The eye is keen. The mind is thoroughly grounded. The goal is to maintain a sense of intellectual honesty while exploring the culture of criticism and evaluating creativity in all its glory.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Busting a Gut - part III

Laughing –– Part I, absurd.
                          Part II, utterly senseless.
                          Part III, slapstick silly.

Slapstick comedy is a shameless sort of humour that is considered lowbrow and better suited for children. As silly as it is, do you know what is the funniest thing about it? Answer: The pleasure of slapstick is universally shared among pretty much everybody I’ve talked with regarding humour ... which means nothing more than we all laugh at it.

The basis for this kind of joke is pain ... you know, people falling down, smacking into a brick wall, knocked in the shin with a bat, a potted plant falls on your head, a tumble down the stairs, a frying pan upside the head, or a slip on a banana peel and land on your butt kind of thing. I don’t know what it is exactly, but for some reason that sort of stuff just makes us laugh and laugh. We even laugh at ourselves when we are the victim of a smack or a whack or a trip, go figure.

Interestingly, and this is something I say in my own defense all the time, laughing IS a natural pain killer. I prefer to think that when I laugh at the bozo who fell down, I am actually expressing thoughtful support by giggling because I know laughter is also contagious and, like it or not, the boinked one will ease his own pain by laughing right along with me. I am grateful for the scientific study that gave me this excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

The term ‘slapstick’ actually describes a common stage prop used during the vaudevillian era and was, litreally, a piece of wood that had been split on the long side - like a sword with a cut all the way down the blade on the thin edge. When one guy whacked a second guy with the stick, the two pieces of wood slapped against each other and the impact sound was emphasized by the wood hitting against itself. What sounded like a wicked hit was actually rather harmless and pain free. But, the audience’s perception was audible inflicted pain and they roared at the idea of that.

Vaudeville was not the first to implement such a theatrical prop; it was just the most notable generation where that style of comedy was explored extensively and, because of technical advances during that age, the ‘golden era’ of black and white silent movies spread this style of comedy far and wide. Wacky characters flash in our minds whenever we hear their name: Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, the Keystone Kops, and the Three Stooges. If we dug for the root of this goof-ball practice (pain via stick whacking as humour), we’d find a slapstick sort of prop at least somewhat present in Ancient Greece, Rome, even in the Middle Ages where rejuvenation of theater in church liturgical dramas had actors beating the devil right off the stage. Renaissance carried it forward with Shakespeare incorporating many chase scenes and beatings into his comedies. It seems like the halarity of pain and suffering is a primitive emotion that goes right to the bone of who we are, and it’s been with us since the beginning of recorded time. I imagine and believe, actually, that cave men whacked each other with a club just to hear the other clan members gawfaw at the pain ... I wish that were etched or painted onto a cave wall so my point would be proven without a doubt.

It has always been a big hit for children, too. Animated cartoons such as Tom and Jerry and Looney Tunes taught us all about how funny it was to trip a friend, then point and laugh as they lay on the ground crying. I got in trouble for doing that a lot as a kid. It took me a while to comprehend that the fun of the joke was the illusion of the thing and not the real hitting, and encouraging a friend to learn a stunt roll or a hollywood smack saved at least one of us from a trip to the principal’s office ... because his stick was not a slapstick and that bona fide butt-whacker hurt like hell. The point here is, no matter how lowbrow or simpleton one makes this sort of humour out to be, truth is it kept us kids playing hard while honing our minds to be sharp as a tack.

And with that, here is the wilderlife critter that honours the slapstick. Sit back on your whoopie cushion and enjoy:

COMMON NAME: Chipundale

Species: Jesterian smartassicus rodentian. Other names include tree clown, lil’ buger, chuck monk, Ivan and the punk. The chipundale  can be confused with it’s less humorous cousin, the chipmunk.

