Some 25 years ago, at the peak of his band's chart fame with Sit Down, Tim Booth of the band James did an interview with one of the weekly music papers in which he mentioned having reached “the enlightened state of fuck it”. It's a glorious – and evidently memorable – phrase, whose echo resounds through Help: a set of sketches by new comedy duo Bae that promise the audience an aura shakedown and a double serving of kale-flavoured happiness.
There's much to satirise in the lifestyle and self-help industry, whether it's the advice to steam your vagina given on Gwyneth Paltrow's blog Goop or the Hemsley sisters' preoccupation with the consistency of stools. In creating their parade of seminar leaders, chat-show hosts and Ted-style talkers, however, Bae are as concerned to unmask these women's micro-aggressions, insecurities and failures as they are to expose their teachings as quasi-mystic mumbo-jumbo. From the Californian guru who consistently speaks over others to the vaguely Teutonic woman who recommends groping as a method of winning people's attention and admiration, not a single one among them is beguiling as a personality.
The problem with this approach is that it risks creating the impression of heteronormative white privilege laughing at anything other than itself, by presenting Buddhism as intrinsically funny and lesbianism a lifestyle choice, and equating being “a bit of a mess” with being a loser. It also avoids the question of why people, particularly women, might find or even seek a salve in alternative therapies, “clean” eating, yoga or mindfulness. The politics underlying the self-help industry are fraught, with capitalism and neoliberalism creating the conditions in which mental health problems flourish, before selling the “cure” to considerable financial gain. Is mindfulness a way of numbing the brain to acceptance of rather than anger against social problems, or a step aside from conventional western ideas about how to live? Complicated questions underlie this material: by inviting us to join with them in declaring “fuck it”, Bae avoid the more difficult discussions that might point the way to actual enlightenment. (MC)
Help is on at 11.45 at Just the Tonic @ The Mash House until August 27th (not 20th). See venue for accessibility information - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/help
Debunking “clean eating”: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/bake-offs-ruby-vs-the-hemsleys-the-bad-science-behind-clean-eati/
Debunking monetised happiness: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/apr/12/happiness-capitalism
The pros and cons of mindfulness: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/feb/23/should-we-be-mindful-of-mindfulness-nhs-depression
Mindfulness put to the test: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/my_trouble_with_mindfulness
Stella Duffy on the benefits of mindfulness and yoga: https://stelladuffy.wordpress.com/2016/07/29/the-quiet-after-the-raging/