February 11, 2005

The history of humor.

"The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker" arrived in the mail today. It contains over 68,000 cartoons, most of which are on two CDs but 2004 of which are in the 600+ page large format book. A nice thing about the book is that it's organized by year, beginning with 1925. (Doesn't the magazine seem older than that?) So you can see the sort of thing that was thought funny in any given year -- that is, what the editors of The New Yorker thought was funny in a way that expressed the whole New Yorker ethos. Like here, in 1925, a man is reading the newspaper and on the floor is a very sketchy line drawing of, presumably, his son. The son is on all fours and might have a tail, so maybe he's a bit of a monkey boy -- I'm not sure. The caption is:
"Pa, what is all this talk about Evolution?"

"Son, I'll have to consult my attorney before I can answer that question. I might be sent to jail for it."

Okay. It's a reference to the Scopes trial, which was in 1925. (A case in which a schoolteacher was tried for teaching about evolution.) So is it just a simple matter of the father referring to the Scopes prosecution, or is it some strange devolution of the boy into a monkey that the father is invoking Scopes to avoid dealing with? I'm going to guess the former. Finding this cartoon inscrutable doesn't necessarily prove that humor changes a lot over the decades, because there are always some current New Yorker cartoons that you can't quite figure out. (There was a "Seinfeld" episode about that.)

Anyway, looking for some info on the Scopes trial, I came up with some contemporaneous and non-New Yorker cartoons: here and here.

No comments: