My brother showed me this series on Hulu during Christmas, and it seemed like a lot of dumb fun. That’s not a criticism, it delivers on dumb fun in spades. But of course I’m on an art bender these days, and so I have to go deeper.
The story takes place in the fictional Japanese metropolis of City Z. The world is full of strange monsters that mysteriously appear and cause disasters. Saitama, the protagonist, is the strongest hero, who can easily defeat the monsters or other villains with a single punch. However, due to his overwhelming strength, Saitama has become bored with his powers and is constantly trying to find stronger opponents who can present a challenge to him.
Saitama has a very bland, blank-slate personality, and I believe this is intentional. (We are meant to identify with him, which is hard because he’s super-powerful.) There are two striking impressions about the character design: 1) Saitama’s outfit is very silly (like a parody of a superhero), and 2) his eyes are constricted to pinpricks. Here’s a closer look:
The constricted eyes convey mental disengagement, which I’ve illustrated here. But this instance of disengagement isn’t due to perceptual overload (according to my second law of psychology), it’s due to ennui.
If you can remember far back enough, I once described ennui in classical conditioning terms as the opposite of despair. Ennui is the feeling that results when good things happen to you no matter how little you try, whereas despair [Ed: I have since relabeled this depression] is the feeling that results when bad things happen to you no matter how hard you try. Almost everyone in the world is an empiricist in nature, and when we observe that, given a constant antecedent, all possible behaviors seem to have negative consequences, that antecedent will eventually send us into an energy-saving mode called “depression”. If effort doesn’t matter, then save your energy.
Ennui is slightly different, I think, because depression actually makes sense. But good things continually happening for no reason? Those aren’t the laws of nature I’m familiar with. I think the negative feeling of ennui is existentialist, where the actor begins to doubt that he actually exists. He no longer seems to “act” because his actions have no real consequences, and he has this in common with the despairing person. But the despairing person looks around and says “Well, at least my failure makes sense within the context of the patriarchy/Cathedral/whatever.” But ennui doesn’t allow that reassurance because we know on a basic level that “cake every day for no reason” just isn’t the way the world works. And so one disbelieves in both the world and in one’s own sense of agency.
We see Saitama mentally wrestling with this as he goes through the motions of daily living, buying groceries and cooking and such (later it will be obvious why these settings are poignant). He even has a quasi-mystical dream experience where he realizes how badly he needs the feeling of being challenged.
The goofy outfit, bald head, and childish expressions convey an impression of hipster irony (a sort of anti-try-hard status whoring). This is the first clue that this show is specifically about modern man. The second is the unimpressive way in which he obtained his incredible strength.
I believe the popularity of this show taps into a very large reserve of ennui in people today.
The orthodox view is that we are the pinnacle of human progress, using the most developed intellectual powers in history in combination with the greatest technology to produce unimaginable wealth and culture. But underlying this is a foreboding sense that we didn’t really have to work all that hard at school or at work to obtain these things. In fact, I can tell you from years of working at McDonald’s that hard work is for suckers who can’t get out of it, and you can’t earn a living on just hard work nowadays.
I suspect most people (Boomers particularly) are exaggerating their college travails. They’re like fish stories- I’m the only person I know of who has actually pulled 45 all-nighters in one semester, but you’d think that was average if you listen to Baby Boomers. Sure, there was some work involved in school (grades nowadays are almost entirely based on homework completion, and tests are merely repetition). But fish stories notwithstanding, it wasn’t hardscrabble 12-hour days of farming.
I believe our bodies, moreso than our subconscious minds, have a sense that we do not deserve all this material comfort that we enjoy. This is especially true in men, whose bodies are built for the abuses of hard physical work.
Joe Rogan is right about this. I know I’m stupid. People sometimes get it into their heads that just because I experience insights on a semi-regular basis, that means I’m not stupid. Relatively speaking, sure, I’m smarter than the average retard. But I’m still a button-pushing monkey like everybody else.
People are laughing but I don’t hear him telling any jokes.