Sunday, May 13, 2007

The pig says “my wife is a slut”?

Until a couple of years ago, all I knew about the New Yorker was that it tended to feature strange short stories where someone boring, usually from New York, would go through their normal day and then stop and suddenly realize they’d wasted their lives, or something. I only knew this because one of my English teachers photocopied a couple of the stories and had us read them in high school, as examples of modern “slice-of-life” writing. I think John Cheever may have been involved somehow.

The handful of times I myself physically encountered the magazine, it was always in a doctor’s waiting room, and I would flip through the magazine, squint at the tiny, opaquely written reviews of strange foreign movies I’d never heard of, try to understand the strange cartoons, and give up.

So in 1998, when I saw the Seinfeld episode which poked fun at the New Yorker cartoons’ frequent lack of discernible humor, I had just enough previous knowledge to share Elaine’s frustration and see the point of the jokes. It was true – why would someone print cartoons that could not be figured out?

Since then, I’ve started reading the New Yorker web site. Since I’m older and more boring than I used to be, I now see that there are some really good articles and reviews in that magazine. I still avoid the parts of the magazine that involve the cartoons and fiction, however, because I felt I’d been burned enough before. I didn’t want to waste time staring at cartoons of two animals talking in an office, or read a story about an old man feeding the birds in Central Park, who realizes he’s wasted his life.

But from time to time the cartoons pop up in the middle of an online story. This happened today as I read an interesting article on the Anticythera Mechanism. There was a cartoon of a dog in a suit waiting at a suburban bus stop, saying “I remember when this was all farmland.”

Oh hell no. No they didn’t. Didn’t they learn their lesson after being mocked by Seinfeld?

THAT IS NOT FUNNY. I spent a minute staring at it. Dog. Bus stop. Used to be farmland. What the freaking hell? Why, New Yorker? WHY? Why mess with my head like that?

Enraged, I clicked around on the website and looked at some other cartoons. Most of them made some sort of sense. Even the ones that weren’t funny were at least recognizably attempted jokes. But then there were The Unfathomables. The five percent or so of the cartoons that just make no damn sense. Like this one, of Don King in a yoga position levitating above a catering table. WHY? DEAR GOD, WHY?

On this archive site, underneath the cartoons, there are little captions that describe the action. Only through that site was I able to decipher the cartoonist’s original intentions. I’m not going to spoil the surprise for you here, however, because I want others to feel my pain and wounded confusion upon encountering these incomprehensible monstrosities of cartooning gone wrong. Some of you will probably see the “real” “jokes”, but for those who are like me, just be aware that there are semi-humorous ideas behind these two panels, but they were both totally botched by misleading artwork - at least at the resolution of these online versions.

My question is, how did the editors let these by without suggesting slight changes so we could, um, GET THE JOKE? Unless you either have the exact same perceptual framework as the cartoonist, or work painfully backwards from the punchline and reconstruct the garbled original intent behind these comedic abortions, you can’t tell why they’re supposed to be funny. At all. They fill me with confusion and rage.

p.s. During my elaborate preparations for this article (stealing pictures), I found out that the writer of the Seinfeld episode is actually a frequent (and usually, in contrast to the above cartoons, funny) New Yorker cartoonist named Bruce Eric Kaplan. His name rang a bell because there’s a Futurama producer named Eric Kaplan, and I’d wondered if they were somehow the same guy. They’re not, but the writer of the old Seinfeld episode is indeed the still-active cartoonist “BEK”. Small world. I commend him on his script, which is clearly just as relevant today as it was almost ten years ago.

6 comments:

witwoud said...

Is it supposed to be a pig, perhaps? A pig would make more sense. When all this was farmland it used to roll in the mud; now it has to wear a suit and catch the bus.

Still not side-splitting, I admit.

The cartoons I hate are those with two people walking down the street, and one is making a wry comment to the other. Why bother with the picture at all?

However, I'm fond of the New Yorker, cartoons and all, and I have a copy flown over the Atlantic every week for my reading pleasure. It beats the pants off our British mags.

albtraum said...

Yeah, you got it. And the idea of a pig saying that about the farmland could be sort of funny. The problem I have with that cartoon is with the art.

The "pig" has a narrow, pointed nose, huge floppy ears, is quite thin, and has no curly tail. In other words, there's no way to tell it's a pig and not a dog, aardvark, or any number of other animals. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

It's not Don King levitating over a table, his name is Tom - says so at the bottom of the cartoon.

And he's jumping into the punch bowl to make a huge splash and cover everyone with it....

So his wife is saying "Tom is such fun".....

albtraum said...

Oh, NOW I get it. Thanks, Anonymous.

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