The other day I “ghosted” an old forum that I used to frequent often, reading posts here and there and checking things out. After some time, I concluded that, for whatever reason, I preferred the “old” randomness of the forum to the “new” randomness. Why was that? Was it just that my memory had romanticized it?
I investigated further on various forums and social networks. Some of what I considered “old-style” randomness was still alive and well. But what was the difference? Why did I still enjoy one particular style of “randomness” and humor, while I found that I disliked the other style?
I began to find this division all over. Not only on the internet, but in real life as well. I dislike certain brands of internet humor, but I enjoy being ridiculous and making up insane monologues with friends. I found that I loved making inside jokes that made no sense but disliked popular memes that made no sense. Both could be considered “randomness”, but what was the difference? Why did I like one but not the other?
I separated the two categories and analyzed them. Then I slapped some hasty labels on the twins: one, I call “Wholesome Ridiculousness”, and the other I call “Empty Randomness”. The two categories have some definite characteristics.
Let's take “Empty Randomness” first. This is primarily the sort of randomness I critiqued in my previous post: words which are used for no particular purpose. This is a category that contains imploding chocolate and turkeys and the like. It is random not for the sake of relief or the sake of sanity, but it is random for the sake of being random.
This sort of randomness, when used liberally, begins to give conversations and forums an empty feel; it has no particular direction and no specific meaning.
But what about “Wholesome Ridiculousness”? What's that all about?
In some respects, it looks similar to “randomness”. It often contains arbitrary objects; I'm sure it often features turkeys and chocolate.
But in contrast, it has two tendencies: first, it is more creative; and second, it is more relational.
The creativity of ridiculousness is the main thing that makes it wholesome. Anyone can explode over chocolate; but what takes skill and creativity, what takes imagination, is ridiculousness. To tell a sweeping tale of the year 2020 in which my hindsight was 20-20 and my mate Firefly was flying by—that is ridiculousness. Randomness is akin to throwing up whatever comes to mind; ridiculousness is akin to art, the creative impulse to make something, to make anything, to make a thing that cannot be possible except in the imagination. It is randomness for the sake of creativity.
Chesterton called it “farce” and put it this way: “Of all the varied forms of the literature of joy, the form most truly worthy of moral reverence and artistic ambition is the form called 'farce'...To the quietest human being, seated in the quietest house, there will sometimes come a sudden and unmeaning hunger for the possibilities or impossibilities of things; he will abruptly wonder whether the teapot may not suddenly begin to pour out honey or sea-water, the clock point to all hours of the day at once, the candle to burn green or crimson, the door to open upon a lake or a potato-field instead of a London street.”
This ridiculousness also tends to be more relational. Perhaps you may read randomness online in the form of memes and topics; but ridiculousness nearly always requires two or more. People bring with them a greater meaning. With other people, you realize that you are speaking to eternal beings; that if everything else in this earth passes away, the people you talk to will live on.
In that same way, when you are being ridiculous with friends, the ridiculousness becomes more than just a temporal distraction; it becomes something that will stick in your memory; it becomes the source of inside jokes, expanding like a spiderweb until the jokes are so long and complicated that you nearly forget it all and have to start all over again, like a secret handshake that continues to be amended as the years roll by.
It becomes a source of joy: some days when I feel down I remember the night that I went cow-tipping in the north pasture with my closest friends, and I feel again the exhilarating ridiculousness of wheeling through the pasture singing Vanilla Twilight atrociously off-key. We never did find the cows.
Where randomness is repetitive and without creativity, ridiculousness is imaginative; where randomness creates emptiness, ridiculousness creates memories.
Like I said, randomness as a whole has two sides. I dislike dry and meaningless randomness strongly; but I defend with equal strength the wholesome randomness that relies on creativity and relationships for meaning.
The trick for us is to distinguish between them. And how do we do that? We hold on to what creates meaning, and we reject what doesn't.
If we manage to do that, the internet—and all of life—will be better for it.