Happy Birthday, Julia A. Moore!

1847-1920

Julia A. Moore 1847-1920

Inspired by the outcome of the recent presidential election, I decided to devote this blog post to an ersatz poet instead of a real one. Julia A. Moore, the “Sweet Singer of Michigan” was a poetaster.  Stinking with sentiment, and fouled by forced rhyme, her work was unintentionally amusing and thereby gained a cult following. “Literary,” she explained, “is a work very difficult to do.”

Her most poetized topics were the joys of sobriety, the sudden deaths of small children, and fallen soldiers. Mark Twain is said to have counted her among his favorite poets because she made him laugh. Twain alluded to her work in Following the Equator, and is thought to have based the character of Emmeline Grangerford in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on her as well.

In addition to being maudlin, she was also prolific. Two of her poems are below. If you haven’t had enough, you can read more by clicking here.

LITTLE ANDREW

AIR — “Gypsy’s Warning”

Andrew was a little infant,
And his life was two years old;
He was his parents’ eldest boy,
And he was drowned, I was told.
His parents never more can see him
In this world of grief and pain,
And Oh! they will not forget him
While on earth they do remain.

On one bright and pleasant morning
His uncle thought it would be nice
To take his dear little nephew
Down to play upon a raft,
Where he was to work upon it,
An this little child would company be —
The raft the water rushed around it,
Yet he the danger did not see.

This little child knew no danger —
Its little soul was free from sin —
He was looking in the water,
When, alas, this child fell in.
Beneath the raft the water took him,
For the current was so strong,
And before they could rescue him
He was drowned and was gone.

Oh! how sad were his kind parents
When they saw their drowned child,
As they brought him from the water,
It almost made their hearts grow wild.
Oh! how mournful was the parting
From that little infant son.
Friends, I pray you, all take warning,
Be careful of your little ones.

— Julia A. Moore

 

THE TEMPERANCE ARMY

Come all ye friends, and citizens,
Where-ever you may be,
Come listen to a few kind words
A friend will say to thee,
Although going to speak to you
I mean you all no harm,
Tho’ I wish you’d join the army
Of the temperance reform.

Come join the glorious army
Of the temperance reform,
And every man that joins the ranks,
Will find it is no harm,
To wear Red Ribbon on his breast,
To show to this rare world,
There is one that joined the army
And his colors has unfurled.

Come all men in our nation,
Come join this happy band,
And make your homes an eden,
Throughout our happy land.
Your homes will then be happy,
Your friends will all be kind;
And in the domestic circle
True happiness will find.

Ah, from this temperance army,
Your feet shall never stray.
Your mind will then be balmy
If you keep the shining way.
Your paths are strewn with flowers,
And your homes are rosy light,
And God will watch the hours,
For He’s ever on the right.

Come all ye merry happy lads,
And listen to my rhyme.
Don’t be afraid to join the pledge
And let be the cursed wine.
Ah, lay the flowing bowl aside,
And pass saloons if you can,
And let the people see that you
Can be a sober man.

Go join the temperance army,
And battle for the right,
And fight against the enemy
With all your main and might.
For it is a glorious army
This temperance reform,
And the badge Red Ribbon
Will do you all no harm.

— Julia A. Moore

. . . Here’s to  the next four years. Let’s laugh to keep from crying.

 


 

Announcement: Humor in America Book Series

Tracy Wuster

I am pleased to announce the Humor in America book series at Penn State University Press.  Although sharing a name and an editor, the series is not officially connected with this site, but it does share the same goals: the intelligent and illuminating scholarly discussion of humor.

humor-in-america-series-flyer

Humor in America Series

Penn State University Press

Series Editors: Judith Yaross Lee & Tracy Wuster

 

From Benjamin Franklin to Mark Twain, Mel Brooks to Richard Pryor, Our Gang to Inside Amy Schumer, American humor has time and again proven itself to be more than mere entertainment: it has brought cultural norms and practices in America into sharp relief and, sometimes, successfully changed them. The Humor in America series considers humor as an expression that reflects key concerns of people in specific times and places.

 

The series engages the full range of the field, from literature, theater, and stand-up comedy to comics, radio, and other media in which humor addresses American experiences. With interdisciplinary research, historical and transnational approaches, and comparative scholarship that carefully examines contexts such as race, gender, class, sexuality, and region, books in the Humor in America series show how the artistic and cultural expression of humor both responds to and shapes American culture. The series will publish mainly authored volumes, not edited collections, and will appeal to audiences that include scholars, students, and the intellectually curious general reader.

