Dan Naumovich: Sorry to rain on your YouTube parade, but ...

Dan Naumovich

I like to take things apart to see what makes them tick. I come by this tendency honestly.

My dad likes to figure out how things work, mostly in an attempt to fix them after they break.

While his curiosity is with the mechanical and has practical applications, mine is more cultural and just tends to annoy people because I overthink things that probably don’t merit a second thought. I mostly do this on my blog, but I thought I might branch out and annoy you.

If you spend any amount of time online, you’ve probably seen the video of the really drunk guy in the liquor store. Taken by a surveillance camera, it shows a man having a devil of a time purchasing a 12-pack of beer.

The tippler is almost graceful in his pratfalls, to the point that it looks almost choreographed. His limbs appear to be controlled by a sadistic puppeteer who is taking great joy in flailing the poor sot about. There’s a silent-movie quality to the video, as if Charlie Chaplin was doing Foster Brooks’ shtick. And like much of Chaplin’s work, the comedy is tinged with melancholy.

“In tristitia hilaris, in hilaritate tristis,” the Italian philosopher Bruno once noted, and who could argue, especially if you don’t speak Latin. As near as I can translate, this means that there is sadness in joy, and joy in sadness. That’s a pretty profound insight, especially since Bruno arrived at it without the benefit of YouTube.

The people who passed around the drunk guy video mostly did so to share a laugh. But others couldn’t help but see the pathos beneath the slapstick.

They felt sympathy for the man, perhaps conjecturing as to what horrible twists of fate threw him down before thrusting him in front of the Web’s shameful spotlight.

As for me, I was filled with neither tristitia nor hilaritate, but skeptictus (I’m improvising with the Latin here). I think the video is a fake; a clever piece of performance art. I came to this admittedly unproven conclusion based on a cruel twist to a familiar saying: “It’s only funny until somebody gets hurt — then it’s hilarious.”

You see, for all of the many times the guy falls, he never goes down in a way that would cause injury. No cracked head. No unbroken falls. No blood. The guy falls like a stuntman, not a helpless drunk.

But after having dissected the performance, I felt like a spoilsport after I made a comment online explaining my findings. People didn’t want to speculate on the authenticity of the video. They wanted to either laugh at or feel sorry for the drunk guy for a couple of minutes and then get back to work.

I saw another video last week. It showed a 10-year old girl sitting in class on a day she was going to give a speech about her dad, a master sergeant stationed in Iraq. The camera focused on the girl’s face as an off-camera visitor entered the room. In a matter of seconds, her expression went from pleasant to confused to excited — then she broke down in tears when she realized that the guest was her dad, home for a surprise visit.

Words can’t do justice to the emotional power of this 50-second video. As much as it is getting passed around, I would guess that it’s responsible for jerking more tears than “Steel Magnolias.” If it turns out this video is a fake, that young girl is twice the actress Julia Roberts is.

But I don’t think it is. It’s just another real-life example of what Bruno was talking about with the joy and the sorrow. It really is a wonderful thing to behold. No need to overthink this one.

Dan Naumovich is a freelance writer and business copywriter. He can be reached

State Journal-Register