Month: June 2014

On Hunters, Farmers and ADD

11th Century Chinese Warrior

Earlier this morning, I was thinking how much easier (yes, easier) life was in the 11th century.  Essentially, if someone was irritating you, you rode out (or walked out, depending on your level of income) armed with as many instruments of mayhem as you could take with you, and resolved the issue.  I am not a particularly violent person, but sometimes, when modern life gets political, whiny and just plain moronic, I do envy those inhabitants of simpler times (although the lack of bidets is always “problematic”, as the PC crowd likes to say) when society wasn’t as apt to frown upon occasional major bloodshed in the course of friendly arguments.

And now, it seems that this may be linked to the fact that I am easily distracted.  Hmm…

Research into Attention Deficit Disorder has led to any number of avenues, most of them focused on getting hyperactive children to be able to focus and learn at the same rate as other kids (drugs, mainly). While your attitude towards this might vary, there is little question that the drugs make these children nice little zombies who can actually stay awake through boring history classes without distracting those around them who are more teachable and focused.

hunting a wooly mammoth

However, another current believes that there is little wrong with these children psychologically, but that their minds have a preponderance of hunter-type characteristics – a genetic remnant of less civilized past. As you can imagine, most elementary schools on the planet are not equipped to train children to hunt mammoths, something in which this kind of child would probably excel as they are generally better at improvisation and real-time problem-solving than they are at concentrating on something they don’t need at the moment. They aren’t necessarily bad students, but they are the type which will toss things together at the last moment. In modern life, they tend to be the brilliant thinkers who put the great ideas out there and let others take care of the details.

On the other hand, ”normal” children are those in which the ”farmer” brain type is dominant: meticulous, detail-oriented, planners. They are generally a teacher’s dream, and are the ones who can turn the great ideas into working systems, which they then enjoy refining and refining some more. They are the ones who will give us a working highway system, but also the ones that give us 65 mile-per-hour speed limits because their nature is to plough the furrow again and again, as far as they can. Most overdone social trends (see helmets on ski slopes) have to do with farmers going a little too far into the details, into places where people outside the extremely specialized clique can no longer communicate effectively with them. Most people have a little of both, with one side predominating, while some – very few – are able to balance both sides, and can be Farming Hunters or Hunting Farmers.

Of course, all of this is extremely relevant to the business world, on two fronts: marketing and recruiting. Marketing because it is important to remember that you can’t sell things to farmers the way you would to hunters, and recruiting because, for technical reasons I won’t go into here, it is important to have a good balance of both personality types on your sales force (and I assume you would want your accounting department to be composed exclusively of farmers). Internet entrepreneurs tend to be hunters (which explains why they break the mold, and also why their long-range planning is sometimes… questionable).

So how does all of the above relate to this blog?

 

detail oriented

Simple. Polymaths seem to be Hunter-type personalities, while specialists, those men and women who are completely absorbed in one topic, seem to be farmers (remember that ADD research?), which is what makes academia so frustrating for so many.  The plodding, bureaucratic specialist is prevalent – and that means that the maverick needs to either learn to accept that or to ply his trade elsewhere.  That may be the reason that the less detail oriented personality types tend to find their way into business or the military as opposed to academia.  Hell, even in these fields, detail orientation is often praised, while big-picture thinking is suppressed.

Which begs the question: How much are we losing because of this?  Is over-specialization driving us to a dead end?  We at Classically Educated think so – which is why these posts are so eclectic…  But, ask around, you’ll find that most people disagree with us!

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Getting Deeply Classical

Aphrodite in the Trojan War

When one thinks about the Classics, Homer is usually among the first names that comes up.  Sadly, of course, if you say “Homer” to most people, they will immediately think of a yellow cartoon character with an affinity for Duff Beer – but that’s fine, the original probably wouldn’t do much for them anyway.

Homer, as we know, it the name given to the person who compiled two of the great masterpieces of Classical Antiquity: The Iliad and The Odyssey.  There has been much speculation regarding whether he was a historical figure or not, but we won’t get into that, now, as there are much more interesting things to discuss, especially with regards to which version of Homer should be read by anyone with truly “Classically Educated” pretentions and also the question of if any other work has had such a direct-line, continuous descent to modern times.

