Tag Archives: comedy

Gomez Addams, positive male role-model

The Addams Family did well on Broadway, in the movies, and on TV, but got predictably bad reviews in all three forms. Ordinary people like it; critics did not. Something I like about the series that critics didn’t appreciate is that Gomez is the only positive father character I can think of since the days of “Father knows best”.

Gomez is sexual, and sensual; a pursuer and lover, but not a predator.

Gomez is sexual, and sensual; a pursuer and lover, but not a predator.

In most family shows the father isn’t present at all, or if he appears, he’s violent or and idiot. He’s in prison, or in trouble with the law, regularly insulted by his wife and neighbors, in comedies, he’s sexually ambiguous, insulted by his children, and often insulted by talking pets too. In Star Wars, the only father figures are Vader, a distant menace, and Luke who’s just distant. In American shows, the parents are often shown as divorced; the children are reared by the mother with help of a nanny, a grandparent, or a butler. In Japanese works, I hardly see a parent. By contrast, Gomez is present, center stage. He’s not only involved, he’s the respected leader of his clan. If he’s odd, it’s the odd of a devoted father and husband who comfortable with himself and does not care to impress others. It’s the outsiders, the visitors, who we find have family problems, generally caused by a desire to look perfect.

Gomez is hot-blooded, sexual and sensual, but he’s not a predator, or violent. He’s loved by his wife, happy with his children, happy with his life, and happy with himself. As best we can tell, he’s on good-enough terms with the milk man, the newspaper boy, and the law. Though not a stick-in-the-mud, he’s on excellent terms with the rest of the Addams clan, and he’s good with the servants: Lurch, Thing, and for a while a gorilla who served as maid (none too well). One could do worse than to admire a person who maintains a balance like that between the personal, the family, the servants, and the community.

On a personal level, Gomez is honest, kind, generous, loving, and involved. He has hobbies, and his hobbies are manly: fencing, chess, dancing, stocks, music, and yoga. He reads the newspaper and smokes a cigar, but is not addicted to either. He plays with model trains too, an activity he shares with his son. Father and son enjoy blowing up the train — it’s something kids used to do in the era of firecrackers. Gomez is not ashamed to do it, and approves when his son does.

Gomez Addams, in the Addams Family Musical, gives advice and comfort to his daughter who is going through a rough stretch of relationship with a young man, and sings that he’s happy and sad.

Other TV and movie dads have less – attractive hobbies: football watching and beer-drinking, primarily. Han Solo is a smuggler, though he does not seem to need the money. TV dads take little interest in their kids, and their kids return the favor. To the extent that TV dads take an interest, it’s to disapprove, George Costanza’s dad, for example. Gomez is actively interested and is asked for advice regularly. In the video below, he provides touching comfort and advice to his daughter while acknowledging her pain, and telling her how proud he is of her. Kids need to hear that from a dad. No other TV dad gives approval like this; virtually no other male does. They are there as props, I think, for strong females and strong children.

The things that critics dislike, or don’t understand, as best I can tell, is the humor, based as it is on danger and dance. Critics hate humor in general (How many “best picture” Oscars go to comedies?)  Critics fear pointless danger, and disapproval, and law suits, and second-hand-smoke. They are the guardians of correct thinking — just the thinking that Gomez and the show ridicules. Gomez lives happily in the real world of today, but courts danger, death, law suits. He smokes and dances and does not worry what the neighbors think. He tries dangerous things and does not always succeed, but then lets his kids try the same. He dances with enthusiasm. I find his dancing and fearlessness healthier than the over-protective self-sacrifice that critics seem to favor in heroes. To the extent that they tolerate fictional violence, they require the hero to swooping, protecting others at danger to themselves only, while the others look on (or don’t). The normal people are presented as cautious, fearful, and passive. Cold, in a word, and we raise kids to be the same. Cold fear is a paralyzing thing in children and adults; it often brings about the very damage that one tries to avoid.

