Thrifty, Brave, Clean, & Flammable

Wayno’s title for today/s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, in which the world of summer scout camp for kids intersects with the complex fictional world of the animate marionette Pinocchio. To understand the cartoon, you need to recognize both of these worlds (a matter of considerable cutural knowledge); and to understand why it’s funny, you need specific detailed information about each of these worlds.

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 6 in this strip — see this Page

The key words are kindling and fibs.

Details from the scout camp world: kindling. The crucial bit of specific knowledge is that fire building is a central outdoor skill in scouting, a central part of camping. There’s a gigantic framework of cultural beliefs and practices here, embracing the very idea of summer camp, the vaunted value of elemental experiences with nature (at least for boys), symbolic associations with military order, and quite specific recommended practices — like fire-building.

On kindling, study this diagram, the first in a series of instructions on building a campfire:


From NOAD:

noun kindling:  1 easily combustible small sticks or twigs used for starting a fire…

But why would the scoutmaster / camp counselor seek out Pinocchio as a source of kindling?

Details from Pinocchio’s world: fibs. Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio is a complex episodic work of picaresque fiction (written for children) centered on the character of the animate marionette Pinocchio and his desire (eventually satisfied) to become no longer a marionette, but a real flesh-and-blood boy.

The plot element at work in #1 is this one, from the Wikipedia article on the work:

… Recovered, Pinocchio lies to the Fairy when she asks what has happened to the gold coins, and his nose grows until it is so long that he cannot turn around in the room. The Fairy explains that Pinocchio’s lies are making his nose grow and calls in a flock of woodpeckers to chisel it down to size.

Pinocchio fibs, his (wooden) nose gets longer and longer. Aha! a source of kindling for making a fire at camp!

And the two worlds mesh.

Bizarro Pinocchio. Two previous postings on this blog:

on 7/15/17, in “Surreal juxtaposition”:


[on image #1 there:] Asking someone to put sunscreen on your back at the beach or by a swimming pool is an invitation to a small intimacy, but in the beach or pool context, it can be an allowable intimacy even between strangers (though the conventions governing such interactions are complex and not entirely clear).

In the case at hand, we have a possible exchange of protections: the woman from sunburn, Pinocchio (being a boy of wood) from termites.

(The posting also provides discussion of the character Pinocchio.)

on 1/27/18, in “Four exercises in cartoon understanding”:


[on image #3 there:] 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 …

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

Appendix. Pinocchio as Bildungserzählung.

From my 4/7/20 posting “Alex’s Locker Room”, initially just about a gay porn flick, but then it reaches for larger lessons:

episodic vs. itineraryTales From the Locker Room is, like most gay porn, merely episodic; there is no overarching story line, merely one scene happening after another, the scenes held together by some (perhaps quite minimal) theme. Some gay porn flicks, however, are long-form itinerary tales, knit together like a journey, even an odyssey, a progression in time towards some end point.

… Three well-known episodic tales: One Thousand and One Nights (the Arabian Nights stories, aka the Scheherazade tales); the Decameron (by Bocaccio); and the Canterbury Tales (by Chaucer). All have framing stories, providing some thematic unity, but the tales themselves do not make any kind of story (in the Canterbury Tales, the framing story is a journey, but the tales themselves are separate episodes pointing towards no end.

… The Odyssey is, however, a set of episodes depicting adventures of a variety of types, unified as stations on the journey of Ulysses back from the war in Troy to his home in Ithaca; it’s an itinerary tale.

The Bildungserzählung. The itinerary tale takes on a deeper meaning when the journey is seen as the development or education of a protagonist towards towards some desirable mental state — as a Bildungserzählung, a tale of development.

The exemplars in my posting are Fielding’s Tom Jones and the gay porn flick Mens Room Bakersfield Station. And now, yes, Pinocchio, in which the central character runs through a riot of episodes on his way to achieving full humanity. The journey is, in fact, quite moving (the marionette’s missteps and moral failings along the way are, in every way, all too human), and even the Disneyfied cutesied travesty of the story can’t quite conceal that.

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