Saturday, 28 June 2008

In praise of silliness

Norwich is full of elephants.

A whole herd of mini elephants has been let loose on the city, each painted with a different topic. There's one on Quayside with waterweed and sticklebacks. One by the Puppet Theatre with vivid geometrical patterns made in electrical tape. One in the Royal Arcade decorated with mirrors, shining like an elephant shaped shard of glitter.

Someone looking at the Quayside elephant said 'This is delightful silliness,' and smiled.

He's right. There is a real value to honest silliness. There's something disarming about these elephants. They make no huge claims - they admit their silliness  - and you have no choice but to love them.

I can think of other examples of this kind of amusement. The porcellino or little boar in Florence. Bernini's elephant at Santa Maria sopra Minerva. The joke surprise fountains at Versailles.

If we ever forget to be silly, I think we'll forget to be human.

Because silliness confounds fascism. It rebuts totalitarianism. It argues for liberty and  in particular for the freedom of the imagination. It takes on the totalitarians of fashion and peer group. It defies worthiness, and people who know better than you how you ought to be living your life. It asserts spontaneity, originality, and enjoyment.

If you can't be silly, you don't know the meaning of freedom.

So do something silly this weekend.

Not outrageous. Not contrarian. But just silly.  Like painting an elephant.

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