There’s this quote that’s been stuck in my head the past few days, playing over and over like a mantra. It originated from an interview with American Comedian John Mulaney where he talks about the Dark Humour of Jerry Seinfeld. In the interview he talks about seeing dark jokes in otherwise mundane topics. One of the darkest jokes, he says, came from Jerry Seinfeld. It was a simple bit about going to the movies.
The joke goes as follows; Jerry remarks about his recent visits to the Cinema and he’s noticed that before the movie starts there’s an ad playing that tells the audience to clean up after the movie is over. Jerry finds the whole thing absurd, seeing as he is not a cleaner and that the trash has been put their purposely as Jerry had thrown it away- so there’s no point picking up something you threw away.
Jerry then remarks that there is an unspoken agreement here between the cinema and the audience that this advert violates. The agreement states (or at least it would state if ever instated) that the cinema goer knows what they’re getting into. They know they’re paying a hefty price for some shitty food to see a garbage movie alongside annoying strangers. But in exchange for that at the very end of the movie the audience is free to go. So you pay for this ticket and this food and at the very end Seinfeld says “When I’m done with something, I open my hand”.
John Mulaney remarks that this is one of the darkest jokes he’s ever seen, simply because of how Seinfeld says it. The joke is laid out to present what Jerry finds absurd and then he finishes it in this callous tone, the upheavalment of both care and responsibility.
The joke inadvertently shows us the dark side of Seinfeld. The inability to recognise the responsibility of looking after your environment, like when the usher requests that you clean up after yourself. Instead of obliging them, Seinfeld simply opens his hand and let’s his trash drop to the floor. In an action that states; “No, you clean it up.”
We may have interpreted too much depth into a simple joke and I may not have described it properly, but this observation of human behaviour is something that I’ve grown increasingly apparent of as I enter adulthood.
The simple fact that almost nobody genuinely gives a shit about anything that they aren’t remotely required to do so. Simply put, when they’re done with something- they open their hand and let it go. Without a care in the world.
This joke about littering in the cinema can be linked to the unspoken agreement that modern Society stems upon, the Social Contract. Basically when we are born into this society we begin with the state investing in us. It ensures that we do not go hungry, are decently educated and looked after until the age of legal adulthood where you are expected to repay this debt by getting a job, paying taxes, doing a variety of other things to pay off your debts such starting a business, buying a house, employing others, starting a family etc.
It may seem strange to you that you are indebted to the state from birth and that you have to pay that debt off for the rest of your life. But that’s the strange thing about this contract, it doesn’t really require you to pay it off. There’s nothing stopping you from emigrating to another country or saying your business is in another nation so you don’t have to pay taxes.
But so long as you obey the laws, so long as you do not violate the rights of your fellow citizens- you can live a care free life. You know the deal you’ve made is fairly lousy. You know that the state can be corrupt or inept, you know that in most cases your money is being wasted- that the services are shit and that your fellow citizens are shit. But here’s the beauty of the entire thing; you only have to care as much as you’re legally or socially obliged to.
How many people wouldn’t pay taxes if they had a choice? How many people wouldn’t go to work if they didn’t have to? Who wouldn’t recycle if their council didn’t reprimand them? Who’d litter if they weren’t afraid of facing a fine? How many truly give a shit about most other people?
You can be an objectively terrible person. An adulterer, a racist, a down right fiend- but so long as you don’t break any laws and pay your dues, you can do whatever you like. You can choose not to care about anything other than yourself.
I’ve come to the stark realisation upon leaving school that almost nobody gives a shit about me. Now that’s not to say that I’m entitled to care, but when I was in school it was drilled into you that if you were not at your best at all times you were doomed to become a waster that earned fuck all, filled with so much self loathing that nobody would deem you fuckable.
The latter part wasn’t explicitly said to me, but it was heavily implied.
You were told from the age of ten in P7 that if you didn’t pass your eleven plus you wouldn’t get into a good school and were doomed. When you’re in Secondary School you weer told that if you don’t keep the act up that you’ll never reach GCSE’s and were doomed to fail. When you’re in fifth year you were told that if you don’t pass your GCSE’s you’ll never get into higher education and were doomed to fail. When you’re in Upper Sixth you were told that if you don’t pass your A-Levels you’ll never get into University and were thus doomed to fail.
Well, I didn’t pass one of my A-Levels. It dealt a great blow to my career path but I was not doomed to fail. I simply took a detour, a very long and arduous detour. Going to the Tech in Derry expanded my horizons greatly.
Firstly, I grew to realise that my illogical hatred of Derry City was perfectly justifiable. Secondly, not only does nobody give a shit about you, but they don’t even care if you are at your best. And Thirdly, I struggled with this new sense of liberty.
Back in School you were told when you could eat, where you could go, where you had to be, what time you had to be there, when to arrive and when to leave, when to piss and how long you could piss, you were told what to wear and how to wear it, you were told what to say and how to act. If you did not follow these commands, no matter how tedious, there was immediate consequences. It was a lot like Prison in that regards, certainly felt like it.
