Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dude, where's my catharsis?

I've just had the privilege of returning from an early screening of Choke, a movie based on one of my favorite novels of the same name. It opens September 26 and I don't want to spoil any of the film, but just urge everyone who likes laughing and does not have what they call a "sensitive constitution" to see it. 

But I'm not blogging just to make a shameless plug. Part of the preview tonight was a Q&A session with actor Sam Rockwell, director Clark Gregg and - the guy I went to see - author of the adapted book, Chuck Palahniuk. Anyone familiar with Palahniuk's work (Fight Club, Survivor, Haunted) will know that he writes about unconventional- and often taboo - communities. During the post-movie talk he explained some of his interest in these groups. 

He said that church used to be a place for open confession, "where you could be forgiven and loved for the worst part of yourself." He pointed out that often today church-going is about maintaining reputation for being good, rather than coming clean with ones sins. He argued this public bad behavior has been pushed further to the fringe to collectives such as support groups, addiction recovery 12-step programs and sex or suicide hotlines. And when it isn't expressed at all it can escalate to bouts of violence.

What he neglected to mention was the outpouring of these kind of activities online - forums and chat rooms that lend credibility and support for behavior that mainstream society, for example  cyber pranking or pro-ana Web sites

But the underlying point that these communities, which recognize human nature's dark side, are truly timeless. Think Roman gladiators or Mayan sacrifices. Is it true that we need to be bad? I would argue that much of what these activities accomplish in "blowing off steam" can be captured through art or athletic expression. One of my favorite examples is called flarf - deliberately offensive poetry which is particularly culled from hate speech published online. What a fantastic way to recycle harmful words and re-examine them!

Of course, Palahniuk's writing also imitates the very same underground community taboos that it satires. It's healthy to remember that every era of history has had its light and dark sides. And while Olympic competition may never replace international military conflict, attempting to master ones own demons may result in some pretty incredible art/writing/interpretive dance/gold medal record-breaking .... the possibilities are endless.


Nada said...

Not all flarf is deliberately offensive, and rarely uses what you call "hate speech." Please do your homework and represent the poetry fairly.

Cara said...

Thanks for your comment. I suppose as its an organic movement definitions are bound to evolve and vary. However, I think you're missing my point - flarf reuses offensive or inelegant phrases from the Web to reposition them critically or aesthetically. I'm endorsing the genre.

Ron said...

Yes, but you don't get it right. Not even remotely.

Cara said...

I'm basing my definition on writing from critics (including Joyelle McSweeney) and an NPR interview with Gary Sullivan. Please supply your definition if you are going to raise contention with mine.