Well Plaid

     Artist Frederick J. Cavally did a magnificent set of ethnic stereotype postcards in 1910 or thereabouts.  He seemed to like doing faces—a number of his non-ethnic postcards feature a large funny portrait with a message—but this really exercised his talents.  Each ethnic group was portrayed in two cards, one a male portrait and one a female, with a thickly accented demand to know why you hadn’t written lately.  These portraits were very detailed and VERY much a complete portrayal of that ethnic group as seen by the conventions of the vaudeville stage.  (There was a phrase for this: an obvious stereotype was a “:stage Irishman” or a “stage German”.)  The German man had a little pickelhaube helmet nestled in his hair, the English male wore a monocle, and so forth.

     I was thinking of doing a column on these and then reminded myself, “It’s 2022: why stick your hand into an anthill?”  Reaction to the ethnic stereotype were already starting to be labeled “offensive and not funny” in the 1960s, and we’re going through a new phase of not finding such things humorous.


     It IS kind of funny to look over the ethnic stereotypes which are still acceptable. The American “melting pot” (itself now considered an obsolete and offensive image) has worked enough that we now have become homogenized enough that some stereotypes have been forgotten or discard, while others are trotted out and celebrated when we feel like saluting some part of our heritage.  On St. Patrick’s Day, suddenly all the Irish stereotypes are celebrated.  Scottish jokes, though fading since the early twentieth century, when Sir Harry Lauder was a blazing star of stage and phonograph recording, are regarded as natural and largely inoffensive.  (Have I mentioned my attempt to get greeting card companies to observe St. Andrew’s Day as a holiday for Scots the way St. Patrick’s Day is for the Irish?  I was informed they couldn’t afford it.)

     Note the card at the top of this column, which serves to introduce our typical stage Scotsman, with his kilt, his sporran, and his tam.  And this was all just in service of the “Great Scot!” joke.

     The prevailing use of the Scotsman in postcards, of course, was as a symbol of cheapness.

     A Scotsman was considered someone who was tight, or “close”, with his money.

     I say some of this reputation for cheapness is simply a part of the Scotsman’s reputation for ingenuity, and practicality.  After all, early central heating was not terribly reliable, so perhaps instead of being cheap, he’s just availing himself of foresight (or, in this case, hindsight.)

     And speaking of hindsight.

     Even the dogs of Scotland were hauled in on the joke.  (Note that “Hoot, Mon” was as necessary to a stage Scotsman as “Begorrah”: was to a stage Irishman.  The reason you don’t see it on more postcards is that your postcard artist also had to be thrifty…with space for captions.)

     Of course, a postcard cartoonist often saluted the OTHER things Scotland was known for. (It’s a sociological principle: the longer the winter the harder the liquor.)

     We must not, of course, forget another major Scottish pastime.

     AND Robert Burns, whom we nodded to in passing in a previous blog, would no doubt have pointed out that we must not forget the Scotswoman.

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