legs and through the earth itself, which apparently takes about three days (Jesus resurrection reference, anyone?). And then they’re out by the foot of the mountain of Purgatory, which was pushed up out of the earth on the opposite side of the world to where Satan fell (and has been stuck ever since).

Inferno ends with one of my favorite lines, which Mary Jo Bang translates thus: “And we walked out / To once again catch sight of the stars.” Try saying it in Italian to catch some of the spirit of Dante’s poetry: “E quindi uscimmo a rivider la stelle.” Not a bad note to end on, in my opinion.


Search terms: Satan, woman satan, business satan

I cannot believe that in all of Stock Photo Hell, I haven’t done this search yet. Because it’s pretty ridiculous. So ridiculous, in fact, that in lieu of the standard descriptions, I bring you Stock Photo Hell Satan Bingo:

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Keep your eyes peeled for:

Satanic branding!
Things that don’t have much to do with Satan but look “devilish” to Stock Photo Land’s eyes!
Casual racism!
The Bride of Satan!
“Sensual Satan”!
Someone who couldn’t spell “satin”!
Fear of women in general!
“Dirty atheist teen”!
“Fashion Satan”!
An aspergillum (brush for flinging holy water) that looks oddly like a tiny tiny witch’s broom!
and so much more!

So. In the end, what is the outcome of Stock Photo Hell? Who is the Satan of Stock Photo Hell? Have I been playing Virgil to your Dante? Do we move on to some sort of DeviantArt purgatory, followed by a paradise in which real representations of actual people are made by well-paid illustrators?

…Or are we both the ones at the bottom of the pit, eternally chewing on these tropes, unable to unsee them? I’m not sure. I know that for me, this process has let me see through another veil of advertising, that many-veiled creature with its eternal hunger. This process has made me think specifically about women in advertising and stock photos. Women and people of color are dead canaries in the Stock Photo Land coal mine, and therefore worth paying attention to. Stock Photo Land is a warning, a reminder of the lowest common denominator blueprint of our society. And at the same time, stock photos are a tool. I use them sometimes, as a book designer. I don’t use the Cyber Woman Holding Corn or anything, but they’re all part of the web of stock photo illustration. I didn’t do this to condemn stock photos as much as the magical land of Stock Photo Hell, where all the stupidest tropes go to die.

Reader, I leave you to come to your own conclusions. In the meantime, let us go forth, away from this rectangular opening, and once again see the stars.


Next up: Something completely different.

Stock Photo Hell: Betrayal of Guests

Stock Photo Hell

stock-photo-angry-couple-divorce-metaphor-69382522Circle Nine: Betrayal

Betrayal of Guests

We kept talking and farther on came to other shades–
Their heads were crudely cocooned in ice;
Their faces, instead of bent down, were turned up.

Their very tears prevent them from crying.
The evidence of their grief is stopped at the edge
Of their eyes and backs up to increase their misery.

The initial tears freeze and form a glass ledge
That catches the next set and on and on until finally
The entire eye socked is filled with ice.”

–Canto XXXIII, Mary Jo Bang translation

This is it, everybody. This is, as Shepard Book says, the Special Hell, where those who have betrayed their guests go. (No official word on people who talk in the theater.)

The main person that Dante and Virgil talk to in this section, Ptolomea, is a man named Fra Alberigo. Well, more accurately, a soul named Fra Alberigo, because what he tells them is new and different even by the standards of the Inferno: Fra Alberigo isn’t actually dead, technically. As soon as he’s committed his particularly nasty sin, which in his case was inviting guests over for dinner and then eating them Hannibal-style, his soul was whisked down to Ptolomea while his body moves around on autopilot, “taken over by a devil,” until the end of its days. The name “Ptolomea” is likely from Ptolemy of the Book of Maccabees, who killed his kids and father-in-law after inviting them over as guests.

Search terms: cannibalism, betrayal of guests, bad host, bad hostess

So “betrayal of guests” was vastly too specific for either of my stock photo sites, “bad host” gave me nothing useful (some broken computer cartoons, an inexplicable Italian gay pride parade), “bad hostess” was mostly pictures of sold-out Twinkies.

But “cannibalism,” hoo boy.

Cannibalism pictures ranged from horrifyingly racist to delightfully surreal.

