I know, I know. This is coming kinda late to the party (although I must say an article coming less than a month after its subject matter first exploded onto the planet’s collective consciousness can be construed as being “late to the party” is a strictly millennial notion), but I’d like to talk about Pen Pineapple Apple Pen.
If you haven’t seen it yet (god help you survive today’s viral world) or just want to refresh your memory (which would make you perfectly at home in the present day), here’s the video.
So what’s the big deal, you say? I believe that PPAP is perfect metaphor for the anti-intellectualism running rampant today.
Hear me out: Cruise any social media site or comments sections for about fifteen minutes now and you’ll inevitably find examples of people put familiar concepts together with nary a thought for logical coherence, and then present their “conclusions” as unassailable truths. In most cases, these “unassailable” assertions do contain the tiniest bit of actual truth which make them very difficult to dismiss them as nonsense in a way that would be acceptable to those who believe in them, despite the shining clarity of the rebuttal.
Take the most common argument against the reality of manmade catastrophic climate change for instance.
Premise 1: It has been very cold recently.
Premise 2: The principal mechanism of climate change is global warming.
Conclusion A: How can the world be warming up if it has been very cold recently?
Premise 3: The fight against global warming requires drastic changes in lifestyle.
Premise 4: The lifestyle we must change has wrought great and desirable advances in human existence.
Conclusion B: Changing lifestyles now would deprive humanity of these great and desirable advancements.
Conclusion C: Global warming is a hoax, and those who warn against it are enemies of progress.
Taken by themselves, each of these premises holds a grain of actual truth, don’t they. It has been very cold recently, and global warming will cause climate change; addressing catastrophic climate change does require lifestyle changes; and these lifestyle changes will come at the expense of things we associate with the advancement of the human condition.
All these things are, in fact true, in and of themselves. However, it is also true that each premise represents only a single facet of the entire truth. It has been very cold recently, but variations in weather patterns are consistent with the predictable effects of a drastic change in the climate.
It is also true that global warming is the principal mechanism behind climate change, but that doesn’t mean it can only manifest as increases in temperature (or the earth “warming” up). And so on.
In other words, while the premises are all true, the problem lies in the conclusion which is nonsensical because it completely ignores the complexities inherent in each of the premises. That conclusion, however, which is very easy and unchallenging to arrive at, is then accepted as an unassailable truth. And since disassembling this faux truth requires a bit more thinking and reasoning than went into coming up with it in the first place, the possibility of there being a deeper truth is quickly dismissed. Or as people are now quick to say, “E di ikaw na ang maraming alam!” Textbook anti-intellectualism, anyone?
Which brings me back to PPAP.
You have a pen, and an apple – both true. Stick them together with enough conviction (“Ugh!”) and you have an “apple pen,” an easily observable phenomenon which can either be described literally (pen + apple = apple-pen) or described in a more nuanced and more accurate way (pen + apple = a pen stuck in an apple). The simplicity of the label apple pen then effectively describes a brand new object, whereas the slightly more rigorous description more accurately describes the state of things, i.e., the pen remains a pen, the apple, an apple, except that one is stuck in the other.
You do the same thing – and follow the same logical breakdown – with a pen and a pineapple and you can then have the choice of saying “pineapple pen” or “a pen stuck in a pineapple.” The anti-illectual will, naturally choose the simpler description and end up with an apple pen in one hand, and a pineapple pen in the other.
Now stick the two illogical constructs together with great conviction (UGH!) and you’ve repeated the exact same process that created the apple pen and the pineapple pen, with the predictable result of getting a pen pineapple apple pen, instead of the more tedious “pen stuck in a pineapple, held in close juxtaposition with a pen stuck in an apple,” which is no fun at all.
In contrast, pen pineapple apple pen presents itself as a brand new concept of the various elements as one organic whole instead of just disparate elements placed in a particular configuration. This new “organic whole” is then celebrated as an emergent truth when, in fact, it is nothing of the sort. Again, a textbook description of anti-intellectualism and, as I said, a perfect metaphor for the anti-intellectualism running rampant today.
This mirroring of our society’s current predisposition to anti-intellectualism is also, I believe, the driving force behind the popularity of PPAP, the video of which has amassed 31.3 million views in less than 30 days.
Oh and, one more thing. Look at the video again and consider the production value that went into it. The guy is a popular DJ who was able to assemble a filming crew, audio technicians, studio time, professional quality lighting and backdrop, and a ridiculous costume – would getting getting an actual apple, pineapple, and pens present an insurmountable challenge? Of course not.
The absence of these actual props – as critical as they are to the central theme of the video – was, I believe, another brilliant metaphor.
Anti-intellectualism thrives in part because it is couched in vague and largely unsubstantiated terms. It works because its truth is left to the receiver (or in this case, the viewer) to flesh out the concepts with their own imagination and thought processes. We are told that the DJ is holding an apple and we decide how big it is, what color it is, and perhaps, even how juicy it might be. In other words, he suggests the existence of a fact, and we validate it ourselves, using our own imagination. This makes it very real for us, and therefore, easier to accept. At the same time, it effectively gives the DJ plausible denial – an important element in the arsenal of a person fanning the flames of anti-intellectual discourse.
Here’s how plausible deniability works:
Of course, I’m not accusing PPAP of anything remotely as nefarious as fooling insurance companies to sign off on shady claims. However, the same mechanism is at work here, just as the same technique is widely used in Facebook posts and Tweets that seek to push an agenda with less than truthful claims.
At most, I am saying that PPAP – as annoying as it is – cannot simply be dismissed as a stunt intended to boost a DJ’s popularity. It is, in fact, a cleverly done satire which, if you know what you know what you’re looking for, hits you with its message, right between the eyes.