28 July 2006

A Body Bag and a Trial

See it here.

It's Battle-of-the-Sexes, suburbia-style, in The Dinette Set! On the surface, the offenses described here seem like petty grievances. As such the temptation is to dismiss the entire panel as an elaborate set-up for Burl's reversal of the standard toilet seat complaint. That would, after all, follow one standard Dinette Set paradigm: over-elaborate setup, disappointing punchline.

But to read this panel in that way misses what the television set is trying to tell us. The reference to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane can't be accidental. It must be the all-important subtext for these petty grievances.

In fact, the panel is begging the reader to realize that Burl and Joy's marriage (as well as that of Dale and Marlene) only appears to be suffering from something as mild as the inevitable irritations that occur when people co-habitate.

The reality is that their marriage is a hell of emotional, psychological, and physical torture.

Their marriage--which may seem ordinary on the surface and may seem much like your own--is in a death spiral with no chance of recovery. Once again we have a desperate cry for help. Once again we are forced to face the reality of Joy and Burl's marriage.

Once again we must accept that the future of The Dinette Set involves a body bag and a trial.

Tortured by marginalia:
  • I'm curious about the choice of Burt Reynolds as Baby Jane's husband. It's possible it was a belated attempt to soften the impact of the reference to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane by including a washed-up sex-symbol and perennial B-movie maker. It's equally possible Ms. Larson just thinks any reference to Burt Reynolds is funny. Either way, she would be wrong.
  • The "Impossible Manwich" gag is fairly straightforward. But the languge in that to-do list item is convoluted to an extreme degree. Am I supposed to be parsing from that sentence Impossible Manwich Sloppy Joes (which is already fairly redundant) with a side order of canned potato salad? Or am I to derive that an Impossible Manwich sandwich is made from Sloppy Joes and canned potato salad?
  • Joy's line features equally imprecise use of the English language. I keep reading it to say that Burl doesn't shut a cabinet door in the same manner that his father used to. Which is a much funnier image, in reality: his father was a championship cabinet closer and Burl just can't live up to his legacy.
  • Yet another parochial Cal-Sag gag. Barring any other information, I'll assume the joke here is that you can't ride a Wave Runner in the Calumet Sag Channel because it has no waves. Though it should be noted the shirt actually says "Wavf Runner."
  • Why is Dale smiling? In the context of the panel, I can't figure out what his facial expression is supposed to connote. I think it's creepy no matter how you try to explain it.
  • Why do you suppose Ms. Larson bothered cramming a few letters between Marlene and Joy's dialog balloons? Does she simply abhor any fragment of white space?

1 comment:

catastrophile said...

I read the sign as making the menu "Impossible Manwich Sloppy Joes" and "Canned Potato Salad" . . . the item that puzzles me is "Put casters on kitch[en] chairs" -- is this a reference to the difficulty of pushing chairs in, as referenced in the dialogue?

Or are we supposed to be envisioning the Dinette family being propelled around the house on wheeled chairs by the likely gastrointestinal side effects of Manwiches and canned potato salad?