How I Met Your Mother and Philosophy: Being and Awesomeness (Popular Culture & Philosophy, nr. 81)

Editat de Lorenzo Von Matterhorn
Notă GoodReads:
en Limba Engleză Paperback – 05 Feb 2014
Like philosophy itself, How I Met Your Mother has everyone thinking. Have you ever wondered why you identify so strongly with Barney despite the fact that he’s such a douche? Or why your life story doesn’t make sense until you know the ending—or at least, the middle? Or where the Bro Code came from and why it’s so powerful? How I Met Your Mother and Philosophy answers all these questions and a whole lot more.

Twenty of the awesome-est philosophers ever congregated in one bar have come together to quaff a few drinks and analyze this most awesomely philosophical of sit-coms. They poke, prod, and sniff at the misdeeds of Goliath National Bank, the ontology of waiting to get slapped, the epistemology of sexual attraction, why the Platinum Rule is to never love thy neighbor, the authenticity of censoring yourself, why future Ted’s opinions matter to present-day Ted, and whether it’s irrational to wait for the Slutty Pumpkin. This book shows that viewers of How I Met Your Mother and Philosophy know that philosophy is much more than a song and dance routine.
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ISBN-13: 9780812698350
ISBN-10: 0812698355
Pagini: 235
Dimensiuni: 150 x 226 x 18 mm
Greutate: 0.39 kg
Editura: Open Court Publishing Company
Seria Popular Culture & Philosophy



1. Bence Nanay: Empathy for the Devil: Why on Earth Do We Identify with Barney?
2. Miguel Angel Sebastian and Manolo Martinez: Smoking Subs and Eating Joints: What Counts as True in Fiction?
3. Jordan Pascoe: Telling Each Other Everything
4. Tobias Hainz and Yvonne Würz: Is It Irrational to Wait for the Slutty Pumpkin?
5. Maryam Babur: Legend-wait for it-dary: The Anti-Mid-life Crisis Medicine?
6. Kris Goffin: When I Get Sad I Just Stop Being Sad and Be Awesome Instead
7. Carter Hardy: Barney’s Magical World of Self-deception
8. M. Chris Sardo: The Cockamouse of Minerva Flies at Dusk: Ted Mosby as Reader of Hegel
9. Tina Talsma: A Mother and A Career-Woman: A Tale of Two Feminist Icons
10. Thomas Ainsworth: Me, me, me! Barney the Egoist
11. Michela Bordignon: How to Be Really Awesome : Living the Contradictions of a Possimpible World
12. Elize De Mul: Sandwiches, Blue Horns, Bob Barker and a Goat. Telling Your Life Story.
13. Joe Slater: The Barney Stinson Theory of Truth: True Story
14. Amanda Ypma: Robin Scherbatsky, the Most Amazing, Strong, Independent Woman Barney Has Ever Banged
15. Frank Karioris: The Bro Code as a Relational Starter
16. Radu Uszkai and Emanuel Socaciu: The Story of the Platinum Rule, as told by David Hume and Barney Stinson: Should You Really Really "Love" Thy Neighbor?
17. Bart van Beek: The Pick-up Game

Notă biografică

Lorenzo von Matterhorn is the pseudonym of a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, and Senior Research Associate at Peterhouse College, Cambridge University (UK). He is the author of Between Perception and Action and Aesthetics as Philosophy of Perception (both forthcoming in 2013 from Oxford University Press), and editor of Perceiving the World (Oxford University Press, 2010). Before taking up full-time philosophy he was well known as a movie critic, and served on the jury at several major international film festivals. He lives in Antwerp, Belgium and Cambridge, England.


Excerpt from chapter 1:

Empathy for the Devil: Why on Earth Do We Identify with Barney? by Bence Nanay

Kids, Barney Stinson is the devil. At least, that’s what Ted says in ‘Belly full of turkey’ (season 1, episode 9). And in ‘Brunch’ (season 2, episode 3), he is genuinely surprised that Barney is allowed to enter a church. But even if he is not the devil, he is a truly awful person. Truly. But then why do we all love him so much? More precisely, why is it so tempting to identify or empathize or emotionally engage with him?
Just how awful is Barney? Unspeakably awful. A couple of biographical details:

• He sold a woman (The Bracket, season 3, episode 14)
• He poisoned the drinking water in Lisbon (The goat, season 3, episode 17)
• He has shady dealings with the most oppressive regime on Earth (Chain of screaming, season 3, episode 15)