Gomez is hot: active, happy, and fearless. This heat.– this passion — is what makes Gomez a better male role model than Batman, say. Batman is just miserable, or the current versions are. Ms. Frizzle (magic school bus) is the only other TV character who is happy to let others take risks, but Ms Frizzle is female. Gomez’s thinks the best of those who come to visit, but we see they usually don’t deserve it. Sometimes they do, and this provides touching moments. Gomez is true to his wife and passionate, most others are not. Gomez kisses his wife, dances with her, and compliments her. Outsiders don’t dance, and snap at their wives; they are motivated by money, status, and acceptability. Gomez is motivated by life itself (and death). The outsiders fear anything dangerous or strange; they are cold inside and suffer as a result. Gomez is hot-blooded and alive: as a lover, a dancer, a fencer, a stock trader, an animal trainer, and a collector. He is the only father with a mustache, a sign of particular masculinity — virtually the only man with a mustache.

Gomez has a quiet, polite and decent side too, but it’s a gallant version, a masculine heterosexual version. He’s virtually the only decent man who enjoys life, or for that matter is shown to kiss his wife with more than a peck. In TV or movies, when you see a decent, sensitive, or polite man, he is asexual or homosexual. He is generally unmarried, sometimes divorced, and almost always sad — searching for himself. I’m not sure such people are positive role models for the a-sexual, but they don’t present a lifestyle most would want to follow. Gomez is decent, happy, and motivated; he loves his life and loves his wife, even to death, and kisses with abandon. My advice: be alive like Gomez, don’t be like the dead, cold, visitors and critics.

Robert Buxbaum, December 22, 2017.  Some years ago, I gave advice to my daughter as she turned 16. I’ve also written about Superman, Hamilton, and Burr; about Military heroes and Jack Kelly.

Comic Colonialism II: of Busbys and Bear Skins.

The map below shows, in white, all the countries that England has not invaded.

The white spots on this map are the countries that England has not invaded.

The white spots on this map are the countries that England has not invaded.

England now controls virtually none of these countries. In most of these, English is the national language, or the language of business, and defeating the British is hailed as the central national experience. Still, many have opted to become part of the British Commonwealth, a loose organization of ex-British states. Generally this requires agreeing to the rule of the Queen, despite having nominally free states. Entering Canada, for example, one finds a picture of Elisabeth II, Queen of Canada, And there are royal colleges where inventions belong to her. The same with Australia and New Zealand. The question to ask, then, the question despots have asked, is how did the English manage it –or perhaps, how can I extend my despotism the same way. Part of the answer, it seems to me, is that England used tall, silly hats: Busbys and Bearskins.

The Queen of Canada reviews her troops. She's wearing a Busby; he's in a bearskin.

The Queen of Canada reviews her troops. She’s wearing a Busby; he’s in a bearskin.

The Bearskin hat is perhaps the silliest hat in worldwide military use, and certainly the largest. The bearskin is made of the complete skin of a black or a brown (grisly) bear dyed black, The skin is shaped over a wicker frame to stand 16″ tall (a black bear skin is used for enlisted men, and a grisly bear for officers). It is heavy, quite fuzzy, and completely non-aerodynamic and protects the head not at all. As best American military experts have found, it only makes the person wearing it a better target for being shot. And yet, Britons have striven to be given the honor of wearing this thing. There is also a slightly shorter, slightly fuzzier version of the Bearskin worn by officers. It’s called a Busby, and it’s made from beaver skin. Even in this day of social correctness, skins are found for this use, and “harvested”, mostly in Canada.

The front-line British soldiers in the American Revolution wore these hats when they marched in ranks to attack the colonials at Lexington and Concord, and again at Bunker Hill, and again, in the war of 1812 at New Orleans. It made them slow, impressive, and dead. Because of their weight, these hats are often worn with a leather collar to help support them. The collar makes it hard for soldiers to look down, a plus for soldiers on parade, but a minus when walking over uneven ground, e.g. when attacking Bunker Hill. You’d think the British would have given up on these weird hats long ago, but the British won in many conflicts and have come to dominate many countries. They seem to credit the hat, I’m beginning to think it deserves more attention than it’s gotten.

The hat they wore through the war of 1812, through the Crimean war and the Boer war; in the heat of the Indian revolts, in Africa, and to this day for show makes British soldiers look taller, and more elegant. It makes them stand straighter than most, and gives guards an other-worldly appearance. American soldiers uniformly reminisced how hard it was to shoot someone who marched so elegantly. The Queen likes them, and she, after all is nothing if not elegant. Perhaps the unworldly elegance of the bearskin give soldiers the courage to invade countries and die in the name of a sovereign who reigns by Devine right as expressed through the sword Excalibur ‘of pure Semite’, whatever that is. It’s a story that not one adult Britain believes, yet they die for (why?) Perhaps it’s the honor of mass craziness. Perhaps, because they see simple folks are impressed by soldiers wearing the tall funny hats (I guess thats why some US marching bands use them). And then again, it might be pure luck, superstition, and stupidity. The method of science would be to ask if other countries or team bands do better while wearing the silly hats. I suspect not, but it deserves statistical analysis.

