Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Blog Part 2 - SANTA'S NOT REAL!!!

Anyway, I had to add my own little story of silent reconciliation. I moved to my current home in suburban Philadelphia in first grade. It was November at the time, so a lot of kids in class were talking about what they wanted for Christmas. Naturally, social butterfly that I am, I joined in, talking about what I wanted from Santa. Now if you don't know anything about Blue Bell's religious makeup, it can basically be summed up as being a 50/50 split of Jews and Catholics with a few Hindus, Jehova's Witnesses and Irish Buddhists sprinkled in (I kid you not, Kyle O'Hara was a Buddhist). Anyway, so me and my good little Catholic friends sat in a circle talking about our deepest desires from St. Nick. All of a sudden, a little Jewish boy (who will remain nameless) comes over and yells at us, "SANTA ISN'T REAL!" Now, when you're in first grade, you don't take such sacrilegious threats against the core of your faith lightly. Of course, I responded, "HE JUST DOESN'T GIVE GIFTS TO YOU BECAUSE YOU'RE JEWISH AND YOU DON'T BELIEVE IN HIM!!" Of course now the teacher is hustling over to the corner because I said the J-Word. I got a talking to about not making fun of people and I just sat there grumpily for a while. This wasn't my fault, clearly this kid was mistaken. I mean how else could one possibly explain the fact that I got mountains of toys in the same wrapping paper each year with my name written on them in the same color sharpie marker? Clearly it wasn't my parents faking it because they used different paper and they used gift tags, not sharpie. Using my powers of deductive reasoning, the only reason this kid didn't think there was a Santa was because he was Jewish and Santa didn't come to his house. The little Jewish boy and I stopped talking to each other.

I found out the truth about Santa two years later when my great aunt brought a bag of gifts to the house a few days before Christmas and left them outside of her room. The top gift had a gift label that said "To: Matt, From: Santa." It took me a while to internalize all of this. Santa doesn't use gift labels! Santa would never use that wrapping paper! How did my great aunt get advance gifts from Santa? Were his reindeer injured? Yeah, that was it, he needed help delivering's nose needed a new bulb...or something. The truth was staring me in the face, and I just didn't want to accept it.

My fears were confirmed on Christmas morning when I opened the package and it was a red turtleneck that was far too small. Santa doesn't give you clothes that don't fit. In fact, Santa doesn't give you clothes, period. Great aunts give you red turtlenecks that don't fit because they only see you every few years. After a while I was actually thankful that it didn't fit because it gave me an excuse not to wear a stupid, choky, scratchy red turtleneck.

I tried to forget about the Santa issue for a while, and as Christmas faded into the background, so did Santa. I didn't talk to anyone about it until the next Christmas Eve, when I told my mom I had known about it for a year. She tried to tell me that everything was alright and that Christmas was still a magical time, but it was worthless, Santa was dead.

I moved up to the middle school in sixth grade. I figured this was a good time to try to restart a friendship with the Santa Killer. Really I didn't have much of a choice, as he was the only kid that I knew in my class. Nevertheless, we just sort of pretended like nothing had ever happened and went about our business. We played a lot of basketball together, and I think the fact that we used to hate each other made liking each other a lot easier because the expectations were set so low. I really can't fault the kid either. I mean, who doesn't want a jolly fat man in a red suit giving them tons of presents? It's SO MUCH more fun than getting one present a day from your parents. I can just imagine that he asked his parents why Santa came to the other kids' houses but not his. I can see his mom nonchalantly responding that Santa wasn't real. I can see him in class jealous of the joy that talking about Santa was bringing the other kids. He wanted it, and he couldn't have it. Because Santa wasn't real. The only way to stop his jealousy was to take away the other kids' joy. So, he got up, sauntered over to the circle and yelled out the three words that can destroy any kid's childhood...


wrap up

I think that the most important thing I’ve learned in this class is the ability to have a more open mind about what constitutes humor. I didn’t really think about it but I guess I’ve always had a really limited view of what I considered funny, and forcing myself to think about a lot of different examples of humor, and asking myself to think about why they are funny, has made me reconsider what comedy I am able to appreciate. I never would have thought for a second that I would ever say that anything written by Tyler Perry, for instance, was legitimately funny, because I was always adamantly believed his humor not to be my taste. I never in a million years would have picked up Principles of Uncertainty, because I probably would have dismissed it as dumb and artsy; but that ended up being one of my favorite books we read, and funny in a very strange sort of way that I never would have experienced if I never had to force myself to read it. Talking about humor in everyday onversation, it’s easy to dismiss what other people say or reference as not funny. The people in our class all have extremely different senses of humor. I remember one of the first classes within five minutes of each other I raised my hand and said “I think that if something is funny, it can’t be mean,” and Sara raised her hand and said something to the extent of “I don’t think any humor that degrades anyone is funny.” Those are two really different perspectives on humor, and I am sure that during our respective 20 years on the planet me and Sara (and everyone else in the class) responded extremely differently to the different types of comedy we encountered in the world. Talking about examples of humor with about 30 people all with similarly differing perspectives has made me realize something about how jokes work; jokes don’t exist in a vaccum. You can’t look at a joke and immediately judge how it works (and in some ways, I think, even how funny it is) because there is so much more a part of it that makes that joke different in each specific situation it exists in. What the person thinks the intentions behind the joke are, the existing relationships between the speaker, the listener, and the target, or the various different perceptions of any of these things: all of these are part of the joke. When I hear a joke, even if it’s derogatory towards myself and pointing out something pretty “mean,” so long as the joke is funny, I always just assume the person thought of a funny observation, and shared it to make people laugh. This doesn’t really offend me. Sara though, for instance, may hear the very same joke, and think someone is trying to put someone else down, to make themselves better than their target, basically to be a jerk. Understanding that there are hundreds of different, equally legitimate, reactions to every type of comedy, has helped me to appreciate the many different types of humor we have read this semester that I otherwise wouldn’t. I think this ties in really well as I read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a book that I had my mom send me from my little brother’s book shelf. While I was borrowing from my 10 year-old brother’s canon of literature for my college class was my mom’s go-to source for a joke at our family easter party whenever a relative asked how my last semester was going, I also kind of thought of Kinney’s book condescendingly. Reading “children’s humor” was a good last book for me to read this semester, because I was able to think about it in a way I probably couldn’t have if it had been one of the first books we read. I could read about Greg’s attempts to impress girls avoid movies, and climb his middle school’s social ladder despite the best friend that is so beneath him with an open mind, and appreciate Kinney’s humor more authentically. I think I used to limit myself too much with what kinds of humor I liked, so the fact that I now could laugh so hard at a book that has a primary audience in elementary school I like to think shows a somewhat beneficial change in my approach to humor.

Just Laugh

I think that it is very interesting to see a satire where the subject is life in middles school. As far as satire goes this is an intriguing move by Kinney. From most critiques of lifestyle we are able to extract a remedy for our imperfections and highlight the problem areas that are pointed out in the work. When Kinney produces a satire that centers around the lives of middle-schoolers it is interesting to ponder what inferences we are to draw.

Like many people said in class it is interesting to observe that we may, in fact, see our present trials and difficulties as trivial when we reach a new stage of enlightenment, just as most of us saw the difficulties that Gregg faced in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. At the same time, perhaps we may draw the importance of things that we’ve forgotten, like being true to ourselves and occasionally writing down our thoughts in a secret diary—though I am sure many of us still do.

People often say that we can see the world in its truest form through the eyes of a child. Children seem to make the most sense out of the world, and as we grow we tend to complicate things unnecessarily. Perhaps by selecting the turmoil and pandemonium of a middle school, Kinney is attempting to take us back to a less complicated—though just as trying—world.

Throughout the semester, there has been this constant movement toward a seemingly generally held idea that humor in itself is quite indefinable. Yes, it has its different models, devices, and the like, but when you really try to tie it down there isn’t much that you can define. Something is always left out or goes unseen. The definition changes from person to person and place to place. What really matters is that we each have our own definitions of humor and that we always accept those of others, but most importantly that we always find something to laugh at.

The Three Stooges are hilarious!

