Giving lip service to the tuba

The Second Annual New England Tuba Festival has passed into history -- and no snickering from the piccolos in the back row, please. The tuba, as everybody knows, is a slim, agile instrument that can play Bach better than a harpsichord and deserves long, romantic sonatas composed for it, not to mention many more solos in symphonic scores --Andante cantabile,m of course.

This, more or less, is the position of tuba supporters --dinator, Gregory Fritze, a member in very good standing of TUBA. (Tubist Universal Brotherhood Association). Fritze and his brethren -- using the obligatory fighting phrases, like "stereotype" and that old favorite, "discriminated against" -- are out to revise the "image" of the tuba as a comic oom-pah instrument, played by red-faced fat men specializing in "Asleep in the Deep."

Well, we're doing our best to cooperate. Just the other night we closed our eyes and visualized Margot Fonteyn in "Swan Lake" as we listened to our recording of "Tubby the Tuba." But these things take time, and besides, there are so many other stereotypes on everybody's list, waiting to be expunged. It's practically a full-time job, keeping your mind sensitive, as they say.

Only the other day a motorcyclist touched us with his complaint about what he called the "Wild One" stereotype. Motorcyclists, he assured us movingly, are quiet, modest fellows who say "Please" even when just changing lanes. Furthermore, they are -- yes! -- being discriminated against by compulsory helmet laws that should arouse a latter-day Paul Revere to kick over his big twin and tour the countryside, warning of this national peril to civil liberties.

There goes our file of tuba and motorcycle jokes --and rather wonderful file it was. But we appreciate that jokes can be devious disguises for scorn and contempt, and we certainly don't want to hear from the well-muscled mouth of a tuba player that withering accusation of prejudice: "Tubism!"

Still, with all these image-polishing lobbies around, it gets to be a tricky business. If we give too much sympathy to the tuba players and the motorcyclists, what will we have left when the glockenspiels and the dune buggies come knocking at our door?

The prayer used to be offered up for "the grace to see ourselves as others see us." Now one prays for the clout to make others see us as we see ourselves. And everybody's succeeding so well that we're all getting cramped into this awful, diplomatic politeness for fear of being judged insensitive and told: "I think that remark offensive, you pig!"

The last time we checked, the only people you could still make jokes about were television network vice-presidents and the Ayatollah.

We can't seem to do too much with the handgun, but we appear to be in the process of outlawing comedy as if it were a deadly weapon.

What to do?

In its self-designation. TUBA shows a nice touch of whimsy, and our solution is to let those folks tell us what tuba jokes are acceptable. The same rule can apply to motorcyclists and all the other special groups. They can be the judges of sensitivity. But we will be the judges of whether or not the jokes are funny , and reserve the consumer's right to send them back for repair or replacement.

The problem is, we want a world full of mutual respect -- and we want a world full of laughs too. We're getting a bit concerned, but we're not ready yet to adm it that the two are incompatible.

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