Who woulda thunk it?
Who would have thought that as I approach my mid-50’s, I’ve gotten involved with something that actually makes me think of and use concepts of communication I learned in undergraduate journalism classes about thirty years ago?
[Note: Due to terms of a court order sought by and granted to my undergraduate school, I am not at liberty to identify it by name or by location under strict sanctions of punitive damages.]
Can we say something only about nine months old has a tradition?
“The medium is the message,” wrote Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian academic and theorist in communication theory. “The medium is the message” means “that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived,” according to Wikipedia.
The phrase certainly fits. The “DH,” as it is now traditionally called, certainly shares features in common with other prior printed features.
Some may recall the photographs at the end of the British humor magazine, Punch, which invited readers to create a humorous punch line.* I hope others remember the page in the back of TV Guide in the U.S. in the 1960’s that took a frame or two from some TV show or related medium over which humorous narrative was printed. I remember it, although I find no evidence of it in internet research and looking at my scant collection from that decade.
In the case of Punch, no doubt it was a process of sifting through letters submitted by a deadline, culling a batch they thought most appropriately funny, then making a decision before the next deadline to get the content to the printer for the next issue. The feature at TV Guide also probably had writers submitting to an editor who could check and rewrite and reject. What was left in each case was something that was funny, but it was static, it was concrete, and it was unchangeable.
The “DH” is an art form of civilian citizens working autonomously without an editor or committee looking over her or his shoulder. The art form takes what is posted by various members at the Lostpedia site in various topic threads, and then melds those quotes to a frame or several frames captured from an episode of LOST. It puts ordinary people’s words into the mouths of actors portraying characters in a highly-rated television series.
It usually happens in a spontaneous and seemingly instantaneous way. Those who practice it practice it well, so to show my appreciation of their gifted, independent creativity, I coined the word, “awestonomous.” Get it: “awesome + autonomous”?
In the thread that most prominently features this genre at Lostpedia.com, “dinasaur head on lost,” I have called it a comedic version of improvisational jazz. “DH,” by the way, either stands for “diarmyhowley,” the original poster in the thread, or, “Dinasaur Hed,” the apparition he so vehemently fought to convince us was present in an attack by The Smoke Monster on the soldier-of-fortune character Keamy and his paramilitary marauder force. The three-frame version was actually created prior to that by an LP member named paperknives.
In the early days of the thread, back in the day, of oh, seven months ago, there was disagreement over whether it should be described or analyzed at all. One of the earlier LP members to join the discussion, Dead Whispers, produced a “Hedmandment,” “Thou shalt not murder The Funny,” during this discussion.
Truth be told, it cannot really be described. It has been called a meme, and by detractors, a flash in the pan. But it is more than a meme, more than a theme. Dare I say, it has become a genre.
In service to The Funny
It is a genre where all manner of comedy is played out. Defining the comedy, or The Funny, as it is called in the thread, is the most nebulous aspect. Maurice Charney’s Comedy High and Low: An Introduction to the Experience of Comedy, may offer some insights. He previews “six areas and their relation to the art of comedy.” One is The Discontinuous, “the breaking of rational order and causality,” where “the time sequence is flexible and subject-object relations may be reversed.” Another is The Accidental, where spontaneous events in “the grand creativity of nature” happen rightly and offer “rich comedic possibilities.” Third in his list is The Autonomous, where “things can be recombined into new and meaningful relations that comment on each other.” Next is The Self-Conscious, where we see “the body is a material object, and the intense and minute awareness of the body is a vital source of comedy.” Fifth is The Histrionic, “an actor playing a clownish role,” where we are “intensely aware of the meaninglessness of our attempts to communicate.” And lastly, there is The Ironic, where we are “forced back to the basic assumption of dreams and poetry: that everything can also mean its opposite.” (pages 5-7)
Alongside the creation of these reader-captioned frames from the television series were posts that formed a narrative around what was happening. SawyerCallsMeGrimace, the man behind the website where you are viewing this, quickly became the High Priest of The Invisabul Dinasaur Hed Cult. Others joined in with the creation of a cult, with biblical and theological-sounding jargon in their posts. Dead Whispers, Illyria, and lostinpgh were just a few of the posters who found The Funny through these narratives. Two of us became the Scribes, Noozman5 and this writer (recently increased in number to three by lostaddict12). Soon there was formed a generally benevolent association of strangers who called themselves “Hedthren,” who looked within the forums for evidence of The Funny, and for whom one means of showing their solidarity was using “Hed” as a combining form for any number of new words.
