Unlike others who write for Gotham Skeptic, my expertise is not actually science. I hold a BFA in Dramatic Writing from the Tisch school of the Arts at NYU. My thesis was a “Rescue Me” spec where Lou attempts to pleasure himself while staring at a picture of Franco. For this, I was awarded an “A.” Now, I want to make this clear, though my degree is, for all intents and purposes, useless, my education was the best of its kind in the country. I tell you this to make something clear: when I tell you that the disgusting picture created by Age of Autism’s “Photoshop Queen,” (their name for her, not mine) Adriana Gamondes, is bad comedy, I just want you to know this is possibly the only thing I’ll ever be able to write about on this site where I am an expert. (Note: As of the morning of this post, the photo was removed from AOA’s site, here its is in Google’s cache).
I am not here, by the way, to comment on the disgusting misogyny of the discussion which has taken place below this picture. No, for that, I would recommend you take a look at Rebecca Watson’s great post on that over at Skepchick. Or, you can take a look at Orac’s post on his blog, Respectful Insolence. No, I’m here to for the more artistic critique.
Let’s begin by examining the composition of Ms. Gamondes’s piece. We can first see that she has, for some reason, decided to collage the entire piece instead of doing what others might and just use a pre-made Thanksgiving scene and just placing in the images she wanted on top. I suppose her method has a bit of homemade charm to it, but what she gains there she loses in a number of other important features. First off, the perspective is completely shot to hell. The objects placed on the table are much larger than they ought to be, in comparison with the people seated at the table; the glassware, in particular, is around ¾ the size of Paul Offit’s head (the lead figure)! Was he planning on drowning himself after dinner? She uses both full pictures of people and people’s heads placed on other bodies, creating a strange effect. It would have been a better looking image if she’d just chosen a method and stuck to it. But really, the biggest problem is the lack of proper focus. Take a look at Norman Rockwell’s famous Thanksgiving scene. Your eye snaps immediately to the turkey, then the patriarch and matriarch putting the finishing touch on the table. It’s the focus of the image; the family settles in around the meal. In Ms. Gamondes’s picture, it’s quite possible to initially miss the baby sitting in the cranberry sauce. And while we’re on that subject, why exactly is the baby in the cranberry sauce? Has Ms. Gamondes done research and found out that’s the way baby tastes best? Because personally, I’d understood that the answer was roasted. Mmmmmm. Roasted baby. I’ve tried it because I approve of vaccination.
But you know, I’m not really much of an artist myself. And in this sort of work, what we’re really looking for is the message. Remember! Good writing can save bad art. Let’s remember, this picture is, according to AoA founder JB Handley, “Hilarious,” so let’s look at what exactly comedy is.
Comedy is based on a lot of things, but at its core, comedy is about the juxtaposition of two incongruous elements, tied together by a coherent, but not completely rational flow of logic. In spoken comedy, it can be boiled down to its most basic elements of set-up and punchline. The set-up gives you all the information you need to understand the joke and leads you in one direction, the punchline throws you somewhere completely different, but in a way that makes some sort of sense. In visual comedy, those elements must be blended together. If you ask me, the master of the single panel visual joke is the magnificent Gary Larson. Take a look at this strip. We have our set-up, Gary gives us the information we need to understand the relationship between the islanders and the anthropologists at the same time as he tells us that it is completely different from what the anthropologists think. It is both an example of satire and soon to be dramatic irony. Now, what does Ms. Gamondes give us? It’s Thanksgiving and they’re eating a baby. Okay, maybe it’s not fair to compare her to Larson.
Well, the Age of Autism folks have been comparing the picture to Jonathon Swift’s great work, “A Modest Proposal.” Apparently, Ms Gamondes has created satire. Okay, let’s look at it compared to “A Modest Proposal.” Well, in “Proposal,” Swift is making a point about how the poor in Ireland are treated. One third into the essay, Swift tips his hand to the audience. After going into how many babies will be kept, how many will be eaten, and possible ways they could be cooked, Swift states the baby meat should first be given to the poor people’s landlords, “as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.” Using the character of an intellectual, (probably one of the British aristocracy, though that’s just conjecture) Swift shows us the poor from the perspective of the rich, as taken to an illogical extreme. As a side note, creating a humorous character is a well known tactic in satire. It allows the writer to present the arguments he or she finds abhorrent with a relatively straight face, and more, the further you can take your audience in before they realize that it’s all being played as irony, the more they’ll take pleasure from the joke later. Look at the character played by Steven Colbert, or the work of one of my favorite artists, Randy Newman. Anyway, back to Swift. His point stems from the very title. This is not a big thing he’s asking, it’s only a modest proposal. The poor have already had so much taken from them, it isn’t so much to ask for their children next. It’s all that there is left to take. On the other hand, Ms Gamondes tells us that Steven Novella… is a baby eater. It doesn’t actually extend past that. In fact, outside of the fact that both her piece and Swift’s use baby eating as a metaphor, there is no similarity between them. So maybe it’s unfair to characterize her picture as satire, especially not in the vein of Jonathon Swift.
Honestly, instead of something with a deep, complicated meaning, I think Gamondes is trying to go more for gross out/shock humor, in the vein of “The Aristocrats” or a “dead baby joke.” In fact, the dead baby joke motif seems rather apt, but even as that, Gamondes’s piece falls flat. It’s just too tame. Gross out and shock humor are a challenge to the audience. What’s bubbling and bounces on glass? A dead baby in a microwave. What’s green and oozes? The same baby next week. It is not only a joke on the teller, it is a joke on itself. The joke says to you, “I bet you can’t laugh at this.” The fact that these kinds of jokes come out at parties is telling. They’re a form of one-upmanship. The jokes are supposed to continue until one person can’t do it any longer, and along the way, they’re meant to get grosser and grosser. Gamondes’s dead baby is just… well it’s too cute. One of the comic rules I learned a long time ago is that comedy is a visual form. The best jokes create the clearest pictures, and when you decide to do visual comedy, you need to top any possible visual that might come up. This picture doesn’t tell a story, it doesn’t lead us anywhere, it just sort of ends right here. If I were Gamondes, instead of having the cutesy baby taking a nap in the cranberry sauce, I’d have given Steve a big smile and a carving knife, have him already halfway into the baby, and at the bottom of the card I’d have written, “We hope you stay for desert!” Now, that’s sort of a quick idea, and frankly I don’t think there’s much way to make baby eating funny, but I think I did do a better job than her.
The fact is, from a comedic standpoint, this thing is a non-starter. They’ve already said they believe that vaccines destroy babies, this is just about a matter of degree. It’s neither good satire nor good gross-out humor. In fact, when looked at from the standpoint that this is really just an exaggeration of what these guys think, it’s not even a joke. What’s the punchline? How does the picture take you somewhere you didn’t expect to go? No, what this is, is parody. Worse, it’s self-parody. More than mocking our side, it just shows the ridiculousness of theirs. All they can do is take a straw man and moving it to its most illogical extreme. It’s a spoof. Bereft of comedy, it sits flaccidly on the screen. If they hadn’t put it on the page, the pixels would be productive. This, is a dead baby joke
By the way, what’s the worst part about eating a dead, vaccinated baby? You miss the taste of measles.
Thanks folks, I’ll be here all week.