On Fraggle Rock’s Death Obsession and the Art of the Supercut

Hazlitt regular contributor Navneet Alang writes about the weirdness and wonder of...

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Everyone knows that beloved ’80s kids show Fraggle Rock was all about two things: a theme song that surely ranks on many “Top 5 best TV intros” lists, and death. Wait, death? Well, yeah—at least, that’s what this very convincing supercut of every mention of our fleeting mortality on the show now has me thinking.

For those unfamiliar, the supercut, brought to prominence by Andy Baio, is a video in which “some obsessive-compulsive superfan collects every phrase/action/cliche from an episode (or entire series) of their favorite show/film/game into a single massive video montage.” Perhaps the most famous example is the “I’m Not Here to Make Friends” video that showed hundreds of reality TV contestants repeating the phrase.

The form captures something about the times, managing to feel both absurd and insightful. Watching an endless litany of Survivor participants insist they were there for themselves alone highlighted the individualistic, competitive vibe of such shows in a way essays or other analyses simply couldn’t. It wasn’t even so much the implied criticism as the simple fact that the supercut points out repetitions and patterns in a way we might otherwise miss.

Even when supercuts highlight the obvious, the sheer weirdness of the form still does something interesting. Recently, a compilation of every Woody Allen stammer from every movie he’s been in made its way around the web. It’s forty-four minutes long, and watching it is profoundly odd. At first, it’s just good ol’ familiar Woody Allen, being his strangely adorable, awkward self. But within a few minutes, it’s sad, pathetic Woody Allen, suffering the verbal equivalent of erectile dysfunction—and me yelling at my computer, “God, just say something!” If we always assumed Allen’s genius was giving a voice to our neuroses, the supercut reminds us he did so by allowing us to detach, letting us hate his frailties and thereby reassuring ourselves.

At other times, it’s the oddly hypnotic effect of watching a trope or phrase get repeated ad nauseam that has an impact. A video showcasing the “three point landing” so common in sci-fi and video games is either a damning criticism of a lack of originality, or a weird insight into how we like seeing strength exhibited. A supercut of every drink taken on Mad Men is reason enough to wonder why we are so intoxicated by the show, or why sales of Canadian Club whisky have spiked in the last few years. Sometimes you don’t even need to watch the videos. The mere fact that there is a video called “75 Years of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl” basically tells you everything you need to know about how popular the idea of men being saved by quirky, free-spirited women really is.

Maybe most of all, there’s something fascinating about how the supercut is a product of digitally inflected remix culture. Our normal experience of entertainment is largely full of plateaus, punctuated by a few significant spikes and valleys. The supercut is a way of drawing those moments out and focusing their impact, highlighting the simmering thing that would have otherwise remained just on the tip of our tongues, yet unsaid. In doing so, the supercut is the best sort of cultural critique: it’s fun, it’s easy to share with friends, and yet it can still make a point—whether that’s something absurd like a collection of newscasters making Freudian slips, or, like with Fraggle Rock, that a great kids’ show doesn’t have to shy away from scary things.


Sarah Erdreich on Life After Roe and a New Generation of Activism
“I am not a Nazi.” With that statement, Sarah Erdreich opens Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement , her new book exploring the past, present, and future of the United States abortion landscape and the providers and volunteers who make it their life’s work. Forty years ago, Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal in the United States, despite the objections of some anti-choice activists who portrayed its advocates as ripped right from the Third Reich. But, as Erdreich argues, legal doesn’t necessarily always mean readily available . In recent years, new restrictions and state provisions on reproductive health have made abortion increasingly hard to access and fraught with divisive rhetoric. Since 2011, the United States has seen a marked increase in laws that restrict abortion; most recently, North Dakota passed a bill banning most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Erdreich spoke to Hazlitt about her book, these restrictive new laws, and the need for empathy when dealing with women’s choices.


Conservative Criticism, Discouraging Difference
Renata Adler, interviewed by The Believer , on contemporary literary criticism: “More like a race to join the herd of received ideas and agreement.” And Sheila Heti, interviewed in Numero Cinq , on contemporary literary criticism: “It’s fun to see that stuff going on in America. In Canada, nobody was talking about the book in that way, so it’s cool to see it being used as a prop in peoples’ arguments.” Okay, and Michael Lista, in epistolary conversation in Poetry , on contemporary (especially Canadian) literary criticism: “Conservatism is the worst thing with which a critic can be charged; it implies that you’re inured to the only faculty that makes you worth reading—the ability to be surprised by the authentically new and have your mind changed by it.”