Monday, March 27, 2017

Hyperbole and Bryson

In a lot of our class discussions, we’ve talked about absurdity as a form of humor, particularly in regard to the incongruity model of humor. Some of the most notable examples of this include, of course, Madea in Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings as well as the reality of Candide. I would argue that Bryson’s I’m A Stranger Here Myself fits into this as well, but the humor he utilizes is a little bit different than outright absurdity. It is outright absurd on occasion, of course (examples being the Wayne Newton haircut scene, cupholders in cars, and Nude Housewives of America), but rather than discussing murdering husbands for money via sweet potato pie, Bryson instead relies on overstatements and hyperbole to create humor and reveal some truths about the world.
Hyperbole is a driving force of humor from nearly the beginning of I’m A Stranger Here Myself, present primarily in Bryson’s long lists and exaggerated dialogue. The lists factor in the most in Bryson’s little “how to” segments, for example, his descriptions of how to set up a new computer. The steps in the procedures often become increasingly bizarre and painstaking, going from “try unplugging it” to “drive around to various sources of power before ultimately calling the hotline”, or laying out the process of trying to find the Christmas decorations in the attic despite the fact you know they’re not there, or there being many, many, many different levels of insurance for your rental car. All of his how-tos usually end in one way: you should probably just quit. Dialogue works in a similar way. Oftentimes, Bryson will exaggerate what he or another person he encounters is saying into something that is by no means actually true. His wife, for example, most likely did not propose a trip to the beach by listing all the problems one would most likely have with a trip to the beach, nor does a waiter at a fancy restaurant use such bizarre and overblown language to describe a steak. The humor is present in these two things on two levels here, the first being through hyperbole. There are no actual sets of rules like that for setting up a computer or buying a car—that’d be extremely unhelpful—and you do not really have to jump through that many hoops to rent a car (or hunt for it on your own), and waiters do not typically talk in such a pretentious way. It’s absurd in that regard. At the same time, however, it’s also incredibly true; these types of processes and situations can be incredibly frustrating, and even seem impossible. Bryson exaggerates to communicate these universal truths, whether it’s something as simple as confusion over setting up a computer or a menu. It's effective in the same way absurd humor in general is effective: we notice it because it's so far out of the ordinary or out of our reality, and yet it is still based on a grain of truth, so we laugh.

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