So, I've been spending a bit more time on the "YouTubes" than I ever did in the past. For a long time, I thought of YouTube as a one-stop-shop for people who wanted to see videos of humans inadvertently hurting themselves, humans purposely hurting others, cats acting funny, or surly unicorns venturing in search of magical caves. I didn't realize until more recently how much educational or high-brow material could be consumed on YouTube. I'm glad to report that if you are willing to search for Noam Chomsky interviews or lectures, Norman Finkelstein debates, Alan Watts monologues, or what Christopher Hitchens' fans call the "Hitch-slap," you can find all sorts of really interesting, and far more mentally stimulating, stuff. (The "Hitch-slap" is, of course, a play on the phrase "bitch-slap," denoting particularly memorable moments in which Hitchens "pwns" a person with whom he is debating.) ("Pwn" is a neologism originating from the online gaming community, and evolving because of the frequent misspelling of "own," a verb meaning, roughly, "to decimate in battle." The neologism is synonymous with the properly spelled "own.")
Maybe someday I'll create one of those lame "list" blogs in which a blogger who is generally out of ideas makes a completely un-empirical "top ten" list about some arbitrary topic. The topic will be: "top ten best YouTube videos or video series." But I won't do that today because I find "list blogs" distasteful and cheap. (Even the many list blogs I myself have done in the past.)
Instead of giving you a list, I'm going to talk about a particular video, and where it landed me. There is a video series on the interwebs called "The Big Think." You can visit their main site here. The Big Think is a video series, and a blog, and a couple other things. They explain it thus: "...we believe that success in the future is about knowing the ideas that allow you to manage and master this universe of information." That universe of information to which they refer is the growing body of digital information. The videos they produce are compelling, abbreviated interviews with various thinkers and doers from around the world. The interviews are very pointed, so you don't ever have to suffer a long diatribe that is completely off topic when all you wanted to hear, really, was how Penn Jillette reconciles his atheism with his libertarianism. They keep Mr. Jillette, and all others, right on topic.
Many (if not all) of these videos are available on YouTube. They're channel can be found here. I haven't watched all the videos on there, and find myself in disagreement with some of the stuff said in the videos, but I like the concept very much. It's a "marketplace of ideas."
I've said all this, and explained too much and at too great of a length, to tell you about this one particular video that I enjoyed tremendously. Here's that video:
John Waters: Why You Should Watch Filth
For those who don't recognize this man, he is a filmmaker, social commentator, and as some might describe him, a gay saint. He is hilarious and engaging, and I think that he makes some really interesting points in this video. He speaks to the heart of free speech, and seeing this video prompted me to (finally) take the time to see his (semi) famous film Pink Flamingos.
original movie poster
Pink Flamingos had been on my radar for quite some time, but I had had trouble in the past finding a way to procure the film. I would look for it intermittently, and then forget about it for months, before some strange thing (maybe a pink flamingo lawn ornament) would remind me anew of the film I wished to see. I would look for it again briefly before giving up once more. This happened over a period of years. Because of this "Big Think" video, I finally made the full effort. My girlfriend and I watched Pink Flamingos a little over a week ago.
I'm not going to recommend that any of you take in this film.
Where the subtitle of the movie suggests that it is an "exercise in poor taste," it grossly understates the nature of the thing. Accept my apology for the crudeness of what I am about to say, but I find this to be the best way to put it: Pink Flamingos is totally fucked up. It is probably the second or third most fucked up thing I have ever seen.
By "fucked up," I guess I mean "transgressive." This film was designed by a young John Waters to be exactly that. It was designed to make the audience feel something they may not have ever felt before. The film was very funny (it's a dark-comedy.) It was rated NC-17, and when it first came out it was banned in a few countries. Probably the most infamous scene in the film occurs at the end, when the main character, a woman named Divine (incidentally played by a cross-dressing man who also went by the name Divine), eats some real, true, fresh dog excrement. The dog-poop-eating scene was the first thing I had ever heard about the film, and is certainly an image that is hard to shake from one's mind. Believe it or not, though, the film is not at its filth-apex during that scene. The entire movie is pretty shocking and depraved.
Let me be clear, if I haven't been already: I am not telling anyone to see this movie. I don't want to be responsible if you get it and watch it and can't sleep or have proper sex ever again. Besides, I know I don't have to tell you to see the movie. There is a certain segment of the population that is reading this right now and thinking, already: "I have to see this movie!" That's how I was when I heard about it, and I didn't need any convincing.
Pink Flamingos is, as I said, not the most "fucked up" thing I've ever seen. There was another film Mr. Waters mentioned at the beginning of that video called Salo. The full title of that movie was Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom. I am not even going to describe Salo to you, because I think that describing it even a little bit might be imposing too much on you. I'll just say that I saw it several years ago and it was the roughest piece of art I've ever gotten through. I call it art, but I wouldn't doubt if many people would call it depraved evil. But I guess that's the point of this. Speech and art are different things to different people at different times. Since it is impossible to pin down precisely what is filth or obscenity for all people at all times, it is necessary that we have no law or social construct inhibiting the kinds of art or speech people want to make. If someone wants to make a movie filled only with dog-poop-eating, I have to advocate for his or her right to do so. Obviously, I am compelled as such because if someone can force another human to not make dog-poop movies, than they might decide to censor the more crude elements to my blog the next day.
Mr. Waters argues that we ought to be legally allowed to yell "fire" in a crowded theatre. He advocates for absolute freedom of speech, and he is not concerned that mafia lawyers are paving the way to absolute freedom of speech by defending the most vile pornographers in the land. He believes that people should be able to see filthy things (like Salo or Pink Flamingos) because, as I've interpreted his message, a population that has inoculated itself against arbitrary moral shock will be more free where speech is concerned, and more mentally liberated in general. I agree, basically, with this hilarious old man's assessment of the situation.
It's easier for me to let go of old false standards of morality, I think, when I see films like this, or when I read messed up literature. That is the crux of the argument, for me. The idea of transgressive film or transgressive literature or art is to find within me something that I hold to be true or right and to push hard at it, to the point of discomfort, as a kind of test. The result always seems to be one of two things: the notion that is being tested will either withstand the sensory barrage, which yields more perfect understanding of my personal constitution, or the feeling of being transgressed upon will wane in time, and I will find myself forced to throw out a piece of old socially imposed morality that henceforth appears to have not been rooted very deeply in my concept of reality. It's an inward philosophical experiment, I suppose.
Or maybe I'm just a person who enjoys being shocked.
It would be heartening to know that I'm not the only one out there who finds value in this kind of bizarre deviation. Do we have any "rotten-dot-com-ers" out there? Any 4chan freaks? Any John Waters fans? I'd like to hear from you. What do you all think about freedom of speech, or about fucked up movies where large cross-dressed men eat fresh dog-shit? Am I out of my mind? Let me know. :-p
P.S. - I find Salo, Pink Flamingos, Two Girls, One Cup, and Irreversible, all rolled into one, to be far less outrageous and stomach churning than the idea of President "Drone-Strike-US-Citizens" Obama having been given the Nobel Peace Prize. As per usual, all appears to be relative.