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The Animation Pimp: Rex, Epicurus and Me: The Search for Pleasure

Finally, something the Pimp likes! Rex The Runt. But, this month, we see that the Animation Pimp reads a lot into this show of four dogs.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

"Every being strives after pleasure, and it is in pleasure that happiness consists." -- Epicurus

"Oh that was only our Vince. He shoots himself occasionally." Wendy of Rex The Runt

What I love about Rex The Runt is not the absurdity or surrealist tendencies -- The Simpsons occasionally provides a flicker of that as does my life in general -- but instead the very mundane shrug of its protagonists. I mean these dogs (Rex, Wendy, Bob and Vince) live a life completely devoid of pleasure. They are barely satisfied with their basic passions: "telly" and food. Now of course there's a little more to the show. Between channel surfing, they've: used a shrink ray to travel inside Vince's brain; traveled back in time; drilled a hole in the centre of the earth and subsequently used the now deflated planet as a spaceship; formed a band (with the exception of Wendy, they have NO musical talent) so that they could enter a talent contest (they lost) and pay a 10 quid bill; and Wendy momentarily became a TV star after she was acquitted of shooting Vince (she did shoot him but he's plasticine). You'd think these adventures would provide a level of excitement and pleasure, but they don't. Their reaction remains the same whether they are entering a black hole or taking a piss. Not only are they uninterested (even their voices are monotone and occasionally barely audible) but they also seem incapable of finding any sort of pleasure in life. It's this absence of pleasure that makes the series both funny (à la Buster Keaton) and disturbing (as a reflection of our own increasingly mundane lives).

If we believe Epicurus, pleasure is the key to a relatively pain free existence. Easier said than done of course because most of us haven't got a clue what defines pleasure. For many of us one of the biggest obstacles in life is the ability to string together more than a few moments of pleasure. Generally those moments are self-gratifying individual or 'moving' pleasures. Moving pleasure is something you are enjoying while in the process but which leaves you unfulfilled. According to Epicurus, the more satisfying type of pleasure is 'static.' With static pleasure you are left with no needs or wants, just pleasure. For example, compare 'playing' a hockey video game to actually playing hockey (street or ice). There is no comparison. The 'real' activity will pleasure you on both a physical and intellectual level. Generally you will feel exhausted and fulfilled. A video game will not achieve the same level of pleasure. It will leave you a need.

In this way Rex The Runt is less a mirror of our current society than a foreshadowing of our eventual digression. The quartet has become so dulled that they are unable to differentiate between television and the real world. As such, when given the opportunity, their ability to experience lasting, meaningful pleasure has eroded. In "Too Many Dogs," they travel back in time NOT to explore history and the foundation of the world or even acquire any sort of knowledge, but simply to figure out who ran off with half their house. In "Adventures in Telly: Part 3," they find themselves travelling in space. Rather than express any wonder or seek any knowledge about the universe they play ping-pong, complain of boredom, stop at a space service station and basically just can't wait to go home.

It never used to be like that. As kids we were genuinely enthralled by seemingly mundane stuff like gift-wrapping paper or even a manhole on the street. Everything was so new and the possibilities were boundless. Vince seems to possess all the wonder of a child. He has relatively simple needs and seems to enjoy shooting himself, having people travel in his brain, being shot, eating spaghetti, drinking and saying, "Tuesday." However, Vince cannot discern between pleasure and pain; punched or caressed, it's all the same to Vince. He is, at least on a sensory level: dead. Paradoxically, within the context of Epicures' thinking, Vince has overcome one of the biggest obstacles of pleasure: the fear of death.

Being vs. Becoming

Life today has become determined by wants and needs rather than an authentic and long term feeling (physical and mental) of pleasure. Over time our want of a simpler life has potentially gone too far and overtaken are ability to experience. We embrace THINGS rather than MOMENTS. Think about all the things that are fundamentally just selfish wants and how we've re-written them as needs. Let's take the phone for example (because Bell Canada interrupted my writing). There was a time when of course we didn't need phones (let alone faxes or the Internet). I love hearing people say, "I don't know how we got along with out it." did and you did it just fine. I digress. Now it's not just enough to have a phone or hell even an answering machine. Let's get voice mail, dial display, extra phones in the house so you don't have to run ALL THE WAY upstairs. It's really insane and you know I sit here and listen to this poor woman on the other end try and convince me that I need these THINGS. Yes...I'm sure it would make my life a little easier if I had dial display because I wouldn't have wasted my moment of genuine fuggin' pleasure answering her damn call. (Bare with me it's relevant.) We've allowed virtually every aspect of our life to become easier and yet we're all still miserable (hence the increase in anti-depressants and alcohol, spousal and child abuse). When will we stop 'this crazy thing,' sit back and say, 'Ya know these THINGS are not making me happy." We are, as Abe Spalding, the protagonist of the very excellent Canadian book, Fruits of The Earth, living FOR the moment rather than IN the moment. As Heraclitus said in another time, we never ARE because we are always in a state of BECOMING. This can be a positive thing, as Heraclitus likely meant it to be, because it suggests something evolving. But today, basically it means we're all so god damn busy seeking THINGS rather than savouring MOMENTS.

And what happens when we get those THINGS? In "The Trials of Wendy," Wendy becomes a famous and wealthy TV star (after being acquitted for shooting Vince), but she's utterly miserable (as are Bob, Rex and Vince) and when asked, returns to her former life without any hesitation.

Without realizing it, Wendy has stumbled upon perhaps the most important element of pleasure in the Epicurean notion of pleasure: friendship. Friendship for Epicurus is a great way of attaining pleasure. Friends provide security and comfort. Without them life is lonely and full of uncertainties. Sure Rex and co. insult, shoot and hit each other, but they are always able to transcend their momentary differences for the sake of their friendship. Most importantly, they possess trust and treat each other as they would treat themselves (Yes, Wendy shoots Vince, but Vince shoots himself regularly). Friendship keeps them from loneliness. Sure they're miserable, but at least they don't suffer alone and for some it's better to go through hell with someone else than to go through it alone.

Hottie Animator of the Month

Montreal animator Stephen Woloshen, a genuine independent who has been quietly making some very unique, interesting animation for over twenty years.

Chris Robinson is a writer, festival director, programmer, junky and has been called the John Woo of diplomacy. His hobbies include horseback riding, pudpulling, canoeing and goat thumping.

"It's like a buffet, you just take what you need."

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.