“I am optimistic about nothing.”
“I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless, it goes on forever, inwardly, do you understand? The fact that you’re alive is amazing, so you don’t get to say ‘I’m bored.”
― Louis C.K.
Louis C. K. and Francis Bacon walk into a bar…should be the beginning of a joke for our times. An article in the recent issue of Harpers by Charles Bock discusses the emergence of adult animation humor. In the article he talks about the rise of the ‘anti-joke’ and the repetitive humor of The Simpsons which has spiraled into David Foster Wallace’s prescient prediction of an infinite ironic loop now witnessed throughout television, but most markedly in Family Guy and South Park. Bock argues there is brilliance in the show Archer for its ability to leverage recursion and irony, not as blunt instrument but subversive anti-matter. Archer utilizes an ouroboros approach to humor that is distinguished by its willingness to self-imolate rather than bury the viewer in Wallaces’ “self-consciousness and hip fatigue.” I mention this article in relation to C. K., not just because of Louis’ anti-joke legacy (he honed his chops along with Marc Maron, Sarah Silverman, Janeane Garofalo at the now departed Luna Lounge in Manhattan’s lower east-side), but rather because Louis C. K. is a representation of what I call European postmodernism, born of Francis Bacon.
In my essay on Bacon I posit that two forms of postmodernism emerged after WW II, a european version born of Bacon’s nihilistic, yet optimistic foundation in sensation and an American version, inadvertently launched by Andy Warhol with its focus on irony and cultural annihilation. What is most interesting to me is despite the fairly bleak landscape that is American art now, we are seeing an aesthetic revitalization through comedy. When Louis C. K. says, “everything is amazing and nobody is happy” on Conan, he is unknowingly referencing the very same approach Francis Bacon used fifty years ago. Hurray for us. As Churchill said, “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” The way through our self imposed ironic loop is by cutting off the tail. In the comedy of Louis C. K. and Archer art can take a lesson and break through to the other side of a richer, more fulfilling idea of what postmodernism can be. The best example of this in the visual art realm is Ai Wei Wei — obviously not American. In this hyper-realized über-connected electronic world, the next great art will be that which takes the ugliness of American hegemony, jingoism and pop culture and turns it on itself in a lyrical, inviting, optimistic-about-nothing way and leads us beyond the fixation with apocalyptic vision.