Four exercises in cartoon understanding

Two from the January 29th New Yorker, a recent Bizarro, and yesterday’s Rhymes With Orange, all requiring considerable background knowledge to understand:

(#1) Liana Finck in the New Yorker

“Dogs are men.”

(#2) Bruce Eric Kaplan in the New Yorker

(#3) A Bizarro by Dan Piraro in collaboration with Wayno

(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 2 in this strip — see this Page.)

(#4) A Rhymes With Orange

Finck: the dude with slices of bread on his head and under his feet. In #1. First, you need to recognize the two figures as stereotypes of 18th-century European nobility. That allows you to make some sense of Nobleman #1’s question “So what are you the earl of?”

But the question is much more specific than “Who are you?” or “What is your title?”: it presupposes that Nobleman #2 is an earl. Hold this thought.

At this point you need to work out the significance of the slices of bread on Nobleman #2’s head and under his feet. Something between two slices of bread, what’s that? Answer: a sandwich. So Nobleman #2 is the Earl of Sandwich. That’s goofy and funny, in a somewhat surreal way. But maybe not New Yorker-level clever.

To see something more, you need to know this fact about the origin of the food noun sandwich:

ORIGIN: mid 18th century: named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718–92), an English nobleman said to have eaten food in this form so as not to leave the gaming table. (NOAD)

Additional detail about the title, from Wikipedia:

Earl of Sandwich is a noble title in the Peerage of England, nominally associated with Sandwich, Kent. It was created in 1660 for the prominent naval commander Admiral Sir Edward Montagu.

… The second Earl’s great-grandson was The 4th Earl of Sandwich, who was a prominent statesman and served as First Lord of the Admiralty and as Secretary of State for the Northern Department. Lord Sandwich is also remembered for sponsoring the voyages of discovery made by Captain James Cook, R.N., who named the Sandwich Islands [now known as the Hawaiian Islands] in his honour, and as the namesake of the sandwich.

… As of 2017, the titles are held by … the eleventh Earl, who succeeded in 1995. Lord Sandwich is one of the ninety elected hereditary peers that remain in the House of Lords after the passing of the House of Lords Act 1999

Kaplan: cats think that dogs are men. In #2. Here you need to know at least four things: that cats are stereotypically seen as viewing dogs as the (untrustworthy) Other;  that cats are in fact wary of human beings (wary of men ‘human beings’) while being to some degree dependent on them; that women are stereotypically seen as viewing men as the (untrustworthy) Other; and that this belief on women’s part is often expressed in the catchphrase Men are [figuratively] dogs — noun doginformal a person regarded as unpleasant, contemptible, or wicked (used as a term of abuse) (NOAD) — (or Men are [figuratively] pigs).

Putting all this together: as women speak of men figuratively as dogs, so cats speak of dogs figuratively as men;  men are dogs reverses to dogs are men.

Bizarro: on the ME’s table. In #3. First, you need to recognize the overall scene as a medical examiner autopsying a corpse — a scene familiar to many from pop culture, in police procedural tv shows, but one that few people are familiar with in first-hand experience.

Then you need to recognize the body on the examining table as the character Pinocchio, a wooden puppet boy from children’s literature and in adaptations in other popular media (discussion in my 7/15/17 posting “Surreal juxtaposition”).

Finally, you need to know that the age of trees can be assessed from the number of layers, or rings, in a cross-section.

Rhymes With Orange: snow Scrabble. In #4. First, you need to recognize the overall scene as involving a pair of stereotypical Eskimos in situ (snow, warm coats, an igloo).

Then the cartoonist (Hilary Price) just gives you the information that the two Eskimos are playing the game Scrabble (“Scrabble — Snow Edition”), but you need to know that this is a word game, in which the players use letter tiles to spell out words on a board.

Finally, you need to know what connects Eskimos and words: the popular belief that Eskimos have a lot of words for snow. (Cue the immense literature on the subject.)

Price’s conceit is that in Scrabble — Snow Edition all the words played have to be words for snow. The player on the left is challenging the player on the right on just this point.



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