Frank Spinelli is a writer, teacher, former actor, and avid reader. His interests range from literature to theater and film, from politics to the ways technology affects us.

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    In Defense of the Absurd in comedy

    The early forms of comedy in mass entertainment (vaudeville, the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges) were unapologetically absurd. They embraced silliness. We see that tradition in more modern British comedy (Monty Python, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore). And yet, American comedy seems to suffer from an unwillingness to be silly, as if silliness is somehow beneath us. There are notable exceptions of course (The Simpsons, Steve Martin’s early standup), but, by and large, we seem to be mired in a bog of socially relevant comedy, or rigidly responsible satire. Where’s the silliness? Is comedy allowed to be funny for funny’s sake? And here, I’m referring mostly to film and sitcoms, not to stand up comedians who are as varied in their style as they have always been.

    • This would be a good topic for one to explore the evolution of comedy in the US; how we went from vaudeville & Marx to more contemporary comedic styles. From there, one could argue whether the decline of absurd comedy is just a sign of the times, or a result of something else. – majorlariviere 4 years ago
    • I would be interested to discover if the rise of the United States and the decline of the British Empire as respective world powers had anything to do with a more collective trend toward silliness in comedy. Perhaps it’s a potential thesis, mere speculation or something else. – J.D. Jankowski 4 years ago

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    The tension between individual freedom and a human desire to be kept safe is a never-ending one. But even Plato’s desire to have the wisest decide for all society can only lead to tyranny. Democracy is messy and chaotic and often feels like there’s never a satisfactory (or finite) answer. But what’s the alternative? To have a fallible human being decide for us and, in the end, consolidate that authority by turning to the Dark Side?

    Star Wars: a Criticism of Paternalism as Stepping Stone to Empire

    Older Simpsons’ episodes used humor in service of the story rather than as an end in itself. Example: “Lisa’s Substitute” (Season 2). Lisa has a crush on her substitute teacher who, unlike the rest of the teachers, is not cynical and nurtures her talents. But of course Homer embarrasses her in front of him and she is devastated, calling him “a baboon.” Homer’s response: “She called me a baboon. The stupidest, ugliest, smelliest ape of them all!” The joke works because it’s emotionally honest, and because, how does Homer know that about baboons? The joke was well-considered and didn’t try to stand on its own. That, I think, is what the later episodes are missing.

    The Legendary and Cautionary Tale of The Simpsons

    It may be important to make a distinction between “actual historical truth” (does such a thing even exist?) and the “spirit of the truth.” Case in point: “Hidden Figures.” When Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) rails at her boss (Kevin Costner) for having to endure a slew of indignities–including being forced to use separate bathrooms and even a separate coffee pot–the audience cheers, and the room full of white engineers is silenced. It’s a great moment dramatically, and it certainly illustrates in real terms the kinds of obstacles that African Americans were forced to put up with. But did it really happen? Does it matter? Whether or not the real Katherine Johnson blew up in her boss’ face is less important, as far as I’m concerned, than whether the movie captures the spirit of the time. It is, after all, a movie and not a history class.

    How Important is Historical Accuracy in Films?