So let’s get the overt racism out of the way:



There’s a lot of shit like that, usually vector images rather than photos. It’s almost as if real people don’t want to make overly racist caricatures of themselves. (Er, thinking back to other bits of Stock Photo Hell, though, I guess I need to amend that to “don’t want to make overtly racist caricatures of themselves this one specific time.”)

And to be fair, there were also “editorial” photos of actual tribe members from headhunter tribes in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Also a picture of the Easter Island heads, even though cannibalism during the downfall of Easter Island has been generally debunked.

Anyway, moving on to the delightfully surreal:

She even has delicate cucumbers as a side dish. Like the delicate lady-head she is.

She even has delicate cucumbers as a side dish. Like the delicate lady-head she is.

So this picture provided interesting context for the next one...

So this picture provided interesting context for the next one…

This seems to have been part of a "cute child shenanigans" photo-shoot. Still comes up in a search for cannibalism.

This seems to have been part of a “cute child shenanigans” photo-shoot. Still comes up in a search for cannibalism.

Yep. Someone green-lit this project. There is presumably a client who thought, "Yes! This salami-armed guy is just what I needed!"

Yep. Someone green-lit this project. There is presumably a client who thought, “Yes! This salami-armed guy is just what I needed!”


“Evil Zombie Chef Thinking Up Unhealthy Food.”

And scene.


Next up: The Final Installment of Stock Photo Hell!

Spoilers: We get to meet Satan. Whoa.

Damsels and demons and Dante, oh my

I wanted to talk about something Dante-adjacent today, as a brief distraction from the almost-complete Stock Photo Hell series.

So I was stuck at the airport on an ungodly long layover yesterday. And aside from Live-Tweeting some of my impressions of Paradise Lost (which I do over at @AnneBeanTweets under the hashtag #MiltonLiveTweet), I was reading a comic that had been sitting on my shelf for a while: Ten Grand, by J. Michael Straczynski.

TenGrand-tpbI picked the comic up for two reasons: one, I like J. Michael Straczynski, and I tend to read comics because of writers I like. Straczynski did Babylon 5, also tons of comics including Squadron Supreme, an epic superhero homage/parody that I’m in the middle of right now and really, really enjoying. I also picked up Ten Grand because of the art: Ben Templesmith does cool, atmospheric stuff that’s totally down my alley.

I like the comic for several reasons. The aforementioned art is great, and they even bring in another artist (C.P. Smith) to illustrate a different area of reality. The themes are demonology and weird occult and supernatural noir, which I of course enjoy. The comic has been described as a combo of Hellblazer and Supernatural, and I find that accurate.

Unfortunately, the one glaring thing that rips me right out of the world is the same damn thing that I can’t stand about Supernatural: the damn dying damsels.

(Spoilers.) So the deal is this: Joe, our badass noir hero guy, used to have this lovely wife, Laura. Who he met when he was being all badass and her entire purpose in life was to apparently be a shining beacon of hope and continually suggest that perhaps he could stop killing people for a living. To him, she was/is everything, his entire reason for existence, etc. Yeah, she’s gone and died. They both did, actually. From a nasty demon blitz attack. But wait, there’s more! (And this is the only actually interesting-to-me bit.) Joe’s offered a deal by angels, he gets to be Heaven’s hit-man and die righteously, and after each (yeah, there are many) righteous death, he gets to see Laura for five minutes in Heaven. Otherwise he was just straight-up going to Hell. I find that conceit pretty interesting. His multiple lives and the wacky wacky afterlife hijinks are for sure the best part of the book.

Unfortunately, it further underscores Laura not really being a character or a person at all. I mean, perhaps no one has agency in Heaven…but what is she up to while he’s, like, living and stuff? Does she float around in a golden cloud sort of gently pining? Does she want him back? Does she want anything? (Again spoiler.) She’s snagged from Heaven by marauding Hell forces at some point, making her even more of a damsel in distress, even after death, gosh. Thing is, I’m not sure what she wanted even when she was alive, aside from wanting Joe to get out of the hitman business. I guess that means she wanted stability? Or her love to not be in constant danger? Seems like she’s failed to get either of those things, even in the afterlife. And the thing is, I don’t see her realizing that this continued association with her love Joe is making her life and afterlife miserable and either a) leaving him or b) using clever resources to fend off the forces of Hell and save his soul. Nope. She’s gonna do what she’s done for the entire story: nothing. Literally nothing. Because she’s a quest object and a damsel in distress and to some extent a manifestation of Joe’s anima. She’s not a well-rounded character.

tumblr_miwv3yeGsW1qj97xmo7_1280And I could handle that in one storyline if it wasn’t in a thousand damn storylines before this. I am over Perfect Girlfriend Saving Dark Man From Self characters. So deeply over them. Especially when they have literally nothing of their own going on. Without Joe, what would Laura have done with her life? Would she have existed? We don’t know! There’s not even a hint of her own personality.

