Ascending and parting

Two cartoons from the October 16th New Yorker: a Jason Adam Katzenstein riff on the Ascent of Man cartoon meme and an Emily Flake & Rob Kutner absurdist updating of Rick and Ilsa at the airport:

(#1) “I’m going to e-mail you this op-ed about how your generation is ruining everything.”

(#2) “If you don’t get on that plane…there’s also the 5:43, then the 9:27, but that’s got a layover in Atlanta, then…”

To understand these cartoons, you need a lot of background information, and you also need to recognize the scenes depicted in them: in #1, the Ascent of Man meme; in #2, a specific scene from the 1942 movie Casablanca. (If you don’t know Rick’s passionate speech to Ilsa in that film, #2 might only seem ditheringly silly.)

The Ascent of Man. The meme in #1 goes back to Darwin’s time. Juli Pausas maintains a site of this material (with over a hundred examples so far).

#1 adds to this a contrast between the last two figures in the chain, both Homo sapiens, but one hirsute, physically tough, and aggressive, the other smooth, well-groomed, “civilized” — representing stereotypes of two different brands of masculinity, with those in the first group tending to view those in the second group as feminized, and those in the second group tending to view those in the first group as brutes.

(Digressive note: Jason Adam Katzenstein’s name is a satisfying line of trochaic tetrameter. Just begging to me incorporated into a four-line folk verse.)

Rick and Ilsa. This one capturing the visual style of the film. Compare the cartoon to this pair shot:


Some of the script (from the AMC filmsite), crucial bit boldfaced, in which Casablanca cafe owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) sacrifices himself with a “We’ll always have Paris” and “No good at being noble” airport farewell speech to ex-lover Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman):

Rick: Because you’re getting on that plane.
Ilsa: “I don’t understand. What about you?”
Rick: I’m staying here with him [Capt. Renault] ’til the plane gets safely away.
Ilsa: “No, Richard. No. What has happened to you? Last night…”
Rick: Last night, we said a great many things. You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well, I’ve done a lot of it since then and it all adds up to one thing. You’re getting on that plane with Victor [Laszlo, her husband] where you belong.
Ilsa: “But Richard, no, I’ve…”
Rick: Now, you’ve got to listen to me. Do you have any idea what you’ve have to look forward to if you stayed here? Nine chances out of ten, we’d both wind up in a concentration camp. Isn’t that true, Louis?
Renault: “I’m afraid Major Strasser would insist.”
Ilsa: “You’re saying this only to make me go.”
Rick: I’m saying it because it’s true. Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.
Ilsa: “What about us?”
Rick: We’ll always have Paris.

In #2, Rick’s intense concern that Ilsa get on the plane with Victor — her last chance to flee from Casablanca to safety — becomes an absurd fretting about airline schedules.

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