Thursday, June 9, 2011

Arrow humor

Back in Paris, I used to collect all kinds of documents in which arrows were used—in one way or another—as metaphorical symbols. At a comical level, this was one of my favorites:

The dispirited fellow is trying to pen a short message (to be published in a newspaper, no doubt, because this was well before the birth of the Internet) that might enable him to find a female. We can read the first three versions, all of which have been crossed out and discarded. I've expanded the abbreviations and translated them into English:

Man, 40 years old, dynamic, intelligent, cultivated, sense of humor, is seeking a young woman, maximum age 28, for a private relationship.

Male, new style, is looking for a moderate feminist, maximum age 28, for contacts of a different kind, prospective happiness.

Creative guy, tender and intense, wishes to encounter a young woman of 28 for excursions into space-time.

The final version is definitely less inspired, more down to earth:

Fellow, depressive, inwardly phallocratic, outwardly open-minded, is looking for anything at all, maximum age 28, so he can listen to her moaning.

As you can see, Cupid is somewhat dubitative about the tone of the looking-for-love message, and it's not at all obvious that he's about to fire an arrow at a lucky 28-year-old female.

The cartoonist Claire Brétecher is celebrated in the French-speaking world for her depictions of frustrated adolescents (female, above all) trying to come to terms with modern society, parents, peer companions, sexuality, etc. In the case of the present cartoon, Brétecher worked for the Parker pen company, whose elegantly-designed writing implements have always been associated with the arrow symbol. Notice, for example, that the arrow held by Cupid is identical to the model found in the Parker logo. Notice too (a subtle detail) that the fellow has several pens on his table, enabling him to use differing nib widths and handwriting styles for his trial-and-error attempts at lecherous self-marketing.

The French company was courageous in calling upon Brétecher to create this excellent cartoon for their publicity. Today, I'm not sure that many big companies would be prepared to link their marketing communications to this kind of second-degree humor evoking primitive machism.

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