Gooey Watches and a Chihuahua with Anger Issues

I have always been a raving lunatic of a fan of Salvador Dali‘s paintings. Even if we think we know what a painting of his is about, there is no chance at being correct, really. Even though they seem like they’re about something, it is impossible to say just what. On some level, I think this contrasts with the paintings of someone like Jackson Pollock. Pollock’s “action painting” seems to lack much of the curiosity Dali presents. On the other hand, there is such a dynamic feel to the wild splotches — Pollock’s work still seems worthwhile (Another cool Pollock site can be found here). Now, it seems fine for me to talk about art and all, but, really, I’m pretty artistically ignorant. I like looking at “Calvin and Hobbes” artwork more than some revered Renaissance painter’s masterpieces of people and fruit.

And thinking about it, I realized that my conception of comedy is much the same! Sure I love a good dose of brilliant irony, but I would just as soon get a laugh out of some crude humor. The jack-ass, Nick Bottom (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream), can be considered “high class” humor — because it is Shakespeare after all. But really, come on! His name is Bottom and his head is transformed into that of an ass… Having said this, I’m not so sure there is a real“high class” humor, but there is a limit on acceptability. “Ren and Stimpy” is a good example.

Oh, “Ren and Stimpy.” Never has a children’s television show been so… freaky. In a bad way. Looking back, it’s surprising that that show hasn’t caused a generation of delusional psychopaths. Seriously. They can sing “Happy Happy Joy Joy,” but it doesn’t change the fact that those two monsters are just gross. And stupid. And sadistic. And gross! Every episode involves Ren calling Stimpy an “eeedeeeot” and proceeding to beat the obese red cat with some household object. In retrospect, all the humor that remains in it is the thought that anyone ever found it funny. Still, I guess it deserves credit for being the creepiest mainstream cartoon ever.

But Salvador Dali’s work is creepy too! My solution to this problem is to think of the purpose of the art. Dali’s paintings are meant for those who want to see things that are above reality. “Ren and Stimpy” were directed for (of all people) children. Now, maybe the show isn’t damaging for children, but I don’t really want to debate that loaded subject. Ultimately, I want to ask what the purpose of the show is. If it is to entertain, it does so only on a really crude level (unless I’m missing some stunning nuance of the so called “dialogue”). It would be like the Bottom-ass joke forming the whole of a play. 

And, of course, the only reason I can say that some humor is “crude” or “creepy” is because of stuff acting on me. Stuff influences us in life. We have no control over what we think to a great degree. Culture and society are so very formative that there is no escape from them. My personal conception of what constitutes crude or creepy is entirely dependant upon what I have been taught (one way or another) what is crude or creepy. So maybe “Ren and Stimpy” isn’t so bad from an objective standpoint. But I’m pretty sure there isn’t an objective standpoint — at least not one that we could ever understand on any level.

Bacchanale (Salvador Dali - 1939)

  1. I would agree with you that the ass and penis jokes in Shakespeare are hardly more erudite than those on many television shows today (though there’s a lot of other things going on in Shakespeare besides ass and penis jokes.) However, when you say that some art is meant to entertain and other art is meant to do something more high-brow, I think you are begging the question of what makes something entertaining in the first place. For instance, my sister once told me she just wants to be entertained by novels, and not forced to think. In response, I sarcastically asked her, “so, then, do you watch porn?” Of course she said no, and of course I didn’t mean to suggest that she should. The point is that for her, porn was not entertaining, though clearly for some it is.

    And consider an action story such as Star Wars. Would that movie be as entertaining if we didn’t have a sense of the good guys beating the bad guys? So, clearly, this kind of entertainment depends on an ethical predisposition, not just an aesthetic one.

    And now we get into the questions that theorists such as Roland Barthes and Stanley Fish are raising, and I’ll raise them here since you forgot to make any connection between your appreciation of Salvadore Dali and the theory we’ve been reading. Your forgetfulness is all the more disappointing since Dali actually could be a wonderful example, considering that he is a surrealist painter who was interested in the very questions about artistic production as the theorists we are reading. (And he might have even known Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault personally.)

    So, what makes something SUCCESSFULLY entertaining? It’s nature? It’s moral purpose? It’s appropriateness for a specific audience? The predispositions of that audience? The context of that audience? (For instance, watching Shakespeare in a theater is obviously different than watching Shakespeare in a school cafeteria.) Fish would argue something about interpretive communities, whereas Foucault would argue something about the power relations involved int he formation of subjectivity… and Dali? What was surrealism’s theory of art?

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