Dear Sanity Clause: You might recall I asked for nothing this year, so perhaps you could see your way clear to fulfilling a late request?
Please bring me an app/function that allows willy-nilly leapfrogging over posts:
• Boasting of word-game scores
• Forwarding memes that have already been shared 12 to 15 times that day
• Blazoning frilly, decorative, misquoted or misattributed aphorisms from "holy/wise" people that attempt to boil the psychic gumbo-monkeyscream-volcano of human complexity and utter screwiness down to cheese-molded, pat assumptions suitable for spreading on snack crackers.
Also please, please, please deliver a pony, a solar-powered boomerang, and herd of hedgehogs, all types: collared, four-toed, Daurian, Madras, Hugh's .... An array, a prickle, an inevitability of hedgehogs.
Massive, swarming teams of Erinaceidae, roaming and romping the vast lands, in their terrifying and adorable wake leaving the earth trembling ever so slightly.
Oh, and a jetpack for two.
Aloha, hallelujah and Roll Tide. In return, I will leave cookies, gummies and top-shelf bourbon under the Festivus pole.
It is nearly always a puzzlement, seeing what people respond to on social media. Typically any call for a "What's your version?" of a thing might dredge up even the most thought-lost of long-ago friends. I post them not so much to see what folks say, but to see if, and maybe why, they respond.
On occasion, there's wit, weirdness and wonder, but from the "Your Kentucky Derby horse name is a symptom of your mental illness plus the last thing you ate" post, what I can garner is that a high percentage of Facebook suffers from some form of mental illness, and are not helping themselves with healthy diets.
A version of the Santa Claus rant above drew not as many comments, but three times as many likes. Don't know if it was something I was born with, or grew like a pearl — or goiter — but an aversion to bandwagons burns at my core. I will not jump on. I will not follow, not even to see what's playing. While running in the opposite direction with fingers in ears, chanting nyah nyah nyah, though, I might say a quiet, mostly kind thought that folks I like will jump back off, after a brief "See! I'm one of us, too!" phase.
In yet another swing-and-a-miss at drawing chuckles, in response to the Wordle flood I posted pictures representing Hurdle, Girdle, Curdle, Myrtle, Turtle. Written in sequence, you probably grasp the intended mockery.
On the book of faces, no one got it.
So was it too oblique? Should I have drawn in colored blocks, and added a show-off score? Or should i just leave people to their games as I ride morosely off into dust swirls left by a receding bandwagon, atop my ex-derby horse Withdrawn Broccoli?
Nah. I could no more resist posting one of my favorite photos, of Pizza Turtle, than I could fail to seek a two-by-four suitable for jamming into spokes. I posted the pic under the word Turtle to scientifically gauge the shortest-possible measurement of time, that between the post going live, and the first response of "That's a squirrel!"
Reflect for a moment on how you enjoy being told things you already know, especially if they're hilariously obvious, such that a three- or four-year-old might know. Now project that onto a person who writes, records and shares things for an actual living, as well as just, you know, for giggles, and your skin, too, can crawl like mine.
So I waited out that millisecond to share the following explanation. Scene: Riverwalk. A pleasant pandammit afternoon. Small child, perhaps 3- or 4-years old, goes absolutely bonkers at what must have been her first-ever squirrel sightings, hopping up and down. Quoth she: "Look, Ma, look! Turtles!"
John Cleese lectures and writes these days almost as much as he used to perform, at Princeton among other joints, and while I suggest that's in lieu of stage work, of course just listening to someone like Cleese is a show. Audio mainly, as he's not fond of the silly walks these days, but speaking of silly walks, I find treadmill hours to be the finest time to listen.
To say that a lifelong writer and wildly successful comedian's not fond of being censored or censured is like saying a lifelong writer and failed comedian does not enjoy being mansplained at: understatement.
His views on cancel culture, and so-called political correctness, are far more nuanced than flame-breathing headlines may suggest. Cleese noted that the idea of political correctness began from a place of empathy and understanding. Essentially, we shouldn't make life harder for those who are already struggling. That's a pretty golden idea. Maybe someone should turn it into a rule.
But all comedy's about swinging away. PC-cancellation ideas have bloated out of proportion, radiated-monster-like, to envelop any word, thought or image that could potentially offend anyone, anywhere.
Also, some just miss jokes. As Cleese and pals in Monty Python's Flying Circus said, speaking of crime lord Doug Piranha: "He used sarcasm! He knew all the tricks: dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes ... and satire! He was vicious."
In a roughly 24-page rambling recount of a wonky weekend spent at Opp's Rattlesnake Rodeo, I scattered imagery among words, in my old college magazine Tusk. One of the photos I'm still fond of goes close-up into a rattler's wide-open mouth, being held firmly — otherwise I wouldn't have gotten within camera range — by one of the wranglers. Others were of the world's largest, incredibly stunned-looking steer, a sprawl of rattlers dumped on the cement from a trash bucket, and a pickled whale skin you could see inside an air-conditioned trailer, for a mere 25 cents extra.
Also included were a selection of images drawn by my dear pal Ken Adams. Our friendship really flew that year, begun when I was editorial page editor, as I drew — puns always intended — on his visual-arts talents to illustrate ideas from the ludicrous to the bizarre, and occasionally the mildly serious. He created full-color covers for many of that year's Tusks. If I'd paid him by the inkwell, he could have retired early.
One of the 'toons was of a gnarled woman, bejeweled and bangled, cig butt dangling precariously off her lip, exaggerated for effect as clearly this was not a person we, the viewers, were meant to sympathize with. The caption quoted something we overheard her saying — loudly — to a person at her table. You could have guessed, because Ken wrote "Overheard" atop the awful words.
It was so clearly an Archie Bunker-ish moment, I figured no one could misunderstand. Certainly no one who knew what a delightful, loving human Ken is could think he'd concur with that person. The satiric nature was so clear to me I didn't even hesitate about sharing it.
Possibly I should have hesitated. There was a tiny furor; we posted an explanation in the next day's paper, to address concerns.
Let Cleese simplify it: "...you can make fun of a group or their ideas in two ways: one is a direct attack on the group, and the other is putting the group’s words into the mouth of someone who is quite obviously an idiot or hilariously out of touch."
In hard days for satirists, it's not at all a coincidence "Ted Lasso" has touched mass audiences, even those who, like the titular character, don't grasp or even care about soccer. It's a fish out of wanda, er, water story, but underlying it all: empathy, humility, curiosity.
Cleese again: "What matters is that we try to be kind to people, which is the basis of all religion. If we try to be kind, we don’t have to worry about particular words, because words get their meaning — which is what really matters — from a context."
Dear Sanity Clause: For 2022, bring me curious context.
Reach Tusk Editor Mark Hughes Cobb at email@example.com, or call 205-722-0201.
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Empathy, curiosity drive laughs during hard times | MARK HUGHES COBB