1. purification or purgation of the emotions (as pity and fear) primarily through art
2.purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension
3: elimination of a complex by bringing it to consciousness and affording it expression
According to Aristotle’s Poetics, the mark of a good tragedy was whether or not it would prove to be cathartic for the audience, which means that through the experience of watching the play, there would be an emotional release, a cleansing of sorts. Whether it was anger, fear, jealousy, pity, was beside the point, because after the play, after having been described and understood, you’d feel, momentarily at least, like a new person.
For many of us who grew up with Beavis and Butthead, Mike Judge has consistently had his finger on the pulse of a certain American (predominantly male) angst, and has parlayed that insight into a string of shows and movies that have provided this much needed cathartic release in an often playfully ironic way. From the aforementioned Beavis and Butthead to King of the Hill, Office Space and Idiocracy, what he has lacked in constructive solutions he has made up for with what I’ll call “empathic deconstruction”of prevailing social ideologies and foundational political mythologies in an attempt to inject some levity into the conversation.
In this vein, and on the heels of the recent cancellation of King of the Hill comes another comedy called The Goodes, a family, who, according to this review in the NYTimes, “Is so virtuous that even their dog is vegan.” It continues: The Goodes have a dog named Che who leers at rodents because he isn’t allowed to eat meat, and an adopted teenage son named Ubuntu (David Herman) who they thought was black but who turned out, once they got him from South Africa, to be the blond child of Afrikaners To compensate for Ubuntu’s racist lineage, the Goodes dress him each day as if he were being sent off to a parade in honor of Nelson Mandela. His brand-new driver’s license identifies him as African-American. When he apologizes for using too much gas during his initial spins around town, his father assures him that it is not really the consumption that matters: “It’s O.K., Ubuntu, what’s important is that you feel guilty about it.”
Pretty much standard Mike Judge fare so far, but despite his previous successes this review argues that: the show feels aggressively off-kilter with the current mood, as if it had been incubated in the early to mid-’90s, when it was possible to find global-warming skeptics among even the reasonable and informed. Who really thinks of wind power — an allusion to which is a running visual gag in the show — as mindless, left-wing nonsense anymore?
Likewise, a reviewer in the LATimes writes: There’s something old and obvious about the countercultural shibboleths the show advances: yoga, vegetarianism, ceramics, sexual frankness between parent and child, animal rights, playing the mandolin, spiritual confusion, not shopping at a certain store because “they don’t even have a mission statement,” hypersensitivity to racial and gender issues masked as indifference to racial and gender issues.
These reviewers are missing the cathartic, self-deprecating allure of Mike Judge’s works. Beavis and Butthead wasn’t cutting-edge social commentary, it was an artistic rendering of reality from a certain, Lucian Freud-esque, perspective. While many of us may have wished we spent our summer days learning Latin or playing the cello, the reality is that MTV and bathroom humor consumed a lot of attention and energy.
Likewise, Office Space wasn’t about changing the office culture or even really challenging it for that matter, it was about creating something that was cathartic, something that allowed people to identify with the protagonist, empathize with the described problems and leave the theater, perhaps, with a little lighter step. This, I think, may be what The Goodes turns out to be for many of us who, even though we have come to appreciate many of the causes they champion, and may end up recycling and perhaps drive a hybrid, were “incubated in the 90s” at just that impressionable High School age when you’re in the crosshairs of the culture-war cannons. What Mike Judge’s work allows is not a complete dismissal of the good, but a recognition that indoctrination and forced submission–even, or perhaps especially “to the greater good”–comes with a price.
From “sensitivity training” with Beavis and Butthead to Bobby wanting to be a husky-male model in King of the Hill, from singing along with Ron to “Damn it Feels Good to Be A Gangster” in Office Space and now, trying to keep up with the latest supermarket bag-enviroconsiousness in The Goodes, Mike Judge continues to provide that much needed catharsis that helps me (well, forces really), at least, take myself just a little less seriously when shopping at Whole Foods:)