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  • (Upbeat music)

  • - (Michael) Hey Wisecrack, Michael here. Today, we're looking at a cartoon after our own

  • hearts--a show that combines sober discussions of philosophy with zombie hordes, parasitic

  • clown-spiders, and magic-wielding fish-men--Netflix's The Midnight Gospel.

  • A co-production of comedian Duncan Trussell and Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward,

  • The Midnight Gospel combines audio clips from Trussell's long-running podcast The Duncan

  • Trussell Family Hour with Ward's signature visual storytelling to create a one-of-a-kind

  • animated series that is equal parts trippy, hilarious, and terrifying.

  • But is the show just a compendium of shower thoughts to help your furlough go down easier

  • - or is it a legitimate dive into quote unquote real philosophy? To find out, we're going

  • to focus on one specific aspect of the show. If you've seen it already, you might have

  • noticed one of Trussell's favorite subjects popping up repeatedly:

  • - (Clancy) In Buddhism the idea is all of those, uh, mental forms of analysis-

  • - (Michael) That's right: Buddhism. The Midnight Gospel asks us to consider: what

  • are the implications of Buddhist philosophy for people going about their everyday lives?

  • Should you become a societal dropout like the protagonist Clancy--or is there more to

  • life than just microdosing and doing ritual magic? Well, we're about to find out. So

  • select your avatars, merge with your simulators, and follow us as we rocket into this Wisecrack

  • Edition on The Midnight Gospel: Deep or Dumb?

  • As always, spoilers ahead.

  • And now, a quick recap.

  • The plot of The Midnight Gospel--insofar as a show about yonic multiverse simulators can

  • be said to have a plot centers on Clancy, a music-loving burnout living in a trailer

  • on theChromatic Ribbon.”

  • On the Ribbon, Clancy and othersimulation farmersspend their days shoving their

  • heads into the aforementioned vulva-Matrices, hoping to collect profitable artifacts or

  • marketable experiences from the multiverses within. Clancy, for instance, uses his trips

  • to gather content for his pet project, a “spacecastwith a single subscriber.

  • - (Clancy) And to my one subscriber, Hernog Jensen, I live for you. You're the reason

  • I wake up in the morning with a smile on my face.

  • - (Michael) Clancy's spacecast takes the form of interviews with subjects from wacky,

  • dying worlds, usually centered around topics such as Eastern philosophy, the occult, or

  • anything else worthy of a Keanu-Reeves

  • - (Keanu) Whoa!

  • - (Michael) Said conversations use repurposed audio from Trussell's actual interviews

  • with people like Dr. Drew Pinsky and Anne Lamott.

  • From the beginning, Clancy prioritizes thinking about and discussing these Big Ideas over

  • more practical concerns, such as problems in his personal life or the day-to-day operations

  • of his simulator. On an (admittedly simulated) planet overrun by zombies, for instance, he

  • is so unconcerned with what's going on around him that he continues to talk about the positive

  • benefits of mindfulness meditation while a man is eaten alive in front of his pregnant

  • wife.

  • - (Clancy) They say look at it as though you're sitting in a forest and you're getting to

  • watch a rare animal walking out into a clearing.

  • - (Michael) Clancy avoids mundane tasks--like reading the instruction manual for his simulator--dismissing

  • them as distractions from his contemplation of the deeper truths of existence.

  • - (Simulator) Good morning master. Did you get a chance to read the universe simulator

  • FAQ I left in your inbox? - (Clancy) Nope.

  • - (Michael) Specifically, Clancy, through his passing familiarity with Eastern religious

  • traditions, has come to believe that the material world is unimportant--or even illusory.

  • - (Clancy) And then you become pure awareness- - (President) Yeah, yeah.

  • - (Clancey) And the concept is that that is what we really are,

  • - (President) Yeah - (Clancy) And that this entire material universe

  • including our body is a kind of… (stutters) I can't say it.

  • - (Woman) Phenomenological - (Clancy phenomenological field of phenomena!

  • A field of phenomena being encapsulated within-

  • - (Michael) Put simply, Clancy is saying: the tangible universe that we can see, hear,

  • touch, etc. is just an imperfect manifestation of a more fundamental reality, accessible

  • through consciousness-altering practices like meditation, ritual, plant medicine, and so

  • on. Therefore, the material world can and ought to be ignored, avoided, or ideally transcended.

  • Everyday life, with its bills, sh*tty neighbors, and absurd laws, isn't the full experience

  • of divinity, enlightenment, or whatever you want to call it--therefore, it's crap.

  • So here's the question: are Clancy's thoughts on Eastern religious philosophy deep, or more

  • like the inane ramblings of someone who just escaped their first Alan Watts YouTube rabbit

  • hole? To answer that question, we need to ask: does Clancy's line of reasoning fit

  • within a Buddhist context? That is, do his beliefs hold water among Buddhist philosophers

  • with a smidge more experience?

  • Well...yes and no. Let's start with the idea that the world is unimportant and illusory.

  • According to the Dalai Lama, this is somewhat correct, but only half the picture when it

  • comes to living by the tenets of Buddhism.

