Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Trickster, vol. 1

Some words are like the cancer cells known as floaters, circulating through the body in search of place to establish themselves, then grow, or in context, metastasize.  We often aren't aware of them--words or cells--until they begin broadcasting their virulence in unmistakable rhetoric.

Other words have the immediate effect of a schoolyard bully on a group of helpless victims.  Most of these words are hard-wired with ethnic disdain and degradation, but they may also include variations on a theme of gender bias.

Then there are words we use because we believe we understand their meaning, whether we do or not.  In the process, such words are given attitudes or power beyond their actual intent.   the One such word is satire, a word you've given considerable thought to, ever since you began to realize you were not giving it the benefit of its full meaning.

Because of your essential outlook, making fun of institutions, authority, attitudes, and indeed all these things as they relate to you, seemed a splendid occupation.  You set about with glee, taking on conditions and attitudes, looking for the rugs of logic and self-important to yank from underneath authority, pomposity, and hypocrisy.  

Even that far back, you began to see some of these things in yourself, meaning you considered yourself a fair target as well.  In your studies of writers you considered to be satirists, Mark Twain, for instance, or Balzac, certainly Sinclair Lewis, you came to conclude that the self is always Target One for the satirist, and you were all out to set yourself up as a satirist.

The slowest part coming was the awareness that satire did not necessarily stop with picking a target, persuading that target to set foot on a rickety rug, then yanking the rug, resulting in an epic enough pratfall to rob the target of dignity.  If you look closely enough, there is one more step to separate satire from such kin as parody, comedy, and burlesque.  

Most of these second-cousins are more physical in nature, their closure often arriving in the form of a cream pie to the face, a pratfall, a slip on a banana peel, or some imaginative, utter humiliation such as the case with Wile E. Coyote's attempts to bring The Roadrunner to ground.

The satire is perfectly willing to humiliate, but to gain its status, it must also demonstrate some plausible solution to the problem addressed at the outset. Through her depictions of class attitudes and standards, Jane Austen introduces to a series of worlds where certain social traditions and attitudes seem insurmountable,  By introducing one or more of her strong and willful characters into play against purposeful, exaggerated  accommodations of motive, Austen brings us to understand how possible it is for unlike minds to adapt to a mutual respect that transcends class.

Throughout the history of storytelling, the satirist has been willing to take those extra steps beyond mere ridicule, into the terrains of morality and the Social Contract, where accommodations may be made to a greater awareness and appreciation of human relationships.  

The observation of the satirist as moralist is scarcely a recent  thesis.  Examples of brilliant satires crowd the literary canon and the history of the spoken tale at times when the written language was not in so wide a use as it is now.

Through its history, satire has walked a precipitous path, being taken as absolute in its seriousness by as many as half its audience and meant as a form of gospel while at the same time being seen as an exaggerated vision, meant to cause mischief.

One of the many joys of satire comes in its written, printed form, where readers are left to deal with as their instincts tell them it is gospel and, thus, sacred, or exaggerated mischief.

Satire also comes in the form of a being sometimes regarded as animal, sometimes as a unique form of personage known among other things as The Trickster or possibly as Captain Geoffrey Spaulding.  We look at possibilities tomorrow.

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