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. 

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