Juxtapose is this month’s blog theme, and juxtaposition is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “the fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect.” Juxtapositions can describe a variety of opposites, such as rich vs. poor and young vs. old, but can also occur in the form of heated debates, as is the case with creationism vs. evolution, for instance. Emily Levine successfully takes a step back and looks closer at juxtapositions like these in her TED talk titled, “ The Theory of Everything”, which was rated among the Top 10 funniest TED talks. And rightly so. You are guaranteed to be belly laughing throughout the entire 23 minutes of her talk.
Tricking fixed ideas
Levine is an American comedian, writer and public speaker with a special interest in the sciences and humanities. Her TED talk, however, is not entirely about one or the other. She touches upon a variety of subjects, ranging from politics to even sadomasochism, to highlight hilarious contradictions that surround us in our everyday lives. From an ad in the newspaper to passages in a book, Levine uses little information bits to uncover hidden truths and to make a significant point: we are constantly surrounded by contradictions. Juxtapositions lurk around every corner. Yet, to us, this is mostly not so obvious. Emily Levine proclaims to highly dislike contradictions, which are so frequent in society today. Calling herself a “Trickster”- a change agent – Levine shares with us her delight in boundary crossing and thus stresses the importance of pointing out hidden connections.
Using a generous dose of wit, Levine engages with her own brand of comedy by coming up with hilarious cases of juxtaposition in today’s society as well as in our current economic and political circumstances. Among others, she uses the principles of newtonian science to cite interesting examples.
Making connections rather than drawing boundaries
Levine draws connections and picks out contradictions between the concept of rationality vs. irrationality within economics and the idea of the “mind-body” split within psychology to explain why we find toilet humor funny or why Rene Descartes’ quote, “I think, therefore I am” underlines the principle meaning of rationality. She goes on even further by juxtaposing objectivity and subjectivity using examples from Ayn Rand, the founder of the philosophy of objectivism, and examples from literature to bring forward contradicting values that are present in sexuality and today’s baby cribs. For Levine, political correctness is also highly influenced by juxtapositions like objectivity and subjectivity, and she can barely refrain from humorously pointing out incredible instances in the media where political correctness has failed tremendously.
Finally, Levine explains that amidst the swarm of juxtapositions in our world today, “Tricksters”, a term coined by Lewis Hyde, are fundamental in achieving change and enabling two or more realities to co-exist. For Levine, there is no right or wrong. No black or white. There is only boundary crossing to create new and different ideas and to make existing ones even richer. Watch her talk and delve into Levine’s world by letting her challenge your existing beliefs:
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