October 27, 2016
(++++) WORDS OF WIT, WISDOM AND WEIRDNESS
2017 Calendars: Page-a-Day—Shakespeare Insults; Brit Wit; Truth Facts; You Had One Job!; Medical Cartoon-a-Day. Andrews McMeel. $14.99 each.
Pictorial calendars are all very well, but one of the neat things about the vast variety of page-a-day offerings from Andrews McMeel is that there are plenty of choices for people who get quite enough visual orientation day in and day out and would prefer to have one place each day to which they can look for some words of inspiration. Or amusement. Or, as in the case of Shakespeare Insults, personal attacks as only the Bard of Avon could frame them. We think of Shakespeare as esoteric these days, largely because his language – in style and vocabulary – differs so markedly from the one we speak now. But in his time, Shakespeare was quite down-and-dirty. Filthy, even. It was not the intelligentsia that filled the coffers of the Globe Theatre – it was the rougher trade of people who came to see death and mayhem, especially befalling royalty and other higher-class characters, and if there could be a touch of nastiness in the dialogue as well, that would be just fine, thank you. It is the way that Shakespeare combines the lowest of appeals with the loftiest that is a source of continuing amazement to this day. And that means there is plenty of lowness in his works – a fine smattering of which may be found in this calendar. Shakespeare knew how to turn a phrase even when being nasty, as in the line from Henry IV, Part II in which one character accuses another of liking to “commit the oldest sins the newest kind of ways.” Or the notably non-fraternal comment from The Tempest addressing “you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother would even infect my mouth.” Of course, Shakespeare could be straightforwardly insulting, as in “thou art a traitor and a miscreant” from Richard II and, from Henry V, “Thou cruel, ingrateful, savage and inhuman creature!” But many of Shakespeare’s more-notable attacks are written with the witty wordplay that pervades the serious elements of his plays: “I trust I may not trust thee” from King John, for example, and, from Coriolanus, “You are no surer, no, than is the coal of fire upon the ice, or hailstone in the sun.” Even in his insults, Shakespeare has a habit of making us think, so Shakespeare’s Insults is a wonderful calendar for those who like to bring a touch of the thoughtful to every day. True, there are a few mistakes in it: “You spotted snakes with double tongue” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not an insult but the fairies’ call to protect their queen, for example. But by and large, this is a calendar packed with insults beside which modern profanity-filled tirades show as having a distinct absence of intelligence.
Shakespeare inevitably shows up in the Brit Wit calendar as well, but this is a somewhat more down-to-earth offering and one with a broader focus: pretty much anything pithy and of British origin may be found in this anthology of critique and self-criticism. Author Douglas Adams, for example, is quoted as saying, “I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don’t know the answer.” Aldous Huxley, a grimmer author, has a grimmer comment: “Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.” Philosopher Bertrand Russell offers an almost-Shakespearian-style insult: “The people who are regarded as moral luminaries are those who forego [sic] ordinary pleasures and find compensation in interfering with the pleasures of others.” This should really be “forgo,” but the point is neatly made even with the typo (which is the calendar’s, not the learned Russell’s). Bits of politics peek out here and there in Brit Wit, such as this from comedian Alexei Sayle: “Americans have different ways of saying things. They say ‘elevator,’ we say ‘lift.’ They say ‘President,’ we say ‘stupid psychopathic git.’” The specific president scarcely matters – it is the language differences on the two sides of “the pond” that produce the amusement here. There are some nicely turned phrases in this calendar about personal relationships. Prince Philip is quoted as saying, “When a man opens the car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife.” And Lord Byron suggests, “Let us have wine and women,/ Mirth and laughter./ Sermons and soda water the day after.” Another famous poet, John Dryden, is represented by a well-known proposed epitaph intended, one hopes, not to be taken too seriously: “Here lies my wife./ Here let her lie!/ Now she’s at rest,/ And so am I.” For something a bit more recent, there is Rod Stewart’s wry comment, “Instead of getting married again, I’m going to find a woman I don’t like and just give her a house.” And if that is not twisted or bitter enough, there is always the comment of George Bernard Shaw, “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.” Think about it – and about the other entries here. Brit Wit invites both amusement and thoughtfulness.
