avant-garde freshman comp

My class was doing peer response today, which means they wrote the whole time and I sat there. This felt very much like "exam time," which crowned me tyrant, enlaboring them with no shot at entertainment salvation. All semester I've promised and forgotten to bring "background music." Oops. Today I thought this: "what's more entertaining for disaffected middle class American youth than me?" I didn't actually think this sentence. It was more abstract. I was a "vessel for the greater good," much like a Baptist choir or the guy in charge of the Dr. Pepper recipe. I decided ("elected") to think entertaining thoughts and record them. Those of you who know me will recognize that I think about the same fifteen things over and over again, which you've always suspected but which (until now) you've never been able to prove at my arraignment. After peer response was over, I read these thoughts out loud. My students giggled. Problem solved. Hands washed. Eat your dodgeball. Don't talk to captives.


Ugg boots, bourgeois canteens, Dimitri Nabokov, Vitamin C pills, productive eye contact, imitation RayBan's, anxiety plus or minus codeine, fashionable Yeti, I want to reincarnate as a terrible song by Bright Eyes; the same people will like me or not like me, Tao Lin throwing a banana at Kendra Grant Malone, the ethics of the in-joke, a hitchhiking bee, the bus driver who wanted to be God, what if Tom Waits were my grandfather, how sure I am that I can't be friends with anyone who doesn't know who Tom Waits is and how that makes me sad but only a little sad, less sad than an old man in a NASCAR cap, more sad than a stale muffin, less sad than the Pacific Ocean, more sad than a drunk 3AM IM from my ex-girlfriend in a tiny Dutch town in Washington, the Dutch invasion of Washington, vintage cardigans, the troubling amount of times I suddenly remember that the author of Fight Club is actually gay, a soccer match between neutral facial expressions and the so-called "shit eating grin," the three maps of the Planet Earth in this classroom which you hadn't thought about until now (*points*), why tonic water is so "important," how I feel about scales of 1-10 on a scale of 1-10, Minnie Driver, Kurt Russell, Usher, signs of prohibition ("NO SMOKING," "DON'T FEED THE CHILDREN") versus signs of ambivalence ("NOTE: DUCKS PRESENT. YEAH. WHATEVER.") this quote from Andy Warhol: "I'm bored after I do it once unless I do it every day," and life as a vehicle for one task, such as designing the employee uniforms of a local doughnut store with franchise ambitions.


Kendra Grant Malone said...

the fifteen things mike young thinks about over and over again:

english muffins
toast with butter
toast with jam
canadian bacon (why do they call it that, isnt it just a slab of ham?)
fire escapes
mocha french toast
orange juice
pretty girls

Maximum Etc said...

>>the ethics of the in-joke<<

the in-joke has no ethics, or rather, is absolutely unethical. the purpose of the in-joke is to publicize the existence of a secret (and/or an entire secret system) while maintaining the secret's status *as* secret. intrusive but impenetrable, the in-joke's unintelligibility forms the basis for its claim for attention. it asserts priority over the precisely because it causes a paadoxic rupture (see previous) which cannot be resolved or negotiated; only tolerated and/or ignored, both of which are forms of concession. the in-joke is an act of war. of course this presumes that the subject in question has the status of out-sider qua in-joke. if you're in on the in-joke, and if your ethical system is situational rather than absolute, then you might say that the in-joke, rather than being non- or un- or anti-ethical, is in fact an instance of pure ethics-- the in-group's assertion of collective autonomy, etc.

Mike Young said...

I think for the most part you're right, but I think speakers can build signals into their in-jokes that acknowledge outsider audiences and deliver alternative payoff for them. A meta level of the in-joke or something. Dual (dueling?) modes of entertainment (intertwining, bringing people together) and exclusion, secrecy. It's possible to go from "this isn't funny because I don't know what it is" to "this IS funny because I don't know what it is IN RELATION TO what I do know." If I say "Tom Waits isn't my grandfather" and you don't know who Tom Waits is, seeing him linked to me (something you do know, at least in this context), and linked to me in a grandfather role (read: intimacy, etc.) becomes uncomfortable, "absurd," and, well, funny.

Even without all that, I'd like to argue semantics with you. "Tolerated and/or ignored" is too limiting, and I would say the tinge of self-consciousness and fear that we get when we encounter something we know is a secret that we're not "in on" is an exciting, productive feeling and not a "concession." ("Oh my God, I wonder what the secret is"). Okay, so that might work better when it's a "serious" secret and not a "funny" one, since the social effects of humor are so oppressively immediate that you can't get much out of curiosity ("hey, I've been meaning to ask you, why was that joke funny last week?").

But I still think in-jokes can be like Easter Island. And you can do a lot more than just tolerate or ignore Easter Island, even if you can't "get it." I am thinking specifically of a weird photo on someone's refrigerator, or a weird remark at the next table over. So I guess I am thinking of eavesdropping on in-jokes, which is maybe something different. But what if the people at the next table over talk loud enough to interpellate you, to signal that "we're having a great time here, outsider." It's kind of war-like, maybe, but I think that's a gross oversimplification. Yes. I think even that, war-like or not, triggers curiosity.

Mike Young said...

Also see: the role of allusions in Frank O'Hara's poetry.

Zen of Writing said...

ROFL: vintage cardigans. Can't seem to get rid of them.