Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Civilized Rituals

            Hospitality guides have enjoyed a large degree of popularity in their heyday. These pamphlets helped a host or hostess decide on table settings, menu items and methods for a general festive atmosphere, usually including a section about Smart Budgeting for the Savvy Entertainer, or some such thing. One could even buy a monthly subscription, in case the monthly party-planning required an onslaught of updated ideas. They seem to have been largely replaced by Pintrest and other online resources, but it is easy to imagine the audience who would enjoy it. Because the hospitality guide has seen such popularity, we have expectations of what they will be like and what kinds of advice they will contain.

            Amy Sedaris, in her own satirical hospitality guide, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, plays with conventions in funny and interesting ways. Sedaris, who at one time actually had a small baking company specializing in cupcakes and cheese balls, lists off recipes, decorating suggestions and party games, all of which are in line with normal convention. She tells a smart hostess how to stay on a budget, and offers such economical ideas as a tip jar for all your trouble. She also includes multiple letters of introduction, personal anecdotes of all kinds, party-related and otherwise, and a short treatise on why rabbits are the best pets. Sedaris’ narrator persona puts a personal spin on her book, and draws the reader in in a way that other hospitality authors can only dream of. I’ve rarely enjoyed a list of party ideas so much, and I will certainly be making Mr. Nosey tissue paper ghosts at my next event. Her self-consciously ridiculous approach is unconventional and highly entertaining.

            The combination of bright, happy pictures and short, ridiculous anecdotes in this book lends it a kind of humor we haven’t discussed before. It included a juxtaposition of visual humor, as demonstrated in the pictures of Amy rolling in sprinkles or of the suggested “felt peas” party craft, with the tales it includes, like her theatrics of poverty for her rich uncle. This made the book difficult to read all in order, and I found myself skipping around and opening to a random page whenever I picked it up. This made it easy to find new things funny in every session, and allowed her to include all kinds of humorous things, which would have been much more difficult in a longer form. Her choice of media allowed her to include an idea for a felt butter project, and did not require her to explain it at all. I think this was very successful as pure entertainment, and because it is not all that far from the truth, it certainly highlighted the ridiculous rituals we humans go through in order to call ourselves “civilized.”

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