In an excerpt from a new Millions ebook, Epic Fail: Bad Art, Viral Fame, and the History of the Worst Thing Ever, Mark O’Connell explores “the paradoxically humanistic and cruel constitution of the Epic Fail,” using the Jesus Fresco as a primary example:
[The Epic Fail] is predicated not just on the appreciation of the failed artwork but also on the aesthetic fetish for a particular misalignment of confidence and competence. We insist, in our judgments, on a sort of cultural habeas corpus. We don’t just want to look at the horribly disfigured Jesus fresco or listen to the horribly misfired effort at a pop song; we want to look at the person who thought they were talented enough to pull these things off in the first place. And I think part of our perverse attraction to these people and to the bad art they make is a particular sort of authenticity.
Vigilant self-consciousness is both a primary component and a primary product of our online culture; an entire generation of Westerners (i.e., mine) has become preoccupied with the curation of permanent exhibitions of the self. We hate ourselves for the inauthenticity of these exhibitions, even if we wouldn’t have it any other way. And so the Epic Fail is, among other things, a paradoxical ritual whereby a pure strain of un-self-consciousness is globally venerated and ridiculed.
(Image: A painting of the Ecce Homo x Ikea Monkey, aka “Ikeas Homonkulus” via Marina Galperina)