The first point is extremely interesting.  Assuming one doesn’t read ancient Greek (and yes, we should all read ancient Greek or at least change the name of this blog, as it used to be one of the requirements), and that your language of preference is English, there are many options available to you.  The first is to go with a prose translation.  This is the quick, easy way of becoming immersed in the glorious tapestry that is the mythology of the Trojan war.  It is a much more accessible way to to get a clear grasp on events, and is the best option for casual readers.

And by casual readers, we mean wimps.

Greek Text Odyssey

A true Homeric enthusiast will insist on a verse translation, and there are many, many available – from great poets to men and women that no one has ever heard of.  Poetic translations are evaluated on a number of criteria, the most important of which is fidelity to the original – and the tradeoffs: is it more important to be faithful to the meter or the rhyme or the meaning?  Hard to do, I imagine – plus, you need to be able to read ancient Greek.  Here’s a decent primer, if you’re looking into one of these.  They are not for wimps…

But they’re not for the true, died-in-the-wool elitist, either.

Homer

For he who must have bragging rights, there is only one option.  Chapman’s Homer.  This 1000 page block of epic poetry in Elizabethan English is the true test of an advanced reader (OK, OK, we’ll get into Finnegan’s Wake at some other point) who is not content with reading The Odyssey and The Iliad, but needs to read it in the first English translation, the one that influenced many of the great writers in the English language.  The challenge here, especially in The Iliad, is to avoid being drawn into the language, rhythm and rhyme and losing track of what is actually going on.  The Odyssey is much easier to digest, for some reason – possibly because it has more action and less talking (despite the battlefield setting of The Iliad).

It is a long, difficult read, but it is worth it.  After reading it, you will not feel a need to read another translation (unless you are a scholar, of course), as you will have ultimate bragging rights among people who’ve read this (and what is academia other than knowing more than the guy sitting next to you?).

This one gets our vote.

But what to do next?  Homer’s odyssey didn’t end with Homer.  There are a few books that come after that are direct-line descendants of the ones he actually (or mythologically) wrote.  In chronological order, they are:

The Aenid.  This is the poem that made Virgil a household name (well, if your household is composed of literate individuals).  There are several editions available, and it’s a significant piece of Roman mythology.

The Divine Comedy.  Clearly, Dante’s household was a literate one, as he had not only heard of Virgil, but chose him as his muse.  Even the deeply classically educated among you won’t be able to decipher the sneaky attacks on Dante’s contemporaries and political enemies in this one, but just chuckle at the fact that they’re still being tormented centuries later.  Most people never get past Inferno, which is clearly the best bit, but to earn respect, you’d best go through the whole thing.  This edition is recommended because it is a) cheap, b) contains illustrations by Gustave Doré, c) looks great on a shelf and d) is translated by Longfellow.

Ulysses.  If you’ve read it, you will have nearly supreme street cred among people who hardly ever go out into a street.  The only ones who will be able to look down their noses at you are the ones who claim to have understood Finnegan’s Wake, and you really don’t need to worry about them as whatever drug they’re on that gave them that illusion will soon finish them off.

– No credit is given for knowing the name of Bart’s teacher.

homer-simpson

Tough guys and gals, of course, don’t even need this post.  They pick up the original Greek, in manuscript form, and end up looking like the picture above.  We salute you.

Anyway, that is our Homeric lesson for the day.  We’d love to hear your experiences and recommendations.  We’d also love for you to tell us that we’re elitist jerks (this is a very validating thing to us).  Comments are all welcome!

 

Also, we have a fan page.  No one your mother wants you to hang out with has liked it…  so you definitely should (plus, it will ensure that you get our updates on your feed).

 

Tough Love: A World Cup Primer for Americans

Brazuka

Here at Classically Educated, we’ve been kind of following the World Cup.  Being based all over the world, it’s a bit hard to ignore the world’s largest, most important sporting event.  The main problem we have, of course, is that the largest single block of readers we have is from he US, where, to put it extremely diplomatically, most people are extremely uninformed about the World Cup (despite having hosted one as recently as 1994).

I think most of the blame for this goes to American Media, whose 24 hour news cycle means that they have to have stories and story lines even when there is little to write about – and makes it look like the World Cup is about thirty-two equally important teams, like a preseason NFL analysis.  That is probably the most insane way of covering the World Cup that we’ve ever seen, but there you have it.