Robert Buxbaum, March 30, 2016. Comic colonialism 1 dealt with the mistakes leading to the US capture of Guam. Catch also my essays, the greatest blunders of the US revolution, and mustaches and WWII: similar mustaches foreshadow stable alliances.

Comic colonialism I: How the US got Guam without a fight.

America is often criticized for land it acquired by war e.g. Guam in the Spanish-American War. Though Spanish were corrupt and incompetent, and had (it seems) sunk the USS Maine by accident, the idea is that conquest is bad. Well, for better or worse, here’s how the US acquired Guam in a comic bloodless non-battle that provides an example of God laughing as he protects children, fools, and the U.S. of A.

It’s mid June, 1898, the Spanish-American War has raged for two months, and Theodore Roosevelt is in Cuba. Four ships lead by the USS Charleston leave Hawaii on a secret mission with orders to be opened only at sea. Captain Glass of the Charleston find he is to try to take Guam and destroy its fortress before proceeding to the Philippines for the major battle of the war. Glass is informed that Guam Harbor is defended Spanish warships plus a thick-walled fort housing many heavy cannon. A land assault will face, he’s told, over 1000 fighting men, dug in, heavily armed, and thoroughly familiar with the terrain. As it happens, military intelligence had vastly overstated the challenge. There are only 56 soldiers on Guam, and Span has neglected to tell the garrison that there’s a war on.

USS Charleston

The USS Charleston, victor of the non-battle of Guam.

Expecting a fierce battle, our soldiers and naval gunners practice shooting at towed targets and get excellently proficient, or so Glass believes. Fortunately, he’s wrong. On June 20, 1898, The Charleston steams into Guam’s harbor and finds no resistance. The only major ship is a Japanese trader sitting at anchor. No shots are fired, and there is no apparent activity on shore. In some confusion, Captain Glass order that 13 shots be fired at the fort. As it happens, it’s a fortuitous number. Also fortuitous, is that all the shots miss. In complete ignorance, the folks on shore think it is a 13 gun salute: that the Charleston is here for an official, state visit.

Now, the normal response would be for folks on Guam to return the 13 gun salute. If they had, it would have likely begun a cycle of death and destruction. But God is the protector of fools, and the fortress is out of gunpowder. The Spanish send an officer to the Charleston to ask for gunpowder and apologize for not returning the salute. After what must have been a most uncomfortable parlé, it is agreed that our nations were at war; that the officer was now a captured prisoner; and that he is being released to request surrender.

Coins celebrating our colonial territories.

Coins celebrating our colonial territories. None have senators or congressmen. Only DC gets to vote for president, a result of the 23rd amendment, 1961.

As soon as he is sent off, captain Glass begins to worry: maybe this is a trap. Maybe the guns are now focussed on him and his men? Maybe he should resume fire on the fort! Right about then, a friendly whaleboat sails by flying the American flag. It’s captained by Francisco “Frank”Portusach-Martinez from Chicago, an old friend of an officer aboard the Charleston. Captain Portusach comes on board, shows his US bona-fides, and explains that it’s no trap, just ignorance. Taking his advice, Captain Glass lands with a small party, arrests all 56 soldiers without a fight, and raises the American flag. The Star Spangled Banner is played, and Glass doesn’t quite know what to do next. What would you do in his shoes?

Captain Henry Glass

Captain Henry Glass, man with a mustache.

Having no experience or other orders, Captain Glass appoints Portusach as the first US Governor of Guam, and leaves to join Dewey in the Philippines. He does not destroy the fort as he finds it in such poor repair that he can claim it’s already destroyed. And that’s how we got Guam. Credit to Captain Glass for not screwing things up or angering the locals needlessly. One hundred and eighteen years later, Guam is still a US territory, though there have been movements for statehood, for union with Hawaii, and for independence. Until the folks on Guam decide otherwise, they are US citizens, but can not vote for president or have representation in congress. They pay federal income taxes, but not state taxes. Bill Clinton is the only US president to ever visit Guam.

