In 1969, under the pseudonym ‘Mr X’, celebrity astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan wrote an essay that would later be released in the 1971 book Marihuana Reconsidered. In it, Sagan anonymously extolled the virtues of getting blazed as hell: it makes food better, it makes art better, it makes sex better, it makes music better, and, hell, you can even drive when you’re high, he argued (note: do not do this).
One thing I find particularly interesting is Sagan’s rejection of the suggestion that any ‘good’ ideas you have while you’re high are actually bad and you just think that they’re good because you’re high. He believed that the ideas themselves are good, but it’s difficult to articulate them in a way that makes sense when you’re not high:
There is a myth about such highs: the user has an illusion of great insight, but it does not survive scrutiny in the morning. I am convinced that this is an error, and that the devastating insights achieved when high are real insights; the main problem is putting these insights in a form acceptable to the quite different self that we are when we’re down the next day. Some of the hardest work I’ve ever done has been to put such insights down on tape or in writing.
For the most part, I remain unconvinced of this. Oftentimes I will have what seems to be a powerful insightful thought occur to me while I’m high, only to read the next morning the note I made in my phone and immediately arrive at the conclusion that I might be the dumbest man alive.
This time, though, I think the insights I had into the mind of Chasing Monsters host Cyril Chauquet while stoned out of my gourd are very, very real. Maybe even too real.
Chasing Monsters (season one available on Netflix) is a show about a man dedicating his life to catching extremely big fish. Even if you haven’t seen the show, you will – on some level – already be familiar with it. It has all of the great hallmarks of a daytime TV fishing show: lots of baseball caps, music that sounds like the vanishing spectre of a once-heard Foo Fighters song, and highly repetitive editing designed to fill out an hour timeslot and fill in anyone who just tuned in after an ad break. Admittedly, the fish are very big, but the show itself is nothing remarkable.
I couldn’t tell you the exact reason that I decided to watch this show. What I can tell you is that, in the hours prior, I had eaten one (1) very strong weed brownie, had absent-mindedly shovelled a very generous portion of the uncooked brownie mix into my mouth, and had also put some of the weed butter into some parmesan-y mashed potatoes, which I then ate (I stand by this as a genius idea). In short: I had become absolutely demolished, by the drug known as weed.
Presumably paralysed on the couch and barely able to understand what a PS4 controller is or how I could use it to make my TV play pictures and sounds at me, I somehow arrived on Netflix and somehow began watching Cyril Chauquet as he motorboated himself around the Florida peninsula looking for extraordinarily large fish.
Theoretically, I should have been entranced by the monstrously huge Atlantic goliath groupers (Epinephelus itajara) he was trying to catch. I am fascinated by huge sea-beasts at the best of times, let alone when I’m so high I couldn’t tell you what day it is and have definitively lost all sense of what size a fish is supposed to be. Instead, I became entranced by Cyril.
Pictured: A man whose tombstone will read simply ‘fish’. (Source: Facebook)
Cyril Chauquet’s defining visual characteristic is probably that he doesn’t have any. He is a man that looks like nothing. Combined with his completely unplaceable accent – a soup of Colombian, French, French-Canadian, and Canadian that is strangely evocative of Tommy Wiseau – he would probably make an incredible spy were he not so strongly drawn to the rivers, seas, and estuaries and their bountiful scaly fruit (fish).
He is a digital ghost. He has no Instagram account. He has a Facebook page but it’s private. The Twitter account ‘cyril chauquet’ (@chauquet_cyril) was made in December of 2012, but despite its formidable 153 followers, it has never posted, retweeted, or liked a tweet. He has a Wikipedia entry, but it is completely bereft of biographical information, save for “he can speak at least 5 languages, including English, French and Portuguese, also he is a badass.” I’m not sure whether or not he wrote that one himself.
He is by all appearances a profoundly normal man. A pleasantly and unobtrusively forgettable fishing show host. And yet I’ve been completely unable to forget him.
Instead of watching someone jet about America striving to catch a series of fish all roughly the size of a compact European car, I watched a rich and – at times – almost painfully sad portrait of a man that, like all of us, simply wants to connect with the world around him. Thanks to the insidious drug ‘marihuana’, in this one 45-minute episode, I saw the true depths of the human experience, all in the eyes of a guy who dresses like a dad that’s about to get stuck into the garden.
Almost immediately, I began to feel overwhelmed with the sense that Cyril was completely at odds with his environment. The men he deals with on the show are grizzled, leathery, and taciturn, whereas he himself is warm, open, and curious. He attempts to adopt the serious, emphatic cadence of someone who hosts an American fishing show but his confusingly accented voice lends itself more to someone who hosts a show about cheeses that are kept in caves. In his every gesture I could see an attempt to replicate the rigid masculinity of the people around him, but those attempts ultimately fell short, leaving him in a sort of uncanny valley of just-off handshakes and high fives.
Pictured: One out of two ain’t bad.
Pictured: Always remember to extend your centre of gravity as far away from your feet as possible.
With a level of clarity I could only possibly attain through drugs, I knew that this aping of a perceived ideal of manhood didn’t sit well with him because he is, at heart, a gentle soul. Every person he introduces on the show is a ‘good friend’. Every small victory on the show is celebrated with a round of hugs and high fives. He takes pains to congratulate everyone on the boat, even if they weren’t directly involved in the catch. At one point he goes back in for a second kiss on a fish that he catches.
Clearly*, though, he’s insecure about it. At one point in the episode, Cyril is doing little warm-ups because he’s about to try and handline in a fish that could be anywhere up to 200kg. Speaking to camera, he expresses concern that he “may look like a sissy right now“, then, in a completely different shot, he asks the other man on the boat, Mark, if he thinks he’s a “sissy right now, warming up like that“.
Pictured: Toxic masculinity is refusing help even when you’re clearly injured.
If I was watching this show while bored in a waiting room, I wouldn’t have paid any attention to the slightly forced quality of his laughter, but watching it while glued to my couch by the devil’s lettuce, I knew that he was a man trying to mask inner turmoil. Every joke made about the potential danger of what they were doing was met by a brief pause followed by the laughter of someone who is absolutely convinced they are about to chopped in half by a monster fish.
I could tell that he’d do anything to maintain the facade of a formidable alpha male that he believed he was successfully projecting. He looked absolutely terrified when he realised he would have to pull up a 200kg fish on thin handline while not wearing the gloves he had forgotten to bring, but instead of just calling it off like a reasonable person, he pushed through. When it was suggested that he free dive down to the bottom of shark- and grouper-infested waters to act as human chum to bring predators to the surface, he looked as if he had gazed into a crystal ball and seen the exact time and manner of his death. And yet, so as not to let the people around him down, he did it.
Who taught you it was a crime to be soft, Cyril Chauquet?
It’s difficult to imagine that every single person around you and on television has an inner life as rich and complex and fraught as your own, and it’s better that way – life would be nearly impossible if we had to consider that every single fucker on the street was just as significant as ourselves. I find it hard enough dealing with my own insecurities and anxieties, I don’t want to also have to deal with those of a daytime TV host.
People talk about weed as if it’s harmless, but it comes with its own unique set of risks. When I put on a fishing show, I don’t expect to feel a deep pit of overwhelming sorrow at a grown man who clearly doesn’t feel comfortable being himself. I didn’t press play expecting to fall into a hole of self-reflection where I slowly begin to question whether I’m projecting my own insecurities about not being able to talk to men on a beaming Frenchman (?) who just wants to take a photo with a big fish.
And yet here I am.Image: Beyond Productions