To Skin Alive the Joke
Revisiting E Unibus Pluram, I did a simple keyword search for "audience." Searching for the definition of the construct of "the 5th wall"—like "the 4th wall," but dealing with postmodern irony—I experienced a flash of inspiration.
The "transcendence" going on here is that Joe Briefcase (the average person) watches a character in a trope (such as breaking the 4th wall) and suddenly "gets it," and thus acquires a feeling of transcendence. TV harnesses this feeling of transcendence—which (of the feeling,) Wallace argues is craved by postmodern audiences to, essentially, propel the cycle of entertainment. Thus, my answer: the "5th wall" is the container that the audience is contained in. The "transcended" Joe Briefcase is trapped within the 5th wall, thinking that he/she/them has somehow "transcended." Breaking the 5th wall would be breaking that feeling of transcendence IN THE PIECE, so the person transcends but then has that transcendence ripped away from them. Or something.
Thus it is with "Batter Up," an adaption of collaborative short story, which is not finished yet but will be soon. It will attempt to do this, and comment on a society who cannot change unless it is economically beneficial to do so. To break the 5th wall is to break past the one barrier no show or piece of literature or work of art has been able to do: To make aware the fact that being aware of the fact that the individual (as subsumed by the society) being flawed does not excuse the individual from not changing. You cannot be aware that you suck and not do anything about it. You cannot "get the joke" and not really "get the joke." The joke is that we're being played by thinking that we've transcended anything—that "transcendence" in the form of irony or post-irony or post-post-post-irony or recursive humor is not "transcendence" but another form of manipulation.
Shia LaBeouf's video—"Shia LaBeouf" Live - Rob Cantor—is a work of mad genius.
The narrator looks us directly in the eye, breaking the 4th wall, and we are immediately thrusted into an environment where we "transcend." Just, for one second, dissect this passage from the first verse:
You're walking in the woods.
There's no one around,
And your phone is dead.
Out of the corner of your eye you spot him,
The mechanics of it all (the wall-breaking/transdence-ness) are above me, but I know there's something there. And as the song progresses, the joke is extended, built upon, bloated, carried to the utmost extreme. Shia LaBeouf becomes more and more violent and surreal in the lyrics while the performance gets more and more inane. Now Shia's carrying a knife, now he kills for sport, now he's a cannibal, now he's after you, now he's not dead! And meanwhile, now there's a band, now a children's choir, now there are dancers, now there are dancers with Shia-paper-maché-helmets, and then it's over, and at the very end. . . there's Shia.
And when the video shows Shia LaBeouf, it shows him as the audience member himself: the only audience member. This entire production was for him, and we watch his reaction after he stops clapping.
The video doesn't break the "transcendence" that Wallace refers to, but extends it to its extreme. It's no wonder the video went completely viral. The video capitalizes, expands upon, the very formula that we find most prevalent in contemporary entertainment: that transcendence thing. Yet it doesn't break it. The video doesn't break transcendence at all, it just pushes it to its extreme.
E Unibus Pluram ends with a call to action to the next generation of authors and artists: to embody sincerity. I think, to do that, one must skin the joke alive, per say, and somehow destroy the recursive nature of irony. By itself, irony is great at splitting things apart, or pointing out the disparities or hypocrisies of things. This is seen in works spanning from the comedy of John Oliver's Last Week Tonight to Percy Shelley's Ozymandias, although, modern-irony ("transcendence") often neglects to offer any solution or alternative, and thus just adds empty criticism (complaint) to the noise; it can effectively contribute to the drowning out of helpful criticism, or worse, can turn the argument into a fight, adding fire to the flames.
One can push it (irony) to its extreme but, in the end, it will still be vapid, insincere. To skin alive the joke is to call to action, real action, perhaps after pushing irony to its extreme Or beforehand. The picture I'm getting is of the gradual degradation of absurd meta-humor until the joke falls flat, and then making the joke fall flatter and flatter until it's pathetic then revolting then repugnant, building up some form of ironic cacophony until it breaks unto itself, and ushers in a silence or void so that the next thing done, genuinely, will have incredible contrast and power to it. All of this is insane theory, and I'm not yet sure about any of it, but I'll hopefully be able to try it out and see if it generates anything mildly interesting.
