14 December 2006

Reduce. Re-use. Reimburse.

See it here.

In their inimitable way, Burl and Joy transform the environmentalist's credo (Think Globally, Act Locally) into something more aligned with their own outlook (Think Selfishly, Act Selfishly).

Timmy, always representative of youthful hope for the next generation in The Dinette Set, is (as always) having that youthful hope crushed by Burl and Joy. You know when Timmy appears in a panel you're going to come away depressed at the state of humanity, so long as you equate Burl with humanity as the panel asks you to do.

And yet, this particular panel holds out a tiny glimmer of hope. Sometimes people can do the wrong thing for the right reason. It isn't much, but it's better than just waiting around for Burl and his ilk to die off.

Love your marginalia:
  • Ewwwwwwwwww. Joy's shirt. Ewwwwwwwwww.
  • While it may fit in with today's selfish re-use theme, I think the artist would have done well to think twice about Burl's shirt as well. Violating Indian Burial grounds is really not funny when you get right down to it.
  • Can that last item on the sign actual say "parsley container"? I would love it if Marlene actually owned a container specifically for her parsley.

Meta-Post: Again...

God help me, I am off again on yet another trip, starting tomorrow. Hopefully this is the last one until February.

13 December 2006

Burl is what?

See it here.

I'd like to spend this post giving The Dinette Set credit for a level of technical sophistication that most comics don't show. Making a joke of the fact that responding to SPAM, even in an attempt to make it stop, has the perverse opposite effect shows a level of technology awareness that most comics can only dream of.

I'd also like to spend this post giving credit for dovetailing the background with the overall theme, into a seamless commentary on the overload of useless information that is part of life in the Modern World.

I'd like to do that.

But I can't get past the realization that Burl is someone's boss, with all of the horrifying implications that brings.

You've got marginalia:
  • That is a more voluptuous rendering of an obese man's ass than I can actually handle.
  • Rolex stuff?

12 December 2006

Habla Anglais Herr Burl?

See it here.

It's not that surprising to see a topic like English as the national language crop up in a panel which tends to elevate provincialism to an art form.

And yet, as is so often the case, The Dinette Set undermines its own provincialism and raises the overall quality of discourse in the process.

In this particular case, it's impossible to pretend this is a comment on simple-minded xenophobia when Burl himself obliterates the English language with such panache. How can one take him seriously as a commenter on linguistics when Burl fails to recognize that "Flaming Pu-Pu Platter" is not a word, and that it is basically redundant to refer to something as the "only" national language.

We also have to examine how much sympathy we should have for folks who have, somehow, managed to stumble into a Chinese restaurant that does not have bi-lingual menus for native-speaking patrons when you can find restaurants in China with bi-lingual menus catering to travellers.

Finally, in a signature Dinette Set moment of winking acknowledgement, Burl chooses as his example of a word Cinnamon, which is Phoenician in origin. This particular touch completes the panel in so many ways. The xenophobe who is unaware of the origin of the term can hoot in agreement. The person looking for a simplistic joke can assume that "cinnamon" is foreign in origin and chuckle. The erudite reader will understand that they have been gifted with one of the most subtle etymological gags in the daily comics in many years.

Try the Kung Pao Marginalia:
  • I don't know what kind of Chinese food you get in Illinois, but apparently it never involves dessert. (If you follow that link, by the way, you'll find that Chow King has ceased buffet service since November.)
  • The artists' scrawled Chinese is pretty much indistinguishable from the scrawled English that appears regularly.

11 December 2006

The Deciders

See it here.

Under normal circumstances, you might read a line like "May I speak to the decision-maker of the house?" as a ham-handed intro to an obvious joke.

But this is The Dinette Set, and a line of dialog which does not have Mamet-like verisimilitude to normal human speech patterns calls attention to itself and lets the reader know that, rather than being a ham-handed intro, it is part and parcel of the panel's overall theme.

One immediately imagines the telemarketer on the other end of the line, forced to adhere to this awful script through the twin tyranny of an overbearing boss and periodic recording of sales calls. They are allowed no scope for decision-making in their job; that particular power has been denied by corporate overlords.

Enter Burl.

At first glance it seems like the dialog is meant to be ironic. Burl is asking for permission to handle a call intended for a decision-maker; Joy is the decision-maker in this household. And yet, that flies in the face of everything we know about overbearing, domineering, nearly-psychotic Burl's relationship with Joy. Read more carefully, of course, Burl's dialog is elliptical; Burl is making the decision to ask Joy whether she would like the distinct non-pleasure of dealing with a telemarketer. Or perhaps he is making a conscious decision to inflict Joy on the telemarketer.

Either way, it is distinctly unclear if anyone has decision-making power in this family and, by extension, in the world at large. The panel decries the lack of decision-making power we all face as a fact of the Modern Condition. We are all just cogs in an elaborate machine, with no real ability to influence events even within our tiny personal domains.

