Do you ever feel lost during conversations about far off travels or ancient awe inspiring monuments? If so then like me you may enjoy the journeys of Karl Pilkington. I recently finished watching series one of Sky’s ‘An Idiot Abroad’, and I loved it. Pilkington stars as the somewhat misanthropic traveler whom Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant have travel the world literally just for the sake of having him travel the world. We all dream of being whisked off to some fantastical place to have the experience of a lifetime, however things always seem to get in the way. The sad truth is that few of us will get to seriously travel the globe in the Michael Palin/ Phileas Fogg style. It’s hard to conceive of making a living out of travel; it’s no exaggeration to say that Karl is living the dream.
The show is deceptively simple, Karl journeys to seven far off wonders during which he has a string of incredible experiences. At the beginning of each episode Ricky and Steve set Karl on the path, for example he might be off to India to see the Taj Mahal. Karl’s initial reaction is rarely one of enthusiasm, which is a source of endless amusement for his tormentors. Following this segment Karl is set loose upon the chosen country with the intention of seeing a given wonder, however along the way Karl is waylaid often with hilarious consequences. While in Brazil to see Christ the Redeemer Pilkington finds himself in cramped living conditions and dancing in carnival. Karl’s reactions to his endless diversions are simply priceless and this is the real hook of the show; the wonder is essentially inconsequential.
An Idiot abroad is really the unique travel show in that the protagonist is unwilling to make room for other cultures. Pilkington makes little to no attempt to transcend his own preconceptions and as such we get an honest take on what Karl goes through. Many of us try to incorporate what we learn and experience into our worldview however, truthfully, we know we may never understand what it is to be in a tribe or to be a cowboy and so on. Our culture frames our experiences whether we like it or not, Pilkington doesn’t avoid this he embraces it.
Traveling as Stephen says broadens the mind. Karl exemplifies this; his travels give him insight into different ways of living but it must be said they do not give him the experience of living a different life. This attitude pervades Karl’s entire outlook. When we travel to distant lands to experience wonders we have only dreamed about it is probably worth noting travel cannot usurp our culture. It is for this very reason ‘An Idiot Abroad’ is a success; if Karl were to fall to his knees at the foot of the great pyramid then recite some romantic poetry I doubt we’d be laughing. Perhaps we should approach travel with an open mind but our mind, it doesn’t make sense to attempt to crowbar it open further. Maybe the approach could be applied to all things we go through, even at home. We could all stand to be a little more like Karl, let’s be idiots at home.