Angry Birds, and other philosophical topics: Why Are Animals Funny?
Review: These essays by the Everyday Analysis collective distil complex theory to show the full ideological significance of that which may otherwise be regarded as insignificant
Angry Birds, the phrase “man-up”, the collapse of support in Britain for the Liberal Democrats, and the cable programme Man v. Food – just some of the subjects reframed by Why Are Animals Funny?
Why Are Animals Funny?
Everyday Analysis Collective
The career prospects for young academics, especially in the humanities, are dire. But the barriers to full-time, long-term contracts for young thinkers across the British Isles have in some cases bred creativity. The daring of young thought is still potentially as invigorating as in decades past. The problem is that the academy has little space for risk taking.
Universities are restricted more and more by unadventurous business models. And their timidity is reflected in their often conservative choices when funding research by young scholars.
Yet rare beacons of young dissenting voices persist and adapt to this inhospitable climate. Those who operate on the margins of traditional publishing, paradoxically, are starting to represent the cutting edge of the academy. These are writers who are hungry to continue the healthy tradition of new thinkers who challenge the status quo.
Their trick is to make more accessible highbrow theories of gender, ideology and the postmodern in order to influence public debate. Readers may be familiar with one of these collectives, the Everyday Sexism movement, but perhaps fewer will have taken note of Everyday Analysis (or EDA for short). The latter has gained a number of admirers in more niche circles.
Its blog, everydayanalysis.com, has caught the imagination, in particular, of those intellectuals who are forced to the margins of the academy. EDA embraces the internet as a primary platform of publication and has mobilised in new ways to stand out from the countless young academics with whom it must compete for attention. It publishes almost weekly – a significant challenge to the slower and more traditional forms of academic publishing.
Attempting to attract a new audience, EDA has now released its first collection of essays in traditional print, Why Are Animals Funny? The title may intentionally suggest a certain inanity, but, given the collective’s intellectual rigour, this first impression is misleading.
The collective organisation of EDA counters refreshingly the narcissism (in other words, the individualism) of more mainstream scholarly writing. Perhaps counterintuitively for a medium that allows us more and more to curate our own virtual lives, at least some of the narcissistic tendencies of academic writing are eradicated if the work appears online and is authored collectively: anonymity is now well established as advantageous to the radical thinker.
The collective, in turn, may take the intellectual high ground over the superstar academic; the introduction to Why Are Animals Funny? makes EDA’s position clear: “We hope that having no presiding authorial voice is part of our fidelity to the cause.” The “cause” is proving the usefulness of theory to disentangling the hidden complexities that structure our everyday lives.
EDA’s publisher, Zero Books, also pours scorn on the mainstream in its mission statement. In the academy, it suggests, “A cretinous anti-intellectualism presides, cheered by expensively educated hacks in the pay of multinational corporations.” Revolution is in the air, at least in this corner of cyberspace.
The numerous readings presented here meticulously pay respect to the work of theorists and philosophers such as Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin and Slavoj Zizek. In so doing these essays harness and distil complex theory to show us the full ideological significance of that which we may otherwise regard as insignificant; a game of Angry Birds, the phrase “man-up”, the collapse of support in Britain for the Liberal Democrats, and the cable programme Man v. Food are just some of the subjects reframed by Why Are Animals Funny?
This is not just the posturing of the disenfranchised. At its astute best, Why Are Animals Funny? invites us to become the subjects of its analysis and to recognise that which we disavow: that desire and ideology control us even in the most mundane situations. EDA inverts the “commonsense” knowledge dished out by the accepted experts of our age.
Take the cult of “curing” our neuroses and our modern obsession with restorative therapies. Following the psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan, EDA insists we should embrace rather than dismiss our unique quirks and habits: “To assume our symptom [. . .] is to realise that our very ‘consistency’ is to be found precisely in our ‘pathological’ singularity.” In other words, we should accept our symptoms as our unique qualities, as intrinsic to our being.
Even the “common sense” lauding of charity is challenged. Drawing from Zizek, EDA asks us to consider that which economic charity smudges over: it “avoids the confrontation with the question of how it became necessary in the first place – and how its causes might be addressed by changing the system”. We should see charity as necessary only because of the inhumanity of the capitalist structures that necessitate it.
It is not only a desire for change that drives the writers of EDA but also intoxication with the theoretical text. These young thinkers use what they have – intelligence, resourcefulness and an eye for the everyday – to produce readings at a pace that the academy cannot mirror.
At its best this collection sets a precedent for a new generation of critical engagement with popular culture. EDA is fighting to carve a new space for the intellectual in popular media. Its battle is just beginning.