Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Humor as a Veil

Voltaire’s Candide quite clearly deserves its place among the all-time great satirical works. Every single character in this work is quite clearly representative of either a different person or specific class of person in society, and are portrayed in a way that is not overtly insulting, but is scathing regardless. What is arguably the best part Candide is the fact that not a single group is safe from Voltaire’s wrath, though he does seem to have a particular dislike for the Jesuit order. Various types of humor are used throughout this entire satirical work, however, Voltaire seems to be particularly fond of the incongruity and superiority theories of humor, and much less on any of the more biological based theories. Voltaire’s seemingly relentless on the conventions of his time begins on the very first page, when he describes Pangloss as “a professor of metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology” (Voltaire, 1). Pangloss is an amalgam of all of the supposedly great thinkers of Voltaire’s time, a man who claims to be proficient in everything, yet is a master of none. One of the best examples of the incongruity theory is in the reappearance of Pangloss, who had been thought dead for quite a while at this point in the book. He tells Candide that “the executioner of the Holy Inquisition was a sub-deacon, and knew how to burn people marvelously well, but he was not accustomed to hanging” (Voltaire, 80) which sounds rather awful given that this man is quite proficient in executing people, and as we see early in the book, sometimes for no reason. The fact that this useless philosopher of sorts was able to escape death at the hands of this man is rather comical simply because it is such a far-fetched idea that he would ever possibly survive his ordeal.

            The work Betel Nut is Bad Magic for Airplanes by John Kasaipawlova, whose name alone could be an example of the superiority theory of humor, as Kasaipawlova would most likely find humor at our struggling to pronounce or spell his name, is of a similar mind as that of Voltaire’s. Like Hau’ofa and Voltaire, Kasaipawlova uses humor in order to address something that would, without any sort of humor attached to it, likely be incredibly dense and controversial. By creating his work under the cover of humor, he is able to address the colonial inability to accept a native groups culture, without necessarily causing any sort of large scale outrage. Much of Kasaipawlova’s work takes advantage of the incongruity theory of humor, as he has his central character thinking in a local pigin English. In the main character’s thoughts to himself he says things like “my face blooded because many black, white and yellow people, they was watching us too and this white papa dog, he was talking bad like that way to me” (Kasaipawlova, 434). The second he addresses the authority figure in the play, however, he is suddenly able to articulate sentences such as “this is a free country of which we black people are citizens and unless you can show me the moral basis for your ‘so called laws’ I cannot recognize and therefore comply with to law” (Kasaipawlova, 434). Kasaipawlova create a character that was seemingly entirely based on the incongruity theory of humor. One minute this character is thinking in an almost unintelligible version of English, and the next minute he is articulating himself as if he were being his own defense attorney. The disconnect between this character’s thoughts, and his actions are part of what make this play so funny, but also what allows it to speak on a social issue. The antagonist likely views the main character as inferior given that he is one of the local population and likely things that he is only able to communicated in a manner similar to the way in which he thinks. The eloquence with which he speaks is actually incredibly funny both because of the incongruity theory, but because of the reaction it elicits from the “white papa dog” (Kasaipawlova, 434) as he calls him, and the embarrassment it brings him. Given the portrayal of the white papa dog, the reader has determined that he is deserving of this small evil that has befallen him and when it does it causes them to laugh.
           In both of these works, the authors are using their humor not just to be funny, but to comment on something on a much larger scale. Voltaire is quite clearly addressing all of the failings of life during his time, however, directly attacking the Spanish Inquisition, or the Catholic Church, would likely not be very beneficial to one's life expectancy. Kasaipawlova is doing the same thing as Voltaire, only instead of going after society as a whole, he focuses specifically on the idea of colonialism. Generally colonial powers did not like being treated poorly by their territories, and were likely to not be very supportive of any work that impugned their dignity in favor of one. 

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