And now for something completely relevant.
Alright, I’ll be honest and come clean: I did not enjoy the ending of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. While I was able to laugh and find a great deal of humor throughout the entire novel, a feeling in the back of my head was growing and growing: I was too much like this kid in middle school. Instead of using this space to rant about just how similar we were (I never had to eat cheese of the blacktop, after all), I will instead use this as a springboard for what I found to be most surprising about what I learned in my studies of humor.
No matter how people laugh and find funny the same things, the finer points of an individual’s sense of humor are so unique that it is extremely difficult to find two individuals who will laugh at the exact same things and fail to find humor in everything else (like the Three Stooges). From discussions about laughing at funerals to the applicability of the Superiority model of humor to friends and the belief that if something is funny it can’t be harmful, everyone seems to have their own little quirk about what tickles their funny bone.
I find this observation hilarious. Personally, I think (with very few important exceptions) that having a sense of humor at all is critically important to a good life, long or otherwise. Being able to laugh at the world and yourself goes a long way towards creating a better life for yourself and those around you. Leading this point forward, it makes sense that a sense of humor can define you as a person. If everyone’s sense of humor really is unique, then despite all the similarities everyone can bring a new and different perspective to how something is humorous. In that sense, I question the existence of a “Unified Field Theory of Humor.” Just as no human being is exactly the same, as long as everyone has their own outlook on humor the definition of what is funny will always be evolving, aiming for completeness but never really getting there.
In the immortal words of Fred Astaire:
“Make ‘em laugh!”

Zoo-Wee Mama!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid was a really fun book to end the semester with, especially because it was definitely one of the most relatable. While it was fun to reminisce about my years in middle school and laugh at the silly cartoon drawings, I was surprised at how complex the book actually is. Greg Kinney mastered the perspective of a middle schooler and honored that voice throughout, which made me think a lot about the intended audience versus my perspective, a hindsight that induced a feeling of superiority. The reasons a 6th grader would laugh at this book and the reasons I did are probably vastly different. What I found refreshing was the honesty of Greg’s voice and the realistic approach that Kinney employed. As a protagonist, Greg is more than fallible. For most of the book he is condescending to his best friend, tries to manipulate his way through the power chain of middle school, and think solely about himself until a shining moment at the end when he takes the Cheese Touch from Rowley. And although I found myself thinking that Greg is kind of a jerk, I appreciated Kinney’s realism, which is ultimately what makes the book so appealing. I realized that through Greg, Kinney is actually targeting all of us, whether we are fellow 6th graders, college students, or parents, because everyone has had a self centered moment in their lives, and who didn’t think the world revolved around them at age 11? With the supplemental drawings that literally draw you into the cartoon world and back to your pre-teen years, there’s a little Greg Heffley in all of us.

Just the fact that the reading list for a college level English course included a favorite of the twin 9 years olds I baby-sit for just sums up the most surprising part of the class for me. The incredibly wide variety of literature we read over the semester seemed arbitrary to me as I was purchasing them from the bookstore, but I now see that each story we read is not only complex but has a unique value that speaks to our overall investigation of the facets of humor. I found myself questioning and analyzing the previously unexplainable instinct of laughter that I had never examined in the past. My eyes were opened to the power of humor and even to aspects of myself that I didn’t know were there. What was so amazing to me was not only the understanding that you really can find humor in anything, but also that a group of 30 students with different backgrounds, interests, and senses of humor can come together seamlessly through the exploration of laughter and humor.

With Humor Comes Life Lessons

Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid brings me back to my extremely awkward stage in life, middle school. I remember always tugging at my clothes and touching my hair and thinking how uncomfortable I felt. Kinney’s novel allows the reader to travel straight back into that stage of discomfort, and depending on the age group, Kinney’s voice portrays the humor within the transition into self confidence.

Greg Heffley’s experiences in middle school may seem serious and stressful to him, but for the reader, these experiences don't seem to even come close to their idea of stressful, and this is where the humor presents itself. In order for this novel to be considered funny, the reader must have some idea that their stress is more important or worthy. This concept of stress demonstrates that we as a culture take a lot for granted. Although ‘judging the book by its cover’ a person may think that Kinney’s novel is only read by middle schoolers, as a college student I found that Greg’s story held some insightful advice, don’t stress the little things.

Not only did Diary of a Wimpy Kid bring advice that I was not expecting, but most of the novels we read over the semester have brought surprising life lessons. I have come to terms that humor travels with deep insight and that if you have the ability to laugh at a topic, you have some sort of understanding or inside knowledge. Humor allows us to test how aware we are, and forces us to be more alert and conscious of our surroundings. Humor serves a wide range of purposes, and it allows us to feel alive, by forcing us to wake up, and really think. After reading and discussing our selected readings, I have noticed how apparent humor is in society, and also really take into account the purpose of humor in each situation, and humor is so complex, yet simple in its own way. Humor is a useful tool in education, and it allows for a deep reflection, providing further examination.

As time goes by, I wonder if the definition of humor will just continue to be a never ending collaboration of experiences but one thing I do know is that humor will always be present and continually changing.

Hyper-Masculinity within Diary of a Wimpy Kid

I never quite know what to make of satire. I know the purpose is to point out flaws, but, in some cases, I wonder if the audience is able to pick up on such subtlety. Parts of Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid bothered me, but I brushed it off, thinking that Kinney’s purpose was to call into question certain aspects of Middle School and pre-teen culture. Then Chelsea said during class that in her experience with sixth graders, she didn’t think that they would understand the satire, but would understand and sympathize with Greg and all of the situations he finds himself in. Chelsea’s comment really made me rethink how I felt about the book and maybe revert back to my gut reaction, which was one of annoyance or even anger.

Being the gender-sensitive person I am, I immediately noticed while reading Kinney’s work that gender roles and stereotypes were not only narrated, but possibly encouraged. As much as I realize and appreciate Greg’s humanity, I wonder if by narrating Greg’s diary in this way perpetuates a culture of hyper-masculinity and even homophobia. For example, when Greg faces a wrestling unit in P.E. class, he writes, “I spent my seventh period getting WAY more familiar with Fregley than I ever wanted to be” (83). Greg rejects the wrestling unit, not because he is “wimpy,” but because he is touched by another male and may be perceived as “more familiar with Fregley than [he] ever wanted to be.” He doesn’t want to be called “gay” because that would call into question his masculinity (and therefore value) among other pre-teen boys. If the eleven-year-old boys reading this don’t understand that this association is problematic, as I suspect they don’t, isn’t Kinney encouraging homophobia among Middle School boys?

Furthermore, Greg rejects femininity. Defending his Christmas wish for a “Barbie Dream House,” Greg fervently transforms anything that could be associated with femininity into hyper-masculinity. He writes,

When I was seven, the only thing I really wanted for Christmas was a Barbie Dream House. And NOT because I like girls’ toys, like Rodrick said. I just thought it would be a really awesome fort for my toy soldiers. When Mom and Dad saw my wish list that year, they got in a big fight over it. Dad said there was no way he was getting me a dollhouse, but Mom said it was healthy for me to ‘experiment’ with whatever kind of toys I wanted to play with (117).

He immediate rejects, not the Barbie Dream House, but the desire for “girls’ toys,” or in other words, femininity. Then Greg turns a “dollhouse” into a “fort for toy soldiers,” demanding his masculinity by referencing the ultimate “boys’ toy,” soldiers, little, plastic, unnaturally muscular men who kill each other for no reason—how cute. Kinney then narrates a fight between Greg’s parents, in which the parents, too, fill their gendered stereotypes perfectly. Dad wants his son to be a little man, and Mom wants to accept him as he is—I say again, how cute. We, as readers, can call this satire all day long, but looking through the eyes of the target audience makes me rethink our assumptions. Is Kinney planting moral seeds by means of satire or is he perpetuating gendered stereotypes that encourage homophobia as the way to express one’s masculinity?

The most important thing I learned this semester was the universal aspect of humor. Whether or not our senses of humor align, humor is something that we all experience. We’ve all had uncontrollable fits of laughter, we’ve all bonded with someone over an inside joke and we’ve all healed by means of humor and time. Our authenticity as individuals define humor for each of us, but within each person’s “ness” lies a universal propensity for laughter.

With A Child's Heart

No, my title is not a a cruel joke (its a title from a Michael Jackson song). There have been many things that I have learned this semester and climactic book, "Diary of a Whimpy Kid" was a great way to reflect for the final blog entry.