  • In MindScience, a collection of essays and dialogues, the Dalai Lama contends that there

  • are two levels of truth in the Buddhist worldview: 1. anultimatetruth--subscribed to

  • by Clancy and your stoner roommate--which acknowledges the emptiness of and impermanence

  • among all things; and 2. a “relativetruth, having to do with the facts of existence

  • as they relate to our daily lives.

  • Both of these truths are equally important to living a good life. At least within the

  • particular version of Tibetan Buddhism the Dalai Lama represents, the relative world,

  • with all its disappointments, frustrations, and heartaches is not merely some illusion

  • to be seen through. This is contra Clancy who tries to sidestep the problems of the

  • material world by fleeing to some supposedlyhigherplane of existence. The Dalai

  • Lamaaccepts the reality not only of the subjective world of the mind but also of the

  • external objects of the physical world.”

  • In other words, while the mind-blowing cosmic insights gained through meditation and/or

  • study in the Buddhist tradition are all well and good, they are not an excuse to fuck off

  • to a trailer somewhere and abandon one's responsibilities. Which is what Clancy has

  • decided to do--as his computer points out to him:

  • - (Clancy) I don't need you to f***ing tell me, who the f*** I am or how to live my goddamn

  • life!

  • - (Michael) If the show were merely to stop here, we'd be forced to calldumb

  • on this delightfully bizarre series. Getting half of Buddhism right at the expense of the

  • other half is not, in philosophical terms, “cool.”

  • But the show DOESN'T stop there. Instead, it explores how the pureuniversal truth

  • approach to life does not qualify as enlightenment. On the contrary, it creates very real harm.

  • Throughout much of the season, Clancy's disdain for the material world keeps coming

  • back to bite him in the ass. Early on, we learn that Clancy's dismissive attitude

  • towards humdrum, everyday life has begun to affect his relationships. For instance, he

  • is funding his spacecast ambitions with money borrowed from his sister, who explicitly told

  • him not to blow it on a multiverse simulator.

  • - (Clancy) As I stare out at this majestic scene, I can't help but think of my sister,

  • Sarah, who said: 'Clancy, I'll loan you this money, but you have to promise not to

  • spend it on a used universe simulator.

  • - (Michael) He ignores her attempts to call him, which rightfully pisses her off.

  • - (Clancy's sister) Clancy it's your sister. You need to call me back right now! I'm

  • freaking peeved off man there's no reason that your space-

  • - (Michael) What's more, by repeatedly ignoring his computer's requests for basic maintenance,

  • he winds up damaging most of the worlds in his simulator before he even gets the chance

  • to visit them.

  • - (Simulator) Due to operator error, there are no longer living things on this planet

  • - (Clancy) Agh, what about this one?

  • - (Michael) All this avoidance doesn't help Clancy transcend the very real problems of

  • his busted computer, broken family ties, and weak-ass spacecast. In search of theultimate

  • truth,” Clancy has forgotten therelativetruths and nuisances of everyday existence

  • - which, no matter how much ayahuasca you chug, have a funny way of hanging around until

  • you actually do something about them. When Clancy's sister finally gets through to

  • him, she explains that she doesn't even care about the money anymore--

  • - (Clancy's sister) I love you. And if this is about the money, you don't need to pay

  • me back.

  • - (Michael) She's just worried about her brother and how his refusal to face up to

  • his role in the world is hurting him. This confrontation with the real world puts an

  • unprepared Clancy in a full-on, sweaty panic attack, which he follows with an angry outburst

  • against the one person who cares enough to check up on him:

  • - (Clancy) Voicemail full! Message not received!

  • - (Michael) Clearly, Clancy isn't finding lasting peace and happiness from taking refuge

  • in the platitudes aroundultimatetruth favored by hermits, Burning Man attendees,

  • and Jedi. To achieve what we might call realenlightenmentwithin a Buddhist framework,

  • sentient beings like Clancy--and like us--also have to come to terms with the painful, sometimes

  • downright nasty facts of physical existence.

  • And to do THAT, we need to look at zombies. No, seriously.

  • In his book Dharma of the Dead, scholar Christopher M. Moreman explores some of the parallels

  • between zombie fiction and Buddhism. Particularly important for our purposes, he demonstrates

  • how your typical glass-eyed zombie wandering around in a stupor can serve as a model for

  • one of the potential pitfalls of meditation practice: The deliberate cultivation of a

  • pleasantly numb, trancelike state of being, devoid of mindful attention. Fictional zombies,

  • in other words, can represent one of the very real dangers of sloppy or misdirected spirituality.

  • Zombies can be a metaphor for those practitioners of a given tradition who try their damnedest

  • to paper over the difficulties ofrelativeexistence withultimatetruths about

  • God, the universe, or whatever else is in that pamphlet they're shoving in your face.

  • From the Dalai Lama's point of view, this kind of zombie-zen existence would seem to

  • stand in stark contrast to the real goal of meditation: cultivating a moment-to-moment

  • engagement with the present, also known as 'mindfulness'.