 

Questions or submissions should be directed to the series editors at: leej@ohio.edu and wustert@gmail.com

 

Judith Yaross Lee is Distinguished Professor of Communication Studies and Charles E. Zumkehr Professor of Rhetoric & Culture in the School of Communication Studies at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and the author, most recently, of Twain’s Brand: Humor in Contemporary American Culture.

 

Tracy Wuster teaches at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the director of the Humor in American Project at UT and the executive director of the American Humor Studies Association. He is the author of Mark Twain, American Humorist.

 

Initial inquiries should take the form of a three- to five-page proposal outlining the intent of the project, its scope and relation to other work on the topic, and the likely audience(s) for the book. Please also include a current CV. The editors note that although it is a logical fallacy to expect scholarship on humor to be funny, the best humor scholarship can be fun— and illuminate its exemplars’ comic spirit—while also being intellectually rigorous and a pleasure to read.

 

 

Series Editorial Board

Darryl Dickson-Carr

Southern Methodist University

 

Joanne Gilbert

Alma College

 

Rebecca Krefting

Skidmore College

 

Bruce Michelson

Emeritus, University of Illinois at

Urbana-Champaign

 

Nicholas Sammond

University of Toronto

 

Keeping Up with the Fishes

A historian of celebrity culture might include in a footnote the curious emergence, brief duration, and inauspicious decline of a “star system” in academic literary studies in last quarter of the twentieth century. The recent publication of an authorized biography of Stanley Fish, who was among the most famous of those stars in the brave o’er hanging firmament of higher education in the 1980s and 1990s, offers an occasion to reflect upon this strange moment in modern literary studies. After all, Fish was not merely one among many stars at the time, but he also developed a persona as well as a critical theory that actively fueled this sort of academic glamour, decadence, and celebrity in literary studies at the time. Stanley Fish, America’s Enfant Terrible, by Gary A. Olson, is not so much a study of the life of an influential literary critic and university administrator than it is a tabloid-styled celebration of a popular celebrity. It is less Cleanth Brooks and more Khloé Kardashian.

fish-cvr

In his fascinating study of the rise, spread, and ultimate decline of “French theory” in America, François Cusset identified the emergence of academic stars as one of the more striking side-effects of the phenomenon, but he also observed that these “stars” became better known for their roles in the star system than for their own writings or ideas. Thus, for example, “scores of Americans have heard of Stanley Fish’s car collection, Cornel West’s salary, Stephen Greenblatt’s circle of friends, Donna Haraway’s provocative wardrobe, and queer theorist Eve Sedgwick’s late conversion to Buddhism before – and, also, all too often instead of – knowing their academic works.” Each of these figures proved themselves to be influential teachers, scholars, and literary critics, but if such publications as the New York Times took note of them, it was because their research seemed especially newsworthy. But also, lest we give overestimate the grandeur of this star system, please note that Cusset says “scores,” not hundreds or thousands; notwithstanding the enthusiasm of some, there were not all that many stargazers..

Among such luminaries as Judith Butler, Gayatri Spivak, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Edward Said, Richard Rorty, and Fredric Jameson, all discussed by Cusset, Fish stands out for a couple of reasons: first, because he became the most widely known outside of the groves of academe, appearing in well-publicized debates, writing a regular online column for the New York Times, and generally making himself familiar to an audience far beyond that found in Milton Studies or similar such communities; but second, because – unlike some of other “public intellectuals” of this era, such as Said, Gates, or West – Fish develops a theory and practice more or less designed to celebrate celebrity. Becoming a “star” was one of Fish’s professional aims, as Olson’s authorized biography of him makes clear. We might even say that, if there were not a star system for him to join, he’d have had to invent one. We might even say that he did.

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Edwina Dumm: The First Woman Daily Political Cartoonist

Edwina Dumm was the first female to draw political cartoons regularly for a daily newspaper in America.  She was born in 1893 in Ohio.  Her father was an entertainer who got into the newspaper business.  Edwina, fascinated by publishing and having a penchant for drawing, took a correspondence course in art and eventually landed a position with the Columbus Daily Monitor in Ohio.  To be clear, Ms Dumm was not the first female to publish political cartoons in the United States, just the first one to publish cartoons on a daily basis for a newspaper.  There are many examples of other women publishing political cartoons in journals, especially suffrage journals, before Dumm.

The Columbus Daily Monitor only ran from July 10, 1916 to July 5, 1917, but Dumm’s contribution to the newspaper is its most enduring aspect.  In the early 20th century, women did not get many opportunities to express themselves politically, and a neophyte newspaper would be the ideal place for a woman to exploit for that purpose.  She was talented and motivated, and in the culture of separate spheres, demanded less money than the men.  What more could a newspaper want?

