Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Monkey Clock Conundrum

I saw this cartoon recently in the pages of The New Yorker (I'm posting a link to it rather than the cartoon itself to avoid copyright infringement):

I thought it was pretty funny, but I've shown or described it to a number of people and the response is invariably, "I don't get it", usually said with that sort of furled-brow, cocked-head expression that silently says, "but we all already know that you're a little peculiar."

Does this cartoon make any sense to any of my (two or three) loyal readers? Do I need to see a therapist?


  1. I'm used to New Yorker cartoons being rather avant-gard at times, but this one is a bit flummoxing. However, if you try to see the man's dialog as a traditional punchline, then you are destined for confusion. I think the humor lies in trying to imagine what the angry bald-headed man's logic was that prompted the shaving man's response.

    I love New Yorker cartoons, but I must say they think a little too highly of themselves, judging by the prices for prints of this and other cartoons. Or $1900.00 as a starting price for the original of this one! Yeesh, it's not like he's Gahan Wilson or George Booth, neither of whom they seem to offer originals by. And they don't ever offer prints of Charles Addams. Bah!

    What I think is the funniest are the descriptions of the action in this and other cartoons they offer. Check out this sizzler: "Dog and cat sleep side by side. Dog awakes violently and disturbs the cat. Cat looks frightened but when the dog goes back to sleep, the cat sits in the corner with a relieved expression" (from this cartoon: If all you had to go by were the descriptions, no New Yorker cartoon would ever by "got". Why do they have descriptions anyway? Is it so that visually impaired people can be befuddled as well (I almost said "left in the dark", but that's just too cruel)? And unless the VI person had some sort of fancy software that could read out loud or convert the text out to a braille pad (I've seen them in spy shows, so they must be real!), wouldn't someone else have to read them the description? In which case, the reader could probably do a better job of describing the action in a more accessible manner. Oh, man. I'm thinking about this too much. Did I answer the original questions? Oh, yeah. Yes, it sort of makes sense, and yes, you should see a therapist.

  2. Hey, that description of the cartoon with the dog and cat was hilarious! I guess you just don't get it.

    Trying to explain a joke, no matter how funny, never really works that well.

    The monkey clock cartoon tickled me because I immediately had to think of some relatives of mine who periodically send me chain emails that conclusively prove (by which I mean "assert without even the faintest shred of objective or credible evidence") that global warming is a hoax, Obama is a Kenyan socialist, all Muslims are part of a global terrorist conspiracy, illegal aliens are taking over the country etc. etc. I have long since given up on sending back rebuttals and refutations because they are like the monkey shaver in the cartoon, i.e., totally incapable of seeing the folly of their beliefs when confronted with rational arguments about how absurd they are.

    I wonder if "shaving a clock onto a monkey" is a common expression for this sort of thing in some other language? Probably not, but maybe I will adopt it as such. In German, when you completely con someone into believing something outlandish you are said to have "tied a bear onto him" so I guess there are precedents for animal-based metaphors of obscure origin to describe human folly.

    But enough for now, I need to go discuss this with my therapist.

  3. I totally get it and thought it was riotously funny!! Perfect! Shaving a clock onto a monkey is so self-evidently absurd that it's funny to think that the man's companion raised some actual objection to it. It's like seeing a website's list that gives "10 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Shave A Clock Onto A Monkey." That's insane, because there aren't any real *reasons* not to, because after all why WOULD you ever do it.

    So, this man's companion has (absurdly) pointed out some "reason" why he shouldn't be doing it, and the man's response is so confident that he will never question his initial "reason" (if indeed he ever had one) for doing so. Not only will he not question it; he won't even speak it or defend it, which is fortunate for the audience, because the whole beauty of it is that both the "reason" for not doing it and the "why" of doing it in the first place remain off-camera.

    Just brilliant. This is the equal, or even the better, of "Cow Tools."