The Why of Rebellion by Deb Kristy

So I was tapping out this whole little thing on rebellion on Friday (what? Me procrastinate?), and what I realized was that I didn’t have that much to say on the subject. I never rebelled. No, really. In order to rebel, you must have something to rebel against. There must be an opposing force, and I faced very little parental, institutional, or societal opposition. I mostly did what I wanted and everyone pretty much left me alone.

So instead, I’m going to write about Lucky Louie. Have you seen Lucky Louie? If not, Lucky Louie is a half-hour original show on HBO. It stars the comedian Louis C.K., who, with his fictional wife (Pamela S. Adlon, playing a brilliant straightman) and daughter, is struggling through life, paycheck to paycheck, humiliation to humiliation. It’s a tough life for the family, and there’s an assortment of odd friends, relatives, and neighbors who alternately make things easier and harder.

I love this show. It is profane, and it is, let’s say it, as low-brow as it comes. But it is also extraordinarily funny, in a subversive and biting way that makes me laugh, hard and silently, because I don’t want to miss the next line, and because I am also just a little horrified at how much I personally identify with this profane, low-brow show.

Do you remember when Roseanne first came out? Remember the first couple of seasons? We might not want to admit it now, in 2007, but that show was groundbreaking. It showed, with unflinching and low-brow humor, exactly what was really happening to the majority of American families. Lucky Louie is the Roseanne of a new age. And like Roseanne (in those initial seasons), if we pay attention, we’ll find that under the profanity (which, admittedly some people can’t get past) are some delicate issues and profound truths.

Tonight, the show opened with Louie sitting at the breakfast table with his five year old daughter, Lucy. The bit begins with a standard routine, parent giving explanation, child repeating “Why?” after each comment. The standard ending to this sit-com stand-by is the parent growing frustrated and saying something like “Because I said so!” cue laughter, kid is put in place, parent wins.

On Lucky Louie, the parent gives answers. Every time Lucy asks a question, Louie gives an answer. Again, and again, and again, longer than you would think possible, Louie gives a thoughtful, truthful (for him), engaging and funny answer. He never speaks down to Lucy. He never pulls rank because he’s tired of talking to her. Her one question “Why?” is not a frivolous question and he never treats it as such. “Why?” is a valid, important thing to ask. For a child, and for adults.

“Why?” is not merely an irritant.

“Why?” is not unpatriotic.

“Why?” is not a rebellion.
P.S. Lucky Louie was cancelled after one season. But you can pick it up here.

9 Replies to “The Why of Rebellion by Deb Kristy”

  1. I’ve never seen this show, but would love to. I hope I can find it here in Canada. When you consider the impact of low-brow shows that speaks to the masses (consider Archie Bunker, for instance) it says a lot about the writing behind them, doesn’t it? Very interesting post, Kristy.

  2. I have this effect on shows. As soon as I adore them and start watching they are cancelled.
    The part about “Why?” really makes me smile.
    As a teacher I loved this question and you know what? There were plenty of students in my classroom that would take a crack at answering and I could sit back and let them all cogitate.
    I used to ask my son, why on a regular basis.
    I think that is the question good writers are always asking themselves and their characters.

  3. I think that not talking down to children is so important (and it improves their vocabulary.;)) Why would we want our children to start out life feeling inferior? They already have to be smaller and obey what you say; why not take the time to let them know that, despite that, they are still just as important as you.

    Great post.:)


  4. The why question definitely keeps me on my toes. My daughter asks it often.

    And I agree with Patricia — I think it’s one of the most important questions we as writers can ask ourselves and our characters. Second only to “What if…”

  5. When does “Why” become a question that too many people are afraid to ask? No matter what one’s age, those who stop asking “Why” have chosen to basically stop learning and growing…I can’t imagine “Why?”

  6. I was never much of a rebel either… (maybe I’m going through my rebel stage now?)

    But I agree that it’s terrible how people discourage children from asking why. Sure, it can be irritating when it somes so many times in rapid succession from kids at that age… But how else are they going to learn?

  7. I was one of those kids who was big on why. Drove my parents crazy.

    Now I’m an adult who is big on why, and I drive everyone else crazy (only my daughter agrees with me — “Yeah, why?!”) I don’t mean to be a pest, but I just *really* want to know why!

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