October 29, 2009

Blasphemy, pure & simple

I confess I didn't think that at first when I watched "Curb Your Enthusiasm" last Sunday night. Larry David's character (Larry David) is at the house of a midriff-baring young assistant, offering her the job back as his assistant on the David-Seinfeld reunion show. The assistant had taken umbrage and quit upon hearing Larry's complaint about her attire, revealing as it did one of those typically fatty High-Fructose-Corn-Syrup bellies that young women often display now in America. Anyway, Larry, who's apparently taking a drug like Flo-Max or something, needs to take a leak at the house. An earlier scene had already "established," through a comment by Jerry Seinfeld ("You have Seabiscuit in there with you?") that Larry is producing a prodigious flow when he goes. While he's using the john at the assistant's house, backsplash from the toilet hits a painting of Jesus on the wall just below Jesus's eye. Larry sees it, makes no effort to wipe it off, and hurries from the house. Q: Why didn't he just wipe it off? A: Because it would ruin the set-up of the joke.

The HFCS-Belly girl and her mother see the painting, mistake the stain for tears (of course) and decide to tour the country in a minivan and display the miracle. Images of Jesus on English muffins and French toast, on grilled cheese sandwiches, in snowflakes, in the pattern of syrup on sno-cones, on the walls of houses, etc., are regularly reported in the trash media and on e-Bay; we all know that, and that's what Larry was making fun of: the easy credulity of the belief-inclined, which does not include Larry David. It didn't have to be pee. It could have been water, but then that wouldn't have been funny. The Flo-Max connection was the predicate for the joke, which gives you an idea of how utterly wild David's imagination is, the crazy synthetic nature of his comedy. Suppose, he thinks, we've got a guy taking one of those prostate drugs. He can't control the flow, it's so enormous. It goes all over everything. What could it splash on? I've got it! It creates a crying Jesus, like all those plastic crying Jesuses that people rig up in their front yards using a concealed garden hose down in Florida.

That's how he got there. There has been a storm of protest. Father Donohue, whoever he is, is not amused at all. I guess he didn't laugh out loud (like I did). People are forgetting (or maybe remembering, and now they've had enough) that this is hardly the first time that Larry David has been down this road. In one of the first seasons (maybe the first, in fact), Larry arrives late to an immersion baptism in Northern California and rushes to break it up, thinking it's an attempted drowning. In a later season, Larry is anxious to nail a mezuzah to the doorway before his father (Shelley Berman) arrives, so Larry will look somewhat observant. He can't find a nail, so he lifts a crucifix nail, hanging by a cord around the neck of his sleeping father-in-law (this was about the time of "The Passion of the Christ"), and uses that. In the same episode, Larry, who has hired actors to stage a manger scene in his front yard in an act of contrition aimed at his Christian wife, winds up getting into a fist fight with Joseph.

Larry David has also made fun of Jewish kosher rituals such as burying plates which have been used for both dairy and meat, for example, and burial of his mother in the non-kosher part of the cemetery because she had a small tattoo (Larry is caught digging her up in the middle of the night). He hasn't spared Muslims (he tells the Muslim private eye he hires to determine Larry's parentage that he's not so sure they're as "peace-loving" as the PI claims).

David makes fun of all belief systems, all meaningless and irrational social habits and conventions, and practically everything else. Everything irritates him (he is told to "smile!" by a woman he does not know as he walks down a West L.A. sidewalk; he turns, glares, and yells: "Why don't you mind your own business? How 'bout that?"), and he makes every effort to simplify his life so it is completely devoid of ritual, cant and empty obligation. His money has made this a possibility. He likes people who make him laugh, and that's about it.

In other words, he's my hero.

Still, "blasphemy" is defined as "a contemptuous or profane act, utterance, or writing concerning God." (G_d, in Jewish usage; my American Heritage Dictionary is blasphemous, in Jewish contemplation, in the way it defines blasphemy.) Can one seriously argue that Larry David has not been contemptuous and profane concerning G_d? I'm not even going to try, and it's hardly a defense to say that he's contemptuous of everything, true as that might be.

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