Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Old People, Sick People, And the Use of Stereotypes in I Like You

One of the most common techniques Sedaris employs in I Like You is the use of stereotypes. In the “Entertaining the Elderly” chapter, Sedaris makes this extremely clear if it hadn’t been earlier in the book. The chapter is written in HUGE font, mocking older people for their degenerative eyesight. Beyond that Sedaris says that “It’s never good to stereotype. All of your guests are individuals with different needs. Except in the case of the elderly,” (Sedaris 147). She then goes on to talk about the annoyance of having to “prechew” roast beef for the elderly at 4:00 in the afternoon. The advice that Sedaris gives on entertainment is very similar to the advice that Madea gives in that you have to pick out the ridiculous nonsense from the real advice. The chapter on the sick is particularly illuminating to another aspect of the absurdity of stereotypes and giving advice based on them. In one part of the chapter, Sedaris suggests basically staying as far removed from the sick as possible, basically putting down food and then stepping back, allowing them to proceed as they desire. Then, two pages later, Sedaris says that you have to “be as entertaining as possible” with the sick, because they don’t have the strength to entertain themselves (162). Basically, what Sedaris does throughout the book is mock the “know-it-all” character by offering general, though strict, advice on how to throw a party correctly. Then in the next hundred or so pages she changes everything she said over and over again depending on the different people that are being entertained. The irony is that nobody actually entertains anyone who is just a lumberjack, or a sick person, or an old person, or a businessman. People are multifaceted and the idea that Sedaris puts forth is that the hard and fast rules of entertainment are not so hard after all. Sedaris’ own commentary would stereotype her most likely into a group of “crazy people.” The book is entirely predicated on the idea of getting advice from a crazy person, an idea that is itself a little crazy.
The need to use so many different types to give advice on how to do the same thing over and over again in itself shows the inadequacy of universal advice. Sedaris’ message seems to be “Know your audience, cater to what you think they’d like, and if they don’t like it, then they’re probably not your friends anyway.” Sedaris shows that throwing a party is an art, not a science. It is open to many interpretations and is not governed by a prescribed set of laws, as a Martha Stewart figure would have it.

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