31 August 2006

Long day's journey into night

See it here.

What I find most interesting about this panel is that Joy is "too tired to even pick a movie."

I imagine that Burl and Joy suddenly realized that bedtime was approaching and they had no movie with which to ease their passage to sleep. They face the prospect of being forced into an alternate activity, such as conversation (reinforced by The Conversation movie on the shelf), reading (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), or worse (Being There's signature phrase "I like to watch").

And so they embark on a frantic search for a video rental store long after most stores have closed. The trek takes them as far south as Kentucky before they finally find a store which is still open. By now Joy is barely awake, but Burl is adamant that he will not return home without a movie.

And who can blame him?

Sleep-induced marginalia:
  • I hate to say this, but the movie shelves contain movies I actually like, such as the three mentioned above and Bull Durham. Please tell me that doesn't mean I share common taste with Burl and Joy.
  • Do you figure the person in the back is just coming out from behind the curtain which segregates the adult section from the rest of the titles?
  • The perspective in this panel is really strange. It's hard to tell where the shelves are relative to the people or each other.

30 August 2006

The day Ma's ninja career ended

See it here.

The Dinette Set runs afoul of the English language trying to tell this joke, such as it is.

For starters, this trick is "for when you walk into a room and forget why." But, by the time you've walked into the room and forgotten, it's too late to start muttering to yourself. In fact, what is required is a total lifestyle change. You must constantly mutter your plans as you move, on the chance you might forget them (which would have the side effect of ruling out entire career paths, like street mugger, Navy SEAL, or Ninja assassin).

That said, if you have reached a point where the trade-off between how often you forget why you entered a room outweighs the annoyance of muttering to yourself, then you should probably seek medical advice from somewhere other than a gossip magazine.

Also, there's a slight misunderstanding regarding the meaning of the word "memory," apparently. If you walk from room to room muttering to yourself what your plans are, you are not really committing your plans to memory, you are insuring they never actually go into memory, but always remain in the forefront of your mind. So, technically, this is not a memory trick.

Even allowing for these obvious issues, the point of the panel is a bit obscure.

On one hand, it's possible this is commentary on the creeping senility of Joy's mother since she takes Joy up on the suggestion. Apparently she knows that, despite the physical and locational clues, she will be unable to remember why she walked into the bathroom once she arrives.

On the other hand, it's possible this is supposed to be commentary on how idiotic the initial suggestion is, by illustrating in the most scatalogical terms the effect of voicing one's intentions aloud. I admit this is the most plausible reading. But that would also make this a Straw Man joke. The memory trick is not a piece of common wisdom which is skewered for our amusement. It is an idiotic suggestion manufactured just for the occasion and ease of skewering it.

Then again, it's possible the panel is all an elaborate set-up to enable a reference Ma and the bathroom. The artist appears to find jokes involving Ma and the bathroom compelling, whereas the image makes me want to drink myself into a stupor (or at least until I resemble the crazy-eyed person in the Cialis ad).

I vaguely remember seeing these marginalia somewhere:
  • Burl's spidey-sense is tingling.
  • Is every wall of their house adorned with a clown picture? They seem to be a common element of The Dinette Set for the purposes of neutral commentary. Though in true Dinette Set fashion, the clown's range of expression is limited, in this case to wide-eyed surprise, which also limits the effectiveness of the commentary.
  • Award points for creative spelling of the word "Vedge." I assume that is supposed to be "Veg" as in "Veg out."
  • Speaking of which, the trio of marginalia regarding general laziness (two mugs, Burl's shirt) appear to be left over from a different panel, since they are unrelated to this one.

29 August 2006

Ego, super-ego, and id

See it here.

Once again, Burl and Joy find themselves at a funeral, or more precisely a funeral luncheon, focused on the food. This panel doesn't have much in common with that one, however (unless you fixate on the minor detail of Burl's jacket slung jauntily over his shoulder).

More interestingly, today's panel represents the second time in a week that The Dinette Set has ambitiously tackled large philosophical questions. The first time, it raised more questions than it answered. This time, it provides a metaphoric insight into Freud's structural theory.

First we have our background couple, representing the Id, driven by pure hunger (for food and preferential seating), gesticulating unashamedly and rushing with wild abandon. The requirement for immediate gratification of the pure Id functions overwhelms any concern for external or social niceties.

Next we have Verl, representing the Super-Ego, defending Burl and Joy from their own Id desires and providing a necessary social counterpoint. Admittedly, Verl's rationale for opposing their desire to rush for the best seating at the buffet doesn't quite rise to the level Freud would have argued, being based on self-preservation (or purse-preservation) rather than cultural regulations. Still, she will have to do as far as The Dinette Set is capable of portraying a conscience.

Finally, we have Burl and Joy, the Ego, mediating between the Id and Super-Ego. They enable limited expression of the Id's desires (getting the best seat), but only when consequences are manageable (they can do so without appearing tacky themselves). They are the least well rendered part of the metaphor since the only way in which they represent the conflict between the Ego and Id is through inaction, which is attributable as much to their inherent laziness (fairly standard fare for the Dinette Set) as anything so grand as the Ego.

Of course, in the world of The Dinette Set, Freud's principles are undermined with the same pen strokes which render them. With no one present to witness their actions, the first-movement advantage of the Id couple will be rewarded without consequence. In contrast, the dallying of the Ego and Super-Ego, which in Freud's theory is what keeps society from imploding, will lead only to frustration, recrimination, and negative reinforcement leading to eventual supremacy of the Id.

Strict Freudian marginalia:
  • Nice dress to wear to a funeral Joy. The joke, of course, would work better if Mrs. Id didn't undermine it by also wearing a similar dress.
  • That mass of dark spots in the background...do you figure that is supposed to be the people attending the funeral service? If so, it is a definite candidate for "least well rendered crowd scene."

28 August 2006

And the nominees are

See it here.

The Dinette Set enacts one potential sequence of events leading up to a Darwin Awards nomination.

