Sunday, February 25, 2018

Humor in the 1930s: Some Things Never Change

The scrapbooks of Sarah Eva Howe Salyers can tell us a lot about the past – and shine some light on the present in the process.

Today, as I browse a scrapbook centered on the early 1930s, I find a number of cartoons that strike me as both funny and timely. With a few tweaks of art and vocabulary, many of these cartoons could be pertinent to what people are talking about now.

First, the topic of personal finance. Many of us don't bother to carry cash anymore but use credit cards or electronic apps to buy things. In the late 1920s and early '30s, buying on credit was a new option but apparently a popular one, as illustrated in this cartoon:
The advent of consumer credit and buying on the "installment plan" correlated with the popularity of that newfangled mode of transportation, the automobile. The parallels between the economy then and now are striking.

Then there's the issue of personal income. The following cartoon from the 1930s reminded me of today's debates about salaries, tips, commissions, and minimum wage.

Now to the topic of relationships between men and women. Judging from the next four cartoons, human nature has not changed at all.
• Parents still embarrass their teenage children. (Someone labeled the young woman "MAS" for Mary Alice Salyers, Sarah's daughter. I have no idea who the mother and the young man represent. Maybe a boyfriend and his mother?)
• Young people still claim they're getting together to "study."
• The next two resonate with today's headlines about men who feel, shall we say, entitled.
• Then there's the matter of expectations. In the 1930s, men (in this case, boys) paid the tab when entertaining their girlfriends. After the Women's liberation movement of the 1960s and '70s and subsequent pushes for equality, women can offer to split the cost or even pay the bill themselves without raising eyebrows.
Here are more 1930s cartoons to enjoy.
A typical New Year's Eve bash?
(Mary Alice was a huge fan of elephants, so the scrapbooks are full of pachyderm references.)
If you're too young to remember Eddie Cantor, this won't be funny. He was known for his large, dark, rolling eyes, which he used for effect in his comedy skits and dramatic roles. His nickname was "Banjo Eyes." Dare I say "google" him?  
Then, of course, there's always talk about the weather. Today we say "in like a lion, out like a lamb" when the month of March starts with winter-like days but ends with warm temperatures. In 1932, today's lion apparently was a wolf, and he arrived cloaked as a sheep, only to shed that disguise to bring cold, blustery weather back again. Personally, I hope March 2018 in Kentucky is a lamb from start to finish!


Laurie Knight said...

I enjoyed the cartoons! It really is funny how some things really never change.

Jim Dorris said...

I like all your posts, but this one was even better than usual. Thanks

Frances Nelson Salyers said...

Thanks, Laurie Knight and Jim Dorris, for reading and commenting on the "Humor in the 1930s" post. I'm glad you enjoyed it.