  • In describing the difference between helpful practice and self-imposed zombification, Moreman

  • also notes a parallel between core tenets of Buddhism and philosopher Martin Heiddegger's

  • concept ofDasein.” Dasein is Heiddegger's term for the uniquely human experience of

  • existence. In describing the parallels between this thinking and Buddhism, Moremon contends

  • that, according to Heidegger:

  • the authentic self [i]s that which acknowledges its own [mortality] and incorporates it; the

  • inauthentic self is one that denies death and flees it. Here, Dasein sounds much like

  • the [Buddhist] anatta, a different perspective on selfhood that acknowledges the truth of

  • its impermanence.”

  • So what does that mean for our favorite spacecaster? Put simply: Clancy can laser-focus on the

  • ultimate truth, rhapsodize about phenomenological fields, and be a dick to his sister as much

  • as he pleases--but doing those things will not help him become an authentic self. Like

  • everyone else in the universe, Clancy is ananatta,” a not-self, which is to say

  • a being subject to change--including discomfort and eventual non-existence. Authentic living

  • follows not from a narrow emphasis on the wonderful things in life--its beauty and pattern,

  • for instance--but from an acceptance and integration of its shittier aspects, such as pain, violence,

  • and death.

  • Which is not to say that Buddhism is all doom and gloom. Far from it! Through his interview

  • subjects, Clancy comes to realize that a worldview which integrates both a love of life and a

  • deep awareness of death is the gateway to a precious mode of being which he could never

  • access through his spacecast alone. In other words, he starts to care about the world outside

  • his simulator as a valuable part of existence in and of itself. Over the course of his journey,

  • he comes to accept the at-first-glance contradictory notion that struggling with life's hardships

  • can bring immense pain, but can also bring a profound peace that isn't so affected

  • by the ups and downs of the multiverse.

  • For example, during one of Trussell-slash-Clancy's podcast interviews, Buddhist teacher Trudy

  • Goodman rides through a graveyard while explaining that

  • - (Goodman) Time of death is uncertain, but death is certain. If we really got that, we

  • would have fewer of the kind of moments where we regret having wasted our time or somebody

  • else's. And it's so precious. And just as horrible and brutal as the world can be,

  • it's gorgeous and exquisite.

  • - (Michael) But the point really hits home for Clancy when the multiverse simulator brings

  • him in contact with his mother--voiced by Duncan Trussell's real-life mom Deneen Fendig,

  • who passed away of cancer in 2013. As part of a heartbreaking scene in which Clancy and

  • his mom undergo a full life, death, and rebirth together, Deneen explains how she's holding

  • up so well despite her diagnosis:

  • - (Deneen) “The reason I look better now than I ever have is because I'm more fully

  • living. - (Clancy) Right.

  • - (Deneen) Because I'm living and dying. Consciously, simultaneously. I'm holding

  • both.

  • - (Michael) In a similar way, Clancy finally arrives at a degree of authenticity by dropping

  • his pretensions and learning to engage in his own life, mess and all:

  • - (Clancy, singing) Even though your life is out of tune, you can still sing along with

  • it. And it's better to be you and out of tune than acting like someone else who has

  • found enlightenment!

  • - (Michael) To put it another way--Clancy learns to embody both the ultimate truth he's

  • so stoked about, and the relative truth that the Dalai Lama or Heidegger would argue is

  • so vital to human existence.

  • We see his new awareness play out in the final moments of the series, when a raid on Clancy's

  • unlicensed simulation farm ends with Clancy and his dog diving all the way into the simulator

  • to escape the feds. Moments later, Clancy winds up on a bus, surrounded by the people

  • he's interviewed throughout the series.

  • This is a situation that ultimate-truth Clancy could dissect for hours. Is this the afterlife?

  • Is he still in the simulator? What the ever-loving f*ck is going on with the driver playing the

  • spoons? But instead, we see Clancy experience a real moment of awareness and clarity.

  • After walking to the back of the bus, Clancy half-heartedly starts to interview a stranger:

  • - (Clancy) You mind if I interview you for my...um, am I dead?

  • - (Michael) Only to realize that something way more important than the spacecast is happening

  • right in front of him: The man in the robe turns out to be Ram Dass--a

  • practitioner of Eastern meditation techniques and one of Trussell's heroes--who answers

  • Clancy's question by saying:

  • - (Ram Dass) Just be here now.

  • - (Michael) In other words, Clancy rides off into eternity with the knowledge that a more

  • specific answer to his question doesn't really matter. If and when the bus reaches

  • its final destination, whatever's waiting at the end can take care of itself. What's

  • really important right now is focusing his attention on every precious moment. And that

  • seems way closer to whatever real enlightenment looks like. Which is why, graveyard penis

  • notwithstanding, this series earns a solid 'Deep' from us.

  • What do you think, Wisecrack? Have we oversold this kooky cartoon? Or is it even more brilliant

  • than we're giving it credit for? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to

  • subscribe and ring that bell. Big thanks to our patrons for supporting the channel and

  • our podcasts. Thanks for watching, guys. Later.

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午夜福音:深度或愚蠢(THE MIDNIGHT GOSPEL: Is It Deep or Dumb?)

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    Yu Chen Chung 發佈於 2021 年 05 月 06 日
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