So does Truth Facts, but in a different way. Yes, this calendar is all about words, but it is the way they are presented – through illustrations such as pie charts and graphs – that gives them much of their pointedness and humor. Or, in some cases, social consciousness, such as side-by-side pie charts of “Where You Are Primarily to Be Found.” The first pie chart, “According to your Facebook profile,” is divided among “at a gourmet restaurant,” “at the airport,” “at an art opening” and “at an exclusive film premiere.” The second pie chart, “In real life,” is a single color representing “at home in front of your computer.” Consider that when using social media in 2017. Then there is a page called “Shooting Accuracy Against the Hero in an Action Movie,” showing a stylized heroic character in the center of the page and mock bullet holes pretty much everywhere else. Along the same lines, a pie chart called “What Helicopters Do in Movies” has only a single color, referring to the word “explode.” Another pie chart, called “What Getting Flowers from Your Boyfriend Means,” has three colors for “I cheated on you,” “I screwed up” and “It’s Valentine’s Day/Mother’s Day/our anniversary,” plus a fourth possible color for “You’re amazing – I love you” that appears in the color key but nowhere in the chart itself. Now there’s a cynical graphic commentary on relationships. Elsewhere, a round watch face becomes a pie chart called “Why Men Wear Watches,” in which a small sliver of color represents “To be able to tell what time it is” and a much, much, much larger colored area represents “Because they’re expensive.” And this calendar is not all pie charts, by any means. There is also, for example, a map of “Your Suburban Neighborhood” in which squares almost everywhere are white, representing “regular people.” One dark-green square, however, is called “You live here,” and the only four squares touching it are ones labeled “Garage rock band,” “Constantly mows the lawn,” “Creepy naked dude,” and “Pitbull enthusiasts.” Also here is a graph on which the Y (vertical) axis is called “How trivial and forced your relationship is” and the X (horizontal) one is called “How often you call one another ‘darling’ in public.” Of course, the graph plot shows that the more “darlings,” the more trivial the relationship. Truth Facts may not be entirely truthful or entirely factual, but it has enough truth and enough factuality (factuality?) to make it a bracing wake-up call for every day of 2017.
Words are the source of much of the humor of the You Had One Job! calendar, too, but this is also an offering in which the visual elements plus the words are often needed for the full effect. For example, here you will find a “One Way” sign with arrows pointing in two directions – the arrows are what make the words amusing. On the other hand, the sign on a store’s wall, “Open 9 Days a Week,” is a clear enough mistake without needing much to be visible besides the sign itself. The same is true of the sign atop a bank lane for cars that says “Drvie Thru.” And the sign at a garage pointing to the “Exix.” And the similar sign in a building’s hallway, with the “T” mounted upside-down. Well, actually that one does need to be seen for its full effect – and that is why the You Had One Job! calendar is only partly about words. Oh – it is also about word misuse. There is, for example, a perfectly legible and properly spelled sign saying “Homemade Soups: Cream of Broccoli” on one page; the problem is that it is attached to a loaf of bread. A sign saying “Men’s Swimwear” also looks fine, but the problem is that it is prominently placed at a display of heavy winter coats. On the other hand, the trash truck labeled “Municipal Waist” offers wordplay at its best, or worst, or most ignorant, or something. And what about the package of bread sticks with a big label that says “ready in 4-5 minutes” and small-type instructions saying to bake for at least six minutes? Or consider the “clearance” sign that reads “Big Going Out Sale Business Now!!” And the sign that reads, “Customer Parking Only. All Others Toad.” And the one advertising a “Chubby Chicken Bugrer.” And the especially embarrassing one that reads, “Nothing is imposable [sic] for god.” And the end-of-race line with the painted word “FINISIH.” And the Halloween decoration that spells “BOO” backwards – yes, as “OOB.” There are also upside-down signs and labels, “sale” prices that are the same as regular prices, misplaced coupons ($1 off on cheese in the lipstick section), and lots of other examples of jobs done in less-than-ideal fashion. You Had One Job! is a 2017 calendar that just may make it easier to get up every day and go to your job, determined never to do it in a way that might land you in the 2018 version.
The words in Medical Cartoon-a-Day for 2017 also supply much of the enjoyment, but since this calendar does, after all, feature cartoons (by Jonny Hawkins), it is the mixture of art and writing that provides the full effect. Not that the art is completely necessary to get the point – for instance, it is obviously a “try this medicine” scene in which the doctor is saying, “The only side effect is that you may experience kick ups, a cross between a cough and a hiccup,” and it is clearly a temperature-taking situation in which a patient is told, “According to this, you should be emitting lava,” and obviously the scene shows a very heavy person asking someone in a medical office, “My lipo-suction – is there a bulk rate?” On the other hand, it does help to have the visual impact of the wolf at a gym to go with the caption, “I’m trying to increase my lung capacity for huffing and puffing.” And to see the down-on-his-luck man carrying a sign reading, “Utterly lost – can’t even find a search engine” (not that that has anything particular to do with medical matters). And to read the tombstone that says, “Read something that I was dying to read.” And the sign on an orthopedist’s office: “No knee-jerk decisions beyond this point.” Some of the funniest cartoons here are only marginally medical, such as the one of an elephant seen making a withdrawal from an ATM labeled “Memory Bank.” And some of the word play is deliberately on the silly side, with a man whose leg is in a cast entering an elevator and saying, “Twentieth floor, please. I have to keep it elevated,” and a police officer handcuffing a man while telling him he has a bad heart that has to be taken in for questioning – that panel is captioned, “Cardiac Arrest.” There are no guffaws in Medical Cartoon-a-Day, and there is nothing here with the wit and wisdom and articulateness of, say, Shakespeare. But for people in the medical profession – and anyone who has ever been a patient – there are lots of words here that can brighten the days of the coming year, no matter what your diagnosis.