Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Theatre of the Ridiculous

Okay - drop everything, even if expensive, and watch this masterpiece right now:

Everything we do is fundamentally ridiculous. From our pointless jobs through our institutionalised obsession with hearing people's made up stories to the elaborate culture and values built around and towards the moronic spasmatic movement of sex and even disturbing phenomena like child-soldiers - everything enshrined in culture as a convention or value is essentially a joke we all too often forget to laugh at.

Nothing deserves or justifies or transcends ridicule, because everything is already ridiculous, and anything else it can be it can only be in addition to ridiculous.

I find this thought inspiring. And a promising avenue out of a cultural economy of fear and pretentiousness and complicity and repression. And it is probably what basically all comedy is about, but I feel like it's distilled particularly articulately and beautifully ridiculously in the mind-blowing parody of life here above.

One of the interesting advantages of being bilingual and sort of more or less bi-national, is seeing quite clearly how ridiculous people sound when talking in a new language. It has also probably made it much more difficult for me to speak in newly learned languages without feeling acutely my ridiculousness while doing so. What secret Zen master Nathan Fielder is demonstrating here is both that one should not feel ashamed or embarrassed about this ridiculousness, and could and should feel free to literally broadcast it, and that, by clumsy extension towards my previous anecdote - that speaking a language "well" only serves to obscure the inherent ridiculousness of everything.

A good working definition for secularism in a profoundly religiously saturated culture, I think, is the ability to treat something as worthwhile without needing it to be unridiculable. It is at any rate a good working definition for not being a pretentious arsehole, like fucking Baudrillard.


  1. That's a fascinating episode, but I don't follow the connection between it and these ruminations. What this episode is mostly making me reflect on is that watching other people is inherently interesting, and not just for the thrill of voyeurism. We're social creatures, we have a biological need to surround ourselves with other people, and we enjoy seeing and relating to glimpses of other lives. But we can't just sit and watch people at random all the time (though this episode proves that we can do it some of the time), because it would make them uncomfortable and would likely create all sorts of disturbing relationships between this audience, with its new sense of entitlement, and the uncooperating subjects. Maybe there's some unraveling of that social stigma which can be safely done without causing danger to society. I don't know. It would be tricky. But the current solution is to create "fictional", i.e. pretend lives to witness, and pretend people to surround ourselves with.

    ..which is all quite interesting, but I'm still not seeing where "ridiculousness" fits in.

  2. Hi Mory! Sorry, I was sure I was supposed to get notifications for responses here but I only caught this now.

    People's senses of humour obviously differ, as is clearly evidenced by Nathan Fielder not being a billionaire and emperor of the world, but I wonder, were you not roaring with laughter while watching this episode? Your experience of it sounds rather reserved, though the impression might be misleading. I think people who were laughing would have been doing so in reaction to being struck by the ridiculousness of all of it.

    Specifically, theatre prentiousness, legal absurdity, the effect of TV cameras on humans, business/capitalisation ventures, and what that dude Baudrillard whose name I mentioned at the end and whose book I never bothered to finish called "The precession of simulacra" (a brief overview of which can be found here: or you can try this remix which drastically improves the prose styling:

    Why am I finding these links instead of sleeping you're never going to read them. The point is, Baudrillard got very excited and smug with the idea that in contemporary culture, the show we put on is not even a lie because a lie would at least be the opposite of the truth, whereas today we are so drowning in playacting that it has effectively become the new truth with nobody even remembering or engaging even in a cynical way with the old one. It's a difficult thesis to break down largely because it is a little silly, but it struck a cultural nerve in that it expressed the feeling that we are leading lives remote frin and indifferent to any sense of truth. Everybody's so busy pretending we don't get around to actually being real. Baudrillard does not seem to offer any solutions, though it's difficult to tell with his abstruse and esoteric prose the fucking dickhead.

    In Fielder's episode, I think a similar message is played out. Everybody's pretending, from the audiences through the actors to the TV show's production team and even the bar owners. I thought there was a surprising catharsis at the episode's end where Fielder "precedes the simulacra" of the bar owner's actress over the real person, because it makes him feel better - or by metaphorical and actual extension, because that's the funnier and more absurdly ridiculous way of doing things. The show finds joy in the exact same kind of insanity that enrages me and attracts the contempt of Baudrillard.

    To put it another way, the whole "business scheme" seemed to me to set everything and everybody up for ridicule, and what transpired in the end was that this ridicule did happen, but so did a celebration and legitimation of it, and the fact that we were watching a comedian pretending to be a business adviser helping a bar-owner pretend to be putting on theatre by hiring people to pretend to be bar-goers for an audience to pretend they were watching a show was actually not in contradiction but in harmony with the fact that all this pretence was actually also real. Just in addition to being real it was joyfully and hilariously ridiculous, which is a sort of microcosmic highlighting of how all life essentially (potentially) is.

    I also question your contention that watching a theatrical show like the one seen in this episode would prove interesting to you or me. I don't think any of that audience would have turned up for a second showing either. The show itself is the least interesting part here - what was interesting was the ridiculousness of the pretending and pretentiousness all around it. Which, again, is potentially true of what we get around to doing in all of life. Our sanctimonious valuation of things as well as each and every one of those things themselves. Possibly why when people are high just being alive makes them giggle?