The world's worst architect: on the importance of comedy in the flow of ideas

After seeing this:

Alternatino- from “alternative” and “latino”- is a series of comical videos premiered by the cable channel Comedy Central and one of the episodes is a short video-sketch titled " The world's worst architect", which present us with a genius of a fictitious name, titled as "Gerard Fjuck, architect". He is, obviously, an example of a type of revered figure we know well in the contemporary world: the starchitect, the latest incarnation of the branded genius, an "author", a creator blessed by the uniqueness of his creations. Because, as we see from the very beginning, being praised by friends and foes alike, Gerard Fjuck is admired, venerated and followed by fans and spectators with passionate admiration. He is one of a kind creator, an impassioned man with a unique vision, an uncompromising prophet of a personal conviction.

The initial scene takes us to the architect as creator, thinking, alone in front of the paper, in his ample studio, located in a high skyscraper, and he starts describing to us the moment of the conception with something of a commonplace: “all starts with a line”. Then we get to the chorus of flattering compliments: from his assistant (is he a genius?, I think so”), to the amazed commentators ("This is the kind of shit he does"). We see the creator, in action, revered by acolytes, specialists and strangers.

There is also the endorsement(the so-called "talking-heads", experts and critics), the " before him/after him" take (placing him in a situational "divortium aquarium" and centring the plot on his apparition), the interviews, the footage, all assembled carefully and neatly. Nothing new here, as we probably have seen this before. 

But maybe that is the point because this familiarity only sets up the surprise that goes developing across the sketch, to our (most probably) disbelief; it turns out that the mantra of this genius is to make buildings useless, torturing to the users, to the real persons that stay in the buildings day in, day out. As Gerard says: " I like you to feel that I hate you personally. Because I do."

The familiarity we mentioned earlier is carefully built in the set up of every scene, from the spectacular intro of omnipotent aerial views to the occasional interview excerpt. 

At the time, I was preparing a storyboard for a presentation interview, where the speaker needed to explain his work and the reasons behind it. I saw the video of Fjuck and recognised that jokes aside, all the formal and visual elements could be easily transplanted to the work I was doing.

The genre of the mockumentary works on the premise of taking all the elements of a real documentary, but emptying them of the original content and twisting it with absurdity, highlighting the contradictions of the format, achieving it by separating form from content.  

The sketch has successfully taken the elements associated with a biopic. The movement of the camera, the timing, the voices, everything made it look like the real thing.  

We, in recognising the form but not the content, find the contrast eye-opening. There is a type of humour that uses the conventions or commonplaces as scaffolding upon which spark the laughter of the contradiction or absurdity; jokes about stereotypes work only because they are told assuming certain context shared by the listeners. Take out those references and shared understanding, the context, and the amusement, flavour and hilarity get lost, as usually happens with translated poetry and of course, frozen food.

This also can happen to works of art when devoid of context, they risk losing their meaning without a specific context: the gallery, the temple, the museum. Erwin Panofsky shows a similar process in a more serious scenario with his study on the representations of classical divinities in the Middle Ages. Somehow, Ares, Hermes, Zeus and Venus, among others, are represented as contemporary characters, dressed in medieval ways in the conventual manuscripts, while the style of the sculptures made of them in antiquity is used for the representation of biblical characters and other representations of the Christian art; form and content are dissociated in a new context. This is, in a more modest way if you will, the kind of cultural alchemy that subtly starts to take place in Alternatino’s video.

The cultural, meaningful pieces, astonishing and innovating when they appear, have some sort of lifecycle as well, they become challengers of the status quo, they become classics, and as such they get worn by their use, being connected, disconnected and reconnected to other pieces by association or counterpoint, losing their initial meaning or power, growing their corpus of associations in a multi-formed and unexpected way, being necessary the intervention, from time to time, of scholars, poets or artists, to bring afloat the original sense of the piece. The side effect of such cultural meaning-weariness result can be a meaningless shape, bordering the absurd.

And this the point where comedy and humour find the cultural space ripe to work. From its remnants, innovators pick the freshness of new ideas, like fresh clay, like a flaming fire, create and develop a more intense game of “what if”, all of which slowly becomes more “serious”. Once the idea becomes mainstream, it needs to become more conventional, more schematic in a sort of way, so it can be passed around faster to a wider public. Those conventions in turn, with time, get to be so recognizable that they disconnect from their original spirit, and become translatable, portable, becoming the ground for comedians to work. And then, the circle starts again:

Innovation > research > mainstream > comedy > innovation > mainstream…and so on

And thus, comedy breaks the mould, helps to see things in new ways, mixes up stuff, and as a result, demolishes conventions. Let us not forget Juan de Burgos, the fictitious monk of The Name of the Rose, eating to death the only, poisoned, surviving copy of Aristotle treaty on comedy.

With all its nuances, different approaches to comedy and innovation, and its what-if and what-if-not forks, all this happens at a wider societal level, at a meme-like level, imperceptible, to not call it viral, from people that comment and share ideas to other people, crossing around the world of a society idea universe, from popular wisdom to academic paradigms, a granular process that can take decades, if not centuries.