Director’s Note: What are we laughing at?
Satire is a funny thing. Everyone loves to hear a good comedian mirthfully froth forth with biting ridicule- everyone but the one being ridiculed, that is!
But hasn’t our era of political correctness taught us that it’s not nice to laugh at people? Haven’t we learned it isn’t right to poke fun at things people can’t do anything about- like, for instance, beauty? Henny Youngman would have to think twice today. He used to make a living with one-liners like: “My wife got one of those mud packs put on her face. She looked great for 3 days. Then the mud fell off.”
All right, let’s concede that congenital traits are off limits to derision. But, we can still make fun of what people do, right? Certainly behavior is ridicule worthy. Why, think of all the funny things people from other countries do- all those unusual accents and customs? Whoops. Guess that’s out too!
So, is satire OK?
Essays have been written about satire since ancient times and mostly they all ask the same question: What is the satire’s purpose? Is it to make people feel superior by deriding others? Or is it to enlighten by playfully holding up a mirror to an audience, the very people being satirized, in the hopes of nudging a change in their behavior? Certainly the latter is more difficult. In this case, the audience wouldn't be laughing at others, but at itself. Often satires have to do with a social behavior that if corrected could help everyone live together more harmoniously.
The world of Fabulation is filled with risible people, and we recognize a kinship with many. But it feels OK to laugh at them. This may be true for a couple of reasons. On one hand, the characters’ behaviors are so surprisingly outlandish they seem to occupy a space safely distant from our homes. And yet on the other hand, they are so genuine that we develop a quick affinity for them; and it’s hard to laugh harshly at those you care about.
This satirical world is complicated because it deals with racism. And the racism emanates from an unexpected place- not directly from the oppressor, but indirectly from the oppressed. Undine hates who she is. She believes that to get ahead in the world she must deny the existence of her family. She fears that their behavior and culture will only serve to bring her down. During the 1940’s Langston Hughes was criticized by wealthy African-Americans with the same attitude as Undine. They felt that proper poetry should adhere to the established rules- or, the Rules of the Establishment. But Hughes wrote using modern street talk and the Undines of the time were shocked and dismayed.
Undine must learn a lesson. She must accept the things she sees around her: Poverty, drugs, and the irony of prison guards pulled from the same African-American 10% of the American population that also populate 50% of American prisons. It feels good to wear a uniform. It’s a comfortable feeling to have a place in the system. But how can one confront the status quo if one is both the police and the policed?
The word “fabulation” means to create or relate a fantastic tale… like the stories of Brer Rabbit. Brer (or Brother) Rabbit is a character in folktales of African and African-American culture. He often matches wits with Brer Fox, whom he always bests. How can a kindly rabbit beat a powerful fox? Certainly not by hiding in shame. Instead, he is the consummate trickster. Brer knows that guile, subterfuge, and subversion can twist even the mightiest limbs of an oppressor’s legacy. Like Jazz. Give the sweet satisfied music of “Favorite Things” to John Coltrane, and he subverts it, creating a fantastic tale all his own.
Undine travels a strange and painful journey. As her belly grows, so does her acceptance of who she really is- ultimately discovering that happiness is not something to be selfishly clutched like handbag, but something to be embraced within. She needn’t give up her ambitions. She only must learn another way to go about it- a prouder way. After all, there’s more than one way to skin a fox!