Far Side Neanderthals

Following on yesterday’s posting “A Neanderthal breakthrough”, on a Rhymes With Orange cartoon about the cavewoman who invented the definite article (plus Caveman cartoons from Bizarro and Scott Hilburn), I recalled a Gary Larson Far Side cartoon that I’d been saving since 2021, a cartoon in which Cro-Magnons are viewed as step up from Neanderthals:

(#1) Dining at the Restaurant La Cave, back in the days when Neanderthals shared Europe with the upstart Cro-Magnons

Larson produced a huge number of Neanderthal cartoons in the 15 years of The Far Side, 6 more of which I’ll reproduce below. They’re all set in Caveman locales, with characters that are Cavemen in appearance and dress but otherwise are engaged in social relationships and cultural practices from late 20th-century America — in #1, the two men are vying for the attentions of a woman, the old-fashioned Neanderthal (rubbing sticks together to make fire) pitted against the slick new Cro-Magnon (using a cigarette lighter).

#1 is complex in its handling of the dual nature of its characters, who are simultaneously cavepeople and modern Americans. The larger setting is in a cave (with a cave painting of a deer on the wall), but, more specifically, two of the characters are sitting at a table at a little restaurant while the third brandishes that cigarette lighter.

The Restaurant La Cave. There are a number of these in the US, and it seems that mostly they are dimly lit (as in a cave) and devoted to serving rare steak (conjuring up raw meat such as cavemen would eat). Consider this restaurant, which advertises “retro underground dining” and offers as entrees: “9 ounce Filet Mignon, 24 ounce Porterhouse, Medallions of Beef with Bordelaise Sauce, 11 ounce New York Steak, 16 ounce Boneless Ribeye”:

(#2) The main dining room and bar

Established in 1962 on St. Valentine’s Day, La Cave [in Costa Mesa CA] is renowned as the premiere steakhouse in Orange County serving only the best cuts, In addition to exquisite Australian Cold Water Lobster, Giant King Crab Legs, and Giant Shrimp Cocktail. All entrees include: delicious fresh baked cheesy garlic bread, choice of crisp salad or savory soup du jour, rice pilaf or hearty twice baked potato, steamed broccoli, sautéed mushrooms or grilled asparagus. [verbatim from the restaurant’s menu]

A note on Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals. From my 7/15/20 posting “At the Paleo Cafe”, with a section on Cro-Magnon / Cro Magnon Man, now termed “European early modern humans” (EEMH), though the familiar older label is often used even by specialists; and this cover of a book on the Cro Magnons by an authority in the field:

(#3) [caption:] The cover shows an artist’s reconstruction of a Cro-Magnon man — looking very much like current humans; the caveman of cartoons is some composite of Neanderthal features and brutish fantasy

The 6 Far Side Neanderthal cartoons. In the order of their appearance.

1984: extracting testimony:

(#4) A Mafia-style grilling in a cave: the spear and club force the captive to spill the beans about how to make fire with sticks of wood

1988: mocked as nerds:

(#5) A nerdish family of cavepeople, in their cave home; note the eyeglasses on the caveboy and the little bones in cavedad’s pocket (in a pocket protector, no doubt)

1990: the old days:

(#6) Sitting on a log on the plains outside the caves, the geezers explain how much harder things were in their day; the sentiment is modern, but the setting is entirely (fictive) Stone Age

1992: the –gate event:

(#7) Standing on the plain outside the caves, the tribe is tricked by the simulacrum of a fire; the reference to this event with the –gate libfix is entirely modern, but everything else is (fictive) Stone Age

Wikipedia has a “List of -gate  scandals and controversies”, with names using the libfix –gate, extracted from Watergate.

January 1994: taking what’s offered:

(#8) Feeding the hungry at a community event, cafeteria-line fashion, with a presiding chef (suitably attired and equipped); such events are modern, but the source of the food, a mammoth brought down by spears, is out of the (fictive) Stone Age storybook

October 1994: the weaponry contest:

(#9) Inside a cave, one caveman reaches for his club, but his opponent counters with a superior weapon, a bow and arrow; the trope “I have a gun and I know how to use it” is decidedly modern, though club vs. bow and arrow goes back to prehistoric times

On the trope, from the Medium site, “I have a gun, and I know how to use it!” by Andrew Walpole on 8/11/14:

You’ve likely heard the old movie trope that goes something like, “I have a X and I know how to use it,” or “I have a X and I’m not afraid to use it”. It has been used thousands of times in many ways and permutations; I tracked it back to the 1959 movie, “The Bat” where character Cornelia van Gorder loudly proclaims, “I have a gun, and I know how to use it!” in order to scare away an intruder. Though likely not the first time it was used, …

And on the bow and arrow, from Wikipedia:

The bow and arrow is a ranged weapon system consisting of an elastic launching device (bow) and long-shafted projectiles (arrows). Humans used bows and arrows for hunting and aggression long before recorded history, and the practice was common to many prehistoric cultures. They were important weapons of war from ancient history until the early modern period


2 Responses to “Far Side Neanderthals”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    In #9, it seems to me that the way the speaker is holding the bow and arrow suggests that his boast is false.

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