Monday, September 28, 2009

Canterbury Tales: It Hits the Fan

I’ll be honest: while I was reading the three prologues and tales from Chaucer, I couldn’t help but think, and especially during the Miller’s tale, of South Park.
Now, South Park has come up a few times during discussion in our class (mostly by myself, I think), but I do think it’s a fair comparison. You have intelligent people choosing to make social commentary through comedy. And not only comedy; crude comedy. The Miller’s Prologue and Tale reminded me of the South Park episode called “It Hits the Fan,” in which the word “shit” is used over one hundred fifty times in about twenty minutes. The episode focuses around the characters’ excitement for the show “Cop Drama” to air the same word on network television. This leads to everyone in town thinking it’s okay to use this word in public until this curse word turns out to actually be cursed, and the main kids have to save everyone from the perils of using it too much, which involve a human-eating dragon. Throughout the episode, there is a counter in the corner tallying how many times the word is said. What’s most interesting though, is that Comedy Central decided to air the episode uncensored—well, with at least one curse word uncensored. Comedy Central wasn’t going to air it uncensored with only a few mentions of the word, but once the count neared two hundred, they decided to go ahead and air it uncensored.

Despite the record-breaking number of uncensored curses in this episode, there wasn’t very much controversy surrounding the airing of the episode, and Wikipedia page has this uncited quote:"if a drama or a serious show breaks the boundaries, it's 'bold' and 'artistic,' but if a comedy show like theirs tries it, it's just 'stupid, or shitty, or bullshit.'"

I bring all this up because I feel that what they’re doing it similar to what Chaucer did back in the 1300s, with all three of the tales we read, to a certain extent. Through comedy, he points out contradictions in his society, and many are still relevant to our own today. For example, after the nun’s priest’s tale, the host points out to him that “if thou were seculer/Thouwolst ben a trede-foul aright/For if thou have courage as thou has might/Thee were need of hennes, as I wene/Yan, moo than seven tymes seventene. “ Theoretically, the fact that this man is a priest should mean that people don’t see him as a sexual being, but he clearly puts time into his physique and is a good-looking man. Is this wrong of him? Chaucer doesn’t necessarily say, but he does point out the irony in being a sexy priest.

Again, in the Miller’s Tale, the moral of the story, which he points out in his prologue, is this: “An housbonde shal nat been inquisityf/of Goddes pryvetee, nor of his wyf/So he may fynde Goddes foyson there/Of the remenant nedeth nat enquere.” Supposedly, in a marriage, husband and wife promise to be honest with each other, loyal, and respectful. The Miller’s suggestion that in order to have a happy marriage, a husband should not look too deeply into the affairs of his wife is a grim one, but also a very real situation that still occurs today.

Though both of these comedies have parts that are purely silly, neither is without thought overall. Both have something to say; Chaucer certainly and skillfully pointed out many things that were happening in his country at the time, and the really brilliant thing about his work is that we can still read it today because these contradictions still exist. It is because of authors like Chaucer that shows like South Park exist, although they might seem complete opposites at first.

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