A Harry Bliss cartoon in the May 15th New Yorker:


“Well, there’s your problem right there—you need to sauté the onions in white wine before adding the ginger.”

First, the usual note about what you have to know to understand this cartoon. You have to recognize that the cartoon is set in a baseball stadium during a game (this is fairly easy, though it involves very culture-specific knowledge), and that we’re looking at the catcher and the pitcher conferring on the pitcher’s mound about pitching strategy, a conference in which privacy is often assured by having the two men cover their mouths with their mitts (this is definitely inside-baseball esoterica).

But wait, there’s more.

What makes the cartoon funny? Well, the men aren’t talking about baseball strategy at all. That’s funny in itself. But in fact they’re trading cooking tips, exploring a topic that’s stereotypically the province of women (and gay men) — and this in the extraordinarily high-macho setting of professional baseball. Childcare, fashion, or favorite musicals might have served equally well.

A real-life example of a pitcher’s-mound conference, chosen essentially at random:


Texas Rangers starting pitcher Martin Perez (33) and Texas Rangers catcher Bryan Holaday (8) confer during their game against Pittsburgh Pirates at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas May 29, 2016. (Nathan Hunsinger/The Dallas Morning News)

The usual method for achieving privacy in a public setting is to withdraw to a private space. As in legal proceedings. From Wikipedia:

In camera … is a legal term that means in private. The same meaning is sometimes expressed in the English equivalent: in chambers. Generally, in-camera describes court cases, parts of it, or process where the public and press are not allowed to observe the procedure or process. In-camera is the opposite of trial in open court where all parties and witnesses testify in a public courtroom, and attorneys publicly present their arguments to the trier of fact.

But privacy in legal proceedings can be achieved by means short of moving to chambers or clearing the court of spectators: a lawyer can confer with a client, for example, by exchanging whispers, perhaps with their mouths concealed by their hands, right out there in court: an island of privacy in a public place. Just as in a conference on the pitcher’s mound.

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