Saturday, January 23, 2010

Stupid-Stupid vs. Clever-Stupid vs. Manly-Stupid

I. Diesel jeans has launched “Be Stupid” ads showing people taking absurd risks — and they probably ought to deploy Weird Al Yankovic’s Devo-influenced song “Dare to Be Stupid” at some point in the campaign. It’s tempting to lament that we’ve hit bottom, to see this as the sad denouement of the anti-intellectual push begun by the emotive Romantics, continued via “Don’t think” tendencies among the hippies, lateraled into the use of “dope” and “stoopid” as praise by the hip-hoppians, and finally come to rest at our feet in the form of a guy who lost his face while attempting to imitate a stunt from Jackass or something.

On the other hand, with so much of the intelligentsia bent on using smart-sounding arguments to frighten us into taking no risks — lest we be killed by environmental devastation, terrorists, economic deprivation, offended people, or what have you — we may simply have reached the point at which stupid is one of the few routes to freedom left to us.

II. And of course, there’s a thin line between clever and stupid, as with the Indian-American band Das Racist — interviewed this week by the Village Voice, as pointed out to me by Scott Nybakken. They’re the band responsible for the simple but necessary song “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” pointed out to me six months ago by Helen Rittelmeyer.

A retro aside: conservative Helen might be less pleased by the rationalizations of the Wingdale Community Singers. Containing members such as novelist Rick Moody and his fellow Brown alum, artist Nina Katchadourian, the band is known for church-choir- and folk-sing-like sounds with simple, old-fashioned acoustic guitars — but they nonetheless feel obliged to say, as Katchadourian does in the January/February Brown Alumni Magazine: “We all have a shared allergy to faux old-timeyness…We live in Brooklyn. We’re not sitting on rocking chairs in Appalachia.”

Then again, we should almost always judge artists by what they produce more than what they say — witness another Brooklyn project, the movie Do the Right Thing, which makes a lot more sense and comes across as much more balanced than the radical things said about it by its director, Spike Lee — who I think I’ve only seen with the naked eye once, when I was touring a video production facility with conservative fellow Phillips Fellows, oddly enough. (The Fellows will be back in town Feb. 12, and this time we’re touring a Federal Reserve gold vault.)

III. If risk-taking is an element of what is traditionally understood as manliness, then, yes, stupidity may be helpful in being manly. And few men are so effete that they do not see some appeal in traditional manly activities such as smashing things and moving large objects. Thus — as Ali Kokmen points out to me — the site TrendCentral has reported on UK and German parks at which people, mostly male, can do things like drive actual military tanks around crushing stuff and breaking up rocks with jackhammers. These places in particular are called Tanks-A-Lot and Mannerspielplatz (“man’s playground”), respectively.

And, you know, even the hippie-filled, art-oriented annual festival that is Burning Man got its start with a lot more burning and explosives and flamethrowers than it is now known for, apparently. In fact, after reading the other day that Nevada is ostensibly the state in the union with the lowest average intelligence, I can’t help thinking that maybe we’re gauging intelligence backwards. I mean, if those purported idiots were to combine three of their most famous attractions — Burning Man, Las Vegas, and brothels — into one giant play-state, who among us would dare call them mere fools? Maybe they could change the name of the whole state to the Burning Bunny Casino. Watch people flock there from other states (many of them likely libertarians).

Despite these fantasies, stupid or clever, I’m off in a couple hours, though, to see at long last an 8pm performance of Jonathan Leaf’s hippie-mocking play Sexual Healing (running only one more week), which apparently features full frontal female nudity. Now, that’s theatre that Nybakken and I can understand.

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