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Easter Peeps. April 12, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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6 comments

Silence Dogood here. When our friend Ben and I first moved to Pennsylvania from Nashville, we had never heard of peeps. Or Peeps. “Peeps” is apparently the local term for chicks. Peeps, on the other hand, are garishly colored marshmallow renditions of same produced by nearbly Bethlehem, PA’s Just Born Co. In this area, the chrome-yellow, pink, blue, green, and purple marshmallow creations, and an assortment of marshmallow bunnies in the same color palette, are an essential part of Easter.

Not ours, though. Even our friend Ben, who has something of a sweet tooth, can’t bring himself to try one. In fact, we didn’t even know they came in flavors until reading a recent article in our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, which said that Just Born was releasing special chocolate mousse-flavored Peeps for 2009. The article went on to say that local candymakers were predicting a big year for candy sales, and that the Neilsen Co. had proclaimed candy to be “recession-proof.” Yow, that’s quite a comment on our societal priorities!

However, what really made us sit up and take notice of Peeps this year (besides the appearance of a “Peepmobile,” with gigantic replicas of the marshmallow creations displayed on top, cruising around the area) was a contest the Morning Call held. It invited readers to send in photos of Peeps they had dressed in costume, selected finalists from the entries received, and then asked readers to vote for their favorite. Over 34,000 readers sent in their votes.

The thought of people—160 people submitted entries—spending hours creating costumes and whole tableaux for 2-inch-tall marshmallow candies is mind-boggling, but like watching a train wreck, our friend Ben and I couldn’t look away from subsequent newspaper updates. Our hands-down favorite of the ten finalists was “Disco Peep, Circa 1979,” which sported sequins, Go-Go boots, a gold chain, and very big hair. (Admittedly, until we saw the title, we thought it was Elvis.) Other entries included “Yellow Brick Road,” with Peeps as all the characters, “Peeps Knitting Circle,” “Japanese Tea Ceremony,” with Geisha Peeps and a bonsai, and “College Peeps Hanging Out in Cancun for Spring Break.” The Geisha Peeps, which looked to our possibly jaundiced eyes more like Jabba the Huts with really bad toupees, were priceless.

Unfortunately, our usual fate befell us, which probably explains why poor OFB has still not received a MacArthur Fellowship and neither of us has yet emerged as the author of the next Harry Potter series. A paltry 4% of voters loved Disco Elvis as we did, and the same sorry number went for the Geisha/Jabbas. Instead, a whopping 59% of the vote—more than 20,000 readers—selected “Peeps Playing Poker” as their favorite.

“Peeps Playing Poker” was patterned after a painting our friend Ben and I loathe and have been subjected to far, far too many times, “Dogs Playing Poker,” actually a whole series of paintings made by C.M. Coolidge in the early 1900s. While we doubt that C.M. Coolidge was actually “Silent Cal” Coolidge, we wish the painter had followed our president’s example and remained silent as far as his artistic genius was concerned. If we never, ever saw or heard of this painting again, we would be ecstatic. But here it was again, transformed into marshmallow candies.

Our friend Ben and I have been forced to recognize over the years that humor is the most individual of all human traits, and being subjected to everything from “A Fish Called Wanda” to “The Blues Brothers” has convinced us that most people’s sense of humor is not ours. We generally like slapstick, but not if it’s cruel: Marx Brothers yes, Three Stooges no. Good-humored, not whiny: Pink Panther yes (but the originals, not the sorry remake), Seinfeld no. Chevy Chase, Dan Ackroyd, Dana Carvey yes; Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Mike Myers no. Wryness a la Dilbert, yes; foulmouthed bitterness and anger masquerading as humor, no. Jim Belushi yes, John Belushi no.

Humor comes in many forms and serves many purposes. Some humor is designed to teach us a lesson, to show us our weaknesses and get us to take ourselves less seriously: This is the purpose of the Hopi mudheads, as it was the purpose of the kings’ fools and jesters, and was the original purpose of clowns (which, like Alice Cooper, I find scary, not funny)*. In fact, I find all humor like this scary, not funny: To me, it’s mockery, humiliation, public ridicule dressed up as comedy. A holdover from a time when the purpose of humor was to strip away our dignity and show us the worms we really were, to display to all that the emperor had no clothes. I agree that nobody should take himself or herself too seriously. But in a crowded world, where there are so many of us that most of us feel more like Dilbert than, say, Charlemagne or Ghengis Khan, I think we need fewer reminders of how cosmically small and unimportant we are. We really, really get that already. 

Then there’s bitterness disguised as humor, most often in the form of sarcasm. My mother told me that sarcasm was a weak man’s refuge and never to descend to it, and I’ve tried to live by that. Irony, understatement, on the other hand, I can’t help but appreciate. I’ve always hated watching performances where you can see an actor heroically struggling to create a role rather than simply becoming the role. I find it so distracting I can’t relax into the film or play. I remember hearing about an American actor who was frantically method-acting, trying to research his part so he could be authentic to the last detail. A British actor cast in the same performance watched the American struggling and struggling, and finally said something to the effect of, “Have you ever considered acting?” Ha!!!

But boy, have I strayed far from our topic of Peeps. Sorry about that! Yikes!!! Self-editing, where art thou?!! Anyway: If you’d enjoy seeing these Peeps-in-costume, go to www.mcall.com and search for “Peeps.” You’ll find the whole story. Let me know which of the finalists you liked best! And if Peeps play a part in your Easter celebrations.

                ‘Til next time,

                            Silence

*Oops, I should clarify that what I meant was that I agree with Alice Cooper’s deathless song, “Can’t Sleep, the Clowns Will Eat Me,” not that I find Alice himself scary.

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