Shown below, “Lost Argument” is, perhaps Dumm’s best known cartoon.  In it she suggests that women should be recruited for World War I and that they have many of the necessary skills.  However, true to the chivalry of the times and from the look of the commanding officer reviewing the recruits, it ain’t gonna happen.

edwina-dumm-lost-argument

 

 

In her book, Cartooning for Suffrage, Alice Sheppard cites several examples of women’s rights and suffrage cartoons by Dumm, including the one above.  However, the following Dumm cartoon shows how scathing her criticism of the American suffrage imbalance could be.  When Russia gave women the right to vote in 1917, she suggests that if a politically unstable country can grant the vote to women, surely an established country like the United States can as well.

edwina-dumm-fashion-hints

Pulitzer Prize editorial cartoonist, Signe Wilkinson says of women political cartoonists in the early 20th century, “After the suffrage campaign succeeded, these cartoons vanished from the printed page, leaving rare, brittle clippings and the 19th Amendment as the only traces of their public lives.”[1]  And while that happened to most women cartoonists, Dumm’s career ended because the Daily Monitor went out of business two years before the passage of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.

Of political cartooning for a newspaper, Dumm said the only discrimination she experienced was that she was not invited to socialize with the other political cartoonists drawing for various newspapers in Columbus at the time.  However, she did have to contend with at least one condescending tribute to her efforts.  An article in a 1917 issue of the magazine Cartoons begins, “She is a ‘regular’ cartoonist and has her workshop in a real newspaper office amid the click of telegraph instruments and typewriters.”   When the Monitor went belly-up, no other newspaper in Columbus would hire her; however, she was able to land on her feet.  She moved to New York City and achieved her more notable cartooning legacy.  She created a cartoon strip called “Capp Stubbs and Tippie” (shown below) that was syndicated nationally.

capp-stubbs-and-tippie

 

She also worked on other comic strips and illustrated children’s books until she retired in 1966.  Her retirement included painting watercolors of people in the New York Subways (below).

dumm-watercolor

 

[1] Chris Lamb, Drawn to Extremes: The Use and Abuse of Editorial Cartoons, New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. 92.

Teaching the Irony of Satire (Ironically)

Humor in America

Any time I get the chance to teach American satire, I begin by asserting its power. I use Mark Twain (who else?) to frame the course, taking a line from the Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts: “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” I imagine many teachers do the same thing. It is a wonderfully useful statement that grants an aura of legitimacy for the course.  It is also a rather conspicuous effort, as I fight off a perpetual fear that my students (and my peers) hold fast to an underlying belief that “serious” and “humorous” are opposing forces. I confess also that I add Twain’s line to soften my lurking guilt for being able to do something so thoroughly interesting and fun for a living. Still, I believe Twain’s assertion.

But I am having doubts.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone (29 Sep. 2011), Jon Stewart shares his…

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Satire and Conspiracy: Partisanship, Trolling, and the Poisoning of the Public Sphere

by George Carstocea

PhD candidate in Cinema and Media Studies @USCCinema. Occasional/lapsed photographer, filmmaker, actor.

This week, a conspiracy theory emerged in the fever swamps of the Internet, linking Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta to a ring of pedophiles and child abusers. A satirical website titled RealTrueNews posted a story satirizing the ridiculousness of some of the arguments in this conspiracy theory. Within a day, this satirical take was picked up and reproduced in earnest, word for word, by several right-wing conspiracy theory websites. The satirical article is credited to a “Max Insider,” one of the four posters on the website. The others go by the names “Projekt Pyramid”, “#NeverEVERHillary”, and “Lex Icon”. If you are still unsure about the satirical intent from the names, you need only to take a look at their About page and recent articles for proof.

Mr. Insider’s article begins with a link to the emergent conspiracy theory on the CT forum Godlike Productions. One of the supposed pieces of evidence proving this theory is a “suspicious” email found in the Podesta cache, from a Georgetown Law student to the Georgetown Law listserv, to which Podesta is evidently connected. You can find the original email on Wikileaks, but I won’t post a link to it here, for a reason I’ll make clear in just one second. Here are its contents:

My parents are visiting this weekend, and I need to sell my enormous collection of beanie babies! I’ve approximately 480 little creatures of joy, and I’m selling each one for $20.00. You must buy all 480, though. It is a collection (not an auction)… They are very respectful and amicable with one another, and they are (for the most part) cat and dog friendly. Some are sassier than others, naturally. Please let me know! My parents can’t find out.

