Archives for category: Art

Ramy is a show on Hulu about a Muslim guy trying to figure his shit out. If you haven’t seen the show, you’re welcome to come back to this after watching it because I’m going to spoil the hell out of it. If you don’t care to watch it, you’re still welcome to keep reading – who knows if it will make sense or not. Major plot points are about to be spoiled though, so keep reading at your own peril.

Still here?

What I found interesting about the show is that Ramy is both the protagonist and the antagonist in his own story. He is his own biggest obstacle, and ultimately, by the end of season 2, this auto-antagonist is successful in destroying his entire life. Ramy also exists as the antagonist to many of the other characters as well; the Sheikh’s character begins as stoic, compassionate, and accepting of even the vilest of attacks against him – he is a spiritual powerhouse. By the end of the show, Ramy has broken him, and his demeanour is corrupted into anger and rage. Ramy is manipulative, disrespectful, and self-obsessed. He’s just a really shitty guy.

And yet, much like Humbert Humbert of Lolita, Ramy is the character that we follow for most of the story. We connect with him. We see his needs. We see him struggling with his own emptiness, and wanting to fill it with something pure. We may or may not forgive his sins, but we understand why he committed them. He’s the kind of person that would twist the knife into the mother of his disabled friend, but who would also jerk that same friend off because of some uniquely murderous blue balls (if you haven’t seen the show and are still reading this, well… it was a beautiful moment, what can I say?). He’s the kind of villain that we want to do better because we see him wanting to do better.

I get it! He stole the candy from the baby because he never learned how to properly navigate relationships with babies!!

Why this turned into a blog post rather than simply a pensive reflection after a season finale is because of how rare this type of villain is in media, and how prevalent they are in real life. Ramy is neither an antihero nor a super-villain. There are plenty of shitty protagonists that professional writers might be trying to write as antagonists, but these almost always fail to walk that tightrope. Rick of Rick and Morty fame is one example where he is clearly abusive, manipulative, violent, narcissistic, etc., and there are those who consider him a villain, but the show has him facing off against cartoonish and extravagant villains that encourages fans to cheer him on. When he’s abusive, it’s funny and the fans will laugh. Similarly with Bojack Horseman of his own titular show, he is even more self-destructive than Ramy with his own manipulative nature and traits of narcissism, but again his role as the antagonist is played for laughs. The villainy of these characters barely registers. Not so with Ramy; I can’t imagine anyone cheering when he cheats on Zainab the night before their wedding, and then tells her about it immediately after taking her marital virginity. His villainy is obvious to everyone.

Real life villains aren’t evil robots from the future or purple Malthusian aliens. They’re people who are so stuck inside of themselves that they forget that other people don’t exist for their benefit. I’ll even change track here and suggest that they’re not even real villains. Ramy does have compassion in him; he is capable of decency and love. He was bullied out of any identity that would have fit his upbringing, and that emptiness haunts him. There’s value in this show because it identifies the humanity in the worst of us, and brings us along to show us the ubiquity of nuance in our worst deeds.

Was Joker successful in its balance of hero and villain? Ask yourself this: when Joker shoots Murray Franklin, is it tragic or exciting?

Ramy as a show does not require us to accept Ramy the character. Zainab and the Sheikh are well within their rights to cut him out of their lives for good. Ramy could even be said to be teaching its viewers about the value of boundaries when dealing with shitty people, even if we fully understand what is driving their shittiness. I’m quite curious to see where the show goes next. Another show that had similar rare success in showcasing the nuance of villainy is Fleabag. It had a redemptive arc during its second season that showed growth out of the guilt-driven sabotage the prota-antagonist committed through the first. Will Ramy get his own chance to grow? I suppose its possible. At this point, it’s irrelevant. We can beg the toxic people in our lives to change, but we never know, do we? All we can do is try to understand the full spectrum of their humanity so we can avoid letting hate and resentment weigh down our hearts, and put in appropriate boundaries to prevent ourselves from being hurt further.

