Monday, March 20, 2017

Richard from Texas Ruins Everything: Failing Subtlety in Eat, Pray, Love

            This past weekend, I participated in my first Evergreen Lock-In.  The Lock-In has a theme and every Evergreen needs to wear a costume that fits that theme.  This year, the theme was the Olympics.  I was paired with another person to represent the French track and field team.  This was difficult for me; I am not currently, nor have I ever been an extremely athletic person.  I did not know what a track star would wear, so I settled on a pair of running shorts and a t-shirt with FRANCE screen-printed boldly on the front.  My partner ran track in high school.  He showed up in a full spandex running outfit (Uniform? Costume? I don’t know the terminology).  A stack of first place medals hung around his neck, all engraved with his name and the events he ran.  He handed me one so we would match a bit better.  I found our pairing to be comical in itself because we were so obviously different, yet we were meant to be the same team.  Early in the evening, we were asked to introduce ourselves in our pairs, saying our name, year, and sport we were representing. When my partner and I stepped forward, he went first. As he said he was representing track, he ran in place, jumped up, and landed in a perfect starting position as if he were about to race.  I looked down at him, then back at my fellow Evergreens.  I paused after saying my name and added, “I’m representing the uhhh field events.” I shrugged and everyone started laughing.  My partner and I were extremely different, and the incongruity of our introductions caused everyone to laugh.  None of this was done on purpose, and the humor in our actions was very subtle so that it made the most sense in the context of that particular event.  If someone were to try and present the moment with different people in a different context, it would likely not have the same level of humor.
            Subtlety in humor is a major part of the humor that is at work in Gilbert’s memoir.  The work itself is not meant to be primarily; in fact, it covers a host of more serious topics, including divorce, depression, and the journey to spiritual enlightenment.  None of these are inherently funny, and when focusing on each topic, humor is never a main focus of the book.  Instead, Gilbert intersperses humor in light commentary throughout the narrative.  For example, when explaining herself and the way she deals with her emotions, she mentioned that David said, “You have the opposite of a poker face.  You have, like…miniature golf face” (Gilbert 41). This observation is funny because it puts an unexpected twist onto a popular adage.  It fits in with the incongruity theory of humor, subverting the expectations of the reader who would not necessarily think that miniature golf would be the opposite of poker.  Quick jokes such as this one are quite common in the book because they fit in the best with the story Gilbert wants to tell. When discussing difficult topics such as divorce and depression, it may be difficult to add humor to the situation, and when it is done incorrectly it can appear insensitive and in bad taste.  Gilbert generally avoids this by keeping the humorous remarks short and to the point.  This keeps the humor from disrupting the overall flow of the story while still making a contribution.

            Although most of the humor in the story is expertly placed in such a way that it does not interfere with the overall message of the story, there was one section where I do not think that the humor functioned in a way that was constructive.  While she was in India, Gilbert frequently mentioned Richard from Texas and the strange things he would say while giving spiritual insight.  These moments felt very forced to me.  His presence does not fit in with the general feelings that Gilbert is dealing with at the Ashram, even though he is giving guidance that fits in with the teachings of the Guru.  For example, he tells Gilbert, “You’re like a dog at the dump, baby—you’re lickin’ at an empty tin can, trying to get more nutrition out of it. And if you’re not careful, that can’s gonna get stuck on your snout forever and make your life miserable” (Gilbert 150).  This is important advice pertaining to Gilbert and her relationship troubles that are preventing her from moving forward in her life, but it is prevented in a very quirky and ridiculous metaphor.  It does not fit in with the deep and introspective theme of the section of the book.  The incongruity is so apparent that it is too much to accept as a small comical instance.  Combined with the constant recurrence of Richard’s remarks, the fall flat in my mind.  It is not convincingly funny because it does not fit well with the rest of the section of this book.  The comments seemed forced and unreal, which prevented me from laughing at them after Richard’s introduction.  This made me question the validity of the entire story.  When one of the main characters is unbelievable, the whole story can start to fall apart.  I stayed skeptical for the rest of the reading because of my dislike of one character, but Richard ruined the subtlety of humor that had been established throughout the first half of the story.

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