09 June 2009

The Animated Alan Watts

I have really been enjoying reading and listening to lectures by Alan Watts lately. I posted about one of his books last week, The Wisdom of Insecurity, and while I flippantly suggested my summary made reading it unnecessary, it is in fact one of the most significant books I've ever read. Not just for its content alone, but because my place in life right now enables me to understand and appreciate it. I would not have understood it a year ago, and perhaps will think nothing of it in another year. But encountering the work of Alan Watts right now was rare serendipity.

Watts was a charismatic British teacher of Eastern religious thought. As a scholar and philosopher of religion, he was perhaps not a great force, but as a popularizer and philosopher of life, he was a genius. Insecurity was his first pure work of life philosophy, and the vigor and freshness of it more than 50 years later is still very compelling. It seems to boil out the essence of his thought and insight. The basic ideas are not new to me, a mix of philosophical idealism and mysticism, but the exposition left me a bit breathless. I can see why he became such a giant figure.

Very curiously, two of the most offensive people in Hollywood today, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, created some South Park-esque cartoon shorts narrated from lecture recordings of Alan Watts. And they're quite good even if entirely unexpected. So, why did they do them? Well, Parker noted in a interview, "[My] father tried to raise me Buddhist, as in Alan Watts Buddhism, which is Buddhism in a way." I suspect they also love Watt's deep sense of irony, and they illustrate it well.

Some Mormons will know that Parker and Stone also have a (almost entirely unwelcome) fascination with us. As offensive as we find their satire, they actually like Mormons. Trey Parker's first girlfriend was a Mormon, whom he really respected. Scientology, on the other hand, they also skewer but really do hate. But that's all another story.

The three shorts below are "official." But two others seem to also be by the same team, even if lacking some polish: Madness and I.

Alan Watts - Life and Music (full screen)

Alan Watts - Prickles and Goo (full screen)

Alan Watts - Appling (full screen)

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