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Posts Tagged ‘humor

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”*…

 

Brody-Bathtubs-Over-Broadway

Steve Young, who obsessively collects LPs of industrial musicals, at first found them “unintentionally hilarious,” but in addition to absurdity they often contain the sincere and authentic spark of creative imagination.

 

From the title alone, it’s obvious that “Bathtubs Over Broadway,” a new documentary by Dava Whisenant… will be a delight. Its subject is the industrial musical—plays produced by corporations for their employees to enjoy at nationwide or regional sales meetings and conventions. Steve Young, who was, for more than twenty years, a writer for David Letterman, became obsessed, in the mid-nineties, with these shows—in particular, with LPs of them, which were pressed solely to be distributed to employees as souvenirs. The ostensible subject of “Bathtubs Over Broadway” is the amusement value of these exotic, eccentric by-products of show business, whose kitschy pleasures include celebrations of automobiles, dog food, and disposable blood-absorbing liners for the operating room, in a number that rhymes “hysterectomy” and “appendectomy.” But the overarching and underlying question that the film poses is nothing less than: What is art? And, for that matter, is the conventional definition of good art too narrow to account for the merits of such works as these?…

Many classic works of art are, in effect, commercials, from Pindar’s epinician, or victory, odes to Bach’s church cantatas. For that matter, plays and movies aren’t immune from propagandistic values, whether imposed on the artists or shared by them. It’s a mark of mediocrity, on the part of an artist or, for that matter, of a critic, to judge works by their ostensible subjects rather than by their approach to them…

Richard Brody on the new documentary Bathtubs Over Broadway (it opens in some cities today), and on the aesthetic questions that it raises: “Can a musical sponsored by a toilet manufacturer be a work of art?

* Pablo Picasso

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As we know art when we see it, we might recall that it was on this date in 1566 that Ralph Roister Doister was first publicly performed at Eton (or so some scholars argue; the exact date is not universally agreed); it was published the following year.  Written in 1552 (again, scholars believe) by London schoolmaster Nicholas Udall, it was probably performed earlier by his own students.

In any case, scholars agree that Ralph Roister Doister was the first comedy (as opposed to “work with comedic elements”) to be written in the English language.

Ralph_Roister_Doister

Illustration in English Plays, by Henry Morley, Cassell’s Library of English Literature, 1891. Caption says from a sketch by Hans Holbein the Younger in Desiderius Erasmus’s Moriae Encomium (The Praise of Folly) (1515/16).

source

 

Written by LW

November 30, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Things on the whole are much faster in America; people don’t ‘stand for election’, they ‘run for office.'”*…

 

density

If you want to find a Republican member of Congress, head out into the country. To find a Democrat, your best shot is in a city. But to find a competitive election this fall? Head to the suburbs, where control of the House of Representatives will likely be decided.

More than 40 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives is composed of predominantly suburban districts, according to a new CityLab analysis that classifies all 435 U.S. House districts according to their densities. These seats are currently closely divided between Democrats and Republicans. But that balance could be washed away by a “blue wave” in November. There are 28 Republican-held suburban districts that are competitive1 this fall under FiveThirtyEight’s projections—close to 40 percent of Republicans’ 74 suburban seats. The number of suburban Democratic seats in play: 1 out of 90…

The fascinating analysis in full at: “Density is Destiny.”

* Jessica Mitford

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As we get out the vote, we might note that today is International Moment of Frustration Scream Day– one is encouraged to go outside at twelve hundred hours Greenwich Mean Time and scream for a solid thirty seconds.  The occasion was created by Ruth and Tom Roy, who have a long suit in this sort of thing.

scream_21 source

 

“It’s a shame that the only thing a man can do for eight hours a day is work”*…

 

faulknermail

In 1921, 24-year-old William Faulkner had dropped out of the University of Mississippi (for the second time) and was living in Greenwich Village, working in a bookstore—but he was getting restless. Eventually, his mentor, Phil Stone, an Oxford attorney, arranged for him to be appointed postmaster at the school he had only recently left. He was paid a salary of $1,700 in 1922 and $1,800 in the following years, but it’s unclear how he came by that raise, because by all accounts he was uniquely terrible at his job. “I forced Bill to take the job over his own declination and refusal,” Stone said later, according to David Minter’s biography. “He made the damndest postmaster the world has ever seen.”

