Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Rightto be Left Alone

Reading the Second half of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim was very different than reading the first half of it. There is an important effect on how I reacted to Sedaris’ stories and his humor created by the closing of the gap in time between the events and the publication of the book. Sedaris writes many of these stories pretty much as they were happening, rather than decades later, and that makes a difference I think.
While I still find a lot of what he says interesting and funny, I think the “mean-ness” of what he writes about his siblings, especially that one visit to Lisa. I guess this disproves my theory of funny and mean being mutually exlusive, but though much of Sedaris’ humor is at the expense of Lisa, among other people, that isn’t really the type of mean-ness I am referring to. That mean-ness was present in the first half of the book as well, mitigated slightly by the fact that Sedaris was making funny of who people had been 30+ years ago rather than how they are right now, but still present.

What I’m talking about is the fact that as Sedaris’ writing and publishing of these books in somewhat real-time is to a point where it’s effecting the lives of his family members. What is also clear is that Sedaris is well aware of this fact. He mentions how his family members are afraid to tell him things, and precede everything they speak about with a disclaimer frequently forbidding him to repeat or write about it. Lisa’s reaction to the potential movie about their lives reveals that it’s not something she wants to deal with; she seems like she wants to be left alone. In my communications ethics class last semester we read the Right to Privacy by Brandeis, and he talks about the basic right that is entitled to all citizens of this country; “The right to be left alone.” Not that any of his siblings seem like they would take legal action to stop him from writing what he wants about them, but as someone who cares about them, and sees that a lot of times what he’s doing hurts them (to the point where he needs to imagine they are choosing to live the lives he imposes on them in order to sleep at night), doesn’t Sedaris owe them and the rights they are entitled to some kind of respect? Can’t he find something else to write about?
Sedaris says it was harder to tell his stories when a family member is in the audience, but when he writes a book aren’t all of them there? He just doesn’t need to face them. Sedaris is so aware of this effect, and it seems to really matter to him; but not enough to prevent him from writing what he does. He’s almost apologetic, and by acknowledging explicitly that he realizes that making his family’s lives “pieces of scrap” he can use to construct humorous essays in some ways wrong and unfair to them, it almost seems like he’s trying to rationalize what he does. By doing something, and then saying something to the extent of ‘It was wrong of me to do that,’ does it make it not as bad? After Sedaris talks about the reasons why he shouldn’t do what he does, he describes Lisa and her parrot “setting each other off” crying together all night long for weeks after their mother died. I laughed at this, because it was really funny. But I also underlined it and wrote “Lisa is a sad individual.” And I thought, Lisa shouldn’t have to be subjected to my judgment in moments of her weakness, one of her lowest points exposed to people all over the country. Part of me thought Sedaris should leave her alone.

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