Humanity unraveled Tuesday with all the subtlety of a dumpster fire. Whatever grisly, scatological metaphor you wish to deploy, now’s the time to get graphic. I’ve scrawled thoughts in a desperate attempt to cordon rage and frustration, but these writings should never see the light of day. In a streak of disjointed, profanity-dominant wrath, I’ve said dark, nigh-unforgivable things—fermented primordial ooze, as it were. This too shall pass, which is heartening and fundamentally problematic. I’ve already moved from somber laments to sugar and speed. Sectioning experience from emotion seems to be a more productive way out, one that leads to some distorted form of empathy in the face of apathy (combined with annihilation). Following along on Twitter and on TV on the eight, as it trickled irrevocably into the ninth, meant witnessing hope dashed, stages of grief rapidly coalescing, and rational people at a loss in the face of all-consuming, mass-scale human self-destruction, as the Republic goes retrograde. Onlookers, teetering on the brink, hurled raw distress into the maw. After a fleeting salutary flare, silence and darkness smothered the offering; the black hole gained mass, like that goddamn rapidly encroaching dark star in The Fifth Element.
It’s bleak: At this moment in human history, in this so-called chimerical panacea, it seems clearer than ever that selfishness will always win out over empathy, high volume will always defeat stoicism and modesty, aggression will always rout deference, validating obstruction somehow qualifies as railing against a broken system, backward thinking is affirmed, labor will always outweigh a melting Earth, as the world gets more complex, solutions get more simplistic, corporations will be trusted to regulate themselves, reason and logic are fucked, bitterness and rage beats righteous passion to a bloody pulp; the bullies of the world will always win. Words fail, comedy fails; explanations are plentiful but make no lasting mark. All the better angels have been drawn-and-quartered. Life doesn’t markedly change from one administration to the next, but, undeniably, the polarity has reversed and I find myself on the wrong side of all these dichotomies struggling for air.
But I digress. Instead, I will live vicariously through Andy Daly as he channels his Forest MacNeil self-destructive streak through color-coded CarMax commercials and onto more masochistic, musique d’ameublement commercial endeavors to complete the chain. His journey winds through and explores the mutant modern labyrinth: a murky, treacherous maze made up of decaying politeness, unstoppable commerce, and streams of toxic opinions, with a deadly mythological monster lurking somewhere no doubt. This week, anticipating the doomsday clock before it was punched, he risked life, liver, and sanity for our sins, basking in commercialism and Twitterverse overload by partaking in a, strangely legitimate, three-and-a-half-hour-four-minute whisky spot for Laphroaig wherein he sifted through, and riffed on, a cavalcade of tweets at a steady clip for the duration. In this spokesperson commercial-cum-masochistic performance art piece, legitimate engagement, on behalf of the Company, with the scotch peddler’s fan base and enthusiastic/distracted followers metastasized into something malignant yet comforting. Cobbled together was something like the inverse of Ron Swanson’s religious pilgrimage to the hallowed Scottish seaside Lagavulin distillery—a commercial exercise that replicated the darkness and antipathy of the postmodern void. Giving voice to it at length, and gamely explicating, illuminated the modernity that gave rise to “a man who should be kept out of the public library.” Despite the horror, it’s an oddly lovely antagonism when distilled.
To experience Daly’s will to live disintegrate in real time—real or performative, the divide is there but the two draw closer as the length takes hold—is to rehearse modern futility and ambivalence in a controlled environment. In retrospect, Daly’s brave effort paralleled the awe; his experience of the carnivorous, self-immolating masses was a dry run. He’s like a milquetoast Danny Brown, giving us a button-down Atrocity Exhibition analog with slowly-crumbling civility in place of self-conscious hedonism. He turns congenial enthusiasm into an ambient salve, the half-life of his fortitude is measurable amidst the contorting and stitching together of thought fragments and unsolicited ad copy into collage art, like Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica filtered through Mad TV. It’s a dispiriting metaphor for our near-future delivered with a cracking smile and a chipper attitude: a slowly-dawning grim realization that there’s no satisfying or conclusive end; the nightmare that should have, by all rights, been over long ago will continue on for years and beyond, ingrained deep in the social fabric, like shards of glass in shag. Filibuster is turned fully into theater in the corporate interest. A massive thought stream is pitted against a reactive, individual stream of consciousness.
There are a lot of references to licking and a pervasive tone of jolly abjection. Stray car alarms and horns, a foot cramp, and backlighting that dims just so over the hours—as day turns to night, revealing the city beyond the frosted windows—gives texture to the minimalist setting of the thing. Iodine is pitted against Band-Aids as these emerge as two common modern descriptors given a large enough sample size—the limits of human description coming into focus in such moments. “A lot of people are expressing this sentiment: ‘an unpleasant experience that I want to have again,’” Daly posits midway, trying to give shape to the irreverence. Juxtaposition, it seems, is a common trope (defense mechanism?), which feels apt under the circumstances. Strange beauty bubbles to the surface (“Like being slowly drowned in a peat bog by someone who loves you very much”). Unheard human sentiments take shape (“she can appreciate why Olive loved him so by tasting his cremated remains,” in reference to Popeye, naturally) in incoherent simile.
Time contracts (“it happened again: Those last five minutes took an hour”) as clear physical discomfort chips away at cheeriness (“If I have to say the word ‘campfire’ one more time, I’m going to jump out that window”). Infinite variations on roughly the same ridiculous sentiments wear away at curiosity despite the seemingly limitless penchant for the absurd that defines modern thought processes. Most Slow TV is defined by the endurance or lull for the viewer, not by the participants within the piece. His is a diegetic slow-burn, a text wherein its very length is understood, acknowledge, and is corrosive. Even Warhol had the decency to film inanimate objects, or let his subjects take a nap, or align his running times with the limits set by the bladder.
Whatever your therapy to get through—this, Document on repeat, and finding deep comfort in “Group Autogenics II” has lowered my blood temperature to a simmer; whatever floats your boat—embrace it in order to move on. Experiencing Daly’s self-flagellation is as good as any. We can marvel at a man forced to endure; we can weather the span and tenacity on our end; and, simultaneously, we can find refuge in the symbiosis of our experience and his. What is life, after all, but a perpetual cycle of craving and clinging followed by dissatisfaction and pain? “Your being merges with the garbage, becomes one with it, so that all your energies in this moment are held in awareness by the smells, and remembering that there is no one right way to doing the dishes.” At some point, after absorbing wave upon wave of postmodern malaise runoff, staring down oblivion with amiable patience becomes a radical act of defiance. And so, I yield.
This article was written by Oliver O’Sullivan, a writer for dusk magazine