Monday, May 5, 2014


Last week, I said we’d discuss why people are attracted to absurdity, and what the good of it could be. I also mentioned that lack of practice at making sense can lead to things appearing to make less and less of it, which is directly related to the first reason for liking absurdity that we are going to discuss (the dark and sinister reason).

People like to think they’re correct. They like to have their opinions reinforced, both by evidence and by other people. This must have something to do with cos-play, and wearing Star Wars T-shirts, and posting memes on the internet. Other people acknowledge these things and indicate that they also know about them, or like them, and however meager the sense may be, it gives people a sense of connection, and a sense that someone is behind them, agreeing with them, on their side.

Now, if you aren't in the habit of making sense of things, there are plenty of things that will appear to make no sense at all. People will just seem to be this way or that way. Things will just seem to happen. It’s a pretty recent trend in my experience for kids to refer to people as “some random guy” or to say that something happened “for no reason”. (I remember when kids used to evade explaining something by saying simply “because,” which is the opposite of “for no reason.” Saying “because” is nothing more than an assertion that there was a reason.) And when people think things are nonsense, they like to see things that confirm and reinforce the notion. People like to think they’re correct.

There are even quite a few popular myths that say that any sense you do make of things is an illusion: an attempt to feel secure in an insecure and uncaring world (consider the works of such myth-makers as H.P. Lovecraft and Steven Hawking). Someone who accepts these ideas might even feel that they are being brave, that they are stripping away the facade of sense and revealing the truth underneath. (Incidentally, taking pleasure in something like revealing the truth presupposes a rational mind and view, which is just what such people assert is meaningless. But, absurdists aren't too dedicated to consistency).

So, that is the dark and sinister reason to like things like Shoop Da Whoop and Peanut Butter Jelly Time: you don’t believe things make any sense, so nonsense pleases you because it agrees with you.

But, there is another reason absurdity might please someone. It’s the same reason you can call someone “crazy” and mean it as a compliment. When something is incoherent, when it doesn't hold together because of logic, or practical purpose, or any kind of sense (like a picture of an old lady riding a flying alligator through a clear blue sky -- again, see last week’s article) then the question arises: if it isn't coherent, if no rational argument or practical purpose brought these things together, what did? And the answer is: the person who made the meme did. Intentional absurdity can be a playful expression of human freedom, and freedom is delightful. It makes things surprising, exciting, and unique. It shows us we are more than mechanical effects of mechanical processes. Absurdity throws freedom into relief, because it’s clear that no deduction compelled the author to accept this, no necessity drove him this way.

Clearly, in any given circumstance, it could be personal compulsion that leads to concocting absurd things – such as the dark and sinister possibility mentioned above. But, the playfulness is there, and the stuff is crazy. And, if we don’t do something silly every once and a while, how sure can we be we’re choosing to do the serious stuff?

© 2014 John Hiner III

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