It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. The ten days my friends and I spent snowed in sharing my apartment were very revealing. We learned a lot about each other and a lot about ourselves. Perhaps a bit too much. By day six or so, I think everyone was nearing a state of cabin fever induced hysteria. Twelve people, a two bedroom apartment, and 26+ inches of snow can lead you to do the craziest things. On night one of what was, at that point, a really awesome break from academia, we played “Apples to Apples” for four hours. Yes, four hours. I’ll try to briefly explain just in case some of us have not had the pleasure of playing, but it’s basically a type of word association game. Everyone takes turn playing the role of the judge. When you’re the judge, you pull a green card from the deck and put it down on the table. Green cards have adjectives on them. All the other players put down a red card with a noun on it that they think best fits the adjective. The judge chooses the best comparison and that person wins the round. Very simple. The game becomes hilarious when we start to get a feel for what each judge tends to pick. A literal comparison for a practical judge. Something outrageous and completely unrelated for the more creative types. You get the picture. The box reads: “The game of hilarious comparisons!”—and it was, for all four hours. We began to see that the game had a second potential use when the green card was “flabby” and the red card chosen to win was “your ex” and we all collapsed into fits of laughter, mostly at relief that “your ex” (a friend) was not in the room.
Fast forward. Day two. Wake up to no power. A particularly energetic, high maintenance, and difficult to entertain friend of mine set about creating our own version of Apples to Apples. This was (thankfully for the rest of us who would normally have to entertain him) a task which took him almost an entire day to complete. The masterpiece is entitled Bad Apples, and it is a sort of Loyola-fied version of Apples to Apples. The green cards in our version of the game are “Sour Apples” and the red cards are “Black Apples.” Sour Apple cards say things like most likely to have ugly children ; awkward, bizarre, out of place ; off the wagon ; homewrecker ; elephant in the room. These are among the tamest of the categories. As you can imagine, the Black Apple cards had all of my friends’ names on them, various Loyola people/places/events/things, names of our significant others, friends, siblings, current events and so on. If this game came in a box, it would read: “The game of extremely offensive comparisons...Beware.” We knew what we were getting ourselves into, and when the time came to play, everyone mutually agreed to leave their emotions at the door, but you could sense the nerves in the room.
The game began in poor taste when the first category was “homewrecker” and a card that was thrown down and would eventually win read “Haiti.” We were in hysterics the entire night. It was another four hours or so of near constant laughter, after which I actually felt physically tired. Personally, I kept thinking to myself, I have to blog about this, I have to blog about this, because some of the topics were so inappropriate, and our class has started to discuss when it’s okay to joke about something and what topics or situations are off limits. As you can expect, lots of inappropriate and offensive things were said and revealed, but thankfully most were met with a sense of humor. I think this is because it was very much multidirectional. No one walked away from this game unscathed. As you can also expect, things were abruptly cut short when one of the categories hit a nerve for a few people at the table. Immediately the boundaries of humor were revealed. The card in question mocked a learning disability that is directly experienced by one person at the table and had touched a few others in some way. As we’ve said in class, it doesn’t seem okay to mock someone or make a joke at someone’s expense for something that they cannot help. Everyone tried to carry on as though nothing weird had happened, but the game had crossed a line and came to a close shortly after this card hit the table. (Note: The next day my game-creating friend was very apologetic and indulged in some self-deprecating humor in order to smooth things over. Everyone is okay. We survived this terrible/great idea and walked away friends).
The discussion of Indian Kutiyattam plays in the Turner article reminded me of this experience in a strange way. I found it fascinating that the clown character was basically allowed to let loose on the audience, and in particular the powerful figures in the audience. In this way, the clown is given the “unusual power” to speak what’s on society’s mind. He, using the “tool of direct communication,” gets to say what everyone wants to say but is prohibited from saying by general social guidelines and codes of conduct. In some odd way, the clown’s “barbed invectives” bring the audience and actors to a sense of community (Turner 256). I think that this is because humor serves as a sort of leveler in this format. It brings everyone down to occupy the same space. The Douglas article that we read touches on this same idea, and I found it easy to put the two thinkers in conversation with one another. Douglas says the telling of a joke can be “an image of the leveling of hierarchy” (152). The article goes on to note that jokes “disorganize” (155). We have previously talked about how jokes and humor can build bridges between different groups of people and create a common ground on which to construct relationships, but I think that Douglas is correct when he says that jokes “connect widely differing fields, but the connection destroys hierarchy and order” (155). This applies directly to the multidirectional humor that we have read, and also to my experience with the “Bad Apples” game. Any sort of pre-existing structure or order that existed within my group of friends was shattered that night. The uninhibited mockery was brutally honest, which made it feel like we were all starting from scratch. This was both refreshing and frightening. I think the same thing would happen as a result the clown’s speeches during Kutiyattam theatre, expect that the audience members being mocked would feel more uncomfortable. It would be much more difficult to “leave your feelings at the door” because the humor is one-directional. As far as I can tell from the reading, the audience does not get a chance to joke back at the clown.
I think that it’s important to note that Turner also describes the guidelines or rules or traditions, which govern this type of theater. Other than the clown’s freedom to improvise, everything seems pretty strict and scripted. It is almost as if this type of potentially offensive humor can only occur in a certain type of space. Everyone in the audience can expect the unexpected to occur in a completely predictable, and even sacred, location. The same goes for “Bad Apples.” It could only ever occur out of the strange combination of extreme boredom and togetherness that we felt during Baltimore’s Snowmageddon. It will never happen again, and nothing that was said during this raucous game will even leave my apartment. Was it a good idea? Probably not. Was it funny at the time? Absolutely.