How, then, did this tradition start? While I don’t have time today to really trace it back (although perhaps I shall someday. French medieval romances, I’m looking at you.), I want to talk about one specific piece of the puzzle. And that’s our buddy Dante.

So in all this talk of Inferno, I haven’t yet mentioned Beatrice. Beatrice is Dante’s great love, whom he deifies repeatedly in his poetry. She shows up in the Divine Comedy literally near the top of Mt. Purgatory in the Garden of Eden, and becomes his guide after Virgil leaves him. She guides him through most of Heaven, and is eventually replaced by St. Peter when things get too holy for even her. Dante also wrote a whole huge poem to her directly, called La Vita Nuova. It’s…creepy. This is one of the tamer bits:

In that book which is my memory,
On the first page of the chapter that is the day when I first met you,
Appear the words, ‘Here begins a new life’.”

-La Vita Nuova


Because here’s the thing. Dante had met the real actual person Beatrice Portinari…twice. Once at age nine, once at age eighteen. Both times they met at parties, briefly. And yet, he was so taken with her that in his head he built her into this savior figure, this perfect woman, this light of his life. He was the epitome of a courtly lover. The scholarly argument is that Dante’s figure of Beatrice in his writing is an allegorical character, and not to be taken as a literal pining over some woman he met twice. And that argument has some merit; for one, it acknowledges that Beatrice was never a real person in Dante’s mind and that fictional Beatrice isn’t a character who is expected to be three-dimensional. She’s a stand-in for the Divine Feminine, a cardboard cutout of a Perfect Lover.

literally one of two times this happened

literally one of two times this happened

I can’t help but think that a lot of these perfect heart-of-gold girlfriend characters are just Beatrices in disguise. For all the worshiping of Beatrice that Dante did, her existence in his writing mostly relates to him, to fictional Dante. She exists to be the light, life, feminine savior of Dante. And that’s what gets me about this sub-set of the damsel trope: these women literally have nothing else going on aside from trying to save their wayward partners. (TV Tropes suggests that Beatrice types may be Living Emotional Crutches.) Gross.

Anyway. That’s all to say that female characters are more interesting when they’re given desires, motivations, and some degree of actual, y’know, character.

For a noir comic book that has female characters with an actual character arc, check out:

The Last Days of American Crime by Rick Remender, Fatale by Ed Brubaker (best sendup of the femme fatale trope ever), and if you’d like to see an actual female noir detective, Stumptown by Greg Rucka.

Aw, Hell.

So Dante’s Inferno is big, and long, and I need a breath of fresh air, I dunno about any of you. I mean, we’re barely halfway through Fraud.

So I’m gonna distract us this week with Judeo-Christian afterlife imagery in popular culture, a.k.a. OMG SATAN LOL.

tumblr_mn35ho5Grn1rwkrdbo1_500The afterlife/punishment thing was not a new concept for the Christians of Dante’s day. In fact, the New Testament mentions “Tartarus” once and “Hades” about ten times, both of which often get translated to “Hell.” For those of you who don’t have the ancient gods 4-1-1, Hades is the ancient Greek god of the underworld, which was divided up into various sections where you were assigned based on your actions during life. Dante wasn’t coming up with anything particularly new there. In fact, the idea of Hell as a place where you are aware of what’s going on and are stuck there forever was tied in to the Jewish Hell, Gehenna, which comes up in the Torah and thus the Bible. Gehenna was specifically a place where the wicked were sent after death, and was based on a real place on earth.

Dante’s hell melded all those concepts with various thematic twists of his own (not to mention his enemies in hell and his patrons in heaven). The Divine Comedy, like all comedies, is a startlingly political work. That being said, Dante’s concept of Hell has profoundly influenced popular culture, down to little stuff we don’t think of. Here’s a few examples:

“There’s a special circle of hell for…”
“Seventh heaven”
“On Cloud Nine”
And so many more

Personally, I find the phrase “When Hell Freezes Over” pretty funny because the ninth circle in Dante’s hell is literally a lake of Satan’s frozen tears. Gosh.