This is where I made my personal contribution, using ideas and concepts I had learned decades before in theological studies. [Note: Due to terms of a court order sought by and granted to my graduate divinity school, I am not at liberty to identify it by name or by location under strict sanctions of punitive damages.]
In the months ahead, these “cultic embellishments” will be fleshed out to give The Invisabul Dinasaur Hed a back story. Quite amazingly in my own case, as an old reformed comic book addict, some plots and characters have been floating around in my brain for decades (in a non-intrusive, non-threatening way, for those reading this who want to diagnose me in pathological terms). In all seriousness, it was as if this was a legend in need of a venue, and maybe now that can be told.
Back to McLuhan’s phrase, he proposed that media itself, not the content it carries, should be the focus of study. He said that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but also by the characteristics of the medium itself. In fact, he said a lot of things that could apply to the “DH.” We can cherry pick quotes like: “Publication is a self-invasion of privacy.” “The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.” “Good taste is the first refuge of the non-creative. It is the last ditch stand of the artist.” But putting McLuhan aside, what are the characteristics of a DH beyond what I have already mentioned?
Technology comes to mind. These works of art happen in someone’s brain, who then takes the ideas to a computer using some program such as Abode Illustrator or scaled down programs at paint.net. Then the completed work is hosted somewhere like Photobucket or Imageshack or is hosted at the Lostpedia site. Then those URLs are embedded in a post, and–*POOF*–there is a “DH.” So that just makes it computer playthings, you’re thinking?
Art as a mode of revealing
Let us follow up on that idea that it is “only” technology by looking at what Art, with a capital “a,” means to at least one other person, Martin Heidegger. Heidegger is a German philosopher who wrote influential books and articles at the beginning of the 20th Century that investigated “the question of being by asking about the being for whom being is a question,” according to Wikipedia. In Martin Heidegger: Paths Taken, Paths Opened, by Gregory Bruce Smith, a professor of political science, Trinity College, Smith examines Heidegger’s attitudes about techne, the Greek term for Art. In the chapter called, “Art, Poetry, and Gelassenheit: Phenomenology Returns,” Smith writes:
Toward the end of “The Question Concerning Technology,” Heidegger quotes Holderlin: “Poetically dwells man upon the Earth.” He also observes that for the Greeks, techne meant Art, and all Art was seen as a form of poiesisor making. But for Heidegger, like technology, Art is a mode of revealing, of bringing to presence. It is a mode of Truth. Unlike technology, as a mode of the revealing of Nature and man, Art allegedly avoids the monolithic Enframing of modern technology. “Could it be that revealing lays claims tothe arts most primarily?” (p. 175; bolding is the writer’s)
Heddictive tendencies and discovery of the Hedthrenopine
I can hear some of my colleagues in the Cult saying, “wrap it up!” “Thou Shalt Not Murder The Funny!” they may very well chant, meaning they find very little to laugh at in this tome.
They would not deny, however, that there is an addictive quality to the electronically-posted humor of which they partake. Perhaps with some future grant from an Obama Administration agency seeking the perfect joke and medium, we will someday learn something along the lines that Allyn Howlett, a researcher at the St. Louis University Medical School, discovered in 1988, that there is a specific receptor for a neurotransmitter mutated by The Funny–possibly an endorphin.
In Howlett’s case, it was a receptor for THC in the brain. He discovered a type of nerve cell that the active psychoactive molecules of cannabis bind to, “like a molecular key in a lock, causing it to activate.” Michael Polan said that in, The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. “Receptor cells form part of a neuronal network; the brain systems involving dopamine, serotonin, and the endorphins are three such networks. When a cell in a cell in a network is activated by its chemical key,” writes Polan,” it responds by doing a variety of things: sending a chemical signal to other cells, switching a gene on or off, or becoming more or less active.” He notes, “Depending on the network involved, this process can trigger cognitive, behavioral, or physiological changes. Howlett’s discovery pointed to the existence of a new network in the brain,” a network for cannabinoid receptors.
It is my hypothesis that with proper funding, we can isolate the Hedthrenopine neurotransmitter and its receptor cells in the Hedthrenabinoid network.
Maybe it all boils down to some paraphrase of one of the most famous lines of the 19th century poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge, when speaking of poetry, described it as, “the best words in the best order.”
Perhaps the DH or “Hed” is simply, “the best words and the best captures in the best order.”
I am not sure what my seventh-grade English teacher would make of my use of that quote I learned in her class.
Yeah, you guessed it. Although my high school closed decades ago, under a sealed court order…
*For further reading
The caption competition is back, BBC News Magazine, 22 May 2008