July 10th, 2008


Just because things were not chaotic enough at the writing festival, one of our fearless leaders has added a new wrinkle. At the end of the program when we have the public reading, she suggested that if some of the students want to perform a play of their own in place of reading individual work, they can. The kids in my group are extremely excited about the possibility, if all talking at once and the occasional falling out of a chair indicate excitement. They all wanted to make posters for their play.

Here’s where it gets interesting, at least in my head. The kids want to do a Pepito play. Pepito, for those of you who don’t already know, is the subject of innumerable jokes and stories. He is a fool, a simpleton, prone to take the simplest instruction literally. Imagine what happens when his mother tells him to keep his eye on the dog. One of our fearless leaders is concerned that a Pepito play would be making fun of stupid people.

Now, making fun of stupid people is traditional in many cultures. How many times have I watched Mr. Punch literally sit on his baby while babysitting? What about Amelia Bedelia, who draws the curtains with a pencil and paper? What about Anansi and all his tricks that seem to backfire on him? What about the zillions of shows in which people send in their videos of themselves falling down or otherwise making entire fools of themselves? I know I have laughed at all those things.

Just because making fun of the foolish is rooted deeply in our collective minds does not mean that we should carry on doing it if it is wrong. But is it wrong? It’s hard to say. And it is hard because whether it is wrong depends on the actual individuals involved.

I make fun of myself and the stupid things I do all the time. I do it to make other people laugh. Remember the time I was making a smoothie with the stick blender and I knocked the cup off the counter and blended yogurt and fruit into the entire kitchen plus everything I was wearing? I do it to keep from crying when things go wrong. I do it to learn better.

When I point that same humor at someone else, I never mean to imply that the person in question is stupid, just that whatever he or she did in the instance was stupid. If it becomes clear that the person feels hurt or offended, I stop and apologize.

I guess I hope we can still laugh at all the dumb stuff life throws at us and that we get ourselves into. Otherwise, that kinder world we are all hoping for might be kind of boring.

Besides, then I will need to try to herd my unruly mob of small brilliant people toward some other kind of play, which would be truly tragic.