Well, let’s have at it, shall we? I have mentioned the phenomenon and promised that one day we would discuss it, so let’s just get around to the five hundred pound gorilla in the room. Or, to be more accurate, the five hundred pound woman in the boat., The gag is at least as old as the postcard, and probably older: some poor, skinny bloke—the skinnier the better—is trying to take a lady—the larger the better—out on a body of water in a small boat. The boat needs to be just long enough that the lady’s weight will put the man’s end of the boat up in the air, generally too high for his oars to reach water. (There are one or two where a family man is at one end of the boat trying to row his entire family, which is crowded at the other end, somewhere, but I hold this to be a different joke The classic form is a one-on-one match, a symbol of man’s constant striving against the forces of nature, a philosophical…stop. Way too early to get this deep. We’ve haven’t even pushed off from the cok yet.)
These first two examples take their punchlines from the world of pop song. The first is not, as it might seem, a reference to Row, Row, Row Your Boat—though that would work—but the somewhat cheekier song Row, Row, Row, about a lecherous young man who uses his boat to lure in women, but reserves Sundays for going out with his girl Flo, who apparently adores the way he rows. (Flo is not a mere passive love object, either, as witness the line “He’d kiss her now and then: she would tell him when”.)
The second song is more of a world-weary number, a mournful lament by someone who has worked very hard and would like to stop now, please. Our artist has taken this literally.
I think there should be a special category among postcards for the ones which nag: nag you to call, to write, to visit, or just to get to work. This postcard could apply to anyone of those, but sweetens the message by acknowledging that a person can give a hundred and ten percent, throwing himself into a job, and still not get anywhere. (What is the dog doing, by the way? Getting ready to catch a fish? He can’t be admiring his reflection, as the water is rippling, and he doesn’t look desperate enough to be abandoning ship. In any case, he doesn’t seem to be at all interested in the general predicament, nor does he add much weight to his end of the canoe.)
Another popular type of postcard is the one which contrasts a cheerful postcard sentiment with a picture of what actually happened (the vacationer who is “making a lot of contacts” is actually covered with mosquitoes, for example.) This gentleman is completely clueless about what to do next. Or perhaps, since he got THIS far somehow, he is just wondering why HE didn’t get any ice cream.
The most popular caption for this sort of picture, though, involves keeping one’s end up. This phrase stayed current longer in England than in the U.S. but meant pretty much the same thing in both countries. Derived who knows when from an image of two men carrying a heavy object, which will go nowhere unless both men keep their end of it off the ground, it meant to do what you promised or do what people expected of you. This is generally completely at odds with what’s going on in the picture—hence part of the fun—and plays daintily with the word “end”. (Oddly, none of these postcards concentrate much on the LADY’S end, just the end of the boat. This is not what happens in the most popular postcard to use the phrase, which involves a lady who has failed to jump over the net after a tennis game, and Is keeping her…yes, I know. I was going to explain it for the slower readers, but we can continue if you’re going to be that way about it.)
This is a nice use of areal photographic background, to bring the situation home. AND the couple in the boat have been so compellingly drawn that,. Even though they’re small, they can completely distract you from that background. (I was looking at it for the third time before I said “Hey, those folks offshore are real!” yeah, sometimes I’m one of the slower readers myself.)
That’s one of the few where the boat is actually sinking, but this one is pretty close. And I believe it’s the young lady who is speaking the line, to the rower’s amazement.
And this chap has simply seen enough of these postcards to provide himself with an answer to the problem. These pictures CAN be educational.