The Idiots (1998)
Directed by Lars Von Trier
Saturday, September 29, at the Museum of the Moving Image, part of its Hoberman-curated Film After Film series
What is Spassing?
“Spassing,” as seen in Lars Von Trier's first official Dogme 95 entry The Idiots, is a nebulous hybrid of socio-political protest and DIY therapeutic role-play through which the spasser attempts to discover his “inner idiot.” The technique is often confused by witnesses for mental illness, either genuine or feigned, due to the spasser's self-prescribed cognitive simplicity, echolalia, muscular twitching, and motor deficits. These theatrics, however, first practiced in small groups and then performed in front of an unknowing public, entail a readily enacted methodology for confronting personal trauma through corporeal acknowledgement, as well as for disambiguating onlookers' essential tendencies toward either benevolence or hostility.
How Did Spassing Begin?
An indolent middle-class Dane named “Stoffer” perfected the technique with friends while house sitting for his uncle in the late 1990s. Initially a form of crude, pseudo-Marxist/Dada rebellion meant to both enliven and heal the petty, broken lives of Stoffer and his associates, spassing quickly took on a life of its own as an experimentally utopian psycho-sociological discipline. Fusing and reimagining several concepts from psychiatry, anti-consumerism, and Brechtian dramaturgy, among other philosophies, spassing has become one of the few dramatherapy models wherein both the performer and his audience are equal analysands. Proto-spassing models can also be found in William Wordsworth's 1798 poem “The Idiot Boy,” the Milgram experiment, John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me, culture-jamming theory, and studies on paraphilic infantilism.
How Can I Spass?
It's easy! Follow these simple steps, as gleaned from Lars Von Trier's fascinating and powerful documentary on Stoffer and his associates:
1) Definitively decide to spass. It sounds like a negligible step, but will power is of the essence to the spasser; since spassing provokes confusion and resentment just as often as it invites sympathy, one must learn to find encouragement in rejection as well as in approbative pity. Behind the seasoned spasser's appearance of shy, porous idiocy lies an ironclad arrogance that bends for no one.
2) Adopt a spass character. Will you be the kind of spasser who dribbles food and water all over himself at restaurants? The kind that sinks his incisors into a simple mantra and refuses to let go for hours? The perpetually timid, gently rocking, spastically claw-fingered type? All are valid. Attempt to configure your spass tics around the personal trauma you seek to exploit and conquer, if possible. Relive and reenact moments of violence from your past. Oscillate wildly between giddiness and depression. And above all, tinker! Eventually you'll develop a bag of spass tricks into which you can reach for any occasion.
3) Spass in public. Choose a low key setting for your first outdoor spass: Maybe a dog park. If all goes well, graduate to more congested areas like grocery stores, street festivals, and beaches. Do not let a few disgusted reactions or abusive exchanges discourage you. As your technique improves, so will your appetite for high-risk spassing. Ultimately, attempt a trip to a restaurant with a non-spassing “caretaker” party.
4) Spass for friends, family, and coworkers. The goal, as outlined by Stoffer and his associates, is to be able to interweave one's “spassing” identity—his “inner idiot”—with one's otherwise ordinary domestic and professional life. Once the spasser truly possesses the choice to jump between infantile and mature behavior at will without fear of reprisal, whether or not he acts on that choice, then Stoffer's conceptual utopia has been achieved: the individual is loved and positively reinforced by both himself and his environment, and will be henceforth impervious to nefarious manipulation.
This cannot be managed without some difficulty, of course, especially if one works with the public or has a large family. But allow yourself to work up to the actualization of the technique steadily. And never forget: if a family member or a coworker doesn't love your inner idiot, they simply don't love you.