Kinney takes the main character to an extreme. Even though he is fictional you can't help but feel bad for him. He goes through more than the average middle schooler in the worst year ( and we have all had those, maybe even more than one). By making Greg's situations so psychologically damaging, he is in a way sympathizing with the reader (since his audience is seven years old to preteens). He knows that they are all going through those awkward times of leaving childhood behind to enter the days of real homework, first slow dances, and crushes.

In doing the more than average traumatic situations he is giving the reader a way of saying, "I had a similar situation when I was..." Or even people our age, that can reflect back on the days of not getting a seat on the bus, bullying, and the crush that rejects you. Greg is a sort of preteen shrink that everyone can relate to. I have a friend that is majoring in Child psychology and she read one of the books for a grad course. She called me and kept me away from Amy Sedaris land for four hours reminiscing when we had to run to the bud to get seats before they were all taken by the sixth graders because the eighth graders had the very back, and NO WAY couls you sit there.

What I have learned about humor this semester through our class is that humor is even more fun when you see what is really behind it. You tell a joke it is funny, but there is more too it than that. There are different ways of classifying humor that can be useful in life situations, not just academic affairs. The different fathers of humor that we have looked at gave good insight to where these classifications came from and how they are used, even today.

Being an English major, I love reading. I think this is the first college English course where I have read the books and liked and/or identified with all of them. Some of them will even come in handy if a sick friend comes over, as I noe know how to make them a foot rest. I found something relatable in all the books we read. I also saw some life lessons in the journeys that all the main characters went on, even if they were completely rediculous like in Tikongs. I found a way to classify humor so that I now know where it is derived from in any given situation and that id very interesting to me because truthfully no knowledge is wasted.

Boundaries? What boundaries?

I used to have this concept of a hypothetical "line" that existed in society when it comes to humor. In my mind, there was a thin, straight black line that ran across the spectrum of jokes: on this side of the line, the jokes are acceptable, but on the other, the humor is offensive. Most importantly, crossing that line was to be avoided at all costs.

This class has helped me to see this concept with new eyes. The hypothetical "line" actually exists, but it is not as thin, straight, or impassable as one may think. Humor helps to shed light on boundaries, yes, but it also serves as a vehicle for crossing them, or a tool for redrawing them. It is true that humor can function to effectively offend or alienate people. But in many ways, humor is unifying. This has been the most surprising thing I've learned this semester.

My thought process over the last few months has been strongly influenced by and linked to the social theory of humor. This theory proposes that humor can be used to reveal the organizational structure of society and to suggest the possibility of transformation. Our class discussions have focused heavily on this subject as well. We have talked about the "fault line" that humor reveals between the expected and unexpected, the controllable and uncontrollable, the crude and the sacred. In some ways, the cosmic theory of humor helps here, too. Humor can allow people to transcend social boundaries, thereby reaching new levels of community.

Most of the authors we have read this semester have used this theory in some way. Through their books, we have been able to enter into worlds we would not normally be able to go. Sedaris took us into his childhood, where he spent much time discovering his homosexuality. Perry showed us what it would be like to encounter "a Madea," and the culture that she inhabits. Gilbert invited us on her journey of self-discovery, Bryson invited us to join him in his re-entry into the States, Kalman invited us into her thought process, and Amy Sedaris invited us to several of her parties. Kinney gently took us back to middle school, Hau'ofa took us to an island in the South Pacific, and Hurston took us to a working-class neighborhood outside Chicago.

In all of these works, boundaries are revealed and then crossed. As a heterosexual woman who grew up in a white middle class household, I was initially excluded from Sedaris' experience of discovering his homosexuality, or Perry's experience of Madea-like women in his black, urban neighborhood. Yet, through their humor, these authors were able to redraw the boundaries that were revealed at the outset so that I too could be included.

There is little else that could function as well as humor does in bringing people together. Food, perhaps, or maybe alcohol. Humor has such a significant ability to unite different people because it is so universal. I mean, who doesn't like to laugh? As we have been saying all semester, however, it is also important to keep in mind the presentation of the humor. The pieces we read effectively linked author and audience because the author crossed or redrew boundaries with care. These writers didn't barrel across the "line" in an effort to offend (as some comedians or writers do). Instead of barging in on the reader's space uninvited, the author reaches across the line and invites the reader to join his or her side. This method is effective because it brings two opposite sides of the spectrum together in a way that gives both parties the opportunity to signal their consent. In this way, the unifying function of humor can best be seen and celebrated.

Wimpyness and Silent Reconciliation

Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid is an interesting book that clearly demonstrates how pain can play a role in humor. Wimpy Kid ran against my expectations of being a light book for kids. While it is definitely funny, it doesn’t operate on a basic incongruity model. I might even go so far as to say that this book operated more on the platonic/hobbesian superiority model than did any other book we have read this semester. Almost every example of humor in the book involved either Greg getting placed in a bad situation by his parents, or his big brother Rodrick, or Rowley, or Greg placing Rowley in a bad situation, such as in the safety patrol incident. There’s a good deal of real malice involved as well. One incident that comes to mind is Greg’s reasoning for wanting to be a tree in The Wizard of Oz was that he wanted to throw apples at Patty Farrell because she requested that the map be covered up during the U.S. Capitals test, causing Greg to fail.
Looking at the title, I wondered for a while why Kinney chose the word “wimpy” to describe Greg. Many other words would have sufficed: adolescent, pre-teen, awkward, selfish, etc. Why wimpy? In reality, the only instance of Greg lacking physical strength that figured into the book at all was his losing to Fregley multiple times in the wrestling unit in P.E. By my estimation, Greg’s “wimpyness” is not physical, but mental and moral. Greg can’t stand up to anything. He doesn’t stand up for his own mistakes, such as the safety patrol incident. He doesn’t stand up for his friend Rowley when the older kids make him eat the cheese. He doesn’t stand up for his own personal opinions when his mom wants him to do the play or his dad wants him to work out. Greg avoids confrontation at all costs. He avoids responsibility.
Now, while it may seem like I don’t like Greg at all, my view of him is a little more positive than K’s was the other day in class. I think he’s just a bit immature. Even his seemingly selfless action at the end of the book is selfish because he said he only got rid of the cheese so that people would be thankful.
The end of the book was really a genuinely happy ending. The unspoken reconciliation between Rowley and Greg was heartwarming, almost. As a guy, this is the way we operate. There are no flowery, emotional speeches. No cry sessions. No brooding over a pint of Ben and Jerry’s together. That’s all girl stuff. When guys forgive, they just do and don’t say anything about it. Everything goes back to normal.
I know this is only supposed to be a one-page blog, but I’ll be back a little later to add my own story to this, as I really want to do a Humor in the World blog for this one.

Humor in Real Life and Boys v.s. Girls

I did not really know what to expect when I first came into class this year. The class was called Critical Methodologies: Humor Studies. That seemed to be a paradox to me. What could be humorous about critical methodologies? But the book list seemed very promising to me. It wasn’t until later in the semester, however, that I realized just how much I would take away from this class. I found that it actually was not impossible for me to tell a funny story. I thought about humor in a way I never had before. And I had new books to recommend to my mother, father, and sister. The most surprising moment, however, occurred when I went to see the movie Kick-Ass over the weekend. It was a very funny movie, although it was very violent at the same time. I found myself thinking about why I was laughing at certain things and why I did not feel comfortable laughing at others. For example, there was a moment when a very minor character was being tortured by men who worked for the villain. The villain himself went out to his car to take his son to the movie theater, and the two of them began having a conversation in very amusing tones. I realized that I was uncomfortable laughing at their conversation, however, because of the context in which it was placed. I realized how I was thinking of the humor theorists and what their responses would be to a moment like this, and I was thinking of what we might say in class about this. I was really surprised to find how much the class has changed the way I perceive humor.
Meanwhile, I really enjoyed Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, and as I was reading it all I could think of was how much I wanted my sister to read it. This surprised me as well; I am coming away from the class with the intention of giving I Am A Stranger Here Myself to my father, Eat Pray Love to my mother, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid to my little sister. My sister is in sixth grade, right in the prime of middle school just like Greg. I know that she will be able to relate to the book because of the way she will tell me things about school. She always comes home with stories about how the boys in school act or some silly thing that the whole class is worried about. I think it might be interesting to see her reaction to the book, too. She is a girl, and the book is written from the perspective of a boy with a very stereotypical portrayal of the few girls who do show up. Kinney presented a middle school boy’s view of girls in a very effective and, I believe, true way. Although Greg says he likes girls, he gets very irritated with the few girls who do show up, such as the girl who played Dorothy in their school play. The interaction between boys and girls at that age sits on a very precarious line between liking and annoying. According to my sister’s stories about the boys in her class, I believe that Kinney gets this exactly. I can’t wait to see what my sister thinks.

