Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Poems and Comedy

The point, of course, being that everything that is entertaining or distracting from the morbid sameness of daily life cannot be said to be exclusively in the domain of the willfully dumb, conceived in a massive expression of bad faith: what is entertaining, from whatever niche in the culture you're inspecting, is that activity that holds you attention and engages you the degree that you respond to it fully. Tomas Morin has the new poem up on Slate titled "Twenty First CenturyExhibit", the storyline being that it takes place in a Natural History museum where visitors gawk at a recreation of an American business office of the previous century. It's a predictable run.The purpose was satiric, I suppose, but Tomas Morin's efforts to make light of museum patrons' rituals to confront works of art intended to confound them ,but this poem is so obvious that reading it through is re mindful of watching Saturday Night Live in the Seventies , sitting through one relentlessly loud and smugly mannered sketch after another simultaneously trying to convince myself that what was on the screen was cutting edge and good by default, and realizing under all the hip rationalization that the jerky doings of the cast were obvious and glaring. And not funny. The funniest thing about them was the idea that they thought they were amusing even accidentally.

The poem makes me less about the vanity of autodidacts who want to have an opinion on everything than it does a guy I knew who fancied himself a comedian. This fellow, not a friend and certainly a pest, would insinuate himself into conversations at social gatherings where we shared a number of acquaintances in common and would further level himself into any conversation he passed; he would , without variation, issue forth a formula sarcasm , a litany of similes and what-ifs delivered in an under-considered delivery that was rapid, flat, a tone that only emphasized the banality of his attempts at wit. He was the sort who often found himself alone in the middle of a party after his latest clutch of fellow party attendees simultaneously found reasons to walk away, talk to a bathroom, freshen drinks, go to the bathroom. The irony here is that Morin himself is another wind-pundit who essentially turns the role of poet into something the equivalent of being one of those anonymous comedians who make make strange, unattractive noises on VH1's Best Week Ever. This poem deals with stereotyping with stereotypes, and there is no clue that the poet is aware of the loop he got himself caught in. Not that it would have helped this poem. 

It's not that history is being rewritten, but that it is just another commodity that can be hacked, jerry rigged, corporateized and made the subject of uncomprehending punchlines ; it's not about learning, but about knowing the answer, which is to say that twenty first century man and woman wants the material available like an Ipod tune, and then disposed of just as easy. The pity is that the poet summarizes the situation is a way that repeats the absurdity he's criticizing.
The tragedy was that he isn't a figment of any one's imagination but rather a lurking mass of vapidity looking for another group to wrap it's tentacles around.Morin's poem wants to reveal the banter and jargon and conflicting forms of condescension that comes with a group of motor mouths who can't , for a moment, stand in front of an exhibit and consider it in situ, without a script. The poem , like a SNL sketch, is ninety percent set up, with punchlines dropped on you like 16 ton weights. This shtick that gives shtick a bad name.

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