The Joy Of … The “Hedonism” Genre

A while before I wrote this article, I was reminded of one of my favourite genres of film/television/fiction. I am, of course, talking about the hedonism genre. And, yes, I would argue that it is actually a genre (even though it can include other genres like comedy or horror).

But, before I talk about some examples and strengths of the genre, I should probably define the genre first. As the name suggests, this is a genre that revolves around fun and wild excess. It can either be a celebration of these things, a satire of these things and/or something that evokes similar emotions to these in the audience. The heyday of this genre was probably during the 1980s and 1990s.

This genre is so awesome because of the sense of freedom and/or nostalgia that it evokes in the audience. It’s a form of escapism that not only allows the audience to vicariously enjoy a rebellious life of wild hedonistic excess in a safe way, but it also makes the audience think about their worldview and attitude towards life too. One of the central features of this genre is that it focuses on characters who enjoy life, or believe that life should actually be enjoyed.

And, in this day and age, this is always an incredibly refreshing thing to see. Anything which places narrative importance on actually having fun is like an oasis in a desert.

The hedonism genre is also perhaps the only genre where having an “immortal” main character can actually work in dramatic terms. Usually, in hedonistic stories, the main character will either survive things that many people wouldn’t or get away with things many people wouldn’t. This turns these characters from ordinary fictional characters into more archetypical figures, like the ancient Roman god Bacchus. These characters become symbols of a life lived for the fun of it. And, again, in a dour age such as the one we live in these days, our popular mythology desperately needs characters like this (if only for the sake of balance).

Anyway, the thing that reminded me of this genre is the fact that I’ve started re-watching an absolutely amazing sitcom from the 1990s/2000s called “Absolutely Fabulous” which focuses on the hilariously chaotic lives of two middle-aged fashionistas called Edina and Patsy.

This is a screenshot from series 1, episode 1 (1992) of “Absolutely Fabulous” showing Edina and Patsy attending a fashion show after-party.

Although the show is clearly meant to be a vicious satire of trendy people from London (and it’s eerily timeless in this respect), the hedonistic “world” of the show is absolutely fascinating. Although the show’s hedonism is carried to comedic excess and laced with layer upon layer of satire, it’s still oddly refreshing to see a TV show about two main characters whose main goal in life is to enjoy it (and look fabulous whilst doing so).

Another awesome example of fun hedonistic storytelling is probably Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin’s “Tank Girl” comics. These are classic 1980s/90s punk comics about the bizarre adventures of a hard-partying army deserter called Tank Girl and her boyfriend Booga (a giant mutant kangaroo) in a bizarre version of post-apocalyptic Australia which is, culturally, more like 1990s Britian than anything else.

This is an excerpt from “Tank Girl 2” (1996) by Hewlett & Martin.

This comic series is utterly brilliant, because it revels in silliness, rebellion and chaos. It isn’t some gritty story about saving the world or anything like that. It’s the kind of comic that will make you laugh and feel like a punk when you read it. And in an age where controversies about comics are still a thing, seeing a comic that just doesn’t give a damn is extremely refreshing in creative terms.

Of course, the genre can also be used as a brilliant source of horror too. A great example of this is probably the brilliant 1990s film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas“. If you’ve never heard of this before, it’s a story about the misadventures of a drug-addled journalist and his equally drug-addled attorney during a trip to Las Vegas in the 1970s.

Although it isn’t explicitly a horror story (it’s more of a dark comedy and a lament for the death of the 1960s counterculture), it uses hedonism as a brilliant source of horror. As the film progresses, everything gradually becomes more surreal and paranoia-filled as the main characters’ drug binge increases in intensity – with the set design in the film gradually turning into a demented “Alice In Wonderland”-like alternate world, as the main characters gradually lose their grip on reality.

This is a screenshot from “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” (1998), showing some of the film’s more surreal and chaotic set design.

Whilst many films in the (similar, but different) stoner genre use this sort of thing as a brilliant source of feel-good comedy, this film turns it up to eleven and it becomes a source of nightmarish, paranoid horror instead. It’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of being too hedonistic, but it isn’t judgmental or preachy about it and – as such- it fills it’s role far more effectively than any kind of stern lecture ever could.

So, whether they are allowing the audience to vicariously revel in a life of wild hedonistic excess (without the dangers of doing this for real), making the case that life should be enjoyed or offering a gentle non-judgemental warning to keep real life hedonism within vaguely sensible limits, the hedonism genre is one of the best genres out there.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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