August 22, 2006

Obviously it should be "Woman talking despite the fact that her head has been nearly severed by a machete"

122771_m.gif Good to know I'm not the only one who sometimes doesn't get New Yorker cartoons. Whoever writes the catalog descriptions for the prints on sale at The Cartoon Bank kind of missed the point of this one.

Im turning into my mother. (Women talking and wearing very old clothes.)

[Hat tip: Jon Delfin]

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Damn, that's one of the best cartoons I have ever seen.

Apparently her mother had severe acromegaly. She looks like Rondo Hatton in drag.

Believe it or not, the cartoon is funny. The woman in the foregound is a famous example of an ambiguous figure (like the duck/rabbit or the vase/pair of faces): an attractive young woman, seen from the rear, and an old hag with a huge nose, seen from the front. (You can't see both at the same time; but once you have seen both, you can't unsee them either.)

Just because you don't recognize "Whistler's Mother" doesn't mean that a cartoon based on it is unfunny, it just means you're less educated than you think.

Of course, the cartoon might just be unfunny as well. Depends.

Believe it or not, the cartoon is funny. The woman in the foreground is a famous example of a suffragette, Christabel Pankhurst, daughter of the even more famous suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. Clearly this cartoon depicts the time in the late 1890s when she was deciding to forgo the carefree, easy life of bourgeois privilege and join her mother's crusade. Not at all an obscure reference for readers of Mr Shawn's magazine but I suspect the Brownites among you were a bit puzzled by the lack of visible boobies.

Believe it or not, Theo, I got the joke, and I agree that it's funny. My point here was that whoever wrote the description "women talking and wearing very old clothes" obviously didn't get the joke. Which is even funnier.

I'm pretty sure I get it. Is it automobile-based?

Yes, I think it was clear, D.R., that you understood the cartoon. Thanks for quoting the droll misread by New Yorker staff. I recently spent the better part of an afternoon sitting with a very bright east Indian teenager and the big book of New Yorker cartoons that came out a couple of years ago. He made me explain just about every last one, and his questions were quite entertaining. He eventually sort of got the hang of it, even appreciating something as culturally specific as a 60s Charles Barsotti gem of two elaborately mod hipsters at a party, one saying (bad paraphrase coming): "Considering the abysmal state of regional theater in this country, what the government spends on the space program is shameful" or something like that. I remember thinking I must have gone through a rite of passage when at age 15 or so I realized New Yorker cartoons seemed no longer to be the opaque heiroglyphs they had been to me up until then.

And believe it or knobs, TG Gibbon, your ribbing cracks me up madly.

To "hmmm" -- you're not far off. The cartoon appears at first glance to be about wacky cult icon Lee Iaococca, but don't be misled, as the humor is actually based in the juxtapositioning of Margaret Hamilton with autopsy tracheotomies. Place your nose three inches from the monitor and gaze at a random reflection on the surface. In no time you'll wonder how you ever missed it!

Well, Dan, If you read Thurber's "The Years With Ross", you'd know that the New Yorker's filing system for cartoons has always been flaky. His famous "What have you done with Dr. Millmoss?" was catalogued merely as "Woman with large animal".

Ha. I sense a new contest: anti-filing descriptions.

Actually, you know what's funny? Reading the cartoon as if you were the guy who wrote the description. It's these two young women, they're talking, they're wearing these very old clothes, but why? Are they playing dress-up? Is the speaker lamenting the fact that dressing in old clothes is making her "turn into" her mother, or is she stating her intent? Lotsa laffs there, if you can twist your mind into that reality.

Vance - you're right, that is funny. It would also be funny if the woman was talking to two silhouettes whose negative space formed a vase.


I think that would be "I'm turning into my great-grandmother." A common lament of Roz Chast drawings in more long-lived nations.

I think this is a funny cartoon but doesn't it seem like it should be "I think I'm turning into my mother" or "I feel like I'm turning into my mother"? Unless, as hmmm guesses, it is automobile-based.

Yes, in which case the better caption would be "I think I'm turning into my mother the car."

You're all wrong!! You are missing the tenor of our times! It's a type-o. The caption should say:

"I'm turning IN my mother."

(Her offense I haven't figured out. She must be someone who doesn't love freedom and is siding with the evil-doers, or maybe she's an activist liberal judge or maybe she tried to board a plane with a tube of toothpaste in her carry-on or maybe she's a reporter for the NY Times...)

I think this is a funny cartoon but doesn't it seem like it should be "I think I'm turning into my mother" or "I feel like I'm turning into my mother"?

No, it should be "You know, from a certain angle, it appears that I'm turning into my mother. Or, you know, that my head was nearly severed by a machete."

Her offense I haven't figured out.

I have. Years ago her criminally insane mother locked this poor girl and her best friend, at the tender age of seven, in the attic and has been feeding them nothing but dog food. Now they have finally escaped, but since their seven-year-old clothes are woefully too small, they have to wear whatever they could find, namely these severely out of date fashions from one of the attic trunks. Shell-shocked and traumatized as they are, one tries to reassure the other with the matter-of-fact reminder, in case there was any doubt: "I'm turning in my mother."

As with all the best New Yorker cartoons, it's funny but also a little sad. Still not as sad, though, as having your head nearly severed by a machete.

"Still not as sad, though, as having your head nearly severed by a machete."

Speak for yourself. Best goddamned birthday party I ever had.

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