Monday, September 29, 2014

Power and Incongruity

In “Betel Nut Is Bad Magic for Airplanes,” we observe an iteration of the superiority theory of humor, in which humor is derived from belittling. Kasaipwalova writes in the diction of the Papua New Guineans. Thus, the narrator utters statements such as, “Soon the brown puppy dog comes with their white papa dog and two other brown puppy dogs too” (Kasaipwalova 615). Statements such as this elicit laughter from readers, in part because of the incongruity theory, that is our underlying expectations of what men call other men are not met. Yet the tone does not feel malicious, but rather it sounds innocent. In fact, the humor here may also derive from the fact that the narrator is ignorant with regard to his comedy (that is, he does not laugh at his own jokes). Perhaps, however, there is a tinge of superiority in the reader’s laughter, for we know something that the narrator does not.
When the narrator arrives at moments of confrontation between the Aussies and the Papa New Guineans, he describes the white man as angry and rude, in contrast to the native, who is calm and composed (616). Here, we are clued in to the epitome of superiority theory. The story is allowed to be funny, because the oppressors are the targets, and because there is no sign of the oppressed—the narrators of the comedy—becoming the new oppressors.
In a similar way, Patricia Grace uses humor to mock the way things are in “Ngati Kangaru.” She presents the serious issue of representation for the Blackfoot people, and then explains that:
“the obscure local paper did a tame, muddled article on it, which was eclipsed firstly by a full page on what the mayor and councillors of the nearby town wanted for Christmas, and then by another, derived from one of the national papers, revealing New Year resolutions of fifty television personalities” (Grace 37).
This may reflect the superiority theory as well, for laughing at the injustice of the situation awards some power, even if it is false power, to he who laughs. Incongruity theory may be applicable here too, for the reader may laugh at the absurdity of the situation.
            Absurdity and power have places in Thomas King’s “Borders” as well. The central issue is one of power, for authorities deny the Blackfoot people this name for their citizenship. Yet the constant traveling (and getting stuck) between the borders is an amusing use of repetition, and it adds a lightness to the story while making the political point as well.
            Voltaire deals with misfortune, power struggles, and absurd circumstances in his work on Candide, and exaggerates each struggle to make it comical. The story ends with Pangloss telling Candide that the events—these many horrible and unimaginable events—that occurred prior to his return and restoration were, indeed, good fortune. He says:
“There is a concatenation of events in this best of all possible worlds: for if you had not been kicked out of a magnificent castle for love of Miss Cunegonde: if you had not been put into the Inquisition: if you had not walked over America: if you had not stabbed the Baron: if you had not lost all your sheep from the fine country of El Dorado: you would not be here eating preserved citrons and pistachio-nuts” (Voltaire 87).
Candide replies that we must “cultivate our own garden” (87). Therefore, we may conclude that through his satire, Voltaire wants us to realize that we can take a stand and have some control over our own fate. He, like the short story authors for today, uses the incongruity theory as well as the superiority theory to illustrate disparities in power, as well as the repudiation of absurd remarks from buffoon-like characters in order to alert readers to potential injustice and call them to action.

No comments:

Post a Comment