06 - Blocks
And other Basic Things.
My son has a book about Minecraft. It’s a search book where you have to find the zombies or the pillagers or some other angular block representational of a complex being.
There are block scenes that are supposed to be castles or dungeons or forests. There are blocks that look *kind* of like the block you’re looking for but not quite the same. It’s basically one of the old Where’s Wally books (or Where’s Waldo, if you’re North American like me).
Except it is not at all like Where’s Wally, and here’s why:
The great, really the best thing about Where’s Wally was never the finding of Wally (or his hat or his dog or the dog’s bone or whatever). It was all the fun little vignettes that your eyes tripped over in the search. The Viking woman pouring hot soup down her flirting husband’s neck. The Roman being chased by a dog. The chaos about to befall unwitting villagers/Gladiators/pharaohs of all shapes and sizes. The Minecraft book tries to offer the same theme - find a thing! - but is entirely without the intermediary magic of the finding.
Where’s Wally was - is - a masterful example of a Wimmelbilderbuch, like a Bosch or a Breughel. A ‘teeming picture book’ where things aren’t black and white, where the good guys are flawed and where you even feel sorry for the bad guys (like the smirking ‘bad’ gladiator about to run into the lion’s mouth, RIP). In Minecraft, the zombies are always zombies and you never feel sorry for them.
Where’s Wally was - is - packed with colour and difference. It showcases the chaotic inflorescence of human existence, the abundant spectrum of human experience. Love, misery, fighting, fun - but in cartoons for kids that overlap and interact with each other in surprising and unpredictable ways. In Minecraft, everything is made out of blocks. There are square trees. Everything is reducible, algorithmic. It’s Where’s Wally, stripped of life and shape and difference. As if it was put through a compressor and the computer interpreted only the basic form and, in place of variety, spat out uniformity: sheep, block of gold, enemy.
I swear that as I get older I am increasingly struck by the similarity of faces too. When I was a kid everyone stressed how unique we all are, everyone an individual, no two humans the same. But I am increasingly struck by how much the same everyone is. I will more and more frequently spot a face on the train I feel sure I’ve seen before. People will put me strongly in mind of other people.
And it’s worse when you talk to them. So rarely am I hit with a unique thought, a new idea I’ve never heard before. A witticism previously unexpressed or a point never put to me before. Making something new, not a recycled collection of old parts rehashed, seems the greatest struggle and the greatest miracle when it occurs. All day I am beset by banal observations. About the queen (“she worked so hard for this country” “she sacrificed so much” “such a strong woman” (as if there is anything but)). About one’s lunch. I listened to two guys next to me at a bench in Spitalfields discuss burgers with as much seriousness as if they were the first humans to ever consider the burger. Conclusions: burgers are better when they aren’t just boring with a bit of lettuce and tomato. (“This is an ok burger but not as good as a burger I had somewhere else once. I’m still hungry so next time I might just get two burgers.”)
I’m a lawyer so original thoughts are banned at my work too. Original thoughts while drafting? Concerning!! Find a tried-and-tested watertight precedent - or risk a judge misinterpreting/ disagreeing with your untried verbiage.
It reminds me - and this is quite an obscure reference - of a page in a Peter Spier book (another Wimmelbuch artist!) called People. The People book had a page in it with no colour. Buses all the same colour, Shop 41, Shop 42, everyone dressed the same. And the obvious message was: isn’t it WONDERFUL that we live in a world packed with colour and variety?!
I might be wrong but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the People book and Where’s Wally were both children of the 80s. Pre-KKR, pre- Barbarians at the Gate, pre- the rise of private equity, with its lust for all things uniform, quantifiable, calculable. Public companies and human services converted into private equity blocks, all with anonymous streamlined interchangeable parts. All items known, knowable, predictably performing and with a readily assigned function. Digital voices on answerphones. Tasteless burgers with a bit of lettuce and tomato.
Like the page in the People book with no variety.
Like the block-filled hellscapes of Minecraft.
This is the life we have chosen.
Sorry. I wish I had a perkier conclusion to draw on this doom-filled Monday.
In another post you discuss toilet paper:) I’m a buncher :) grandma Jean was too…, not sure about your mom, but would be Very surprised if she is a folder❤️❤️
Still laughing about this on a daily basis