Famed existential philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was all about dat ass. I mean, not really. Only for about half a book. Within that half a book he created a philosophical outlook that drew its inspiration from Don Juan, the eternal seeker of dat ass. The aesthete, personified by Don Juan, is compelled to constantly seek pleasure; an unquenchable hedonist lifestyle. This is not an obsessive addiction to poon under which Don Juan suffers, it is an authentic choice made with genuine intent. This is how Don Juan chooses to live his life. This authenticity manifests itself when Don Juan continues to chase tail even in the face of fatal consequences. It’s not that he can’t stop, Bro just won’t stop.

kierkegaard

I use the misogynistic manipulation of hundreds of women to make a point. 

The aesthete is not limited to lethal amounts of promiscuity. Sex is just an easy metaphor for any kind of pleasure. Kierkegaard follows up the story of Don Juan with a series of diary entries by a man who meticulously creates a scenario where a woman falls madly in love with him toward the ultimate aim of marriage. Of course, he leaves before the wedding because love was the conquest to be won, and must be won yet again in the next town. Settling down is antithetical to the aesthete who must repetitiously manifest their pleasure until, presumably, the happy ending.

Which brings us to Meredith Grey. Meredith Grey can never settle down. Meredith and Derek Shepherd are constantly on again and off again because they are not allowed under the premise of the serial drama to have functional peace between them. She and Doctor McDreamy are faced with an impossible relationship goal because they live in a universe built on the principles of the aesthete. Never settle. Always seek new pleasures. If it seems like things are on the verge of structured and maintainable happiness, BAM! Car crash! Meredith must begin anew.

greys-anatomy-meredith-grey-750x522-1453493365-e1530361335898

ANGUISH!

It is the same with every serial. In How I Met Your Mother, Ted Mosby would never be able to actually meet “The Mother” until ratings began to drop. The promise of the show needed to be constantly pushed back in order for the hedonic loop to continue. It’s not that the characters themselves are modern manifestations of the aesthete, but that the nature of the show itself builds those principles into the foundation of the universe. No character is immune because they exist under the scripted laws of serial television where stability is seen as stagnation and stagnation means cancellation.

The aesthete is not condemned as a morally reprehensible lifestyle choice. It is an option among others on how to live life in the face of existential dread. One cannot sink into nihilistic despair if they never stop gamboling around long enough to pay attention. Kierkegaard would certainly not place it at the top of his list as far as options go, similarly to how the Hindus do not admonish those on the path of desire despite its own lower status. It is a way of life to grow out of, but there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it.

Hot-Dog-Legs

Hot dog legs may be a smidge immature, but condemnation just seems a bit pretentious

There is still a problem with the television serial as a manifestation of the aesthete. It’s not necessarily its celebration and propagation of the philosophical aesthetic lifestyle, as its immaturity is not a serious enough criticism of its value to dismiss it. The problem arises in the vicarious living that television encourages. Our Don Juan hopefuls may never reach even the fairly low peak of the aesthete lifestyle if they spend their time sitting and watching Barney Stinson live out Kierkegaard’s guilty pleasure on their TV set.

We can understand Kierkegaard’s aesthete through our television screens, but we can’t live it. We get sucked into the hedonic loop without even the benefit of the hedonist pleasure that would otherwise accompany it. We escape nihilistic despair through distraction, certainly, but we escape it without doing any actual living. We escape through death.

In constancy,
It loses its meaning
Infrequency is never enough
Language in itself is a futile representation
A child’s drawing of a Rembrandt masterpiece

It is something to embody
Every gesture, every glance
Every smile, every touch
My dreams, my passions
My jokes, my vulnerabilities
My dullest conversations
All of me
Becomes the expression of my truth

Ephemeral, eternal
For now, for always
I’ll say it once, and live it forever
“I love you”