Several years ago, I was sitting in a sandwich shop in Little Rock with a group of students. I don’t know exactly how the conversation came around to the topic of analogies, but when you hang around with members of the poetry club, the chatter often takes a turn for the nerdy. As the club’s 10-year sponsor and Nerd-in-Chief, I can admit stuff like that.
Anyway, we were discussing really outrageous analogies, and someone mentioned that a well-known politician had recently been compared to Adolf Hitler. Since that absurd linkage is a pet peeve of mine, I launched into a rant about how no one is remotely like Hitler and how these rhetorical excesses just needed to stop. I suggested that we should simply ban all analogies to the Nazis. To which one student replied, “That sounds like something Hitler would do.” Touche.
But it turns out that banning stuff is pretty fashionable these days. No doubt you’ve heard about the recent flap in Poland, where last November officials in the town of Tuszyn expelled Winnie the Pooh. It seems that plans to use the famous bear to promote a playground were scrapped because the town council decided that Winnie is “inappropriately dressed.” Yes, grown people in Poland have banned a cartoon character for not wearing pants.
You would think after enduring decades of culturally insensitive jokes at their expense, the Polish people would tread lightly into such nonsensical territory. But in the name of protecting children from seeing Winnie pantless, they have become the butt (pardon me) of ridicule. The Internet has simply lit up with snippy comments about this incident, reminding us all how helpful the Internet can be.
With the possible exception of SpongeBob SquarePants, so many cartoon characters could be implicated in this ban. Donald Duck, Porky Pig, the Cat in the Hat and Huckleberry Hound have been parading around for years with no pants, but, oddly, all wearing bow ties. Anyhow, it would be crazy to expect Mr. Peabody and friends to wear pants. They’re not called comic “strips” for nothing.
Sorry. That joke fell flatter than a Patriots football. And, even worse, such a pun could get me kicked out of China these days. Perhaps the most sweeping prohibition of the year came when Chinese officials decided last November to ban all idiomatic word-play from public discourse. Hoping to keep the language pure and avoid what officials call “linguistic chaos” (and, I suspect, hoping to squash witty critiques of the government), China has now discouraged its citizens from making puns. Only literal uses of the language are allowed.
I’m trying to imagine how a person would be pun-ished for such an offense. With wordplay being the wea-pun of choice for so many clever folks, the disease of linguistic chaos could turn into a pun-demic, infecting the whole country with a pun-gent odor. When deprived of their wit, people tend to get a little pun-chy. A rebellion could hap-pun any day now, and if the pun-dits try to stop it, their attempt to perform an a-pun-dectomy on the national language could back-fire. And then it will be o-pun season . . .
OK. I will stop now. But feel free to toss out a few groaners today in the spirit of liberty. I’m sure the Chinese people are just as amused by this silly ban as the rest of us, and we can stand up for free expression along with them. It’s better than dragging yourself to see “The Interview” just because North Korea wanted it suppressed. Pun appetit.