An Aside on Marking Books
I've gotten into the habit of marking books with sticky notes and/or pen. I insert a placeholder or underline a section when I come across something I find particularly novel, funny, relatable, well-said, etc. This tactic is helpful for writing these blog posts or finding evidence for essays. That being said, I'm not the person who's making multiple underlines and highlights each page (to all you people out there who do do that, you're doing the Lord's work). Of course, the frequency depends on the book. While reading The Course of Love I was putting in sticky notes left and right. For something like Margaret the First, a book I read for school, there are around 8 sticky notes for the entire 150-page book. While I enjoy having physical indexes into the interesting parts, I take some issue with sticky noting and underlining.
First of all, it's a pain in the butt. I'll read something interesting, which will make me want to keep reading. But then I'm like "no, I should note this, I want to remember it." And then I have to get off the couch, go to my desk, grab a sticky note, and stick it in. You idiot, you might be thinking. Just keep a sticky note in the book! Well, I usually do that, but sometimes I forget. And sometimes it gets used up. Anyways, the getting up part is not the point. Stopping to mark a passage disrupts my flow, which is fine if I'm reading a book in order to get an essay out of it, but not so fine if I'm reading mainly for pleasure.
Further, there's always some uncertainty about what to mark. My standards are all across the board, and I dislike inconsistency. For example, I might come across an interesting word which I don't mark. Then, I'll come across another interesting word, which I do mark. Then I'm thinking, "crap, I missed that earlier word, I should go back and mark it." And then I feel the need to mark every single interesting word that comes up. But how should I define interesting? Does it count if I kind of know what it means, but just forgot? What about weird medical terms? Another thing that annoys me are patterns. The thing about patterns is that you only notice them once something appears more than once. So I'll be reading about Sylvia Plath and notice that she likes red a lot, and I'll mark the passage. But wait... what about all those previous passages that I left unmarked. It's not fair to those passages to leave them unmarked. Maybe I should go back through the entire book and mark every instance where Sylvia Plath mentions red. Or maybe I should just not mark any of them. At least then I'll be consistent.
Finally, it feels unclean to put sticky notes in a book, or to underline stuff with pen. Pencil is ok, but ineffective, so I use pen. My high school English teacher got triggered when she saw people put sticky notes in their books. There's a reason to her rhyme; sticky notes leave damaging residues on pages (something I noted in one of my TIL things). That being said, she put a bunch of sticky notes in her book. Something something for school purposes something something. Anyways, I don't really care much about this. It's not like I'm living in Fahrenheit 451 (wow that is a hard word to spell). If the sides of my pages turn brown in a few decades, then so be it. "But Matt," you say, "what if everyone put sticky notes in books. Then all the books would be damaged." Well, if everyone was putting sticky notes in books, then I'd be crazy not to. That's a Catch-22 reference, by the way. Also, there are certainly books that go unread. Just go to a book fair and check out all the retired people who have a bunch a free time and start writing books. Stacks and stacks of books that will never be read. Who knows, they might be amazing! Still, the distribution system is lacking. Ok, I'm getting off topic. Bottom line, I don't care that sticky notes might damage my books. Writing with pen is a different issue. I've always felt a little dirty writing in a book with a pen. An untouched page of print looks so pristine, all the straight lines of text surrounded by an orderly border of white. I also feel like it ruins the experience a bit to see other people's thoughts thrown into the mix. It can't help but bring more focus to certain parts. Who knows what I would have thought if that passage hadn't been underlined? They're ruining my originality! On a sidenote, I do think it would be cool to have Medium-style comments in Kindle books. Sidenote aside, I still feel some hesitance towards writing in books. However, it's pretty helpful (also doubles as a tool to keep me awake and focused while reading), so I do it.
General Thoughts on Catch-22
Wow, that was a really long tangent. If you want to read about Catch-22, you can start right around here and not miss anything. The reason I bring up book-marking is because I didn't mark Catch-22. Even though this was my second time through (not that I remember the first time that well), I abstained. I just wanted to enjoy it. That being said, it would be really nice if I had marked it. Would probably help out with this whole writing process.
I'm going to do something a little different for this post. I want to show how this book's sense of humor is similar to that of Arrested Development. So, I'll write a short summary of my thoughts in general, and then proceed to the sitcom comparison. If the summary sucks, it's because I didn't mark anything. Now that I think of it, you can apply that excuse to the sitcom part as well.