Or, as stated by the shirt with the world's most succinct recap of one-half the rules of Simon Says: "Simon Says: Do As You Are Told."

Simon Says: Check out the marginalia
  • Warning: Screen door pants on an aging Lothario.
  • Based on the amount of hair, I think the picture on the credenza to the left is supposed to be a young Burl and Joy. Based on the beanie, I think the picture on the right is supposed to be Burl as a youth; admittedly it is not distinguishable from an older Burl in a beanie.

08 December 2006

Hanes Hung by the Chimney

See it here.

On one level, today's installment of The Dinette Set is about the cynicism of age, which can be represented no more fundamentally than through the transformation of Christmas. Anyone who has spent any time with a 4 or 5 year old at Christmas will know that Christmas was once a time of magic, wonder, excitement, and endless surprise.

As we age, Christmas transforms into a time of deepest cynicism. Magic is replaced by loathing for one's relatives. Wonder is transformed into world-weary consumerism. Excitement is replaced with exhaustion and despair. And surprise changes from a positive into a negative. Any gift which comes as a surprise is most likely to find its way back to the store, to be replaced by something we really wanted.

What better way to represent this entire transformation than through the banality of the gift of a sweatshirt whose only remaining surprise will be a 50-50 call on shades of blue? Especially when the friend in the recliner nearby is wearing a shirt indicating it is he, not Jerry, who would most value a Hanes Sweatshirt.

And yet, on another level, The Dinette Set celebrates those among us who are able to remain childlike into our adult years. Jerry - irresponsible, ne'er-do-well, man-child, The Dinette Set's Peter Pan in a bad toupee - chooses to reserve for himself the only remaining surprise afforded him by his cynical friends. His jaunty finger twirl is a clear indication that Jerry, unlike his friends, has not lost his sense of wonder and playfulness.

Merry Marginalia!
  • Burl and Joy own a cell phone?
  • Does that mug say Chickory? It can't really say that, can it? How odd would it be if that was what it actually said? Especially since it is spelled "Chicory."
  • Does everyone in the neighborhood have the same clown painting? Or is this some room of Burl's house we're seeing for the first time?
  • I'm sure there's some joke in the tome sitting at Dale's feet. I know the title says "The [something] Before Christmas" but damned if I can make it out.

07 December 2006

Suburban Nightmare

See it here.

This panel really represents Burl and Joy at their level best, turning a gesture of warmth and welcome into a seething expression of deepest loathing.

But what could possibly be the reason for such hatred and scorn?

As we look down the street, first at Burl's house with its snowman-adorned Winter flag and then at the house beyond with its snowman-adorned Winter flag, the reader must marvel at the apparent homogeneity of the neighborhood. Window, flag, porch, sign...all are in near perfect alignment and agreement. This is suburbia as it is meant to be, no rancor, no clamor, no disagreement. Just perfect and blissful conformity of thought and action.

Into this environment comes an iconoclast, introducing a discordant note into the perfect uniformity and simply begging for retaliation. Based on Burl's math, not only has he left his fall sign up far too long, but he also introduced it far too early as well.

Given this egregious violation of the tacit terms of occupancy for this neighborhood, it's probably worth noting that only the wary-looking neighbor husband seems to appreciate the danger they are in. This act of passive aggressive gift-giving could just as easily have been an act of arson.

Frosty the Marginaliaman:
  • There is no excuse which could possibly justify the neighbor's shirt.
  • To make matters worse, that same neighbor-lady is wearing the dread screen-door pants.

06 December 2006

Equal-opportunity haters

See it here.

Oftentimes, it seems as if The Dinette Set views the world in fairly black-and-white terms. Today's panel is just such an example, setting up an us-against-them paradigm in which the mass of obese people are set in opposition to the lone, obese, vegetarian beatnik.

They are so opposed to his beatnik way of life that they object to fruit's very presence amidst their puddings, jellos, potato salads, and pea salads. Fruit is marginalized in the signeage the way the beatnik consumer of fruit is marginalized by society simply because he is different.

In contrast, we have Burl. A careless reading will miss the fact that Burl states that he is not a vegetarian, but has managed to fill his plate without any meat or fruit. Meaning that his entire plate is filled with vegetables and/or carbohydrates. Burl is closer in spirit to the vegetarian than anyone in the joint, and yet he has nothing but scorn for him.

The lesson, such as it is, is that the majority of people don't really hate others for being different, but rather just for being the "other." The world is filled with equal-opportunity haters who need no reason at all to hate everyone around them.

All you can eat marginalia:
  • What to make of the halo of white surrounding the beatnik? Is it meant to suggest his isolation?His self-righteousness? A lack of artistic ability on the part of the author?
  • Among the mass of unnecessary background detail, the mulleted man in a track suit is my favorite.
  • Is it just me or does Burl's forearm look excessively long?