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Consider: The Other Side of Discomfort
On David Byrne, squirmy entertainment, and foils to the expected
I rewatched “Stop Making Sense,” the 1984 Jonathan Demme docu-concert on the Talking Heads. Please do watch it if you have not…and absolutely in a theater if possible.
This viewing sparked something in me—synthesizing a couple disparate, floating, half-realized thoughts I couldn’t catch on my own.
Just before I walked into the theater, I had listened to the first episode of The New Yorker’s new podcast on the concept of cringe comedy. It considers a recent prevalence of shows & films within the cultural zeitgeist that all (seemingly) are intended to dial the viewer’s discomfort to excruciating, crawl-out-of-skin limits… typically involving unknowingly oblivious strangers being made a fool.
This was in my back brain as I watched the awkwardly joyful, strange spectacle that is David Byrne’s wiggly eccentricity—at moments almost feeling like a parody of itself.
I hate being uncomfortable. I hate the build-up of horror films; I hate watching someone on stage totally bomb without the self-awareness to see it; I even hate watching senior citizens earnestly attempt to operate a self-checkout at CVS before they turn around in helpless defeat. Discomfort hits me at a cellular level, a sickening that infects from the inside out.
And yet, I maintain that curiosity can be stronger than repulsion.
Something I’ve been trying to exercise lately is a new form of trust: a belief that there’s something waiting on the other side of discomfort. Maybe redemption or payoff, or just relief. But…something. In the podcast, the hosts speculate that perhaps the point of this form of cringe-inducing entertainment is to raise an emotional red flag in the viewer. It’s a way of saying, “This is weird to me. Is it weird to you?”
It is absolute command to watch your audience squirm. It’s the oldest trick in the book, really: the puppet was the puppeteer all along. When the world feels so incredibly fragile (and yet is sold as algorithmically, commercially controllable), this kind of invisible tension slips in through the back door. Perhaps the best foil to the overtly dialed-in—the highly-produced stadium concert, the predictable franchise, the formulaic marketing and blandly generic tenor of it all—is to be forced to float in negative space. To acknowledge…I don’t know what is going to happen next and I really don’t like it but I’m going to stick it out. Maybe discomfort is a necessary reckoning.
Just going to leave that there as a half-baked idea. But I am curious what it brings up in you.
Moon on the Nose:
As an unrelated but personally gratifying addendum, I’m happy to share a just-released collaborative project I worked on with Bodha, a line of fragrances & incense created by a brilliant friend, Emily L’Ami. (If you’ve ever been to my house you might have seen stacks and stacks of my favorite incense ever that I hoard selfishly because I can’t be without it.)
Bodha’s newest fragrance, MOON, is inspired by the idea of the moon—all metaphor-steeped mystery, quiet guidance, cold distance, and silvery abstraction. Alongside, I created a booklet of Moon Lists prompts specific to the fragrance—all packaged in a lovely booklet designed by Studio L’Ami.
Available now in highly limited edition & so incredibly special. More here.