Catch-22 is one of my favorite books. Heller writes how I want to write. He's smart, clever, funny, and a bunch of other good adjectives. There are certain writers who, when trying to hammer in a point, start sounding really cheesy and fake. I can't bring a specific scenario to mind, but I'm thinking of a generic love scene where both people's feelings are finally out in the open and they get together and the text turns towards grandiose expressions of love and companionship. That stuff can get real old, real fast. Movies do it too. Heller is out on a crag with his writing. With all the repetition, it could easily get real old, real fast. But it doesn't. He somehow keeps it fresh throughout all the paradoxes and irrational rationalities and Catch-22s. I know what's coming, but it's still funny. Or sad. I don't think I did a great job of wordifying my thoughts, so I'll try again. You know when someone thinks they're really smart, and they get into a debate with you, and they're throwing around all these big terms and phrases like they know their stuff? Kinda like Donald Trump. And then there's the person who will do the same thing, throw around the terms and phrases and whatnot, but they're actually a genius. There's also the person who is a genius and doesn't say anything unless you poke them, but that's irrelevant right now. Joseph Heller is the genius who knows he's smart and isn't afraid to show it. He writes with a certain kind of arrogance (or self-assurance, if we're being less extreme). He's poking fun of a whole mess of things, and is entirely self-conscious of it. But it's done so well, so cohesively and brilliantly, that it works. It doesn't get annoying, and it's not too much. His style reminds me a little of Kurt Vonnegut. Both have a black sense of humor, and a rather droll way of describing things. Of course, this is all subjective, and you might see things completely differently.
Catch-22 has one of the most interesting and diverse set of characters you'll ever find. Even with its huge cast, no character is neglected. Almost everyone gets a chapter that tells about their backstory, physical appearance, and personal tendencies. For example, there's Orr. He always puts crab apples (or are they chestnuts?) in his mouth, and no one knows why that stripper kept hitting him over the head. Then, there's Chief White Halfcoat. He threatened to slit Captain Flume's throat, so Flume lives in the woods now. There's Nately, who's in love with a whore, Major Major, whose dad really loved him, Dobbs, who needs permission to kill the colonel, etc. At the center of it all is Yossarian. Everyone thinks he's crazy and he thinks everyone is crazy. Yossarian is my kind of guy. He enjoys the simple things in life, like trying not to die. I usually agree with his perspective on things, and it's fun to cheer him on throughout the story.
Lastly, Catch-22 is sad. Some SPOILERS follow, so beware. The part at the end with Snowden is extremely touching. If you, or a friend, has been in a rough situation, you know how hard it is to come up with the right words. Do you say something funny to try to cheer them up? Would that be insensitive? Perhaps just empathizing would be best? As Snowden lays dying, Yossarian can only sit by him and say "there, there." It's haunting.
Also, on a tangent, I strongly dislike Milo. He's depicted as amoral and has no evil intentions, which makes him even worse. The igorance is what really gets to me. That's also why Aarfy is such an infuriating character.
Arrested Development and Catch-22
Ok, we're finally to the sitcom part. That took a while. So, how are Arrested Development and Catch-22 similar? First of all, they both rely heavily on running jokes. In Arrested Development, it might be calling Anne the wrong name, the chicken dance, "NO TOUCHING!," George Michael's illicit love, Tobias's questionable sexuality, etc. In Catch-22, it might be Orr's apple-cheeks and whore story, Nately's strange love for his whore, fake illnesses, Washington Irving, Orr's stove, the chaplain's tomato, Scheisskopf's marches, etc. Secondly, the jokes themselves are similar. In both Arrested Development and Catch-22, misunderstanding, contradiction, and overreaction are used to comedic effect.
"And I've got an official Army record here to prove it," Major Sanderson retorted. "You'd better get a grip on yourself before it's too late. First you're Dunbar. Now you're Yossarian. The next thing you know you'll be claiming you're Washington Irving. Do you know what's wrong with you? You've got split personality, that's what's wrong with you."
I can't find a good video for Arrested Development, but I'm thinking of all those scenes where Oscar gets arrested because people mistake him for George Sr. There are also some other scenarios where George Sr. purposefully uses Oscar as a puppet who takes the fall.
In the Catch-22 scene, Yossarian chooses to inhabit the hospital bed of A. Fortiori. He then gets into some discussions with some army folk. They conclude he's crazy, and tell him they're sending him home. However, A. Fortiori is the one who ends up being sent home, because no one saw further than the name tag.
So, in both scenarios, we have a misunderstanding that benefits one person and harms the other. The humor stems from the misunderstanding. It's funny to see Yossarian finally get what he wants, only for it to be stolen away due to a trivial mixup. Similarly, it's funny to see Oscar, an innocent and kindly old man, being repeatedly beaten by the police because of a mistaken identity.
