Monday, November 20, 2006

Bouc emissaire

The other day the family R was out shopping on a lovely warm November day. I noticed a man at a corner holding up a sign advertising a sale at a nearby store. Usually when I see a person being employed that way it's scorching hot or raining; that day was so nice it was hard to feel bad for the guy. I wondered if in fact he was there for people to feel sorry for, and whether the strategy works better in bad weather.

I was reminded of Benjamin Malaussène, the professional scapegoat in a series of novels by Daniel Pennac (I've read _Au bonheur des ogres_ and _La petite marchande de prose_ which I enjoyed and probably another which wasn't as good) - he's paid to get yelled at by unhappy customers who then feel so bad about making the poor guy sad that they don't pursue their complaint against the company he works for.

There's a Lemonheads song I like a lot - "Paid to smile". Court jesters were once paid to be humiliated, whipping boys were kept so they could be put in pain - no doubt there are modern equivalents.

(The title is the French for "scapegoat" - somewhere in the bible one goat gets sacrificed and the other gets loaded with the tribe's sins and sent out to the desert - from the non-human perspective the good outcome - it escapes.)


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