In Derry I…I didn’t have any of these obligations. I’m given a time table but nobody would care of I showed up three hours late, or showed up at all. Nobody cares whether or not I hand in my work or even the quality of that work. Not only do I not have to ask to leave the room to take a piss, but I’m sharing the same toilets as my Tutors.
That’s a little too weird for me. The fact that you can stand right next to your tutor in the urinals, and have a conversation about applying to Uni. Fuck, you’re even on a first name basis– that would’ve never happened at school. There was always titles, codes of authority and respect- you were never seen as equals. But rather clay they were legally obliged to mould to the best of their ability.
I like to think most of them genuinely cared about moulding these students into normal citizens, but a good portion of them don’t. A good portion of them never wanted to be teachers in the first place and are only there for the money. A good portion of them hate the vast majority of their students, often for justifiable reasons. A lot of students are complete and utter cunts.
When you’re legally obliged to show up somewhere from nine to five, five days a week and are expected to take that work home with you- it doesn’t take long for resentment to be installed. It takes even less time for that resentment to manifest itself in disrespect, bad behaviour and other in-formalities. That’s basically what it’s like to be a student.
In tech you can call your tutor a cunt and they can call you a cunt and nothing will happen. I find the whole thing bizarre. For a long time I struggled with this new found liberty. I started slipping, started referring to elders as “lad” and not “sir“- fuck, I once referred to my Dad as Lad instead of Sir. I felt so stupid.
So it took a while to repair the damage of being admitted to a very strict Catholic School and adjusting to normal society. In normal society, nobody expects anything from you. Nor do they give a fuck about you. They are pleasant in the short interactions they have with you because it is socially obligated that they are respectful. But once those formalities are done and the conversation is over; they cease to give a fuck.
You could walk out that shop and get hit by a car and they won’t think twice about it.
I’ve noticed this kind of thing when I’ve been out job hunting. I’ll go into shops, buy something and ask for work or advice on where to look. The people are generally polite in their response. They give some vague advice but you get from their general tone that they want this conversation to be over as quickly as humanly possible so that you can fuck off out of their lives. Once that transaction is over; they simply let go.
I’m on the dole at the moment and it’s not very nice. Being on benefits isn’t very fun, it’s incredibly depressing. Heading into the benefits office does two things to you- it will either motivate you to get a job so you no longer have to interact with this service again or it will motivate you to kill yourself. Now I don’t need people inadvertently putting suicidal thoughts in my head, the ones already there don’t need company.
Every week you’re expected to produce evidence that you’ve spent thirty-five hours actively looking for work and that you’ve applied to a variety of jobs. You are given a ten minute window to arrive at your prescribed interview at the Benefits office. If you are running late and you miss that ten minute mark, then they can simply refuse to see you and cut off your benefits for a week.
Benefits can go up to £50 a week, unless you require housing benefit as well. Now for those of you who pay for the weekly shopping, the bi-weekly electric bill and tickets for the bus- you will know rightly that £50 a week is fuck all. It can barely keep you afloat. Hence why the idea of such benefits scroungers are so absurd.
The staff are nice enough. The work coach that is assigned to you is polite, but it’s fairly obvious that they genuinely don’t give a shit about you and expect nothing from you. To them you are another waster, a product that nobody wants to buy.
They talk to you for about fifteen minutes, ask for some evidence of your work search and then give some advice. Even show you some jobs you can apply for, most of which you have either already applied for or are unqualified to apply for.
After that meeting you leave, receive a payment at the end of the week. Or, when you first sign on, have to wait a month to receive credit so that they can make sure that you’re worthy of such help.
You head into the appointment every week to see the same or a different person. Rinse and repeat. They do what their job requires them to do. They act how they’re required to act. They talk as much as they’re required to talk. No more, no less.
When they are done with you, they simply open their hand and they let you go.
I’ve noticed this kind of insincere dialogue before, particularly on nights out. I refer to it as Pub Talk. In which individuals engage in a conversation that means completely nothing to one another. They can share their interests, make each other laugh or even feign love and friendship. But as soon as that sun rises, they will cross the street to avoid you.
That’s what Pub Talk does. It’s a form of politeness, kind of like planning out something with an acquaintance that neither of you will carry out to fruition. But you talk about the plan in order to seem friendly and likeable. It’s like having a friend at work or school that you never interact with outside of that environment, nor do you want to.
These short interactions are a somewhat more callous version of Pub Talk. They don’t really have to follow the same guidelines. You can plainly tell in these interactions of one party is unenthused, and they’re usually unenthused, but they’re obliged by social norms to carry out the transaction to it’s fruition.
But once they no longer require your help or services; they simply open their hand and let go.
I’m not gonna lie, it’s very hard for me to adjust to a world so uncaring. You’re raised to care about yourself and others, to help the needy. But when you reach a certain age you come to realise that nobody really wants to help the needy, we do it because we’re obliged to help them. Keep the bodies off the street and the malnourished children out of sight.
Nobody really cares, we just pretend we do. But we’re terrible at pretending and in the end, that’s the real tragedy.