Taxidermy “Immortalized” on Reality Television! by Will Kay

Posted on March 7, 2013

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I am warning you, I am one of those weirdos who loves taxidermy (in my case especially insect mounts and aquatic animals). It comes from an interest in states of being and transition states (I was all about kinetics in Chemistry at school). So when a fellow YDE contributor Paul Burgess alerted me to a new taxidermy competition reality show, Immortalized, to say my interest was piqued is putting it mildly.

The show takes on an Iron Chef type format, where there is a amateur challenger and an superstar “Iron Chef”, in this case an “Immortalizer”. They are given a theme on which to base their taxidermy, then sent away to create their piece, and finally judged to produce a winner. It is the type of program where the stakes are mainly based around reputation and so-called “bragging rights”. This format of reality show can be quite exciting and very much relies on pageantry and bravado. However, it lacks the perverse pleasure of watching contestants tear each other down, or the strong identification that can come with watching a contestant throughout a season. I think that this is a missed opportunity with the kinds of nutty characters that you could potentially get among taxidermists, really, I am completely saddened by this missed opportunity to see more weirdos on TV. But alas, AMC (the cable channel it airs on in the US, home to Breaking Bad and Mad Men) selected this format, now I gotta live with it.

Serious the "Immortalizers" serious faces.

Serious the “Immortalizers” faces.

So it was with simmering expectations that I watched the first episode. In all honesty I wasn’t blown away. The most successfully achieved aspect of the show was the grand Colosseum style presentation complete with the entrances, the posturing, gauntlets thrown, and the thrones. The presentation gave the show a slightly comedic sense of scale; it was almost self-deprecating and perfectly over-the-top.

Also successful was the theme of “Size matters” (once again self-deprecation). In response to the theme the “Immortalizer” Beth and challenger Kevin produced some really great taxidermy, in this case they both produced what is know as “rogue taxidermy”—where the taxidermy is of a situation that wouldn’t be found in nature. In fact Beth’s response to the theme was incredibly high concept; she mutated the theme into a musing on distortion, proportion and “what is natural?”. Kevin’s response to the theme I was always going to love because he specialises in insect mounts. Although I did like his mount and his interpretation of the theme, I wasn’t entirely impressed with his execution and the degree of visual creativity he displayed. However, the strong responses that I had to the taxidermy serves to indicate how successful they were.

God, "Challenger" Kevin what's with all butterflies, there are so many insect to choose from.

God… “Challenger” Kevin what’s with all butterflies, there are so many insect to choose from.

Given my reaction on the whole, obviously not all aspects of the show were on par with the staging and the taxidermy. The characterisations of the challenger and the “Immortalizer” were somewhat lacking in actual personality. “Immortalizer” Beth was portrayed as a caricature of power and menace and honestly it was as tiring to watch as it must have been for her to evoke, that woman ain’t no actor that’s for sure. As for Kevin, while he was much more real and relatable, the unfocused editing of his profile made it hard to make sense of his story, so much so that I don’t think that they even considered that there was a need for a clear back-story. So while I loved the taxidermy that these two personalities produced, I couldn’t care less who won in the end because I didn’t have any sense of knowing either of them.

Catfish... brilliance, go "Immortalizer" Beth.

Cat-bird-fish… brilliance, go “Immortalizer” Beth.

A more mixed aspect of the show were the judges. There were three: Paul Rhymer, a highly experienced taxidermist with the Smithsonian Museum; Catherine Coan, an artist, taxidermist, and professor of creative writing and art history; and Brian Posehn, an actor,writer, and comedian. Both Catherine Coan and Paul Rhymer seem to be well qualified to judge, and their critiques where excellent and reasoned—Catherine Coan being especially eloquent and charismatic. However, after watching Brian Posehn’s critique, I was asking myself, “Why does this show this show think I care what this comedian has to say about taxidermy? Especially when he didn’t say anything funny.” By the way, if you want to see some amazing rogue taxidermy take a look at Catherine Coan’s Canary Suicides.

From Left to Right: Paul Rhymer, Catherine Coan, Brain Posehn. Clearly the producers have identified Catherine Coan’s charisma, too.

All-in-all, the staging, taxidermy and Catherine Coan made this first episode of Immortalized highly watchable. While I do lament the missed opportunity to get to know a bunch of weirdo taxidermist (this could have been another show of great characters like on RuPaul’s Drag Race). I will continue enjoy one of my little loves being present to the world, while it sends-up the reality TV genre ever so slightly.

Will Kay is You’re Dripping Egg’s co-creator. His column, Nothing Unnecessary bar the Unnecessary, in which he looks a little to hard at things that just don’t matter, is released every second Wednesday. 

What do you think of Immortalized? Do are you totally creeped out by taxidermy, or are you interested despite yourself? Voice your concerns/support in the comments.

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