Saturday, April 2, 2011

SJ Perelman and The Out of Context Theatre

Satire is a delicately balanced thing.

Satire is also subjective. Hit just the wrong tone with the wrong audience and, as Scott Adams is finding out, you’ve got a group with pitchforks and torches at your door, even if your only intention was to incite a little “Dance, Monkey, Dance.”

As a writer, unintended messages are unbearable.

I confess that I misjudged the degree of excitement this would generate. Indeed, the big fuss didn't happen for over three weeks. I also didn't predict that critics would reprint the post one component at a time so they could dissect it, which has the fascinating effect of changing the humorous tone to something hideous. Humor requires flow and timing. A frog isn't much of a frog after you dissect it.

Unbearable and, I might add, inevitable.

Satirist S.J. Perelman had better watch it.

This wit, who co-wrote the Marx Brothers’ film “Horsefeathers” and won an Academy Award for co-writing the screenplay for 1956’s “Around the World in Eighty Days” might be slightly misunderstood today if his satire, such as this bit from “Nothing But the Tooth,” were taken out of context, which you’d better believe is a paddlin’ and is going to happen here.

Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes

(For those who want full context, go here. It should be noted the excerpted text here is used also under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes.)

There is practically no problem so simple that it cannot confuse a dentist. For instance, thumb-sucking. "Could you suggest a method to correct thumb and index finger sucking by an infant of one year?" flutters a Minnesota orthodontist, awkwardly digging his toe into the hot sand. Dr. Smedley, whose patience rivals Job's, has an answer for everything: "Enclose the hand by tying shut the end of the sleeve of a sleeping garment, or fasten a section of a pasteboard mailing tube to the sleeping garment in such a position as to prevent the bending of the elbow sufficiently to carry the thumb or index finger to the mouth." Now truly, Dr. Smedley, isn't that going all the way around Robin Hood's barn? Nailing the baby's hand to the high-chair is much more cozy, or, if no nail is available, a smart blow with the hammer on Baby's fingers will slow him down. My grandfather, who was rather active in the nineties (between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues they finally got him for breaking and entering), always used an effective method to break children of this habit. He used to tie a Mills grenade to the baby's thumb with cobbler's waxed thread, and when the little spanker pulled out the detonating pin with his teeth, Grandpa would stuff his fingers into his ears and run like the wind.

Yeah, you read that right here folks at Out of Context Theatre, SJ Perelman recommends curing a baby’s teething by strapping a grenade to the kid’s hand and running like the wind.

(And to echo what Mr. Adams has experienced, now the blossoming haters of SJ Perelman will bolt with my incorrect summation of the above satire and spread through the tubes the “fact” that SJ Perelman (isn’t that a Jewish name?) absolutely hates babies and everything they stand for.

Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary purposes

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