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November 06, 2003

Sid Says: Strive as We Will--Our Brows Slope Gently Downward

Almost done with the first Tarbell biography--there's not much more in the way of Siddall nuggets to be had, as she's already past his death in her memoirs. John Siddall did get married eventually, and he owned a cat. Ida gives the reader the cat's name, but omits the wife's.

The Siddalls came often, for in the summer we kept their famous cat "Sammy Siddall."

I wonder if there wasn't a slight bit of jealousy there. John had basically been at Ida's beck and call for almost two decades, and now was under the direction of another female. Not that Ida would admit anything of the sort. She vowed at 14 never to marry, and there is not the slightest hint of a romantic entanglement in her entire autobiography.

I'm also wondering how the Sammy the cat came to be famous. I suspect that the answer, if there is one, is found somewhere in the 8 years back issues of the American Magazine Siddall edited. Given the relative popularity of cat stories on the Internet, I suspect that there has been an audience for such for thousands of years. At some point we'll realize all of Minoan A is about the cute things Patches did with the mouse today.


Strive as We Will--Our Brows Slope Gently Downward

One of the most amusing facts of life is that "Bud" Fisher, maker of newspaper comics, should get for his work fully ten times as much per year as ex-President Eliot of Harvard ever got.

Bud" makes $150,000 a year, and, although Dr. Eliot never confided in us about personal matters, we can make a mighty good guess that he never saw more than $15,000 a year in his life.

Let's be frank. Ex-President Eliot is a wonderfully smart man. We all respect him and feel that we are way below him. We know that he thinks deep thoughts and knows how to write them down. We realize that if it were possible to measure a man's brains and ability by dollars he would start in at about $10,000 a week and get a raise before the end of the month. But Dr. Eliot doesn't get the money. He can't get the money. He can't bring it into the box office.

Now the joke, if there is one, is not on Dr. Eliot: it is on us. You and I are the ones who decide how much Dr. Eliot shall have and how much "Bud" shall have. What is the explanation? The explanation is that we won't pay anything like as much for the dignified impersonal expression of principles and wisdom as we will pay for wisdom served, as "Bud" serves it, with "pep" and personalities.

There is still another way to get at an understanding of "Bud." Take the cartoonist of the old school, who caricatures public men and public events. Why does that kind of cartoonist have to be satisfied with less than "Bud's" income? The answer runs about this way:

Human beings think first of themselves. They can't help it. They are built that way. In this fact is found the reason why the modern newspaper comic strip is more popular than cartoons of public men or events. The newspaper comic, such as "Bud" and Goldberg draw, is about you and me. The old-fashioned cartoon is about somebody else—Woodrow Wilson or Theodore Roosevelt, for example—and, while you and I regard Wilson and Roosevelt as interesting, we cannot honestly say that we are as much interested in them as we are in ourselves. The newspaper comic maker, either instinctively or by design, has discovered this truth. So, instead of giving us a picture of Wilson or Roosevelt, he gives us a picture of a comical happening right in our own home or our own office. There in the picture is you—and there am I—and over there is that bonehead we know, who acts just that way. We have seen him do that a thousand times! Oh, what an idiot he is!

And so, wedged into the New York subway, or on a Euclid Avenue car in Cleveland, we look first at these pictures and chuckle over them. After which, with diminished enthusiasm, we proceed to a solemn consideration of the news of the day and the editor's discussion of liberalism in Russia.


Next: Some Poetry Is Made To Be Heard--Not Heeded

Posted by Bigwig at November 6, 2003 10:01 PM | TrackBack
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