Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Dark Humor in a Children's Guise
Dark, or "gallows," humor often takes a cynical look at innocuous objects human readers remember fondly from childhood. Take, for instance, children's board books. These innocent, charming, engaging illustrations peppered with early literacy vocabularies were much beloved in people's youth, but when they reach maturity, some folks want to poke fun at such youthful pleasures. I guess it seems more cool or hip, but it's just a chance to laugh about something familiar.
Dark humor, though, is an acquired taste. Some people object to it--how can that be funny, they wonder--but others realize that humor can be found in almost anything. The key for the humorist is not to offend the reader while lampooning the subject in a spirit of good-natured fun. That's a thin high-wire act to walk, let me tell you.
All My Friends Are Dead, by Avery Monsen and Jory John (Chronicle Books, 2010), mimics the children's board book format and homespun homilies that genre usually contains by highlighting the pessimistic side of adult life. It may sound like fun to be a dinosaur, pirate, tree, sock, clown, etc., but there's always a downside. If you're a dinosaur, all your friends are extinct. If you're a sock, all your buddies have been lost in the washer or dryer. Your pirate pals all have scurvy. Your tree friends have all become end tables. Grown-ups will appreciate the ironic aspects of seeing the world as a "half-empty glass" counterpointed against the "warm and fuzzy" world of children's young readers' literature.
Make no mistake: This is a book strictly for adults or young adults; preschoolers would find it perplexing and disquieting, to say the least. There are some life's lessons to ponder, but these must be gleaned "between the lines." It is not intended as grand philosophy; rather, it's a spoof. Laugh with it. There is much laughter to be enjoyed here.
Irony is a Laughing Matter,
Cauli Le Chat
MPL Roving Reporter
Readers' Advisory News Beat
P.S. "Laugh," from the Monkees' second LP, More of the Monkees (1966), is a good example of the type of "bubble gum" pop music that Don Kirshner (1934-2011) favored. Kirshner, who was a successful music publisher (Aldon Music), was briefly musical supervisor for The Monkees television show (and their record label, Colgems). Jeff Barry, a late '50s and early '60s rock-and-roller who discovered Neil Diamond, produced this album firmly along Kirshner's lines. Although the Monkees became much more creative and musically interesting after Kirshner's departure, one must applaud Kirshner's solid marketing skills and ability to recognize teeny-bopper pop hits. For all his friction with the band members as a Monkees producer, Barry did deliver Neil Diamond's "I'm a Believer," which was the Monkees' biggest hit single. "Believer" also appeared on More of the Monkees. It took four song writers to pen "Laugh," demonstrating that greater numbers do not necessarily translate into a superior musical output.