Possibly a reference to the Emmy Awards which aired yesterday. Possibly to give readers a warm feeling as they imagine Burl and Joy being sucked upwards into a funnel cloud.

Marginalia which improve the human genome:
  • The "America's Funniest F-4's" reference is a complete mystery to me, as is the F-3 reference on Burl's mug. This is not the first time we've seen a reference to "F-numbers" in The Dinette Set; it appears to be some sort of obscure running gag. Anyone got a theory?
  • Anyone able to recognize the name of the VHS movie on top of the DVD player? I'm thinking it is "Here, Lassie." But that's a guess and doesn't conform to the name of any Lassie movie on IMDB.
  • What happened to the portraits of Burl and Joy atop the TV? Both look like they are in the early stages of melting, like those Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark after they opened the Ark of the Covenant.

27 August 2006

Sunday Reader Blogging: Addiction

See it here.

Apparently addiction seemed like fertile ground for humor in June of 2004. Especially funny are not-so-subtle references to losing the battle against addiction. Hilarious stuff.

What's your take?

26 August 2006

Tear down this Mill

See it here.

Wracking my brains I can find only three possible interpretations for today's panel.

Perhaps Burl, Joy, Dale, and Marlene are chastising themselves for having waited idly by while the wheels of city government turned when they should have taken the matter of a derelict building into their own hands. This interpretation requires us to believe that it would have been a realistic option for them to organize an angry mob with pitchforks, torches, and Caterpillar heavy equipment to storm the mill and tear it down.

That's hardly credible.

Alternatively, they may be rejoicing in destruction for its own sake (or perhaps for the sake of property values), willfully ignorant of the historic or cultural significance of the structure. This would obviously be in keeping with the characters-as-Philistines theme which pervades The Dinette Set. And while Joy's shirt alludes to such an interpretation, it undermines it at the same time with the label "Crustwood Hysterical Society Chair." Besides, to even attempt such an ambitious joke would require unequivocal demonstration to the reader of the historical significance of the building. No such demonstration is made or the demonstration is so ineffectual as to be non-existent.

Once again, this interpretation strains credulity.

Another interpretation relies on two odd background details, the over-large U.S. flag flown from the wrecking machine and the bit of detritus floating in air just to the right of the wrecking ball which bears an eerie resemblance to the U.S.S.R. hammer and sickle.

Perhaps this panel is a metaphor for the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Communist regime in Russia. A metaphor for America's triumph in the Cold War. What relevance a Cold War reference has in 2006 is, of course, anyone's guess.

Then again, it's possible that today's panel just plain sucks.

Commie pinko marginalia:
  • What was the point of drawing such a detailed bridge and truck in the extreme right of the panel?
  • Home Guilders? A reference to unions as socialist organization like the USSR?

25 August 2006

Meta-Post: Visitors and Keywords

I have some people coming to visit for about a week, and I'm not sure how frequently I will be able to post, but I will do my best.

Before I go, it's always a little amusing to look at some of the keyword searches that bring people to this site. Given the name of the comic, I get a fair few people shopping for furtniture who stumble on the site, for example.

I just had to share this one because you can only imagine what this individual was actually looking for: tasteless aphrodisiacs (which found this page).

Ye Gods!

Still Life with Taco-Shaped Bed

See it here.

It's been a while since we've seen a Dinette Set in which it's difficult to locate the intent in what otherwise appears to simply be the most boring and pointless conversation ever published in comic form. But that's precisely what we face today. On the surface, all we have is Burl turning down popcorn for the rather obvious reason that its physical characteristics make it an unpleasant food to eat in bed.

So we have to look beneath the surface to find the true intent. In our quest we are aided by the rather conspicuously taco-shaped bed, which is the first clue that leads me to believe that this panel is an examination victomhood. Or, more specifically, embracing one's victimhood as a psychological shield against one's own self-destructive behavior.

Burl is clearly speaking from the experience of being victimized by popcorn in bed when he complains that it makes the bed too itchy. And yet, he does not accept the blame for eating popcorn in bed with predictable results. The blame is reserved for those external items which combine to form an undesirable itchy whole (in this case the popcorn and the bed).

Such is the desire of the modern victim. Eager to embrace the role of victim yet eager to avoid the fact that you are both victim and cause. The panel, however, will not allow Burl to get away with this.

The bed-as-taco metaphor clearly illustrates how Burl and Joy are victims of their own design. On a literal level, gravity migrates crumbs and detritus to the bottom of the taco/bed, the same area which contains Burl and Joy's asses and bellies, making the bed uncomfortable after an evening of binge snacking. On a metaphoric level, Burl and Joy's gluttony migrates fat to their asses and bellies, clogs their arteries, raises their blood pressure and puts them on a trajectory towards early death.

Much as they might like to blame the chocolate, potato chips, popcorn, and shake-n-shakes for their woes, they are ultimately responsible for their own impending death. At which time, the taco-bed can roll them up into a tight little burrito, suitable for burial (providing the pressure-bent legs of the taco-bed are not worn out from the strain of supporting their weight over the years).

For our purposes, the end game can't come soon enough.

Marginalia found in bed several weeks later and guiltily eaten:
  • I don't care how innocent the panel is, I never want to look at what goes on in Burl and Joy's bedroom again.
  • I think Joy's cup says "Vics," which I am assuming is a lower-class form of Oxycontin or Vicadin. A narcotic sedative for the masses.
  • I'm touched that the artist bothered to draw the up/down control, as if concerned we wouldn't figure out what was going on with the mattress otherwise.
  • I can't make out what books are in Joy's bed stand. Or are those videos? In which case, I don't want to know what they are.

24 August 2006

Los Fritos Banditos

See it here.

Today's panel asks the reader to ponder whether it is considered ethical behavior if you do the right thing for the wrong reason.

Burl and Joy are clearly not shrinking violets when it comes to thievery, driving around in the Dodge Bandit with a box of Hampton Inns Kleenex brazenly perched on the back seat shelf. (For what it is worth, I assume the other item in the back seat is also stolen, however the illegible text makes it impossible to be certain.)

Yet, here, in the middle of the act of thieving a pen from the local Savings and Loan, they are suddenly made aware--by a subtly-placed security camera and a not so subtly-placed sign--that prying eyes may have witnessed their most recent crime. It may even be, Burl surmises, a trap designed to end these wanted desperadoes spree of terror.

In the end, they decide to make the ethical choice and return the pen. Though the obvious inference is that they would not have done so if they felt they could get away with keeping it.

Making the right choice, for the wrong reason.

On a deeper level, the reader is challenged to examine their own ethical standards and ask what would they do if they switched places with Burl and Joy?

To which the obvious answer is: never stop screaming in horror at finding out you were trapped inside the world of The Dinette Set.

These marginalia chose to drive off a cliff rather than be captured:
  • The Crestwood Retentive Savings and Loan...I don't know how to explain that exceedingly odd naming decision.
  • What is the little gyroscopey thing on the dashboard?
  • It's quaint to think that somewhere in the USA drive-through tellers still exist and are favored over ATMs.

23 August 2006


See it here.

If you only glanced at this panel, you'd probably assume someone's been reading too much Mallard Fillmore recently.

But a deeper examination reveals that this is not a harangue against immigrants. In fact, it is a progressive caution that steadfast provincials, like Burl and Joy, are ill-prepared for life in a rapidly globalizing world, let alone the rapidly diversifying United States.

The surface implication is that the location is meant to be literally taken as a DMV in Crestwood, Illinois. But we have to assume the FBI poster is hinting at something more meaningful, otherwise it is a complete non sequitur. The clear inference we are meant to draw from "Pat"--the man masquerading as woman or woman masquerading as man (the poster is not clear on this issue)-- is that you can't trust assumptions based on superficial impressions, and the perhaps this DMV is not meant to be taken as a literal location, but rather as a metaphoric location...the globe's DMV if you will.

As if that were not evidence enough, we have the names of our DMV employees: Skip and Ola. One bears an unidentifiable but suspiciously foreign-sounding name (a cross between "Hola" and "Olaf", perhaps?). In a panel of pure anti-immigrant intent, he would have been named with more masculine/American integrity: Duke, Bull, or Bronco, for example.

Finally, we have the rather odd dialog from our "immigrant", who brazenly announces: "I'm not from the U.S.A." It would be natural to assume this is simply ham-handed exposition made becessary by the artist's inability to visually represent "immigrant status." As it is, however, the most likely explanation is that it is a code phrase which enables members of the same society to obtain favorable treatment from each other, like a pair of Freemasons.

In this case, however, the society to which both men belong is not a clandestine organization with a few members. Rather they are members of the rapidly globalizing world, equipped to participate in a world whose centers of economic and cultural influence are shifting. Burl and Joy, by contrast, have self-selected out of this society, preferring a fantasy world of parochialism over acceptance of the inevitability of a changing world.

Burl, the panel tells us, will be unable to cope cuturally and unable to compete economically. It really matters little whether he is able to obtain a driver's license, since he will not be able to afford a car and gasoline for much longer.

No hablo marginalia:
  • I'm fascinated that the best the artist can actually do to represent "immigrant status" is to make the man a member of the working class. By contrast, USA citizenship is represented by delusional aspirations of athletic glory and indebtedness to a credit card company.
  • Is it going too far to suggest that the signature by "X" is a reference to George F. Kennan and a call for a new era of containment against golablization? Probably so.
  • The large DMV sign repeats the same joke as the rest of the panel. Was it really deemed so unclear that telling it twice was necessary?

22 August 2006

We Are Borg

See it here.

A bleak view of our future, this panel presages a future in which we are unable to act without input from an electronic device. It does not matter whether we have the ability to recognize the need to act or even whether we have the free will to act. We will be incapable of acting without a literal jolt of electricity.

As such, this is a cautionary tale.

Get rid of your PDA, your PC, your TV, and your alarm clock, the panel is telling us. Return to a simple life in which you had to wash your dishes before putting them into the dishwasher, in which a 13-inch TV was not capable of putting out deafening sound, and in which the arrival of an actual physical mailman with actual physical mail was a highlight of the day.

Repent and forsake your electronic graven images, the panel warns. Otherwise all you have to look forward to is a future in which, without a signal from our appliance overlords, we will be incapable of rousing ourselves to action.

Though, on the plus side, a whole new world of excuses for tardiness will be open to us.

My PC told me to mention these marginalia:
  • What the hell is scribbled on the right-hand post-it note? Honestly, what is the point of writing that illegibly?
  • "And if I die before I wake..." Since this references Burl, it is the reader's happy thought for the day.

21 August 2006

Try, Try Again

See it here.

This joke is no funnier today than it was the last time they told it, about a month ago.

In some ways you can't really blame the artist. It's reasonable to expect that no one would continue to read The Dinette Set for over a month without giving up. As such, who would ever notice the repetition?

What really strikes me about this panel, however, is the sheer number of people crammed into the pool. The pool is a common setting and, under normal circumstances, three or four people are crammed into it. In this case six people occupy the pool, probably to unnecessarily reinforce the point that sitting in inflatable chairs is not to be confused with vigorous swimming.

Marginalia keep the pool from bursting:
  • "Not for Children Asto..." What do you figure the complete phrase is?
  • Bemco is a bedding manufacturer. So what exactly is the joke in making them a pool manufacturer?

20 August 2006

Sunday Reader Blogging: Actors

See it here.

I just figured in light of Mel Gibson's recent brouhaha, this panel was worth digging back out for comment. I, for one, am as profoundly uninterested in Burl and Joy's views on any subject as I am on Gibson's.

And you?

19 August 2006

What One Hand Clapping Looks Like

See it here.

A triumph of the avant garde in Dinette Set today. A joke whose effectiveness is based entirely on audio
cues in a format that is entirely visual.

Are the tornado sirens actually going off or is Joy imagining things? The reader cannot possibly know.

Is the TV's volume low or high? The reader cannot possibly know.

All our visual cues, from artwork to dialog, suggest that the TV is on extremely loud, I admit. (With the notable and confusing exception of Joy's Helen Keller-inspired T-shirt.)

