Recently, a rising talent in the world of documentary, Sean Dunne, posted his latest film on Vimeo. It’s called “Florida Man”, and is a collection of–forgive the cheekiness–Florida Men, talking at length about their views on life, love, country, politics, and the general condition of the living, breathing beast that is the Sunshine State.
I’m attracted to Dunne’s work because it is consumed by a fascination with “othered” subcultures in American society. Juggalos (American Juggalo), blue-collar drug addicts (Oxyana), and a less classifiable demographic (Florida Man). I wonder endlessly about people whose experience is completely divorced from mine, whose very core values and ideas of reality run counter to mine. I’d be lying if I said that this curiosity isn’t oftentimes infected with judgment and personal bias (I’m only human, after all), but that’s why artists like Dunne are useful. They allow us to look at something that to us seems strange, or even repellant, and then forces us to consider these people as individuals rather than an amorphous blob of humanity. The films (American Juggalo in particular) often lead to slightly malicious guffaws, yes, but the overwhelming feeling I get after viewing is connection and empathy.
I’ve long held the belief that this is the most noble purpose of art: to connect humans of disparate backgrounds and experiences through shared feelings. It’s also why I often feel reassured and content when consuming overwhelmingly sad art; the notion that someone else I have never met and probably never will meet can speak to me and tell me through their expressions that they have felt how I felt, that we, at one time or another, have all felt burdens, removed from each other by culture, geography, or politics though we might be. Great art, even when it is lonely, makes me feel like I am not alone.
Perhaps this is why I, like Dunne, am fascinated by The Other, and particularly, The Others that push my “negative” reaction buttons. There is an ignoble aspect to my obsession, yes. I’m as vulnerable to the cheap thrills of voyeurism as anyone else, and there’s probably some lizard-brain superiority reaction happening as well (“there but for the grace of God…”), but I’d like to think that my interest in strange, broken, or outcast people, is tied up in a curiosity about the world, and a desire to understand something, anything, about those that seem beyond comprehension.