Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Humor as a Buffer

Catlin Castan
Dr. Ellis
Humor Studies
20 October 2014
Humor as a Buffer

            In Dress Your Family…, Sedaris constructs a narrative centered around humor as a way of introducing us to his family and telling us about his childhood experiences. In the section entitled “Ship Shape”, Sedaris writes about a prospective vacation home his parents contemplate buying. On the last page of this section, we find out that the Sedaris’s do not end up purchasing the beach house, however, we also find out that the Sedaris’s may have some deeper family tensions beneath the (initial textual) surface.
            Specifically, Sedaris reveals: “It would have been nice, a place at the beach, but we already had a home. A home with a bar. Besides, had things worked out, you wouldn’t have been happy for us. We’re not that kind of people”(29). In this moment, we notice a drastic switch in authorial tone—Sedaris departs from his witty and quite hysterical tone—a tone that we have grown accustomed to and have thoroughly enjoy as readers—and replaces it with a pensive--and rather depressing-- tone.  It is also interesting that in this excerpt Sedaris addresses his readers, he speaks directly to us, deconstructing the fictive barriers that stand between his words and our reality. By addressing us directly and in a different tone, we are caught off guard—this disorientation helps us come to realize that things are not always as they seem. In this moment, we begin to question the Sedaris family’s true dynamic--we begin to question the function of humor being used throughout the entire text.  

            As we attempt to answer these questions, perhaps, then, we are able to identify a family reality hidden beneath the visible surface—underneath the surface of humor. Here, we notice, that despite Sedaris’ comedic style, that he may only be using humor as a tactic to distract or to disorient his readers. By extension, then, humor in general can also accomplish this same effect; humor can often act as a guise—a liminal space-- to temporarily conceal deeper problems. It is also important to note that while humor may be used a guise (or as a buffer), it does not intend to undermine or downplay the issues at hand, but rather it is doing quite the opposite. Specifically, Sedaris uses humor as a way of buffering the complexity and difficulty of his childhood struggles, in doing so, he makes his experiences more accessible and digestible for his readers. Similarly, I think that using humor also aids Sedaris himself; humor, in many ways, serves as a protective shield that helps him to combat any feelings of vulnerability that he may encounter while discussing his personal issues on such an intimate level.

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