But maybe it’s just his line of work. We know that Tony Soprano’s job is not exactly charity-work, but we have not problem identifying and emotionally engaging with him. Yet, he is in many ways a choirboy compared to Barney Stinson. Barney can be as awful with his best friends as in his dealings at Goliath National Bank. Again, a few examples:

• When facing the dilemma of landing a much needed job for his ‘best friend’ (who had just been left at the altar) or having an office in a dinosaur-shaped building, he chooses the latter. (Woo girls, season 4, episode 8)
• He takes revenge on the girl who broke his heart many years later by sleeping with her and then never calling her back (Game night, season 1, episode 14)
• Gives a fake apology to Robin, whom he just broke up with, merely in order to score another girl (Playbook, season 5, episode 8)
• Spends years planning his revenge on Marshall for noticing that he has a bit of marinara sauce on his tie (The exploding meatball sub, season 6, episode 20)
• Sets his best friend’s coat on fire (The pineapple incident, season 1, episode 10)
• Pulls a nasty and tactless prank on Robin when he pretends to be Robin’s dad on the phone, whose call he knows she is eagerly awaiting (Disaster averted, season 7, episode 9)
• Actively puts Robin down when she meets Ted’s parents for the first time (Brunch, season 2, episode 3)
• Makes his best friend, Ted believe that Mary, the paralegal is in fact a prostitute, so that he can enjoy how Ted is making a fool of himself. (Mary, the paralegal, season 1, episode 19)
• Stages a one-man show that has one purpose only: to annoy Lily (Stuff, Season 2, episode 16)
• Makes a fool of all his friends, who, unknowingly, help him score with a girl (Playbook, season 5, episode 8)

And we have not even got into the various tricks he uses in order to get girls to come home with him. His behavior is utterly immoral according to the vast majority of existing accounts in moral philosophy. Lily nicely sums it up: he is “the emotional equivalent of a scavenging sewer rat” (Best couple ever, season 2, episode 5). But then why do we like him? Why do we identify with him? Why is he one of the most popular sitcom characters of all time?
Barney is not the first bad character in the history of the genre. In Friends, Joey Tribbiani did some nasty stuff: he burned the prosthetic leg of a girl in the middle of the forest and then drove away. But he loved his friends and would never knowingly screw them. All four characters in Seinfeld did awful things throughout the series, as memorably evidenced by the finale. But Barney takes this to a completely different level of awfulness.
We have a paradox then: how can we identify with and relate to a fictional character, Barney, who is such a terrible person that if we met him in real life, we would probably slap him or leave the room. This paradox needs to be kept apart from the famous ‘paradox of fiction’, the most succinct exposition of which comes not from Hume but from Chandler Bing:

Chandler: Bambi is a cartoon
Joey: You didn’t cry when Bambi’s mother died?
Chandler: Yes, it was very sad when the guy stopped drawing the deer. (Friends, season 6, episode 14)

The paradox of fiction is this: why do we feel strong emotions towards fictional events and characters we know do not exist? The paradox I want to focus on here – we could call it the Barney paradox – is different. It accepts that we feel strong emotions towards fictional characters. But then the question arises which fictional character we feel strong emotions towards? Who is our identification or empathy or emotional engagement directed at? And here comes the paradox: it seems that often we identify or empathize with the least worthy of the fictional characters.
I will go through a couple of possible ways in which one could address this paradox.