Dr. Robert E. Buxbaum. February 1, 2016. I’ve written previously on the ways of peace, and on what makes a country, and on beards: why only communists and Republicans have them. Stay tuned for “Comic Colonialism II: Canada’s Queen.”

Comedy: what is comedy?

It’s a mistake, I think, to expect that comedy will be funny; the Devine comedy isn’t, nor are Shakespeare’s comedies. It seems, rather, that comedy is the result of mistakes, fakes, and drunks stumbling along to a (typically) unexpected outcome. That’s sometimes funny, as often not. Our expectation is that mistakes and fools will fail in whatever the try, but that’s hardly ever the outcome in literature. Or in life. As often as not, the idiot ends up as king with the intelligent man working for him. It’s as if God is a comic writer and we are his creation. Perhaps God keeps us around for our amusement value, and drops us when we get stale.

It’s not uncommon to have laughs in a comedy; a Shakespearian comedy has some, as does life. But my sense is that you find more jokes in a tragedy, e.g. Romeo and Juliet, or Julius Caesar. What makes these tragedies, as best I can tell, is the great number of honorable people behaving honorably. Unlike what Aristotle claims, tragedy doesn’t have to deal with particularly great people (Romeo and Juliet aren’t) but they must behave honorably. If Romeo were to say “Oh well, she’s dead, I’ll find another,” it would be a comedy. When the lovers choose honorable death over separation, that’s tragedy.

hell viewed as a layer cake. Here is where suicides end up.

Dante’s hell viewed as a layer cake. The “you” label is where suicides end up; it’s from an anti-suicide blog.

Fortunately for us, in real life most people behave dishonorably most of the time, and the result is usually a happy ending. In literature and plays too, dishonorable behavior usually leads to a happy ending. In literature, I think it’s important for the happy ending to come about semi-naturally with some foreshadowing. God may protect fools, but He keeps to certain patterns, and I think a good comic writer should too. In one of my favorite musicals, the Music Man, the main character, a lovable con man is selling his non-teaching of music in an Iowa town. In the end, he escapes prison because, while the kids can’t play at all, the parents think they sound great. It’s one of the great Ah hah moments, I think. Similarly at the end of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, it’s not really surprising that the king (Mikado) commutes the death sentence of his son’s friends on the thinnest of presence: he’s the king; those are his son’s friends, and one of them has married a horrible lady who’s been a thorn in the king’s side. Of course he commutes the sentence: he’s got no honor. And everyone lives happily.

Even in the Divine Comedy (Dante), the happy ending (salvation) comes about with a degree of foreshadowing. While you meet a lot of suffering fools in hell and purgatory, it’s not totally unexpected to find some fools and sinners in heaven too. Despite the statement at the entrance of hell, “give up all hope”, you expect and find there is Devine grace. It shows up in a sudden break-out from hell, where a horde of the damned are seen to fly past those in purgatory for being too pious. And you even find foolish sinning at the highest levels of heaven. The (prepared) happy ending is what makes it a good comedy, I imagine.

There is such a thing as a bad comedy, or a tragic-comedy. I suspect that “The merchant of Venice” is not a tragedy at all, but a poorly written, bad comedy. There are fools aplenty in merchant, but too many honorable folks as well. And the happy ending is too improbable: The disguised woman lawyer wins the case. The Jew loses his money and converts, everyone marries, and the missing ships reappear, as if by magic. A tragic-comedy, like Dr Horrible’s sing along blog; is something else. There are fools and mistakes, but not totally unexpected ending is unhappy. It happens in life too, but I prefer it when God writes it otherwise.

It seems to me that the battle of Bunker Hill was one of God’s comedies, or tragic-comedies depending on which side you look. Drunken Colonials build a bad fort on the wrong hill in the middle of the night. Four top British generals agree to attack the worthless fort with their best troops just to show them, and the result is the greatest British loss of life of the Revolutionary war — plus the British in charge of the worthless spit of land. It’s comic, despite the loss of life, and despite that these are not inferior people. There is a happy ending from the American perspective, but none from the British.

I can also imagine happy tragedies: tales where honorable people battle and produce a happy result. It happens rarely in life, and the only literature example I can think of is  1776 (the musical). You see the cream of the colonies, singing, dancing, and battling with each other with honorable commitment. And the result is a happy one, at least from the American perspective.

