You Tell Me

    Pop culture is cotemporary, evoking some facet of its time.  Much of it quickly becomes a cliché, and grows tired.  It disappears for a while and then, just as everyone has thrown away their copies of that hot comic book and photographs of that singing sensation, they are rediscovered, becoming Nostalgia and/or Collectibles.

    One of the things I have learned, through the years of selling cultural items, is that the process does not stop there.  Nostalgia can last only while people who remember it are spending money.  Things which were hot collectibles when I got into this business are now frugs on the market: no one cares and no one wants to pay for them.  If they are lucky, there is yet another resurrection awaiting: they make become iconic or they may become something so expressive of their time that they move quickly back into the limelight.  Or maybe they’re just so rare that people go on wanting one: Action Comics @1, say, or that Honus Wagner baseball card.

    It works much the same way with jokes.  A joke is funny, so people repeat it.  It gets repeated so much it gets stale.  It doesn’t get told any more. Then someone discovers it and starts it akll over again.  Unless, of course, people have forgotten why it was funny in the first place.  This happens most often when the joke is linked to a pop culture phenomenon which has faded away.  “The gag “Take my wife…please!” was funnier when Henny Youngman was alive to tell it,  or at least when people who had heard Henny Youngman tell it were still alive.)

    And that brings us, through depressing back alleys, to my complaint for today’s column.  We have touched on it before, but there are humorous postcards I have here which I just don’t understand.  In some cases, this can be because the joke wasn’t good to begin with, or because the artist dropped the ball.  But I have gathered here some postcards which are part of a larger group.  I have seen other cards with exactly the same joke, so it was good enough once to be worth stealing.  I just haven’t found out why yet.  And this is a matter iof some importance to me, as I am something of an expert in the world of really old jokes.  (And you don’t need to read too many of my blogs to know that.)

    Start with the gag at the top of this column.  You saw the gag right away, right?  It’s one of thousands of postcards making fun of a person’s situpon: we’ve covered that.  No problem, right?  BUT….

    What this tells me is that the phrase “You’re all right BUT” had its day as a catchphrase  But whose was it?  What did it originally mean, ad has it been lifted literally, or have these cartoonists twisted the original application?

    This joke meant nothing in particular to me when I saw it.  Or when I saw a second one.  When I saw a third one, and then a fourth for sale online, I knew it had to be the same thing.          

    Each of the men in “Sayin’ Nuthin” is sawing wood.  In one, a woman has a gun pointed to his head, apparently to make him saw the wood, but he’s engaged in the same bit of carpentry as the others.  Was there a stage comedian who delivered a monologue while sawing?  Is it a joke about the words “sawing” and :saying”?  (But in that case, he IS sawing something.)  The Interwebs knows nothing about it, but these cartoonists did.

    There are lots of postcards with this theme: a bunch of children, in most cases clipped from photographs and gathered in huge groups—in trees, on riverbanks, surrounded by storks.  Sometimes they’re happy, sometimes they’re crying, because your basic baby in the world of postcards does one of two things, and one of those is crying.  (As for the other, there are postcards like this where all the babies are squatting on chamber pots.)  What did it all MEAN?  The only hint I get is that it was supposed to be some sort of good luck wish.  Why was that?  (Especially thinking of the ones where twenty babies are sitting on potties.)

    Speaking of children, explain these to me.  They’re by different cartoonists working for different companies.  What’s the joke?  IS there a joke?  Are we proud of the little immigrants?  If we were disgusted by them, they’d have dirtier noses and funnier clothes.  Are we making a point about products made in Germany?  If so, what is it?

    These puzzles keep me up late sometimes, searching online for hints. and the moral is, I suppose a good one.  The Internet doesn’t know everything just yet.

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