I did promise seawallglen that I'd keep staring at Noel Fielding until I worked out how he reconciled all the inhibited body language with his proclivity for going out in public looking like a happy madman. I think I've got it.

The reason I found all this notable in the first place is that all of the quietness and keeping his hands tucked in and all that is indicative of someone who is keeping stuff penned up until they're sure it's okay to let it out. Generally, it's a sign that someone is afraid of something that will happen if they speak up. It's unusual -- to put it mildly -- to see it from someone who's otherwise making no apparent effort to blend in with anything. (I mean this literally. If you haven't seen the mirrorball suit, it's quite a thing to behold.) The inside of Fielding's head is indubitably wicked weird, but I gather it's always looked like that in there, and he's quite at home with it. It doesn't appear to be a remnant of any kind of tug of war between him and anyone else in his life, either; his brother's in the cast of The Mighty Boosh and his parents pop up in his projects from time to time, so he seems to have full familial support for whatever it is he's up to here on planet Earth.

Nor does it seem to be due to an internal identity conflict. Fielding is neither confrontational nor unduly squirmy about answering questions about things like gender and sexual identity, as are sometime asked by the nosier talk show hosts; he's well aware that he presents as fashionably androgynous in some of his fancier getups, and that he quite enjoys that, but it doesn't appear to be any particular statement about himself or society so much as he just likes giving people a momentary brain cramp. He's not making any particular attempt to be anything but a dude who happens to like flamboyant clothing. It mostly seems to result in him wandering around the Camden club scene cheerfully snogging people who show signs of being willing to cheerfully snog him back. (If you want photographic evidence, check tumblr.)

So that does rather narrow it down to something along the lines of being concerned about the effect of what comes out of his mouth. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, if he were worried that people would think he was too strange for words, his entire career to date would be the very definition of a stupid move. I've been getting the impression this whole time that Noel Fielding is very much of the opinion that his work has some sort of a point -- one of the fans tweeted something to their NMTB Question Time that involved Lady Gaga, and Fielding's main reaction to her was pretty much, "All right, you did a thing. Er. Why?" Normal people ask that constantly, but getting it out of a professional surrealist is a whole different kettle of fish.

Fielding, I note, is not just randomly weird at people. He puts a fair amount of effort into not being obstructive with it, actually -- they'd quit hiring him to do structured things like panel quizzes if he were intentionally disruptive. He doesn't interrupt much, doesn't paw people who don't like it, and on a few very special occasions, I've seen him throw his hands up and disavow any knowledge of what his teammate is spitting out. He's got a goal here, and it's not merely to sow the seeds of chaos and contribute to the eventual heat death of the universe. If you watch, Fielding does actually do quite a lot of neurosing before he opens his mouth, and a lot of nervous evaluation afterwards to find out how it went over. He does a lot of fingernail-chewing and social calculating because he wants a very specific result to come from opening his mouth, and he feels like he has a lot invested in getting it right.

I've come to the conclusion that his ultimate mission in life is to startle people into laughing. Simple, no? I thought it was endearing.

If you look at his painting -- and he's done quite a lot of it, including proper gallery shows; it looks like he's the main graphic designer for the Boosh stuff, among many, many other things -- pretty much all of his work is sort of primitivist and childlike, most of it is silly in one way or another, and a lot of it is rather sweet. It's a sort of brightly-colored jumble of modern mundanity and fairy-tale reasoning, not completely without rules, but not particularly informed by the rules we use in the real world either. He treats all of this as if it has inherent worth, but none of it as if it is serious social commentary. And when you ask Fielding about his painting, he is always grinning. Often also covered in paint, sometimes even unintentionally.

'Strange' is not the same thing as 'space cadet', which I think a lot of people assume he is. (In point of fact, he strikes me as being possibly the only person in recorded history who stayed awake during lecture in art school. Fielding also reads enough actual books to have complained once about something Dan Brown wrote being referred to as literature during a Quiz, and when Carr asked if he'd read The Da Vinci Code, his response was, and I quote, "Oh, get fucked." At that moment, I loved him to death.) All of the watchful mental gear-grinding, as near as I can make out, goes toward figuring out how much he can get away with, and what he should hit people with in order to best surprise them sideways into dream-logic. If he startles someone and the result is not smiling, he is not happy. So he works hard to avoid that.

Moggie, proving that against all odds she has actually been absorbing the stuff I say for the past eight years, pointed out that this also goes a long way towards explaining his dress sense. By dream-logic, it's entirely possible to show up to work wearing shiny gold Chelsea boots and a top hat with jackrabbit ears on, and have the entire world react like this is perfectly normal. By dint of raw talent and a flat refusal to acknowledge the weirdness of this unless it happens to be funny just then, Fielding has actually managed to pull this off, for which I sincerely salute him.

I love it when I finally figure out someone strange, and I love it more when the answer turns out to not be depressing. Hooray!

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  1. Ok, this is tangential, but I stayed awake in art history. I may have had an excellent teacher, but, I was also discovering that history made sense! Or it can if the human motivations and thoughts behind historical movements and happenings are revealed. High school history classes were just memorizing named and dates, which doesn't enlighten me at ALL, and I have a hard time remembering...until you give me REASONS. Art history was where I actually made sense of all those names and dates they had attempted to cram in my head before.

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    1. I do know other people who stayed awake in art history classes in university, but Fielding went to an actual dedicated art school, where people are typically itching more to be inspired and end up covered in paint than they are to sit for short-essay exams. :) I personally only ever had one art history class, and it was a load of slides and names and dates and therefore boring, and Dan Brown STILL managed to fuck up things I knew. His protagonist is supposed to be some sort of expert in symbolic art, too. Utter crap, and badly written -- he needs his ellipsis privileges taken away.

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