Gene's next monthly chat is Tuesday, August 26 at noon. You may submit questions here.
Although this weekly edition provides an update between live chats, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.
A few belated thoughts on Robin Williams.
After he died, I wrote on Twitter that I thought some of the huge outpouring of emotion had to do with a collective feeling of guilt.
What I was referring to was not a new idea, of course. It was neatly summarized a few years ago by the great Internet cartoonist Nicholas Gurewitch, in his brilliant "Perry Bible Fellowship." Here it is. As I recall, Gurewitch made it his last strip before going on an extended hiatus from which he never fully returned , so it had profound personal meaning as well. (And there was no Alec Lourmier; it seems to be an anagram for "I'm a cruel role...". )
"Tears of a clown" is a cliche of dreadful art, of course, and it is also the subject of an old parable made famous by Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen, and recently quoted ad nauseam about Robin Williams: “Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world. Doctor says, ‘Treatment is simple. Great clown, Pagliacci, is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.’ Man bursts into tears. Says, ‘But doctor, I am Pagliacci.’ ”
Many years ago, I met the brilliant comedian Richard Jeni, who was a friend of Dave Barry's, and who first told Dave the incredibly wonderful motorcycle joke, which I once auctioned off secretly as the Greatest Joke Ever Told, and which I told in the intro to a chat many years ago.
Rich Jeni took his own life in startling, terrible way, which you can read about here.
(His suicide reminds me that, intentional or not, whether driven by despair and/or insanity or even cold logic, suicide is always, in part, a hostile act. Look what he did to his girlfriend.)
I want to give the penultimate word here to a reader, Bob Madden, who wrote to me the other day. It's the best thing I've seen about all this:
I don't disagree with your tweet about Robin Williams, our complicity and the outpouring of emotion. And I do believe that the Pagliacci effect is at play. But I think that for some people there is something more.
At the beginning of his career, Robin Williams was very attention seeking, or at least came across as such. Why else would he be as zany as he was? There always seemed to be a level of insecurity behind the brilliance. It made us able to relate to him in a way despite his one-of-a-kind talent. As his career progressed, in several of his better known movie roles (Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, and Awakenings) he is seeking or helping others seek the meaning in life. He spoke or gained the wisdom many of us ourselves are seeking throughout our lives. And then he turned in very nuanced and gifted performances in One Hour Photo and World's Greatest Dad. He had transformed completely from zany comic into a skillful thespian who completely gave himself to his roles. He reinvented himself; something many people wish they could do.
His struggles were our struggles. His wisdom was our wisdom. The intersections between the man, his roles, and his career were blurry ones. And then for him to take his life. For the struggles and the wisdom to end in suicide. What does that mean? What are we to take from that? Yes, all life ends in death, but to have the man who made a career out of seeking life choose death goes much deeper than the a joke about a depressed clown.
I think that states it beautifully, and it reminds me of one of my favorite moments from one of my favorite movies, the dreadfully unappreciated "Crimes and Misdemeanors," by Woody Allen.
In the movie, Woody is making a movie, and has found an old Jewish man, Dr. Levy, a philosopher who seems as close as anyone to actually understanding life. Here's a clip of Dr. Levy.
Toward the end of Crimes and Misdemeanors, Woody gets the startling news that Dr. Levy has killed himself by jumping out a window. Horrified, aghast, desperate to make some sense of this, he asks if Dr. Levy left any note. He had. The note said "I am going out the window."
See you next week.