Faulkner would open and close the office whenever he felt like it, he would read other people’s magazines, he would throw out any mail he thought unimportant, he would play cards with his friends or write in the back while patrons waited out front. A comic in the student publication Ole Miss in 1922 showed a picture of Faulkner and the post office, calling it the “Postgraduate Club. Hours: 11:30 to 12:30 every Wednesday. Motto: Never put the mail up on time. Aim: Develop postmasters out of fifty students every year.”…

Happily, he had other talents. The curious story in its entirety: “William Faulkner was really bad at being a postman.”

For a more successful literary postman, consider Anthony Trollope or Benjamin Franklin.

* William Faulkner

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As we ponder the post, we might send grudging birthday greetings to Harvey Pekar; he was born on this date in 1939.  Frequently called “the poet laureate of Cleveland,” he was an underground comic book writer, music critic, and media personality,  best known for his autobiographical American Splendor comic series, drawn by R. Crumb and a series of other extraordinary artists, and for the 2003 film adaptation it inspired.

Pekar source

 

Written by LW

October 8, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose”*…

 

colonoscopy

Akira Horiuchi, winner of this year’s Ig Nobel for medical education, demonstrates his self-colonoscopy technique during this year’s award ceremony

 

From workplace voodoo dolls and self-inflicted colonoscopies to cannibalistic diets and using roller coasters to pass kidney stones, here are the winners of this year’s Ig Nobel Prizes.

It’s that time of year again, when some of the strangest science gets its turn to shine. To be clear, the Ig Nobel Prizes aren’t meant to diminish or demean scientific work, nor do they recognize dubious or bad science. Rather, it’s an opportunity to highlight some of the weirder work that gets done in research labs around the world, or scientific work that, quite frankly, is fucking hilarious. The tagline from the group behind the Ig Nobel Prize, Improbable Research, says it best: “Research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.”…

More on the ceremony at “Solo Colonoscopies, Cannibal Calories, and More 2018 Ig Nobel Prize Winners.”  See the complete, official run-down of laureates and their work at “The 2018 Ig Nobel Prize Winners.”

* Zora Neale Hurston

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As we pursue knowledge, we might recall that it was on this date in 1721 that The Boston Globe announced the arrival of the first camel to the United States: “Just arrived from Africa, a very large Camel being above Seven Foot high, and Twelve Foot long, and is the first of its Kind ever brought into America to be seen at the bottom of Cold Lane where daily Attendance is given.”

The first commercial importation of a number of camels into the U.S. was made in 1856  for military purposes (in the desert West), following an appropriation of $30,000 made by Congress in 1855.

camel source

 

Written by LW

October 2, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The Master’s tools will be used to take apart the Master’s house”*…

 

Abel

 

Alan Abel, a professional hoaxer who for more than half a century gleefully hoodwinked the American public — not least of all by making himself the subject of an earnest news obituary in The New York Times in 1980 — apparently actually did die, on [September 14], at his home in Southbury, Conn. He was 94…

Long before The Onion began printing farcical news articles, long before the Yes Men enacted their first culture-jamming political pranks, there was Alan Abel. A former jazz drummer and stand-up comic who was later a writer, campus lecturer and filmmaker, Mr. Abel was best known as a perennial public gadfly, a self-appointed calling that combined the verbal pyrotechnics of a 19th-century flimflam man with acute 20th-century media savvy.

He was, the news media conceded with a kind of irritated admiration, an American original in the mold of P. T. Barnum, a role model whom Mr. Abel reverently acknowledged…

An American Original: “Alan Abel, Hoaxer Extraordinaire, Is (on Good Authority) Dead at 94.”

For more on the equally-glorious Yes Men, see here and here.

* Anonymous

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As we find our way through fake news, we might spare a thought for John Augustus Larson; he died on this date in 1965.  A Berkeley, California policeman, he was the first American police officer to have an academic doctorate and to use polygraph– which he invented– in criminal investigations.