Here are a couple of other notable works that have to do with hell:

Hironymous Bosch’s diptych, Paradise and Hell, 1510.

John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, 1667. This personifies Satan and demons in a concrete way that hadn’t properly been done before. Here’s a rad comparison of the structure of Dante’s and Milton’s hells.

…one, two, skip a few…

…and in the modern era, pop culture comics have had a field day with Satan and Hell imagery. There are far too many things to go into here, but a few of my favorites include:

Lucifer, the comics series by Mike Carey that’s technically a Sandman spinoff, but is amazing and glorious in its own right. Highly recommended.

Hellblazer, the epic comics series starring John Constantine, who stands between the forces of the afterlife and pretty much everything else. There was that truly mediocre movie with Keanu Reeves, who was a terrible John Constantine, and a forthcoming show that seems like it might actually be decent.

Blizzard’s Diablo series of videogames, not because I think it does anything particularly innovative with the mythology, but because it’s interesting to research where all the names of the demons came from in your actual mythology. For example: Nephilim. It’s a Jewish supernatural creature with the power of humans and angels. (And an analog for the heroic characters you play in the game.) Personally I want a Rabbinical wizard character who can raise Golems, but I realize that the hell-world of Diablo is, despite the common imagery, far removed from the various incarnations of Jewish and Christian hells.

And I have not played the “Dante’s Inferno” game, which involves a damsel-in-distress version of Beatrice instead of the reality of Beatrice, which was Dante being a creepy creeper and pining at some length over a married woman whom he then fantasized about in the Divine Comedy after writing a book-length poem about how much of an amazing goddess she was. Dante: a guy with boundary issues.

Also: this?! Yup. Dante for kiddos. Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go.


Next time: something approaching coherence

Spoilers: we’ll be headed back to Hell

Stock Photo Hell: Violence, Part Three

Stock Photo Hell

Road signs for Heaven and Hell

Gosh. Dante, you could have just asked for directions.

 Violence, Part Three: Violence Against God (and/or Nature and/or Art)

I saw so many flocks of naked souls, all weeping miserably, and it seemed that they were ruled by different decrees. Some lay upon the ground, flat on their backs; some huddled in a crouch, and there they say; and others moved about incessantly. The largest group was those who walked about, the smallest, those supine in punishment; but these had looser tongues to tell their torment. Above that plain of sad, distended flakes of fire showered down; their fall was slow as snow descent on alps when on wind blows.”
-Canto XIV, Mandlebaum translation

So what is violence against God, exactly? Some describe the subcircle as “Violence against nature, God, and art,” which I find an interesting conflation of three things. In modern society, one might describe, say, cutting all funding to middle school art programs as violence against art. One might describe drilling for oil as violence against nature. One might not have such a dogmatic and unified view of God as Dante and his 14th century folks did, and therefore opinions may differ as to what, exactly, counts as violence against God.

Virgil’s official definition of what counts as Violence Against God consists of three sins: blasphemy, sodomy, and usury. I’d like to point out that by that definition, all those college loans with absurd interest rates would be considered violence against God/nature/art. But of those three sins, there’s one that sticks in my craw, at any rate, more than the others.

Let’s talk about sodomy a tad, shall we?

The word comes from the Biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, that naughty city of perverts where Lot and his wife were like “augh no must escape this giant orgy because God’s gonna scour it off the face of the planet. Quick, throw our daughters into the orgy so we can scarper.” They run away, Lot’s wife looks back when she’s not s’posta could, gets turned into a pillar of salt. Cue sad trombones. Out of this came the word sodomy, which was at one time considered any nonstandard sexual practice or sexual taboo, everything from oral sex to bestiality. (T-Rex interrupts: “Who has no thumbs and can’t come up with a working definition of sex? THIS GUY.” True, T-Rex, sex is hard to define. Good point.) Anyway, in the fullness of the Victorian Age, sodomy became synonymous with butt stuff. And that led to connotations, in the 20th century, of homosexuality. As a reminder, in Dante’s day, homosexuality wasn’t a word that people used. It wasn’t even an identity. There were some terms surrounding homosexual behavior (and some sassy medieval nuns who had a very nice time, I suspect), but not until the 1800s was there a concept of homosexual identity even being a thing. So perhaps I am being a Dante apologist, but dang, sodomy sure seemed to be more about, as medieval art scholar Bob Mills “a range of sexual activity deemed unacceptable to Christians […] every sex act that wasn’t aimed at human reproduction within the bond of marriage.” Focault called sodomy “an utterly confused category” and I tend to agree. Anyway. On to the canto:

