This week will see the release of I’m Still Here, the “documentary” in which Joaquin Phoenix feigns lunacy for a year to the amusement of no one, save for himself and Casey Affleck.
Not unlike most things we here on the internet diatribe about, I’ve not yet seen the movie. But I do know it is the latest example of a somewhat infuriating genre: the fucking-with-civilians-as-comedy genre.
For about a year, Joaquin Phoenix just screwed with people. He grew his hair out, Grizzly Adams-style, and rapped and was weird. He made people uncomfortable for fun and called it art. So what’s the line between art and just being an asshole?
Here’s where I’m about to get really unpopular: this is how I feel about Sacha Baron Cohen.
As ideas, I appreciate both Borat and Bruno, less so Ali G, as it spent a lot of time making not-necessarily deserving people feel awkward. And I certainly enjoy the calling out of racists, homophobes and other awful people, like those frat boy fuckers in the RV, or heinous stage parents pimping their children for a buck and a commercial deal. There’s a great amount that I liked and laughed at in both films and the TV show. But what about the perfectly fine normal people? It doesn’t make me a bad person that I would be made uncomfortable by naked people wrestling in my presence, or that I’d be slightly pissed if my fashion show got fucked up.
This has been going on forever. Those hilaaaarious Candid Camera shows, prank callers like Crank Yankers and The Jerky Boys, Trigger Happy TV, whatever that Jamie Kennedy mess was, lots. All of which are designed to break the fourth wall and include real people into their magical TV box, all of which are designed to gleam laughs from the often understandable reactions of unwilling participants. On one hand, sometimes it’s nice to laugh at ourselves. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem wholly fair to laugh at people thrust into a really awkward situation. Real people, at least. I mean, if I want to watch people feel awkward, I have “The Office” and “Curb.” That’s OK. They’re paid actors recreating situations we ourselves may have experienced. They’re not real people feeling really uncomfortable, which in turn makes me uncomfortable and causes the shift-in-chair ass cringies and other manifestations of social awkwardness.
We’re people. When someone actively attempts to make us feel embarrassed or self-conscious, we call them dicks. When they film it, they give it Oscars.
So, we find ourselves now at a point where two respected celebrities make a “documentary” (more like dick-umentary, right? High five), under the guise of shedding some light on fame and the troubled life of CELEBRITY (*jazz hands*), but in reality, it isn’t. I mean, we realize that being famous makes people fucked in the head (or, alternately, only people who are fucked in the head want to be famous). It’s a completely unnatural state of mind, and people in this lifestyle often lose it. We watch trainwrecks play out in the tabloids constantly. A documentary in which Phoenix fakes and plays an elaborate joke on the world — not that many of us bought it — for “art” (and money) seems shallow, and both an affront to people who’ve really been destroyed by fame — particularly considering the subject’s own brother, and at the same time pandering to the idea that many of these people didn’t do this to themselves.
I realize I’m in the minority here. I also think I’m just getting old. I’ve lost patience with a lot of things I used to find enjoyable. I have a hard time getting it up for David Lynch, I tend to hit skip on my iPod when my formerly beloved scream-heavy lo-fi begins to play, and I only go to live shows when it’s a band by whom I own at least three albums. In college I thought Me and You and Everyone We Know was genius; now I think it’s dull and insipid hipster bullshit. I’ve also gotten somewhat oversensitive (ex. I can’t watch the movie Harvey anymore. They’re too mean to him and I get sad. This is ridiculous of me.) So maybe it’s just me, but I guess I just like comedy better when we’re laughing at it. Not when we’re the butt of the joke.