Sunday, March 27, 2011

I've decided to start a new little blog called Existentialtainment. I hope to turn it into sort of an online gallery of examples of existentialism in movies, TV, theater, music, popular fiction, and other forms of entertainment.

What's "existentialism?" Well, it depends on who you ask. I'm by no means an expert on it. From what I've been able to gather, it's the collection of issues that human beings face when they try to figure out what in the heck they are doing in the world and how they are supposed to behave. Should I accept the bad things in my life or try to change them? Am I responsible for all the results of my actions or just the ones that I can conveniently attend to? If I am unhappy, is that because of external forces or because of how I choose to think about the situation? If the Earth is eventually going to be consumed by the Sun and vanish from existence, what is the point of exerting any effort at all?

For many if not most people, these questions are at least partially answered by religious doctrine. But others of us, while we recognize that religion can have much to teach us about everyday life, find that religion does not answer all of our questions about how and why to go on living. We have to figure it out ourselves.

My favorite movies have always been stories of ordinary individuals trying and often failing to grapple with life, films like "The Graduate," "I Heart Huckabee's" and "About Schmidt." And last year, I discovered a couple of TV shows—"Louie" starring Louis C.K., and a British show called "Peep Show"—that humorously deal with the everyday struggles of everyday guys. Over time, as I've learned a bit more about existentialism, I started to realize that the thing that these favorite movies and TV shows all had in common was that they covered existential themes, like choice, responsibility, futility, alienation, resistance, integrity, and uncertainty.

Existential themes have always been well covered in literature, by authors such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, and by high-brow playwrights such as Samuel Beckett. But they also crop up frequently, if not so explicitly, in popular culture, and that's what this website is going to focus on.

We'll see how long I can keep it going. One feature of is that it allows readers to submit their own examples of existentialism in entertainment. I've been encouraged that in just the first week, I've received and published three outside submissions, including one from Michael A. Britt, host of a popular psychology podcast called The Psych Files.

For the time being, over in the right-hand column of the front page I've added a list of links to the last five exhibits on It's right below the random photo and "Today's Death-Grip Pairing" (another new little web project of mine, on which more later).


Anonymous said...

Kind of off-topic, but I thought of you last Friday when I saw a two-man play about Khrushchev's visit to Iowa in 1959. The program notes listed "Lost in America" as one of the film credits for the actor who played Roswell Garst, so after the show I had to ask him what it was like to work on an Albert Brooks movie. (He was the Las Vegas casino clerk.) He said the casting was memorable, because he showed up on a Saturday and the office was deserted--no receptionist or assistant, just Brooks there to read the scene with him. They read through the casino scene a few times and Brooks offered him the job right there.

I may be in Boston over Memorial Day weekend (college reunion). Sue A. might come down on the Saturday--would be fun to get everyone together if you'll be in town.


Lord John Whorfin said...

That's not off topic at all! Lost in America definitely qualifies as an existentialist movie.

Maybe the part about going to Boston is slightly off topic for some people, but I have a broad definition of what it means to search for purpose in life, being mostly confined to the eighth dimension.

C - Log said...

And here is a YouTube link to the very scene from Lost in America that desmoinesdem mentioned!

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