Carnivalization of the modern world

Through the eyes of an outsider, from the entertainment that myself and many my peers’ watch, it looks like we never really grew up. With a majority of our television consumption consisting of cartoons and fart jokes it would seem that we are an immature bunch. However, if you look at the subtext it identifies something much deeper and darker. I would be hung by some academics by calling them the modern Shakespeare but when you consider it starts to make a lot of sense. The concept I am addressing is called Carnivalization which can be viewed as a kind of extreme satire that comment on society as we know it through bazaar behaviour and situations.

Shows like South Park, Rick and Morty and BoJack Horseman all satirise the modern world and the human condition. South Park in particular is not afraid to poke holes at social issues and politics much like Shakespeare except this is more explicit. This technique in which they over exaggerate issues in a series of fart jokes and unsavoury behaviour is a method known as carnivalization. The term was used by Mikhail Bakhtin used the term to express a certain kind of pageantry in literature which displays a certain kind of progressive nature. This is displayed in South Park whereas they criticize any kind of spectacle in the public eye. If we look in the latest season which has had a stronger political commentary than any other season we have seen how Matt Stone and Trey Parker have evenly attacked both candidates. Hillary for being an inactive and unattractive candidate for the people, whilst Trump of course, for being an overactive character with questionable policies on boarder control about as realistic as “F***ing them all to death” (South Park).

Reflecting on the atrocities that we see in the news every day; it starts to become more understandable about how these shows have become so successful to people my age. We are the ones that engage in the news and public discussion. However, this often becomes exhausting and depressing leaving us to slip into an existential crises and nihilism about how the world is falling apart. We need ourselves to be distracted by something and nothing works better than a cartoon sanitization that allows us to laugh at the world than think about all that’s bad. Unfortunately, its unavoidable, the newsworthiness of subjects that deal with dark issues are more likely to be read and are thus more likely to be published. This leads to the perception that everything in the world is going to sh*t. George Gerbner called this the ‘Mean World Syndrome’ wherein we the media have shaped the idea that the world is imminently doomed. Some unethical politicians like to use this idea to help them get votes. To fuel the idea that terrorists are coming over to kill us all. We can see quite clear evidence for this in the rise of nationalism sweeping the western world. In Trump and In Brexit. Most pollsters will argue that these nationalist movements are based off a sea of lies, where you are more likely to be killed by a Christian than a terrorist, or where immigration isn’t going take your jobs away. But politicians will simply ignore this factor and continue campaigning empty promises. The only people besides the politicians who can profit off this increase in fear are the comedians, where laughing at the situation is the only distraction to stop us thinking everything is going to sh*t. Matt Stone and Trey Parker do this well in commenting on social issues, politics and religion.

A show that would like us to laugh at these issues can be seen in Rick and Morty. For those of you who don’t know the show I suggest watching the link above. Otherwise the show is more or less an adaptation of ‘Back to The Future, except Doc Brown is an Alcoholic mad scientist called Rick and Marty is the whiney Morty.  The character Rick identifies the mundaneness of life and its flaws and would rather us laugh at it than dwell on the bad. We can see this through the differences between the characters Rick and Jerry. Jerry works in the advertising business and is more than content with life’s simplicity. In a way, he represents the average man. On the other hand, there is rick who is aware of everything bad and would rather undermine all authority and not care who or what he interferes with. It is this apathetic approach is what makes the audience like him so much. There are other messages that address existentialism and Camus’s Absurd within the show along with some meta themes where the shows characters are aware that they are a television show but that is a post for another day.

Other shows that carnivalise situations look at issues such as the artificial celebrity. Characters that are embody the extremes of how to distract yourselves are told within BoJack Horseman. The show itself if you don’t know it, embodies itself in a universe where animals and humans walk alongside each other as equals. The narrative follows the life of a former celebrity: BoJack Horseman. BoJack as he is referred to in the show, is an extreme alcoholic who although is extremely wealthy cannot find any hope of happiness in the falseness of the celebrity lifestyle. It is here where he finds himself falling in and out of a cycle of distractions to avoid this artificial world. This fakeness is further represented in the episode featuring a character called ‘Sextina Aquafina’, a pop star who accidentally tweets about having an abortion even though she isn’t. Her statement stands as a symbol for women’s rights even though it is completely false. Pairing this comedy with animal representations makes a thrilling comedy for the modern consumer like myself. We all know how fake Hollywood is, and this satirization lets us laugh at it than dwell on how the people we look up to are all probably corporate manifestations. Bakhtin writes that laughter allows us to reflect and criticise in a different way.

It seems that with a new generation exposed to so much aggression through the modern media, we have become a large group of cynics. With this in mind, seeing the world so carnivalized in form of cartoons gives us a much needed distraction to laugh at all that is wrong rather than dwell on it.


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