April in Glenwood: The art of the forward-thinking message
In times of political discourse, reading Mark Twain helps give me perspective. He did irony and sarcasm long before Internet memes.
His intuitively smart, witty way with words has almost become a lost art.
Twain, born as Samuel Langhorne Clemens, is often credited for penning “The Great American Novel,” aka “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” the sequel to “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” I enjoyed these books in middle school, especially in my literature class, where we read excerpts aloud. My friends Misty and Aaron and I thought it clever to speak with the old-timey accents one might hear along the Mississippi River in the mid-1800s.
I wonder what our teacher thought about that.
Hopefully she found some humor in it. That might have been one of my early attempts at trying to make classmates laugh through an assembled group, one of Twain’s talents. It’s his public appearances, political lectures and reflections on life in a trailblazing America I most connect with for that earnest perspective needed to face change. He has been referred to as our first stand-up political humorist.
We need as much of that as possible right now.
Some of my favorite stand-up comics today are those who speak from a place of authenticity and truth, as Mr. Twain did. Dave Chappelle comes to mind. He took a break from comedy after the fame began to take over the message in his work, which he felt was getting lost in the process. He hosted “Saturday Night Live” last weekend, for the first time in his career, and didn’t hold back on mixing his distinct, and refreshingly blunt, brand of humor with the current political landscape. His SNL monologue and sketches tackled the prevailing themes of racism and classism that have clouded the political landscape.
The arts are going to be an outlet for many to stand up against it all.
I was happy to see a few of his classic characters from his former “Chappelle’s Show” Comedy Central series as he parodied Negan from the recent “Walking Dead” season opener. I was also thrilled to see former SNL alum Chris Rock join Chappelle on a spot-on depiction of what it might be like for two African American men to watch the presidential election results come in during the night with a group of white liberal folks. The irony and sarcasm was certainly not lost on me, and I hope the SNL experience prompts Chappelle (and Rock) to continue the political parody that I think we need in this uncertain time of transition.
Twain was keen to this, too.
The Chappelle SNL episode was topped off with a musical feature by one of my favorite forward-thinking hip-hop groups, A Tribe Called Quest. The duo, without the late MC Phife Dawg who died last year, performed two songs with a message from their new album, “We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service.” The moving musical performance reminded me that it will be the arts, without censorship or corporate pushback, that will be a monumental outlet for the masses. Through music, comedy, dance, theater, literature, journalism, mixed media and visual arts, we can express our thoughts and feelings about politics, race relations and everything in between in a way that will go down in history. Just as Andy Warhol’s artwork did in the 1960s and the punk movement did in the ’70s.
And Mark Twain’s words did in the late 1800s.
April E. Allford is a new super fan of “The Walking Dead.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Christina Cappelli described playwright Steven Dietz’s “The Nina Variations” as providing a couple with a reset button, the ability to repeat conversations and say something differently and see where things will end up this time.