Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Hypothetical Grotesquerie

Charlie Brooker defends evil thoughts:

"The other day a friend told me that whenever he sees someone lingering near the edge of a tube platform, a little voice in his head starts wondering what would happen if he shoved them in front of the train. Don't panic - he's NEVER actually going to do it (at least I hope not) - it's just a fleeting paranoid notion, a darkly mischievous thought about doing the worst thing imaginable.

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I have a similar thing with small creatures. On the rare occasions I've found myself handling, say, a hamster, part of me marvels at how easy it would be to simply crush its head between my fingers, or toss it in the air and kick it around like a Hacky Sack, laughing.

I've never done it, and I never will. But does hypothetically considering it make me a bad person? I hope not, because I think things like that all the time. It's the same bit of the brain that makes me idly speculate about jumping whenever I look over a high ledge. Some tiny inner demon with nobody's best interests at heart.

Speaking as a fully qualified neurologist, I reckon that demon nestles somewhere within the brain's sense of humour. Pretty much every comedy writer or funny person I've ever met is regularly visited by similar fantasies - transgressive siren-songs perpetually flickering at the fringe of consciousness. One described how, while splitting up with a long-term girlfriend, a minuscule part of him wanted to laugh out loud because it considered her weeping, pleading face faintly hilarious. Does that make him a misogynist psychopath? I don't think so. He was just amused by the very concept of doing something so inappropriately, outrageously detached. And then amused that this amused him. You've got to admire the demon's chutzpah.

It's not just real-life situations. My demon encourages me to think about horrible things that aren't there. A while ago, for instance, I entertained myself by thinking up the nastiest restaurant imaginable. It was in Paris, and only served crucified meat. The walls were lined with live cows and pigs nailed to crosses. They hung there, dying slowly and loudly, while diners sliced chunks off them to cook at skillets on the table. It was so revolting it made me laugh.

Obviously, if anyone actually opened such a place, I'd be outside screaming no with the best of them. I'd boo the bloody roof off. In real life, it's almost never right to nail live pigs to the wall. But in my head, it's always hilarious.

It doesn't amuse everyone, of course. Every so often I'll say or describe something preposterously cruel for comic effect and the person I'm trying to amuse simply screws their face up and looks a bit ill. At which point I feel compelled to say something far worse. Anyone who can't stomach a bit of hypothetical grotesquery needs to toughen up, because the way the world's going, we'll all spend our final days scrabbling through a pile of steaming rubble, desperately scavenging for bits of charred baby to eat with our bare hands. And under those circumstances, a dark sense of humour will be a massive advantage.

So you might as well get in training now. Think of the worst things in the world, then laugh at them. Maybe not aloud, but laugh none the less. It's not time-wasting tastelessness. It's future-proofing. It's good for you." (Charlie Brooker, "Supposing...Bad Thoughts Are Good For You," The Guardian, July 7, 2006).


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