But in the same way that the operator of the Tornado Siren cannot definitively know anything about the ambient noise level in Burl and Joy's living room, neither can the reader.

And, with that form-follows-function metaphor operating throughout, The Dinette Set creates and negates the joke and the panel itself, all in a single master stroke.

I can't hear you over the noise of the marginalia:
  • What the hell is going on with the windows? I am at a total loss to explain what that crazy repeating pattern in each window pane is supposed to be.
  • The text on the TV screen is similarly mystifying. "Tonight's Movie" means we're about to see a movie. "'Hear No Evil, See No Evil; Check your TV'" appears to be the title of the movie, but if so what is "Check your TV" doing there? "Best Dumb Videos" suddenly suggests that it is not a movie but a home video show instead. I suppose this is in keeping with the entire panel, insofar as it negates itself in one fell swoop.

18 August 2006

The Melting Pot

See it here.

Today, we pay tribute to immigrants in America, the ultimate nation of immigrants, with an elaborate tableaux encompassing the entirety of the immigrant experience.

For starters, immigrants get their own festival day, at least once a year, whether it's the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York, St. Patrick's Day Parade in Boston, or the Festa Italiana in Crestwood. Each immigrant population is allotted one day per calendar year where they are allowed to openly admit to, even celebrate, their heritage, so long as semi-authentic food is plentiful and ample opportunity for drink provided.

Ethnic pride, however, is carefully counter-balanced with cultural assimilation. America, the melting pot, accepts and blends all cultures together, until any food can be obtained "on a stick."

Each ethnic group is assigned a hilarious stereotype to simplify identification, a truth which is cleverly disguised in the panel, probably for fear of crossing the line into ethnic slur. But, if you carefully parse the use of the word "gotta" you will find it. Any standard reading of the term "gotta" does not work in this sentence. "I got to manicotti" makes no sense at all and "I got a manicotti" implies they have only one. No, we are obviously meant to read this particular bit of dialog in a hilarious, exaggerated, Father Guido Sarducci-esque Italian accent.

Despite the stereotyping, or perhaps because of it, accurate cultural identification of an ethnic group is not possible. The food stand may conjure up the image of a Mafiosi proprietor (Joey Walnuts), but it also includes obviously cross-cultural terms, such as Bistro and du jour, not to mention serving some distinctly non-Italian fare, such as pea soup. The vendors, themselves, may be Italian stereotypes of a hairy-backed man and a hairy-chinned woman, though they could just as easily be Eastern European.

In the end, the panel clearly implies, their actual ethnicity is much less important than whether they have food on a stick.

And then we have Burl, carrying a fanny pack full of coins, clearly a reference to the low-wage exploitation of immigrant workers. While the immigrants slave over their vats of pea soup, Americans satiate their gluttony with facefuls of watermelon (or perhaps steak, it's hard to tell) and ask for more manicotti on a stick than they can reasonably carry, and leave behind only coinage in payment.

What does the punchline have to do with any of this? Nothing. The punchline is nonsense, utter gibberish. As such it is the final perfect metaphor for our experience living in proximity to immigrants, with their nonsensical, gibberish-based languages. Why don't they, the panel plaintively asks, learn to speak English?

Looka da marginalia:
  • Honestly, asking us to look at Burl's saggy man-nipples was already too much for one week. Now we have to see his bare-midriff?
  • I imagine those are supposed to be the manicotti on a stick in the background, but they look more like dripping paint brushes.

17 August 2006

The Bendable Universe

See it here.

Once again, The Dinette Set bends its universe into an unrecognizable shape in service of The Joke.

How else to read this panel in which we are asked to believe either that Burl has bought a new car and is most interested in discussing the stretchy seat belts or that Burl has replaced the seat belts in his existing car with all new American car seat belts.

Neither explanation is believable. Nor is either explanation quite absurd enough to be funny unto itself, which is the typical stock-in-trade for the one-panel comic: frantically absurd set-up juxtaposed with diametrically serene text.

And herein lies the brilliance of The Dinette Set. Reinventing the one panel comic as an entirely new art form in which technique mirrors subject matter in perfectly flawed fashion. Weaving together elements which are executed in a fashion that is antithetical to the format, it can't even claim to aspire to mediocrity, like it's less-than-mundane subjects.

Too timid in composition and situation to cross the line into completely absurdity. And yet just strange enough to divert attention from whatever humor might be buried within its text. It's the perfect mirror image for its subjects who are themselves too timid to be truly objectionable and yet just strange enough to be utterly dislikeable.

30% stretchier marginalia:
  • The driver's side glass is opaque while the passenger-side interior is some sort of eerie grey mist.
  • Timmy has been oddly emphasized this week, appearing as the central character (at least visually) in two other panels.

16 August 2006

Half-Baked Conversation

See it here.

Today, Marlene wonders aloud about the grammatical accuracy of a self-evident idiom as if it were a deep philosophical question worth pondering. In this case, the idiom under scrutiny--"(s)he's got brains"--is not one that you would imagine non-native speakers puzzling over, let alone a group of native-speakers. It's not like we're discussing idioms such as "freezing the balls off a brass monkey" or "chewed my head off" after all.

Burl's response is, to say the least, baffling. Not only does he eschew the obvious answer to this question-that-needn't-be-asked, but he embarks on a long, rambling, incoherent journey in which the English language is only a casual observer.

Start with the phrase "plural reference" which is not one you run into in every day conversation. I imagine you might run into it if you were involved in discussions with linguists, or perhaps mathematicians, but in either of those cases I doubt the phrase actually means what Burl thinks it means.

Even granting the probably-intended meaning of that phrase, following it with the preposition "of" rather than "to" ("reference of" vs. "reference to") creates an even greater grammatical faux pas than the one which set this train wreck in motion.

