Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Humor negro (Black Humour) for the Spanish class

When someone in Canada asks me about one recurrent feature in many works of art in Spanish, I always mention black humour and  surrealism. Both appear in every aspect of our daily lives too, we just need to have a look at the political and economical situation in Spain and how people are enduring it. It has been a tradition of the Spanish to use humour to help face hard or painful situations over the centuries. This vision can be found in the poems of El Libro de Buen Amor or in many of the passages in El Lazarillo, just to give you some examples. With the current economical situation, numerous writers and film makers portray today's society with an acidic sense of humour. It seems that laughing at ourselves is one of the best remedies at the moment. 

Guillermo Barbarov, an Argentinian director who has lived in Spain for several years, gives us in this short film, Como está la cosa, a hilarious but deeply sad vision of the crisis and how it is affecting basic human rights and even people's dignity. Once our smile fades away it is difficult not to feel sorry for the two characters in the short film and sorry for ourselves at the same time.

Spanish people dread going to government offices to do any kind of business. It can be a federal, provincial or local office, there is no difference. We have to deal with apathetic civil servants and in the end, we will likely need to go back because they will send us home with more forms to fill out. This is what this short film is trying to portray.

Black humour and surrealism are present in every day activities, for example, publicity. I have already spoken of the approach to football in Spain: you support a team, no matter what and  in a way that you sometimes need to seek medical advice to deal with it (as you will see in the film below). Naturally, the problem can be easily solved: buy an annual pass for your favourite team to become fully recovered and happy. Well, it is not so simple, as the doctor suggests. There is also a dark humorous reference to what is happening with public health care in Spain because the patient is number 1,924 in today's waiting list!

This surreal approach is very common in publicity. There are many examples but the way a brand of olive oil is advertised in this commercial, is one of my favourites.
Understanding humour will enhance students' appreciation of the target language and its culture. Video clips such as these will help students digest these ideas better because the humour is more "concrete". I encourage you to revisit or find similar clips for yourselves and your students.

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