TRICKING POWER INTO PERFORMING ACTS OF LOVE

HOW TRICKSTERS THROUGH HISTORY HAVE CHANGED THE WORLD

A compelling catalog of Tricksters and a convincing analysis of their power.

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An activist scholar explores the value of the Trickster archetype to contemporary society.

The Warrior archetype, writes author Siegel, has a firm grip on 21st-century American politics and culture, as reflected in a collective “infatuation with toxic masculinity.” From the popularity of the NFL to the “faux heroism” of QAnon conspiracy theorists, many Americans live “for the fight,” eschewing democratic virtues, believing “there is no loyal opposition, only enemies.” What America needs, this book argues, is more “Trickster energy” that laughs at the “carnival of errors known as society.” Not only do Trickster archetypes have no time for vengeance or violence in their pursuit of fun, but they often expose the dirty underbelly of society and the true motives of the powerful. Films made by the Marx Brothers, for instance, use slapstick humor as a vehicle for biting social critiques of elites and self-styled authorities. Folk stories crafted by enslaved Africans in the Americas used the West African Trickster god called Eshù Elégba to flip the narrative script about power dynamics between enslavers and the oppressed; they also highlighted the ways female Tricksters utilized clever chicanery to stave off “oppressive husbands, kings, and lovers.” Drawing on a diverse range of literature and films, this book begins with a thoughtful examination of shared attributes of Tricksters across genres, time periods, and cultures, from the Native American coyote and Zulu weasel to “The Fool” in King Lear and Bugs Bunny in Looney Tunes. Most, for example, are loners who have an ambivalence toward black-and-white morality (“they just want to have fun”). And while they revel in scatological humor, they’re powerful figures who use deception to undermine authorities. Connecting literary tropes to contemporary life, Siegel makes an effective case for the practical value of Tricksters. Sacha Baron Cohen’s menagerie of characters (who include Ali G., Borat, and Brüno) not only have provided global audiences with laughs, but also highlight latent biases in American culture. Borat, for example, convinced a bar-full of Arizonans to sing “Throw the Jew down the well,” and Brüno nearly started a homophobic riot in Arkansas by kissing a man in a cage fight.

An activist scholar immersed in the Bay Area’s bohemian counterculture, Siegel shows a playful writing style, replete with puns and inside jokes, that mimics the Trickster archetype in using humor against the dark, powerful forces that drive contemporary politics and society. With a doctorate from UC Berkeley, Siegel is a skilled researcher who supports his argument with 250-plus endnotes that reflect his interdisciplinary approach to Tricksters, which combines history, sociology, anthropology, and literary criticism. Though the book’s firm command of the scholarly literature surrounding Tricksters will appeal to academics, its approachable, often jovial, writing style will also appeal to a wide audience. This emphasis on accessibility is reflected in the book’s ample references to popular TV shows and movies as well as its inclusion of dozens of photographs, posters, film stills, and other visual aids. And while the book’s politics are decisively leftist, which may alienate conservatives who by definition seek to preserve traditional institutions of power and authority, this is inevitable in a work that celebrates Tricksters who are notoriously “antistructure.”

A compelling catalog of Tricksters and a convincing analysis of their power.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-1631957307

Page Count: 306

Publisher: Morgan James Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2022

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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CALYPSO

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

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In which the veteran humorist enters middle age with fine snark but some trepidation as well.

Mortality is weighing on Sedaris (Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002, 2017, etc.), much of it his own, professional narcissist that he is. Watching an elderly man have a bowel accident on a plane, he dreaded the day when he would be the target of teenagers’ jokes “as they raise their phones to take my picture from behind.” A skin tumor troubled him, but so did the doctor who told him he couldn’t keep it once it was removed. “But it’s my tumor,” he insisted. “I made it.” (Eventually, he found a semitrained doctor to remove and give him the lipoma, which he proceeded to feed to a turtle.) The deaths of others are much on the author’s mind as well: He contemplates the suicide of his sister Tiffany, his alcoholic mother’s death, and his cantankerous father’s erratic behavior. His contemplation of his mother’s drinking—and his family’s denial of it—makes for some of the most poignant writing in the book: The sound of her putting ice in a rocks glass increasingly sounded “like a trigger being cocked.” Despite the gloom, however, frivolity still abides in the Sedaris clan. His summer home on the Carolina coast, which he dubbed the Sea Section, overspills with irreverent bantering between him and his siblings as his long-suffering partner, Hugh, looks on. Sedaris hasn’t lost his capacity for bemused observations of the people he encounters. For example, cashiers who say “have a blessed day” make him feel “like you’ve been sprayed against your will with God cologne.” But bad news has sharpened the author’s humor, and this book is defined by a persistent, engaging bafflement over how seriously or unseriously to take life when it’s increasingly filled with Trump and funerals.

Sedaris at his darkest—and his best.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-39238-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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