The main person Dante talks to in this canto, actually, talks not of God but of Jove, because he’s a Roman warrior/asshole who mainly got his kicks off standing on hills and taunting Jupiter. Turns out he died by being struck by a bolt of divine lightning, gosh. Capaneus, as he is called, is sort of the honey badger of this circle, lounging around in the burning desert and being like, “What? Come at me bro.” The ironic thing is that he’s so determined to not let the Gods have the pleasure of torturing him in the afterlife that he does a pretty good job of tormenting himself. Self-torture out of arrogance. Huh. I bet if you go to the bro-iest bars in your area on a Saturday night, you might see some self-torture out of arrogance. Just saying.

The other person Dante talks to in this circle is his former mentor, Brunetto Latini. Apparently he was more into sodomy than usury? Mostly I find him interesting because he’s a respected friend of Dante’s who’s being punished in Hell.  Dante-the-author put a ton of people he knew–patrons, friends, enemies–all over the afterlife. And yes, that means he put the people who were paying for him to write his epic poems in Paradise. So think about that before freaking out about selling out, you artist types. Ironic thoughts, for this circle.

Gosh, stock photos. That’s a part of this mess. My search terms: violence against God, violence against art, violence against nature, sodomy, usury, blasphemy.

Sodomy wins the “most relevant to medieval times” award:

stone frieze of a dude having sex with a horse

I know, this carving is from a temple in India and actually has fuck-all to do with medieval Catholicism. My other choices were an illustration of two men holding hands, an illustration of a lady making out with a dog, or a terribly cheesy CGI guy who is naked and presumably wanking. I mean, bonus points for covering all the bases, I guess?? Frig.

Usury wins the “silliest acting” award:

guy signs a contract in front of moneylender with suspiciously raised eyebrow

Gotta watch for that evil eyebrow, dude. This is the sort of moneylender you’ve gotta go all Christlike on, i.e. flip the table and walk out.

Blasphemy wins the “sort of nonsensical” award. Lots of pictures of pentacles, the Bible, and political violence. One good picture of the last Pope with a Hitler ‘stache drawn on him. And this:

Jesus flipping the bird.

For reference, this is the incarnation of Christ that Sister Mary Ann Fuckoff worships.

On to the violences. Firstly, “violence against god” got very few results. The silliest and best one was this:

scales with a bible on one side and money/guns on the other side

Perhaps aside from the crack, I feel like these things end up on the same side of the scales in America. Just saying.

“Violence against Nature” got me lots of pictures of leaves, dudes with guns, ladies with swords, barbed wire, and this little gem:

A tree with a crime scene outline of a body taped on it.

I mean, what is this, Daphne: the crime scene?

“Violence against art” was perhaps the most interesting of the three violences, with more results and some pieces of art that stood against violence. (And yes, there were a couple of references to violence against women, but that’s oh so difficult to avoid.) It also wins the “oh god the racism whyyy” award. There were a lot of pictures of women with guns: a white woman and a black woman in photo studio poses with handguns. Perhaps they were more artistic violence than the violence I was searching for earlier? But boy howdy, there sure were some interesting differences between the two models’ poses:

"A middle aged, white, female business woman or teacher holds a semi automatic pistol during this dark photo shoot against black."

“A middle aged, white, female business woman or teacher holds a semi automatic pistol during this dark photo shoot against black.”

"A young beautiful african american female holds a semi automatic pistol during this dark photo shoot against black."

“A young beautiful african american female holds a semi automatic pistol during this dark photo shoot against black.”


I tried to pick two poses that were similar: both women are looking at the camera, pointing the gun at the camera while holding it sideways. This is par for the course for the rest of the photos: the white woman looks neutral or pleasantly happy. The black woman looks angry and/or sexual. The captions tell you that the white “woman” is a “business woman or teacher.” The black woman is “beautiful,” “african american” and “female.”


