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Verbal mirrors

By Jim Bencivenga / May 24, 2001



It's all in how you phrase the mirror.

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Let's go to the dictionary: Mimicry is "to copy or imitate very closely, especially in external characteristics, as voice, gesture or manner."

The mimic's intent is to make a point as if holding a mirror up to its subject. The desired goal can be self-knowledge, a larger societal awareness, or both. Often, the point made is critical.

The only time I was a successful mimic was when, as a new teacher at a reform school for teenage boys, I tired of the apathy and antipathy communicated in the way the boys would come to class. Each in his own way let it be known he couldn't care less. Something had to change.

I walked out into the hall. I then walked back in, taking a seat as if I were one of the boys. I moped. I slouched. I bopped. I shuffled backward still talking as if the bell had never rung. I made it clear I couldn't care less about being there as well.

The result was electrifying. The normal routine was broken. Everyone recognized the boy I was mimicking. Those I didn't mimic were saying "do me."

Back to the dictionary: Parody is "a writing in which the language and style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule, often with certain peculiarities greatly heightened or exaggerated."

Our cover article (right) looks at the nature of parody and the more complex role it can play in holding up a mirror to society, not just a group of boys.

The new novel "The Wind Done Gone," currently under court injunction for copyright violation of "Gone With the Wind," seeks to change the received wisdom on antebellum history and the negative stereotyping of race presented in the American classic. National self-knowledge is the intent.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor