An Animated Alan Watts Waxes Philosophical About Time in The Fine Art of Goofing Off, the 1970s “Sesame Street for Grown-Ups”

Time is a mea­sure of ener­gy, a mea­sure of motion. And we have agreed inter­na­tion­al­ly on the speed of the clock. And I want you to think about clocks and watch­es for a moment. We are of course slaves to them. And you will notice that your watch is a cir­cle, and that it is cal­i­brat­ed, and that each minute, or sec­ond, is marked by a hair­line which is made as nar­row as pos­si­ble, as yet to be con­sis­tent with being vis­i­ble. 

Alan Watts

How­ev­er true, that’s a par­tic­u­lar­ly stress-induc­ing obser­va­tion from one who was known for his Zen teach­ings…

The pres­sure is ame­lio­rat­ed some­what by Bob McClay’s trip­py time-based ani­ma­tion, above, nar­rat­ed by Watts. Putting Mick­ey Mouse on the face of Big Ben must’ve gone over well with the coun­ter­cul­tur­al youth who eager­ly embraced Watts’ East­ern phi­los­o­phy. And the tan­gi­ble evi­dence of real live mag­ic mark­ers will prove a ton­ic to those who came of age before ani­ma­tion’s dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion.

The short orig­i­nal­ly aired as part of the ear­ly 70’s series, The Fine Art of Goof­ing Off, described by one of its cre­ators, the humorist and sound artist, Hen­ry Jacobs, as “Sesame Street for grown-ups.”

Time pre­oc­cu­pied both men.

One of Jacobs’ fake com­mer­cials on The Fine Art of Goof­ing Off involved a pitch­man exhort­ing view­ers to stop wast­ing time at idle pas­times: Log a few extra gold­en hours at the old grind­stone.

A koan-like skit fea­tured a gramo­phone through which a dis­em­bod­ied voice end­less­ly asks a stuffed dog, “Can you hear me?” (Jacobs named that as a per­son­al favorite.)

Watts was less punch­line-ori­ent­ed than his friend and even­tu­al in-law, who main­tained an archival col­lec­tion of Watts’ lec­tures until his own death:

And when we think of a moment of time, when we think what we mean by the word “now”; we think of the short­est pos­si­ble instant that is here and gone, because that cor­re­sponds with the hair­line on the watch. And as a result of this fab­u­lous idea, we are a peo­ple who feel that we don’t have any present, because the present is instant­ly van­ish­ing — it goes so quick­ly. It is always becom­ing past. And we have the sen­sa­tion, there­fore, of our lives as some­thing that is con­stant­ly flow­ing away from us. We are con­stant­ly los­ing time. And so we have a sense of urgency. Time is not to be wast­ed. Time is mon­ey. And so, because of the tyran­ny of this thing, we feel that we have a past, and we know who we are in terms of our past. Nobody can ever tell you who they are, they can only tell you who they were. 

Watch a com­plete episode of The Fine Art of Goof­ing Off here. Your time will be well spent.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Wis­dom of Alan Watts in Four Thought-Pro­vok­ing Ani­ma­tions

Take a Break from Your Fran­tic Day & Let Alan Watts Intro­duce You to the Calm­ing Ways of Zen

Hear Alan Watts’s 1960s Pre­dic­tion That Automa­tion Will Neces­si­tate a Uni­ver­sal Basic Income

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • Mark says:

    The The Fine Art of Goof­ing Off link in this arti­cle links to

    I’m sure it’s just an error.
    Can I please ask you to link to sources that are PLATFORM NEUTRAL. Link­ing to the iTunes store for pod­casts or music is use­less for those of us on Chrome, Android or Win­dows refus­ing to install iTunes. Some kind of neu­tral source is always bet­ter and also more uni­ver­sal! Thank you!

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