Hello! Welcome to my blog. My name is Peter. It’s very kind of you to be here, but please remember that you are the one that decided to show up. You made the choice to read this. Not me. I’m not gonna try to be a dick on purpose or anything, but just saying.
You may have noticed that this blog is called Awful Sounds and Shitty Jokes. If you don’t know me personally or keep up with my online brand™, I suppose you are wondering why I called this blog Awful Sounds and Shitty Jokes. I did so for two reasons: first, I love awful sounds (in particular, I love noise music and free improv and experimental music and all of the strange sounds those art forms rely on) and, second, I love shitty jokes (in particular, jokes of the shitty variety).
That’s it. I love awful sounds and shitty jokes. I’ll spend a lot of time talking about why I love these things over subsequent blog posts, but as a way to dive right into these interlocked fascinations, I’ll start with an example: the recent Dark Crystal show on Netflix.
To begin, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is one of the noisiest TV shows that I have ever seen. Try listening to the show without actually watching it. The sound design is insane. I say this primarily because of the way they voice the characters. All of them are constantly grunting, gasping, exhaling, groaning, harrumphing, slurping, and making every other possible sound one can produce with their mouth. And when you watch this show and focus on mouth sounds, they start to feel totally unnecessary and downright silly. But it makes sense why they added them in, especially for characters like the Gelflings and the Skeksi. While the puppetry on the show is pretty phenomenal, these characters have an extremely limited amount of facial expressions: open or closed mouths, opened or closed eyes… and that’s about it. This leaves it up to the actors to make the characters seem natural or real, so they grunt and gasp a whoooooooole lot. And it sort of works? Maybe?
So the show is already incredibly noisy, but the writers kick it up a notch when they bust out a goddamn avant-garde opera, complete with Tuvan throat singing, half way through the season (and I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers on a show that came out like a year ago but you know what if I spoil anything this is on you and if this ruins a show for you then you have a poor understanding of what makes shows good so shut up about spoilers already send tweet). Here’s the set up: in S1 E7, a crew of Gelflings need to get some info from a rogue Skekis and Mystic as they continue their quest. And they get this info through the art of throat singing operas and puppetry. The fact that they get this info through operas and puppetry has almost nothing to do with the plot. The info is important, but the mode of communication is totally irrelevant beyond doing something more entertaining then watching two characters have a nice conversation over tea.
Beyond the connection to experimental music, I love this scene for another pertinent reason: it’s built around a pretty dumb joke. And not only that, a dated joke. Although the whole “look at the pretentious artist doing a weird thing while the main character is uncomfortable” gag serves a genuine purpose (e.g. providing a way for the viewer to relate to the main character), the internet sort of ruined that forever. People see weird shit they don’t understand all the time and they like it. Tim and Eric have made an entire career off of this and spawned hundreds of clones that do the same thing. Moreover, the internet also provides a means for people outside of formal institutions to learn about art in a variety of ways. This makes abstract art, especially in the form of performance art, far more approachable. And while I don’t have numbers in front of me, I would say this is probably why you don’t see this gag anywhere near as much as you did in its ’90s heyday. Off the top of my head, I remember The Golden Girls, Friends, and The Simpsons all having multiple iterations of this joke. There’s also the granddaddy of them all- The Hacky Sack scene in She’s All That. Since then, appearances of the gag are few and far between (and almost always seems to be an attempt by boomers to shit on millennials). We could also get into a Marxist analysis at this point, where the joke serves the purpose of keeping the working class and bourgeoisie in different social spheres through artistic production (the art is “for” the rich and the down-to-earth working class main character rightfully doesn’t get it), but I’ll save politics for our second date.
But here’s the thing about the opera goof in The Dark Crystal: Andy Samberg, Bill Hader, and the rest of the actors in that scene not only sell that joke perfectly but they go all in as investors. In doing so, they unintentionally create one of the most scathing takes on a noise show I have ever seen. The two characters performing on stage are clearly enthralled by what they themselves are doing, having spent years crafting a heaping piece of garbage that no one besides themselves would actually enjoy. And the Gelflings watching are so clearly bored and annoyed that they have to sit through this when they could be doing something else. For them, it’s continue questing. For most people at a noise show, it’s go to bed before the sun rises.
I have been all of these characters at some point. It all feels so real.
What’s even more fascinating to me about this is that the show manages to convey the overt boredom of the Gelflings (and the self-involved pride of the Mystic and the Skeksis) with almost no facial expressions. The characters are just as limited as they are throughout the rest of the show, but they somehow manage to look disastrously bored in that moment. Somehow, the weird sounds of the show and the dumb joke at the heart of this scene line up so perfectly with the rest of the context produced by the narrative that a straight up miracle of creation happens. It becomes so much more than a bunch of grunting puppets making fun of art and becomes real. I somehow feel like I was at that show (I must have been right outside of the frame). I told the Skeksis “great set” and I definitely didn’t mean it. I swear.
The magic produced by this scene is the exact same magic that the performers on stage (either in the show or in the real world) connect to. And it’s a completely personal connection, one that only they can see and feel. That doesn’t mean that the power of that performance isn’t real. It’s just that only they can see it.
That’s what I see as the beauty of awful sounds and shitty jokes. Sometimes they become so much more than a sum of their parts and instead conjure a space for a community to form, a community that relies on a fleeting language that can be felt and experienced but not always spoken. Through noise, we can say the unsayable. And through shitty jokes, especially the ones that somehow become funny, we find a way to connect to each other and create moments of real humanity. In context, awful sounds and shitty jokes can become highly meaningful artifacts that involve different experiences from and through different perspectives. These meanings aren’t always good in the ethical sense (awful and shitty things can just be awful and shitty sometimes), but when they are its astoundingly powerful.
I can’t wait to ruin that set up with an endless stream of blog posts about establishing the Garfield canon. See you next time.