7/21/2013

Wayne White

     Wayne White is an artist from Chattanooga, TN better known from his work on Pee-wee's Playhouse, Shining Time Station, Riders in the Sky, The Weird Al Show, Beakman's World, and art direction for Smashing Pumpkins "Tonight, Tonight" throughout the 80s and 90s. In 2012, a devotional and biographical documentary film called Beauty is Embarrassing was released. White and the director going on tour to promote the film. They had a showing at Bamcinematek and White came out after the film to answer questions. The crowd seemed enthusiastic to pat him on the back and congratulate him afterwards (fans). I too was lifted by experiencing the film and his presence (he is admittedly, a very jolly man- he looks like a backwoods Zach Galifianakis wound up to an eleven on enthusiasm, optimism and creativity). I believe the audience failed to see one of the most important aspects of the film though because they "could not relate" or denied the evidence, which is fleeting in the documentary. White had a breakdown. It was summarized by his frustration with managing life after Pee-wee's Playhouse: the trials of ever-changing computer animation, children, relationships, and the decline of his initial optimism with creativity. Things came crashing down in Cali and his wife, Mimi, recalls him staying long periods of time working on computer animation in the basement. The documentary then depicted a cartoon explosion and references to the fact that White had had too much... (perhaps he was hospitalized in a ward, I'm going to have to watch the film again). He then got "happy pills," everything was assumed to be better and the film kept on track with his optimism and creativity, piqued by that sudden revelation half-way through. It was as if a curtain along the wall of White's life had been brushed aside suddenly to show a dark, barren, adjacent corridor and then quickly refitted.

     I asked him about how he dealt with the breakdown during the Q&A and he mentioned how "once you realize that the universe does not need you, it can be quite freeing." The universe, the galaxy, the solar-system.... and people do not revolve around you nor gravitate deliberately through some force of your own power and will. White's dilemma was existential and somewhat karmic. He reminded me of Jack.

     Did White lament?: I should be somewhere by now. I'm a professional. I've done good things, created great things. I've treated people nicely, provided them with laughter and warmth. I have a wife and children that I've raised with faith and devotion. There should be more than this. Why is this happening to me of all people. My imagination brings to mind Jonah.

     My understanding is that the only power/freedom we really have is over our created "selves." We relinquish/sacrifice and reclaim/reconstruct constantly in order for that "self" to survive: weather bodily, through tools, or by works. This does not imply that the self is not a uniquely individual creation though. There are varying levels of survival also, which come dressed in shades of dignity. We are free and yet not. Knowledge of our own current limitations (lack of freedom), actually frees us to seek alternatives.

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