The silly, positive things that get me through
So I’m a Gen-X-er. A late Gen-X-er, to be sure, but one nonetheless. There are internet quizzes that seem to indicate that I’m one of those cusp people, almost — I was born in November 1974, and that quiz IDs people born from 1975 to 1982. Also, I totally had The Electric Company and was just a little too old for You Can’t Do That on Television. (Also, does anyone else remember The Great Space Coaster?)
The larger point, though, is this: I grew up with parents that only spanked me occasionally but didn’t coddle me either, though they were somewhat overprotective because stranger danger! I had a dark sense of humor, an obsession with heavy metal and goth aesthetics, and a passionate hatred of anything popular or normal — especially if I could sense, as with New Kids on the Block and Debbie Gibson, that they were aimed directly at me. I lived in adamant refusal (backed up by a stunning lack of ability) to be part of any sports team, and at sixteen had an ironic, aloof attitude toward the world that masked a deeply damaged and sensitive soul. It was years before I found that bouncy idealistic side, and while I was told that I could be or do anything I wanted (so long as I didn’t let men get in the way), I wasn’t helicopter parented or put through several thousand extracurricular activities. I was very, very proud of being Not Normal, because if I felt otherwise I would probably kill myself.
And so it has been a strange delight to me, with my traditionally biting humor and deep skepticism of sentimentality, to discover what I can only describe as a millennialist surge of sweet, positive, uncomplicated humor that is a balm to all of the horrible nonsense of this world.
Because seriously: things really, really suck right now. And there is a deep need for all the ripping satire and on-point political humor and righteous anger that we can muster.
But in between, like a breath of light between bouts of battle with the crushing dark, there are heckin’ doggos.
In my day — I say, because hey, I’m a Gen-Xer, remember? — humor like what I’m describing was thought of as toothless: prudish, “clean,” “family” humor that didn’t do anything important. If people weren’t willing to talk about the “hard stuff,” then what good were they? I loved George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Eddie Murphy, Denis Leary.
These days, the ones doing the “clean” material seem like the best of us: bursts of hilarious light and joy in a world where satire has itself become a joke, and Colbert can no longer save us from ourselves.
Here’s my ever-growing list of the types of things I’m talking about.
Marcel the Shell. If you have never seen this series of three short films about a tiny animated shell with a single googly eye and a pair of shoes, do yourself a favor. Jenny Slaite’s voicing is endearing without being cloying, and the filmmaker, who drily comments from behind the camera, can barely keep from laughing at the incredi-cute.
The doggos. I don’t know when or how this started, I only know that one day everyone was saying “very wow” and the next Shiba Inus were yesterday’s news and everything was 12/10 and floofy as h*ck. Pupper-speak, @dog_rates and the whole pile of cute that it entails are regularly keeping me from murdering people.
Lord Birthday. This is pure comic silliness that somehow transcends the tired “ironic steampunk” genre and comes out the other side of…something. It has just that splash of darkness (“Guide to making friends at the party this weekend. Do Not: burn people, establish a kingdom of pain”), but is mostly a bizarre celebration of the surreal mundane (“Do: distribute fine linens and silks to the guests”). Not sunny enough to be innocent, but not dark enough to be nihilistic, it feels like a 21st century Jhonen Vasquez.
Thomas Sanders. The world’s biggest Viner until Vine went kaput, he combines a relentless positivity with unerring comic timing and piles of charisma. It helps that he does entire short films wherein the different aspects of his personality — all played by him — converse and argue in a way that speaks to the anxieties and fears of young people while somehow remaining hilarious. Part comedy routine, part editing genius, part self-help and all adorable, Sanders is the embodiment of the kind of pure thing that my aging, bitter self needs in this selfish, bitter age.