Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Best of Gabriela Acher

Unlike Nicaragua and the rest of Central America, the Argentina Political Humour circle not only has a wider variety of humour, but it also has a substantial, recognized presence of feminist comedians and humourists. The most famous of feminist comedians is Maitena, a cartoonist whose humour is directed towards deconstructing and ridiculing notions of gender. There are also several upcoming stand-up comedians such as Nathalia Carulias and Dahlia Gutman who talk about notions of gender in their work. In the interest of clarification, there is a difference between a female humourist presence and a feminist humourist presence. The humourists that I am labling as feminist, are those who identify as feminist and describe their work as feminist. Argentina has a presence of both feminist and female humourists in the political humour industry.

But one feminist humourist that drew my attention when I got to Buenos Aires was the actress and writer Gabriela Acher. Acher has several books that deal with gender, relationships, love, sexuality and motherhood. Some of her books include “La Guerra de Los Sexos Está Por Acabar” [The Battle of the Sexes is about to End], “Si Soy Tan Inteligente Por Qué Me Enamoro Como Idiota” [If I Am So Smart, Why do I Fall in Love like An Idiot] and my absolute favourite “Algo Sobre Mi Madre (Todo Sería Demasiado) [Something About my Mother (Everything would be Too Much).

A self-proclaimed feminist, Acher uses her work to dispel the notion that Feminist humour is ‘anti-man’ and to talk about the challenges that women face throughout childhood until adulthood all in the name of fulfilling patriarchal constructions of womanhood. She uses her childhood experiences with her mother, growing up in a Jewish family and then traces her own experiences to when she too becomes a mother. I liked the fact that she actually took the time to talk about motherhood because a book on motherhood is typically not considered a ‘feminist’ topic. Acher demonstrates that indeed it is…

Lets take a look at her book "Algo Sobre Mi Madre Todo Sería Demasiado":
The book is a satirical analysis of the Freud’s theory that our mothers are to blame for everything. It suggests that you can never please your mother who will forever be your biggest critic; but in public a mother’s pride will proclaim that no one is as good as her child. The story of her Jewish upbringing begins when her older sister finds her crying hysterically as a little girl and she explains that she is crying because she believes her father is seeing other children. Her mother takes her to a psychiatrist and at the end of the interview, the psychiatrist concludes that it is the mother and not Gabriela who is in need of psychiatric help. After that her mother stops believing in psychology.
Anyway, I can't go through the entire book but I wanted to leave some of my favourite excerpts with you according to the themes that she discusses:

Mi mama comenzó a preocuparse por mí el día en que nací. Cuando estaba en la cuna, entraba al cuarto cada diez minutos, para ver si yo estaba respirando. My mother began to worry about me the day I was born. When I was in the crib, she would enter the room every ten minutes to check if I was breathing.
Cuando tenía diez años, entraba a mi cuarto para ver si yo estaba estudiando. When I was ten years old, she entered my room to check if I was studying.
Cuando tenía diecisiete, entraba a mi cuarto para ver si yo estaba teniendo sexo, sola o acompañada. When I was 17, she entered my room to check if I was having sex—alone or with someone else. (pg. 36)

2. Your mother is your biggest critic:
It was impossible to please her mother because her mother was never happy with herself. She believed that her mother was Jewish and did not accept Jesus as the messiah because her mother would have liked to have personally carried the cross. There was always something to complain about, something to be unhappy about or something to feel guilty about.
She explained this as part of being Jewish but reiterates throughout the book that you do not have to have a Jewish mother to have a mother with Jewish characteristics. This is borne out in her chapter “No hace falta ser judía para ser una madre judía” You don’t need to be Jewish to be a Jewish mother. A mother’s criticism is universal: Here are some of the most historic lines by mothers:

¡Ponete los calzoncillos adentro, como todo el mundo! Wear your briefs on the inside like everyone else!
–Superman’s mother

No sé de qué te reís con lo gorda que estás. I don’t know what you’re laughing at with all that weight you have on.
---Mona Lisa’s mother

¿Por qué nunca escuchás a tu madre? Why don’t you ever listen to your mother?
--Ludwig Van Beethoven’s mother

¿Cuándo vas a pintar algo que se entienda? When are you going to paint something that somebody can understand?
---Pablo Picasso’s mother

¡Operate esa nariz de una buena vez! Operate on that nose for once!
---Barbara Streisand’s mother

¿Todo el tiempo jugando con esa estúpida cometa? ¡Entrá inmediatamente y ponete a hacer los deberes! Playing with that stupid comet all the time? Go inside and do your homework!
---Benjamin Franklin’s mother

¿Cómo que vas a viajar a la luna? ¿Y si está llena de antisemitas? What do you mean you’re going to travel to the moon? And if its full of anti-semites?
---A Jewish Astronauts mother

¿Y a eso le llamas comida? You call that food?
Gandhi’s mother

¿Otra vez haciendo garabatos? ¿Por qué no te peinás un poco y salís con alguna buena chica? Doodling again? Why don’t you comb your hair a little and go out with a nice girl?
--Albert Einstein’s mother

¡Cambiate el calzoncillo antes de salir a la calle! ¿Y si tenés un accidente? Change your underwear before you go on the road..what if you have an accident?
---James Dean’s mother

¡Nunca vas a llegar a ningún lado si estás siempre en las nubes! You’re never gonna get anywhere if you’re always in the clouds!
--Amelia Earhart’s mother (pgs 117-119)

