Monday, 25 December 2006

A cool yule to y'all

The flaming plum pudding awaits, and it's going to be all I can do to pull myself together after the revelries of last night. Hannanana dropped by from Germany for Heiliger Abend and we all partook of that timeless German tradition of dressing up in blond wigs and eating half a kilo of festive Cadbury.

That's me, in one of my more Mae West moments, and this is half a kilo of festive Cadbury:

And now for the festy Cadbury hangover.

Have a good 'un, my fellow adventurers and reindeer, and beware of metallic objects lurking in the flaming pudding. Indeed, beware of metallic objects lurking anywhere. Far too much lurking metal around these days.


TimT said...

Channelling Mae West - Is that a pun in your pocket, or are you just pleased to be me?

alexis said...

Har harrrrr! That's eminently plagiarisable, that is.

As Ms West once said of puns: when they're good, they're very good, but when they're bad, they're better.

TimT said...

"I never met a bad joke I didn't like" - Mel Brooks. Though his jokes are nowhere near as bad as some people make them out to be. (How can I phrase that to make it sound complimentary?)

alexis said...

I've got mixed feelings about Mel Brooks' jokes. He oscillates between being tasteless* and deliberately satirising tastelessness, and doesn't give too many clues about which he's up to at any given moment. There's a brilliant evasiveness in all this, but my inner social reformer is a little uncomfortable with a satire so diffuse, that risks attacking (or being misinterpreted as attacking) groups of people already subject to undue attack. I get the same feeling with Larry David (whose Curb Your Enthusiasm has a couple of episodes built around a production of The Producers). And with Sacha Baron Cohen. I laugh my head off, and then I worry about the political implications.

* which is a silly term, implying an objective standard of tastelessness/offence ... I don't believe in any such thing, but I'm having too slow a brain day to put myself more clearly

alexis said...

Re previous comment: on second thoughts, there's something quite paternalistic (if not downright patronising) about my worry. e.g., I know that Baron Cohen isn't anti-semitic, I know that the parody of anti-semiticism in Borat is just that, I don't myself feel at risk of developing anti-semitic tendencies, but I worry that amongst an international audience of millions there will be some people who just don't get it, who see the film as a celebration of what it sets out to make fun of. I don't mean to say that the responsibility for being misinterpreted rests with particular artists. I don't think SBC could be any more heavy-handed in making his point without totally ruining the joke. It's just that I worry. Patronisingly.

TimT said...

Sounds like there's an essay/several essays in that!

There's more to Mel Brooks than deliberately insensitive jokes, he's the master of the one-liner. Sometimes he can make one syllable funny - I always get a laugh out of the greeting of one character to two others:

"Yessssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss... ???" (The 's' syllable is extended out for several minutes)

Now that's great, it tells us something about the character and the social milieu, and it's funny - in one syllable!

It also draws on a gay stereotype, which is where the issues about sensitivity come in, but I think the character that says that - Carmengiya (I don't know how his name is spelled) - is treated sympathetically. He's outrageously gay, but he's in show business - flamboyance is perhaps the rule, not the exception to it.

I'm aware that I leave myself open to criticisms - ie, I'm not Jewish or gay, so I don't have any 'personal insight' into how Brooks most commonly used stereotypes affect some people. Yeah, well, maybe so, but I don't know whether I'd have the same personal criticism levelled against me if I was criticising Brooks. It's a tough one. There are similar difficulties with Ali G, obviously.

I'm also aware I should get back to work.

TimT said...

That quote is from 'The Producers', as you probably knew.

alexis said...

Several essays, and then some. The social utility of art (literature, film, breakfast cereal boxes, etc) and questions about the moral responsibilities of artists are big 'uns. I'm of the quaint and little-respected opinion that Literature Will Save the World. To which someone will flatteningly reply, "Yuhuh, like, because Faber & Faber use such nutritious paper. Maybe we could send it to the kids in Somalia with a couple of buckets of gravy."
Anyway, y're right, I didn't do Mel Brooks justice. I saw The Producers with the lovely and lissome Bert Newton as Franz Liebkind last year, and I still manage a chuckle everytime I think of that row of miserable accountants.

TimT said...

I remember reading a review of The Producers on Vibewire; they argued that Brooks could be 'forgiven' the Hitler humour because he was Jewish, but that the gay stereotypes were apparently out of bounds. Is it just me, or is it perhaps a little odd thinking about a comedy about musical theatre that *doesn't* include gay and Jewish stereotypes?