Urg. I’m dropping this mic. It got icky again. I’m out.



Next up: Fraud!
Spoilers: It’s more fun than Violence?!

Stock Photo Hell: Heresy

Stock Photo Hell

Admittedly, heresy is much more about the ones *with* the church and the Bible who still can't get along.

Admittedly, heresy is much more about the ones *with* the church and the Bible who still can’t get along.

Circle Six: Heresy

We made our way inside without a struggle; and I, who wanted to observe the state of things that such a fortress guarded, as soon as I had entered looked about. I saw on every side, a spreading plain of lamentation and atrocious pain. […] here the sepulchers were much more harsh; for flames were cattered through the tombs, and these had kindled all of  them to glowing heat; no artisan could ask for hotter iron.”
-Canto IX, Mandlebaum

The City of Dis, where Dante describes these fiery tombs, is heretic central in Hell. Epicureans and other sects of heretical Christianity are all hanging out in tombs on fire. Virgil comments wryly, “These tombs are far more crowded than you think.” Two points of irony: 1. Those who thought “the soul dies with the body” are now condemned to being wrong in a really painful way for a long time, and 2. The pièce de résistance of the whole city is a heretical Cardinal, who is upside-down in a baptismal font filled with fire. So opposite. Such irony. Wow.


This one wins the Most Relevant to Dante’s Inferno award!

I think it’s only natural to, while reading the Inferno, calculate where you’d end up in Hell. And me? My best guess is that I’d end up in the City of Dis with the heretics. In high school and college I was a semi-active member of the Unitarian-Universalist Association, which stemmed from two heretical Christian sects. Unitarianism was declared heresy at the Council of Nicaea in 325AD, which is pretty old school in terms of heresy. (Unitarians didn’t believe in the trinity, thus the name. Instead, they believed in “a unity of God and Nature”.) Universalism wasn’t declared heresy until the fifth ecumenical council of 533AD, but I think had the far more punk-ass ideology: the doctrine of universal salvation. Everybody is saved. No matter what. It’s almost like, by extension…morals…become a secular thing… huh. Anyway, since the 1950s, the UUA has officially divorced itself from Christianity and now is a creedless faith where you can believe whatever you damn well please but still get together to sing songs from a variety of faith traditions. There are Seders, and Pagan rituals, and Buddhist meditations. I’m sure Dante would have had a field day with the UUA; Garrison Keillor jokes about “fundamentalist Unitarians” burning giant question marks on people’s lawns.

…And at this point in my life, my religious life consists of celebrating the Wheel of the Year with a coven of queer Pagans. It’s like going to church for Christmas and Easter, except with a far higher percentage of lesbians and witches.


BUT ANYWAY we’re not here to talk about me, we’re here to talk about what Stock Photo Land considers heretical!

My search terms: heresy, heretic, female heretic (I find it worth noting Dreamstime’s “related searches”: wrath, witchcraft, british national flag, thanksgiving turkey, cute hot woman sexy cleavage.)

Yes, “heresy” was a kind of confusing search. I got the following sorts of things, from most to least logical:

Pictures from the walls of Torquemada's torture chambers

Pictures from the walls of Torquemada’s torture chambers

Statue of Giordano Bruno

Giordano Bruno, heliocentrist, burned at the stake in 1600, a “martyr for science.”

People shopping at outdoor markets in Europe...? Maybe they're actually Epicureans...! (Actually, I think it's in that same square with Bruno's statue.)

People shopping at outdoor markets in Europe…? Maybe they’re actually Epicureans…! (Actually, I think it’s in that same square with Bruno’s statue.)

Various castles of Carcassonne that defended the Spanish/French border. Let me know if that makes sense to anyone. Are the meeples actually heretics? I don't know!

Various castles of Carcassonne that defended the Spanish/French border. Let me know if that makes sense to anyone. Are the meeples actually heretics? I don’t know!

This pregnant lady...? Is she pregnant with the Antichrist or something...?!

This pregnant lady…? Is she pregnant with the Antichrist or something…?!


All that being said, searching “female heretic” in Shutterstock and Dreamstime each produced only one result, and both are SOLID GOD-DAMN GOLD:

black nun flipping of the camera while smoking a cigar

“Hey,” growled Sister Mary Ann Fuckoff, all the while chewing the end of her cigar, “Jesus thinks you’re an asshole.”

truly ridiculous pale woman with long black nails and bloody makeup

Bloodonica, having gone in for a fresh Evil Manicure, had to now say the entire Evil Rosary without the skull falling off her head.

