Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The sickest joke

Kanin Cartoon © 2009 The New Yorker

Click on pictures to see them full-size.

Nowadays the line, as in "that's over the line," has moved. It's moved quite a ways as far as I can see. Morbidity affects television, which wasn't true in the past. Even in a crime story we didn't have to look at graphic autopsies or murder victims with slashed throats or exploded heads. There was a line of propriety and now television, following the lead of movies, has rolled over that line and obliterated it.

That's the way I felt when I looked at the above cartoon in the June 8-June15 double issue of The New Yorker. I'm no stranger to cartoons using horror or morbidity as a subject. Gahan Wilson and before him, Chas Addams, were geniuses with the themes. I just don't remember ever seeing a cartoon from either of them where the cartoon concerned a person getting murdered and the killer complaining that the murder weapon was insufficient.

Here are some examples of "behind the line," in my opinion. Cartoons that, despite the subject matter, don't step over the line. Here are couple of cartoons, the first by Chas Addams and the second by Gahan Wilson, with the theme of suicide.

In the Addams cartoon the brightness of the Boy Scout walking in on his suicidal dad is so ludicrous it quickly defuses the horribleness of the situation. If Addams had shown the father hanging that would have been over the line.

In the Wilson cartoon the nurse is chiding the patient with "no fair" in turning off his own machine, as if she's so officious she considers it her job alone.

In the other cartoons a wife cheerily invites her husband into her booby-trapped room, and torturers yuk it up over a comedic torture victim.

You'd call those cartoons incongruities, I suppose. Whatever, they give the reader an immediate reaction of horror, mitigated by a laugh. They are ridiculous situations as the cartoonists present them, yet the same situations would be horrible in real life.

In the current Kanin cartoon the situation is horrible, but as far over that line as it is, I've got to admit the caption is pretty funny...in a mordant and morbid way, that is.

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