The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous, and likeable. In three days no one could stand him.
In both works, there are a lot of these blatant contradictions. Someone will say something, and then say something that doesn't follow at all. This one is pretty self explanatory, so I won't explain much. If you've read or watched, you'll remember a bunch of one-liners similar to these (e.g. "[h]e was a self-made man who owed his lack of success to nobody").
"They're trying to kill me," Yossarian told him calmly.
"No one's trying to kill you," Clevinger cried.
"Then why are they shooting at me?" Yossarian asked.
"They're shooting at everyone," Clevinger answered. "They're trying to kill everyone."
"And what difference does that make?"
In addition to the one-liners, I also noticed a similarity in the way conversations happen. There isn't a lot of sensibility in the conversations. No one ever comes to an agreement; it's just two sides stacking their opinions on top of the other's. There are a lot of contradictions nested in these conversations. In Catch-22, we often see zig-zagged reversals of opinion, often accompanied by nonsensical arguments. They're trying to kill me; no they're not; why are they shooting; they're shooting at everyone; etc. Another example of this is the following:
Major Danby replied indulgently with a superior smile, "But, Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way."
"Then I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn't I?"
In Arrested Development, there's a similar flow of conversation. Take, for example, that first link. George starts off with a fairly innocent opinion, stating that he doesn't think it's a good idea for George Michael to go to camp with Anne. Then, Michael disagrees, and makes a snarky comment involving word choice. Finally, George disagrees by making a generalization that it's not good for men to be bossed around by women. This is, of course, a completely hypocritical statement given his relationship with Lucille, not to mention fairly off topic. There isn't a one-to-one mapping between these conversations. However, both are based on disagreement and contradiction. The characters play off each other by alternating back and forth between different opinions.
"He’s back!" Dunbar screamed. "He’s back! He’s back!"
Yossarian froze in his tracks, paralyzed as much by the eerie shrillness in Dunbar’s voice as by the familiar, white, morbid sight of the soldier in white covered from head to toe in plaster and gauze. A strange, quavering, involuntary noise came bubbling from Yossarian’s throat.
"He’s back!" Dunbar screamed again.
So, what's going on here? To be honest, I find neither of these moments particularly funny. Even so, they're kinda similar, so what the heck. In the first case, Dunbar sees another man in a full body cast and thinks the former one has returned from the dead. He's clearly misunderstanding the situation; he thinks everyone in a full body cast is the same person. As a result of his misunderstanding, he starts screaming.
In Arrested Development, pop-pop has repeatedly told Michael "there's always money in the banana stand." However, Michael does not understand his father, and burns it down. Upon discovering this, pop-pop starts screaming.
In both cases, a misunderstanding leads to an extreme reaction. The situations are pretty stupid. Of course it's not the same person; why would you put that much money in the walls of a banana stand? This kind of "unrealness" is very important to both works. This comparison could also fall into the misunderstanding section. The boundaries of these sections are not very strict.
Gob and the league of magicians, Major Major and trying to fit in (e.g. playing basketball). Both temporarily fit in and then end up shunned.
In Chapter 21, Colonel Cathcart thinks he impresses General Dreedle by taking over the meeting. Reminds me of Tobias's audition. "THERE'S A FIRE....sale."
Both works treat relationships comedically rather than romantically. In Catch-22, we see Yossarian tear up the address of his "girlfriend," only to regret that choice a second later. In Arrested Development, we see Gob oscillate between loving and hating Marta. He doesn't want her, he wants her, he gets her, he's made a huge mistake. In Catch-22, we witness a very one-sided relationship between Nately and his whore. The relationship between Buster and Lucille 2 is similarly one-sided.
I admit that there are some major differences between Catch-22 and Arrested Development. It wouldn't make sense for there not to be. Catch-22 depicts characters forced into a perplexingly bad situation, and shows how they soldier through it (or die). Arrested Development depicts characters who create bad situations for themselves, and shows how they manage to resolve them (or just ignore them). In Arrested Development, we get more of the build-up. We get to see how the family self-destructs. Take, for example, the afternoon delight scenes, or Gob's repeated failures to carry out Michael's plans. In Catch-22, we see how a terrible situation is dealt with. Thus, a lot of the humor comes from contradictory conversations revolving around how terrible things are, and how everyone is out to kill Yossarian. Even so, there are some similarities. Reading Catch-22 certainly reminded me of Arrested Development, and I hope I've shown at least a little bit why.