Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Contemporary Fools...And a little of the self-referential thrown in

I was thinking over the last few days about who our modern fools are. I am not wholly convinced that we have lost something of the pure fool in today’s genres, let alone everyday life. The jester seems to have been replaced by the stand-up comic, but the best and most critical stand-up comics have an entirely different status and tone, closer to Mel Brooks' character of “stand-up philosopher” than a court jester.

Literature has its classic archetypes. Medieval writings have numerous instances of jesters or inversion rituals where the carnivalesque was used to safely mock the ruling class and nobility (cf. Bakhtin's Rabelais and His World, or for that matter see Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel). Pondering modern American fools, I kept getting stuck on three people/characters:

  • Kramer - A clownish physical comedic character who constantly flouts convention with a twisted sense of propriety and value. Yet, he constantly hatches schemes with their own internal logic which we find funny because there is a speck of genius amid, what my grandmother would refer to as, his mishagoss.
  • The Tick – Here is a superhero who is blind to everything except justice and the fight between good and evil. (“Like a great blue salmon of Justice, the mighty Tick courses upstream to the very spawning ground of evil.”) The Tick was a dumbass who was mighty. He spouted pseudo-philosophy and flowery soliloquies on that eternal fight of good v. evil.
  • George W. Bush – Without politicizing the example too much, W. has lived multiple fools’ lives during his presidency: Is he just a simpleton puppet who thinks he’s right and has the power to impose his simpleton’s will on others? Is he something of an Innocent who can only see in the world black and white, good and evil (not unlike The Tick, but less endearing)? Or is he the country bumpkin whose folk wisdom actually reveals the foolishness of the hapless, self-appointed and urbane (read: stereotypical liberal) intelligentsia? It depends on who you ask I suppose. He’s been cast into those different narratives by parties with different agendas.

* * * * *

As an aside, in the course of a little web perusing, I was delighted to find that at least one person thinks that I, your humble dramaturg, fits into one fool tradition, the jester. From "The Dramaturg: Modern Day Court Jester"

“A Dramaturg is many things rolled into one. They are part educator and part editor. They act as a supportive muse to the Artistic Director, and as a mischievous court jester. They are the theatre's internal critic, and their resident historian…Where the Business Manager will sit on one shoulder of the Artistic Director, cautioning and using monetary figures to promote the familiar, the Dramaturg impishly sits on the other, cajoling and gesturing to the stars.”

I don’t know if I buy his claims, but I’ll take them.


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