Next, Burl makes reference to an idiom for stupidity, "dumb as rocks," but muddles the entire exercise by applying the idiom in question to a caveman's brain, rather than the caveman himself. Yet another linguistic inconsistency, though in this case no doubt brought on by the fear that, after all of Burl's rambling incoherence, the reader will forget what he was talking about in the first place. So the word "brain" is dropped into the sentence in almost random fashion in a futile attempt to tie things together.

Finally, Burl adds cavemen into the equation for reasons passing understanding. While everyone is doubtless familiar with the phrase "dumb as rocks" in one guise or another, how often does Burl imagine people use it in specific reference to cavemen? The only people who might reasonably discuss cavemen's intelligence on a regular basis probably have jargon a bit more precise than "as rocks" to describe intelligence.

And, as if that were not enough, Dale provides the crowning glory to this passion play with the "Whoa!" of idiotic discovery.

To recap, we have a stupid question masquerading as a deep observation, we have a rambling and incoherent response, and we have someone illogically finding both question and response deeply interesting.

Clearly these folks are stoned.

  • Hey, it's finger-quotin' Burl.
  • Burl's man-nipples are a truly disturbing sight.

15 August 2006

Mo Museums

See it here.

Apparently it's museum week in The Dinette Set. This follows last week which devoted three different panels to the perils of foreign manufacturing, at least in some small part, and recalls the two-part corn stories.

Today's panel also implies that I may have misread at least one portion of yesterday's panel. How else to explain the fact that Timmy, our first clue that something deeper was going on in yesterday's panel, is responsible for dragging Burl to a museum of natural history?

Perhaps both trips were Timmy's idea and he convinced his grandfather to drag Burl along because Timmy harbors a malicious streak and a deep-seated hatred of his grandfather or of Burl. In that sense, it is entirely possible he simply represent the reader's perspective.

But Timmy is visually positioned in the center of the panel and yet completely isolated from the surroundings. The dialog further isolates him, with everyone talking loudly about him and yet talking as if he is not present or is incapable of understanding. And then there is the stark contrast between the hand lovingly placed on the shoulder of the fortunate girl with a Yale parent and Burl's thumb jabbing towards Timmy, threatening to put out his eye.

I'm afraid what we have here is further proof that every moment Timmy spends with his grandparents is a living hell. His curious young mind is thwarted at every turn by the miserly patrician he has the misfortune to call his grandfather, in large part due to the influence of Dale's domineering friend, Burl.

One can only hope Timmy's parents read The Dinette Set and will stop allowing his grandparents access to Timmy before they do irreparable damage.

Tyrannosaurus marginalius:
  • A near clone of the Yale father previously appeared in line behind Burl and Joy at the movies. The ticket taker appears to be a slightly-disguised Tom, the Personal-Injury Lawyer. It's like Burl and Joy are in an understaffed version of The Truman Show in which the actors are forced to play multiple roles.
  • How many museums actually have exhibits that are not open to the public?

14 August 2006

No Mo' Monet

See it here.

Today's panel is a masterpiece of meta-humor.

The dialog, carefully tucked into the top of the panel, invites the reader to breeze through today's vignette, barely aware of the bustle below. The reader is tempted to read quickly and exit the panel believing they have fully grasped the joke.

"Oh, Burl," we chuckle to ourselves, "Why do you rush through the art gallery without taking time to truly appreciate it?"

But then aren't we, the reader, equally guilty of rushing through The Dinette Set without taking time to truly appreciate it?

Timmy's knowing glance through the fourth wall, barely visible from behind Burl's massive girth, is a gentle chastisement. The question for Burl, Timmy seems to be saying, is not "Why do you rush through the art gallery?" but "Why do you come here at all?"

And once the light of understanding has been activated the rest of the panel is illuminated for the reader, and it is as if we are looking at an entirely different story altogether.

The exhibit signage wearily warns the queue that the same tired artist's work is still on display (after all, it's not like there's any new art being created). Burl's shirt provides the starkest metaphor for a trip to the museum: a 1-mile marathon. Joy's shirt advertises for the museum which, if truthful, they all really wish they were visiting. Not one, not two, but three neck passes insure that no one mistakenly infers that Burl paid any kind of entrance fee.

And, as the besweatered beatnik docent reminds us, "Art" is just the name of a guy.

Once the reader has dug deep into the center of this panel and extracted the marrow, we come to the crux of the matter.

The question for us, dear reader, is not "Why do you rush through The Dinette Set without taking time to truly appreciate it?" but "Why do you read it at all?"

Don't miss the marginalia in the gift shop:
  • Please tell me I am not the only person freaked out to find that Burl's head can swivel to face in the opposite direction from his body, as if he were an owl.

13 August 2006

Sunday Reader Blogging: Kids' Sports

See it here.

If I read this 21 September, 2004 panel correctly, this is a Mallard Fillmore-esque complaint about the fact that kids' teams nowadays allow every child to play, no matter how sucky they are. This perhaps would make more sense if there were more than 6 players trying out for a basketball team.

What do you think?

12 August 2006

Hot Fire Down Below

See it here.

If there's anything I want to see less than political commentary in The Dinette Set, it's Joy's protuberant ass, rendered with conspicuous voluptuousness, being ogled by Burl.

And yet, that's exactly what today's panel gives us.

The only lifeline afforded the hapless reader is the scary figure accusing Burl of staring dumbly at him.

If you focus on the thrill-killing sociopath and imagine his potential reaction to Burl's cheeky response, then you may force your mind into areas more palatable than Joy's ass and Burl's fiery loins.

I suggest you try that now.

Marginalia found at the crime scene:
  • Hanging chad jokes stopped being funny in 2001 at the very latest.
  • The large, larger, largest joke is apparently funny enough to make twice in the same panel.
  • Is it just me, or does the display case at Chad's resemble a donut shop more than a fast-food joint?

11 August 2006

Nonsense and Insensibility

See it here.

I know what you're thinking: "What the hell is Joy trying to ask that poor salesman? Is she even speaking English?"

As a service to readers, I will attempt to convert the first sentence into English as recognized by, well, the English-speaking world.

