Friday, September 14, 2007

The Ionesco Awards

In the spirit of the Darwin Awards, which satirically "honor those who improve the accidentally removing themselves from it," recent hijinks by government officials across the globe inspired me to start a list of Ionesco Awards -- celebrating decisions that could only belong in the theater of the absurd. (NB: If you can name any female absurdist playwrights, please let me know!) Many of you have likely read Paul Theroux's article in May's New Yorker that chronicles the tragically ridiculous decrees of Turkmenbashi, the leader of Turkmenistan from 1991 through 2006. Among other absurd moves, Turkmenbashi filled the capital, Ashgabat, with gold statues of himself; made his book, Ruhnama, a national bible; and banned beards and ballet. A more recent contender: Last week's NY Times reported on a bill introduced in Venezuela's National Assembly that would "limit parents of newborns to a list of 100 names established by the government." Seeking to stifle whimsical names such as Hochiminh Jesús Delgado Sierra and Kerbert Krishnamerk, the law seeks to promote Spanish-language and cisgender identity by preventing parents from giving newborns names that are ''extravagant or hard to pronounce in the official language,'' Spanish, or ''generate doubts'' about the bearer's gender. Send them to the Ministry of Silly Names? But I thought the Governor of Ulyanovsk's decree, reported in yesterday's NY Times, might win the prize: For the third year in a row, he gave couples the day off work yesterday so they could make babies. As a strategy for increasing Russia's declining population, this plan has a rather large hole. Unless these women ovulate in the next day or two, the chance of fertilization is rather slim -- so the vast majority of females taking the holiday will not be able to get pregnant even if they diligently follow the government's procreation orders. Perhaps someone wants to give the governor an elemental lesson in human biology? And suggest that a more effective way to encourage more births might be to offer high-quality, low-cost childcare? Sigh. Any contenders you can think of?


Naomi Norberg said...

While I agree that creating an official list of names for children is absurd, it is not so uncommon. France had a similar law, i.e. no names that are likely to stigmatize the child because they're so "different", that was thrown out less than 15 years ago. We came up against in trying to take my "maiden" name on to the name of our stillborn daughter. You'd think it wouldn't matter, but the women running the birth registry seemed quite unaware of the change in the law and were adamant that it just wasn't done to use a last name as a middle name.

Diane Marie Amann said...

Update: Venezuela withdrew the not-these-names bill yesterday. See,4670,VenezuelaStrangeNames,00.html