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Date Comedic Texts, Essay Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1344

Essay

Imagine the following scenario. A young man, maybe sixteen or so, is being forced by his much older brother to watch You Natzy Spy!, featuring the Three Stooges (Moe, Larry, and Curly) and released by Columbia Pictures in 1940. As this short subject film begins, we see Moe as Moe Hailstone, Curly as his incompetent Field Marshal, and Larry as his equally incompetent Minister of Propaganda.

The young man, after watching this classic Stooges short for about five minutes, turns to his laughing brother and says “I don’t see what’s so funny” in reference to Moe dressed up to look like Adolf Hitler, Curly as Mussolini, and Larry as a typically-dressed Nazi officer. Between laughs, the older brother replies “Don’t you think it’s funny the way Moe treats everybody? It’s just like Hitler.” But the young man, as the old saying goes, just doesn’t get it and sits there stone-faced and bored.

Clearly, the emotional reaction of the young man in this scenario is due to his unfamiliarity with not only the time period in which You Natzy Spy! is set, being a mere one year before the outbreak of World War II, but also with the characters in the guise of Hitler, Mussolini, and a Nazi officer. Therefore, in his eyes, You Natzy Spy! is dated and is not funny. In other words, this young man, born long after the Three Stooges had reached the pinnacle of comedic stardom in the mid 1940’s, does not understand nor appreciate the humor exhibited by Moe, Larry, and Curly.

In contrast, the older brother certainly “gets it,” due to being a “Baby Boomer” who watched the Three Stooges on television in the late 1950’s and whose father served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Also, the older brother considers the Three Stooges and You Natzy Spy! as classic comedy that will live forever, due to recognizing and appreciating the relevant parodic humor of Moe, Larry, and Curly.

Why is there such a huge difference between the viewpoints of the young man and his older brother while watching You Natzy Spy!? It all comes down to familiarity via an emotional reaction to what one is viewing based on being familiar with the comedic conventions in the text or film, in this case, Moe, Larry, and Curly pretending to be parodic caricatures of Hitler, Mussolini, and a Nazi officer. Although the young man might appreciate the “hard” humor of the Three Stooges, being their slapstick routines of hitting each other over the head with two-by-fours, slapping one another in the face, and Moe pummeling Curly with various slaps and punches, he does not understand the humor nor the comedy concerning the interactions and dialog between Moe, Larry, and Curly in You Natzy Spy

However, the older brother recognizes and understands what is going on between the characters and appreciates what Moe, Larry, and Curly are doing as parodic caricatures of three individuals, especially Hitler. In essence, the older brother thinks that it is very funny when Hitler and Mussolini are made to look like fools and idiots, but on the flip side, the young man “just doesn’t get it,” due to growing up in a culture far removed from the days of the Third Reich which virtually guarantees that the young man will never understand nor appreciate the parodic Hitlerian humor in this short feature film.

Along with being unfamiliar with the historical setting of You Natzy Spy!, perhaps the young man, due to his age and inexperience, does not understand symbolism and the concept of motifs or the repetition of various symbols that represent and often support the overall theme of the text or work of art. For example, in 1935’s A Night at the Opera, a sort of conglomerate of musical comedy, slapstick, parody, and satire and featuring the Marx Brothers (Groucho, Chico, and Harpo Marx), we find the repetitive motif of food and eating.

As film critic Tim Dirks relates, besides being hungry, the Marx Brothers “ham it up” to the hilt in Groucho’s hotel room, where they “sit down to a large breakfast with Tomasso (Harpo) ravishing the breakfast table by eating a “cupcake” of one china cup between two hotcakes,” eating Driftwood’s (Groucho’s) cigar rolled up in a pancake and a portion of Fiorello’s (Chico’s) necktie on a hotcake. In response, Fiorello says “I’m glad I didn’t bring my vest,” whereby Driftwood replies, “I forgot to tell you. He ate your vest last night for dessert” (“A Night at the Opera”).

From the viewpoint of our young man who did not understand the parodic humor of the Three Stooges in You Natzy Spy!, the reason for the Marx Brother’s obsession with food might be unclear; in fact, he may not understand the symbolism of the food and especially Harpo’s ravenous appetite for anything he can jamb in his mouth. However, the older brother certainly “gets it,” due to being familiar with the Great Depression when millions of Americans went hungry and when A Night at the Opera became a huge hit with audiences in 1935, the apex of the depression. Therefore, the young man does not appreciate the Marx Brother’s fascination with food, due to being unfamiliar with the Great Depression and starvation, and sees this film and particular scene as dated and obsolete, but at the same time might appreciate Harpo’s silliness as he tries to consume everything on the breakfast table.

Through the eyes of our young man, You Natzy Spy! and A Night at the Opera are dated and boring, but another film that was released during the same month and year as the Marx vehicle (January of 1935) might elicit an entirely different response. Tit for Tat, featuring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as the owners of an electrical supply store, is perhaps the epitome of the 1930’s comedic revenge motif with Laurel and Hardy up against a fellow store owner in a “full-scale war that leaves both stores in shambles” (Larrabee, “The Sound Shorts of Laurel & Hardy”).

Certainly, the interaction and outright mayhem between Laurel and Hardy and the other store owner would appeal to the comedic sensibilities of our young man, due to the fact that comedy of this sort, a collection of madcap hilarity and slapstick (with the items in the two stores being destroyed rather than whacks and hits on someone’s body and face), appeals to everyone regardless of age, cultural background, or race. In effect, our young man would view this short film as a classic comedy routine, one that because of its familiar humor but despite being set in the early 1930’s like A Night at the Opera, will outlast time itself.

Let us suppose in a different scenario that our young man decides to take a serious look at A Night at the Opera in order to study its comedic conventions and perhaps appreciate it a bit more as an iconic American comedy. But after viewing the film several times, he still does not understand the symbolic motifs related to food and eating; thus, at least in relation to the Marx Brother’s genius for metaphor, our young man will not be able to laugh heartily at this film, much unlike his older brother who laughs hysterically during each and every scene between Groucho, Chico, and Harpo.

In the end, a dated comedy is only in the eyes of the beholder, while a classic comedy considered as a masterpiece or as an iconic representation of a particular style of comedy, such as slapstick or parody, will outlast its audience. Exactly why is rather difficult to pin down, but it has everything to do with basic human emotions and for the lack of a better term, the perversity that lies in all of us via the pleasure we obtain by watching Harpo Marx act like a complete idiot or Stan Laurel constantly bumping his head on the slanted ceiling of a bedroom.

Works Cited

“A Night at the Opera (1935).” Filmsite Movie Review. 2010. Web. Accessed 28 October 2012. http://www.filmsite.org/night3.html

Larrabee, John. “The Sound Shorts of Laurel & Hardy.” 2003. Web. Accessed 28 October 2012. http://laurelandhardycentral.com

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