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The Animation Pimp: Banana Skins and Cigarette Butts

The Pimp reminds us we’re all fuck-ups and we’re all in this together.

"Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness."

- Blaise Pascal 

"Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage."

- Ray Bradbury

"People often confuse me, but I try not to let them worry me."

- Mary and Max

Adam Elliot’s claymation films polarize me. On one hand, I occasionally cringe, and tense up while tasting his sentimental narratives with their, at times, cloying, pathos-drenched narration and sad, big-eyed and doomed misfit characters. The cynic in me thinks of Faulkner’s iffy relationship with race and questions the authenticity behind Elliot’s sentiments. Is Elliot really seeking to ‘normalize’ his afflicted characters by shaking up our stale, stigmatized perceptions of those with mental health issues or is he a cinematic snake oil salesman putting his Aardman-esque ‘wonders’ on display at a pity party carnival beckoning one and all to “Step right up and get your ticket to see these marvelous wonders of humanity!

On the other hand, I find Elliot’s detached and unassuming portraits refreshing and illuminating in their simplicity (even as it agrees with ‘first hand’ that the ham narration of the short films verges on the burlesque). Elliot deftly takes an animation technique that has largely been associated with the slapstick feathery silliness of Gumby, Californian Raisins, Celebrity Deathmatch, and a daft old British wanker and his dog – and uses it to construct thoughtful personal and poetic portraits of normal people with somewhat unusual traits or interests.

All of Elliot’s protagonists have some sort of affliction  (e.g. cerebral palsy, Tourette’s syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome, Asthma, OCD, Testicular cancer, alcoholism, mood ‘disorders’ - an unfortunate term) but it does not define them, it is simply one of their many ingredients. There’s an uncle who enjoy crumpets, tea and urinating on a lemon tree; a young cousin wears a superhero outfit, has lots of pets, collects things and has enormous strength despite a paralyzed arm; an older brother has asthma, an eye problem and a slew of adventures. Harvie Krumpet likes to touch people with his index finger. Harvie works at a dump. Lives life through tv. Gets punched out. Metal plate in his head. Fired from many jobs. Gets struck by lightning. Heavy smoker.  Gets ball cancer. Keeps on…keeps surviving… falls in love, joins nudist colony, adopts a flipper girl who adores him. Wife dies. Harvey ends up in a home. Befriends another guy, Hamish. They bond and behave like teen shits. Then he dies. Is Harvie’s existence really so pitiful or is it a life like any other? He had love. He loved. He was touched. He touched. Seems to me that Harvie lives the shit out of his life. We should be so lucky.

Then comes beautiful dear ol’ Max, Elliot’s finest achievement. Society says that Max is mentally ill and has Asperger’s Syndrome among other things. Max, though, doesn’t give a shit what he’s called. As he bluntly tells Mary after reading her book on Asperger’s, “I do not feel disabled, defective or that I need to be cured. I like being an Aspie. It would be like trying to change the colour of my eyes.” Max is not more or less content with life than the rest of us. Okay, he freaks out when he gets stressed and stands in a corner. Stressed people frequently turn to drink, drugs, or any number of escapes. Max’s reaction is not better, no worse. 

Max eventually forgives Mary with wise, tender and surprising insight: “You are imperfect, and so am l. All humans are imperfect.”

Elliot does not judge, mock or humiliate. He simply offers us people as they are with all their wonderfully unique diverse eccentricities. Elliot is asking us, “What’s the big deal? We all know people with unusual quirks and traits. Hell, we ARE those people. That's kinda the point me thinks. How can there even be other when we are they?

What does it even mean to be different, defective, to be mad insane afflicted eccentric odd unique unusual or ‘quite the character’? Aren’t we just attacking what being human is all about?  And who decides, defines what is normal?  Is it those with an already fragile sense of self? If we designate other and difference we can maintain the fantasy that we are somehow whole. Cognitive apartheid.

Can there even be a fixed normal? That suggests that identity/self is stagnant and unchanging. We’ve become a society of labelmakers. Everyone has one. Everyone has to have one. Were dangerously obsessed with mental health these days. Gone are the days when someone was an eccentric, a loner, a thinker, a downer, quirky, or simply just 'a character'. We replaced them with machines now. Spectrum, personality disorders, bipolar, anxiety. Everyone is welcome. Room for all. No one is left out. Pills for any occasion. Difference is mouthed but not spoken or heard. We talk so much about tolerance and acceptance of other as we become more intolerant than ever. Don’t do this can’t do this. Kids can’t be kids anymore. Don't fit drug them. Muffled by overactive fearmongering. People can't shout smoke drink fight. No right turns one way street don’t talk back books books books experts consultants all telling you me and them that theyre wrong everything they do is wrong unless they do what they do a society of crippled children stunted at birth growing into ninny know it all parades pressure pressure pressure to be RIGHT to be NORMAL to NOT FUCK UP self help you help me help fuck help this says that says this which is what is which wich witch PRESSURE TO ADAPT AND FIT TO THAT THAT EVERCHANGES We said don’t drink this now drink it Eat this NO DONT. People talk as if there is a way one way good way only way. There’s is a way, your way. Only way all the ways making us sick turning us into selfish arrogant intolerant lapdogs wagging and running wherever their told EVERYONE MUST FIT FIT FIT FIT FIT.


And where are we with it all? Are we better? Are we smarter, more informed? No no no. Plato wrote about that cave... always that fucking cave… the one where he said people spend their lives, where they never actually step outside and see the WORLD as it IS FACE TO FACE MONO A MONO STEP OUTSIDE OUTBACK FIGHTING WORDS None of that only shadows, we only encounter the shadows of things never THE THINGS THEMSELVES TV TV TV INTERNET FACEBOOK TWITTER MOBILES ALL THE SHADOWS OF THINGS NOT THE THINGS THEMSELVES We don’t have friends anymore just Facebook friends. Don’t speak just tweet.  SO MUCH HAPPENING THAT IT OVERWHELMS makes you mad if you don’t tweet or Facebook you're odd or worse you're a phony a faker snob just avoiding it to be show you’re better.

We’ve gone beyond Plato.

We’ve reached a stage where we don’t even see ourselves anymore.

Until we accept our perfect imperfection, we’ll continue to destroy each other and ourselves.

To paraphrase Max, people might confuse and confound you, but try not to let it worry you. Just worry about yourself.

In Shakespeare, it’s always the fools who are the wisest. Max is no different.

“When I was young, I wanted to be anybody but myself. Everyone's lives are like a very long sidewalk. Some are well paved. Others, like mine have cracks, banana skins and cigarette butts. Your sidewalk is like mine but probably not as many cracks.”

It's not Max, Harvie, Mary or your moms, dads, brothers, uncles or cousins who are the misfits, but you … me …

… us.

… together …

… we are all together…

… we are all fuck ups…

… in this together…

Chris Robinson's picture

A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.