As a public service, here are some things that Americans should probably keep in mind about the World Cup:

1.  It is the world’s most important sporting event – the 2010 final was watched by 700 million viewers, and 2014 should have significantly more coverage.  The Olympics, of course, are second.  The Super Bowl is around a fifth of that audience, and is less important viewer-wise than the Cricket World finals (an event which I will admit having missed every time).  Other American sporting events don’t make the top five, and it’s nice to see the Monaco Grand Prix up there above the World Series and the NBA finals – here at CE, we approve of anything that has to do with Monaco.

Jurgen Klinsmann

2.  Jürgen Klinsmann is correct: the US is not there to win the Cup.  There’s been a big flap in the American media about Klinsmann having said that the US has no chance of winning.  Some people speculated that the comment was a motivational tool.  Others say that he was completely wrong to say something like that, and that it’s unacceptable that he did so.  Both camps are composed of clueless idiots.

What really rankles about the US media’s treatment of this isn’t that they seem to think that they know better than a man who has been there and done it as a player and a coach, and who knows the state of world soccer (football?) better than almost everyone else on the planet, a man who has true credentials to be the coach of any team on the planet, not just the junior-varsity US squad (that thing in his hand in the photo, BTW, is the most important sports trophy on the planet, the World Cup).  It doesn’t even bug us that the media is ignoring the fact that US players know they have the same chance of winning the Cup as the Jamaican Boblsed team did of winning the Olympic gold in 1988.  We are talking major miracle here (more parting the Red Sea than walking on water-level, if you would like it in religious terms).

What really irritates is that the media is ignoring what every real soccer fan knows as an absolute truth: there are maybe five or six teams with an actual shot at winning.  The US is not one of them – and even with a huge influx of Mexicans and other Latin Americans over the past few years, the US is not all that close to being one of them (Mexico is another team that is not one of them).  Any knowledgeable (or even casual fan) would say that the list is entirely composed of the past World Champions (and no, you can’t count Uruguay out just yet) (I, personally, would count England out -Ed.), plus Holland.  Period.  Saying anything else shows a level of cluelessness that should lead to the revocation of press passes.

3.  The World Cup is in no way comparable to the Women’s World Cup.  If you get your news exclusively through US media, it would seem that both events are equally important.  Sportscenter gives the same coverage to both, websites allot the same number of words.  This is completely inexplicable to anyone familiar with the actual importance of the two events.  We do not mean any disrespect to the great female athletes who compete for their country, but (using an American Sports anthology so our US readers will understand) this is like comparing the World Series to a random Saturday T-ball game for first graders.

4.  It’s not so much that the Women’s World Cup is minor (it is, but that’s not the point) but that US coverage of both events make it difficult to understand just how mind-bogglingly huge the real World Cup is (note that it’s not necessary to say which sport we’re talking about – the words “World Cup” suffice).

Let us illustrate – and this is not an exaggeration, as anyone who has lived through it can attest.

Let us imagine six o’clock on a Monday in Sao Paulo or Buenos Aires, or Rome.  This is rush hour in those places.  The streets are clogged with millions of cars and buses.  Sao Paulo’s Metro area is composed of 23 million people.  They are all on the street at 6 PM on a random Monday.

Except…  This Monday the Brazilian (or the Italian or Argentine) national team is playing a World Cup game.  So the city looks like downtown Pripyat.  It’s a post apocalyptic ghost town with empty streets occupied only by pieces of paper blown by the wind.  A visitor from another planet would wonder what horrible tragedy had wiped out what was clearly a thriving, active population just hours before without destroying the infrastructure.  They’d probably think neutron bombs.

Deserted World Cup Streets

That is until the local team inevitably scores a goal (teams in these countries always do).  Then, there’s a roar like a hundred express trains of people shouting the word “Gol”!  Men, women, children, all screaming, celebrating with a sound like thunder – if thunder had the execrable tinge of vuvuzelas.  It is pandemonium for thirty seconds – and then the ghost town is back.  You can cross some of the world’s busiest avenues with no risk of getting hit by a car.

London, Amsterdam, Montevideo, Madrid, Berlin, Mexico City, Bogotá – even Paris to a lesser extent – are paralyzed for these games.  So are all the other cities in those countries.  Companies stop work and the employees gather in meeting rooms to watch the game.  There is nothing else going on.  The odds of getting a pizza delivered are just about zero.

So, I hope this has cleared up some of the confusion around the world cup, and I hope those US-based journalists now have an inkling of just how babe-in-the-woods their text looks to anyone with a clue.  Perhaps they are actually knowledgeable and are dumbing it down / playing a part for their audiences.  If so, our advice is to stop it.  You’re not doing anyone any favors.

 

That is all.  Americans should now have a clearer idea of what’s what.  Let the hate mail roll in – that’s what comments sections are for!

 

And if you already hate us, what better place to leave insults than on our Facebook Page?  If you click like, you’ll even get updates, so you can never fail to tell us that we are idiots!

 

 

An Early Zombie Walk

I walked with a Zombie still

We all know film zombies.  They are the gentlemen and ladies who shuffle along in the direction of the nearest warm body (especially if it’s one of the main characters in the film) slowly decomposing, asking for brains, making others like themselves and generally being antisocial.  We should probably blame the seventies for this image.

But zombies are a little more complex than that.  They’ve even found a certain amount of street-cred among intellectuals due to the fact that they are said to embody the fears and anxieties of consumerism – the mindless pursuit of a given objective – and the atomic era.  This viewpoint has caused them to be accepted by certain areas of academia and there are even articles in serious newspapers and even academia dealing with the phenomenon.  Seen this way, as a symbol and a metaphor, they become socially acceptable.

I personally believe that the whole “metaphor” thing was planted by George Romero in an attempt to boost their popularity.  They’re friggin’ zombies for crissakes – if you over-think them, you’re doing it wrong.

I walked with a Zombie

Which brings us neatly to the next installment in our review series about the 1001 films to see before you die (hit the 1001 movies tag for the rest of them).  Today’s subject is the 1943 horror vehicle I Walked With a Zombie.

What makes this one interesting isn’t only that the lack of symbolism is appealing (in 1943 the atomic age hadn’t started, and the discussion of the angst of consumerism by postmodernists was still awaiting a time when psychedelic drugs were more widely available), but also that it uses the actual zombie mythology from Haiti.

We generally try to avoid spoilers when we do these reviews, but in this one, there’s not that much to spoil.  Generic character A discovers that Generic character B has a strange disease (a probable source for the virus-zombies of later years?  Discuss in comments), and the villagers, driven by their Voodoo belief believe that B is a zombie, and as such needs to be put out of her misery.  Tension ensues.

What makes it worth tracking down is not the story itself, but the fact that it tells the tale of a zombie as it would have been told before we all “knew” what zombies were.  It’s a story of witchcraft and curses and spiritism, all washed down with rum (and the first performance of a Calypso song in an American movie).  Also, like the movie Cat People by the same director, it leaves the audience with the question of whether anything supernatural is actually happening – or whether it’s all just an unfortunate misunderstanding.

As modern horror, it’s not all that compelling – or even frightening for that matter – but if you know what’s under the hood, it does become interesting!

And, if you ever get dragged into a Zombie Walk (seriously, you should get new friends or a new boy/girlfriend)… at least you’ll be the single person who knows what real zombies are about!

zombie walk

 

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A New Model for the Publishing Business?

Underwood

As always, it seems that topics for this blog pop up in bunches.  After last week’s article about the problems the SF community is having with an invasion of political correctness activists, and our article of a couple of weeks ago about the way technology is finally making complete personalization possible (an article which even manages to plug our awesome coffee mug), we have one that combines the two, and also opens a more general discussion about how readers can go about choosing the right book to read in this era of excessive freedom of publication opportunities.

One of the arguments currently raging across the literary world (not just specific genres), is the validity of self-publishing.  It’s an argument that has created heated, emotional discussion with former friends declaring their hatred for each other.  If this were the middle ages as opposed to our milquetoast modern era, people would be picking up swords and building trebuchets over this.

The arguments that say that self-publishing is a positive thing essentially have to do with the fact that it is often extremely difficult for new voices to break into the traditional publishing model, and that affordable self-publishing immediately allows people to bypass a system that many see as broken.  Additionally, SP’s proponents argue, a greater proportion of the profit goes to the creator in the SP model.  In general, proponents tend to celebrate the everyman and democratic nature of the system as well.

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 11.08.55 AM

The arguments against self-publishing, on the other hand, generally tend to focus on quality and the need for gatekeepers.  The strongest argument, of course, is essentially “the fact that everyone can write a book in no way implies that everyone should“.  Anyone who has ever been a first reader of manuscripts or a teacher of creative writing grading papers will be nodding vigorously at this point.  Most of the work written on this planet should have been prohibited by law from ever being produced.  It is truly, horribly, unimaginably bad, and that badness is being foisted on unsuspecting readers by the self-published millions.  Most rejected manuscripts aren’t misunderstood – they are utter crap.  I’m not talking about “Stephanie Meyer bad” or “Dan Brown bad”.  Brown and Meyer are professional writers who can create sentences, stories, characters and tension – even if their style rubs people the wrong way sometimes.  I’m talking about truly bad.

The second argument is that, even seasoned pros need editing, and they need a third party to edit their books.  In fact one of the main reasons bestselling authors have declines is quality is because they become powerful and get edited less and less as their careers go on.  Self-published books are usually edited by the author, who – even in the unlikely event that he is a decent writer – probably has the editing skills of a chipmunk.

And let’s not even get started on the usual level of art and cover design that self-publishing “distinguishes” itself by. Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch.

So a reader is faced with a conundrum.  It’s clear that there must be diamonds waiting out there among the huge numbers  of independent writers’ work, but how does one go about finding them?  How to avoid falling into the inevitable traps predicted by Sturgeon’s Law in a field that hasn’t got gatekeepers removing the really bad stuff?

Science Fiction Sampler

A group of science fiction authors seems to have come up with a great idea (which is unsurprising as Science Fiction is supposed to be the literature of ideas, right?).  Eighteen writers who knew each other’s work because they’d been published in diverse traditional publications banded together to create an ebook “sampler” which can be downloaded free  on B&N and Kobo (currently listed on Amazon at $0.99, but they assure me that this price will be lowered to zero soon!).  This ebook allows readers to read work by any of these authors before deciding to plunk down their hard-earned cash on one of the books these writers have for sale.

It seems a brilliant, no-risk solution allowing readers to expose themselves to several different voices before making a purchasing decision.

Of course, this won’t solve everyones problems. This collection was created by a group of authors and editors that have been published repeatedly in traditional publications, and are all proven commodities (plus they clearly have access to a professional artist and cover designer).  A quick google search for any of the names will show that they are polished professionals who probably didn’t need that much of a push.  More than a search for new talent, this one seems to be a menu for people who want the latest from the up-and-coming writers in the field (list of the writers involved:  Brad R. Torgersen, Jeffrey Thomas, Martin L. Shoemaker, Larry K. Pinaire, Konstantine Paradias, Geoff Nelder, M.O. Muriel, Roderick MacDonald, David Kernot, Patty Jansen, Guy Immega, Kevin Ikenberry, Mark Iles, Stephen Gaskell, Kary English, David Conyers, Gustavo Bondoni)

But maybe it’s a way forward, a business model which will allow new writers to reach their audience and for readers to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff without having to buy stuff to do so – at least until a new system of gatekeepers or reviewers which can handle the huge volume comes into being.  There are signs of that, but there is still nothing like walking into a bookstore and pulling a book off the shelf for ensuring quality writing and production values.  It will be fun to see how this evolves.

 

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PC Runs Amok in Science Fiction Community

politically-correct-hypocrisy

Back in the mid-90s, when the political correctness movement was bursting onto the scene, one tended to pass it off as a bunch of post-modernists playing at deconstruction*.  The old “Doberperson” joke just about summed up how seriously it was taken by anyone not in the public eye.  Most people, it was concluded, wouldn’t care, and, in general, they didn’t.  People went about their lives normally, and only some of the weirdness filtered into everyday life, mainly in positive ways such as the use of non-pejorative terms for certain groups.  It was OK, and life went on.

But all was not as well as it looked on the surface.  A friend of the house was studying at the University of Arizona just about at this time, and he turned in a story for a creative writing assignment which, knowing this guy, was probably extremely well-written and insightful.

His teacher came back and said that the story was unacceptable.

“Why?” asked our friend

“Because it doesn’t contain any references to feminism or to the struggle of women.  Literature without those qualities is unacceptable to me,” was the gist of the reply.

Random question

Now, our friend is both non-confrontational and was, for scholarship reasons, trying to maintain a perfect GPA, so as far as we can recall after twenty years, he mumbled something and modified his tale (creative writing is not important enough to an engineering student as anything other than credit for him to have done otherwise), went on to maintain his scholarship and graduate with gigantic honors and now designs products that all of you use every day.  His response was probably the wisest course of action.

But it was the wrong response.  The correct response would have been to say “What the fuck?”, send the teacher and her imbecilic agenda to hell, and then immediately report her to the school authorities.  You see, using coercion in this way is, to me, a fireable offense.  I don’t care what your political / social leanings are, it’s wrong.  I also have no idea whether the teacher in question is still at UofA, but I doubt it – people of that sort don’t last long at prestigious universities (well, they do sometimes, but hopefully not in this case).

This may seem like an isolated incident, and in real life, probably is.  But there is one particular place where the kind of people who think this way are not only a vocal (if small) minority, but are being pandered to by the rest of the community mainly because of the fear from the tactics they use, and that place is the Science Fiction and Fantasy writers and fan community.

Over the past five years, the community has been rocked by several tempests in a teapot regarding the nebulous and politically charged concept of “privilege“. Essentially, the idea of the concept is to disqualify anyone who is part of the “mainstream” in a number of categories (gender, race, sexual orientation, etc) as being able to voice a valid opposing opinion (or of writing about in fiction!!!!!!) to the view of the extremists because they have privilege – essentially “you haven’t suffered what I’ve suffered, so you don’t have any right to talk about it.”  Usually, the fanatic goes on to call the other person a sexist or racist.

Since the discussion is usually about charged subjects, most of  the antagonists stop arguing right there.  People who go on have found that reason simply doesn’t work against them, so they stop, too.  The problem is that, by the time people pull out, a small but rabid strike group has been put into action, and Twitter, blogs and emails to employers have been sent out to the effect that so-and-so is a racist.  Perfectly nice, unracist people have lost paying jobs, guest-of-honor gigs and editorships as well as being hounded, bullied and harassed thanks to these unfounded accusations of racism – as defined by a splinter group of extremists.

A book that was censored and who's editor was hounded

The problem, you see, is that these nice, rational people, who won’t think twice about ruining someone’s career, livelihood or reputation for not marching in lockstep are trying to stop racism.  That makes it all right, then.  They can call you whatever they want, because you have privilege, and they (most of “they” are just as privileged, intellectual and white – but are making the “effort” to understand) have suffered.

So it’s no real surprise that no one in the genre world was willing to stand up to these people.  It has gotten to the point where many people no longer consider the SFWA to validly represent the interests of authors in the genre – many qualifying professionals are choosing NOT to send the SFWA their fees at all until the current group of vocal activists are severely reduced in power, as they are noxious to all the writers who want an organization that represents the majority of them, not a puppet spokes-arm of a “diversity” activism group, which it is on the slippery road to becoming.  Romance writers don’t seem to have these issues (probably because they sell a lot more books than SF writers, to their professional organization HAS to be professional!).

Fortunately, I’ve been seeing a recent trend towards people speaking out.  This was recently posted on the Heroines of Fantasy site (and you can imagine that Heroines of Fantasy is not precisely sexist), and this has been written about the most recent guest of Honor Affair, plus a good piece on Jonathan Ross hosting the Hugos.  All in the last couple of months.

Which, as tangential members of that community we find encouraging.  Maybe Science Fiction and Fantasy can find a way to stop being offended by everything and return to a civil discussion of things – you know, like rational human beings?

Many of the Classically Educated team and contributors are proud SF geeks.  We hope the fact that people are stepping up and saying that the bullying is not OK is a good sign.  Hope springs eternal.

Agree?  Disagree?  All discussion is welcome – especially differing points of view! But calling anyone a racist or a sexist immediately invokes a modified version of Godwin’s law that we’ve created just for this post, and you automatically lose the argument!

 

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*If you think deconstruction can ever be serious, all you have to do is read the Wikipedia entry about  it to disabuse yourself of that notion.**

**Even better is the story of the Sokal Affair.  Only tangentially related, but still brilliant!

About Humor

Humor

We’ve convinced Baron H, our only undead blogger (we actually believe he’s unique anywhere on the internet…), to allow us to use this piece for Classically Educated.  Needless to say, we enjoyed this one almost as much as we liked the one on party eras (BTW, we’re cooking up a second party era post – the Baron has been telling us stories of ancient times again)!  His topic today is humor… but we won’t go with the obvious “gallows humor” theme, of course.  We’re much too mature for that.

 

Greetings,

Every time I talk about humor, I’m asked whether an ancient vampire really ought to be broaching the subject. After all, there are few things less funny than a monster who eats people unapologetically.