It’s Funny Because We've Been There

Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid made me laugh out loud. It did so because I haven’t been in middle school for seven years, but I’ve been there. As I read the book I found myself separated between two consciousnesses of maturity and age. On one hand I am currently interning as a teacher in both middle and high school settings. As such, I am nearly an expert on the antics of members of that age group in question. The alter ego through whose eyes I also found myself reading was the alter ego of my own middle-school self.
The ‘teacher in training’ inside me chuckled because he had seen the self-centered behavior shown in the book in the classrooms and hallways of schools around Baltimore. The ‘teacher in training’ inside me absolutely cracked up (while being simultaneously disturbed) over the section when Greg gets placed into the gifted reading group in school and tries to act stupid in his assessment to get moved down. However, in spite of my recent experience with the middle school twerp demographic, I felt a strong tug of personal experience which made the book much more powerful. My logical mind wanted to laugh at Greg and his cohorts for being so silly and narrow minded, but I knew all the while that I had acted the very same way.
I recall most fondly the stupid games that my friends and I derived during some of the more boring times in middle school. Just like the ‘headphone rodeo’ game Greg and Rowley play after they find out that the CD player is useless, my friends and I invented many exceedingly stupid purists of fun. Most often these would attempt to involve some possibility of physical injury to prove our fledgling man-hoods. For instance, after school we would lure a swarm of wasps and bees using some sugary soda and then would try to kill as many as possible by swatting them with empty soda bottles. In another instance I recall competing to see who would dare to jump down more of my basement stairs without padding.
The most surprising thing I have learned from all of this is that I found much more humor from realizing how embarrassing and immature I was than from laughing at the fictional characters. Kinney made middle school Josh come back to life in my mind. With him he brought my friends who were Rowleys and Rodericks. This realization opened my eyes to a very personal form of humor which I had not experienced yet this year.

We're all Awkward, We're all Funny

Random acts of awkwardness seem to be the building blocks of a life, especially during the tension and turmoil of adolescence. Formative years, some may say, where we begin to “mature”. In Jeff Kinney’s novel Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Greg gives us insight into his core of awkwardness, just like 90% of our class did during our 60-second humor stories. Showing 30 or more people embarrassing footage of me as a 3 year old child is not something I frequently do. Why do it then, you may ask, and I would reply the reason is humor. For the sake of a good laugh? No, no. I let you all witness my terrible toddler years to exercise my liberating tool of humor. The most surprising thing I have learned this semester is the power of humor.

For example, our sweet little devious Greg enjoys the company of his friend Rowley for a plethora of reasons. One main reason is that he may now exercise his brother Rodrick’s jokes on Rowley. Kinney writes, “It’s been great having him around, mostly because I get to use all the tricks Rodrick pulls on ME.” (18) Jokes that were never funny for Greg, always humorous for Rodrick, now become funny because of the power he can wield over Rowley.

Humor may be the one thing that can simultaneously make you incredibly angry and incredibly happy. Humor may be the one thing that can diffuse a horrific situation. What we must realize, and I think our class has done so ever so beautifully, is that one must respect the power that humor holds before we use it. One may use humor to exert their authority over another, one may use humor to get out of a sticky situation, one may use humor to ignore certain hardships, while another may use humor to address a hardship.

This class has shown me that humor is incredibly multifaceted and can be seen anywhere, I have learned that humor can most importantly free your mind of burden and invite others to feel along with you. Humor has a way of leveling the playing field and encompassing the “all-ness” of human life. Humor tells us we are not alone, that sometimes we suck and deserve to be embarrassed, that sometimes we’re awesome, that sometimes we’re hilarious, that sometimes perhaps we’re a little too much, but we’re all in it together.

Live well, Love much, Laugh often

Looking back on the semester as we get closer to finals, I think that our humor studies class was definitely one of my favorite classes this semester. I looked forward to reading the assigned works each week, studying the forms of humor present in each, and seeing how the author's structured their books to present the humor. Many times, I looked forward to reading as a welcome temporary relief from the homework due in my other classes. When we first started class in January, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of humor and the role it can play in literature and the media. However, as we progressed through the semester, I learned a lot about the different forms of humor and the impact it can have on everyday life.

I think the most surprising thing I learned during the class is how intricately tied humor is to life and humanity. I had heard of the incongruity theory of humor before, as well as the release/relief theory, but not about any of the others. Especially not the cosmic theory/opening to the numinous aspect of humor. This concept surprised me at first because I had always thought of humor as something more temporal and grounded in the everyday. But as we read each work, I saw how it can be used to connect people across different cultures and times, and create open discussion about life and what makes us human.

Each book that we read this semester offered a different perspective of humor. They showed how humor can be personal, but also universal at the same time as the reader was brought into the story and the humorous events protrayed inside. I know that if I hadn't taken this class, I probably would never have read many of the books we that we studied. This is mainly because I probably would not have noticed them on the shelves at the bookstore. With Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I would have most likely passed the book by because of its cover - which makes it seem as though it's intended for a younger audience. However, I'm glad I got the chance to read it, and definitely support the statement "you can't judge a book by it's cover".

Jeff Kinney's book is different from the other books we've read, but it deals with humor in a similar way. I really enjoyed reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid - as an avid fan of the Calvin and Hobbes series, I enjoyed the comics as much as reading about the many mishaps of Greg Heffley. Diary is a good example of how humor is tied into everyday life. For Greg Heffley, his experiences in middle school are serious and oftentimes very stressful. However, for the reader who looks on with an objective eye, Greg's experiences don't seem that bad in the grand scheme of things. This dichotomy is what makes the book humorous, and also provides the message that humor can make even the worst situations seem not so bad. While surfing the web one night, I came across a quote by Mark Twain about humor: "humor is mankind's greatest blessing". After thinking about what we learned this semester, I have to agree with him. Humor can help to mitigate even the biggest hurt, and can unite total strangers across great boundaries. I think the most important message that I'll take away from class this semester is that, along with love, it is important to always make room for humor in one's life.

Show & Tell

You know something? Greg Heffley might be wimpy, but he’s funny as hell. And the first thing that struck me while reading is that the age group Kinney’s writing for (middle school-age, I assume?) might not get it. Sure, those kids may think it’s funny, but not for the reasons I’m laughing my ass off in line to renew my license at the DMV.

First, there are the cartoons. I didn’t think they would add a whole lot to Greg’s stories, but since I’m writing this, I’ve clearly come to believe otherwise. The scene in which I found this to be particularly true comes when Rodrick wakes Greg up in the middle of the night and convinces him he’s slept through the entire summer. And just as Greg makes his breakfast, “Dad was downstairs, yelling at me for eating Cheerios at 3:00 in the morning” (12). The cartoon that follows this passage, combined with the passage itself, made me laugh so hard and so loud that the guy standing behind me in line at the DMV just came right out and asked me what I found so funny. But I digress… the point is: the cartoons fill in gaps where words simply just won’t cut it. There is a distinct difference between saying/writing something and actually showing people what you mean. Kinney strikes the perfect (hilarious) balance with Diary. Crudely sketched stick figures, oddly enough, add another dimension to the humor because they compose a sort of convincing contradiction: they’re so basic they actually enhance the realism of Greg’s stories. Perhaps this is because, when I’m reading, I don’t need a detailed, immaculately drawn play-by-play of what’s happening. Give me the basics, the structure, the gist… and I’ll get it. In fact, the cartoons propelled the story forward just as much as Kinney’s writing. They didn’t require me to overanalyze, but they were worth noticing because they so perfectly and seamlessly connect to the scenes being described.

