Long ago, on the hallowed archives of xanga, I named and detailed a style and mindset called absurdist noir. What is it? Just the mixture of dark expressionistic themes of fatalistic eventuality and a whitefish sandwich with capers? Perhaps our existential loneliness in the vast aether of temporospatial emptiness that resembles the little boil on my toe that keeps coming back? Is it something grander, something inconsequential, something deep-seated and primordial like the heebie-jeebies, or Abe Vigoda?
What is absurdist noir?
It’s that sick twisted ending, leaving the audience to snicker and the protagonist to agonize and eventually cackle with mad laughter at the cold cruelty of chance and fate. It’s the irrational fear of things we cannot control, like quarks, or spacetime, or the fate of the cosmos. It’s madness.
It’s why good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people.
It’s Schadenfreude, that part of every human that revels in someone else being hurt. It’s the Mel Brooks quote, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.” It’s the opposite of the old George Washington quote, “be not glad at the misfortune of another, though he may be your enemy.”
It’s the essence of the dead baby or aristocrats joke, the juxtaposition of deeply horrific imagery and the absurd candor in telling it. The part of your own nature that surprises you and makes it funny. It’s a morbid black sense of humor but a whole lot more.
It’s politics. It’s conspiracy theory. It’s warfare. It’s history. It’s squick (which is most of the internet, anyway).
Firesign Theatre, a highly absurd (bordering on Dada) comedy troupe, crafted hapless characters in situations where they are persecuted, shuffled along, accused and at the mercy of unknowable authoritarian forces both Orwellian and Kafkan. From the ripped-straight-from-the-healines story of the natives in “Temporarily Humboldt County” to the more pointed Trial of P. in “Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him“. Clem in “We’re All Bozos on This Bus” is one of the first computer hackers in popular culture, crashing the president (Nixon) of an electronic bureaucratic autocratic government of the future using a nonsensical string of unrelated words.
It’s a bad mushroom or acid trip that you remember fondly anyway.
It’s why, according to psychological research byproduct and books like Impro, the first things that come to mind in improvisational art or stream of consciousness are death, religion (esp. Jesus), and non-sequiturs (everything else). The same themes crop up in the ravings of the mad.
A ton of Warren Zevon makes me think of absurdist noir.
And a hell of a lot of Breaking Bad, for that matter.
A lot of noir is naturally absurd, like the end of Chinatown. A lot of absurdism is naturally noir, like the visceral gut feeling you get from Dali paintings; the unsettling or even disturbing mixture of sorrowful empathy and sniggering superiority when seeing a crying clown.
It’s our primeval and irrational fear of the darkness itself, and the instinctual pull toward it. It’s whenever somebody depicts that in their modalities of expression.
It’s a bunch of guys in clown masks robbing a race track.