Imagem Lee Siegel
Lee Siegel
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Just like Lady Gaga

NOVA JERSEY - I had intended to write this week about Beppe Grillo, the Italian comedian who has startlingly become a major player in Italian politics overnight, and to use this development as the occasion for a solemn meditation on democracy, populism, fascism, and refreshing clowns vs. virulent buffoons (i.e. Berlusconi)-with references to Thomas Mann's "Mario and the Magician," Gramsci, Pareto, and 'Count Ciano's diaries'. But I am going to write about Dr. Seuss instead.

Lee Siegel,

03 de março de 2013 | 02h00

Well, not about Dr. Seuss exactly, but about the effect Dr. Seuss's writings are currently having on me. Frankly I'm a bundle of nerves. For the second time, I've volunteered to read a book to my son's first-grade class, and I'm so anxious that between the first paragraph and this one, I made four trips to the kitchen for snacks.

Now it's not as if the first time I read something to his class was a disaster. In my eyes, it was a smashing success, but it was a disaster for the substitute teacher who watched my performance with exasperation and alarm. The book I chose was Dr. Seuss's "Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?" I chose it because Mr. Brown makes the most wonderful sounds, which I figured I could dramatize to great effect, thus delighting my son, and in the process raising his status among his peers.

I started off slowly with some medium-dramatic sounds like the buzzing of a bumblebee and the release of a cork ("Pop Pop Pop Pop'') and then lowered my voice to a whisper "to make a noise like a goldfish kiss." ("Pip!") But when it came to Mr. Brown being a wonder who makes thunder ("BOOM BOOM BOOM), I bellowed out the sound to an astonished collective silence. I shot an anxious look at my son, whose horrified expression said something like "Big dumbo Daddy is making a complete fool of himself," and my heart just about dropped to the floor until the astonished silence gave way to a slow rumble of laughter that grew and grew into exuberant mayhem, as my son's little classmates swayed and jumped in happy tumult. Now my son was beaming with pride, and chortling with glee.

It was at this point that the substitute teacher-clearly someone whose burden in life was a total inability to experience pleasure-raised her index and middle fingers into the air. So caught up was I in what I believed was a sort of opening night success that would quickly become the stuff of local legend that I failed to recognize the universal sign for "peace," which was, I learned later, the gesture used in my son's school to signify the imperative to fall silent. Instead I misinterpreted the (joyless) substitute's gesture as a sign of empowering enthusiasm, so rather than joing the students, who were by now making the same two-fingered gesture and beginning to calm down, I thrust my own two digits into the air with a pumping motion like the one people make at heavy-metal concerts, strip clubs, and boxing matches. This had the immediate effect of sending my precious audience back into something approaching Dionyisan frenzy.

"Mr. Brown" ends with a recapitulation of all the sounds that had come before, and I recited them slowly at first, and then a little faster and a little faster, building to a rapid-fire conclusion. The response was tremendous. I felt like Lady Gaga. The children were throwing themselves about the room, my son was glowing with pride, and the substitute teacher shaking her head in despair-she had clearly been fired from what must have been an earlier position as prison guard for whispering insults through the bars to prisoners in solitary confinement. To my joy, I was then approached by a small delegation of students, who requesed an encore performance. "Or you could just read the end," said one boy.

Only too glad to oblige, I started the book again, from the beginning. And now something interesting started to happen. The students began, as young children do, to commence their own activities that ran parallel to my recitation. They metapmorphosed from a mob to a collection of individuals. My diehard fans still shouted their encouragement and approval. My son still sat quietly smiling at me as he had through the first performance-perhaps he instinctively felt that joining in the mayhem I had created was too impersonal a response to his father. Another clique chatted loudly among themselves. One tall girl, sure to be a Supreme Court justice one day, tried to mediate between the clique and the diehard fans. The teacher's pet, a boy, went to the substitute and expressed disapproval of the boisterious atmosphere. His female counterpart informed on a boy who was attempting to throw some obscure object (perhaps another, smaller student) out the window. A little girl came up to me, hugging me and thanking me for reading, and then joined a pair of girls and talked all throughy my recital. In short, I was losing my audience.

There was only one thing to do. I raced to the sensational ending and read it with loud, reckless, theatrical abandon. The individuals once again became transformed into a mob, and what was formerly mayhem now grew into pure chaos. Liberated from stale routine, from bureaucratic inanity, from numbing social groups and social hierarchies, the students bounced into each other and around the room like firecrackers.

Then it was time for me to leave. The uproar subsided. The mob began to atomize. The substitute teacher-who was obviously devoted to her profession, and to the children, and to instilling in them a sense of boundaries and order-looked at me, exhausted. The children themselves seemed lost between their new freedom and their old sustaining structures, and they looked from me to the teacher and back again, happy, weary, lost, waiting for necessary guidance. I had been a breath of fresh air and a chilly, sourceless draft, all at once.

And now, as I nervously prepare for my second performance, I think I understand enough to write about Beppe Grillo.

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