“Salad Fingers” and absurdity

Having the attention span of a caffeinated squirrel, I seldom feel capable of sitting for the entirety of a feature-length film. Because of this, I used to internally sigh when I am asked what my favorite movie is. Inquiring further into the definition of “movie,” however, I have discovered that the word “movie” can, by definition, apply to any motion picture conveying a story. Now I can confidently answer the question — my favorite movie is “Salad Fingers,” and I will tell you exactly why.

First, however, I feel it necessary to provide a brief characterization of the masterpiece in question for those of you who are not familiar. This characterization takes us back to the summer of 2004, when British animator and content creator David Firth, unaware of the reaction that was to come, posted a two-minute YouTube video called “Salad Fingers.” 

Through whatever algorithmic or social mechanism that determines what content on the internet will gain visibility, the video became enormously popular, to the extent that it became something of a miniature cultural phenomenon — largely because no one knew what in the world they were supposed to glean from the two-minute rollercoaster that is “Salad Fingers.” 

The video featured the eponymous gangly, green-skinned, vaguely anthropomorphic figure with long, spindly fingers and a high, tremulous voice. The utter eccentricity of the video should be evident through this much information alone, but the discordant, eerie music that plays quietly in the background lends a distinctly ominous aura to one’s viewing experience.

Salad Fingers expresses sexual attraction to rusty objects, prompting him to embark on a mission to solicit the perfect rusty spoon from a neighbor who speaks only in screeches. Through these screeches, the neighbour is assumed to communicate his dearth of spoons, so Salad Fingers caresses his rusty kettle. Mr. Fingers moans in pleasure, and the video comes to an abrupt end. 

Since the video’s release, many bewildered viewers have conjectured about what any of this means. A plethora of fan theories have been produced as people fumble to make sense of the cryptic chronicle of this green man.The public demanded to know about the piece’s origin — whoever created this video must have the answer to all the questions one has after viewing.  

It was discovered that the man behind it all was David Firth, an artist who generally focuses on the unsettling, particularly through evocative uncertainty and uncanny distortions of figures. Multiple media sources have since interviewed Firth to find the answer to the question we all had: what is the story behind “Salad Fingers?”

Firth’s answer is the crux of my fascination: there is no meaning. The video was created after a friend had joked that Firth had “salad fingers” when he played guitar because of the way he held the instrument. The details were utter nonsense that Firth cooked up with little thought or intentionality. 

That a trivial inside joke between friends generated feelings of repulsion, fascination and raw mass bewilderment in all viewers is no small feat in itself; what I find so immensely compelling about the endeavor, however, is the fact that people so desperately wanted a concrete explanation of something for which there simply was none. 

The absolute absurdity Firth contained within a mere two minutes is beyond impressive; in fact, I would argue that it is a testament to the importance of representations of the absurd in media. So much of the human experience pushes us to fixate on the search for meaning, both within a creative piece and in our lives in a broader sense. Although I do not think such inquiries into human existence are entirely fruitless, I feel that there is catharsis in the ability to witness absurdity and accept it as it is. 

The lack of meaning behind “Salad Fingers” inherently invalidates any single person’s interpretation of it, yet simultaneously affords total freedom in applying a subjective analysis. “Salad Fingers” serves as a sort of Rorschach test — the meaning you chose to project upon the nonsensical display acts as a mirror into your own psychological propensities and complexities. 

Furthermore, absurdity in media demands that viewers temporarily suspend their disbelief in the irrationalities presented, inviting us into a constructed reality within which we may detach from the trivialities of daily existence and experience the freedom of a world without logic. 

To complicate matters, Firth has since made “Salad Fingers” into a series. The most recent installment —  “Glass Brother,” the eleventh episode —  was released in 2019, over a decade after the original. Watching the most recent episode, even someone who knows nothing about animation can clearly see that Firth has improved his production skills enormously since the series’ conception. 

Firth’s artistic growth deserves recognition for its own sake, but what I find most impressive is his ability to display this growth upon the foundation of some half-baked ridiculousness. The inherent meaninglessness of the original video seems like it would prevent any further development of the narrative, yet Firth has run with the concept (or lack thereof) and made it into 66 minutes of captivating insanity. 

One might argue that because Firth received so much unexpected attention from the first video, his continuation of the series can be accredited to his desire to prolong and capitalise on his 15 minutes of fame. To this, I offer no counterargument. Considering how difficult it is for artists to succeed in our capitalist society, it warms my heart to see artists take advantage of the fickle entropy of internet virality. I probably would have never heard of Firth had he not created Salad Fingers, but because of the frivolous act of posting a couple minutes of creepy malarkey, I now consider myself a huge fan. 

My only grievance is that I have not been able to find an address to which I could send the love letters I have written for him.