Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Oilei: the Arse that Launched a Thousand Shits (Finally a book with no Rape!)

At first I read this book, refreshed for the change of pace considering the noticeable lack of abortion, rape, and cultural genocide, all of which I have grown quite used to the past few readings. I appreciated the lighthearted tone and use of constant satire. That being said, I am impressed that in an era where shows like Jackass have desensitized us, Hau’ofa still manages to create a book crude enough to strike me as juvenile. I got more and more frustrated as the plot stalled, and Oilei’s rectum was simply shuffled from doctor to doctor. While Hau’ofa promised in the intro that the book would be entirely about an anus, rarely do I expect authors to actually deliver on such bold vows.

Eventually, I noticed the interview in the back of the book and gave it a look, hoping that it would shed some context (and perhaps some deeper irony or theme that I had missed). The most important thing I found was that Hau’ofa had actually suffered a similar affliction. Clearly, here is a man who has been through enough embarrassment from his own arse that he does not share the same shyness about hitting a taboo subject others might feel. He writes the book perhaps to offend and to celebrate the “island humor” we might find childish.

The idea of humor and what may or may not be taboo in different circles provoked some thought for me. My family has a habit of marrying people “who talk funny” (as my Dad joked). My uncle married my Aunt Svetlana, a Russian. Her mother and brother eventually followed her to America and have assimilated into our family. Two years ago my father married my stepmother Maria, a Panamanian.

Over the years all of the original Leveros have been, ever-so-slowly, trying to cut back on our natural sarcasm. I have inherited the Levero-wit, dry, frank, and more often than not, playfully rude. However, with the addition of language barriers, I have realized that sarcasm does not fly well with family for whom English is a second language. When we visited Panama, my Dad and I had a good laugh at The Lonely Planet Travel Guide’s caveat that “irony should be used sparingly with Panamanians as they seldom understand it” and to “stick mainly to physical humor which they prefer.”

While that assertion about slapstick is likely an unfair stereotype (they like slapstick no more than any American loves to see a choice baseball to the family jewels), I did find that irony does not get such great reception. Again, I chalk this up more to the language barrier than anything cultural. Still a phrase like “That dinner wasn’t that great, I usually get four helpings” I often have to translate to “Thank you, that dinner was really good” for Maria’s sake (although her English is excellent, she works at the Panamanian embassy in DC). I must say however that even as I try to cut back, Maria gets used to my sense of humor.

While the endless nitty-gritty Hau’ofa uses to describe the farts and bleeding becomes tiresome for me, I can appreciate his valiance in purposefully trying to use humor that may be taboo across some cultures. Hau’ofa complains that in trips to Australia he has had to tone down his vulgar humor. Perhaps, even as Maria has gotten used to my sarcasm, he hopes to expose us to the island culture through his use of this style of comedy.

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