Friday, January 6, 2012

I For One Welcome Our WTF Overlords: Marc Maron And Modern Life

Marc Maron
I recently became obsessed with the podcast "WTF with Marc Maron."  I knew as soon as I heard Maron as the celebrity guest on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me (another of my obsessions) that I would have to check out his podcast, and I knew as soon as I'd finished listening to my first episode that I would be obsessed with it and would have to listen to every episdode, in chronological order.

In the WTF podcast, Maron interviews comedians.  But saying that the WTF podcast is a comedian interviewing comedians is like saying that The Wizard of Oz is about a spot of bad weather.  Because these are not so much interviews as mini-plunges into the darker and scarier parts of human nature.

These plunges are made more bearable by the fact that it's a "comedy podcast" -- so you never really know to what degree the performers are joking, embellishing, exaggerating on purpose.  In fact one of the most squirmy moments I had listening was when one interviewee said something sad or mean or something and then said "I'm just kidding."  Thus immersing me into the possibility that the rest of what she'd been saying was just true.

Maron says being a comic is about being "autonomous, angry, truthful, and funny."  He prods, pokes, bribes, nudges, and aggresses his guests 'til they, too, are being autonomous, angry, truthful and funny -- often about subjects like love, lust, envy, neediness, and despair that people just don't discuss in public, and maybe don't discuss at all.  I've always thought the great thing about comedians is that they will say things other people will not say, and here it is true.

The "I'm just kidding" moment comes during a frank discussion of the horrors of marriage:  married couple Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn come in together to talk about the day to day misery, anger, envy and moments of petty revenge that come from living with and parenting with another person.  Maron opens episode one by talking about stealing from Whole Foods in an act of rage against everything they stand for.  In episode seven, a comedian confesses to using made up stories of the deaths of loved-ones to get girls to have sex with him, and there's an in-depth discussion of the way marital counseling is set up to fail.

That whole "truthful" thing -- it shows how close this kind of comedy is to philosophy.  Long time readers will recall that I've commented on the parallels before, writing about Tina Fey.  Actually, I think we professional philosophers would do better if we talked more about things like stealing from Whole Foods.

And indeed, Maron says he's "tackling the most complex philosophical question of our day - WTF?"

Note that WTF? isn't the most important philosophical question of all time, it's the most important philosophical question of our day.  Doing a little inspired cultural and intellectual history, Maron says in episode one that the great philosophical question once was, "What is the meaning of life?"  Then for a long time it was, instead, "How am I being used and am I okay with that?"

"How am I being used and am I OK with that" --that's brilliant.  It's Kantian respect for autonomy, Lockean individualism, and the dismal science, all rolled into one.

Maron says the question for the coming era is going to be WTF?  Actually, he says, WTF is two questions.  It's the WTF of shock and indignation, like, what do you mean you're proposing that people with no health insurance be allowed to just die? WTF?!!  But it's also the WTF of "Whatever" or "Yeah, Why The Hell Not?" As in, should I eat this whole carton of ice cream right now? Yeah, sure, WTF.

Can I just say that this sounds like a huge fucking improvement?  I mean, the how-am-I-being-used-and-am-I-OK-with-that era has been really grim.  The possibility that it's going to be replaced by WTF -- I don't know what that'll be like exactly, but it sounds like it could be OK.  In fact, it's a possibility that makes me feel more hopeful about the future than I have in a long time.

If that's what's coming, bring it on please.

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