1. Barney is not so bad

Maybe I was just picking out the worst of Barney. And maybe he is more like Joey, who in some respects is not the boyfriend you may want to take home to meet your parents, but in some others has a heart of gold.
There are some stories that point in this direction. In The scorpion and the toad (season 2, episode 2), Barney is allegedly helping Marshall getting over Lily and getting back in the game. But each time Marshall actually has a chance of scoring with a girl, Barney steps in and takes home the girl instead. The title of the episode refers to the Aesop tale about the scorpion who asks the toad to carry him across the river. The toad asks: why would I do that – you’ll sting me and then we’ll both die. But, the scorpion responds, if I sting you, we’ll both die – so why would I sting you? So the toad agrees, but halfway through the scorpion does sting the toad and they both die – that’s just the scorpion’s nature. It should be clear who the scorpion is supposed to stand for here.
So far, this is a pretty damning statement about Barney, but that is not the full story. This happened at the beginning of season 2. But towards the end of this season, we learn that Barney visited Lily in San Francisco and told her to come back to Marshall because he, Barney, can’t go on stealing girls from him to keep the hopes of the two of them getting back together alive (Bachelor party, season 2, episode 19). While this gives a nice twist to the scorpion/toad story, it is not clear whether this means that Barney stole all those girls from Marshall for selfless reasons. At least at that point we are led to believe that Barney is, at least sometimes, a compassionate and caring friend. But then again, this comes right after an episode where Barney steals Ted’s moving truck with all his belonging (Moving day, season 2, episode 18).
The most plausible version of this way of trying to explain away the paradox of identification with Barney is that Barney is not really bad: he is just immature. He is a little like a naughty child – we shouldn’t expect him to behave responsibly or in any way that is not completely selfish. His general attitude towards life is that of a preschooler towards his toys. The show clearly plays with this idea intermittently – especially in the last couple of seasons in a bid to make Barney proper fiancé material for Robin. The decision to ditch Ted and his job prospects for working in a dinosaur-shaped office building could be interpreted as a manifestation of this child-like attitude (see also Little boys, season 3, episode 4, which puts the Barney/little boy analogy in context).
Again, without denying that this is part of the way Barney is portrayed, it needs to be pointed out that it would be difficult to frame selling a woman the ‘Scuba diver’ tricks, which deliberately and with cold calculation plays with and exploits Robin’s feelings, as immature and therefore forgivable and in some way adorable childish gags.

2. We are not meant to identify with Barney at all

Here is an alternative interpretation. Maybe Barney was not conceived of as a protagonist of the series whom the audience is supposed to (or is encouraged to) identify with. Married male viewers should identify with Marshall, single male viewers with Ted. Barney is there to laugh at.
While this may have been the way Barney’s character started at the very beginning, this angle misses out on some of the most important aspects of Barney’s appeal and of his character in general. At the very beginning of the series (in the first couple of episodes only), Barney was portrayed as a loser – as the butt of every joke. In fact, quite similar to the Stiffler character of the American Pie franchise, which How I Met Your Mother has very rich ties with. Even his haircut was a bit similar to Stiffler’s. And he was really just someone to laugh at.
So at least at the beginning, while Barney was depicted as an awful person, he was also depicted as a loser – not someone the audience should identify with. But this all changed very early on – maybe because the creator of the series realized the potential of the character. Barney would not have become as popular as he did if he had stayed this ‘dork’, as Lily addressed him in the second episode.

3. Schadenfreude

A somewhat different way to go would be to say that while we are encouraged to have some kind of emotional engagement with Barney, this is by no means a positive emotional engagement. The emotion we are supposed to feel towards Barney is that of Schadenfreude – the feeling of happiness at other people’s misfortune. We are not supposed to laugh with Barney – we are supposed to laugh at him.
Quick clarification: this would be compatible with Barney’s popularity as Schadenfreude is not an unpleasant emotion to have. In fact, there is a long history of fictional characters who we love to hate: from Tartuffe through Osmin and Monostatos to Dr. Evil. The proposal then would be that Barney fits this illustrious list: the reason we like watching him is to see how he will eventually get what he deserves.
Again, there are many bits from the show that point in this direction. There are many, many scenes where Barney’s misfortunes are supposed to provide the laughs. Again, a quick list:

• He is thrown out on the street naked (Naked man, season 4, episode 9)
• He is forced to wear the ducky tie for a full year (Ducky tie, season 7, episode 3)
• His attempt to take revenge on Marshall with the exploding meatball sub fails miserably (The exploding meatball sub, season 6, episode 20)
• He is tied to the mechanical bull for two full hours (providing a memorable scene with perfect comedic timing when getting off) (Woo girls, season 4, episode 8)
• He gets repeatedly thrown out of the prom (Best prom ever, season 1, episode 20)
• He gets stung by a swarm of bees (Burning beekeeper, season 7, episode 15)
• He gets beaten up by proud Canadians at a Tim Horton’s (Duel citizenship, season 5, episode 5)
• His legs stop working after running the marathon without any training (Lucky penny, season 2, episode 15)
• He gets a nickname he hates (Swarley, season 2, episode 7)
• His long awaited 200th conquest is an odious muscular body builder and not a supermodel as planned (Right place right time, season 4, episode 22)
• As nobody is willing to give him a high five, he is forced to hold up his right arm for hours (I heart NJ, season 4, episode 3)
• He is left in the doctor’s office for the weekend with his ‘sensory deprivator 5000’ on (Bad news, season 6, episode 13)