Cetacean in aisle 3! The caption finalists

Previously on this blog, in the 4/23/21 posting “Size cartoons”, about a Benjamin Schwartz drawing for the New Yorker cartoon caption contest, in the 4/26 & 5/3 issue, with my note on the drawing:

This isn’t bad as a wordless cartoon, with a cute but gigantic whale looming over a decidedly anxious Ahab

Now in the 5/17 issue, the finalists:


Winner to be announced in the May 31st issue.

I noted in my earlier posting that Moby-Dick is gigantic in Schwartz’s drawing, but nowhere near as gigantic as an actual sperm whale would be. But then we’re in CartoonLand, where whales can go grocery shopping in a supermarket, so it seems silly to quibble about inaccuracies of scale.

In fact, anachronisms — like putting the characters in #1 in a supermarket, supermarkets being distinctly 20th-century things, while Moby-Dick was published in the mid-19th century — are a regular feature of the Ahab and the Whale cartoon meme. Some of the cartoons are more or less faithful to a 19th-century setting, but others are distinctly modern: Ahab is on a bus, in a travel agency, in a trendy bookshop, or singing a variant of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”.

Supermarkets. Following this trail where it leads… From Wikipedia, the background:

In the early days of retailing, products generally were fetched by an assistant from shelves behind the merchant’s counter while customers waited in front of the counter and indicated the items they wanted. Most foods and merchandise did not come in individually wrapped consumer-sized packages, so an assistant had to measure out and wrap the precise amount desired by the consumer. This offered opportunities for social interaction: many regarded this style of shopping as “a social occasion” and would often “pause for conversations with the staff or other customers”. These practices were by nature slow and had high labor intensity and therefore also quite expensive. The number of customers who could be attended to at one time was limited by the number of staff employed in the store. Shopping for groceries also often involved trips to multiple specialty shops, such as a greengrocer, butcher, bakery, fishmonger and dry goods store; in addition to a general store. Milk and other items of short shelf life were delivered by a milkman.

The full set of supermarket characteristics —

a wide variety of food products under one roof, including a produce department; much individual packaging, especially packaging done by suppliers rather than in-house; volume selling combined with discount pricing; self-service as much as possible; marketing to a wide audience; organization into chains; sales of non-food items (fresh flowers, houseplants, magazines, pharmaceuticals and other drug store items, etc.)

— largely developed separately, on different paths in different countries (with the US as a leader in many respects), and were gradually assembled into a package during the first half of the 20th century.

And the topic then led me to…

A supermarket cartoon. By New Yorker cartoonist Chon Day (not published in the magazine, but available through the Condé Nast site):

(#2) In the (self-service) produce section of a modern supermarket; note the display of produce for the shopper, the bags to put selections in, and the shopping cart to put the bags in to take them (and other items) to a checkout counter

In actual practice, most supermarkets donate damaged and expired items to food banks or sell them to salvage stores, though I believe some offer some “marked down for quick sale” items in their own stores.

And on Chon Day, from Wikipedia:

Chauncey Addison Day, better known as Chon Day, (April 6, 1907 – Jan 1, 2000) was an American cartoonist whose cartoons appeared in The New Yorker and other magazines [notably, The Saturday Evening Post, where he published cartoons for over half a century; and Look, where for years he published his cartoon series Brother Sebastian].


One Response to “Cetacean in aisle 3! The caption finalists”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    And the winner, in the 5/31 issue, is Ben Rosenberg’s
    Oh, hey, I almost didn’t recognize you outside of work.”

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