Sunday, February 26, 2017

Mardi Grouch - column

Mack Hall, HSG

Mardi Grouch

C. S. Lewis’ older brother, Warren, kept a diary most of his life, edited into a small book, Brothers and Friends, by Clyde S. Kilby and Marjorie Lamp Mead. Major Lewis was a career officer in the British army, and aboard the Chinese ship Tai-Yin, homeward bound after overseas service in Shanghai, he made this entry for Wednesday, the 26th of February, 1930:

About teatime today a woman I have never seen before came to the smoking room and asked each of us to a “karktail poity” in her suite at 5:30. Resistance being obviously futile, we all went…the conversation by the way was exclusively on the subject of alcohol. The sort of remarks I remember are “Does this baby love to throw one bug grand gin poity? Well I should say!”

The theme of scheduled, organized, and mandated happiness is a common one in narratives of well-meaning oppression. In an episode, appropriately named Dance of the Dead, of Patrick McGoohan’s miniseries The Prisoner, all the inmates are commanded to participate in a costume party through a bullhorn proclamation ending with "There will be music, dancing, and happiness - by order!"

Which conscripts us into the Danse Macabre horror, inflicted even on children, of something called Mardi Gras.

Most people are aware of the origins of Shrove Tuesday / Meat Tuesday / Fat Tuesday in Christian Europe as modest, family-oriented merriments during which, depending on varying local customs, remaining rich foods (meat being a luxury) in the house were eaten on Tuesday night before Ash Wednesday in anticipation of a modest diet, prayer and reflection, and generosity to others during the six weeks of Lent.

As with so many customs, the Tuesday evening meal before Lent has metastasized into a mandatory, weeks-long bother and expense that is disconnected from anything else. “Mardi Gras” has become a theme for any sort of party at any time of the year. Just as the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple has been displaced by Groundhog Day, and Advent by shopping, ordinary housekeeping in anticipation of Lent, usually along with Lent itself, has been displaced for what often seems to be nervous hysteria rather than ordinary enjoyment of life.

Country-and-western songs and InterGossip memes ‘n’ themes notwithstanding, any group activity that features casualty lists, mass arrests, and piles of garbage in the streets seems to miss the point in merriment.

There are many non-liturgical customs that develop culturally from Christianity - Christmas carols, Thanksgiving, and Easter dinner come to mind - but throwing up on a police officer’s shoes while being cuffed and stuffed is not one of them.

And let The People yelp “Wooh! Wooh!”

If they wish to do so.


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