Happy (having viewed an electric show from Bo Burnham)
In July 2003, after an exciting and invigorating stint with the local (Pune) newspaper edition of a global media giant, I decided to move on from day-to-day journalism.
I was a sub-editor by day and by night: a commentator and critic on contemporary lifestyle matters, with specific interest in learning, and the performing arts, with a further focus on music. Over a duration of six years, I was grateful for the opportunity to have spent long, long hours with renowned and emerging, local, national and international artistes alike. I stopped writing out of sheer desperation that there was very little hope of any serious new art emanating out of the established cycle. For I firmly believe that the purpose of art is to record, represent, interpret and reimagine human experience in many different formats such that the lay-person and all of us would know we are not alone in our fears, idiosyncrasies, vanities, burdens and so on and so forth. Mainly, I expect art and artistes to represent and yet transcend the times they exist in but with a universal insight.
Now, 13 years later, (all of which have been spent in the learning and technology industry, listening to how the world must, can’t, and yet must deal with the ‘Millennials’), I find myself alive again, after viewing a performance so path-breaking that I consider it to be – simultaneously – an epitome of art itself and a beacon into understanding what and how technology-steeped generations will change human existence.
The performance in question is the Netflix Original show, Make Happy, and the artist is, Bo Burnham. Bo Burnham is by far the most innovative thinker, writer, performer, artist I have come across in the past few decades. He happens to be a millennial (all of 25), and a product of the ‘always-on’, 24*7 wired, technology-centered generation.
One can visit Bo Burnham’s website: www.boburnham.com
One can view the trailer of Make Happy.
I just watched the show on Netflix, and it’s a performance, a stand-up, a social commentary, a personal blog, a music concert, a scathing critique, and a new hope all rolled into one. The content is deep, insightful, and entertaining. The performance is electric. The format is innovative to the point it’s a benchmark for innovation. And the art forms used? Satire, stand-up comedy, acting, music, lyrics and vocals (spanning several genres).
Most laypersons with the burden of day-to-day drudgery to deal with, won’t get the ingenuity of Bo Burnham’s work. They won’t get it because they won’t see the show, they will ‘like’ or ignore the shares of the links to his work. The ones who do see any available videos or the Netflix original, may not get it because they are likely to get caught up in the entertainment part of the work, reacting to it and its aspects. Now that’s always been the lot of the layperson, but given that the Social Media Age makes everyone a journalist and performer and authority on everything, well, I have to then assume they are and therefore: they won’t get it. If they do, it may help them take the first step to take charge of their lives (and leave the drudgery to history).
In the writers, artists, and creative fraternity some may get it, some won’t. The ones who do, may or may not instantly realise the profound existential comment which is the focus of the performance, but they are all likely to participate in the process of evaluating, critiquing, debating, and countering the art form and they are well entitled to – they have very much earned it in fact – and this may lead to further innovations. It will definitely, probably, yes definitely, lead to an offshoot of Me2 artists and the related economical scalability structures and voila, a new sub-industry maybe.
Journalists may rave, reject, outright dismiss, or engage constructively (or otherwise).
At the end of it all, for all parties involved I have just one hope: see the performance/show/video and then engage. As one of my friends and also well-known world fusion musician, Milind Date, recently observed: “In today’s world everyone is an artist, and everyone is churning out ‘art and music’. In such a world, a real artist can only hope to engage with their audience through live performances. The rest of the time, they can engage their followers and request them to atleast spend a few minutes engaging with the work.”
And it is precisely out of and in the context of this Age, that Bo Burnham’s Make Happy emerges and stands alone. One can (but I wouldn’t) compare the various types of content in the show (music, writing, peroformance) with other performers in these genres. One can (but I wouldn’t) compare the show and Bo Burnham to stand-ups or entertainers. One can (and even though tempted, I wouldn’t) compare Bo Burnham to social commentators. And yes: the content and language is explicit; the context and critique is irreverent and self-deprecating and scathing on one and all.
I read a report on the show on Forbes.com written by Heather Newman, a tech-journalist with considerable (two-decades) experience and naturally, the article focuses on Netflix and the business of content (which is fair given the innovation in content), and has nice stuff to say about the show and performer and production-value; and while it is missing the point in my opinion, it does – fleetingly – venture into an appropriate comparison to great stand-ups. At least th comparison is with greats. And here’s a piece on Huffington Post written by someone (Alex Madda) who is from the millennial generation – and one can see the connection in the piece immediately. Alex Madda engages the show, the content and Bo Burnham directly, intimately, personally and also as a social commentator as a generational representative and voice – this provides direct context to the art and its times, through a dialogue between the art and the society.
This is a new day and it promises to be a different world. And I for one am looking forward to all the work, art, science (and journalism) from generations Y, Z and Alpha.