On the Godlike Productions forum, this email seems to have given birth to some pretty far-fetched madness, although it was (1) not written by Podesta, and (2) not even addressed to Podesta, but rather to a listserv with many subscribers who are in no way related to the Clinton campaign. A sample:

Amusingly enough, this email isn’t even new to the Internet. It was shared — presumably by one of the many other people on the Georgetown Law listserv — on Imgur, picked up by Reddit, and then featured by Internet humor site Uproxx at the end of July, 2015.

At this point, you might wonder: was the initial email earnest? Uproxx makes fun of it as if it were, because the Imgur post includes an image of the beanie babies in question. Here it is, in all its glory:

However, that image had itself been posted, in April 2014 (more than a year before the Georgetown email), by a blog titled Perfectly Ridiculous, under the headline #tbt — a nostalgic throwback to the Beanie Baby craze. I’m not sure whether this is the first version of the image, but it’s the earliest I could find through a quick search; at any rate, it shows that the Georgetown email didn’t originate it.

In that context, and given the odd description of the Beanie Babies as “cat and dog-friendly” and “sassy” in the original email, we’re pretty much forced to surmise that this was a weird joke shared a bit too widely between coworkers at Georgetown. The person posting the email on the Cringe Pics subreddit was essentially doing what the initial sender did — sharing a ridiculous photo of too many beanie babies with a community that will likely have a quick laugh at it and move on with their day. Uproxx picked up the story and showed it to their own viewers for the same reasons, making fun of the initial sender’s ridiculous language as if it were earnest, missing the high probability that the initial sender was joking about it as well. That distantiation increased the chance of laughter, but also decontextualized the image — does the pattern sound familiar?. Luckily, it at least didn’t expose the original sender, redacting the sender address in the email screenshot.

But Wikileaks, of course, does not redact, so now the identity of the sender is publicly available and being bandied about by conspiracists. I will not reproduce it here because I don’t want to add to the damage myself. But the plot thickens. Some of the conspiracists who picked up the satire from RealTrueNews wholesale and redistributed it as fact had no idea that the Beanie Baby email contained an attachment of the goods in question. The Conservative Daily Post, however, took the attachment, analyzed it, noticed that it had been posted earlier, and adapted the conspiracy to the new information: the fact that the image had been posted earlier is, to them, proof of the Georgetown sender’s malevolent intent. I am posting a screenshot of their speculation here, redacting the Georgetown sender’s name myself, because this is an absurd witch hunt and he doesn’t deserve to get his name dragged across the Internet because he once sent a joke to his co-workers. Regardless of whether you find the initial joke funny or not, this certainly goes beyond my bounds for reasonable retribution/speculation:

Reminder: this e-mail was not even sent to Podesta, but rather to a Georgetown Law listserv that presumably has hundreds of members

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The Summer of Trump: Clown, Gasbag, Monster, Anti-PC Hero, and Other Images of THE DONALD

Only a few more days left…

Humor in America

Tracy Wuster

An update on a new image that emerged: The Fall of Trump: A New Image of the Donald

Like many observers this summer (and heading into fall), I have been fascinated by the rise (and continued buoyancy) of Donald Trump.  And like many, I considered him a joke at first.

Donald as clown

Early in the Trump Era ™, political cartoonists, like latenighthosts, were excited to have Trump for fodder.  And what is not to love (for a comedian): the hair, the brashness, the class, the near-constant stream of material… it’s the Donald.  He was a walking punchline before he entered the race.

Trump politcal cartoon

Especially for cartoonists: the hair. Earlier this summer, I was riding in a van in Oakland with Yakov Smirnoff, and he mentioned getting his start at a Trump casino.  Someone said, “you mean our next president.”  To which he replied, “no, he…

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In the Archives: Mark Twain’s “A Presidential Candidate” (1879)

Posting without political intent or comment. For your consideration as you prepare for the third and final debate.

Humor in America

Tracy Wuster

To “celebrate” the Iowa Caucuses, we present Mark Twain’s “A Presidential Candidate.”  In light of the sometimes depressing spectacle of the primary season, it is nice to see Twain’s refreshing candor.  Here it is, from June 1879:

Mark Twain Samuel Langhorne Clemens politics president Obama RomneyI have pretty much rkde up my mind to run for president. What the country wants is a candidate who cannot be injured by investigation of his past history, so that the enemies of the party will be unable to rake up anything against him that nobody ever heard of before. If you know the worst about a candidate to begin with, every attempt to spring things on him will be checkmated. Now I am going to enter the field with an open record. I am going to own up in advance to all the wickedness I have done, and if any congressional committee is disposed to prowl around my biography in…

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At the Crux with Thomas Lux

lux

Thomas Lux Born December 10, 19464

Sardonic, startling, dark and direct.  This accessible, yet often existential poet writes incisive, meaningful poems. His cutting wit, dark humor and haunting irony are his trademarks.