I think what Joy is trying to ask is:
Why are you telling us we should buy an American car, with the reason being that foreign car parts are more expensive, when it says right here that this Chevy was made in Korea?
Unfortunately, figuring that out doesn't do much to help with the rest of the panel because none of the remaining dialog seems to follow logically from that starting point.

For example, the salesman immediately contradicts whatever it was he told Joy to set this disaster in motion by saying that the parts are American-made, and so not foreign car parts after all.

Then, Burl chimes in to claim that something in the preceding dialog proves that American-made car parts are cheap, when in fact everything preceding it has indicated that the car parts in question, wherever they are manufactured, are expensive.

To sum up...this panel expertly informs us that Chevy parts are either made in Korea or made in the United States and the parts are either expensive or cheap.

At this point I'm exhausted from making my way through this semantic mess. Almost too exhausted to even contemplate what the panel might be about, especially since the artwork further confuses matters by introducing the red herring issue of gas mileage into the fray.

However, we were offered two panels this week in which The Dinnette Set pussy-footed around the question of foreign manufacturing yet and refused to cross the line into overt jingoism. As such it's impossible not to notice that it suddenly veers over the line, though it has cleverly erected a semantic and visual maze the reader must navigate before coming to this realization.

Korean-made marginalia:
  • Burl's shirt isn't quite accurate, of course. Burl would have to hear something which basically agrees with his pre-existing world view, no matter how ridiculous or far-fetched, in order for him to agree with it.
  • What exactly does the salesman's tenure add to the panel? How is this panel helped in any way by informoing the reader that the salesman is "new here."
  • It's too late, of course, to keep Burl and Joy from procreating. As such, there is no defensible reason to plant the image of their coupling into our heads by having Joy wear a Cialis shirt.

10 August 2006

The DVD Keeps Blinking 12:00

See it here.

The Dinette Set joins the pantheon of comic strips which hope against hope that difficulty with technology can be transformed into hilarity. Variations on this theme appear time and again in the daily comics.

Leave it to The Dinette Set, however, to attempt to extend this cliche to a piece of technology which has been around since the mid 1990's.

This panel exhibits absolute faith in the principle that it is automatically funny to reference technology and exhibit bafflement in the same space. It's such a sure-fire comedic formula, apparently, it doesn't need to make any sense. It is perfectly fine to require the reader to buy into the premise that Burl and Joy have remained ignorant of how VCRs and DVDs interact with the TV for over two decades.

And yet, if this were not hard enough to accept, there's yet another detail in the panel which can't be missed. Notice how the writing on Joy's cup is jammed into the top half? At first glance, you might think the black blob underneath is Joy's leg. But you'd be wrong. It's the telephone base attached, by a cord, to the phone receiver in Joy's hand.

That's right...Joy and Burl don't own a cordless phone or a mobile phone, either.

Vintage marginalia:
  • Times must be really difficult at The Weather Channel if they had to fire all their call screeners.
  • What exactly does Burl's last line add to the panel? Isn't it just making the same joke as Joy?
  • What the hell is going on outside the window? It looks like a child's stick-figure drawing, but I'm guessing it supposed to be a storm.
  • The DVD is conspicuously "Made in China." What does that matter? Why trot out jingoism for this panel when it was so scrupulously avoided just 3 days ago?

09 August 2006

A Multitude of Worms

See it here.

In life he fattened one man; in death he fattens a multitude of worms.
- Pope Innocent III, On the Misery of the Human Condition

In life I didn't know him; in death he provides luncheon.
- Burl, The Dinette Set

If Burl and Joy were asked to attend the funeral by their neighbor, then there's nothing in this panel worth making fun of. I mean, once someone asks you to a funeral, you're pretty well required to attend. After all, "Will you come to the funeral?" appears at the top of the list of questions to which "No, thanks" is an inappropriate response.

That Burl locates a silver lining in an otherwise boring afternoon in the company of mourners for a man he never knew is just a small testament to his positive outlook, in addition to his rapacity.

In order for this panel to make sense, Burl and Joy had to have a choice in the matter. In which case we need to assume they finegeled an invite or are crashing the funeral. Personally, I prefer the latter explanation.

I imagine Burl and Joy maintaining a comprehensive list of people to whom they are connected within 6 degrees. Then, each day at breakfast, they scour local papers seeking out funerals at which they can reasonably expect to be fed.

Not being an avid reader of the obituaries myself, I'm not sure whether the standard obituary mentions whether food will be served or not, though I imagine not. Which means that Burl and Joy have to make assumptions about their prospects for feedings and leads to the next fantasy, that of an outraged Burl tearing apart a funeral parlor upon hearing that there is no luncheon to follow.

Ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-marginalia:
  • What does the doorbell sign have to do with anything? Is it a reminder of the 30-some-odd traveling salesmen buried in their basement?
  • Isn't Joy's dress a tad short for a funeral? Or common decency for that matter?

08 August 2006

Back Away Slowly

See it here.

Ahhh, willful ignorance, thy name is bliss.

By all means, stick your head in the sand (in this case the sands of Dubai's beaches while Robin Leach tours the Emir's summer cottage). Avoid anything which might inconveniently intrude on the perfect reality that exists only in your tiny little bubble of a living room.

Everything is fine with the world. There is nothing which requires your attention. Go back to watching Shari Belafonte's walk-through of Jack Nicholson's Mulholland Drive estate.

I'm serious.

Because the last thing anyone wants is political commentary from The Dinette Set.

Now, everyone just back away slowly before one of them says something else.

Global marginalia change:
  • Sophie's Choice? Is this supposed to be the choice between watching NOVA's Dimming Sun and Robin Leach? Between doing something and nothing? Between accepting climate change science or decrying it as a leftist plot?
  • Lifstyles of the Rich and Famous went off the air in 1995. Now, I admit it may be on cable re-runs where they watch it. But it's not like there's a dearth of bad TV shows available for reference which were broadcast this century.

07 August 2006

Jingoism Rorschach Test

See it here.

Okay, Burl. We believe you. You don't own a BMW because they don't market it with raffles and balloons. It certainly is not because you can't afford it. Not at all.

