I love Gawker, have I mentioned that? I mean, actually I just love their name. It's such an expressive, self aware name, openly acknowledging the voyeuristic glee that its content evokes.
I bring it up because I'm relatively sure that it was Gawker that contributed the most to the popularity of this video.
This video got really popular, really quickly after the election. It's one of a number of images, articles, and videos that did so, of course, all following the general theme of "Willard 'Mittens' Romney lost the election, and therefore the American experiment is effectively over." But something about this didn't quite jive with the overblown, eschatological pronouncements of the others, the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the rending of vestments and declarations that America Itself Has Died. Hell, there's points (as when she's railing against Birther stupidity, for example) where she sounds downright reasonable, despite her obvious delusions of grandeur.
What propelled this particular video to stardom?
Well, if I had to hazard a guess, I would say that people are fascinated by this video for the same reason they read Will Eisner comics.
Bear with me here.
Eisner likes, especially in his episodic graphic novels (the Contract with God trilogy, or Invisible People, for example), to introduce us to characters that are pretty unlikable, hostile, abrasive, or just deeply damaged. And then over the course of the story we watch them disintegrate, usually while monologuing to the heavens. And through that process we end up feeling a kind of detached, voyeuristic pity for their out of control lives. I think we can maybe link this experience with certain types of horror--you can't stop watching the train wreck, as it were.
His characters rail and contort and demand to know why the universe is so cruel to them. And certainly some of the fascination of a Will Eisner comic comes from the dynamism, the sheer physical drama of his character's movements... I mean, look at this page:
|Yeah, that's Hamlet, freaking out on a rooftop.|
But there's significance to the fact that Eisner is using Hamlet here that goes beyond his masterful drawing technique. It's very in keeping with his fixation upon tormented souls, and he places Hamlet within the lower-class urban environment where so many of his characters struggle and fall.
His characters are driven by the same demons that haunt Hamlet here, the demons that drive them to narrate and soliloquize, to attempt bargains with the universe, and, when those bargains fail...
They are Greek Tragic Heroes displaced in time and space from the royal halls of Thebes and the battlefield of Troy to dirty tenements and gutters. And when they fall to their Hubris, that great Greek flaw--or when they fall simply to bad luck, or a single mistake, or the banal evil of a dispassionate bureaucracy--they die with a whimper or gasp, not with any eye-ripping histrionics.
Is that not in keeping with our video subject?
I mean, listen to her describing her cheese dip supper. Listen to her talking about her hour and a half long video responses to twitter debates between Glen Beck and some other random conservative. Listen to the way she rails at her viewership for not doing more, for not sharing her videos, for not pressing the little Thumbs Up button after watching.
There's even a certain Eisnerian plotting to the whole thing, lines that summarize perhaps the whole theme. Like, this little section blows me away:
"I thought this election would be a landslide but I been thinking that for almost three years now."
"It's a little hard to change your mind once you've been convinced of something long ago."
It's incredible, the magnitude of that statement, the sheer weight of its insight. The incisiveness is matched only by the irony of her total lack of self awareness, her inability to APPLY that knowledge in a way that will fundamentally restructure her existence and beliefs.
It's tragic, but as in Eisner the tragedy plays out in the smallest of scales, the most mediocre of settings. The cathartic release--the experience of tragedy by proxy--is reduced to voyeuristic pity.
That's, I think, the fundamental fascination here. And yes, putting a real person's real actions in such dramatized, fictional terms is kind of dehumanizing. That's kind of my point, actually. When culturally we take an individual like this and turn them into a voyeuristic spectacle (or, in fairness to society, when they turn themselves into a voyeuristic spectacle), we are reacting to the narrative that we perceive and construct. Even if we feel pity rather than scorn, it is still a pity borne of the fiction that we construct.
And it's worth, I think, understanding that mechanism and how we build these narratives, if only so we can curb the Fundamental Attribution Error--the tendency of humans to ascribe their actions to particular, immediate circumstances and causes, and the actions of others to fundamental characters and states of being, i.e. "Well, she's doing this because she's a bad person, not because she's only been eating cheese dip and therefore has low blood sugar." From that perspective, fiction can perhaps be as much a barrier as a gateway to understanding.
That's another reason to look at Eisner comics, though, I suppose--often, reviewing his works, you'll find people that are less fundamentally, internally damaged and more victims of poor choices and poor circumstances that ultimately lead to their downfall.
But then again, perhaps there's no real lesson to take away from this other than the simple similarity in construction between this rant and Eisner's characters. At least that makes it somewhat more interesting, I suppose.
And it's certainly a step above the rapidly proliferating pictures of crying Eagles and American Flags. Yes, crying flags.
Hey, art can't always be full of pathos and import. Sometimes it's just really freaking stupid.
Credit goes to my good friend Jon, author of the comic Everyday Abnormal, for sending the video to me and helping me hash out the concept for this article. I'll get some guest material from him up here someday. You can follow me on Google+ at gplus.to/SamKeeper or on Twitter @SamFateKeeper. As always, you can e-mail me at KeeperofManyNames@gmail.com. If you liked this piece please share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Reddit, Equestria Daily, Xanga, MySpace, or whathaveyou, and leave some thoughts in the comments below.