Tuesday, November 16, 2010

You, the elephant, and the living room

The expression "elephant in the living room" demonstrates an effective way to bench-press figurative language, bringing forth a vivid, perhaps unforgettable image to demonstrate one of the ongoing nuances of human behavior.  Elephants are widely known to prefer the out of doors, where they are more apt to feel comfortable in the first place.  An indoor elephant is something most parties in the living room are aware of but for one or more reasons chose not to speak of it.  By its size and absurdity under the circumstances, the elephant represents for most of us the things we chose not to speak of because of some cultural reason.

Cultural reason may, of itself be an elephant; it may relate to the three things convention holds the public discussion of a risky business.  Those three things are sex, religion, and politics.  In many ways through many cultures, the first things we wish to establish about a new acquaintance have to do with sex (do they or don't they?  are they straight, bi- or gay?) do they attend the same church as we or are they, say, Pentecostal or Evangelical? or even more other than we are?  Do they vote to include or exclude?

A potential synonym for the elephant in the living room is a step upward on the gritty scale, the turd in the punchbowl.  This metaphor moves us from mere size and improbability to the despoiling of the confection that was the punch bowl, it is closer to suggesting outright, deliberate, boorish, uncivilized social anarchy.  If an elephant in the living room is zero sum conversation, the turd in the punch bowl represents a social and moral judgment against the alleged perpetrators, something to be spoken of with due disgust.

Both metaphors remind you of kinds of perpetrators and unwelcome presences of the sort we associate with writers who are about more than merely constructing puzzles or entertainments, writers, in fact, who dramatize something to the point where, touching the outer reaches of ambiguity and universality as their work does, causes the reader to ask morally related questions, make assumptions, form opinions.

It is not so bad to be an elephant in a living room and, depending on the symbolic nature of the punchbowl, it is no stigma in being a turd; it is in fact something to keep in the back of your mind when you are feeling comfortable or perhaps polite is the word you are wanting not to feel.  Perhaps this is a signal to be a bit more aware of investigating something with fuller honesty of impression and, accordingly, expression.

What you are basically saying is that there is room for you and the elephant in the living room; there is a pact of conspiracy between you:  the elephant represents and you evoke its presence.  There is room for you in the punch bowl.

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