Exposing the Idiocy of Videocy: Case Study # 2

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Donald Wood

Donald Wood. This fifteen-year veteran of McGavok High School, a high school in Metro Nashville, suffered a nervous collapse following an outburst captured by a student camera and posted to YouTube. Fodder for thousands of views and comments, his rant is one of hundreds of “Angry Teacher” videos posted to the web. In the remix of this video, we suggest that the videocy of these “angry teacher” posts might also be productively considered in light of two pre-internet tirades that have become the focus of celebrated documentaries: Winnebago Man (2009) and Shut Up, Little Man! (2011). Viewers are encouraged to consider how these earlier displays of idiocy permit us to see Wood’s case in a middling dark-light.

For when grappling with the idiocy of videocy, it is also helpful to turn to Victor Vitanza’s and his notion of de-negation in Negation, Subjectivity, and The History of Rhetoric (22). Throughout his work, Vitanza encourages us to dis/engage the Negative by turning away from mere satirization and parody (314-315). Instead, Vitanza makes a case for the denegated practice of bricolage and pastiche (175).

To allow the dark-light of Vitanza’s pastiche, or “joyful pessism,” to shine through videocy is to also let in Ulmer’s effort to trace the roots of idiocy back to the smokey image of a fumisme, a chimneysweep/humorist of the bohemian Paris’s cabaret scene (Avatar Emergency 42). Perhaps we might see that for Vitanza, Ulmer’s sullied, but comic figure, has its roots in the ancient rhetorical persona of Diogenes.

Diogenes, who was often reviled for his negative engagement with idiotic gestures (e.g., defecating, urinating, and masturbating in public), was nevertheless capable of opening up denegated sensibilities. For Vitanza (and Diane Davis), this move from what Peter Solterdijk calls (negated) cynicism to (denegated) kynicism has some implication for how we might regard what Nancy refers to as an “inoperable community,” especially in educational settings that are exposing us to new limits of our participatory underbelly (“Diogenes” 134).  

Thus, in our kynical remix of Wood’s “angry teacher” video the following unfolds: First, Wood’s actions are negatively parodied through the music of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” (whose lyrics ask “Has He Lost His Mind?”), and then these same actions are transformed, and perhaps denegated, through Alanis Morissette’s “Crazy” (whose lyrics suggest “But We’re Never Going to Survive / Unless We Get a Little Crazy”). Originally used as theme music for a 2006 Iron Man Race prologue, Morissette’s “Crazy” lyrics are offered as a denegated pastiche, a dis/engagement with the (negative) parody of “Iron Man.”

Remixing videos in such a neo-mannerist style--one that turns negative irony towards a different, denegated valence--is an act of kynicism, rather than cynicism. Re-purposed within context of an endurance race, Wood’s meltdown is not exonerated, but opens up to a different choric space, one where we might begin to re-think and re-link a viral video, rather than to stand in static judgment and repeat the condemnations about such “obvious” idiocy. In other words, it is through these kinds of shifts and turns that we might re-begin to think along the double movements of stupidities that cause us not only to shake our heads but to involuntarily spread the contagion of laughter.