The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

More Cartoon Themes

I'm now up to 1981 in my complete history of the New Yorker cartoon, and some additional primal themes have emerged. Gone, almost completely, are the Arab-on-Flying-Carpet gags, the gypsy fortune tellers, and the sandwich board humor. Since the seventies, the rise of soi-disant jokes about guys in suits, living the corporate life and being either smug or disillusioned about it (depending on which recession was going on) are far in the majority. The idea that goings-on in board rooms are somehow funny was rife. The desert island castaways continue, arguably alive to this day in television guise, as is in reduced quantity the "go and never darken my door again" unwed-mother bit. But also hidden among the three-piece-suit paradigms were some of these constants:

Rats deserting a sinking ship
Workers picketing an establishment (40's and 50's, mostly)
The tunnel of love (dying out by the 80's)
The safari leader with a team of natives carrying things on their heads
Nude artist's models
Insomniacs counting sheep (or something)
Indians sending smoke signals
Criminals being questioned
The Ladies' club meeting (gone by the 70's)
Workmen down in a manhole, saying something ironic
Diogenes and his quest for an honest man
The smiley face (first shows up in 1971)
Mirror, mirror, on the wall ...
Snake charmers and snakes
People kicking the tires on cars
IRS audits
Cave men who court cave women by hitting them on the head
People (or something) being announced on entering a party

With the late 60's and 70's, a thread appears about people who are or aren't having a good time at cocktail parties, with some kind of incongruous or ironic reason why or why not. Little or nothing of the drug culture shows up, only a few bits mention Vietnam, nothing at all about the Kennedy assassinations, and there are but a couple of guess-who's-coming-to-dinner race relation ideas. Unsurprisingly, the 70's cartoons are largely a bore, with a lot of William Steig's crap and the execrable Roz Chast. But we do see many wonderful drawings by George Booth, with his dogs that are the heirs of Thurber's.

I'll let you know how things turn out when Reagan's out of office.

No comments:

Post a Comment