Wednesday, April 21, 2010

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.

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