Ch…ch…chaaaaange

Birthday update and pics of the simultaneously best and worst present ever are forthcoming. But in the meantime, I rather enjoyed this at the Onion and wanted to share. Excerpt:

Black Guy Asks Nation For Change:

According to witnesses, a loud black man approached a crowd of some 4,000 strangers in downtown Chicago Tuesday and made repeated demands for change.

“The time for change is now,” said the black guy, yelling at everyone within earshot for 20 straight minutes, practically begging America for change. “The need for change is stronger and more urgent than ever before. And only you – the people standing here today, and indeed all the people of this great nation – only you can deliver this change.”

The black guy is oddly comfortable demanding change from people he’s never even met. It is estimated that, to date, the black man has asked every single person in the United States for change.

There’s also Do We Really Want Another Black President After The Events Of Deep Impact?, but unfortunately the article isn’t as great as its title promises it could be.

Our Farce-Sighted Leaders

My friend Yi-Sheng was supposed to be participating in an IndigNation (a gay pride festival) short story reading event today, but because the Media Development Authority (read: censorship board) classified the event as an arts performance requiring prior licence, as part of the licence application Yi-Sheng had to submit the story he had been intending to read. So he decided to give them something to get their censorial teeth into, and submitted the extremely naughty Lee Low Tar, which I would advise you neither read at work nor while consuming any beverages which are harmful to computer screens or keyboards.

Of course, it was banned, the official reason for which being that it went “beyond good taste and decency in taking a disparaging and disrespectful view of public officers”. You just can’t make this shit up.

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Experimental Theatre

Sometimes the Onion still gets it so right. From Unconventional Director Sets Shakespeare Play In Time, Place Shakespeare Intended:

In an innovative, tradition-defying rethinking of one of the greatest comedies in the English language, Morristown Community Players director Kevin Hiles announced Monday his bold intention to set his theater’s production of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in 16th-century Venice.

According to Hiles, everything in the production will be adapted to the unconventional setting. Swords will replace guns, ducats will be used instead of the American dollar or Japanese yen, and costumes, such as Shylock’s customary pinstripe suit, general’s uniform, or nudity, will be replaced by garb of the kind worn by Jewish moneylenders of the Italian Renaissance.

Eulenspiegel

Sorry everyone, I’ve been in a cesspool of work which I have yet to clamber out of, and the weekend after Kuching flew by with judging debates, watching plays written by friends, and doing household chores. I hardly even got a chance to go to Baybeats, though what I did manage to hear of it (A Vacant Affair, Bittersweet, Panda No Panda) was really boring.

While I’m treading water in shit, you could do worse than enjoy Hammer & tickle, a rather delightful article about Communist jokes. Apart from a number of rather funny jokes (Q: Why is Czechoslovakia the most neutral country in the world? A: Because it doesn’t even interfere in its own internal affairs.) the article tells of Eulenspiegel, the East German state’s official satirical magazine. Singaporeans especially may enjoy the following quotes, though of course for no other reason than that Singaporeans have a great sense of humour.

Eulenspiegel was founded in 1954 as the state’s official organ of humour. There were no censorship laws, as the East Germans were so proud of telling the west. Instead the editors had to guess what kind of jokes were permissible. Every week the magazine carried three or four pages of anti-imperialist humour, in which capitalists in top hats counted their money, GIs enslaved Africans and doves sat atop hammers and sickles. Eulenspiegel could also print anodyne comic critiques of daily life in East Germany, as long as they didn’t incriminate the politburo. Ernst Röhl was able to write things like this: Man doesn’t live from bread and ham alone. He needs something green. And green things have been in short supply for a long time. Cabbage has been more the subject of discussion than digestion. And the Adam’s apple is the closest one gets to fruit at the dinner table. But this year Mother Nature has been particularly green. Cucumbers are no longer the shoemaker’s bribe. Onions no longer raise laughs in cabaret sketches…

People like Röhl saw themselves, rather self-indulgently, as fifth columnists, eating away at the regime from the inside. But there were limits to permissible satire. Once the cover featured “young pioneers” with long hair—a decadent western fashion. The politburo was livid, but the magazine had already been sent out, so the police reclaimed all the copies they could from newsagents and post offices. Eulenspiegel once tried to make common cause with Pardon, its West German left-wing counterpart. After all, Pardon also attacked Adenauer and American imperialism. But the editors of Eulenspiegel were stung when Pardon rebuffed their advances, on the grounds that the communist satirists should criticise their own leader, Walter Ulbricht, the same way the capitalist ones went for theirs. The editors of Euelenspiegel printed a rebuttal entitled “How do we write about Walter Ulbricht?” in 1963: “We know from various reliable sources that President Ulbricht has a terrific sense of humour… [but] the transparency and virtue of our state makes it not only difficult but simply impossible to write a satire about its representatives. Where there is nothing to uncover, the satirist will find no material. So how do we satirists write about Walter Ulbricht?… We send our greetings and best wishes to the first secretary of the central committee. We wish comrade Ulbricht health, stamina and a long life.”

This article could have been satirical, but wasn’t. Rather, it occupies the strange socialist space where the serious and the humorous are identical. Eulenspiegel was the only place where serious criticism of the state could be published. Readers wrote in with complaints about their leaking prefab apartments and so on, and there was a column called Erledigt (Dealt With) which celebrated the grievances that the Eulenspiegel had managed to redress, and often came with printed apologies from factory managers and landlords. Nothing illustrates better the inverted reality of communism: real problems could only be presented in a context of laughter, presumably so that one could always claim one was only joking. In this realm, where humour turns out to be a complex social dance, the idea of the joke as simply subversive breaks down.

Dorksylvania

An update on the Sonic Youth/Cat Power saga at U Penn I ranted about previously – the gig went ahead, apparently with an audience of about 300-400 people in a venue which could have housed 2000.

What a bunch of dorks. And by that, I mean the other 1700 who could have been there but were probably too busy RAWKING OUT to the Dave Matthews Band cuz they, like, RULE. Of course I hate the people who were there too, but that’s just envy.

Now I’ve vented some spleen, I hasten to add that I’m not entirely humourless about this whole thing. This column in the college newspaper was actually pretty funny: RIAA sues 4 students for bad taste in music.

“The Recording Industry Association of America filed lawsuits yesterday against four Penn students who were found to have downloaded Sonic Youth songs onto their computers.

Citing “bad taste,” officials said the individuals will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. If convicted, the students face a minimum sentence of 10 months in an alternative music rehabilitation center.

Treatment could also include intensive listening sessions featuring musicians of the 21st century, or trips to spring concerts at other universities that plan to feature contemporary artists.”

Later in the column:

“Lawsuits such as the ones aimed at the four students are part of the RIAA’s strategy of suing individual users for their personal music preferences. The trend began in September 2003, when the group sued two Princeton students for downloading entire Ace of Base albums.

“I just liked ‘I Saw the Sign’ and it got out of control,” recovering bad-music addict Bridget Takacs said. Though her police record will forever be branded “stuck in the 1990s,” Takacs was grateful for the intervention.”