Two texties, in two tonalities

Texties are cartoon-like compositions in which a pictorial component is entirely absent or merely decorative, not essential to the point of the composition — in effect, words-only cartoons; they can be intended as humor, like gag cartoons, or as serious commentary, like political cartoons.

Two have come to me via friends on Facebook recently — both funny, both taking off on specific registers in modern printed English: the lost and found poster (in the texty “FOUND:CAKE”, or F:C), and the amazing-fact texty on the net (in the texty “[plant facts!]”, or pf!). F:C is an elaborate translation, in detail, of an item of popular culture; pf! is an undermining of the amazing-fact texty form itself.

The texties F:C and pf!:

(#1) (from the Hidden Los Angeles Facebook page)

(#2) (from TheDreamGhoul on Twitter)

To appreciate these texties, you first of all need to be familiar with the particular registers they represent, the lost and found poster and the amazing-fact texty. And then you need more specific information.

For F:C, you need to know about this location:

(#3) Looking towards downtown LA

and you need to know the music alluded to in the texty:

(#4) The musical cake (eventually figuring prominently in the movie The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and the musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert)

For pf!, you need to know that amazing-fact texties sometimes do offer surprising factual information, for instance about the disjuncture between technical and ordinary language (say, between the use of fly and bug in discussions of zoological taxonomy vs. their use in everyday language), but sometimes they offer jokes, as here:

(#5) A Gary Larson lexical invention

From my 8/2/18 posting “Advances in phobology”, on anatidaephobia:

The problem with [amazing-fact] texties is that you can’t tell whether they are telling a joke or communicating a piece of arcane information. (Both uses are well attested.)

MacArthur Park. First, the park, from Wikipedia:

MacArthur Park (originally Westlake Park) is a park dating back to the late nineteenth century in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. In the early 1940s, it was renamed after General Douglas MacArthur, and later designated City of Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument #100.

Then the song, also from Wikipedia:

“MacArthur Park” is a song written and composed by Jimmy Webb. Richard Harris was the first to record the song in 1968: his version peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number four on the UK Singles Chart. “MacArthur Park” was subsequently covered by numerous artists, including a hit version in 1969 by country music singer Waylon Jennings. Among the best-known covers is Donna Summer’s disco arrangement from 1978

… “MacArthur Park” was written and composed by Jimmy Webb in the summer and fall of 1967 as part of an intended cantata. Webb initially brought the entire cantata to The Association, but the group rejected it. The inspiration for the song was his relationship and breakup with Susie Horton. MacArthur Park, in Los Angeles, was where the two occasionally met for lunch and spent their most enjoyable times together. At that time (the middle of 1965), Horton worked for a life insurance company whose offices were located just across the street from the park. When asked by interviewer Terry Gross what was going through his mind when he wrote the lyric, Webb replied that it was meant to be symbolic and referred to the end of a love affair.

The lyrics that are crucial to appreciating the texty F:C:

MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
‘Cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
Oh no!

(You can listen to the Richard Harris recording here.)

[Local digression. From the website of Palo Alto restaurant MacArthur Park (5 blocks or so from my house):

MacArthur Park Restaurant, named after a Jimmy Webb song, has been a neighborhood favorite in Palo Alto since it first opened in 1981. Today’s MacArthur Park has been reclaimed by its original owner and its original chef with a revitalized menu and a recent renovation of this historical landmark Julia Morgan building.

Historical landmarks are permanent sign posts to a culture’s community. This landmark has served the community in many incarnations: as a 1918 Hostess House [the centennial of the building is to be celebrated on August 11th] for visiting families of World War I servicemen, as a community center, a veterans hall and now, once again, as the new MacArthur Park.

(#6) The Julia Morgan building in its original use

(#7) The interior of the restaurant these days

Not bad after a hundred years.]

Berries, nuts, seeds, and so on. The pf! texty plays on a practice of biologists in taking lexical items from ordinary language — berry, nut, and seed, among them — and converting them to technical uses. Upon which many people, including some of these biologists, fall into the error of technicalism. From my 2/11/18 posting “He mean to say “supine””, on technicalism:

The mistake here lies in assuming that technical, domain-specific (medical, botanical, technologcal, etc.) vocabulary is the true, correct, uniquely valid scheme for naming.

(with a link to my 7/27/15 posting “Misleadingly named animals”).

The pf! texty starts with technicalist amazing facts: bananas are, in biological usage, berries; and an almond is, in biological usage, a seed (inside a nut which is inside a fruit of the almond tree). Then, having established this technicalist ground, it runs factually amok. Given the first two amazing facts, you expect the third to explain avocados along something like the following lines, from Wikipedia:

The fruit of the [avocado] plant, also called an avocado …, is botanically a large berry containing a single large seed.

(that is, like bananas, avocados are berries — and both are fruits of a plant). Instead, the texty veers into zoology. Amazing fact: the egg-laying platypus is a mammal. But the avocado is not; its not any kind of animal.

Then the texty just becomes deranged. It’s funny because it starts out as one kind of amazing-fact texty (offering arcane information) and then shifts into another (offering preposterous invention) — a bathetic drop from the elevated to the absurd or ridiculous (a favorite comic strategy of the writer S.J. Perelman, among others).



Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: