Saturday, September 20, 2008

Martha Stewart, Richard Simmons

Speaking of Halloween (note: I am slightly disgusted with myself for giving in to my obsessional thoughts about Halloween celebrations and decorations before October 1, but, well, it's a relatively harmless obsession) ...

I was just remembering this video of Halloween crafts and recipes made by Martha Stewart that I watched last year. Of course I knew who Martha Stewart was, but it was the first time I'd seen her on video. I was surprised. The hosts of "how-to" shows--cooking shows, I'm thinking of--are usually positive sounding. And I expect a woman who is supposedly the ultimate homemaker, in a video on making crafts and recipes, to be perhaps a little over the top with positive affect, smiling fakely and so on. But Martha Stewart's affect sounded flat and dead most of the time--like she wasn't even trying to make it look like she was happy. In fact, I thought she looked very sad. Strange and interesting.

And speaking of cultural icons whom I recently saw on video ...

Brandon insisted that we purchase from the Salvation Army volumes one and two of Sweatin' To The Oldies. They're hosted by (the one and only) Richard Simmons. Of course I had some idea of who Richard Simmons was--a most memorable mockery of him being the Simpsons outtake in which, instead of telling Smithers to "release the hounds," Mr. Burns orders, "Smithers, release the talking Richard Simmons robot."

The amazing thing about Richard Simmons is he's way more over-the-top than the people who make fun of him. Perhaps its simply that his impersonators lack sincerity--they don't actually feel the apparent body-seizing joy which Mr. Simmons experiences every few seconds.

The only conclusion I have to draw from my meandering observations is that cultural icon status seems to wildly distort people's personalities. The caricatured lines we draw around and on top of the famous people we love to make fun of are often deceptive. But the real person underneath is so much more interesting ...

Halloween Hanging Creature

I found this little guy (a "Halloween Hanging Creature," according to the tag) at the dollar store the other day. It just makes me so happy--every time I look at it, I can't help but laugh.
So, I thought I'd give Brandon a fun surprise by letting him find it hanging from the shower head one morning. But alas! He said it was creepy. And he gave the most outlandish reason for saying so: it looks like the monsters from Mercer Mayer's There's a Nightmare in My Closet. Ironically, Brandon as a child was deeply disturbed by the monsters in that book. Go figure!
If I can get the "poll" feature working on this blog (I had trouble with it before) perhaps I'll find out how many of my blog readers think the thing is horrible or hilarious. Or I suppose you can just leave a comment saying what you think.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Making Jokes

Apart from the inside humor Brandon and I share all the time, it seems I rarely say anything funny. And of the infrequent times that I say something I think is funny, perhaps half the time no one else laughs.

I think this happens because I get the joke with only a minimum of setup, but other people expect more--more ... build up? More carefully constructed phrasing?--in order to see the irony, the ridiculousness, the funny side of something. And so I laugh at jokes before the punchline has been reached, and I tell the beginning of a joke, which sometimes Brandon or my brother Ben, if either of them happens to be present, may finish for me. And then people laugh.

But it seems my most effective jokes are the ones that I'm not even sure if they're jokes or not, and I don't know how other people will take them. I often get a good laugh by making ambiguous, or even cryptic statements. And apparently other people find some kind of amusing significance to it.

The only example I can think of right now is when I commented on the prices at the gas station, "Wow! Gas prices are still going down. Thank you, George W. Bush!" in a silly tone of voice. Brandon thought that was very funny. And I wondered why, exactly ...

Friday, September 12, 2008

An Infant Sartre?

For me at least, one reason infants are so fascinating is that no one really remembers what it was like to be an infant. What does preverbal thought look like? Is it the same as the kind of nonverbal thought that we do after having mastered a language? Or does learning a language so shape our brains that we can no longer think in the same manner as we did before language?

I wonder, do infants experience existential angst? Do they wonder, with some kind of preverbal, innate human impulse, "Why am I here? Who am I? What is it all about?" Perhaps that question goes on only at the completely subconscious level, driving the newly born person to search for patterns and connections, for meaning in the strange and mysterious phenomena he or she is constantly observing.

But when babies cry seemingly without reason--when neither nursing, nor burping, nor distraction, nor changing their diaper does any good--could it be that they are simply frustrated by their limitations? Do babies at times feel a primitive longing for transcendence, for "more," for that nameless something which drives all human individuals and societies forward?

Am I perfectly ridiculous for even asking? But even infants are human, after all. Isn't existential angst an innate property of human beings?