3. The pressure to get married.
She said that the pressure started on mother’s day when she bought her mother and gift and said “Happy Mother’s Day!” and her mother replied “Pity I can’t say the same to you!” If she didn’t get married then her mother would never have a grandchild. Her mother sought to introduce her to the dating scene by encouraging her to put an ad in the newspaper to look for a husband. Some of the ads went like this:

Joven Profesional de 29 busca compañera con quien ir a la sinagoga, encender las velas de shabat, celebrar las festividades, construir la Zucá juntos, asistir a Bar-Mitzvas. Tu religion no es importante. Young Professional, Male, 29 yrs old, looking for a partner to go with him to the synagogue, light the Shabat candles, celebrate the festivities, build the Zucá together, go to Bar Mitzvas together. Your religion is not important.

Joven Judío atractivo, 38. Nada oculto. Nada de equipaje. Nada de Personalidad. Young attractive male Jew. 38 yrs old. Nothing to hide. No baggage. No Personality.

Soltero de 29. Me gusta la música disco, escalar montañas, esquiar, correr pista y campo. Tengo una leve cojera. Single 29 yr old male. I like disco music, to hike mountains, skiing, long distance and cross country running. I have a slight limp.

Feminista judía radical. Busco compañero que acepte mi independencia. Aunque probablemente no lo hagas; ¡mejor olvídalo! Jewish radical feminist. I am looking for a partner who accepts my independence. Even though you probably won’t actually accept know what, forget it.

Soy un sensible joven príncipe judío a quién puedes abrir tu Corazon, y con quien podrás compartir tus pensamientos y secretos más profundos. Confía en mí. Comprenderé tus inseguridades. Abstenerse gorditas, por favor. I am a sensitive Jewish prince to whom you can open your heart and with whom you can share your deepest thoughts and secrets. Trust me. I will understand your insecurities. Fat women stay away please.

The purpose of the advertisement itself explains how marriage has become completely commercialized and both men and women fall into the trap of needing to complete themselves by finding the right partner.

Acher then takes us through what she herself begins to think when she becomes a mother. What was interesting about her experiences as a mother is that while she does not say so explicitly, her own experiences display the difficulties of single motherhood as she tries to raise a son. She starts having what she labels as a mother's thoughts:

Pensamientos Maternos A Mother's thoughts

Honrarás a tu madre más que a ti misma. You shall honour your mother more than yourself
Reíte ahora que ya vas a llorar mañana. Laugh now, you’ll cry tomorrow
Vos casate que el amor viene después. Just get married, love will come afterwards
No solo hay que ser decente, hay que parecerlo. Don’t just be decent, look decent too.
Lo haces para mortificarme. You do it to mortify/annoy/bother me.
Tengo palpitaciones. I have palpitations
Abrigate que tengo frio. Please put on your jacket, I am cold.
¡Ya vas a ver cuando tengas tus propios hijos! You’ll see when you have your own children.
Si Dios hubiera creído en la permisividad, nos hubiera dado “Las diez sugerencias” If God believed in ‘permission’ he would have given us The Ten Suggestions”
No te divertirás por nada del mundo. You will not enjoy anything in the world.

In the second section of her book we see her turn into a ‘technological mother’ when she has her own son. . I say technological because she describes her contact with her own son as stable communication by email even though they live in the same house. By showing how she too evolves into a ‘technological’ version of her mother-who is equally impossible to please- you leave the story viewing motherhood in a human way. The very thing her mother used to do, she begins to do with her own son. So her mother is not demonized in the story…instead at the end of the book you end up thinking that it is not the mother who is impossible to please, rather it is the child.

In my interview with Acher, she explained that writing a story about her mother was important to her because so many people have a love-hate relationship with their mothers. She explained to me that while the entire story was invented, many people who have read her book can completely relate to difficulties with their mother and the absolute horror of discovering how they too become their mother when they have children. For her, humour was not the message of tracing stories of Jewish motherhood, it is the means of doing so. So when you read her book, you can laugh at your own mother and laugh at yourself.

She also presents other themes in her book such as sexuality, aging and the body image via discussions about the boom of plastic surgery in Latin America. She explains at one point that plastic surgery is so rampant that you must look at women’s child to figure out what she (the mother) looked like before the surgery.

Now of course, I felt like Acher fell into the tired 'fat jokes' or even ableist people jokes at points in the book but she puts them out there because these are issues that come up when people are looking for partners and also things that mothers say to their children--especially to their daughters. So I could forgive her for it because of the other great things she had in the book itself.

Acher told me that being a humourist is important simply because people can never read her work and believe that feminists do not have a sense of humour.

I hope that some day they will translate her book into English so that all you English-speakers our there can share in the feminist laughter.

All excerpts taken from the book "Algo Sobre Mi Madre Todo Seria Demasiado"
Find photo of Gabriela Acher above
©Danielle Roper

Monday, February 19, 2007

Humor: Definition

El humor es un secreto que se comparte
Humour is a secret that one shares...
--Gabriela Acher femenist Argentine Comedian

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Paragliding in Lima

Just leaving photos of my Paragliding experience in Miraflores, Lima-Peru...enjoy!
Take off:
The View from above:

Another view from up above:

Me and the Pilot:

Looking up at the paraglide:
Don't look down:
All photos taken by Danielle Roper