Did you ever see a movie or read a book that was supposed to be tragic, but instead was unintentionally funny? This is the essence of camp -- the reason why “The Valley of the Dolls,” for example, has a huge cult following of people who laugh at every pill-popping scene.
I found a new example of this kind of melodramatic hyperbole Tuesday night while reading a novel. The book shall remain nameless, but suffice to say I found it on someone’s stoop among a stack being given away for free. (Which should have told me something, right?)
Allow me to set the scene. A man is visiting his catatonic, religious-fanatic friend in the psychiatric hospital. He is trying to break her out of her stupor by bringing her a Bible.
“Pray for me, Selina. Let me hear you pray.”
I place the palms of her hands together.
“I’ll pray with you, Selina. What do you say? I don’t know how to pray. You’ll have to show me.”
The same blank stare. I put her hands back on the Bible.
Dr. Towbridge pulls me away. “No use. She won’t accept anything in the real world.”
I turn back to her. Touch her hands. “Look at me, Selina. Please!”
She doesn’t stir. Like a mannequin propped in a chair.
“It’s no good.” The doctor touches my arm. “She doesn’t know you’re here.”
“Make her know.” I challenge the doctor.
“Only God can do that.” The doctor sighs. “I can’t reach her. Neither can you. She’s in a different world now.”
“What is to become of her?” I stare into the doctor’s face.
“Nothing.” His lips barely move. “She’s a vegetable.”
“Meaning?” The horror of it defeats me.
“She’ll be hospitalized forever.” He turns away.
Now, am I being mean and cynical, or is this not truly cringe-inducing dialogue? Who would actually say, “What is to become of her?” I picture this entire exchange taking place in dramatic stentorian tones, with wide sweeps of their limbs and exaggerated facial expressions. My Advanced Placement English teacher from high school would weep -- not because of the tragedy, but because of the tragic writing.
(Photo: SoHo, September 2007)