Boris and Natasha advise POTUS

Pat Byrnes’s New Yorker daily cartoon yesterday:

Another chapter in the great book of what you have to know to understand what’s going on in a cartoon and what you have to know to see why it might be funny.

Identify the central figures and what they’re doing. You have to recognize the central fugure as the current POTUS, seated at his desk in the Oval Office in the White House. (About two years ago, I would not have recognized the caricature of POTUS, through I certainly knew who the man was; and without the knowledge that this was POTUS, the man could be working at any desk in American officialdom.

Then you have to recognize that he’s typing on a  smartphone (something most people would not have recognized even 15 years ago).

But what is he typing on that smartphone? To answer that, you need to know about the service Twitter (which has only been around for about ten years) and you need to know a significant bit of current news: that the present POTUS is given to using Twitter to send brief boastful, withering, or otherwise embarrassing messages to the world.

Including accusations that much of what’s reported in the mainstream media is “fake news”, wholly false. In particular, reports in the mainstream media of close associations between POTUS’s associates and officials of the Russian government.

All of that — and it’s a lot — is current events. But then there are the other two figures, standing in back of him and speaking the advice in the caption. While the POTUS figure is a caricature, the other two are even more stylized: they are clearly cartoon characters. In fact, they are two characters from a specific American tv animated cartoon show, the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (squirrel and moose, respectively): the Russian spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale. (On the show, see my posting of 8/14/13.) Boris and Natasha are advising POTUS to deflect criticism from the Russians to the moose and squirrel (the sweet and naive Bullwinkle and Rocky).

If you don’t know the American pop culture connection, to the animated cartoon, you won’t have a clue as to why the cartoon is funny. (And I do think it’s funny, though I wonder what people will make of it in 30, 40, or 50 years.)

On the artist. Pat Byrnes has appeared on this blog before, and now I’ve created a Page for him.

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