Friday, November 25, 2005

Prehistoric Vaudville

Yoiks the Flintstones had it right.


November 25, 2005 -- Take my loincloth — please! Cavemen invented slapstick — predating the Stooges and Groucho by a mere 2 million years.

Our ancestors laughed to relieve stress from continuous hunting and gathering, say Binghamton State University biologists David Sloan Wilson and Matthew Gervais.

A study of cranial evidence found that cavemen communicated through slapstick before language evolved.

Scientists from Binghamton University, New York, have revealed that cavemen invented slapstick humour two million years ago, with their funniest visual gag being something like 'tripping over a rock'.

Nearly four million years ago they turned to humour to relieve stress from all that hunting and gathering - and were grunt-like 'play panting'. It took another two million years before their face muscles developed enough for laughter. They perfected slapstick to communicate feelings before proper language evolved.

"Laughter was used for a number of things including conveying embarrassment," The Sun quoted Professor David Sloan Wilson as saying.

And after that humour became a subversive antinomonialistic activity of humans facing oppression, thus the creation of the carnival, the Saturnalia, and April Fools. To embarass and make fools of self appointed leaders.

Which is why the Marx Brothers are a sheer anarchist delight. Surrealism itself is found in the art of humour and silliness of the Marx brothers, especially in there word play which was based on the very real immigrant experience that they portrayed on screen.

I sent the club a wire stating,
Groucho Marx

"Don't you know what duplicates are?"
"Sure. There's five kids up in Canada."
"Well, I wouldn't know about that.
I haven't been to Canada in years."
Groucho and Chico Marx in A Night at the Opera

One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas.
How he got in my pajamas, I don't know.
Then we tried to remove the tusks. The tusks.
That's not so easy to say. Tusks.
You try it some time.
As I say, we tried to remove the tusks.
But they were embedded so firmly we couldn't budge them.
Of course, in Alabama the Tuscaloosa,
but that is entirely ir-elephant
to what I was talking about.
Groucho in Animal crackers (Movie)

Minister: "We need to take up the tax"
Groucho: "I'd like to take up the carpet."
Minister: "I still insist we take up the tax."
Groucho: "He's right -
you've gotta take up the tacks
before you can take up the carpet."
Groucho in Duck Soup (movie)

Coming out of Vaudville onto the Silver Screen the mayhem and disorder of the Marx Brothers with their disrespect for all authority reminds us of the Rennisance Carnivales that Mikhail Bakhtin deconstructed and revealed their lusty subversive nature. Not merely a bazaar or market place, the carnivale was the topsy turvy world of rebellion against the established order.

Rabelais and His World

Bakhtin highlights the happy activities of the commoners during the Renaissance - a subject matter and time period as intriguing as it is unexamined in popular literature. Few books can claim to be more captivating than one that describes the intimate details of the folk carnivals during the Renaissance. The Renaissance was a time of rebirth for much of Europe. The carnival culture that surrounded the Renaissance rebirth externalized this gaiety.

Bakhtin's point of departure is Fran├žois Rabelais, a French writer in the 16th Century. Pre-Bakhtinian writers previously dismissed Rabelais' work as vulgar. Bakhtin has dusted off the pages of Rabelais' long misunderstood novels and transformed them into the most illuminating works the study of folk culture has seen. Bakhtin insists that within the scatological writing of Rabelais exist the necessary evidence to discover the history of folk humor, as well as the shocking practices of the Renaissance carnival.
Rabelais wrote Gargantua and Pantagruel between 1532 and 1552

The immediate goal of Rabelais and His World is to uncover the peculiar language and practices of the carnival environment. Bakhtin is quick to distinguish the carnival culture of old from the holiday culture that exists now. The carnivals that exist today pale in comparison to the unbridled lusting, crazed bingeing, and even physical mutilation that occurred in the carnival environment of days past. The carnival that Rabelais wrote about is quite unlike the modern carnival. In fact, so distinct are they that they share little more then just their common name. The Renaissance carnival culture involves the "temporary suspension of all hierarchic distinctions and barriers among men and of the prohibitions of usual life." (p15) Those that lived the carnival immersed themselves in the frolicking physical mutilation, bingeing and primordial gaiety that was the carnival.

Bakhtin divides the carnivalesque into three forms: ritual spectacles, comic verbal compositions, and various genres of billingsgate or abusive language. Although Bakhtin separates the forms of the carnivalesque, they are often conjoined within the carnival.

Mikhail Bakhtin analyzes the folk culture using an immense array of evidence from both historical and literary sources. Literary references that express the emotive and descriptive aspects of the carnival are legitimized by historical accounts that document carnival events, such as the marketplace cries of street salesmen. Because the material Bakhtin deals with is both unusual and often offensive to modern demands of literary taste, historical sources serve to legitimize Bakhtin's scholarship to those who might otherwise doubt Bakhtin's scrupulousness. Bakhtin surely recognized the risk that many people would disrespect his work. Undaunted by this worry, Bakhtin published this book to further the study of a crucial part of human social development, namely the development of humor and sarcasm; a study that has been mostly ignored by both literary and historical scholars.

George Orwell maintained we didn't know when humour began but he identified it as social embarassment, as upsetting the social order. With the discovery of prehistoric humour, we can say that he was right, and it was as true then as it is now.

George Orwell

Funny, but not Vulgar

A thing is funny when — in some way that is not actually offensive or frightening — it upsets the established order. Every joke is a tiny revolution. If you had to define humour in a single phrase, you might define it as dignity sitting on a tin-tack. Whatever destroys dignity, and brings down the mighty from their seats, preferably with a bump, is funny. And the bigger they fall, the bigger the joke. It would be better fun to throw a custard pie at a bishop than at a curate. With this general principle in mind, one can, I think, begin to see what has been wrong with English comic writing during the present century.

No comments: