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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Mark Coburn <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 22 Oct 2007 10:35:21 -0600
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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I wish to differ--firmly and not very respectfully--with those who assume
racism on David Fears's part.  Please be patient with me, because this very
simple idea is hard stuff to phrase.

I know at least one member of this forum who loves murder mysteries--me--and

I suspect I'm not the only one.  But guess what, folks:  That does NOT mean
we are pro-murder, nor do I think for a moment that any of you would accuse
us of being pro-murder.  Or sadists.  Or voyeurs of mayhem...or whatever.

In many of those mysteries, the police come across as hapless buffoons.  I
gleefully enjoy watching Nero Wolfe (or a dozen other private eyes) make
fools of them.  But that does NOT mean that I or other mystery lovers are
"anti-police."  Nor do I think the rest of you are silly enough to think so.

We all indulge--"dwell" might be a better word--in a great many of these
mental constructs, for which I can think of no better term than the clunky
"meta-realities."  And in the case of nearly all  of these
meta-realities --such as my murder mystery example--anyone but a complete
idiot knows we are indulging in a kind of game.  In most cases, the
meta-reality is so common and habitual that we never give it a moment's

Perhaps all  meta-realities involve a bit of what Coleridge famously called
the voluntary suspension of disbelief:  When I read Peanuts, I believe (and
don't) that a beagle yearns to be a World War I fighting ace.  When I read
Twain's Bluejay Yarn, I believe (and don't) that a humorless owl flew from
Nova Scotia to visit Yosemite.

Another  extremely common meta-reality is to announce aloud what your
dog or cat just "said."  Some people may not care for that way of responding
to pets, but only a fool would consider you insane if you habitually use
lines like,  "Meg says she's in desperate need of going outdoors to catch
tennis balls."

One of my favorite examples of meta-realities come from Hayakawa's semantics
text. He notes that a man may sing loudly and mournfully in the shower
about his intense yearning to be carried back to old Virginny..... While in
truth he has never been to Virginia and hasn't the slightest interest in

We all KNOW this stuff--which is part of why it's so hard to phrase.

And yet, when the topic is humor, many people suddenly choose to pretend
that they don't know it.  They get all starchy (or to put it more harshly,
they deliberately turn themselves into fools) and pretend that anyone who
tells a joke or who uses a comic phrase that disparages some group MUST
seriously--in "real life"--disparage that group.

Q.  What does a blond say when you blow in her ear?
A.  Thanks for the refill!
Whoops, I am clearly anti-blond and likely a misogynist.  Shame on me!!!
(What blithering twaddle:  Sensible people know that the blond in such a
joke is about as real as Snoopy.)

Q.  What do dyslexic, agnostic, insomniacs do at night?
A.  They toss and turn, pondering the existence of Dog.
Oh, goodness me!  I am clearly belittling victims of dyslexia, agnostics,
and God.  And probably dogs as well.  (Again, it's sheer, blithering crap
to think anyone who tells a joke like that is serious.)

I am  a member of a couple of forums for caregivers of Alzheimer's
Disease vicitms  and victims of other dementias.  Many of those forum
members devote their lives to tending their spouses, parents, partners, etc.
. . . Well, guess what?  Humor regarding  some of the wacky things their
loved ones do are an absolute staple of those forums.  You see, in our
cruel, benighted way we think of those anecdotes as a way of preserving our
own sanity and helping each other along.

But of course to people like Messrs. Crimmins and Howe, those anecdotes
would be  proof positive that in our hearts we must despise those we take
care of, and anyone else who shares their plight.

I apologize for over-making my point, but I'm truly angry.  A man who uses a
phrase like "it was white of him..." is NOT necessarily a racist.

Chances are excellent that he is simply playing a verbal game in one of the
endless meta-realities.

Mark Coburn
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