Then, there’s Greg himself. Emphasis on “self.” Kinney captures the self-absorbed-ness of middle school students so entirely that just thinking about it makes me laugh. Everything is someone else’s fault, someone else’s responsibility, someone else’s problem. Maybe I’m so attuned to this particular element of the book because I’ve been teaching sixth graders for two months of this semester, but I can’t help but think back to my own time in middle school and see a striking and painful and funny resemblance between Greg and myself. There’s that constant desire to be liked, to win, to earn the respect and awe of your classmates, to impress everyone and make it look effortless. What’s hysterical is Greg’s obliviousness (because I definitely don’t think I would have categorized myself as self-absorbed at the age of eleven, but let’s face it: I was.) The fact that Greg seems to have no clue that he’s thinking only of himself makes him a little less obnoxious and a little more endearing. His mishaps, failures, and flat-out belly flops into a pool of humiliation were mainly his clumsy fault and that strengthens my empathetic tendency and makes me laugh all over again. So, perhaps this connection to Greg returns us to the idea of humor and solidarity: we can laugh because we’ve been there (middle school, made fun of, humiliated) and because we feel that much closer to Greg as a result.

I couldn’t figure out how to address the most surprising thing I learned other than to just come out and say it. By far, the most surprising thing has been discovering just how much we rely on humor. It really is our touchstone, our life raft, our Hail Mary thrown up during the fourth quarter. It both defines and saves us: where would we be without it? And I think the best part is that humor has so many forms and there are so many different avenues to take, so many winding paths to follow when telling a joke that it’s impossible for anyone to say that nothing in this world is ever funny. I’m amazed after analyzing humor and its purpose this semester, how much laughter connects us. And I plan on keeping these things in mind. I plan on not taking humor and laughter for granted because I can really, honestly see how important they are.

Humor Taken Seriously

Reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid after going through middle school was an interesting experience as I found the humor model to be very complex. At times I found myself on the same level as Greg and his peers, understanding the awkwardness of middle school and the yearning to make friends. However, as much as I remember those times, there was also a part of me that wanted to yell down to Greg and tell him that these years really don’t matter, that everyone hates middle school and you’ll laugh about it when you’re older. However, then I remember again, I’m sure I was told that as well and it really doesn’t seem to help the situation. I also thought there was a bit of mature adult humor in the novel that some kids may not have picked up on. I think this displays that Kinney is writing about this with the knowledge of an adult. An example of this is seen when Greg’s grandmother’s house is toilet papered. Not understanding the severity of this Greg writes “But on the bright side, Gramma is retired, so she probably didn’t have anything planned for today anyway” (76). That instantly reminded me of Amy Sedaris’ piece on old people, but coming from the innocence of a child it’s funny because it’s offensive, and he doesn’t know it.

The complexity of this one book is a perfect example of the complexity of humor in general. What I have really taken away from this class is that laughter is not solely a happy emotion. That humor, ironically, should be taken more seriously. Jokes aren’t only made to make others laugh. While doing so a person can be revealing an insecurity, putting someone down, or dealing with a personal struggle. Even a sense of humor cannot be pinned down as laughter and jokes can be situational as seen in moments of awkwardness, or other times when release is needed. By observing someone while they are laughing (and noticing when/what they are laughing at) we get the chance to see that person in a vulnerable setting and therefore should use this emotion to make revelations and connections.

What to Expect from a Wimpy Kid

While Kinney’s illustrations certainly expressed situations and feelings when words were not enough, his cartoons, for me at least, also seemed to respond to the incongruity model of humor in that what was illustrated was not what one expected to see. There were many instances in the book where I imagined a particular scene to go one way (based on a few details that protagonist Greg wrote in his “journal”) only to see that he had depicted the situation entirely differently. On page 47, when Greg is filling us in on his campaign for class treasurer, he only writes that his posters turned out “good,” which got me thinking of the typical big, bubble-letter bolded VOTE ____ FOR ____! kind of poster. Of course, Kinney shows us the real posters and instead of being concise and exciting, Greg’s posters are in reality conniving and mean. The reality of the posters may not be humorous in and of themselves (because Greg’s decision to use smear techniques in his campaign isn’t honorable in the least bit), but the thwarted expectations on the part of the reader made instances like this funny for me.

I suppose Kinney’s choice to write only the most basic of observations and then provide the details of Greg’s reality in cartoons say something about humor in the real world. As discussed in class, the illustrations in Diary of a Wimpy Kid allow the reader to interact with the book, with the characters because in effect, we the readers who are supposedly on the “outside” of the book’s environment see things as Greg sees them. We take a walk in his shoes. Just as he himself experiences moments of incongruity (such as when his little brother Manny gets everything he wanted for Christmas even though Greg told him his plan was phony), we, too, have our expectations thwarted at various degrees in the book. Sometimes what we expect to happen to Greg isn’t want happens, and sometimes what Greg does not expect to happen, we know will happen simply due to previous and similar experiences (which is especially applicable to when Greg is oblivious to Rowley giving him the cold shoulder after betraying him. That is, after all, what friends do when friends are mad at each other). In the end, both of us are victims of incongruity, except that we get to laugh about it in the process. Greg can’t and doesn’t, really, unless I missed a moment when he actually showed us that he was laughing about something.

This idea of being shocked, surprised, or having what we least expected happening and then being able to laugh about it is perhaps what has stuck and will continue to stick with me after this class. A lot of the books we have read this semester, I Like You, Candide, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, etc, all have messages about how humor can help us address and cope with the uncontrollable aspects of our lives, be they horrible tragedies or awkward situations. Humor itself and the ability to laugh about what has embarrassed or affected us acutely is a way of finding control in a world where things can go awry and fall into chaos. In an entropic world, humor can be a crutch, something we know we can rely on as a constant in a constantly shifting environment, to help us deal with these alterations and surprises while at the same time allowing us to move forward. As a person who can be really uptight about things and absolutely has to have things go a certain way or risk spontaneously combusting in a heap of flames, this concept can work wonders in my life.

This isn’t to say, of course, that you shouldn’t face life with no expectations at all (because without them, how can you laugh about them being thwarted and thrown in your face?), or that you should be an apathetic sponge and let life trample over you. Rather, that through humor (especially the incongruous kind), we an recognize that the human experience is full of surprises—good and bad—and that no matter how deeply or how shallow these unexpected events influence us, it is never a bad thing to laugh about them. I can only hope that when our “wimpy kid” revisits his diary journal in a few, hypothetical years, he will be able to do exactly that: laugh.

Life Is One Big Cheese Touch

When a saw children’s book on the syllabus, I assumed it was going to be anti-climactic to semester of hard, thoughtful work in humor. How could Kinney’s cartoon novel stand next to Plato, Twain, Freud, Voltaire, and Sedaris and have something to say? Despite my preconceived notions of the novel, I plunged in. With ever turn of the page, I found myself smiling or laughing out loud. I was able to relive my middle school days through Greg, the good and the bad. This simple read provoked time travel, placing me right back in the halls of Maple Ave Middle School. Kinney effectively used the relief model of humor to put me in a place that was relieving, relaxing, and comforting to relive.

Kinney presents characters that kids and adults can relate to regardless of their age. Who doesn’t get stressed out about silly things every once in awhile? I know I do. Family rivalry, friendship, and social image are universal themes; kids and adults worry about them alike. When we can step back from these real life issues, we realize they are equally as silly as Greg’s issues. Life is one big cheese touch, it may be stressful, but it usually holds humor. Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid is perfect proof that humor can be found in all places.

Throughout the semester we have looked at quite the variety of literature, and to my surprise I have found humor in all of it. Although I love to laugh, I would have never picked up these books for casual reading. I would have never entered into the children’s section of Borders to pick up a book with a slumpy looking cartoon boy on the cover. I most certainly would not have picked up the large cookbook with Amy Sedaris holding a turkey on the cover. I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have picked up the flowery cover of Eat Pray Love, either. This class introduced these books to me and I will be forever grateful. I now constantly think about the impact of humor in the world around me, and I’m not afraid to question its motives.

more surprising than getting drenched by Mr. Heffley on halloween?

