Tuesday July 24, 2018
Mulaney, Vonnegut and Walking Into the Ocean
Several years ago, I pointed out the similarities between a bit of Marcel Proust's writing and a bit of Louis C.K.'s stand-up comedy. The fact that these professions collide actually makes sense to me. Proust once described artists as “creatures who talk of precisely the things one shouldn't mention,” and that's pretty much what modern stand-up comedians do.
Well, here's another novelist/comic comparison: Kurt Vonnegut and John Mulaney.
One of Mulaney's recent bits is about how robots ask us if we‘re robots. We try to log onto our stuff, and we’re made to jump through idiotic hoops (“Which of these pictures does not have a stop sign in it?”) that techies have devised that are supposedly beyond the capabiities of robots. You can see the bit here beginning at 5:41:
“You spend a lot of your day,” Mulaney says, “telling a robot that you‘re not a robot. Think about that for two minutes and tell me you don’t want to walk into the ocean.”
God, I love that.
So the other day I was rereading “Palm Sunday” by Kurt Vonnegut, and came across the following in an essay entitled “When I Lost My Innocence.” Vonnegut was asked to write the essay by an editor in a Swedish newspaper but he replied with a letter. The letter began by talking about how his only religion growing up was an enthusiasm for technological cures for most forms of human discontent. He says he lost that religion when the U.S. dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. He said the soul that created that blast was so sick “it did not want to live anymore.” He adds:
It is quite awful, really, to realize that perhaps most of the people around me find lives in the service of machines so tedious and exasperating that they would not mind much, even if they have children, if life were turned out like a light switch at any time. How many of your readers will deny that the movie Dr. Strangelove was so popular because its ending was a happy one?
Made me think of Mulaney, and telling robots you‘re not a robot, and walking into the ocean.
Of these four artists I’ve mentioned, you'd think the tidy Mulaney would match better with Proust, while the sloppy, populist Louis would fit in with Vonnegut. And maybe they do. Somewhere.