Abbott, Costello and the decay of contemporary man

Tuesday, 16 April, Year 5 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

I happen to love Abbott & Costello. For today's discussion (somewhat an extension of an older article on roughly the same topic) consider the classical bit Alexander 4444i. (If you don't have it handy it may be available on youtube, here.)

Please flip to the third interruption, girl calling long distance person to person for Milano (if you're following on youtube, minute 5:35). She proceeds to tell her signor Grazianiii that the American professor is great, prezioso, and listen to this! Then proceeds to sing into the receiver.

What is she singing ?

"Opera". Sure, sure, opera. What exactly ?

Only the world's most famous brindisi piece, which word means "drink up", roughly speaking. It comes from Verdi's Traviata, it's called Libiamo ne' lieti calici in original, which means something like "let's drink the joyful cup".iii

The thing is... the girl singing in the phone is quite clearly a sopranoiv. The piece is a duet (with chorus), for a tenor (Alfredo) and a soprano (Violetta). The girl is singing the tenor part (Libiamo, libiamo ne'lieti calici che la bellezza infiora) rather than the soprano part (Tra voi, tra voi saprò dividere il tempo mio giocondo). The American professor is great, you see... he has the soprano singing tenor.

Fifty or so years ago, back before "the great success of social programs targetting inequality" and before "no child left behind" and before all this welfarist crud, people found it worth their while to introduce this sort of joke into a made-for-TV comedy routine. A team known principally for slapstick is doing jokes that depend on the audience knowing Traviata in particular and Opera in general well enough to distinguish between Alfredo and Violetta. On the spot, just like that.

Back then a kid in ten actually went to college, and the net result was a kid in twenty or so worth talking to. Today all kids go to college, and the net result is functional illiteracy rampant at the age of 25. This is, fundamentally, why we don't like, don't want and don't credit the socialist state, the socialist politician and the welfare system : it doesn't make anyone better off. It makes everyone worse off : most just a little worse off, few a lot worse off, overall everyone worse off.

I for one think that was the best joke in the entire episode. If the price for that is leaving some kids behind, by all means : let's leave some kids behind. You can always make more, and compared to today's crop you can only do better.

  1. Costello is trying to make a short distance call, two blocks away. []
  2. Lodovico Graziani is, of course, the first tenor to ever sing Alfredo, back in 1853. []
  3. That b in libiamo is often read as a v, especially in older performances. []
  4. I have no idea who the actress is, and would appreciate some help on the subject. []
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  1. [...] towards the lower bound. You can try to spend your time and wrack your brains to come up with a good joke, and make good tv programs. Some people will get it, and appreciate it. Or instead, you could spend [...]

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