I’ve often said that what everybody really needs is a truly insightful look into the obscurely depressing philosophical trends of the late 19th century. Boring, you say? A brand of geekery that even we eschew – we, the masses who admit to owning 20-sided die and can discuss how Will Riker was unable to sit properly in a chair (seriously – his technique defies laws of anatomy, if not physics) – a subject fit only for drunken English majors and people who are starting to find ‘The Big Bang Theory’ kind of dated? No, you’re wrong. Geekery is inclusive. Geekdom must branch ever outward, and forward, and into the darkest recesses of the souls of men who truly knew why absinthe was once called The Green Fairy.
And there’s a sentient pink helium balloon involved, so bear with me.
First, the history part. In the latter half of the 19th century, there lived a Swedish Naturalist playwright by the name of August Strindberg. Naturalism, defined here: Naturalism is a form of theater that depicts the absolutely mundane in a way that makes it almost unbearable even to people who like everyday life. It rejects fantasy, exoticism, and wild flights of imagination – so, precisely what you’re usually looking for in a theater experience. Strindberg was a dedicated Naturalist, as well as a student of all of the harder sciences of his day: alchemy, Swedenborgianism (don’t get too excited; it’s actually just a religion), absinthe and the occult. He suffered from occasional psychotic breakdowns, failed marriages, and an educational background that would have inspired Pink Floyd to write a double album. To let him sum himself up, here’s a quote from around the time he was writing extensively about marriage: “My view now is everything is shit. No way out. The skein is too tangled to be unraveled. It can only be sheared. The building is too solid to be pulled down. It can only be blown up.”
What better way to commemorate this man than to turn him into a lighthearted cartoon?
Fast forward to the early 21st century, when dorm rooms across the country were filled with the cartoon version of Strindberg, using a perhaps frighteningly accurate amalgam of his actual words, with the addition of his spirit animal: a tiny pink balloon named Helium. Created by Erin Perkins, James Bewley and Brian Perkins, and animated by Eun-Ha Paek, Strindberg and Helium consisted of four cartoon shorts of Strindberg hilariously narrating his everyday life in a very anti-Naturalist way, while the oddly affectionate and appropriate Helium offered consolation. It was, perhaps, not the way most people are introduced to Strindberg. (Presumably, most people who are introduced to his body of work spend very little time introducing it to others, being as they are trapped in a rubber room.)
Like most cult classics, Strindberg and Helium is a limited run. In 2010, its original creators teamed up with a new sound engineer, and produced an unbelievably beautiful fifth episode. They promise more to come, if the Naturalist world demands it.
So go here, geeks. If you’ve seen the world’s most famous Swedenborgian in cartoon form before, watch anew. If you’ve never seen these before, prepare to spend an evening imitating both Strindberg’s monotone and Helium’s attempt at being a straight man. Give these geniuses a reason to provide us with more.
Enjoy my favorite episode of Strindberg and Helium, below!