Friday, December 2, 2011

An unlikely association

So Cookie Monster is a lot like Tyler Durden.

Stay with me.

I was thinking about Cookie Monster yesterday morning on the way to work, for two reasons.  One is that I was, as usual, grasping at any mental straw I could get my figurative hands on in order to distract myself from the fact that it was 6:23 in the morning and I was on my way to a 6-hour shift in the data entry factory, and the second was that I was trying to forget that the morning before, I had, upon leaving my apartment, neglected to close the door.  For whatever reasons my brain coughed up Cookie Monster, that lovable expression of the id, who I primarily remember from my yearly viewing of Christmas Eve on Sesame Street which, along with Ernest Saves Christmas, was yearly Holiday viewing (meanwhile, I have, to this day, managed to avoid more than a few minutes at a time of A Christmas Story, and in fact had to Google 'christmas ralphie' in order to pull out the title for it.  I have seen It's a Wonderful Life, but it took until my mid-twenties).  For those of you who haven't seen this particular special, Cookie Monster's character arc throughout the special features his repeated attempts to contact Santa Claus, but his hyper-awareness of his own desires and impulses (to wit: he wants cookies) causes him to eat first his pencil and paper, his typewriter, and then the telephone, confusing each of them with the delicious treats he so desperately craves.  The telephone scene is especially heart-wrenching; after staring at the phone, an old-fashioned rotary (the special was created before cellular technology, meaning it now plays as a period piece) he confuses the two ends of the phone for chocolate cupcakes and eats the whole thing.  Unfortunately, just as he finishes his impromptu feeding frenzy, Santa picks up from hold.  The scene is a master class in dramatic irony, as Cookie Monster, horror slowly dawning in both googly eyes, tries in vain to communicate with Santa.  You could cut the pathos with a knife, were you not afraid that he would eat it.  What's worse is that the movie's tag has Susan and Gordon returning to their apartment, only to discover that Cookie Monster has eaten the needles and ornaments from their Christmas tree, having not learned his lesson.  Cookie Monster is the living embodiment of that first tenet of Buddhism, "desire leads to suffering."

I am Jack's addictive personality.
Perhaps that yearly message of suffering is why I took Cookie Monster as a cautionary tale, whose behavior was not something to emulate.  I'm not saying I totally eschew baked goods; I don't even eschew baked goods daily.  But I learned this behavior because sugar and chocolate are delicious, not because I was following the example of a blue monster.  Nevertheless, in an effort that I don't think is entirely misguided Cookie Monster, having declared that he was powerless to control his addiction and accepting change though a higher power (probably Snuffleupagus), legally changed his name to Veggie Monster, explaining that cookies are a "sometime" food.  I can see the logic here even though I recognize that, by becoming Veggie Monster, the blatant absurdity of the character is dampened; most kids are probably not going to be terribly discerning when they see their favorite (although this possibly deserved air quotes since I have no idea how popular Sesame Street is these days) character scarfing down pastries.  Seeing someone who is funny, engaging, appealing, charismatic, or otherwise adjectival behave badly can cause us to link that behavior with the demeanor in our minds, and even if that person suffers negative consequences for the bad behavior we still may not get the message that we shouldn't do what they do.

This brings us to Tyler Durden and why I made the association.  Fight Club (the movie; it's been too long since I read the book for me to be able to confidently speak about it) is a movie where one man, reacting violently against his meaningless rat-race consumerist lifestyle, snaps toward another extreme, that of anarchic nihilism.  Said anarchic nihilism manifests in Tyler Durden, who creates the titular fight clubs and basically sets out to destroy society.  The thing is that Tyler Durden is played by Brad Pitt in probably the best shape of his or anyone else's life, and he just looks so fucking stylish and cool that even if you intellectually understand the meaning of the movie (that neither Ed Norton's nameless protagonist's life nor Durden's are desirable) you'll still likely want to walk out of the movie saying, with some degree of seriousness, that you want to start your own fight club.

I'm not meaning to imply that I'm smarter than anyone else who saw Fight Club; I thought it was cool and bad-ass too and it took me years to come around to the actual, "oh, they're both nuts," thing, but I'm willing to bet that there is a non-negligible population of people who have seen Fight Club who honestly believe the take-away is that you should buy less Ikea furniture, be more manly and solve problems with violence, and I'm 100% certain there's someone who's re-enacted the skin-burning scene.  And I'm not saying that we should never make complicated, layered entertainment with messages you have to dig for, or that we should suger-coat or pull back because someone might misinterpret something or because someone disturbed might watch it and take it the wrong way.  But I don't know how different we, as adults, are from kids who need to be reminded that cookies are a sometime food.  Maybe I'm wrong and people largely got Fight Club, but I find myself feeling like the movie could use a little Veggie Durden.