The Story of "Scantz", the Graveling

Showtime's useful show, Dead Like Me, on Death and Life focused on dysfunctional but stylish Grim Reapers.
Greetings, we have not spoken here for a bit, but I think you will enjoy, in a manner appropriate to twisting hanged men, today's story of the most well-paved road of good intentions and misapplied editorial sensibility (no, not respecting this blog, inane rodents).

As I suspect, long before you reach whatever end this comes to, you may be asking yourself—what the hell does this have to do with Tarot—I will ask for your indulgence and patience (limited as I know it is), for the connection will become clear anon, more anon for some than others of course.

So, I have lately been taken with an old Showtime series, Dead Like Me. You may now, and not anon, see some connection between a series so named, and Tarot, given that the pack generally sports a card called Death, having something we are told to do with death, more or less depending upon what alleged Tarot expert you ask.

Anyway, Dead Like Me tells the story in a brief two seasons (cancelled after that) of Georgia ("George") Lass, a poor lass of eighteen years, KIA'd by a falling toilet seat left over from the Mir space station. This is that kind of extraordinary luck I like to call winning the asshole lottery. Beyond the humiliation of being dispatched so ingloriously (one character refers to her as "the toilet-seat girl"), George is interrupted in her path to the afterlife by being chosen to become a "Grim Reaper", a taker of the souls of the about-to-die, but also a guide to the them to their final destination.

Reapers are working something out by being bureaucrats for Death. In George's case, the work addresses the fact that she never learned in life just how precious and poignant (she got how pointless) life could be. Basically, it was probably going to take her a good part of a lifetime to wise up about a lot of things, especially because she was so smart she figured she had it all figured out at eighteen. It was easier to just kill her and give her the Grim Reaper's crash course to the Universal truthless truth.

I highly recommend this series, which is available from a number of sources now, as a great instructor on many ideas and attitudes about Death and its intimate relationship to Life.

OK, got that? See the Tarotic connection? Good.

Unfortunately, that's not what we're here to discuss, well not mainly. It's just the introduction. As I said, I've become much interested in this series and as part of my research into it, I started where many of us would start in such a venture, at the Wikipedia article about Dead Like Me.

Now, if you haven't seen the series and intend to, you'll probably not want to read much of that article because it is full of spoilers. The bit that concerns us is brief, and won't ruin a thing for you. It describes the other principal agent of Death in the show—the little nasty creatures called Gravelings. Whereas Grim Reapers are the human, thoughtful side of Death, Gravelings are like cartoon forces of wicked irony, and are the ones who actually enforce the myriad ways in which people meet their demise. For example, if somebody is going to slip on a banana peel, and fall into an oncoming bus, the Graveling will be there a few minutes earlier to eat the banana and make sure the peel has been left in just the right place. And the Graveling will probably laugh about it when the victim gets his desert.

In the Wikipedia article about Dead Like Me, there is a section describing Gravelings, which makes the following claim:
"According to the episode, "Vacation", Gravelings are given one day off every few years by the Graveling boss, Scantz, who resembles the rest of his kind besides having different skin color and markings. Despite the holiday, most Reapers are disgusted by his presence for his lack of manners and violent behavior."—see note below about where this text has gone.
As it happens, I had just watched "Vacation" when I read this, and I didn't recall any Graveling boss, and certainly no Graveling named Scantz. What I did recall, and what I confirmed when I watched this segment again was the following:

As the episode's premise is being set up, Rube, the head Grim Reaper (the fellow who hands out the reaping assignments) tells the other Reapers, who are gathered at their local haunt a waffle-house diner, there won't be any reaping that day. When asked why, Rube explains that the Gravelings are taking the day off, and so it's a vacation day of sorts.

Rube then explains to the Reapers that their colleagues are actually in the diner, gathered at a booth over to the side of them. As is explained earlier in the show, even Reapers can't usually see Gravelings at all, and then only if they look at them indirectly.

Rube then says: "Look over there...don’t look right at gotta look askance."

His fellow Reaper, Mason, who is not exactly a thesaurus, doesn't know what the word "askance" means. And he asks "a-what?"

And Rube replies: "Skance...out of the corner of your eye."

Rube then looks askance to demonstrate, and they all do it and spot the tableful of misbehaving Gravelings. At one point one of them, never specified as a boss or leader, tosses a glass at the Reapers. Clearly there is general contempt between these co-workers.

