Magically found extra time today, so I wanted to share my thoughts on McGillis and my primary source:
I read Does My Head Look Big in This by Fattah. The novel follows 16-year old Amal after she makes the decision to wear a hijab. She makes this decision after watching a Friends episode and boldly declares “Rachel inspired me to wear a hijab.” The novel takes place a year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and though it’s set in Melbourne, Australia, it localizes the impact of the terrorist attacks, specifically within Amal’s life. Though I won’t talk about the misfires this book makes in trying to deal with bullying and hate crimes post 9/11, I do recommend reading it if you’re interested in YA literature that attempts to represent a varied Muslim experience.
The McGillis article surveys the history of humor and its emphasis on the body as either the subject or object. I’d like to investigate some of McGillis’ ideas through Fattah’s novel, but I’d like to talk about the ideas as ways to build humor communities. Specifically, within Does My Head Look Big in This, there are three communities that are built through the use of humor.
First is Amal’s attempt to build a community with her readers. I believe she does this by constantly using language to dismember, evacuate, and spotlight her body. She talks of a “punching hole in her guts,” of “salvaging her eyeballs,” of wearing a tarantula on her head, her “nappy head,” “balding head,” “nostril hair standing on edge” all to use her body as a source of humor for readers. The humor comes from her use of language—these words become things as McGillis proposes. McGillis might also argue the humor comes from Amal’s “healthy mind” steadying the language of her “sickly body.”
Amal also builds a community with her school friends through the use of body humor. Eileen, Simone, and Amal are all outcasts in school. Eileen is second generation Japanese, Simone is “fat,” and Amal is a hijabi. What is particularly interesting is Amal’s love and adoration for Simone’s curves directly after Simone makes fun of herself for having “wobbly arms” or too many layers of skin. When Simone makes fun of herself, Amal reprimands her, but then proceeds to laugh at the ridiculousness of Simone’s delusional sense of enormity. Over time, the reader too, shares in this laugh as readers see Simone and her relationship to her body as marked by delusion. Rather than deal with the unpleasantness of a teenager with severe body image issues, we laugh.
Finally, Amal builds a community with the racist and silent students and teachers of her school through humor that attempts to subvert the gaze of the colonizer. Tina constantly attacks Amal for being Muslim, asking her if she feels bad for terrorist attacks, and calling her hijab a tablecloth. In reaction to these comments, Amal makes comments like “I just read the world’s shortest book called ‘My Thoughts’ by Tina.” Or, in response to a teacher who asks Amal to give a speech on Islam to help students understand why terrorists attacked an area in Bali, Amal asks said teacher to give a speech on what it means to be Christian to better explain the Ku Klux Klan. Rather than respond to the material that comes from the colonizer’s gaze, Amal throws their gaze back onto them, frustrating them, but creating humor for everyone else.
Other things I wish I could talk about but won’t: There’s a neighbor who alienates her son for converting to Judaism. She’s a cranky lady who Amal manages to befriend through a sort of “humor as a form of honesty.” Also, Amal is using humor to create relationships between people with extremely different ideologies. It enables orthodox Muslim relatives to relate to Amal and by extension the reader—I wondered if that was the author’s agenda at work (‘Stop equating religiosity with propensity to commit politically motivated terror attacks.’).