Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Day the Clown Sighed

Groucho Marx's observation that he wouldn't belong to any club that would have him as a member has slowly been robbed of its stinging subtext of Jewish self-loathing and has become cultural shorthand for more universal self-loathing. Jon's dilemma today probably has more resonance for the post-Baby Boomer generation, with our special blend of ironic/neurotic whine, but I suspect it's a fear that always lives in humanity and emerges most fiercely in those eras when we don't have better things to worry about. In short, it's nice when someone likes you, but only until you can't help but wonder if that means they're screwed up. Groucho's line has a lot to do with his comic persona as a letch, rascal and ne'er-do-well, the character reveling in the contradiction he has willfully caused. The Gen X neurosis is fueled by genuine self-esteem problems and existential confusion. This is why Kurt Cobain shot himself.

Jon Arbuckle does not hate himself, and is in a third, slightly different position: he has plenty of objective data that he doesn't have any friends, and the few creatures who sort-of like him certainly don't appreciate his sense of humor. The method by which the crestfallen Jon of panel 3 might be cheered-up is practical application of Liz's sense of humor. He doesn't suggest that Liz was faking her laughter, just that she was entertained by a man of his meager comedy skills (if it makes you snicker to think this is some kind of coded sex-talk, feel free). If you share the same lame sense of humor, does it matter if you know it's lame? A lot of good, normal couples are united by a mutual bad taste. That taste is frequently in each other. Jon's got nothing to worry about. I mean, except that he runs home and reports to his cat after every date.


Gabe said...

What a quandry. In Jon's mind, either A: Liz was fake laughing to make Jon feel better. B: She has a horrible sense of humor, Jon should know.

If B is correct, who cares if no one else thinks your funny, as long as the person you love does? Of course Jon doesn't have enough social experience to realize that nugget of life. People who enjoy the 3 Stooges don't really care if others think it's unfunny low brow crap, they seek out the people who enjoy watching bald men get poked in the eyes.

(then, those that dislike the stooges are unfunny pricks and I hate them)

Anonymous said...

I can appreciate the way the banal conversation between a bow-tied man and his obese, narcoleptic cat is somehow representative of an entire generational struggle. Maybe the younger, brownnosing writers who have obviously taken over "Garfield" have included some ageist undertones to appeal to a pop culture critic such as yourself. Then again, maybe I never expected a paragraph about Jon's problems to end with "This is why Kurt Cobain shot himself."

For the record, I find you funny.

Allen said...

Liz has been faking her laughter? Yep, the possibility of this being coded sex talk makes me snicker. Pretty low-brow, but there you go.

lisa said...

I love how Jon's cheerful optimism is melted away by Garfield's penetrating stare. "I can kill you with my brain."

Darrencardinal said...

What's up with Jon wearing the green jacket and red bow tie with yellow polka dots?

Is Jon Arbuckle blind? Or merely have no fashion sense?

Nyperold said...

I suppose by this point, it's expected, even if Garfield doesn't seem to care when he doesn't. What would happen if, say, Jon returned from a date and didn't report to his cat? Would Garfield assume -- possibly even correctly -- that something happened that was so bad that Jon doesn't want to talk about it? Maybe it's happened already; it's been years since I read Garfield on a daily basis.