Monday, September 03, 2007

Bottle Rocket

Does a sense of humor beget self-destructive behavior? I've been challenged with this question in light of the Owen Wilson near-(self-imposed-but-sad-nonetheless)-tragedy.

By sense of humor, I do not necessarily mean the ability to sense when something is, per se, funny. This is human nature; hence comedy. But when that sense is elevated to the point where one can develop a sense of craft about the thing. When one can, at a moments notice, identfy what is and is not funny about a situation, and be empirically right about the fact, that is something else entirely.

Humor is the violation of that which ought to be. It requires the act of surprise, the ability to detect the perpendicular to the normative, if we want to get clinicial about it. The comedian must stay one step ahead of the audience, or they will simply be acting out a regurgitation of the audiences own imagination. Improvisational comedy is born of a constant tension created by this classic catch-up game. This is true at any level, from film to live performance, to social gatherings.

Those who are adept at crafting humor cannot be weird or odd. They must have a command of the normative, wherein social conventions are not only understood, but exist as a sort of second nature, to be actively defiled by this or that statement or action.

Which brings me to Owen Wilson. Wilson excels at understatement, a hallmark of british comedy. His style is further distinguished by an extraordinary sense of irony, insofar as his characters seem to observe everything that happens on screen. Take the scene in "Starsky & Hutch" where a child suddenly does back flips. Everyone else seems deaf to this transgression, except Wilson who dryly notes: "What the hell was that?"

Both styles require a particularly precise understanding of what convention demands, and Wilson is adept at finding the minimal degree to which those conventions can be exploited for comedic effect.

But with that ability comes a certain curse. By continually embracing the absurd, one can lose sight of the real. Worse, one can understand the real to simply be a sort of illusion. Once one finds reality to be a vehicle for pith and wit, one struggles to grasp the value of the real. The Matrix writ small, if you will, minus the blue pill option. That this worldview leads to depression, then, is no surprise, and suicide is the act of the ambitiously depressed.

And so, Owen Wilson slit his wrists, endeavoring toward what is generally considered among the least efficient ways to bring about one's quietus. It is, however, the act generally associated with suicide, the most graphic of self-mutilations, requiring the body to literally expunge its own lifeline.

Isn't it striking that Wilson will be playing a suicidal man in his upcoming film, and that he wrote a suicide scene into one of his films? Is he wrestling with proverbial demons by bring them to life on the screen, in the hope that, by embracing their reality, he can recognize their powerlessness over him?

There exist answers for those of us who have exhausted the authentic possibilities of this world. Amongst his ilk, those questions would seem impossible to find. But perhaps Owen has finally had a chance to look this road in the eye, to dryly wonder what the hell just happened, and to chart a perpendicular course for himself.


Blogger Marc Conklin said...

Or it was just a clever publicity stunt. (Sorry.)

9:47 AM  
Blogger Adam Omelianchuk said...

Interesting stuff. Most people I know who I consider to be very funny have always had this dark side of Melancholy or angst. This post drew out that tension in an understandable way.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Kevin Sawyer said...

I thought it might be a publicity stunt as well. If it is, it was certainly ill-conceived, and will backfire tremendously.

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Thom said...

How many celebrities have used suicide as a publicity stunt though? That just seems a little overly cynical when there is no evidence to suggest it and no real historical basis for such cynicism.

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

Yeah, I don't see any reason to suspect it wasn't legit, and pretty sad.

Also, do people even DO publicity stunts for Wes Anderson movies? Michael Bay, sure, but...

12:50 PM  
Blogger Kevin Sawyer said...

I don't think it is now...

Of course, I remember when Optimus Prime went on that shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, which really got the word of mouth started.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Renee said...

i would posit the reverse order: that genius comedians often rise from pre-existing psychological damage or instability - think of the class clown scenario, where maybe he is compensating for being teased about some area of his perceived lack. humor can be a coping method when the "real" world is an ugly place to live. last comic standing is a great ode to low self-esteem (not that any of them are really that funny...)

i think chris farley probably got made fun of a lot as a kid for being overweight. his self distruction spiraled from that beginning point. the comedy is not to blame...

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Thom said...

"I remember when Optimus Prime went on that shooting rampage at Virginia Tech"

Dammit. Here I had a big massive "Transformer Starscream slammed into the Twin Tower" bit that I was going to post next Tuesday...but you stole the thunder.

9:04 AM  

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