Well, maybe just a little bit because you can't afford it.

Oh, hell, let's just call a spade a spade...the only way you are going to get within sniffing distance of a BMW is if the dealership decides to attach a really gigantic balloon to a sedan, after which it floats off the lot and then lands in your driveway. Even then, you'd have to give it back, despite possession being 9/10ths of the law.

But, what's so surprising about this? No one would expect you and your low-level U-Stor-It employee salary to be BMW material.

What has me really curious, however, is why the lame excuse? Why not just trot out the jingoism card? I mean, there's the BMW dealership all tarted up like a flower shop or a funeral parlor, just begging for scorn. The employees have all got names like Hans and Fritz. They don't even bother marketing properly, as if the product will just sell itself. How thoroughly, digustingly un-American.

Why not come right out and say it, loud and proud? "I only buy American!"

It's not like the stench of jingoism isn't hovering over every inch of the panel anyway. The mere fact that no one is speaking about it only strengthens its intensity. It's the elephant in the room, overshadowing everything else, despite the fact that no one is mentioning it.

All of which makes this panel a Jingoism Rorschach Test for the reader. Lacking any other context from which to discern the author's intent, whether the reader believes the panel is lauding Burl's unspoken nationalism or making fun of his jingoism will reveal more about the reader than anything else.

Damn foreign marginalia, taking all our jobs!
  • "BMW next to Ford" ranks as either the worst dealership name ever or the most stilted bit of English ever. Take your pick.
  • "No Interest" is almost certainly an unintended pun.

06 August 2006

Sunday Reader Blogging: Weddings

Originally, I had intended to comment on a "classic" panel on Sundays. But after a couple weeks I found that I needed at least one day's respite from The Dinette Set.

I'm also interested in fostering more comments on this blog, since I think reader commentary is part of what makes the best comics blogs the must-read that they are.

Oh, and I'm lazy.

So I thought I'd try an experiment this week. I'll pull something from the archives and just let readers have a go at it.

So, without comment, here it is, from 05 March 2004. Do your worst...

See it here.

05 August 2006

Enemies Real and Imagined

See it here.

As if we needed more proof, today's panel further pegs Burl as a crazy old curmudgeon. For starters, if you look at his posture, you can easily imagine him in a rocking chair on the porch, a shotgun within reach, shouting "you kids stay off of my lawn" at every passerby, youthful or otherwise. And his grand leap of logic, from a mention of TiVo to cable company upselling, is a textbook example of the curmudgeon's Pavlovian response mechanism in action.

His brain is a catalogue of keywords, indexed to a particular sworn enemy. He sits quietly on the sidelines of every social event, listening for any occurrence of a keyword. When one of those keywords is used in conversation, Burl launches automatically into a tirade about the evils of whatever group was mentioned. Guests are pinned to the walls in horror while a red-faced (and probably drunken) Burl loudly decries enemies real and imagined.

In this case, the mere mention of TiVo is the trigger for his tirade, ascribing blame for all of societies ills to the cable company. We only get to hear the first sentence, admittedly, but you can be sure he will keep up this family filibuster for the next 30 minutes while he catalogues their many sins.

On the other hand, I suppose this could just be a clever charade used to distract Joy until she forgets about purchasing the salt and pepper Lazy Susan and matching cozies. In which case, you have to applaud the creativity of his effort.

And now I have managed to confuse myself...

You marginalia get off of my lawn!
  • "Act now in the next 10 minutes." Since when did "now" start meaning "anytime in the next 10 minutes or so"?
  • Why do you figure it was deemed necessary to put something representing TiVo on top of the TV? The item doesn't really resemble a TiVo, especially since it is smaller than the box containing the movie. And it's not like being able to actually see the TiVo device adds to the panel in any way.
  • Given the awkward position of Joy's chair I have a hard time believing she is actually watching TV. Are we supposed to infer that Joy is trying to engage Patty in conversation but Patty is ignoring her by watching TV?

04 August 2006

The Creative Process

See it here.

Here's the creative process behind today's panel as I imagine it (which is to say, I am at a loss to otherwise explain this panel):
  1. A decision to make fun of people who dote on their dogs as if they were a child or a spouse gets the ball rolling.
  2. To make the joke, a scenario is invented in which hair is found in brownies and the reveal is that the hair comes not from a human, but from a pampered pet who "helped" with the baking.
  3. The first two pieces of dialog write themselves.
  4. After sitting back and examining the panel, someone realizes that the reader will logically assume that "Manny" is an undepicted spouse, rather than the barely-rendered fur ball yapping in Connie's lap.
  5. Several abortive attempts are made to draw Manny such that his name is obvious to the reader, including a Flavor Flav-sized dog tag. Several hours later, the attempt is abandoned, after being deemed impossible. Whether it occurs to someone during this period that changing the dog's name to "Spot" or "Rex" would solve the problem is not known.
  6. At this point, several quarts of cheap gin are consumed, in despair.
  7. Inspiration strikes. Someone at the party could be ignorant of who Manny is, and ask the question for the reader.
  8. The next two pieces of dialog, up to Burl's "Connie's Pomeranian," write themselves.
  9. Self-satisfied, the effort is prematurely deemed complete.
  10. Unfortunately, a naysayer points out that the punchline (such as it is) falls mid-way through the panel and is followed by two lines of rather boring exposition. Hardly a successful formula.
  11. Eleventh-hour attempts to add a punchline to Burl's dialog end tragically when no one notices that the text sent to the publisher makes the rather unsurprising claim that a dog is extremely loyal to its owner.
Honestly, I am at a total loss to explain this.

Marginally better marginalia:
  • Not one, but two "on ice" gags today with a groan-inducing pun for good measure. I use the word "gag" here deliberately.
  • Not being a fashionable person, I have to assume Patty's shirt is some sort of Coco Chanel reference. Could it be a play on cocoa, as in cocoa brownies?
  • I wonder why the act of eating in The Dinette Set is typically indicated by a collection of food detritus around the mouth.
  • Any ideas about what Connie's cup says?

