I’ll be one of the first to admit, I love “Grumpy Cat” (fun aside though, the 2-year old American shorthair cat is actually named Tardar Sauce, and looks the way she does thanks to feline dwarfism and an under bite . . . and is apparently quite the loving little animal). I love pop-cultural tropes and memes like it should be my job, and occasionally wish that I could reconcile that with the fact that I pride myself on my intellect and education, and the fact that in little more than two years (fingers crossed on that one), I’d really prefer that you call me “Doctor”. The Everyday Analysis Collective is one of the answers to my inability to reconcile my adulthood with my childlike attraction to the insane minutiae of daily life and popular culture.
So the hot pink cover of the new book, with a black and white illustration of one of the Internet’s most revered animal memes, Why Are Animals Funny? was an immediate draw. Originally begun in January 2013 as a blog based between Manchester and London, the project has grown to include a run as a column in the University of Manchester’s Mancunion, entries on the international news website The Huffington Post, and the UK’s The Guardian. That EDA has taken-off in less than eighteen months is impressive, and something that I think is sorely and amusingly needed. The first of what I really do hope will become an engaging series of books brings together some of EDA’s finest contributions to date, at the hands of editors Alfie Bown and Daniel Bristow.
The book, as with its original home on the Internet, lacks individually credited authors (similar in tactic to the Art & Language collective practices), and each mini-essay is instead listed by title and entry number. They are short, averaging approximately two pages per entry, and each title almost reads like something off of an early Fall Out Boy or Panic! At the Disco album, less a suggestive title than a brief, yet detailed account: customary for tedious works of theory, not necessarily for vignettes, novels, or songs even.
Indeed, the introduction to the book is the longest single entry in the entire thing, and offers a good explanation of not only the critical inspiration for the project, but also offers reasoning as to exactly why this project is so . . . well, intellectually and culturally necessary. The second half of the introduction, subtitled A Defence of Theory, explains this well.
Like a literary two-way street, this book acts as an accessible inlet for outsiders of the ivory tower that is academia, and a much-needed outlet for those trapped inside (both students and accomplished instructors alike). In brief, it serves to ponder all aspects of cultural minutiae through pickings and choosings of theoretical heavy-hitters like Lacan and Marx, without removing the joy of the sheer insanity and absurdity of it all.
I think that in reading this book for the sake of generating an adequate review, I had to do my best to remove myself from my powerful urge to actively and vehemently engage with the assertions that its pages put forth (because some of them really are quite fascinating, and it’s a difficult impulse to turn off, sort of like a word-vomit reflex).
This might actually shed light on what I think is really the only unfair part of the whole thing: you only get a taster for each subject. Of course, this is also one of the most appealing points of the project. For most, anything more than an introductory analysis to say, American food challenges (we Americans do find an unabashed sense of joy in this sort of thing even without seeing it though a lens that infantilizes this variety of consumption, as is suggested in entry number three: “Baby Food, or How to Eat Like an American”) can quickly become burdensome and risk being outright boring. The trick with EDA is to only give the reader a basis for the author’s argument, and to make the reader think, ideally resulting in engaging conversation, rather than making one to feel that they’ve just been talked at for an annoyingly long time. This ends up acting more as an exercise for the reader than for the authors. The authors present the situation and the initial thought. It’s the job of the reader to think about it and, God willing, even find some way to agree and complement it or counter it.
The nineteenth entry in the book, a rather poignant observation on the personal and mass cultural perceptions of death titled “Does it Really Make a Difference Whether it was James Gandolfini or Tony Soprano who Died?”, is probably my favourite entry in the whole thing. At first stop, a likely answer to the question-title could be something akin to: “Yes, of course. One was a real live human being, the other was a character on a television show.” There’s far more to it, though. The vignette’s real impact in the book lies in the fact that it almost entirely avoids explicit mention of any particular “theory” until the last paragraph, in which mention of Freud and Peter Brooks are made, though the point at which this occurs is so late that the author can do little more than mention them in passing. Because of this, the author relies almost completely on cultural and logical reference, arguing that while yes it was indeed sad when James Gandolfini suddenly died, it may very well have been the actor’s famous character of Tony Soprano that passed, for as much of a tie as many people actually had to the actor versus how the internet-connected world seemed to mourn his passing. Without personal experience to speak of the author suggests, the character was just as real as the actor (and vice versa). The essay as a whole manages itself quite well for its length, and was probably the only entry where I found myself largely satisfied at its conclusion instead of clamouring for more.
To say nothing else, I would recommend the book on the basis of this entry alone.
That, and the commentary in entry number six on the strange sense of identity (or complete disregard for) presented in advertising campaigns like the Old Spice adverts featuring former American footballer Isaiah Mustafa as the hunky, manly-man centre of attention, known to the digital world as “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”. If you’ve not seen the adverts, I recommend watching them, then reading the entry.
There is a slight deceptiveness at work with the format of the book however, and one could start to think with the project in general. As a burgeoning academic, this format makes sense to me. I’ve read Barthes’ Mythologies, which the editors of EDA reference in the introduction to the book. Analytical commentary on the oddly mundane (yet simultaneously fascinating) aspects of everyday life is a useful tool to help us realize that, my god, there isn’t a single pointless part of life. Even the lowest dregs of cultural detritus (I’m looking at you, Beliebers) reflect something about us, and life in general, that is worth acknowledging. But the project, broadly operated by academics, relies on academic vernacular to claim its stake. It thereby almost restricts its accessibility to a very specialized type of mind. The average individual is not likely to be terribly familiar with Benjamin or Derrida, but this book could in fact ultimately serve as a useful way of piquing interest in the new and unfamiliar.
Overall, I’m excited that something like EDA has not only built a following and reputation that, in today’s attention-deficit world, is increasingly difficult to manage, but that it has also expanded into media outside of its original domain. Quite a bit can be said to the simple fact that in the span of less than two years, it has managed to achieve a shift in physical status from the digitally-pervasive, to being blessed with its first ISBN. This is hugely impressive, and I can’t wait to see what the collective does next.