Stock Photo Hell: Lust

Stock Photo Hell

"MAN LOOKING AT WOMANS BREASTS" [sic]  This just happened to be the "featured image" on Dreamstime when I went to pull the images for this post.

This happened to be the “featured image” on the Dreamstime front page when I went to pull the images for this post.

Circle Two: Lust

“And as, in the cold season, starlings’ wings bear them along in broad and crowded ranks, so did the blast bear on the guilty spirits: now down, now up, now here, now there it drives them. There is no hope that ever comforts them, no hope for rest and none for lesser pain. ” (Canto 5)

In Dante’s vision, the Circle of Lust was a giant whirling tornado, where lovers could see each other, but never touch or hear each other. Dante hangs out with a famous adulteress, among others.

Search terms: lust, lustful woman, lusty woman. Dreamstime assures me that a related term to “lustful woman” is “fancy kitchen sinks.” I am not sure if this is supposed to be a metaphor or what.

The stock photo that best illustrates Dante’s circle I got in some completely unrelated search, though. Still, it’s got a businesswoman, sort of, so one of our Four Chambers of Stockphoto Women are represented:


Get it? 'Cause they can see each other but not really hear each other or touch each other it's a metaphor let me explain it

Get it? ‘Cause they can see each other but not really hear each other or touch each other it’s a metaphor let me over-explain it asdfasdfasdf




She’s seducing him with cunning use of laying completely motionless.

Runner-up for representing the Four Chambers of Stock Photo Women, because all the sites had a bunch of pictures of women eating fruit (I blame Eve):




Runner-up for Oh My God The Racism Why: “A man holding on to his woman with lust on her face.”



no really, whyyyyy

I can’t even. Another photo from the same shoot refers to her as an “American Indian woman.” *pause while my eye twitches* It’s like they’re trying to be politically correct or something. One wonders, at that point, why.


Other notable results:

“Lusty woman” involved a lot of pictures of an active and enthusiastic senior lady who had a lust for life, doing things like gardening, crossword puzzles, and having a young person explain her some modern technology.

However, “lustful woman” produced all kinds of gems: “SENSUAL SEXY JAPANESE WOMAN STRIPPER UNDRESSING,” “INTERRACIAL COUPLE PLAYING SEX GAMES ON BED,” “SEDUCTIVE WOMAN TAKING YOU BY THE TIE,” (You know, in case you needed any doubt that the male gaze was at play here) and just to really hammer in the theme, “SEXY WOMAN KNEELING.”

It's cool: she's a businesswoman.

It’s cool: she’s a businesswoman. A stripper businesswoman.

Dreamstime in particular seems to be more focused on photos of a variety of races of folks, not all of which are called out by race. “BEAUTIFUL WOMAN ON BED” is black. However, there’s also “TOPLESS BLACK WOMAN WITH AMERICAN NATIONAL FLAG” and for some unthinkable reason “AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN BY BASKET OF DIRTY LAUNDRY.” Which totally has to do with the keywords “lustful woman” because…uh…er… white supremacist patriarchy?


Yeah,  I'm gonna go white supremacist patriarchy, because that's the only connection I can see.

Yeah, I’m gonna go white supremacist patriarchy, because that’s the only connection I can see.

I feel dirty now, and not because of the sexual content. Can I be excused to go scrub out my brain please?


Next up: Gluttony!

Spoilers: Stock photo women have a troubled relationship with food.

Stock Photo Hell, Part One

PrefaceDanteBookDante 101:

