Stupidity and Perversion
Quite a while back I watched the documentary Stupidity, which got me thinking again about the issue. While I don’t disagree that we generally like to see stupid people to make ourselves feel smarter, I like to be more critical — many smart people that I know nevertheless love seeing stupid YouTube videos even if they do not need further evidence that they’re a smart person. Sheer stupidity is essentially funny by definition, which is why we love them. But if we are to recall the basic formula of comedies, even since the time of Aristophanes, the funny part consist mainly of ridiculous plots, exaggerations, and sexual references (including the humongous fake penises strapped to the actors — apparently dick jokes have been around since the very start of jokes). In fact, what constitute humor is essentially ridiculous proportions, not so much a stupid mind. To take on Freudian definitions, these ill-proportions, be it of acts or in images, is always a symptom, a return of the repressed.
And as societies grow, societal symptoms change: in recent times there have been twists to humor and stupidity — it has taken on the realm of challenge, with youth exposing their tongue to electricity in MTV reality shows, and the realm of child gore, as the Happy Tree Friends (another MTV production) and Suicidal Squirrels webisodes prove. On the other hand fetishes are abound, as we are increasingly told to do wilder sex, with all those unfortunate anal beads and safe gag balls. As anyone who has ever tried out a weird sex stunt for the first time knows, let’s admit it, there is always a kind of stupid feeling inside. Then there are shock sites such as the infamous 2girls1cup, or the more recent idiotic stunt of cake farts, that people tend to watch just for the sake of the thrill. While all these need more analysis, suffice it to say for now that stupid humor is always connected with the death drive.
As I have mentioned before, the predominant way of handling the drive in the contemporary era, the predominant structure of society, is perversion. By this, we are disavowing the fact that we live in a “postmodern” world of total contingency, but secretly fearing that what we actually still secretly believe may really be true (“afraid to believe,” as Žižek put it).
The desire to watch stupidity is fundamentally a perverse one precisely because in doing so one turns oneself into an instrument of the other’s desire: stupidity only realizes itself fully under our gaze, a collective (televisional) gaze which is also ours — trip on a bucket alone in the house, and it won’t be funny, but do it in a mall, it would be hilarious. And there are also stupid acts that are only stupid when it is seen — try picking your nose and have a crowd accidentally spot you. As such, stupidity as a spectacle realizes the full element of its transgression: by watching the other’s stupid acts, we help the other to sin (and as we know, the sin is closely related to jouissance). Thus, do we, as reifications of our gaze, not take on the primary function of the pervert, by acting as an instrument of the other’s jouissance?