Thursday, February 22, 2007

oh, nelson.

The collection of short stories in Humor Me are drenched in irony and a mordant humor about race and ethnicity as seen through an American viewpoint. One of the most prominent example of this irony is in Peter Bacho's "Nelson's Run" - which, in addition to the slightly bigoted view (completely overexaggerated) shown within the first prologue, shows mainly sexual stereotypes of the Filipino-American persona. The lecturer, Dr. Bulaklak (from the Tagalog word for "to bloom") illustrates the history of the Dona of Samar (a white woman)'s personality cult, including events such as an upswing in a desire for a "whiter, brighter" Philippines and the need for role models culled from the colonizing power. Donny Osmond is a gift to the small island of Leyte. The Filipinos (in this parallel world) have an overwhelming desire to acquire US citizenship and start voting Republican, becoming consumers in the US capitalist system and honor the Catholic roots of their culture through "vote for the prettiest martyr" beauty pagents of transgendered individuals. This history extends to an anecdote about the 1992 election, reports of her "blessing" the campaign of Bing Bong Big by "playing his flute". This works against her image as a character akin to the Virgin Mary and yet endears her even more greatly to the people, who not only endorse Bing Bong, who not only protect her "sacred virginity", but upon prompting from Bing Bong, started sucking, fondling and licking each other. The prologue abruptly ends here and picks up with a bizarre postscript line: Dr. Bulaklak is looking to marry a woman - or at least sleep with one and offers his citizenship in the US as a prize for whomever will take it.
The second prologue of "Nelson's Run" is entitled "an overworked axiom - a tree and its falling fruit" - which serves as both foreshadowing (as Nelson takes after his father with his rapid exchange of female companions) and an ironic tone - an illustration of his moral decay as it comes. The mother attempts to shield Nelson from the tree itself and upon its discovery, much like the Biblical Adam, he cannot return to the unaware state of the Garden of Eden. He has been exposed to the truth: his father is the man in the Polaroid picture. The father that had been stashed in a drawer, never to be found, has been revealed and exposed as a factor to shape the rest of Nelson's life.
At first, Nelson's father is portrayed as a rich man, a real estate shark who trades female companion for female companion, asking Nelson to refer to all of them as "Mom" and asking that he not become attached to them. Upon questioning, Nelson's father explains that, as a rich white man, it is his duty to practice Social Darwinism and eliminate the weak link - the women - and continue onward, looking for ways to spread his seed. He mentions racial superiority against all groups, especially the Chinaman. Women "resent their place" (under the men) and refuse to adhere to their niche. Ergo, this oppression he does of them is perfectly alright and justified.
The grand irony of the whole piece occurs when Nelson's father brings home a islander and proclaims her perfection as the demure, exotic type. By using Thomas Jefferson as example, suddenly, this misogynistic and racist outlook is fine! This, I suppose, seems to be "humorous" in some way, at least picking on Jefferson and comparing his political and social policy to his personal life. There is no such comparison with Nelson's father. The events that drive Nelson to having sex with his "Mom" are humorous in an ironic sort of way.
Sylvia, Nelson's "mom", is using Nelson's dad to stay in the country. She is being used as a status symbol. Is it any surprise, then, when, much like the Philippines, she rises up and stabs her oppressor with a nail file? Eventually, much like the country she represents, she is forgotten in favor of a newer, younger prospect by Nelson.

(Really, I enjoyed this story, it was just... bizarre... borderline incestual... and historical enough for me to wince. After uncovering some of the clever allegorical usages and references, this story and I were square. The others within the collections felt a great deal like this, too.)

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