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The Big E – Earnest – The Importance of Being

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256 – November/December 2019

By Elaine Lessig
During my undergraduate years at the Philadelphia University from which I graduated, my minor was in English literature. Among the many courses I took to fulfill my requirements, one was a particular favorite, “The Victorians,” famous writers who were published during the latter part of the 19th century. Perhaps one of the more renowned and prolific of those writers was Oscar Wilde, an Irish born eccentric who highlighted the social hypocrisy of his time in his poetry, novels, and plays.
Mr. Wilde’s greatest dramatic achievement was a farce, “The Importance of Being Earnest.” The three act play mocked the behavior of polite society with the satire for which Mr. Wilde was revered. Every part of the play, including the title, was a play on words, the dialogue dripping with puns and double meanings. His scathing wit dominated every scene.
The premise of the play is that a carefree English country gentleman, John Worthington, creates a fictitious brother named Earnest. John claims that Earnest lives in London where he pursues his wicked ways. As an excuse to escape his own boring country life, John frequently claims that he must abandon his country home, flee to London, and keep his brother away from serious trouble. In fact, it is John who seeks the pleasures of the city to which he attributes to Earnest. All the while he stays with his “friend,” Algernon Moncrieff. The clever conversation which pervades the play trivializes the social institutions and burdensome social obligations of the Victorian age.
More than one hundred years later, are we at a place where being “earnest” is losing its importance? Has Dogdom become the London of Oscar Wilde’s time? Is there more pretense than honesty here? Do we scoff at the conventions which define our special place? Are we slipping into the wicked ways John Worthington sought? I begin to wonder.
Recently, I was sitting inside my ring waiting for the time to begin judging after lunch. My steward was a fellow judge whom I have known for a long time. As I looked around the ringside, I noticed an exhibitor “painting” black tips on her dog’s white ears. Her ringside trolley with its tabletop was literally touching the ring gating. I said to my steward, “Look at this, coloring a dog six feet away from us.” She replied, “Doesn’t she have any idea that we can see her?” “Obviously, she does not. Nor does she care,” I answered. “What a joke,” she lamented.
This summer I was much blessed with a lovely litter of Blenheim Cavalier King Charles Spaniels puppies. When inquiries came my way, I took time to explain the health issues in our breed and what testing conscientious breeders do to address each one. I suggested that they ask each of the breeders they contact if they do them. Do they have board certified specialists examine their puppies’ hearts and eyes? Were the parents tested for the two genetic anomalies for which we have DNA tests? Was DNA parentage completed? Have the parents had their hips evaluated by OFA? More often than not, I heard the perspective buyers say other breeders said one test or another was unimportant. Unimportant…until some family has their heart broken when their dog has bad patellae or hip dysplasia.
In one of my early years as show chair for an all breed club, I noticed a show committee member–working with another club with which we share the cluster–pulling a box of catalogues from under the club tables. It was the day before the shows started. We were all supposed to be busy setting up the rings. She proceeded to open the box, pull out a catalog, take out her phone, call her friends in her breed and read them the entire entry! What other rules did she disregard? Who knows?
Yes, judges have temptations all around them, rules, and regulations, too. With opportunities to watch specialties and all breed shows on live stream and closed circuit transmissions, judges can acquaint themselves with an entry they have been hired to judge before that entry ever comes into the ring. The availability of instant online results on websites and Facebook offers another opportunity to peek at the entry. The information is all there, including the markings from previous days. Isn’t it simpler to just judge the dogs? Isn’t this the very point of being hired?
Each part of Dogdom comes with obligations and institutions meant to support our wondrous world. When we make a mockery of our society, we become hypocrites–saying one thing but doing another. Why do we choose to devalue what we have? Let’s abandon our wicked ways and recognize the importance of being earnest. Even Oscar Wilde would applaud us.

  Click here to read the complete article
256 – November/December 2019

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