Saturday, January 5, 2013

Gallows Humor and The Anglophile

Okay, so, my latest heartless father remark came over the Christmas holidays to my youngest daughter, nine years old.  She had run up to cry in her room because we were telling her to stop sniveling and crying over trivial things, and she took that badly and went to cry in her bed.  Not being completely a heartless monster, I followed and went in to cheer her up and offer a little fatherly comfort.

"You know, we're fans of The Addams Family in this family," I told her. "We don't own any instruments of torture, but we seem to approve of it."

I have always been a smart-ass.  I don't mean to be snide and crass, it just seems to come naturally, a penchant for dark humor.  I am convinced that it is genetic.  There seems to be an Anglo bent toward making up satirical wit and little rhymes and jokes at otherwise serious things.

Talk about "serious as a heart attack", how much more serious can you be than The Black Plague?  But it fostered the children's song Ring Around the Rosy.

"Ring around the rosy" (the physical signs on the skin)
"A pocketful of posies" (they carried 'nose gays', bouquets to blot out the stench)
"Ashes, ashes, we all fall down" (the words at funerals and the reminder of death)

What about The Dissolution of the Monasteries?  What kind of a jerk throws poor monks out into the cold and lonely streets and burns down abbeys?  Oh, Henry the Eighth, of course.  Monks were widely satirized in England as Friar Tuck, and when they were no longer friars they became English Tommy like every other able-bodied Englishman, so Friar Tuck became Tommy Tucker.

"Poor Tommy Tucker sings for his supper.
What shall we feed him?
Brown bread and butter.
How shall he eat it without 'ere knife?
How shall he bake it without 'ere wife?"

Can you imagine Mother Goose's anonymous poets in the housing bubble bust of 2008?

"London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down,
London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady.
Build it up with iron bars, iron bars, iron bars.
Build it up with iron bars, my fair lady."

The Gunpowder Conspiracy may have gotten a fairly serious lyric with The Fifth of November, but think of the cynicism and satire of the phrase, "A penny for the old Guy?"

I suppose we will be always joking.