The Fine Art of Goofing Off Part 1
Head games for the fed‑up
THE FINE ART OF GOOFING OFF
(Time Magazine, August 1972 by Joh Leonard as Cyclops)
Having spent what seems like the last six years watching Eric Sevareid and Theodore H. White kick the philosophical ball around on CBS during lapses in its convention coverage, one began to wish that the philosophical ball would kick them back. Is it absolutely necessary that grown men pile Such a heavy load of platitude on the innocent moment? Has either of them ever giggled’? One longs for comic relief‑-a liberating fecklessness.
But they are full of feckles. Lord, the eye burns, the ear weeps and the brain sleeps after that Talmudic elaboration of the obvious that passes for political “analysis” on television. TV is not permitted to be less than solemn, unto stupefaction, when the character of American institutions is being examined.
I propose for Mr. Sevareid, Mr. White and their fellow solemnites a course in remedial unseriousness. PBS has such a course (no credit), in three half‑hour parts, starting this week. It’s called The Fine Art of Goofing Qff. Some wholly unserious people out at San Francisco’s KQED put it together. Producer Chris Koch, who used to be intermittently serious in the old days of Pacifica radio, has clearly been trifling with the Ecstasy Kids down at Esalen‑-George Leonard says some things on the program, Alan Watts, the well‑known theologizer, also contributes-‑and was purged of his feckles.
The Fine Art of Goofing Off looks at work and leisure, the “pursuit” of happiness (“sit still and let happiness pursue you for a while”) and the idea of time. There is a carburetor that talks like a sociologist, a lump of clay that plays with itself, commercials in behalf of drudgery, a rock group called Funky Hair and the Painted Guitar (one of these days I’m going to say something definitive about the names of rock groups‑-Eric EverReady and the Hairy Cliches?—but not now), audience participation games (the tallest person in your living room is supposed to get up and follow a dot around on the TV screen), doodling and other soul satisfying nonsenses.
To me, the best of the three half hours is the one devoted to time. Present tense. It’s an audiovisual essay really, raising all sorts of irrelevant metaphysical questions. Take five. Split second. To be continued. Time on my hands. Time running out. Overtime. Double time. time. The goofers-off have audiovisualized these phrases to the point of conceptual ridiculousness. To think about it is to giggle. Their time is obviously not out of joint.
The Fine Art of Goofing Off owes a great deal to the drug culture, I Suspect. These are gentle head games. All the submarines are yellow, the sergeants full of pepper. Disorderliness and distortion become aesthetic principles. The filigree agrees with you. “Time,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson, “dissipates to shining ether the solid angularity of facts.” One of the elements mercifully missing from this head game is the solid angularity of the big rock beat, as I find networks and the admen have discovered how that beat can make the ear ache and the acquisitive impulse pulsate (and thus exploited it), the gentle heads have retreated to the guitar, a primitive form of Muzak. The goofers‑off use music to play with their mental notions, not their blood. Time Incorporated?
It is this mid‑1960s light‑show, spinoffishness, the sinusoidal prism effects, the marriage of the mirror (double images) and the echo chamber (platitudinal twinship), the pun rampant on a crest fallen, that makes The Fine Art of Goofing Off such an idle delight. The mind goes into gearlessness, getting no where, and all our carburators and Sevareids are momentarily in the garage for an overdose of friction‑proofing because their differentials slipped. These programs encourage one to think that one can enjoy thinking, instead of being assigned to do it and having to pay an exorbitant bill of wrongs having done so. The goof is in the giggling.