I caught this clip while half-watching an episode of Conan a few weeks back, and it’s stuck with me ever since. Its echoes have bounced around the back of my mind. Its subtext has haunted my subconscious. Its hypnotic hold over me was so powerful, I was compelled to break my summer-long hiatus to write about it.
(Not that said actually-longer-than-summer-long hiatus wasn’t somewhat planned. Intentionally timed, at least. Personal time off, let’s call it. A concerted attempt to avoid late nights glued to a screen and spend more time cuddled up next to the wife mostly, with every intention of returning to writing more come fall. At least that’s what I told myself as the non-writing weeks piled up. But that’s not what this is about. Not entirely anyway.)
Getting back to the clip. It’s actually the perfect subject for a return to writing. If you haven’t already clicked by now, please enjoy:
It’s patently absurd and totally hilarious. One awkward, badly-written local news segue after another, all going for the same tired joke. I laughed loud and hard at this premise (and at the idea of some poor editor going through hundreds of hours of clips to find this much material).
But then it gets uncomfortable. This isn’t only a handful of clips, it’s a deluge. And it just keeps going. To the point where you hope it’s over, but it’s not. Not even close.
By the end it shifts fully into depressing. It keeps going past the point of, “I get it, that’s enough,” and on into, “What’s going on? Is this real? Are we as a species doomed to this level of awful cliche? Do these people not know how unspecial they are? Make it stop! Please! I’ll never eat ice cream again, I’ll change my ways, just please let it end!”
That’s the part that stayed with me for weeks. Not how funny this segment was, but what it says about all of us. Most of us are not original. At all. We make the same cheesy, obvious jokes. We have the same uncomfortable self-awareness while we make those jokes in an attempt to connect with other human beings, and even the same awkward tone while we acknowledge that self-aware cheesiness to show we’re in on the larger joke of how sad the whole charade is. And yet here we all are, going through the motions… again, and again, and again. And again.
With Google search and Twitter tags and all the collective babble recorded for all to cross-reference, it’s easier than ever to realize how original we aren’t. Look at the photos on Yelp reviews. Click on a trending topic. How can it be anything but paralyzing? Why bother saying or writing anything? Someone else has already said it, or is busy saying or tweeting or blogging it better than you ever could. The odds of you being unique and sparkling and clever and making a lasting impression on your dinner guests, your social network, much less the world, is so incredibly small… why even go to the effort?
So sure, in addition to the personal time off, maybe the other reason I haven’t been writing is that fear that there’s nothing new to add. Better to spend my time reading what others — LOTS of others, the really smart, clever, always-leave-an-impression types — are saying. Some of their thoughts are truly original; some of their words are truly profound. Maybe it’s better to benefit from their ideas than struggle to add my own to the noise.
Of course, getting started on that track, it’s easy to find a whole other kind of deluge. Once you’re looking for them, there are actually lots of genius ideas and thoughtful writers and sharp thinkers. So many that you start thinking again, maybe I can do this too. Maybe I won’t go down in history as one of the greats, but even one would do. Just one original thought. Or if I’m lucky, a few per year. One per month. I’m not greedy.
So the cycle completes. I may spend most of the time being not very original, not very genius, but if I never try I’m accepting a world of others’ ideas without ever contributing my own. If that clip proves how dull we mostly are, in a way it also shows that it’s okay to be mostly dull, because that’s how people are. Just keep trying for that one original thought. Maybe it’ll come, maybe only rarely, but at least it’s not giving up and sitting around eating ice cream.
[Addendum: Between writing this yesterday and posting it this morning, a talented, incredibly original film-maker took his own life. I obviously don’t know the circumstances that drove him to such a drastic end, but if anything, the timing serves as a reminder that the search is ongoing, and better for ourselves and the world to keep looking as long as we possibly can.]