220px-John_Larson_in_1921 source

 

Written by LW

October 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Having lost sight of our objectives, we redoubled our efforts”*…

 

pogo_comic_1050x700

During the 1950s, Walt Kelly created the most popular comic strip in the United States. His strip was about an opossum named Pogo and his swamp-dwelling friends. It was also the most controversial and censored of its time. Long before Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury blurred the lines between the funny pages and the editorial pages, Kelly’s mix of satiric wordplay, slapstick, and appearances by Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Nikita Khrushchev, J. Edgar Hoover, and the John Birch Society, all in animal form, stirred up the censors.

Taking place in a mythic Okefenokee Swamp, Pogo satirized the human condition as well as McCarthyism, communism, segregation, and, eventually, the Vietnam War. The strip is probably best remembered today for Pogo’s environmentalist’s lament, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Pogo was syndicated from 1949-1975, reaching its peak readership of about 37 million readers in the mid-1950s, when it was carried by 450 newspapers. The strip’s popularity put editors and publishers opposed to Kelly’s content in a pickle…

A story of sly satire: “The Most Controversial Comic Strip.”

* Walt Kelly

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As we agree with Pogo’s friend Porky Pine “Don’t take life so serious, son, it ain’t nohow permanent,” we might recall that on this date in 1859, Norton I distributed letters to the newspapers of San Francisco proclaiming himself Emperor of North America…

At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last 9 years and 10 months past of S. F., Cal., declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these U. S.; and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical Hall, of this city, on the 1st day of Feb. next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity.

– NORTON I, Emperor of the United States.

180px-Emperor_Joshua_A._Norton_I

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Written by LW

September 17, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Travel makes one modest”*…

 

… or not.

grand canyon

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK

★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Went to the Grand Canyon this past week, and let me tell you, it’s a big ole waste of time! There was dirt EVERYWHERE, and the hiking trail was too long! Also where are the vending machines?? And nowhere to charge my phone! It’s way too deep to even see the bottom! The only thing that saved this trip were the crab enchiladas we ate down the road at Plaza Bonita. BEST MEXICO FOOD EVER! Grand Canyon—more like Grand Blandyon.

Gina M.,  Los Angeles

Just one of the instructive one-star reviews of National Parks on Trip Advisor.  For more: “Too Hot, Too Crowded, Needs More Vending Machines.”

* Gustave Flaubert

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As we look gift horses in their mouths, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that a jealous Robert Frost heckled Archibald MacLeish at a reading of the latter’s poetry at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Middlebury, Vt.  Bill Peschel recounts:

The gathering was held at Treman Cottage, and Frost was among the attendees, sitting in the back. It was a time when Hitler was on the ascendant, and the United States was divided between warning against the rise of Fascism in Germany and Italy, and those who didn’t want to intervene in another European war. MacLeish was anti-Fascist, and Frost despised MacLeish’s support of Roosevelt.

That night, as MacLeish read from his poetry, Frost began heckling him. “Archie’s poems all have the sametune,” he said in a whisper that could be heard. When MacLeish read the single-sentence poem, “You, Andrew Marvell,” smoke could be smelled. Frost had accidentally, on purpose, set fire to some papers and was beating them out and waving away the smoke.

Most people accepted the story of the accident, and the reading eventually concluded. MacLeish was still the center of attention, and he was asked to read from one of his plays. But Frost was not done with him. As [Wallace] Stegner wrote:

“His comments from the floor, at first friendly and wisecracking, became steadily harsher and more barbed. He interrupted, he commented, he took exception. What began as the ordinary give and take of literary conversation turned into a clear intention of frustrating and humiliating Archie MacLeish, and the situation became increasingly painful to those who comprehended it”.Even Bernard DeVoto, a scholar and friend of Frost, had enough, calling out, “For God’s sake, Robert, let him read!” Frost ignored him, but shortly thereafter, on some pretext, “said something savage,” and left.

Afterwards, Frost’s defenders tried to kick sand over the events. One friend wrote only of “unfounded allusions” and “behavior not proven by fact.” There were people there who didn’t even notice what Stegner saw that night. But baiting MacLeish had caused a permanent rift between DeVoto and Frost. At the end of the conference, when they met and shook hands, DeVoto told him, “You’re a good poet, Robert, but you’re a bad man.”

 

Written by LW

August 27, 2018 at 1:01 am

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