General facts: Chipundales are daylight omnivores that grow 4 to 7 inches long, including the bushy tail, and weigh between 2 and 15 pounds. They feed primarily on bird legs and nuts, but also eat other creatures such as bunnies, crickets, ants, locus, and butterflies. Highly developed senses of humour and irony allow this excellent tree climbing nut to annoy other members of its clan. It’s greatest advantage is keeping its predators amused long enough for the chipundale to get away. A forest prankster, it is not unusual to see one sneak up behind another and push him off a limb, or simply say ‘boo’  and then laugh as the unsuspecting butt-of-the-joke jumps with a start.  Apparently, the greatest prize of all is to actually force a competitor to fall to the forest floor.  The echoing cackle of their laugher can be heard on any given day. It sounds like ‘yuck, yuck, yuck’ (swallow your tongue when you try this).

STATISTICS: Chipundales live in dens called funhouses. Their homes are full of booby-traps that keep competing critters from stealing stored grub. Traps include, but are not limited to: false floors, stairs that turn into slides, doors that lead nowhere, and trick mirrors. It is unknown where the mirrors come from, however, they do say ‘objects are closer than they appear’ along the bottom edge. They have dribble glasses, flowers that squirt water, and whoopie cushions. Palm buzzers stopped being used weeks ago, and these forest rodents do seem to be fond of fake lottery tickets. Migrating along with the circus, these critters love using discarded clown wigs as bedding and furniture stuffing.  Their natural enemy is the paper cup. They often get their head stuck inside and the other chipundales laugh and laugh, seemingly too amused to help the critter out of his bind. Their mating habits are unknown ... we assume they are humorous.  For some unexplainable reason, our view of them always fades to black before the big finale. We do know they have litters, or clutches, of up to 89 off-spring, often including siamese twins.

HABITAT: North America and surrounding regions.  Resides along the normal migratory trails of reputable, or not so reputable circus troops. When over populated, they occasionally frequent county fairs and political rallies. As strange as it may sound, most sightings are witnessed by fishermen from Alabama.  Go figure.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Busting a Gut - part II

Laughing –– Part I was absurd. Part II is utterly senseless.

When you really think about what makes a person laugh you may come to realize that it’s not just a ‘joke’ that does it. Many things play a roll and I am one who has come to believe that the laugh should be associated with far more than simple merriment. There is no doubt that laughing feels good (unless you do it so much that your side feels like it’s splitting and your cheeks are about to burst), but is that all there is to it? Sigmund Freud wrote a general explanation regarding laughter that he called the Relief Theory, in which he summarized that laughter releases tension and psychic energy. Considering this, the theory explains why busting a gut can be a coping mechanism for any person who is upset, angry, or even sad. But, I’ll not delve too deeply into that part of the psychology of the laugh right now .... today we need to remain utterly senseless - or, in plainer words, insane. We’ll focus on the idea that when confronted with an inconsistency with reality any person can bring a successful solution by solving a cognitive riddle in a satisfactory way, and most of the time solving the riddle is what brings laughter and a sense of understanding.

There is a point that I understand well and attempt to conform my silly creations to, and that is a basic law of comedy which is called exactness. Exactness will never allow the audience to be confused because, if they are, they will never laugh nor even begin to understand the joke. Before I introduce you to the second Wilderlife critter, I will first illustrate a complete humour-communication-failure with one of my insane painted jokes. I call this cartoon Joe and the Artist, and it was created after I read a small newspaper article about a copyright lawsuit involving Philip Morris and Billy Coulton, the artist who created Joe Camel.

I put a lot of thought into this gag of a painting ... drug an old firewood chunk and some dried-up field grass into our living room; then bribed my husband to dress in a tank top, tuck his blue jeans into his motor-biking boots, then hold still as he knelt before and stretched his neck across the stump as though he were laid out for a chop. The insane joke here is that an artist, which (in a sense) is god-like, intends to violently snuff the life out of his own creation. The joke today does not work because the average viewer does not possess a full accounting of the real-life courtroom drama that happened nearly 20 years ago; and, since the time of my cartoon’s creation smoking has become public enemy number one. What was a play about copyrights and monetary gain from a creator’s tangible form of expression has turned into a nasty public statement about the dangers of smoking. That is an unfortunate turn of events for my cartoon and these days more people turn away in disgust rather than try to unravel the cognitive puzzle that is my image of Joe and the Artist ... the very European artist who felt quite cheated by the giant American company named Philip Morris (Joe was born in Europe in 1974 and was originally created to be a mascot for a French Advertising company. The artist sold him, and all his copyrights, for fifty bucks ... the fool).

