One more reason to love History as a major: fart jokes

20 09 2011

Towards the end of last semester, I decided that economics wasn’t really the major for me. So I made another more or less blind leap…to history.

I probably should have selected a major that played to my strengths–reading, analysis, and writing–from the very beginning, rather than concern myself with trivialities like “post-graduation marketability.” I could have graduated in three years with a stellar GPA, but someone has to help pay for Mary Sue Coleman’s pay raise.

Anyway, I feel like I’m in my element, for once. Besides, where else would I get to write a paper that included this passage:

It is clear that [a skeptical samurai] believed art had a purpose beyond simple entertainment. An exuberant public display of flatulence, then, would have been doubly offensive to his sensibilities: on the surface, the crass “fartist” (to borrow a term coined by Gennai) violated rigid rules of custom and etiquette for no purpose other than profit–and he did so in a manner mortifying to any “proper samurai.”

More troubling was the shift in public taste and rejection of tradition that the commercial success of Ryogoku’s fart expert heralded. The burgeoning cities of Tokugawa era Japan spawned a vibrant and often irreverent popular culture that found outlets in mediums as diverse as poetry, theater, and wood block prints. Entertainment could convey a Confucian message, but that was certainly not always the case; every new theater featuring a raucous pop-culture performance meant moralistic plays such as Chushingura, or The Tale of the Forty-seven Ronin, had to compete that much harder to win an audience.

Yeah, I just wrote an essay examining professional farting in Tokugawa era Japan.

Typical samurai during Japan's little-discussed Pre-Beano era

This most recent paper was written for my Modernization of Japan class. I analyzed Hohiron (a satirical essay by 18th century jack-of-all-trades Hiraga Gennai) and its subtle criticisms of the Tokugawa era’s dominant neo-Confucian social order.

Though it goes without saying that my paper was serious in tone and direction, I did manage to work in the phrase “windy virtuoso.”

I’m pretty proud of that one.

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