Tuesday, March 06, 2007

On Those Who Butle and Those Who Cuddle

Gwydion asks,

"Who played the funniest butler character in television history?"
To answer this, we need to draw a distinction. There are three sorts of funny butlers:

I. Butlers as the fool in King Lear

The first category contains those butlers who are beneath their employer in social status, but demonstrate that they are superior in intellect. In this category, pm is exactly right that the character of Jeeves (played so brilliantly by Steven Fry) would have to be at the top. Also deserving mention is Eddie Anderson's Rochester on the Jack Benny Show, Hanno's Rowan Atkinson as E. Blackadder in the third season, and an honorable mention for Robert Guillaume's Benson from Soap.

II. Butlers as the schlemiel

The second category would be butlers who are funny because of their incompetence in their job. The character of Manuel from Fawlty Towers would fit this role (although The Wife argues that strictly speaking he wasn't a butler). If we add films to tv, the character of Cato from the Pink Panther films would also fit here as well as the work of Grover and Steve Martin as incompetent waiters.

III. Butlers as the representation of bourgeois values

The third category is where the butler is funny as the butt of the joke. The employer is the unconventional hero and the butler represents the stuffy world that the hero rebels against. Sir John Gielgud's work in the Arthur films is the pinnacle of this category.

Justme asks,
"How did becoming a father alter your views, if at all?"
A number of my views have changed or deepened as a result of having kids. From the intellectual side, I now have no doubt that some aspect of Noam Chomsky's thesis that language grows in the child is exactly right and that the radical empiricist position is absurd. It literally happens overnight that "dada" goes to "daddy" and you know that there was no training on that the day before. There is no doubt that the environment does effect the development of speech, but the way so much of it happens on its own and just appears out of nowhere is stunning.

From a moral point of view, it has made the long view more meaningful. No longer is the phrase "for future generations" abstract for me. My grandfather always told me stories about his growing up and now I look at my kids and can easily imagine their having kids to whom I would tell stories or even their having grandkids to whom they would tell stories of our household and its idiosyncrasies -- when I was growing up, we had these things called trees and they were big and you could climb them. Future generations have now become what William James called live options, there is a sense of reality about the future that I never had before and that comes with responsibilities.

Personally, I have become much more tolerant of loud children and less tolerant of bad parents. You come to realize that kids go through stages, that if you miss feeding them at the right time by ten minutes or they miss their nap by ten minutes, all hell breaks loose and there's nothing you can do about it. Life is a complex place and it is going to happen to the best of us. A loud child doesn't mean a bad parent, just a fact of life. At the same time, you see really bad parents who are not spending time thinking about how to parent well and you see what is happening to the poor child. No one parents perfectly. TheWife and I spend a lot of time talking about parenting and reviewing failures. Nothing touches every single one of your insecurities like parenting; at times you are tired, on edge, worried about them, exasperated by them. As a result, everyone has their bad moments -- times when they had less patience than they should have, said no to a request too quickly instead of taking the time to let the kids try something novel and creative, scolded for something trivial that did not deserve harsh words. But then there are the egregious parenting errors that just come from sheer thoughtlessness, from a lack of understanding of what they are doing at all. Children are so plastic, we mold them into who they become to a large extent and when I see bad parents, it really frustrates me.

I also now put Dr. Seuss in the same class as Plato.