This is simply untrue. Being alive (or undead if you prefer) for so long means that the centuries can seriously drag if you don’tmanage to find something to laugh about. In addition to this, vampires tend to be brilliant (evil, of course, but brilliant), and a lack of humor has always been the hallmark of the weak-minded and insecure. One might almost say that it is an exclusively human trait.

There are some groups – particularly militant groups in extremist causes (or, even worse, causes that are “just”) – who seem to be unable to spot the fact that they have, through the spewing of rhetoric, become caricatues of themselves. We all know who they are in today’s world, and I’m not going to turn this into a fight about specific issues, but I was extremely well-placed to watch them in earlier ages.

So, without further ado, I give you the five people (or groups) with the least sense of humor in recent history:

Temperance Movement Carrie_Nation

5) The Temperance Movement in the United States. I was already ensconced within my Park-view apartment in the years before Prohibition was enacted, so I was able to observe first hand the behavior of the members of the Temperance Movement. There is a strong temptation to say that this movement was made up of dry, dusty old bats, but – being a vampire – I have too much respect for bats.

Let’s just say that these are the old maids and parish preachers who created the template for activism in the US, and are probably responsible for keeping alive the tradition that people can only be completely right or completely wrong, and those in the wrong are to be vilified.

Despite being completely ridiculous (a free country under Islamic prohibition of alcohol?), they were completely unable to see the humor in their actions. They were clearly people who needed a drink.

Catherine_II_on_horse

4) Catherine the Great. Most of my time in Russia was spent in the years just before and during her rule. Russia is something of a humorless place at the best of times, but things got a bit extreme when Catherine was on the throne.

The main issue is that the one thing we all wanted to do is to publish an anthology of jokes about the fact that she’d deposed her own husband to gain the throne. Some of the jokes were classics, all of them were off-color, many were about the horse, and poor Peter III did not come out of them looking good (of course, he’d been killed in the deposing, but that just made it better). If Catherine had had any sense at all, she could have secured her legacy by allowing these volumes to be printed.

Or perhaps, if Peter was really that bad in bed, she should have agreed to marriage counseling.

Mussolini's pants

3) Benito Mussolini. After the passing of the eighteenth amendment, I moved back to Europe, just in time to watch the ascension of fascism across the continent. While that kind of thing was natural enough among the orderly Germanic tribes, or plodding agrarian Spaniards, it simply did not work for Italians.

Italians, you see, are not fascists. They are not communists. They really don’t care about politics one way or the other. They care about wine and seafood and sun and love.

So picture poor Mussolini. Here he was with a shiny new dictatorship, trying to convince people to wear khaki shorts and march in lockstep, and here was everyone else, worrying about cars and olive oil. Not a situation designed to make him feel secure on his throne, and one that completely robbed him of any sense of humor. I don’t think he wanted to get involved in the war, but was unable to stand it when the Germans laughed at him because he didn’t have a Poland to play with.

It’s always possible, however, that he was just tired of people making fun of his pants.

Stalin's Mustache

2) Joseph Stalin. Same war, opposite band, and yet another Russian who had a complete inability to laugh at himself. Find an old photo of the man and look at that mustache.

Did you laugh? Of course you did. So did I. It’s impossible not to laugh at that mustache.

He sent me to Siberia for it. In winter. There were three entire Gulags filled only with men and women who’d been unable to control their mirth at the lip foliage.

Which brings us, finally, to…

The Spanish Inquisition

1) Torquemada.

This one is personal.

Torquemada is my big disappointment of the list. He had so much potential, so much to live for. Some of his methods were new to the world, of a cruelty I had never seen in all my centuries. He was my one true friend among the people on this list, and one of the few mortals I (or any vampire) could truly learn from and admire.

But just when I thought he was a force to be reckoned with, he showed an apalling lack of a sense of humor. It so happened that, after a long night of gambling for alcoholic forfeits with his undertorturers, a sinister group of hooded men who would have been excellent poker players (the hoods made it impossible to read their tells), we decided to set fire to Torquemada’s carriage, drive it around the complex and then sink it in the moat.

Oooh, boy.

Anyone with an ounce of humor would, eventually have realized that it was hilarious, wouldn’t he?

Oh, well. As far as I know, I’m still considered a fugitive from the inquisition. The humor of it is that, in this case, everything they’re accusing me of – and much more – is completely true.

So, I’ll see you soon,

H