Wednesday, April 21, 2010

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.

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