Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"Dippity Bix" and "Chimpanzee," by Kath and Kim (Gina Riley and Jane Turner)

Pitch perfect: Australian versifiers, Kath and Kim.
"Dippity Bix"
Kim: You know what, mum. I've stopped my all-cabbage diet. I don't think it's healthy to eat just one thing.
Kath: Well Gwen Paltrow just had an Apple.
Kim: Huh?
Kath: Well that's what she's called her new baby. Apple. I think that must be all she's eaten since she had her by the luhks. You'd be wise to take a leave-out of Gwen's book, Kim.
Kim: So what are you saying? I should rename Epponnee-Rae*, Dippity Bix?
Kath: Yeah! Dippity Bix Cocoa Bomb Footy Frank.
Kim: Actually, Footy Frank is quite pretty.
Kath: Yeah, Footy Frank, it is, isn't it?

*Her baby daughter, whose full name is Epponnee Raelene Kathleen Darlene Charlene Craig.

Kim: Oh look mum. Another present I got for Epponnee: The Bath Book version of The Da Vinci Code. Look, It squeaks when you press the albino.
Kath: Who do I still need to buy for, Kim? I've got my health professionals: My Physio, my Ostio, my Chiro and my Gyno. They're all getting bottles of Cock Fighter, so that's done. Now my service providers: I've got my Posti, my Garbo, my Recycle's Man, my Coles Online Guy -- still need to get something for them.
Kim: I still gotta get something good for Bret. You know he's really into labels now.
Kath: Oh really, what, stick-on or iron-on, cause we go down to Office Works for that.
Kim: No, mum. Clothes. Designer labels. You know, Dolci and Kabanna, Tony Hellfinger, Louise Futon.
Kath: Oh, gee. Who's he dressing to impress? Actually, I got Bret's present. It's great. It's the John Grisham newy, The Firm Client. Actually, that sounds a bit more like Kel [her husband], doesn't it?
Kim: But Bret doesn't read at the moment. Now he's a workaholic.
Kath: Yeah, I've noticed, he's very driven at the moment, isn't he, Kim? I have to say, I think it suits him. He did look very spunky going off in his Yugo Boss this morning.
Kim: Yeah, he's got his sites set on the top. You know, eventually, he wants to be owner-manager.
Kath: Oh, that's really kudosses, Kim. Being a franchisee. Gee, one day I'd like to be a franchisee, Kim.
Kim: Well you look more like a Chimpanzee today.

                                                     This week's editor: Zireaux

If Kath and Kim were ever told they spoke the language of poetry, they'd be the first to give earnest impassioned readings at the Fountain Gate bookstore and pawn their own chapbooks at the gym. Playing fools in the name of beauty is what they do best.

The Australian creators of this TV comedy, meanwhile -- Gina Riley and Jane Turner -- are poets to the core. They understand that when it comes to language -- in this case, the vernacular of the suburban Melbourne shopping mall -- sound and sense are the poetic equivalent of costume and character. "Kel says my hair is my clowning glory," boasts Kath about her frizzy white poodle-fro. And there you have it, all four elements of the comedic art form expressed in a single line.

In so much of Riley/Turner's work, their ear is near perfect. Metrically, for example, "Epponnee-Rae" and "Dippity Bix" would be called choriambs (stresses on the first and last sounds of a tetrasyllable), and their identical scansion is no accident. But the two baby names are also excellent examples of why common scansion alone -- the dissection of feet into stressed/unstressed patterns, as scholars have been doing for centuries -- is really a cheating of sound. Because sound itself divides into tones (or notes) and cadence (or rhythm), as I tried to show in my post on Notorious B.I.G..

