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Saturday, June 5, 2010

36. From the Archives 2. Of Jokes, and insults and evangelists

First, a word about From the Archives.

Over the many years that I've been writing I've churned out millions of words: stories, poems, songs, feature articles, sketches, parodies ...

I've decided to add some them to my blog from time to time, so that
crevices in time will include not only contemporary stuff, but also stuff produced over the past 40 or so year. Of Jokes, and Insults and Evangelists was first published on Triond in February, 2008. It has had almost 800 hits, and so is one of the most read of my articles.

Of Jokes, and insults and evangelists

Breakfast is a great occasion for mind wan/wonderings. Take this morning …
Just this morning I was drinking coffee at a local restaurant and reading a column written by Catherine Deveny, an Australian journalist who works for The Age newspaper in Melbourne. And it got me reminiscing. About old jokes and insults. Pretty soon, I was 14 again. That would have been in the late 1950s. Two jokes from that era have survived the ravages of brain cell deterioration.
The first joke:
A fellow sees a sign at the zoo, outside the llamas cage. It reads: “Beware the llama spits.”
And he was.
And it did.
The second jokes is built on the same joke-pattern as the first:
Two sailors are scrubbing the deck of a ship.
One says, “Where’s the soap?”
And the other replies, “Yes, it does.”
[I know I'll be accused of some kind of chauvinism, but I'm going to explain those jokes. Why? you ask. Because the other day, I told the following joke to a friend, and it took over twelve hours for her to get it. That joke goes like this:
So here are the explanations.
1. Joke #1 Beware (Be where) the llama spits, and he was (where the llama spits) and it did (spit)
2. Joke #2 Where's the soap (wears the soap). ]
Most people know that the “llama spits” joke is based on the actual behaviour of llamas. And if, like me, you watch “Funniest Home Videos”, you will in all likelihood have seen a caged llama spit into the face of a zoo visitor.
How insulting! To be spat upon by a llama.
‘Now wait a minute!’ I can hear you saying. “Yes, the llama may be spitting, but aren’t you indulging in anthropomorphism by claiming that the llama’s intention is to insult the spectator.’
Maybe, maybe. But there is evidence that animals ARE capable of intentional insult. You’ve no doubt heard about the monkeys and chimpanzees who have been taught to use sign language to communicate with their human guardians. Some of them develop vocabularies of 200 words or more – it’s the monkeys I’m referring to!
They even seem able to create new words of their own. One – called Washoe – stunned her tutors with the following piece of creative language-making. Washoe had already learned the signs for three key idea: ‘fruit’, “sweet” (for lollies and such) and “water”. One day they gave Washoe a piece of watermelon, the first watermelon Washoe had ever eaten. She clearly enjoyed the experience, and wanted more. And then she blew them away: she held up the piece of watermelon and made a new combination of signs – sweet water fruit. Watermelon – sweet-water-fruit. (I’m guessing Washoe had some German ancestry; that’s how words are created in German: you just keep adding bits. We purchased a new household machine recently; it was of German design and manufacture. The cardboard box announced that it was a bordenstaupsaugar: floor+dust+sucker – a vacuum cleaner, in other words – English words).
On another occasion, Washoe made the sign that indicated that she wanted a lolly – “sweet”. Her keeper, John, signed, “No”. Washoe signed “SWEET!” with greater vigour. Again, her keeper signed, “NO!” When Washoe was refused a third time, Washoe signed, “JOHN + DUNG” (or faeces or SHIT). Now THAT is an insult! It’s a common insult among humans. Angry children will sometimes call another person a “Poo Poo” – same intent, just slightly less offensive language.
The literary and media worlds are a well known breeding ground for insulting behaviour and comment. Truman Capote, asked to write a review of Jack Kerouak’s masterpiece On The Road left no one with any doubt as to what he thought of Kerouak’s work:
‘This isn’t writing – it’s typing.’

That must be one of the most succinct demolitions in the world of English letters.
Mind you, I’ve come across a couple that were nearly as good. I was teaching short story writing to a group of adults in Mildura, a rural city in Victoria, Australia. One of my students was a 60 year old woman who wrote pretty good short stories, albeit in a fairly traditional way. She was a fan of the great Australian writer, Henry Lawson, who was a great exponent of the literary short story (if you don’t know his work, look up The Drover’s Wife and have a read). I was keen, though, to broaden her tastes, so I urged her to read some experimental fiction, some of the post modernists – Barthelme and the like. I asked her to write a review of their stories. Her review was, in my view, on a par with Capote’s in terms of its clarity, succinctness and venom:

She wrote: If I could write like this, I wouldn’t.

All of which brings me back to Catherine Deveny, and her column. She was having a rave about televangelists, and got onto one of my favourite topics: Benny Hinn and his Signs and Wonders School of Ministry. Sometimes when I can’t sleep I watch the tele-Pentecostals pouring out their evangelical messages, and performing their squeaky-clean gospel music, and telling people that God will give them wealth if they believe hard enough.
(I watch this stuff for the same reason I pay attention to Right wing politicians purveying their pro-war, pro-business, anti-Green message: it’s important to know what the enemy is up to.)

And near the top of my “not to be trusted” list is Benny Hinn. Why am I disturbed by Mr Hinn. Deveny quotes him as saying that Heaven is “a real city made of actual jewels that will descend to earth and cover the whole of America.” I wonder how he knows this? Could it be that … God spoke to him? That’s certainly what he wants us to believe. Life has taught me to be wary of any wealthy salesmen who are selling religion. The Bible said something about it being impossible to serve two masters: God and Mammon. So I don’t trust Benny.
Well, Deveny has come up with a great line that describes Benny Baby to a tee. It may not be original; it may even be a little adolescent. But that’s okay by me, because I reckon for clarity and succinctness and simple truth, it wins the jackpot.
She writes:
Benny Hinn has the magnetism of a bag of sick.
Thanks, Catherine. You made my morning.

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