My wife and I just finished watching all of the seasons of Richard Ayoade’s1 Travel Man2. In one episode we were watching he mentions that he’s half Norwegian which peaked our curiosity and we asked “what’s her name” to “Wikipedia Richard Ayoade”. I’ve started the habit of referring to Alexa or Siri as “What’s her name” so as to not summon any additional eavesdropping. I’m a fan of Ayoade. Although I’d taken note of him in The Mighty Boosh3, I didn’t really pay particular attention to him until watching The IT Crowd4. I now go out of my way to find other work he’s involved in because of his dry wit, intelligence and self deprecation. It’s a particular kind of personality I gravitate towards. He always looks at the camera with a bit of skepticism and it’s hard to find a photo or video of him in which he isn’t.
The article from which the image above was republished5, written by Ayoade is spot on for my interpretation of casting Ayoade as Holden Caulfield6. He includes Holden as a footnote and cites many of the best anti-heroes giving the most attention to my favorite – Max Fischer from Rushmore7. After having “what’s her name” solve our speculation about Ayode’s background, I got up this morning and started reading various things about him. I won’t rehash any biographical material because you can read the Wikipedia entry on him. Aside from the Cambridge education, the law degree, and a screenplay based on a Dostoyevsky novella…there’s a Radiohead tribute video he made back in 2016:
I think the video above is really indicative of Ayoade’s attitude. It was made for the song “Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief“8. The song lyrics explore a dark theme of based on children’s nursery rhyme Tinker Tailor9. Ayoade’s little vignette has businessmen all jump to the side of the road like startled deer. It reminds me of a darker version of something that John Cleese10 might have written for Monty Python11.
The one thing that really resonated with me, and the reason I was motivated to write this essay, was this quote from an interview: “I was so obsessed with The Catcher In the Rye that I started to dress like Holden Caulfield”. It stuck with me because I continually run across references to J.D. Salinger’s A Catcher in the Rye12 where I try to remanence on exactly what it was about that book that I so deeply connected with. I’ve gotten in the habit of researching my past experiences to try and uncover clues about myself. My essay about E.T.13 several years back is a good example. I can’t remember when I first read Catcher. Shortly thereafter I went to the bookstore and bought every book he wrote and read them all. I’m not an avid reader so it’s pretty rare incidences that I’ve done that. I’m still not sure why, which may be the primary motive for researching it this morning. Perhaps it may have just been my mindset during the years I read it and maybe I’ll have to read it again in an effort to understand.
I’m not the only one. There are countless essays and research on A Catcher in the Rye. I think I’ve brushed through some of them in the past in attempt to explain my interest. If you want a deeper dive on it referencing other critical works, I’d suggest reading a piece by Gis Jen14 re-published in The New Republic15. A more recent piece from Dana Czapnik16 suggests that if I re-read it, I might “You might see Holden for who he really is. Not a stand-in for every single teenager that ever walked the Earth, but a lonely individual who finds the injustices of the world intolerable.” Alfred Kazin17, among other critics, took the harsh view, characterizing Salinger’s audience as “the vast number who have been released by our society to think of themselves as endlessly sensitive, spiritually alone, and gifted, and whose suffering lies in the narrowing of their consciousness to themselves.” Reading these other reviews morning has made me wonder about my supposed connection. I’m guessing that I most likely reminisced on something I had a previously only understood in a very narrow sense.
Richard Ayoade has accomplished exactly what he wanted. He is a modern version of Holden Caulfield. He is overly sensitive, self deprecating, doubtful, sarcastic, sardonic, alienated, crude, and implies that he may be misunderstood. At least he’s projecting that image. In interviews he seems to echo sentiments that Holden would have. He mentions that his parents did not approve of his theatrical studies. In a rare interview Salinger explained that Holden was semi-autobiographical. Don’t we all project a little bit of who we’d like to be. Why am I connecting and why do I find his character or personality so charming? It’s evident I’m not the only one considering the successes he’s having. I would argue that Ayoade unlike Holden, who some consider the ‘avatar of American authenticity’, has a personality more akin to our modern world. Is his tone symbolic of an undercurrent of a collective attitude that is changing with the times? Even if my take on Catcher in the Rye was somewhat narrow minded, I like Ayoade. I’m interested in ordering “Ayoade on Ayoade: A Cinematic Odyssey“18 and I’ll continue to track down anything he’s involved with. In true Holden Caulfield fashion, he bored of Travel Man quickly, and he’s on to something else.