Grin and Bear

I hope what I wrote in Monday’s column could not be construed as suggesting the donkey (burro, jackass, etc.) served only one purpose in the postcard of midcentury vintage.  The donkey appeared regularly on postcards in many roles: at the beginning of the twentieth century he appeared as a sometimes patient, sometimes recalcitrant beast of burden, and throughout the century he was part of the scenery in the Wild West, often commenting on the generally miserable life to be led.  I did not even mention how often he is to he found carrying excessively fat women, muttering “Well, I Ain’t the only jackass to support a woman”.  I turned my attention to one use of the donkey, but this should not imply that he could not be burroed for others,  (I’ve told you not to make faces like that.)

    Similarly, the bear took a lot of jobs in postcards of yore,.  He was a presidential symbol, after all, for teddy Roosevelt, and the Roosevelt bears which spun off from that had a long life on cards, completely unrelated to a similar long career of the teddy bears.

    But like the jackass, the bear suggested certain uses which called out to be made, and made they were.  One, of course,  is seen above and below, in people letting you know they could not bear to be away from you.

    I’m not particularly sure what’s going on in this one, by the way.  That’s an awfully small bear and I can’t quite figure out where those stars are coming from.  But if I worry too much about that, we will barely have time to get to any other jokes.

    The bear here is no more than a catalyst to the punchline, which really turns on her running barely and saying she bearly…okay, you got that.  Did you notice the bear is there more as the cherry on top of the sundae, just adding in a bear among the bares?

    Well, I’m glad you caught that because you will then have no trouble at all with these bears, who do take part in the action.  This is one of the most common bear jokes in the postcard forest, and it is not new.  (I won a newspaper caption contest with the exact same joke in my boyhood: even then I was working on the excavation and display of archaeological specimens.)  It is shown here in simple, classic form: not a lot of plot to get in the way of the story, just a blend of the two expressions.

    This example, which has art that I like a little better, is nonetheless not quite as clear about the punchline.  You have to stop and think about it a bit.  (Okay, maybe you don’t, but I still think the joke would be too subtle for some readers.)

    This young lady, whose postcard predates the Coppertone Girl, removes the violence from the narrative and performs the joke merely as an act of cuteness.  Children’s bottoms were so often an object of artistic cuteness in the era of the postcard that someone could probably write a dissertation on the subject, provided they had a strong stomach, high security bookcases for the research material, and a good lawyer.

    This version restores the violence, but I am puzzled by both the art and the story here.  What, exactly, has this pair been up to, resulting in a bandage on the bear’s behind right in the same area where her suit is torn?  Is she unaware that bears can swim?  Maybe that’s the edge of a cliff, and the bear will simply be frightened by the drop.  Or maybe there’s a rescue party led by Ranger Smith from Jellystone Park, waiting to rescue her and take the bear into custody.  Or….

    Enough of this second-guessing of the cartoonists.  Here’s a scene of genuine potential violence, and someone in great trouble because of a bear behind, even if it doesn’t use the joke at all.  And we will the subject rest.

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