I've started an experiment in psychology. Complete with tracked data, positive reinforcement and punishment, and a systematic method to follow, my experiment will, in a methodical way, track the behavioral changes I try to illicit from myself. The goal is to obtain a more appreciative and aware sense of myself throughout the day by accustoming myself to acknowledging my flaws, strengths/unique-traits, and specific things in my day I am grateful for. But instead of reflecting to myself, or writing all this down in some journal, I, having been born an atheist and pragmatic skeptic, will be getting down on both knees, clasping my hands together as if to beg forgiveness, and bowing my head in humble piety. I'll be praying to a capital G God I don't believe in. I'll do this thrice a day, every day, for 20 days.
I wonder if asceticism is necessary in order to understand, objectively. For instance, to understand the nature of sugar and its addictiveness, would I have to abstain from eating sugar? In order to understand the throes of quote unquote "modern" boredom, would I have to go out and live apart from civilization and society? I could, on another hand, throw myself straight at modern boredom, and live a life where everyday was so excruciatingly dull that I felt like killing myself, in order to build up some sort of immunity. Or is there an alternative to either extreme, where you don't change your environment but yourself?
Biofeedback is a method in which one alters their physical condition (heart-rate, mood, blushing, etc.) by acknowledging (or being aware of) one's physical condition. A person strapped up to a machine that measures their heart rate can, if really tried, lower their heart rate at will. This is not pseudo-science, it's basic psychology, and it works, but you have to be able to get feedback as to whether or not it's working. For instance, if you had no idea if your heart rate was increasing or decreasing, you could not lower or heighten it. Imagine the capacity to sift through the monotony of the day at will, and, maybe not transforming it into an extremely meaningful experience, but at least lowering the level of boredom or turning it into a positive thing. It's the difference between looking at a stressful experience as a hardship to endure, or as a challenge to overcome with stirring competitiveness.
There's a stupid saying that goes some thing like: "If you talk to God, you're normal; if God talks to you, you're insane." But God does "talk" to people, if only through a placebic feeling. For instance, Jane may not hear a voice, but Jane might pray everyday for better wealth, and then, even though she's losing more and more money, she then gets her paycheck back and can finally pay her bills, and, staring deeply into her paper paycheck, gets the sense that it's a sign from God that she can endure her hardships, and that at least she has a paycheck, and her two hard minimum wage jobs. God just gave her feedback that she's doing alright, and that she can endure another day, or another year, because this check here carries with it the hope that she can pay for the lights to come on so her daughter can study her math and get into a good school like her late father prayed she would. And such it is with biofeedback, and developing a sense of enduring, through religion, that life will get better. I may be an atheist, but I'm not at all emotionless, nor oblivious to the power that faith can bring, psychologically speaking.
If you're like me, then every single day of your life you have woken up and fallen back asleep.
There's a pervasive idea cultivated in sitcoms and sayings and radio talk-shows that if you work hard enough, if you get all your ducks in a row, then you'll be HAPPY. Yet happiness in itself isn't enough for us, we want drama, fame, success, sadness, a fulfilled life. Maybe we actually want contentment, some sense of closure; that elusive end-of-the-sitcom feeling, where the characters come together and love each other and nothing ever changes, even when it gets bad, because they have each other.
But there is no closure, and after your best day, or most successful day, or after your marriage or conception of a child, after the catharsis and inexpressible sense of meaning, the sun rises and you have to get back to your boring job. Perhaps the only "closure" we can get is an acceptance or a love of the boringness of life, and being able to see clearly that what we call boring, when displaced from its everyday environment and looked at singularly without any relation to any familiar objects, is actually mystical and compelling and incredible. An office phone, when taken away from the office, becomes suddenly alien, and you realize that it connects all of us. Maybe closure requires breaking into one's mind and training oneself to become truly aware, whether through asceticism or immersion or altering of one's mind.