Like many fathers in New York City, and other places where space is a premium, I don’t have enough space in my home for a man cave. Even if I did, I’m not sure I’d want one. But what I do want and need is a retreat. Without a physical redoubt, I have turned to the internet. Surprisingly, it’s working. By trial and error, I have been able to collage together a version of the world I wish to inhabit. In quiet moments, I allow myself to visit that place. I would like to describe it now.
Two-thirds of my spirit universe can be constructed via Youtube videos. One-third is available on Pornhub. At any rate, before I divulge the user generated content aggregation at the core of my fantasy world, let me just pause to note that, like any recipe, this one relies on the interaction between the constituent parts. My happy place remains happy because its ingredients are stirred together in proper proportion.
In my real life, I, like many others, find my closest relationships to be complicated and difficult. Sometimes, it isn’t clear to me whether there is a safety net of love beneath. The first element of my fantasy world, Parks and Recreation blooper reels, addresses this concern. These videos, which have attracted millions of views on YouTube, were released every season during the shows seven season run, are in the same genre as the supercuts of SNL actors breaking character I also watch on repeat. By far the most uplifting segments of those latter videos feature Bill Hader breaking character while playing Stefon on Weekend Update. I watch these things and I think, “Look, I may not be experiencing it right now, but there is joy to be had in the world.”
This is the clip I’ve watched maybe two hundred times in the past year. Often I’ll rewatch it over and over again
The germane moment is, obviously, the punchline: Sidney Applebaum. I just love how poor a job Hader does keeping it together. I also love how — knowing how hard it is for him not to break — that he’s worked covering his mouth with his hands into the character. Watching someone try unsuccessfully not to laugh is the best. Poorly stifled laughter is a an aria human happiness.
Like the Hader moment, the blooper reel of Parks and Rec represents a window into a world in which a group of people — in this case, the cast — are just so full of joy. They are having a legitimately good time, or else are actors much better than they seem. Additionally what is nice is that there are multiple takes. So whereas the SNL Breaking Character sketches are one-and-done, there is the wonderful-to-watch anticipation of characters breaking in Parks and Rec.
Chris Pratt probably gets the most screen time in these reels for he is a goofball and also farts all the time. But the person that makes me the happiest is Amy Poehler. She is so supportive and generous with her smile and also bad-ass and in on the joke. She’s sunshine. Truly sunshine.
What these videos have in common is that they show one thing — a scene, a character — falling apart and beneath it is this other thing — joy, happiness, laughter — just waiting to be experienced. After particular bruising fights, I settle in some nights to watch and re-watch these clips, secretly hoping or at least fervently wishing that somewhere beneath me there is spontaneous joy too. I’m not saying I want all my conflicts to end with laughter but there’s tremendous solace in gaining awareness that there is a character being played and that that character might break.
Thus ends virtue.
Other nights demands darkness. If I only watched blooper reels, I could go to bed with a clean conscience. But sometimes when I am drawn to the glow of the tablet like an animal and I need a harder drug. On these evenings, I need the avenging angel of Russian-made Instant Karma videos. Instant Karma videos are compilations of clips in which one party does something crummy and then instantly suffers for it. Generally, the precipitating action is traffic related — everyone in Russia has a dash cam — but it is often a hold-up and sometimes bullying. Physical altercations are frequent.
My favorite Instant Karma moments are caught on security cameras. There is something meditative about watching complete quotidian stillness punctuated by a moment of great drama. Here’s one in which a guy tries to rob a convenience store. It affirms the idea of consequences, which appeals to me, but also features human suffering. I am, clearly, amused by this. So, karmically speaking, my penchant for this stuff is kinda fucked. This is dark, unvirtuous action and the feeling of guilt that accompanies watching it is, itself, instant karma.
As someone who has acted poorly in the past, these videos frighten me. As someone who now craves stability, I find them comforting. Bad behavior should be punished. That resonates with the part of me that wants to tell my children the world is just.
The same shame I experience after watching the Instant Karma videos visits me when I watch porn, which is a thing everyone does even though they probably shouldn’t. I don’t like to be party to the exploitation of women. I do, however, like looking at their naked bodies.
For a long time, I circumvented this problem by watching CFNM (clothed female naked male) clips. Many of these take place in Eastern European nightclubs. Women dressed vaguely in housewife-on-a-Friday-night outfits perform all sorts of groovy sexual acts on naked men with abs like freezer cases and whipped cream-topped penises. There are two ways to enjoy these videos. The first is to assume they are genuine party videos. In this reading, the women are having a good time and the gentlemen are having a good time and good times are being had all around. That is really — I don’t know — heart-warming. There has been robust discussion in my household whether these are staged events. They probably aren’t or not but the verisimilitude is impressive. The house music is so bad and the metal chairs are so generic. The women themselves are aces at conveying circumspection with joy and also doing other stuff.
Recently, however, I’ve gravitated more toward amateur wife sharing videos. These, like all the other aspects of my dreamscape, seem peopled by happy souls who pleasure each other at strange angles with the television on. I could do without the televisions (I don’t really get that part), but I enjoy all other aspects of it. Besides the obvious erotic factors, I think the thing that really makes me happy is the idea that there are couples out there where the man and lady are happy and comfortable and on the same sexual wavelength. That’s nice.
For those of us without man caves stocked with trophies or lava lamps or whatever, the internet provides shelter. It’s warm in there. Everybody has a good time. Amy Poehler laughs. Bullies are beaten. Everyone gets off. The videos I watch exist in a performative space between reality and unreality, but that’s okay. So do a lot of “real” relationships. Happiness comes to me, late at night in incognito mode. Can you blame me for watching and rewatching? Is it bad karma?
Life is long and clips are short, you might as well enjoy them.