Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Rumpus Room Reads #7 - "The Best Cartoons of 1957"

Ever since my membership at the gym ended this spring, it's been hard for me to find time to crack open my stack of Rumpus Room Reads.  I realized I was doing 95% of my leisure reading on the stationary bike.  I missed it so much that I was actually searching Craigslist for an old Exercycle to call my own.  Then when my kids went back to school this month, they came back with a brochure for programs at all the city rec centers.  I discovered that several of these rec centers have small free workout rooms, including the one closest to my house.  And when I went to check it out, sure enough - stationary bike!

For my first session back in the saddle, I brought along with me "The Best Cartoons of 1957."  This was probably my grandpa's book.  My grandpa Raymond Cowan was a prolific amateur cartoonist.  He had some published in "Stars and Stripes" magazine and sold one to the Philadelphia Inquirer along with some sports article he wrote.  It was titled "Punt or Bunt" and was published in "I don't know, I think the sixties," according to my irritated mom who is currently visiting me down here and is laying down watching "American Ripper" on her phone on my bed and whom you would think would be more enthused about answering my questions about her late father but I guess it's the finale?  I remember the article hanging framed in my grandparents' basement (the actual rumpus room!) but never actually reading it because ew, sports.  I wanted to encourage my oldest son Eli's interest in cartooning, so I brought this one back with me at some point in the past couple of years.

1957 -  Eisenhower was president.  Sputnik 1 and 2 were launched into orbit.  The last episode of "I Love Lucy" aired.  Gas cost less than a quarter a gallon.  A new house cost . . . okay we all know what's coming, I'm going to stop setting the stage and just show you the opening page:

Literally exactly what you thought it was going to be, isn't it?  Actually, you may not realize that sexist objectification of busty bimbos isn't the only repeated theme of "The Best Cartoons of 1957" present in this opening picture.  There was also a persistent psychiatry theme.  Psychiatry, bimbos, priests, doctors, nagging wives, department stores, and for some reason desert-set cartoons were all the rage that year.

Psychiatrist-approved child abuse!  Ladies who can't park!  Actually, look how freakin' sweet that cartoon car that was probably supposed to look generic is.  Hah cha cha!

Schools were beginning to desegregate thanks to 1954's Brown v. Board of Education, but it was still cool to make fun of Spanish speaking stereotypes!  The first one is pretty straightforward, but is the second one I guess like a Latin lover doctor type performing on his guitar before performing the old fashioned "massage cure" for "hysteria?"

Disgustingly sexist to imply women don't care about sports - oh wait (see paragraph two of this post).

Another weird trope - wives being caught rummaging for cash in their presumably sleeping husbands' recently worn pants.

July 12, 1957, Surgeon General Leroy E. Burney linked smoking to lung cancer.  Maybe these cartoons were from June then?  Smoking in the maternity ward!  Dad waiting outside with a full ash tray.  Who is that lady next to him?  She can't be the woman in labor, where's her belly?  Oh, that's right, big pointy missile boobs were kosher exposure in 1957, but publicly acknowledging pregnancy was positively pornographic (see aforementioned "I Love Lucy," where they never even used the "p" word when she was all knocked up).  Actually, I can't really tell if in that second picture the cigarettes are part of the joke or not.  Did they know nicotine was addictive yet or is this just really ironic?  The fact that not every executive in the picture is smoking tends to point towards irony.

Lastly, a hint of feminism courtesy of a fancy old dowager wearing the whole dead fox.  So progressive and modern, ma'am!  Your daughter or granddaughter will ride that sentiment of detached emotions on the quickly approaching tide of free love, but her daughter might be deeply depressed by the demise of the perceived cultural norm of monogamy and long for the simple Rockwellian days of yore.  Then she'll find this book in your basement and be like, "oh yeah, that's what it was like."

1 comment:

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

This.was.awesome. I admit that I laughed out loud for the smoking maternity ward comic. I don't know why I found it so funny. I love this stuff. I don't romanticize the 50s, but I find it such an interesting time.

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