03 August 2006

Questions Unanswered Truths Revealed

See it here.

I'd say we know exactly where that trunk has been, given that this poor elephant has exactly 6 inches freedom of movement on each side of its pen at the Animal Cruelty Petting Zoo.

Of more concern to me would be knowing what kind of establishment believes an elephant belongs in a petting zoo.

Or identifying, so I could avoid engaging in conversation, the creativity-deficient mouth-breather responsible for naming the animals: Captiva the captivity-bred elephant, Wild Billy the billy goat, and Wilbur the pig.

Or discovering the mad scientist's lab in which they violated nature's laws by breeding the "safari-size" elephant and putting the brain of a dog into the body of a pig.

On the other hand, I'd rather not know when the toothless carney who served me the bag of popcorn last washed his hands. Some things you're just better off not knowing.

As a reader, I also want to know why we join this panel at this particular moment when I'd much rather see what happens next. I want to see the elephant plop a pile of poop onto Burl's head and see the billy goat sink his horns into Burl's ass.

For all the unanswered questions, we can see the truth all too clearly.

An elephant which should be roaming the wild expanse of the savannah is instead cooped up in a 3x5 pen. That is the perfect metaphor for Dale and Burl's refusal to allow Timmy any leeway for youthful exuberance and creativity. Any room to explore the world on his terms.

They fear what his youthful mind may soak in and what, left to his own devices, Timmy may become. Given the mere presence of the elephant, the phallic symbolism of the trunk which Timmy wants to touch, and Burl's incongruous and mean-spirited shirt, this whole panel probably reveals Dale's deep-seated fear that his grandson is gay.

Please don't feed the marginalia:
  • Why does the pig have a fan? And why isn't it on?
  • I don't think I've ever seen anything which could be considered an expression of emotion on Burl's face, but this elephant does a fairly anthropomorphic rage. I'm especially fond of his darting eyes.

02 August 2006

No Exit

See it here.

If life's a journey, then family are the jerks in the back seat deliberately trying to ruin the trip.

Witness the kerfuffle which occurs when Joy attempts to make small talk about the object hanging from Verl's rear-view mirror. Verl's response, as indicated by the ellipses setting apart the frustrated "no" from the rest of the sentence, is probably intended to be read as unnecessarily exasperated, especially given the minor nature of Verl's offense.

Which is not to say that confusing a dreamcatcher with God's Eyes is anything other than a fairly incredible mistake. But, for Verl's exasperation to be warranted the reader must assume Joy's question represents a maddening pattern of stupidity on her part or perhaps a deliberate closed-minded refusal to recognize symbols of a non-Christian nature. Neither of which is beyond the realm of possibility, given what we know about Joy. Though it assumes facts not in evidence, as the saying goes.

And if Verl's response leaves room for doubt about her intentions, the responses from Patty and Ma do not.

Patty has clearly been seething in the back seat ever since the trip commenced, just waiting for an opportunity, any opportunity, to erupt into a tirade. How else to explain her non-sequitur response which equates the dreamcatcher's protection against bad dreams with a sedative. Patty resents being along for the ride, resents being a part of this family. She inhabits a fantasy world in which a sedated driver is only a menace to the driver themselves and, despite her protestation, actively wishes for a fiery crash which will claim selected victims, delivering her from torment while leaving her unscathed.

Ma, as previously seen, is a demented septuagenarian with only the most tenuous grasp on reality. She chooses to sit in the back seat for reasons which defy understanding, despite her assertion that the choice is intended to protect her. In truth, Ma chooses her location only to afford her the best vantage point from which to complain bitterly while keeping a wary eye on her family. No doubt she believes the entire purpose of this trip is to take her deep into the woods and forever abandon her.

With this metaphor, the panel asks the reader to consider the bleakness of a future in which the next respite is over 700 miles away.

The following marginalia were caught in the dreamcatcher:
  • Should any of them want to actually protect themselves in case of accident, might I suggest a seat belt?
  • If they just passed the last rest stop, doesn't that imply there is no next rest stop.
  • Joy's face appears to be pressed up against the windshield and her seat within inches of the dashboard. While we're looking at the front seat, those head rests make it look more like a divan than a car's front seat.

01 August 2006

The Grifters Next Door

See it here.

New neighbors have moved in next to Dale and Marlene. Apparently these newcomers are not satisfied with the welcoming rites already performed by neighborhood busybodies with binoculars. So they take matters into their own hands and introduce themselves around in an attempt to obtain housewarming gifts.

It is likely this is a pair of grifters who move from neighborhood to neighborhood, staying just long enough to get gifts from everyone on the block, then packing up their booty and moving the scam to the next town over. Dale and Marlene fall right into the trap.

Burl and Joy, on the other hand, are not so gullible. They have erected a fortress in list form, ready and waiting to repel invaders. Instead of a housewarming gift, any grifter daring to disturb the sanctity of their prime-time rituals will find themselves burdened with a month's worth of to-do items, tying them to the neighborhood as indentured servants until the cost of the gifts is paid off.

The other, darker possibility is that terrorists have moved in next door. It's hard, otherwise, to explain why the new neighbors were not ensconced in their own armchairs, patriotically thrilling to the exploits of Jack Bauer.

In that case, Burl's parting shot takes on a new meaning. When interaction with the neighborhood terrorists is conducted over the phone, the NSA will eavesdrop and they will be discovered. Of course, Burl forgets (or chooses to ignore) the fact that Dale and Marlene will be implicated as fellow travelers and are likely to be turned over to a third-world nation willing to torture them.

Losing a pair of close friends, however, is a small price to pay for protecting our freedom to watch 24 free from interruptions of a non-commercial nature.

The following marginalia take place between 8pm and 9pm:
  • Friend = 411. What does neighbor equal? It looks like it equals 40, but what could that mean?
  • I know what it is supposed to say, but it looks like the list says "Tell neighbor to mow, weed, clean poo!"
  • Good Neighbor Sam is on ice, which is where this running gag belongs. I'm surprised we avoided The Perfect Neighbor on Ice.