Robert E. Buxbaum, September 17-24, 2015. I borrowed some ideas here from Nietzsche: Human, All too Human, and Birth of Tragedy, and added some ideas of my own, e.g. re; God. Nietzsche is quite good on the arts, I find, but anti-good on moral issues (That’s my own, little Nietzsche joke, and my general sense). The original Nietzsche is rather hard to read, including insights like: “A joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling.”

Climate change, and the metaphysical basis of humor

It’s funny because ….. it’s metaphysical, it deals with what’s real and relevant, and what’s secondary and transient– an aspect as fundamental as it is funny. We claim we understand the real, but realize (down deep) that we don’t. A classic of old-time comedy is the clever slave, the sympathetic stooges, of the brave coward, or the most common version– the stupid person who does clever things at the right moment. A typical comic structure is to establish, early on, that this person is stupid (as well as being low, and crooked); he may say some stupid, low things, so we accept it as so, or perhaps someone in authority tells us, as in “Puddin’head Wilson”. But as the story progresses, we see the person do something clever, or show loyalty and bravery. The viewer begins to laugh because he knows that reality is sort-of this way, though our minds must keep people pigeonholed. The reader already knows, perhaps from other comedies, that the slave will turn out to be the hero, the stupid one will one-up the smart and the chicken will save the day– somehow.

Ward Sullivan in the New Yorker

Ward Sullivan in the New Yorker. It’s unsettling when you don’t know if this is a new reality or a passing phase.

In life, we grab on to the patters we see because the alternative, chaos, is worse. All winters are cold, but will this winter be longer or shorter than normal; perhaps the groundhog knows, or perhaps the president of the US knows? We’ve learned to ignore the groundhog, but trust the president. Once we accept, from authority, that winters are getting warmer, we resist any effort to think we may be wrong, or that the pattern of the past may have changed; uncertainty seems worse. But we laugh at comedy, and occasionally get mad. How much evidence before one accepts that the temporary is permanent, or that ones original assessment was flawed? In comedy there’s always a stuffed-shirt character who tries to show off and gets hurt, perhaps by a pie in the face. Then it happens again, and again. The injuries and slow acceptance of the new reality create the humor. A common ending is to discover that the clever slave is a half-nobleman, perhaps the son of the stuffed-shirt, and the crowd goes home happy, with someone new we can trust.

With global warming and climate change, I see the same comedy being played out, and I expect it to reach the same, happy ending. For 20-30 years, till about 1998, there were a string warming winters; as a result we come to believe things will keep getting warmer. Then the president says we have to stop it, and laws are passed but not implemented; Al Gore gets a nobel prize for his efforts to stop global warming; the computer experts predict global disaster if we don’t change by 2005. The studies predict 4-6°C warming per century warming with massive flooding; we make new laws and point to shrinking of Himalayan glaciers, shrinking polar ice, and the lack of snow on Kilimanjaro — all justifications for the need to act fast and sacrifice for the future, and the warming stops. So far it’s been 16 years and no warming, the snow’s comes back to Kilimanjaro, and the seas have not risen. A few scientists start saying there may be a problem with the models, and the president gets mad about the headless chicken skeptics.

The US is then/now hit with the coldest temperatures since the early 1900s, with as much snow as 1904, but it’s never clear if this is a fluke or the new normal reality. Has the real pattern of warming changed, or maybe it never was. Kilimanjaro’s still snow-capped, the glaciers have returned to the Himalayas, and the antarctic ice swells to record size. The US sees a year with no major hurricanes.  We can laugh, but there’s no laughter from the President of The US, or the Prince of England or any who solemnly predicted disaster. Like the stuffed shirts in a comedy, they double down, and roar at the deniers; “They’re pawns of the lobbyists.” And I suspect the resolution will be that some climate denier will be crowned as the new expert, and we’ll go on to worry about a new disaster.

For what it’s worth, the weather seems to be chaotic (Chaos is funny); we appear to have been seeing part of a cycle that has an up-period and a down period. Something like that is shown by the 100 year plot of temperature data from Charlotte Carolina shown below.

Charlotte SC average temperatures over the last century.

Charlotte SC average temperatures over the last century. Perhaps the recent warming is part of a cycle. Is it clear there has been a change in climate. If so, where does the change start?

Robert E. Buxbaum, March 9, 2014. Surrealism is funny because it taps into the ridiculousness of life. Metaphysics humor is behind a statistics joke, an architecture cartoon, and my zen joke.  Physics is funny too.