Clash of the titular Peppers

Today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, a cartoon that would be totally incomprehensible without several pieces of pop-cultural knowledge:


(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page.)

Fortunately, I think that pretty much all of the audience for the Bizarro cartoons (and this blog too) get one of the pop-cultural references, given the antique British military appearance of the figure on the left, the reference to the uniform not making him a real sergeant, and the name Pepper in the caption. (If you know about such things, the three chevrons or “stripes” on his arm indicate the rank of sergeant in the armies of the US, the UK and Commonwealth countries, and several other European countries as well. )

Putting those bits together gives us Sgt. Pepper, as in the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a landmark of popular music.

Who, then, is the figure on the right — accused of being inconsequential despite his medical degree (perhaps an M.D.), and presumably (given the caption) also named Pepper? If you’re North American, you should get this one right away, too: even if you’ve never tasted the soft drink Dr Pepper, you’ve been bombarded with ads for it for most of your life. Outside of this sphere, I’m not so sure (though Dr Pepper is marketed all over the world).

Suppose you get those references; then what makes the cartoon funny? First, treating Sgt. Pepper as having a life outside of the story of the Lonely Hearts Club Band, and especially treating Dr Pepper — a pure figurehead — as having any sort of life at all; that’s the humor of absurdity.

But then, a linguistic joke, treating the fact that Sgt. Pepper and Dr Pepper sort-of have the same family name (which is just a historical accident) and are mentioned together as meaning they are closely related: as brothers, in particular.

The combination of the coincidence of names and mention in tandem will tend to implicate close relationship — incongruously, if the people in question have no such relationship. The incongruity is magnified hugely if the names are then treated as identical for the purposes of reduced coordination, as in Sgt. and Dr. Pepper, or Major and Saint Barbara, or, with FN + LN instead of Title + LN, things like Brenda (the cartoon character) and Kevin (the historian of California) Starr. (These are old observations, not any fresh insight of mine.)

(Then, to Sgt. Peppe and Dr Pepper we might add, say, Rep. Pepper — Claude Pepper (1900–1989), U.S. Congressman from Florida — and Sax. Pepper — Art Pepper (1925–1982), American jazz saxophonist) — not to mention Red Pepper, the personification of cayenne.)

Sgt. Pepper. From Wikipedia:

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is the eighth studio album by the English rock band the Beatles. Released on 26 May 1967 … It was lauded by critics for its innovations in songwriting, production and graphic design, for bridging a cultural divide between popular music and high art, and for reflecting the interests of contemporary youth and the counterculture. Its release was a defining moment in 1960s pop culture, heralding the Summer of Love, while the album’s reception achieved full cultural legitimisation for pop music and recognition for the medium as a genuine art form.

The album cover:


(#2) [from Wikipedia:]The Beatles, holding marching band instruments and wearing colourful uniforms, stand near a grave covered with flowers that spell “Beatles”. Standing behind the band are several dozen famous people.

On the song, from Wikipedia:

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is a song written by Paul McCartney (credited to Lennon–McCartney), and first recorded and released in 1967, on the album of the same name by the Beatles. The song appears twice on the album: as the opening track (segueing into “With a Little Help from My Friends”), and as “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”, the penultimate track (segueing into “A Day in the Life”). As the title song, the lyrics introduce the fictional band that performs on the album.

[You can listen to the intro track, remastered in 2009, on YouTube here.]

[then on the name:] … In November 1966, on the flight back to England after a holiday, McCartney conceived an idea in which an entire album would be role-played, with each of the Beatles assuming an alter-ego in the “Lonely Hearts Club Band”, which would then perform a concert in front of an audience. The inspiration is said to have come when roadie Mal Evans innocently asked McCartney what the letters “S” and “P” stood for on the pots on their in-flight meal trays, and McCartney explained it was for salt and pepper. This then led to the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band concept, as well as the song.

Dr Pepper. From Wikipedia:

Dr [no period] Pepper is a carbonated soft drink. It was created in the 1880s by pharmacist Charles Alderton in Waco, Texas

… The name “Dr. Pepper” was first used commercially in 1885. It was introduced nationally in the United States at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition as a new kind of soda pop, made with 23 flavors [references to 23 then appear in ads and packaging for the product; see the can in #4 below]. Its introduction in 1885 preceded the introduction of Coca-Cola by one year.


(#3) Dr Pepper in glass bottles, with a long-used logo, alluding to the product’s slogan from the 1920s to the 1940s, “Drink a Bite to Eat at 10, 2, and 4 o’clock”

… Theories about the origins of the soft drink’s name abound. One possible reason that the name was chosen was the practice, common at the time of the drink’s creation, of including Dr. in the names of products to convey the impression that they were healthful.


(#4) A modern can, with its modern logo

The soft drink has had many many slogans over the years; the earworm from 1977 to 1983 (which I will spare you):  I’m a Pepper, He’s a Pepper, We’re a Pepper. / Be a Pepper. / Wouldn’t you like to Be a Pepper too?

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