Works of art that need work

Scott Gardner


Some of you may question the role in this venerable journal for a humor column. Some of you don’t need to rely on TLT to provide you with regular infusions of wit on the subjects of Japan, language, or the author’s current mental state, and are perfectly capable of keeping yourselves entertained by going to the refrigerator two or three times a week and playing with your squeezable mayonnaise bottle. I can accept that. I would be the first to admit (after several on-record denials) that humor, as with all art, is at the mercy of innumerable cultural, generational, and individual tastes. Allow me to illustrate this point in my typical overkill fashion by presenting you with some classic examples of works of art and culture that to their authors seemed important at the time but, in retrospect, sucked.

Classical musicSymphony No. 2 (The Balkans) by Ernesto Zhwing

In the first movement the horn section rise up against the strings and begin emptying their spit valves on them until the strings are forced to run for the wings. Between movements some offstage negotiations result in the strings agreeing to continue performing on the condition that they are allowed their own conductor. By the middle of the fourth movement there are five conductors and a dozen United Nations observers interspersed among the orchestra, and everyone is playing on a different page. In the finale the composer is accused of war crimes.

BalletSwamp Lake by Nikolai Povorovovitch Smirky

Act I opens on an enchanted lake, with a dozen swans dancing seductively around it. A hunter appears among the trees, and most of the swans run for cover, but one remains, lovestruck by the hunter’s rugged features and his skill with a duck call. He lacks the will to shoot her and so returns home. She secretly follows him to his chateau. There she is discovered, but surprisingly she is welcomed with open arms and invited to dinner. She dances for the hunter’s family and the chef promises her a personal grand tour of the estate—starting with the kitchen—but the hunter interrupts with the announcement that he is in love with the swan and intends to marry her. Accordingly he breaks off his engagement to the razorback hog, who leaves the stage in tears. His parents are concerned. The entire corps ring the stage and prepare for a grand pas d’action, but nobody wants to go first and so nothing happens. The curtain falls.

In Act II the betrothed swan prepares to return to her enchanted lake for a time, but the hunter promises to visit soon and finalize their wedding plans. They perform a graceful pas de deux and tearfully say goodbye. One week later the hunter and his family are all dead from bird flu.

KabukiTsumekiri (Nail Clippers) by Kusai Konro

The young hero, Bouzouki, in a long, expressive dance and monologue that takes him to the end of the hanamichi catwalk and back three times, laments to his parents that he has had chronic acne for years and they never helped him do anything about it. Father, in a suspiciously effeminate voice, apologizes for never having had one of “those talks” with his son, but points out that his job putting marbles in Lamune soft drink bottles has been particularly stressful lately, the economy being as it is. Bouzouki turns to the crowd and strikes a frozen “Feel my pain!” pose for several minutes, while members of the audience shout out the toll-free number for Proactiv Solutions skin treatment. Mother suggests Bouzouki go to school tomorrow without rice powder on his face, and the family gather round the kotatsu to enjoy their chicken potpies.

LiteratureBleep by Karl Potemkin

Purported to be the first “tweeted” novel in history, the semiautobiographical story of Bleep has developed over a series of text messages since late 2007. Few readers have read the first 28,642 chapters, but the author asserts that reading the story from the beginning is not necessary, since the plot is essentially stream-of-consciousness with little or no dramatic continuity. Currently the hero, Karl, is in a manga café cleaning up some iced tea he spilled on his shirt.

Painting/SculptureIngrown Neck by Aristotle “Doug” Wainrupt

This is a collage work composed of divots collected from public golf courses in the American state of Delaware. They are tagged, numbered, garnished with croutons, and arranged to resemble a portrait of Paul Kruger, leader of the Boer resistance against the British in South Africa. The powerful symbolism in the work is lost on most of its commentators, including this one.