I don't see anything wrong with criticising Mel Brooks or Ali G or others from a political or ethical perspective, but it seems to me that a lot of critics can get carried away with concepts like 'racism' or 'homophobia'. Sure, it's important to realise that these things exist and can be reinforced and strengthened in popular culture. But at the same time, I think that in a lot of cases, this criticism reflects the politics of the late 20th century, rather than any more lasting ethical position.

Not sure if that makes sense. What a weird comment to leave two days after Christmas.

Also, very disturbing - thinking of Bert Newton sieg heiling, doing the 'Guten Tag Hop Clop', and mouthing lines like 'Der Fuhrer was BUTCH!' - yes, very, very disturbing.

alexis said...

I suspect the "how does this text manifest the political environment in which it was produced" question is going to keep being asked for a long time. Ditto for the "how does this text affect the political environment in which it is read" question. As you observe (I think this is what you're observing), we've been extremely anxious these last coupla decades about how cultural representations of historically disenfranchised groups affect or reflect their political status. Anxious, because there's evidence enough that literature/cinema/mass culture influences and is influenced by the society in which it's produced and consumed.

In talking about critics' failure to aspire to "a more lasting ethical position", perhaps you're saying that this (angsting over a text's historically specific political implications) shouldn't be the only way of reading? That it can dismiss what's pleasurable, moving, informing, etc, about a text in favour of seeing it just as a cultural artefact or a tool of ideological change?

Ok. Blah blah blah. Clearly I'm putting words into yr mouth. Let's go back to work.

TimT said...

Yeah, that's pretty much what I'm saying, though I'm always wary about statements about mass culture either influencing a social ethos, or being influenced by it. And I'd also add that Brooks does know his stuff - hence all the weird classical and cultural references in his work - and that I wouldn't be surprised if the themes of avarice, 'a show within a show', the absurd humour, the cross-cultural references draw on this knowledge, and don't just reflect the politics of the time.

The original version of The Producers, (with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder) makes an interesting comparison with the latest one (with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick). The 'gay Hitler' joke was originally a 'hippy Hitler' joke - a lot of the topical humour has been changed.

As you can tell, I'm obsessed with that film (watched it for the umpteenth time over Christmas with my mother), and with true monomaniacal fanaticism, I have managed to divert an amusing post about Mae West and plum pudding into this academicised discussion. Hmm...

We'll all have some figgy pudding
We'll all have some figgy pudding,
We'll all have some figgy pudding,
And we'll have it right now.

That's better.

alexis said...

Figgy pudding! Now you're talking!

(Haven't seen the latest Producers film, but Uma Thurman in a blond wig, me in a blond wig - the connections between my post and this discussion are growing thicker by the minute.)

So, anyway, seeing you're such an expert and all, what's with naming Leo Bloom after the James Joyce protagonist?

TimT said...

Dunno, that's one of the first things that interested me about the show. It was kind of a done thing to throw around weird references like that - S J Perelman did a good parody of Joyce in his collection 'Crazy Like a Fox'. IMDB says this:

The character played by Gene Wilder is named Leo Bloom. His co-star Zero Mostel became famous for his portrayal of James Joyce's character Leopold Bloom in an off-broadway production of "Ulysses In Nighttown."

So that may have something to do with it. That's not the weirdest reference, though; in one scene Franz Liebkind sends a message to 'Ernst Schlongdorf'. A browse in Syber's Bookstore in Windsor a few months ago told me that there is in fact an Ernest Lohndorf who has at least one jungle adventure story to his credit.

Arrr, basically it's just a way of appearing to be smart, I don't think there's any other point to some of these jokes!

alexis said...

Well, whaddayaknow? Have you thought about taking your obsession with The Producers and making a profession of it? I can see it now, the Professorial Chair in Mel Brooks at the Centre for Broadway Musical & Vaudevillean Studies.

TimT said...

That might interfere with my secret desire to be a lion tamer and baron of an international oil corporation. Besides which, with all the figgy pudding in my fridge, I'm a little too full at present to digest the possibility of an academic career defending the more abstruse classical references in the comedy of Melvyn Brooks nee Kamynsky.

alexis said...

Oil baron, schmoil baron. I like the sound of lion-wrangling, though.

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