Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Warm Embrace of Madness

Rorschach (comics)
Rorschach (comics) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"Days like today remind me why Rorschach was always my favorite Watchmen character."

That was a Tweet I posted earlier today, partially in jest, but it got me to thinking about the attraction of mentally unstable characters in entertainment.

I've always been drawn to crazy characters in stories, even during my childhood. My favorite A-Team character was Murdock, comic book characters like The Tick and Ambush Bug appealed to me more than any brooding crime-fighters, and even when it came to classic comedies I was always partial to the Marx Brothers, who defied authority figures and high society with their own brand of madness. Even when steering away from humor, insanity was always a desirable trait in characters for me, like the aforementioned Rorschach. Is this healthy? I mean, should I really be feeling some sort of emotional connection with Matthew McConaughey's character Rust from the first season of True Detective? What is it about mentally fractured characters that touches me in such a personal manner?

Of course, I'm not the only person who feels this way. This is why The Joker is still one of the most popular characters in the DC Comics universe, and Harley Quinn's cult status is finally being confirmed with her inclusion in the upcoming Suicide Squad film. Insanity isn't exactly the status quo for leading roles and superheroes, but it comprises enough of the popular culture to prevent it from being dismissed as a niche or minor following. There's just something about the loss of an individual's descent into madness that is not just entertaining, but appealing.

It makes me wonder what I would be like if I had gone over the edge at some point in my life. Would I be a madcap smart-ass or a brooding figure of philosophical contemplation. Would my madness drive me to violence or destructive behavior, lashing out and perceived threats and preaching Armageddon? Or would my disconnect with reality be more amusing and playful then sad and antagonistic? Would I dress up in colorful costumes, or just stop bathing and wear plastic bags and tinfoil armor? Would I be paranoid or fearless? So many possibilities.

It's probably a dark place to take that train of thought, but maybe that's the appeal of the crazy character, the fantasy of unshackling oneself from the restrictions of the real world, or even responding to the flawed logic that can often seem to control the world around us by adopting our own illogical viewpoint. If we can look at the world through rose-colored glasses, to coin a phrase, why can't we choose to color our reality in a more daring kaleidoscope of delusion? If ignorance is bliss, is madness ecstasy?

There's also the flip side to insanity as portrayed most popularly by H.P. Lovecraft, the idea that excessive knowledge can drive someone beyond the brink of sanity, the corrupting power of absolute knowledge. There's something both anti-authoritative and self-destructive about being attracted to the idea that actually understanding how or why things work would prevent someone from being able to function within the confines of reality. There's the theological aspect of this as well, the idea of the human mind being incapable of handling divine knowledge, that looking directly into the face of God is impossible without dire consequences. After all, did we not learn anything from Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Does all of this mean that there is a part of us that wants to lose control, give into the dark or wild side of the soul, sever the ties that bind us to society and swing free from our own strings? Or perhaps, just perhaps, it is a subconscious acknowledgement that the only way to truly exist as an individual is to separate from society, to live outside of the system not just ideologically, but emotionally and mentally as well; the realization that to break from the global community is in itself an act of denial in the face of the hive-mind of society, and therefore to truly be ourselves, creators of our own paths, is in itself an act of madness?

Anyway, just a thought. I don't think I'll be going mad anytime soon. Unless I already have. Hard to tell sometimes. Maybe that's the point.

NOTE: This contemplation about the appeal of insanity in fictional characters has no direct bearing on actual mental illness affecting real people in the real world, and is not meant to belittle or trivialize the emotional pain and suffering experienced by those afflicted with serious mental health issues. So if you find yourself offended in some way by this blog post, you really shouldn't.

1 comment:

S. Michael Wilson said...

The same night I post this, I come across this quote from Mark Twain's Mysterious Stranger: "Only the mad can be happy, and not many of those."