When I registered for this class I didn’t really know what to expect. I think I was looking for something along the lines of a better understanding of the things that made me laugh, or a new appreciation for funny things in general. But with reading after reading, I was surprised to find that by the end we were all faced with these deeper understandings and realizations about life. I wasn’t expecting to see how ever-present humor is, or how deeply interconnected it is with all aspects of life. It defines and reflects upon our interactions with each other and it also says a lot about how we present ourselves. Sometimes it is used to cope with or construct a world view. It can be used to comment on or question life in a specific area, group of people, or even across humanity in general. Just by looking at the appreciation or understanding that every single person in this class had for the vast variety of diverse works that we covered, or the 29 different humor stories that we shared, it is evident that humor manages to be universal and personal at the same time – one just has to draw the connections.

And what could be more personal than a diary? Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” with its endearingly honest recordings and illustrations show an individual humor model on a very personal level. However, it also manages to be simultaneously universal, appealing to the children as well as to the college kids in our class who giggled the whole way through. The book unabashedly approached the dilemmas that every middle schooler is facing or has faced, and it did so from the very perspective of a kid. While his drawings are little more than doodles with stick figures, Greg Heffley manages to be a complex character who displays exactly what it means to be caught up in the throes of painful adolescent suffering. He isn’t a nice boy, throwing Rowley and, well, anyone else, under the bus if it means avoiding a downgrade in popularity or privileges. But we appreciate him, and we sympathize with him because, let’s face it, we recognize a bit of ourselves in him. Middle school sucked, and that age is the most awkward, bratty, terrifying age that you can be.

To see such a frank portrayal, not sugar coated with deeply moral lessons or a cliché happy ending, was refreshing and all the funnier because it made it real. This reality is how we connected to it, how we remembered being in that place and thinking those things, and how we can laugh at the comparatively small role they played in our life as know it now. This is a diary after all, and he has no one to hide himself or filter for, so we are seeing a kid laid bare. Other kids appreciate it because they share those fears and feelings – they’re insiders to the disgust of things like a “cheese touch” or the novelty of privileges like hot chocolate for safety patrol. And since everyone once was a kid, we share them too because we used to have them and we remember them all too clearly. Even though this book seemed to be written for fifth grade kids, it inspired thoughtful discussion and laughter between me and my friends. It was so utterly relatable and it innocently led you to a depth of hilarious connections, no matter what age, and I think that really defines that surprising feature of how intertwined life is with humor.

Shocking elements of humor

            This semester has been very enlightening in many aspects.  To be perfectly honest, before this course I had never thought about laughter or humor in general.  I didn’t realize there were so many types of humor models or theories for laughter. 

            Although these things have been very interesting I think the most shocking thing from the course has been witnessing first hand exactly how personal yet universal humor is.  The sixty second stories really solidified this fact for me.  For the most part each person told a very personal story about themselves or their family members or their friends; although the rest of the class don’t personally know these people nor did they witness the scenario we were all able to find humor in it.

            A prime example of this would be Christina’s childhood fear of Santa gaining so much weight from cookies that he would be unable to fit down the chimney.  Christina and I have had a number of courses together but still don’t know each other on a personal level and I certainly don’t know what she was like as a child.  Regardless, when the clip played and the girl on the camera’s facial expression conveyed absolute fear and even anger and she began yelling about Santa gaining weight the entire class erupted into laughter.  We all found humor in the same thing.

            To go further, there have been plenty of times when I have found myself horrified by some comments that were made in class by my fellow students and on multiple occasions this had led me to fully recognize the diversity within the classroom.  Perhaps this is why I found it so incredibly interesting that such a diverse group of people found themselves finding the same thing hilarious and thus, connecting through humor.

            All of the books we have read this semester have helped to shed light on this fact as well.  The more humorous books by Amy and David Sedaris or Tyler Perry or Jeff Kinney have had the same effect as those that were a bit more sentimental (but also funny), such as Gilbert.  All of these authors seem to use humor to connect the audience to the book and keep their attention as well as connect the characters within the texts. 

            Overall, I would have to say the most shocking thing this semester was realizing and truly understanding not only how universal humor is, but also realizing that it has the ability to connect people.  This fact is incredibly fascinating as well as reassuring; obviously, diversity is a wonderful thing but it is also comforting to know we all have a common thread between us.  

Dear Journal

This is the very first page in my journal that I received for my birthday one year. This entry is dated 2/3/99 and it says, " Today I watched a show. I also got a certificate for saying the pledge. It's offlie warm for February 3rd." Below the drawing, I signed my name with hearts in a gel pen. This is an example of how universal Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid is with the inclusion of illustrations and short text. I used my journal in a similar way that Greg does in that I drew pictures to accompany the events of the day. However, my pictures have nothing to do with what happened during the day.

Kinney writes about snow days that Greg has in February. There’s a section dedicated to Greg ruining the snowman that Manny tries to build. Kinney specifically doesn’t include what Greg does to Manny’s snowman but gives an illustration of Greg’s actions. Greg’s entry reads, “I really couldn’t help doing what I did next. Unfortunately for me, right at that moment, Dad was at the front window,” (161). Then followed with an illustration of Greg kicking the snowman including the word “punt” to indicate the force of the kick and a cheerful “Yaah!” to demonstrate Greg’s satisfaction. The example shows how the pictures allow for reader involvement in the book. Kinney asks the reader to look at the illustration to determine what Greg did to Manny. The situation only seems humorous to Greg’s character in that Greg thought it would be funny to destroy his brother’s work. The reader may feel like Greg’s being mean and may start to feel sympathetic for Manny. Then the reader turns the page and is met with an illustration of Greg’s dad demolishing his massive snowball. The reader cannot help but laugh at the justice that is met when Greg’s dad destroys the snowball as the consequence of ruining the snowman. This demonstrates the idea it’s not funny when someone does something malicious but it is funny when that malicious act is met with an equally spiteful act.

I am constantly surprised by my observance of humor models in the real world. I often find myself wanting to blog about various experiences I have throughout the week. When it comes to writing for the Humor in the Real World post, I have difficulty choosing which funny moment I want to share. It’s the encompassing idea of creating of life that is viewed in Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, Bryson’s I’m a Stranger Here Myself, Kalman’s The Principles of Uncertainty, and Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The part of humor that I have found most interesting is how humor demonstrates closeness between people. David Sedaris exemplifies this through his sharing of his family’s stories or Hurston’s use of banter and social cues in her short story. I view this relationship constantly with the interactions I have with my friends and family. It always seems that the closer I am with someone the easier it is to make a joke about him or her. I also enjoy observing how self-deprecating humor has the ability to allow others to identify with you and create a sense of understanding. Being able to make fun of yourself demonstrates your comfortability and acceptance of yourself. This gives permission to others to feel the same way about you and to also recognize the same flaw within his or her self.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

All I can say is: Thank GOD we read this book last! Due to the crushing amounts of papers and final projects I have lumped onto my platter, my ability to handle another novel was completely decimated. Enter Greg, a preteen cartoon with the sass of Robin and the insight of a Barbie doll. Never have I been so placated by such a simple book in my life. I laughed, I rolled my eyes, I reminisced, and I laughed some more. However, this book had a great underlying message that was so subliminal, the pieces finally come together during the last entries. It revealed that despite the reputation that precedes young adults, they are surprisingly more genuine than adults. When Greg admits on page 215, "I told everyone that I knew what happened to the Cheese. I said I was sick of it being on the blacktop, and I just decided to get rid of it once and for all. For a second there, everyone just froze. I thought people were going to start thanking me for what I did, but boy, I was wrong." This also reveals a difference between the maturity levels of him and his imaginary classmates.

In a ways, Jeff Kinney proved that a child's life is a utopia when compared with the daily dregs of our lives. Adults find an energy kick in caffeine, pilfered Ritalin, Stella Artois, and hookah while children rely on hot chocolate and ice cream to get them through the day. Braces and glasses are a child's most feared facial imperfections while we have to worry about whether or not botox or plastic surgery is the better way to go. Also, the greatest vexation in a child's life is their abusive younger sibling while we, adults, have heart palpitations at the voting booths. This definitely shed light on what it was like to crawl inside the mind of a child and see life through their eyes. We are also dimly reminded of our own resolutions when we were young enough to find an early bed sentence to be the worst punishment imaginable. The reader cannot help but assume a sense of ease while reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The humor is immensely light hearted and innocent, despite the fact that Greg does have some issue with self absorption. However, he is approaching his teenage years so he could be mentally preparing for the dawn of the me-me-me's. But for now, we are hypnotized by the blissful ignorance of children.