So although the scansion is the same, Swinburne's "...senseless of passion," or Coleridge's "Down to the sunless...," sound nothing at all like Shakespeare's "flibbertigibbit" (which, in fact, more closely resembles the short rapid-fire air-bursts of "Dippity Bix"). After the swooping landing of Coleridge's, "Down," the mouth must stand up again and brush itself off before delivering, "to the sunless." "Flibbertigibbet," on the other hand, is a happy triple-flip of the tongue. "I should rename Epponnee-Rae, Raspberry Cream," would have produced exactly the same scansion, but with a very different rhythm, a very different effect.

Fascinating in its failure:
the American Kath and Kim
American TV attempted its own version of Kath and Kim, which was fascinating in its failure. Sense and sound (and rhythm), character and costume -- the harmony of these elements were sacrificed in favor of the premise, or the idea: A grown-up married daughter coming home to live with her mother.
But I'll say it again: Ideas are not what poetry is about. Poetry is spoken music (some might say written music, but I'm less convinced of this, unless we equate reading with hearing, which seems a stretch). The Australian Kath has no qualms showing off her fanny-fissure, or trying on -- and spilling out of -- a Burberry bikini, or putting on that perpetual vulgar teenage girl expression, the rolling eyes and exasperated flip of the hair, which looks even funnier on the grown-up Riley. Excessiveness, outrageousness -- a realm that's ripe for poetry.

The American version of "Kath and Kim," however, was too concerned with meaning, too afraid to let sound and costume speak for themselves, too poetically restrained. It has, in fact, a very strong odor of the Lolita-Charlotte relationship -- think Sue Lyon and Shelly Winters in the film, Lolita -- a particularly American flavor of mother-daughter relationship which Nabokov netted in his novel; and from which Americans may never be able to escape.

"It squeaks when you press the albino" is a poetic phrase, in the manner of the anapestic limerick. And note the perfect rhyme with gyno in Kath's subsequent line (with both characters stretching out the "aiye-no" sound). Poetic, too, is "kudosses, Kim." But perhaps most lovely, and rich with poetic depth, is the coupling of the words "franchisee" with "chimpanzee." They have an aural relationship; yet no common rhyme form. They're not that rarest species of rhyme -- the gimmal; and yet the simian-coated Kath saying, "gee, one day I'd like to be a franchisee," still takes us on a pleasure-journey across the broadest spectrum of metaphor, from vulgar job title to Christmas shopping ape-woman; a trip, or trope, which Nabokov himself would surely have admired.
You'll find information about this week's editor Zireaux, as well as his latest books, verse and commentary, at www.ImmortalMuse.com. This week he examines one of Edgar Allan Poe's earliest poems, "Dreams." 

We do hope you'll take some time to enjoy the other Tuesday Poem posts this week, listed in the right-hand sidebar.


Helen McKinlay said...

Thankyou for posting this Zireaux.
Absolutely love it! Absolutelly
the tippity tops and so illustrative of life in the wippity wops of big city Aussie pops.:-)

Mary McCallum said...

Thanks Zireaux - this is fantastic. I will print it off to use for one of my poetry classes at Massey. Most of the first years don't know poems but they sure as hell know Kath and Kim.

maggie@at-the-bay.com said...

How utterly fascinating.

Elizabeth Welsh said...

Love it! Their use of language is pretty spectacular. Thanks for dissecting and sharing the delights of some Melbourne mall comedy, Zireaux :)

Keith Westwater said...

Great, funny, stimulating, full of double whatevers, howlers, spooner-whats-its and all soaked in satire. Thanks Zireaux.

Zireaux said...

Appreciate your kind comments. Apparently a Kath and Kim feature film is coming out soon -- Kath & Kimderalla. The trailer, with its Riviera opening sequence, looks at first like a gag on Cheat, Play, Shove (actual title, Eat, Pray, Love), a book by the unintentional comic, Elizabeth Gilbert, which would be ripe for Kath and Kim to savage. But no, appears to be something else. Whatever they do, I hope they focus on language. Writing is their forte. Another poetess with a perfect ear, by the way, is Jennifer Saunders of the British comedy Absolutely Fabulous.