Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Appealing to Experience

            David Sedaris’ collection of essays entitled Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is a hilarious assortment of autobiographical short stories from important moments in Sedaris’ life.  These essays cover themes such as family life, sexuality, and alienation. However, one of the most important aspects of Sedaris’ works is the emphasis he places on individual experience and how seemingly unconnected moments in one’s life are actually quite intertwined and migrate to form a distinct world view.  
Throughout the semester we’ve been discussing the Hobbesian and Platonic theories of superiority humor in which we laugh at others simply out of malice. In Sedaris’ story, “The Change in Me,” the ending arrives with Sedaris laughing at a hippie he imagines sitting outside of a store, but the laughter is not malicious in the slightest. Throughout the story, Sedaris narrates his childhood desire to become a hippie like the ones he sees begging outside of a convenience store. He too starts begging to save up for a faux-suede vest that he believes will make him look “cool” like them. To his dismay, the girl outside of the store makes fun of his vest and he remarks that he wished he could go into some sort of hibernation where he would sleep for years and finally come out no longer desiring to be like them. He ends his story imagining that he leaves the store to see the same girl, “she’d ask you for a quarter, and you’d laugh, not cruelly, but politely, softly, as if she were telling a joke you had already heard.” (Sedaris 86). The source of the laughter is in personal experience rather than superiority. Sedaris laughs at the girl because he made the same foolish mistakes himself and reminiscing on his time as a “hippie” is pleasant. It takes an experience that was uncomfortable for him as child and turns it into something humorous as an adult. Sedaris seems to believe that with time and wisdom anything can become funny.

            Sedaris also makes an interesting point later on regarding individual experience. In “The End of the Affair,” Sedaris goes to see a romance movie with Hugh. He thinks that romance is a dangerous topic because most people have experienced it at some point and the movie becomes all too relatable. He writes, “The theme is universal and encourages the viewer to make a number of unhealthy comparisons, ultimately raising the question ‘Why can’t our lives be like that?’ It’s a box best left unopened, and its avoidance explains the continued popularity of vampire epics and martial-arts extravaganzas.” (138). Sedaris believes that the mass audience likes to watch movies that are un-relatable because they do not require one examine his or her own life. More realistic movies such as romances however, force the audience to assume that their own lives are inadequate. Sedaris’ entire collection of essays is built around destroying that stigma. His short stories set out to show that the average life is meaningful and is full of moments that shape who we become. All it takes to find these moments is to look back into the past and see how they have affected us. Sedaris is literally narrating that action to his readers as he compiles his autobiographical stories. Besides showing us that our lives are important and not only can, but will, have an impact on others around us, Sedaris also shows us that life can be quite hysterical. Whether it’s your mother locking you out in the snow, eating all of your Halloween candy so you don’t have to share it, or suffering through a movie with someone blubbering next to you, Sedaris proves that life is full of light-hearted and humorous moments. All it takes to see this is the right attitude.

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