Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Move Over, Disneyland

Or, "Facebook: The Happiest (Kind Of) Place on Earth (Kind Of)"

Louis CK isn't new to this. He's been an Emmy-winning comedy writer for David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Dana Carvey and, perhaps most notably, Chris Rock. He's performed as a stand-up for over two decades, and is one of Comedy Central's 100 Greatest Comics of All-Time. He has co-written Saturday TV Funhouse shorts with SNL legend Robert Smigel. He had a sitcom on HBO. His 2008 special, Chewed Up, is one of the decade's best, a seminal look at 21st century parenting and adulthood. He's even had the honor of being plagiarized by Dane Cook!

Despite the resume, most folks my age don't know Louis CK. Rather, they didn't know him, until his most recent appearance on Conan went viral on Facebook. In the last two weeks, I've counted this video posted on my Facebook by twenty-six different people. The same comment always follows, "Wow, this is awesome," or "who is that guy" or "amazing" or my favorite, "so true!"

These people are right, of course. The bit, entitled "Everything's Amazing, Nobody's Happy" is great, and classic Louis CK. See for yourself:

Louis CK, "Everything's Amazing, Nobody's Happy"
(Click the link to watch on YouTube. Embedding disabled by The Man.)

So why is Louis CK a sudden hit with the Facebook set?

Facebook isn't the place people go to live their life, or to share their life, or even remotely experience life. Facebook is the place people go to project a more desirable life to their world. If you spent the day alone, in the dumps, upset about something, the world might not know. But if you update your status as "Best day ever!" 500 people immediately think you're doing great and--implicitly-- better than them.

Status updates (where people go to tell you how they're doing at that moment) are great on average ("lunch with great!"), unrelentingly awesome at their best ("I don't know what I did to deserve this ridiculously fabulous life!"), and mundane at their worst ("it needs to stop raining please!"). As I type this, I have 345 friends. Probably 100 status updates show up on my page per day. I can remember seeing three negative updates, ever. Two were by the same person, in the same day. That would, I guess, make that poster the saddest person. Ever.

To boot, only flattering pictures are tagged. Only impressive jobs are listed. Who cares if you read Rimbaud or care about Africa? Your profile says you do. Photo comments are exclusively about the "best time." Exclamation points abound. Everything's amazing.

Of course, positivity is a good thing. Cheerfulness is a good thing. Facebook is an incredibly sunny place to visit, and I don't fault anyone for playing this game. If you have an outlet where it is not only acceptable but expected and normal to broadcast your life to hundreds of people as the best possible version of itself, wouldn't you do it? Shouldn't you do it?

Sure, that's a natural impulse. But even if it's acceptable/expected/normal for Everything Facebook to be amazing, it's probably not real. And while I'd love to believe--I honestly root for this--that the world's as happy as Facebook depicts it, nothing's sadder than seeing 3-pages of fictitious interweb euphoria, because nobody's sadder than the person who talks constantly about how happy they are. This is human nature, constant and true throughout history, from the tragic clowns of antiquity to the pitifully smiling Asian Guy From Fargo Who Just Wants to Sit Next to Frances McDormand.

Facebook, thou doth protest too much.

So when I see the endless loop of gleeful self-fiction, I want to think, "wow, March 2, 2009 is the greatest day in history for everyone alive, even miraculously better than March 1, who had that in the Pinnacle of Existence office pool" but all I can actually think is, "what's going on here" and "who needs a hug?"

Enter Louis C.K., a comic whose greatest gift is his ability to make people laugh at their own hidden fears, doubts, and motivations. Enter his innocuous late-night interview, where he uses universal anecdotes and daily minutiae to illustrate the point that, as good as everything seems, we're unfulfilled. And he presents it all from the safe distance of airplane travel and gripes about technology, but the meaning is clear:

Everything's Amazing, Nobody's Happy.

This was the Louis CK bit that the Facebook set (the site doesn't have a demographic, but it does have a universal modus operandi) was destined to find, and embed, and enjoy. We share it because its jokes are funny, but we understand it because its title--and subtext--are the unofficial slogan of Facebook: "OMG, everything's amazing (nobody's happy)!" And I can't help but feel that the twenty-six friends sharing it (and counting), and the million that have viewed it (much more than any other Louis C.K. video), don't just relate to complaints about flight delays; sure, the comedy itself is smart, funny, and winning. Rather, they implicitly relate to its message, because they've thought it, or witnessed it on Facebook, the very medium they're now using to share it.

Sometimes, if art's good enough, it subverts its audience in order to convert it. Andre 3000 made people listen and dance to a song that sang, "y'all don't wanna hear me/you just wanna dance." Jon Stewart became a real and trusted vox populi by calling himself, "the most trusted name in fake news." And Louis CK is currently a hit on Facebook--the site of exaggerated personal fiction--with a video called "Everything's Amazing, Nobody's Happy."

Best Post Ever!

Now, here's some more Louis CK to enjoy (***NOT SAFE FOR WORK):

Louis CK, "Children and Their Secrets" (From Chewed Up)

Louis CK, "Being White" (From
Chewed Up)

Louis CK, "Bad Words" (From
Chewed Up)

What do y'all think of Louis CK? Heard him before? Think that I'm wrong and that Facebook has actually supplanted Disneyworld as Happiest Place on Earth? Had March 3rd in the Pinnacle of Existence office pool and resent the way this played out? Take personal offense to all of this? Holler, I'm an ear.

In beautiful Happyworldland***,

***Free pizza for whomever places this movie quote.


Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

Really ... best post ever. Facebook IS a place of self-projection; it is a utopia in every sense of the word (both a no-place and a good-place). Just like Disney.

Lady M said...

really? tiny toons? huh. the facets of chris milam never cease to amaze.

TownCharacter said...

So, I'm an older guy -- your dad's generation and all that. But my niece wanted me to start FBing so I could see recent posts of her children. Then I thought, well, I may as well trick the damn thing out.
To make short, I find FB to be a lot like me -- a great big pain in the butt, but a lot of fun.

Chris Milam said...

Pizza for you! What do you like on yours? I offer:

Chicken nuggets
Peanut butter
Extra nuggets

Lady M said...

hmmm...such difficult choices.

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