What was re-confirmed most from this cartoon is that not every amusing thought has a long shelf-life. Social condition and controversy shift on a whim and what is funny one day may be offensive the next. Although, I have to say Joe and the Artist does bring me sick pleasure these days and I often chuckle in my own sadistic way ... when I’m watching someone uncomfortably spying this thing while they try to find a polite way to say it really sucks. We’ll talk about that sort of humour in a later post.

For now, my Wilderlife Series has proven to be resolved inconsistency for most people viewing it - even an image as insane as the creature we call the Lurky. This painting proves how the theory works in the case of visual humor. The joke is the insanity of a turkey and lizard combined and viewers will automatically try to understand what this picture is supposed to say, or doesn’t say, or implies. Thanks to movies like Jurassic Park and the vicious critter called velociraptor, the Lurky is not too far removed for comfort. I can not tell you how many times I’ve heard people explain the painting to me that way. Surprisingly, I’ve never heard the words, “that’s just wrong” associated with this piece.

COMMON NAME: Emerald Lurky

Species: Voloptar turkilearian rapteus.  Other names include glen, bob, o’brian green socks, and mayflower. The lurky can be confused with descendants of the velociraptor.

General facts: Lurkys are diurnal omnivorish creatures that grow 1 and a half to 3 feet tall and weigh between 40 and 60 pounds. With a wing span of just three inches short of five feet, they are capable of hitting 60 mph, or a tree, provided they can get off the ground. They feed exclusively on pansies and rabbits, but have been rumored to eat dandelions and slugs during lean seasons. Highly developed senses of touch and go allow excellent ariel dynamics that confuses and stuns its prey. Hunting only during the hours between 1pm and 3pm, Lurkys are seldom seen due to the siesta rituals of the Oasis regions in New Mexico and limited areas in Nevada. The main enemies of the Lurky are humans because they discovered the beast tastes a lot like chicken, and their feathers are highly coveted by show girls in Las Vegas and ritualistic Miatec priests.

STATISTICS: As ground nesters, the Lurky commands much space to spread their wings and protect their young. Wings are used as umbrellas, blankets, cozies, and sunscreen. Occasionally, young chicks can be seen atop the parent’s unfolded wings practicing their touch and go proficiencies. The average clutch is 2.3 eggs that are about 6 inches in diameter. They are highly prized in logging camps and back-woods resorts. The birds reach maturity at pubirdy, which is 6 weeks after they discharge their shells, and will quickly find a mate and remain monogamous throughout their very long lives. In the wild, Lurkys live an average of 27 and half years. They have never been domesticated because when they are separated from their mate they will die of a broken heart. Or some such.

HABITAT: North America and surrounding regions. Resides mainly in forest glens along the edge of botanical gardens. Most sightings have occurred in nooks and crannies in the Oasis regions, or in a drunken state, though a few have been seen partially sober. It is strongly advised you never look up during the hours of 1pm to 3pm for reasons good taste will not allow us explain. Also, avoid the fields beside the glens during those same hours. A 60 pound bird hitting 60 mph hour can command overwhelming damage should it hit you.


** Forest Glen
    Gouache on Bristol Board

When I recall the pleasure of making images and words for this series, Forest Glen holds one of the fondest moments for me. Me, Chris, and Goldie sat around late night at our print shop and simply laughed until we cried, each of us adding another outrageous trait or action to give our imaginary raptor bird. My family is so very funny and once we get started the concept of contagious laughter holds true. For me, that is one of the best things in life.

I chose to combine a turkey and lizard simply because I wanted to make the most outrageous combination of animals possible, and discover if I could make it even somewhat believable. Apparently I pulled it off.