You may remember when Rainn Wilson, the guy you mostly know as "Dwight Schrute" from "The Office," became the subject of online outrage after making a lame rape joke on Twitter recently. Wilson, who has a notoriously hilarious Twitter feed most days, removed the offending tweet and later apologized. Via Twitter. Of course. But he didn't respond to media requests for comment. He knows enough to not feed the trolls.
So anyone expecting him to directly address the matter at his South by Southwest event, "The View from Inside Rainn Wilson's Brainstem," would've been disappointed. Wilson did make a Hitler joke on stage, adding that if he tweeted that quip, it'd make the front page of the Huffington Post — which is what occurred with the rape gag. Then he moved on.
Wilson was at SXSW Saturday to discuss SoulPancake, a website he launched in 2009 in order to "de-lame-ify spirituality," and to start a conversation among users about creativity and also the mystery of this thing we call life. But he took his time getting there. The man behind the intense, awkward Dwight unveiled a different channel of awkward intensity as he opened before a packed audience. It was hilarious.
Eventually Wilson worked his way to SoulPancake, transforming his stage vibe from manic sweaty guy in a smart black suit and tie to earnest, spiritual sweaty guy in a smart black suit and tie.
Wilson opened with a PowerPoint presentation he claimed was his first — if so, it showed. If the dude wasn't vamping the first half of his presentation, his acting chops are more formidable than previously imagined. Running through a history of the Internet which he seemed to be making up on the spot, Wilson showed a slide of a monkey riding a boar and discussed his own pre-Twitter platform, which required 140,000 characters. The magic behind number 140K he said, is that it's also the exact number of moons in the solar system. (It is not. Not even close.)
It was like that.
Next, between his non-sequiturs and clumsy PowerPoint slide operation, Wilson segued into sincerity.
“My history with the Internet," he began. "In 1993, my wife and I bought our first computer for $600. It had one program called WordStar, and we bought it off a message on a corkboard.”
“Remember search engines? When I started becoming an actor in L.A., I started searching myself or Ask Jeeving myself.”
Along with the age jokes, Wilson also shared his spiritual journey. Raised in the Baha'i faith, which emphasizes the spiritual unity of humankind, Wilson tried atheism for a while before returning to his religious roots. You can see that influence on SoulPancake, which is just as trippy and fun as the actor. “A lot people on the Web want people enslaved to computers, clicking on ads," Wilson said. "But I believe the Internet is the future of spirituality."
We shall see.
To be clear, SoulPancake isn't a religious site. Nor is it exactly a social network, not the way we think about such things these days. What the site does do is facilitate human interaction via creative challenges, and feature videos and articles submitted by the community ... which isn't nearly as tedious as it sounds.
To illustrate in the real world what SoulPancake does, Wilson challenged everyone in the audience to tweet their five ingredients for awesome, with the hashtag #SoulPancake. The randomly selected winner would receive an "awesome prize."
And indeed, the prize was. The young woman who won was escorted to the stage where she and Wilson were handed acoustic guitars, which they then smashed on the stage. So there you go.
“I truly believe we need to de-lame-ify spirituality," Wilson said. "Anything that has to do with our higher selves, it’s creating things, art, anything that elevates us beyond pooping and eating.”
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