Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Cultivating Weirdness

I wasn't surprised to find among the list of "local weirdos" featured in the article "How To Be A Local Character: Five Basic Examples" Memphis' own Prince Mongo (pictured left). Prince Mongo-- né Robert Hodges, changed his name to King Mongo, then Saint Mongo-- has been a fixture in Midtown Memphis for as long as I can remember. He claims to be from the planet Zambodia, also the home of some very interesting fauna, if you believe Mongo. He's a very wealthy, very eccentric, and for the most part totally harmless oddity, who takes in and feeds homeless people at a mansion that he owns. He's run for local office a few times, but never won, and he regularly tortures his upscale neighbors with the flotsam and jetsam that he displays in his yard as "art." In short, he really is the archetype of a local weirdo.

Like the antihero, I suspect that we all secretly love the local weirdo, sometimes in spite of ourselves. When I was at Villanova, there was a guy who walked around campus (always in shorts and sandals) with a fake lightsaber (or, at least, I presume it was fake) and engaged in epic battles with foes that none of the rest of us could see. Now, I suppose it's possible that he spent years "cultivating" that kind of weirdness... but if that were true, I don't think the rest of us would find it half as interesting or endearing. The weirdness of real weirdos sort of needs to arise in the world unbidden in order for us to appreciate it as authentic. Otherwise, it's just obnoxious and "simply" transgressive, which is something that, by definition, we do not tolerate.

The "local weirdo" is a special phylum of the kingdom of weirdo. Local weirdos, strangely, really belong to their "locale," despite the fact that they appear so out of place in it. They indicate something about their (and our) space that the rest of us repress, ignore, or disavow. They're like that little tray that you put in front of your George Foreman grill that is supposed to catch all of the grease and fat and other undesirables. They collect and absorb our social and cultural detritus and then embody it in a way that seems curious, harmless, laughable... but also necessary, like the homo sacer.

I don't think local weirdos "cultivate" their weirdness. But I do think that the rest of us, subconsciously, cultivate the local weirdo. I mean, what's a town without one of these figures? My guess is that it's a very weird town.

1 comment:

Ideas Man, Ph.D. said...

I think that guy finally graduated.