As for class, a great deal of things surprised me from learning that scholars actually believed that we could vomit blood if we laughed too hard to the fact that one can find herself in her pizza pie. But, for the most part, I also discovered a lot about myself. I learned what I truly find humorous and have learned to cope with my embarrassing adventures by putting them into a comedic perspective (getting pulled over all because one needed to pee really REALLY badly, for example.) I was able to accept myself for my behemothic list of fallacies and discover that some of them are actually virtues. By reading an onslaught of personal memoirs, I was able to realize that the events in my life make my existence much more interesting than that of the entire student body. Now, I don't meant to sound all hoity-toity, but my immaculate ability to run into light posts and tree trunks led me into great moments of despair. For years I thought there was something so wrong with me, God was trying to off myself in the most innocent yet suitable way. Now I realize that God wants me to have the full experience of what life should be. And now I have arrived at a point where I can fall off the curbside, scrape my knee off, limp to the nurse while oozing blood, and think "Crap, I forgot to buy orange juice at Giant."

Life's moral is "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." After having my ego battered and bruised throughout high school due to my inanity, it was high time I was able to accept myself for my imperfections. I learned who I was through humor. I also realized that I really like making fun of myself because it allows people insight into a life filled with high adventure and unexpected surprises. Maybe I also allow people to see just how boring their lives are. (I am secretly hoping this post jinxes myself through finals since last time I was attacked by a stapler, a school printer, and Professor Edwards. I don't need that kind of stress in my life anymore. But then again, this could have the opposite effect and I might get mowed down by Ted the shuttle driver if I'm not careful enough.) All in all, I found my sense of humor and was able to use that to not only discover who I am, but come to terms with my imperfections. I also realized just why I was kicked out of charm school.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gotta love Diaries!

Firstly, I would just like to say that this book was an absolute wonderful interpretation of a middle school child's diary and a beautifully executed book! Not to mention, it was really fun finding out that my 10 year old cousin is reading the same book I am reading for college! But, rather than just raving for a page about how much this book made me laugh (especially in situations where I always had to explain to someone why I was reading a children's book), I would like to answer one of K's questions from his Discussion section of her presentation. K's question 6 states, "Do you think it would be more effective to read this book in pieces like a real time diary?" I found this question interesting because in books that we have previously read in class, such as Byron and A. Sedaris, that are written in installments, we usually came to a consensus that they would have been more effective if read as they were written. However, I found this book, even though it is a journal, to be completely different. I would like to note that, while Kinney constructs this book as a diary, I still believe there is a story line and a conclusion to the book. In fact, there are sequels to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, including Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Roddick Rules and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw. I believe that Kinney was writing a story in journal form, rather than writing daily installments and putting together into a book form. If it wasn't a story, how would they make a movie out of it? Personally, I would rather read this book all at once, rather than one journal entry at a time. Also, by reading an essential diary, we are thrown into Greg's world and are invited to laugh at the social situations he takes part in. We see how Kinney uses Greg to exemplify the Superiority Model in the sense that he, and many other middle school students, laugh at another's expense, mostly because they are insecure about their own social status.
Another aspect of the construction of this book that we went over in class was the use of illustrations. Dr. Ellis stated that the less realistic the pictures are, the more you can read into it. I felt that this was absolutely true in the sense that the pictures were easy to follow and were funny in their imperfection. Also, we mentioned that the more simple the illustrations, the easier they are to relate. I found this particularly true because they were intricate enough to explain the situation Kinney placed the reader in, but at the same time, simple enough that any person could relate their own middle school experience to this book. Plus, it makes it easy for all readers to relate to, young and old, and in a way tells a lesson to the young reader by showing them how not to behave towards a friend, and to the old reader that the stresses you endured in middle school are now simple problems you got through and moved beyond. All in all, I found this book to be a perfect way to not only end the semester, but to help us realize that as we grow, we will always hold a little piece of our childhood with us!

In response to the question "what was most surprising to you this semester?" I would have to say the simple fact that there are actual studied Models of Humor. It sounds ridiculous, but I really did not know how we were going to study Humor in an academic sense. I was completely unaware of the way that philosophers and authors broke down their Models of Humor and it was truly rewarding to learn such information. I was surprised with how every book we read in class exemplified some aspect of Humor we discussed in depth in class. If I had read half of these books without the knowledge learned from this class, I doubt I would have ever thought to myself, "Oh hey, it seems like this book views humor in the sense that the humorous illuminates the total social situation". I probably just would have read it, laughed, and been on my way. So I am surprised not only with the models themselves, but also on how I believe I have grown to be able to pick them out in Humorous works. This class was truly a wonderful experience and addition to my academic career!

Live, Love, Laugh, and Stereotype?

In class we discussed Kinney's use of images to accompany his well-constructed story. We established that the cartoons enhance the words, work in tandem with them, and fill in gaps where words aren't enough. Dr. Ellis also pointed out that Kinney's use of stick figure style illustrations is in fact quite an intelligent and deliberate decision. The stick figure drawings make the characters more accessible to readers. Because Kinney uses stick figures rather than full illustrations, we are able to read ourselves into the story. We find similarities between ourselves, our friends, our families, and the simple drawings in the book. For example, when I read the part in the book about opening Christmas presents I could immediately relate to my own family experience, "I opened my gifts in the corner behind the couch, because I don't like opening gifts near Dad. Whenever someone opens a gift, Dad swoops right in and cleans up after them" (121). This is a simple moment in the text, and for more people it is probably not a particularly funny one. As soon as I read it, though, I thougth "HEY ! That's what my Dad does!." And I immediately pictured the wrapping paper cleanup tornado that my Dad morphs into every Christmas morning. The cartoon could have easily been depicting my brother and my Dad. Kinney keeps it simple in order to keep it relevant for all of his readers.

I don't think it's only the stick figure drawings that make this book so relatable to a wide variety of readers. I've realized that Kinney does an interesting thing with stereotypes in that he seems to use them to unite his audience, rather than mock or alienate them. This is a concept we've also discussed in relation to Amy Sedaris and one that I think applies to Maira Kalman as well. The fact that stereotypes can be used to bring unity is also the most surprising thing that I've learned this semester. Consider the characters in Kinney's novel: the wimpy kid, the annoying little brother, the mean older brother, the nerd, the bully, the well-meaning mom, the goofy dad, the weird friend. These are all character types that we are familiar with can can relate to. We all have some aspects of each of these types within us, just as Greg is part wimpy kid, part bully, part annoying little brother, and part mean older brother at the same time. The stereotypes help us relate to the story and come to full realization of its message. The middle school student stereotypes present in the book are not intended to make fun of and belittle middle school students, but to teach us something about life and about ourselves. The message in "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" is ultimately about being a better person, and Kinney communicates this idea by using stereotypes rather than just perfect flawless characters. It's how he can show us what he wants us to learn, rather than tell us.

This is an idea we saw in Amy Sedaris's "I Like You." She also used stereotypes to create a point of entry and to unite people, to get them to say "I'm like that too!" When we read Sedaris we said that the character types she used--the businessman, the elderly, the wealthy relative--were really just a form of cultural shorthand. She used them to communicate to a larger audience. This is what Maira Kalman did with the "New Yorkistan" cartoon we looked at in class. Yes, she used stereotypes, but not in a way that was meant to harm anyone. She used them to make people laugh in a time of great pain and tragedy. Her stereotypes were a call to unite all groups of people during a healing process, the first step of which could be laughter. It surprises me that stereotypes can be used in this way rather than in the superiority model, but I think this use is present in many of the works we have read.


When written words do not suffice, we turn to illustration. Illustration is a means to develop a picture within our minds, to capture it, and to show, rather than tell, in a rather extraordinary manner. I have often marveled at the power of the image and how art reveals something to us that words just simply cannot. Images are as powerful as our words and can be used in exactly the same detrimental or positive manner.

I often experience or see things and exclaim out loud that I wish I could remember it forever. I can specifically bring myself to certain moments when I was completely in awe of the world around me, and furthermore, acutely aware of my position within a situation. Fleeting moments because frozen in my mind and I control time.