  • Dante Alghieri, who is one of the few authors cool enough to get the “first name only” Cher/Madonna style treatment, lived in medieval Italy and wrote The Divine Comedy, a three-part epic poem that has profoundly affected Western thought, Christianity, and culture. There were a few pundits who wrote about the afterlife, but Dante’s work gained the most cultural traction, in part because he referred to all those other dudes in his own work.
  • The Divine Comedy tracks a fictionalized version of Dante being led through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven by Virgil, who was pretty much “best poet of antiquity,” sort of analog of Shakespeare would be today. Virgil is not his only companion, because Dante couldn’t go letting Pagan ol’ Virgil very far into non-Hell afterlife places, but Virgil is Dante’s companion through all of Inferno.
  • There are 100 cantos (chapters made of poems) in the Divine Comedy, 33 in Paradiso, 33 in Purgatorio, and 34 in Inferno because Hell is all about excess. Hell is basically a large cone in the ground, with people packed more and more tightly the further you go down. Hell is set up in levels, with each “worse” sin being situated below the next. At the bottom of Hell is Lucifer, stuck in a lake of his own frozen tears, constantly chewing on the three worst betrayers of history. Nobody says Dante ain’t metal.
  • In all of the circles of hell, there’s the idea of contrapasso, or a fitting punishment that’s ironically related to the sin/crime. For example, corrupt politicians are submerged in a lake of boiling pitch, which represents their dark and terrible deeds.

Stock Photos 101:

  • Instead of paying a photographer royalties for use of their images, you can buy a royalty-free stock photo online that’s been uploaded by people who had ideas like “Hey, a photo shoot of this Cyber Woman Holding Corn totally makes sense!”
  • While they may be useful for cheap illustration, book cover images, etc, stock photos are also creepily cliché. StockPhotoLand is a magical land wherein the bigotry of American culture is way more blatant than usual. I am particularly obsessed with how women are handled in stock photos. The women of StockPhotoLand seem to obsess over four things: food, being a sex object, motherhood, and business.
  • Many fine folks have taken note of this: Women Laughing Alone With Salad, Racial Misprofiling, and the epic Francetucky, OH, a whole town made of StockPhotoLand with captions by Drewtoothpaste and Natalie Dee.


So, lovely denizens of Earth, join me as we enter…


(Updates for new circles will be posted every few days….until we reach the bottom!)


The Divine Comedy

Let me tell you about a project I once did. I funded it with grant money, which means it must be good, right?

The original concept was grand and sweeping: A three-part graphic novel script based on Dante’s Divine Comedy (in my head I imagined all of the issues, bound together as one large and epic trade paperback with all three stories running parallel to each other). In reality I finished part one (Inferno) and drew out the first issue. Still! It’s a great concept, and I enjoy playing with it from time to time.

In the original Divine Comedy, Dante* writes himself walking through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, guided by various supernatural entities. The Dante character is quite fallible and affected by his spiritual journey and surroundings. For example, he becomes a total jerk as he descends farther into Hell, and saves face as he ascends the mountain of Purgatory.

In my version, I have a character called Annie, like to me in personality and hometown, but unlike me in family circumstance. (Somehow she sprouted a three-child catholic family. Her siblings are kind of like Jungian personality aspects of her. Don’t ask me, I just wrote it down.) I’m not the first one to think of a modernized Dante story. The illustration at the top is from a series by Sandow Birk, a radically modern translation with amazing illustrations that parody some of the original woodcuts.

The overall structure of my tale goes like this: Hell is childhood. Purgatory is young/middle adulthood. Paradise is age. Certainly as a young adult about to graduate college, I felt like I was standing at the base of Mt. Purgatory, getting ready to climb.

So I wrote what I knew: Conifer, Colorado. Childhood. Hell. I have a script for all of my version of Inferno. Who knows, I may get ’round to drawing the rest of it. I am afraid I’ll have to start over: I have the script but the drawings are in an archive in Colorado and I believe the original scans of the drawings disappeared in the Great Computer Theft of ’07. Serves me right for not backing them up, eh?

But in the meantime, I wanted to share excerpts of the research I did on Paradiso. What research, you ask? I interviewed various people over 50 about their take on the nature of Paradise, not the heavenly concept so much as the earthly one. I also asked them how their definition of success had changed since they were 20…that was a healthy thing for a 20 year old to be asking when she’d be plunged into the “real world” the next year…

So, over the rest of January, I am going to listen to and blog about these interviews. I will post selected edited transcripts as well; clearly, I’m not going to use the names of the people I interviewed, as my permission does not extend that far. Perhaps they can get names from Paradiso instead.

Until the next interview from Paradise….

*Note: Dante is one of the only literary figures who had a first and a last name, but GOES BY HIS FIRST NAME. We don’t even call Shakespeare “William”. But Dante is not “Alighieri”, he’s “Dante.” How cool is that? He’s like the Madonna of the 1300s.

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