Existential Risk

A friend writes to ask about this Paul Noth cartoon in the December 7th New Yorker:


My correspondent got the wordplay, on risk / the game Risk (the board game that they’re playing),  but he was puzzled by the hooded figure. Once again, it’s about what you need to know to understand what’s going on in a cartoon, and in this case, you need two big pieces of background. Item 2 is: Ingmar Bergman, The Seventh Seal.

On item 1, from Wikipedia:

Risk is a strategy board game produced by Parker Brothers (now a division of Hasbro). Winning Moves also makes a classic 1959 version. It was invented by French film director Albert Lamorisse and originally released in 1957 as La Conquête du Monde (“The Conquest of the World”) in France. It was later bought by Parker Brothers and released in 1959 with some modifications to the rules as Risk: The Continental Game, then as Risk: The Game of Global Domination.

Risk is a turn-based game for two to six players. The standard version is played on a board depicting a political map of the Earth, divided into forty-two territories, which are grouped into six continents. The object of the game is to occupy every territory on the board and in doing so, eliminate the other players. Players control armies with which they attempt to capture territories from other players, with results determined by dice rolls.


But then there’s:


From Wikipedia:

The Seventh Seal (Swedish: Det sjunde inseglet) is a 1957 Swedish drama-fantasy film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. Set in Sweden during the Black Death, it tells of the journey of a medieval knight (Max von Sydow) and a game of chess he plays with the personification of Death (Bengt Ekerot), who has come to take his life. Bergman developed the film from his own play Wood Painting. The title refers to a passage from the Book of Revelation, used both at the very start of the film, and again towards the end, beginning with the words “And when the Lamb had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour”. [Rev. 8:1] Here the motif of silence refers to the “silence of God,” which is a major theme of the film.

(No seals were harmed in the making of this movie.)

Death’s opponent in the cartoon is not a medieval knight playing chess, but an ordinary nebbishy guy playing Risk, which makes the cartoon decidedly silly.

(Paul Noth now has his own Page on his blog, here.)


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