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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.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jul. 17th, 2008 06:17 pm (UTC)
Hmnh. This is an interesting concept. I agree, that making fun of people in a way that is mean is . . . well, mean. And wrong. But we do have to find things to laugh about. When I was a kid, we made fun of everything. Handicapped people, stupid people, racial differences, boy stuff, girl stuff, "retards." I'm not saying this was right, and some of it was mean - but some of it wasn't. Now, of course, I don't allow my son to make fun of most of this stuff, because I do understand how it can be hurtful (and I don't want my son to grow up thinking that people who are different are somehow "less than").

But at some point, we have to draw the line. If we can't make fun of stupidity, there's really nothing left. Not to make fun of people who are genuinely less intelligent, but I think it's fair to make fun of actions which are stupid. Like you, the stupidity I'm most likely to point out, and laugh about, is my own. But when someone does something genuinely dumb, I don't think it's "un-PC" to laugh about it.

I think the Pepito play sounds like a fun idea. And maybe they can find creative ways to make it funny without being mean (and not relying on ethnic stereotypes, or something else like that). That's one of the things i like about Anansi stories - they make fun of him because he's being greedy, so it's easy to see how he brought the stuff upon himself.
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