In Jeff Kinney's book, as well as countless other authors such as Kalman and Amy Sedaris, images are used in order to illuminate and further, illustrate humor. He allows us, as does Kalman, to see the world through their eyes so that we are ourselves allowed to laugh on their terms. How incredible it is that humor can facilitate through image, a transformation into another human beings' mind. And this completely pertains and alludes to the biggest discovery I have made this semester.

I have experienced through this class, the connectivity of humanity through humor. Humor has brought me to my peers, has comforted me in my surroundings, and has taught me the meaning behind my laughter, and the necessity for it. To see the world through humor is to join together in a celebration of this incredible journey that we call life. Images and words have come alive throughout this semester, and spontaneously provoked within me a desire for life and an appreciation for both our differences, and our pains. In this strange world which we live in where there is so much that differentiates us, there is one thing that moves us all, that sooths us all, and that makes this life undeniably worth living.

To choose laughter is to choose life and I have truly come to the realization that a life without laughter would not be worth living. I am reminded of this everyday and know that this will stay with me forever. I digress this to you as a preamble for my final essay in which I will explore this more!

last blog

I thought Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid was just great! The writing and illustrations were smart and very funny. In fact, I rather enjoy reading children’s books from time to time because I think that they have a lot to offer everyone. Reading this work as an adult may even have many benefits that may only come with time. Maybe it is because of the distance from this age, maybe because, in retrospect, one is better able to understand things that a child may not yet fully be aware of. But whether one is a child or not, this book is sure to provide entertainment as well as great meaning.

I thought our discussion of one quote in particular really encapsulates a lot of what Kinney, and Kalman for that matter, are doing. “I just hope someone doesn’t start the Cheese Touch up again, because I don’t need that kind of stress in my life anymore” (10). And it is true that, while this grotesque slice of old cheese may not seem to be of any real significance to some, it may be everything, or at least something very important, to someone else. It certainly is for Greg and his classmates. But rather than judge the source of one’s stress, it is important to simply recognize that something such as stress is universally recognized. Who is to say what is important when it is something so subjective and personal? What matters is that something is important, to someone anyway.

Kalman’s trratment of the dilemma of time, namely that we would like to stop it as well as leave it in motion, speaks very much to the stress of the Cheese Touch and even life for a middle-schooler, for anyone really. It is kind of like thinking about dying: sometimes is seems really scary and unimaginable, but then even scarier than dying is not dying. That time might go on forever is definitely not a comforting alternative. So I think that Kalman’s ending is very lovely and true: To simply “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Otherwise, life and the human conception and grappling of it may easily become overwhelming.

In our conversation about the authors we have been reading and the ways in which they express and put forth the ways we as human beings hope to construct our lives, I am once again reminded of the most surprising thing I have taken away from the semester. It might actually be more appropriate to extend this to my life as a student up to now being that I will be graduating in just twenty-five days. But I do not know if I would necessarily say that it is surprising, though it is certainly one of the most important things I have learned so far. The process of creating a life is what seems to be what life is actually all about. Amy Sedaris understands this as well. Setting goals is great, but sometimes people tend to forget that they are indeed living in the process, that life is not representative of achieving a particular dream, but that it exists in the striving and in time.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Those Painful Middle School Years

Middle school is a battleground of insecurities, transitions, and the hope of fitting into the mold. Greg is the quintessential middle school kid who wishes for popularity, is embarrassed by family and friends, and is judgmental to a fault. But his ignorance of the ridiculous concept of middle school social constructs is our bliss, as we laugh not only at his folly but at our own middle school selves that we recognize in him.

We may be laughing at a child who perfectly resembles the Superiority Model in action as he looks down upon nearly everyone he encounters and yet we’ve been there before in our lives. We were at one time that kid who felt like they were above it all, only to later realize just how absurd our perceptions of life truly were as we got older. A quote that exemplifies his superiority complex reads, “I’ll be famous one day, but for now I’m stuck in middle school with a bunch of morons”. It’s an attitude we all had at the time, so we can understand why this superiority model comes from a place of immaturity and insecurity rather than a full-on attack on society.

I remember in middle school that social survival was key as you never wanted to be singled out for being different or for saying the “uncool” thing. This is when I feel terrible for the good-natured and wonderfully oblivious Rowley who simply doesn’t seem to notice nor care about the “code” to which all middle schoolers must follow. The first is the lingo as he mortifies Greg by asking him to “play” after school rather than the much more acceptable term like “hang out”. Another instance is when Rowley gives Greg a Big Wheel rather than a cool video game like “Twisted Wizard” for Christmas. Rowley just wants to be a kid and to spend time with his best friend whereas Greg’s ambitions of better friends and higher recognition leaves him unable to see the vast amount of great qualities in a friend he already has the pleasure of knowing.

I found this work to be realistic, sweet, smart, and enormously funny. I particularly enjoyed the hand-drawn illustrations throughout the work which gives it more of a feeling of authenticity and the story is certainly one that comes off as very authentic.

In my parting words for this blog I must say that the most surprising thing I learned in this class is just how much humor can hold a mirror to the human experience more so than any other genre in literature, film, and in other venues. There is something about humor that captures the heart of our lives from our most embarrassing moments, our most painful moments, moments of high polarization and the moments that bring us all together. Laughter is a human necessity as we need to break the tensions of everyday stress and yet so many varying texts and viewpoints from throughout the semester have all made us laugh out loud, chortle, chuckle, or just put a smile on our face. There is indeed something to be said about the things that make us laugh and why we laugh at them.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Brilliance of Diaries

What a note to finish on! I giggled out loud more at this book than any other we’ve read in this course. There is little that is more ridiculous than the inner workings of a youthful mind, and Kinney definitely captures this in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Little details like the entries being marked with days of the week rather than formal numerical dates lend themselves well to the persona of middle school-aged kid. But it is the very basic superiority-model humor commentary throughout that solidifies the persona for me.  Harkening back to my own middle school days, making fun of someone’s weirdness at his own expense qualified as high entertainment. Greg Heffley fits the bill of the emotional prototype of a middle school kid: deeply insecure and desperate to avoid embarrassment at any cost.  It fits that he enters the fray of pettiness full-force in both his private thoughts and public behavior, from his mud-slinging ad campaign for Treasurer, to evading blame for chasing little kids with a stick on Safety Patrol duty by letting his best friend take the hit for it. I found myself laughing at all of this, in spite of its mean spirited nature, because of the realistic context. Witnessing Greg go to any lengths to attain social status (or, at the very least, hang on to his place as 52nd or 53rd most popular) was all too familiar; the humor hit home because it called to mind the ridiculous thought process of my middle school self, back when even the most minor social incident seemed irrevocably epic.

            The relatable nature of the content added to the hilarity, but I think that the crux of the humor in Diary lies in the form. The simple but incredibly expressive illustrations were highly effective—it was especially hard to keep from laughing at Rodney James (the shrub in the Wizard of Oz play) and Greg’s cute-but-diabolical little brother Manny. Diaries are open forums for complete candor in commentary on the social situation. Some of the other authors we’ve read, like Elizabeth Gilbert and David Sedaris, offer the reader provisional allowance into the thought process to very human and humorous ends. Diaries encourage the writer to open up total access into his or her thought process.  The social situations depicted are one-sided and unapologetically subjective, but the intimacy of the form draws the reader into incredibly close proximity to these situations, inviting him to laugh, cry and experience embarrassment in direct conjunction to the writer. Because of this decided lack of distance to the subject matter, the experience of reading diaries do not seem to fit the superiority model in spite of any content within it that does.

The most surprising thing I learned this semester is humor’s incredible potential to open the mind to the numinous. Although I enjoyed laughing well before I enrolled in this class, I never really stopped to analyze its purpose. If someone had stopped me and asked what the purpose of laughter was, I would have likely responded that the answer was obvious: to delight in the sheer ridiculousness of life and have fun, of course! The readings and discussions that have demanded me to look more deeply into the question of why we laugh have elevated my regard for humor as a tremendously powerful form.  The experience of reading the works of Elizabeth Gilbert and Maira Kalman went beyond being enjoyable or entertaining. For me—a born cynic—these works were transcendent. I’m convinced now that although humor is not the only way to come to the fullest appreciation of this intricate, bizarre and fleeting life, it is certainly one very effective (and enjoyable!) way to do it.