Rube (Mandy Patinkin) looking askance at Gravelings—not at a Graveling called Scantz!
Now, the smart ones amongst you have probably already figured out the trick and the lesson here. Hell, maybe you are the beneficent type and are already scuttling over to Wikipedia to fix the article and remove the shame of the anonymous scribe and hopeless English student. If so, you will be demonstrating not beneficence, but incredible insensitivity and rudeness. Why? Oh, because this blunder concerning the Graveling boss Scantz wasn't the product of a whimsical and brief assault upon the flimsy integrity of Wikipedia. Oh no! It was the product of a LOT of work and editorial contemplation.

The first entry of this Scantz skanking was made on February 16, 2009 and actually contained the name Sconz, not Scantz. A number of revisions, on grammar, on style, took place to the Sconz entry over the next hours. Eventually, maybe after help from a second listen to the episode segment, the name of the alleged Graveling leader was changed to Scantz. At this point, another poster (although maybe the same person with another account name) took over and continued whipping the text into whatever prime shape seemed right for conveying a bit of misinformation.

And to this day and moment (just checked),* the mythformation about Scantz the Graveling still resides in the Dead Like Me article on Wikipedia.
*Note—"just checked" back when this was first published, April 6, 2009. Eventually, someone corrected the article to erase the Scantz mistake. However, you can still view it here.

The thing is, how did this happen? Yeah, I know, some barely literate bozo, or maybe a kid or something, thought he was being helpful and made a really dumb mistake. Or maybe it wasn't even that dumb, but was innocently ignorant, but still resulted in a glaringly bad bit of information—indeed the creation of a mythology which has no factual or originally intended basis. And it wasn't just glaringly bad information on some dimwit's blog—but in the only encyclopedia that matters any longer.

So, again, how did that happen? Well it happened for the same reason so much of occult and postmodern Tarot happened. Because when it came down to it, the motive to inform and reveal—something, anything—trumped the motive to get the facts straight and to tell the (sometimes pretty pedestrian—or just plain silly) truth.

More tomorrow on the general and Tarotic dangers of that motive—and the corresponding one of wanting to believe pretty much anything—especially dangerous in the democratic daze of the internet.



Butterns said…
You are a gifted scholar with catastrophically bad taste.

I like to think that you have blown so much of your capacity on the comprehension of tarot that you don't have enough left over to stfu at critical junctures - a problem symmetrical with those who have good taste and nothing worthwhile to lavish it on.

Since you have zero aesthetic discipline you might enjoy learning that Dead Like Me rips off anime, which is like scraping the bottom of a barrel that contained nothing but barrel-scrapings. The "original" is a shounen-ai show called Yami no Matsuei. But of course the cartoon is more about repentance and the absolute necessity of villany. And anal sex. It is geburah, if you will, to DLM's netzach.

Anonymous said…
What "catastrophe" are you referring to exactly?

What "critical juncture"?

In short, what the hell are you babbling about while complaining about "discipline"?

Something "rips off" something? Oh terrible! That's been going on for a long time. If the rip-off does something interesting, I have no particular problem with it, so long as it isn't pure and mere plagiarism.

And DLM seems quite concerned to portray a balanced, just and merciful, cosmos.

So Tiphareth seems more appropriate.

Butterns said…
You're unable to understand any thoughts that don't have pictures attached to them; even your limitations are charming, so I will try to work with them.

A dream of a just and merciful cosmos is an incarnation of netzach. It is the Valour of the dreamer, his last defense against the terrible truth (against which he stands alone.) The dreamer's vision of himself is a kind of vaseline-on-the-lens shade of tipareth, but he is an unreliable narrator.

Anyway I just thought that a loyal thelemite like yourself would prefer to see the story you like so much with additional sacred buttfucking bells and whistles. Helpful advice greeted with surly sarcasm! - I hope you don't treat all your admirers this way.
Anonymous said…
"You're unable to understand any thoughts that don't have pictures attached to them"

Then maybe you should have included some pictures. Your words sure as hell don't stand on their own.

Why didn't you answer my questions? Did you not understand them?

"A dream of a just and merciful cosmos is an incarnation of netzach."

Whether or not that is true, the "dream" isn't what I was referring to, but the reality.

"I hope you don't treat all your admirers this way."

I tend to treat moronic trollers pretty consistently, whether or not they allege to be admirers.

belmurru said…
I think Scantz is a great name for a Graveling. It sounds like an old German folkname for the Devil.

Who knows - maybe this stupid blunder will find its way into some reincarnation of the series, if nobody messes with it on Wikipedia. Then it really WILL be a Graveling's name. Then people will have to watch the episode and wonder if some double meaning was intended or not by the word(s) "(askance) - (a' Scantz)".

Thanks for noticing it. It was my favorite series when it was on. I really miss it, can't wait to see the movie - still only in Zone 1 DVD form.