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We’re All Mad Here

It’s a mad world. 

Jess Walter, author of The Zero, seems to have been thoroughly aware of that when he wrote this novel.  Not only that, but aware of the fact that readers themselves are heavily conscious of madness in terms of popular culture.  Walter, in his decision to convey the narrative of The Zero to the reader through a psychologically and chronologically muddled protagonist, is cleverly taking advantage of two popularly appealing sub-genres in fiction: Suspenseful Crime-Solving, as well as a more abstract, less defined mold of The Main Character is Psychologically, Emotionally, and/or Physically Unstable.

In my presentation last Thursday, I cited multiple examples of the latter classification of narrative — one which, although not officially named, I have seen as highly popular in film, print, and television. Crazy has been romanticized in the modern American culture in which I’ve grown up.  There’s something inherently fascinating to be found in the disturbed, disjointed, and incongruous.  In a world where, thanks to the internet, any disturbed material out there is promptly accessible — from terribly, horrifically true photographs of war and torture to angry rants on message boards — it is hardly surprising that Walter’s audience (in this case, I refer to Americans) finds Remy’s psychological state to be engaging and relevant.

Yet, there is a media venue I did not mention in class, but which I think is an absolutely shining example of popularized insanity.  That something, of course, is reality television.  Although I cannot profess myself to be a true fan of the reality t.v. universe, I do find it to be an glaringly inescapable facet of American pop culture and can say with utter certainty that it is completely nuts. In fact, most often, the fact that it is completely nuts is its selling point.  Americans relish the opportunity to witness fellow citizens doing heinous, arguably abusive things to their friends and family. There are reality t.v. programs, in fact, that are based specifically on various disorders and addictions.  The popularity of these shows is undeniable.  Thus, between more particular interest in novels and movies which often accrue cult followings, and mass consumption of reality television, America has bought whole-heartedly into instability.

It’s a crazy world. I could pile on more examples, but that might get annoying. (Oh, look! Is that a popular American song about necrophilia?)

I should stop. Suffice to say that crazy just makes a lot of sense to a rather wide audience, and I’d wager, based on the striking familiarity of its disjointedness, that Walter took that into consideration as he crafted The Zero.



2 Responses to “We’re All Mad Here”

  1. Kaitlin says:

    I like that you brought up popular television now as an example of the kind of insanity you’re talking about, and it makes me wonder about human psychology (so I hope that someone more well-versed in the subject than I comments on my comment). I know that “reality” TV shows are incredibly popular with most Americans, but I don’t find them interesting. More often than not, it sounds like someone is dialing a telephone throughout the shows that my roommate watches because so many words have to be bleeped out. I have found, and I tread lightly here because I do not intend to indict all users of swearwords, that in general, this are not the kind of people who I want to allow to influence me. Also, they create drama out of thin air, make a big deal about it for half and hour, then resolve it and pretend it never happened. I’m the kind of person who, when you complain to me about your life, will offer advice about how to fix it rather than just sympathize. Watching these people stress about problems they created for themselves just makes me angry. So I wonder – what about these kinds of shows do other people find so fascinating?

  2. Olivia says:


    In response to your question, I’m not sure if I have a good answer. At least, I don’t have an answer born from personal experience. I’m not much of a reality t.v. fan either. However, I do think that people have a fierce, often involuntary fascination with horrible, dramatic events. It’s the whole train wreck thing; we can’t look away. I’m not sure if this is just a part of the modern Western culture in which I’ve grown up, or if it’s more universal and lasting, but I do know that I even have to admit that it’s hard to look away from the shockingly messed up. And now I’m just thinking onto the keyboard, but maybe it’s just that: everyone has their own kind of crazy, but reality television provides a window into other sorts. Perhaps it makes us feel better to see other, different kinds of dysfunction.