In view of all this, it’s perhaps no wonder that culture in 2015 leaned ever further toward full-blown absurdism. One of the year’s most affecting TV shows, for instance, was an animation starring an anthropomorphic horse and featured, among other things, three small children in a trench coat approximating a businessman (and the kicker? No one noticed the difference). The year’s best animated movie, Inside Out, was a surrealist meditation on neuroscience and psychology. Its most-discussed book had such an impact because it was an oddity — in a year of closed eyes, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me refused to look away, and was all the more powerful for doing so.
Beyond pop culture, a sense of absurdism surfaced in the most unlikely places — remember, for instance, the New York Daily News cover that borrowed the visual language of the Internet to mock anyone who was upset by their pro-gun control covers?
The use of quintessentially Internet imagery here is no accident, because as ever, the most absurd place of all the place most abstracted from reality. The Internet has been getting weird for years, and in 2015, weirdness went mainstream: in particular, The Onion’s spinoff Clickhole evolved from a pretty competent Buzzfeed parody into an entirely different beast, and in doing so, captured perfectly the spirit of being online in 2015. Clickhole takes Internet culture, which has always flirted with absurdism, and magnifies it to such extremes that the content, such as it was, is often entirely nonsensical — and yet, the satire remains clear. It’s so ridiculous that it makes perfect sense.
Which brings us to the man who captured the spirit of 2015 better than any other. Step forward… Chuck Tingle, a mysterious author of surrealist gay erotica who may or may not be a tae kwon do expert living in Billings, Montana. If the likes of Trump and Shkreli embodied the absurd, circa 2015, then Tingle captured it better than anyone. He is a quintessentially 2015 phenomenon, and one born of the Internet. His debut story was self-published last December as an e-book on Amazon (which remains the only place his work has appeared), but by the time the Internet caught on, 2014 was already in the past. His works are hyper culturally aware (various stories reference the dress, the Starbucks coffee cup “controversy,” and the Kardashians, all of which are examples of absurdism in their own right).
I’m not going to delve too deeply into the semiotics of works like, ahem, My Billionaire Triceratops Craves Gay Ass, but there are a couple of notable things about Tingle’s work. First, it is absurdist in the most glorious sense of the world — Tingle’s world is populated by randy gay dinosaurs, gay bigfoots, and, well, more gay dinosaurs. It’s hard to believe there’s not some sort of postmodernist sense of humor at play here — after all, we’re talking about a man who is the author of *deep breath* Pounded in the Butt By My Own Butt, Pounded in the Butt By My Book ‘Pounded in the Butt By My Own Butt’ and, yes, Pounded in the Butt by My Book ‘Pounded in the Butt by My Book “Pounded in the Butt By My Own Butt.”’ This is what postmodernism is for.
Beyond the sheer joy of the fact that we now live in a world where Lewis Carroll writes gay erotica, Tingle’s work also functions as a satire of, yes, capitalism — when his characters aren’t iterations of his own butt, they’re largely mega-rich corporate types who may or may not be dinosaurs. Martin Shkreli makes an appearance, because of course he does, along with an anthropomorphic Learjet (I’m Gay for My Living Billionaire Jet Plane), the world of high-end viticulture (Bigfoot Sommelier Butt Tasting), and… Donald Trump (President Donald Loch Ness Trump Pounds America’s Butt).
Tingle himself remains an elusive figure; his interviews read as much like absurdist performance art as his stories, and as far as I’m aware, no one has met the man in person. And yet, his books are a pop culture phenomenon — not on the level of Fifty Shades of Grey, admittedly, but he’s surely the most successful author of gay dinosaur erotica that the world has ever seen. He might not be the most important writer of 2015, but I suspect that in ten years’ time — if we’re not all farmers eking out a living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland by then — if someone asks me about this particular year in culture, I might well answer, “Well, there was this guy called Chuck Tingle…”
And if they ask why, I’ll say something to the effect of what I’ve said above: that in 2015, we went about our business in the Potemkin village of capitalism, and we did our best to carry on as if nothing was wrong, and if that‘s not the height of absurdity, then what is? We lived with a sort of latent, low-level despair over our chances of ever changing that system, at least until it had sailed itself — and everyone who whose lives depended on it — into the rocks. And if the ship is going down anyway, why shouldn’t there be a gay triceratops at the helm? It beats Donald Trump.
This piece is part of Flavorwire’s series of essays on 2015 in culture. Click here to follow our end-of-year coverage.