Friday, November 30, 2012
Getting your mind right
When nothing makes sense, nonsense is the last resort.
FUN IS FUN. The news is all bad and will keep getting worse. There's almost nowhere to hide. But it's important to rediscover the goodness in life, which is a principal function of humor. Unfortunately, TV sitcoms offer none. They're throwbacks to Vaudeville and Burlesque, full of leering over-the-top double entendres but worse, because they're designed to make us think that everyone is venal, selfish, stupid, and ridiculous. The punchlines punch all right. They just don't line up with anything akin to goodness, unless your definition of goodness is political correctness. That's not humor. It's vandalism and frequently propaganda.
Nothing else in the mass media is much better. It's nearly impossible to escape the political agendas in dramatic TV series, movies, and supposedly educational documentaries. Even fantasies are soul deadening. So-called escapes like The Walking Dead, Revolution, and Last Resort are advertisements for the secular translation of Original Sin. We're doomed because of human greed, technological pollution, and the rest of the age-old mortal sins defined by a church that is always depicted as a villain.
In the past, I've pointed to humor masterpieces that are increasingly forgotten. Not mean or pointed enough to suit the modern sensibility shaped by identity politics and safe targets like Christians, white men who can't dance, women who aren't as shallowly lustful as men, and people who don't spend every waking hour fretting about the evils of capitalism, racism, sexism, and the glorious wonderfulness of people who think square pegs go with square pegs, and round holes go with round holes, and vice- and inter-versa.
Fine. If that's what suits the New America, so be it. But I will suggest what no one else will, that it's okay to be weary of it all, in need of a healing time away from the thudding, constant refrain of the self-hating dumbing down. While all the political animals go nuts in their frenzy of reorientation associated with celebrating Obama's inevitable dismantling of the America we grew up in, I have some places you can go, away from the mass media and the internet, away from the brooding introspective lacerations and faddish reductionism. It's called humor. Herewith a new slate of books, yeah books, you might enjoy while you wait for people to rediscover their lost sanity.
Rhubarb by H. Allen Smith. A cat inherits a baseball team. Back when baseball was more like Ring Lardner's game than ours.
The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald. City folk in the country, raising chickens. Yeah, it's funny. No hidden agendas.
Acres and Pains by S.J. Perelman. New Yorker tries to run a farm in Bucks County, PA. Still no hidden agendas. Amazing!
Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley. Gentle humor. A spinster throws away her dull life to sell books from a horse drawn cart. How boring could it be? Not very. Whimsy is not always silly. Neither is this.
The Adventures of Gerard by Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock wasn't his whole opus. Etienne Gerard is completely hilarious, a French hussar in the Napoleonic era too dumb to feel fear. Ever. Imagine Inspector Clouseau as a tremendous athlete and horseman...
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Geez. Aren't we supposed to hate all those gays? The only play I've ever read that generates belly laughs from the page. The print has never been equalled by any stage production.
Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis. A cockroach taps out his adventures on a columnist's manual typewriter. All lower case of course, because he's not strong enough to depress the Shift Key. Brilliant.
The Night Life of the Gods by Thorne Smith. Impossible to describe. An R-rated Night at the Museum more than half a century earlier. And more booze than you'll find at any NFL tailgate party.
Zotz! by Walter Karig. A broad and funny satire of Pentagon bureaucracy in WWII by a naval officer. Short, sometimes risque, and a reminder that red tape is forever.
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. Nothing compares with reading Dashiell Hammett. Third person objective is the single hardest fictional point of view to write in. It's so spare and economical it makes movies seem like stream of consciousness. So wry it sometimes seems to wither the page it's written on. The tipping point is laughter.
Stay Away Joe by Dan Cushman. An old Book-of-the-Month Club selection. Best cover art ever. Not politically correct about French-Canadian Indians. If you take the stick out of your ass, you'll love it.
Many of these have been made into movies. In all cases, the books are better. Look into them. If your reading regimen makes you spend less time here, I don't mind. I applaud you. All I ask is that you check in when you read something good. Share your laughter. It's what we have to share with each other right now.