With the debates in full swing, I thought it apt to share two of his protest poems. Enjoy!

The People of the Other Village

hate the people of this village
and would nail our hats
to our heads for refusing in their presence to remove them
or staple our hands to our foreheads
for refusing to salute them
if we did not hurt them first: mail them packages of rats,
mix their flour at night with broken glass.
We do this, they do that.
They peel the larynx from one of our brothers’ throats.
We devein one of their sisters.
The quicksand pits they built were good.
Our amputation teams were better.
We trained some birds to steal their wheat.
They sent to us exploding ambassadors of peace.
They do this, we do that.
We canceled our sheep imports.
They no longer bought our blankets.
We mocked their greatest poet
and when that had no effect
we parodied the way they dance
which did cause pain, so they, in turn, said our God
was leprous, hairless.
We do this, they do that.
Ten thousand (10,000) years, ten thousand
(10,000) brutal, beautiful years.

— Thomas Lux, 1994

 

Plague Victims Catapulted Over Walls into Besieged City

Early germ
warfare. The dead
hurled this way look like wheels
in the sky. Look: there goes
Larry the Shoemaker, barefoot, over the wall,
and Mary Sausage Stuffer, see how she flies,
and the Hatter twins, both at once, soar
over the parapet, little Tommy’s elbow bent
as if in a salute,
and his sister, Mathilde, she follows him,
arms outstretched, through the air,
just as she did
on earth.

— Thomas Lux, 1999

Concerning Cucurbit Comics, or 57 Years of Hilariously Sincere Waiting for The Great Pumpkin.

 

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When Charles Schulz first devised his running holiday gags involving an eager child’s confused blending of  Halloween and Christmas in October 1959, he never dreamed that the myth of the Great Pumpkin would become one of the most beloved and amusing elements of the Fall holidays. Like so many landmark Peanuts routines, what began as a simple joke about a seemingly quaint misunderstanding would eventually grow to sizable proportions throughout the decades, producing a number of memorable antics as well as some particularly pointed commentary on the values and risks of personal perseverance and popular scorn.

Five of the first seven “Great Pumpkin” strips reveal Linus Van Pelt spreading the joyful gospel that will eventually leave him humiliated as “a victim of false doctrine.”

first-strip

great-pumpkin-2

fourth

heresy

shut-up

From then on, Schulz deftly milked the joke every season, focusing mainly on Linus’ unsinkable faith in his own personal legend of a charitable pumpkin-claus who brings toys and treats to good little kiddos awaiting his arrival in the truest, most earnest, and sincere pumpkin patch nestled somewhere in the Great American breadbasket. Playing harbinger to his Halloween hero, Linus’ tone could shift from zealous and prophetic to desperate and dejected, but still he spoke his truth and believed always in his misfit vision of the holiday. Now his legend is ours as well.

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hopeis-comingfaith

Of course the 1966 TV special, one of many award-winning adaptations that launched Schulz’s Peanuts gang to worldwide fame, would provide the most resonant and popular of all Great Pumpkin routines. Culled largely from the comic strips, and lovingly tweaked for television by Schulz himself and long-time producer, Bill Melendez, the CBS special, like its Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter counterparts, became a seminal element of American holiday media, and its yearly broadcast remains a beloved tradition shared by generations of viewers and fans. It’s safe to say that, ironically, much of the media-driven world now sits eagerly each year with Linus in his pumpkin patch.

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Like Schulz’s tree-eating kite, Charlie Brown and Lucy’s perennial football foibles, and the poor Peanuts kids’ eternal inability to win baseball games – Linus’ yearly disappointment after the Great Pumpkin’s failure to appear makes grand, operatic comedy of frustration and regret. Linus’ agony over another year wasted, his sister’s disgust at her little brother’s unshakable delusion, Snoopy’s perpetual knack for appearing at just the right time to give the poor languishing martyr some hope, and especially smitten Sally’s endless threats of litigation and restitution for a night’s worth of lost candy all frame the Great Pumpkin as a fairly piquant allegory of the complexities of faith, fun, and friendship in America.

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