Thursday, November 13, 2008

When Allegories Kill

Shoe is a comic strip about a bunch of birds who live in trees, wear clothes, fly to work (briefcases and all), and seem to be bird-sized and people-sized simultaneously. It is possible that it has been around since 1977, though it's hard to tell; the demon Wikipedia doesn't say, and other sources are kind of ambiguous. I do know that its original creator is dead. It is now churned out by a team.

A problem frequently encountered by cartoonists who 1) work with anthropomorphic animals and 2) care even remotely is that their characters are virtually human and thus can't seem to stifle the urge to make jokes about devouring animal flesh and taking pets for walks. Watching a dog Plugger walking his dog is an almost hallucinatory experience. Melissa DeJesus and Ed Power, the young, hungry creators of My Cage, get around the pet problem, at least, by giving their platypus protagonist a pet amoeba. Most cartoonists don't bother to think about the issue this deeply. They thus end up mindlessly producing comics quite like today's Shoe.

My friends...only a medieval context saves this comic from being utterly horrifying. I don't know what the hell kind of bird the Perfesser is supposed to be, but he has always reminded me rather of a other words, a chicken. Why is he so calm when the waiter mentions that frogs' legs (NOTE THE APOSTROPHE, ZOMBIE-LIKE SHOE DRONES*) taste like chicken? Why does he only stare in wide-eyed horror after the waiter has made his egregious and unfunny "Kentucky Fried Frog" joke? Why does he seem to be okay with the idea of restaurant-goers devouring his flesh? Why am I thinking this deeply about bloody Shoe?

When the comic is transported back to the Middle Ages, however, its meaning becomes relatively clear. The conversation is a veiled reference by two birds (read: patriotic Englishmen) to the despised frogs (read: French). When the waiter posits that frogs' legs taste like chicken, he is implying that the French seem, on the surface, like the English (chickens), though deep down, they're terrible French cowards, known mainly for their love of running away** (and thus frog legs are very different from chicken legs). The question about popularity rubs salt in the "French people are snivelling traitors who shake with fear when swords are forced into their unwilling hands"-type wound, and the waiter's reply is a sniggering dismissal of the French: even their name sounds stupid when it replaces the good old English "chicken."*** The Perfesser is horrified because he is realising for the first time that Frogs really aren't like Chickens; the waiter's phrase has driven the terrible truth home.

The fact that this allegory is absolutely full of holes is irrelevant; medieval allegories usually are. At any rate, anything is better than the alternative.

*It is, of course, entirely possible that whoever is writing Shoe right now subconsciously recognises its medieval leanings and is leaving out this patently non-medieval punctuation mark as a subtle acknowledgement of this fact.
**This was a real medieval stereotype. I am not applying it in any way to modern France. I would not give George W. Bush the satisfaction.
***I have "Morlond" for "Kentucky" because it is possible that "Kentucky" means "meadow." Don't ask.


Jessica said...

Now I have the urge to dress in period costume and visit various restaurants enquiring, "Of what do frogges legges savouren?"

Guy Fawkes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Guy Fawkes said...

Apologies. My earlier post contained an error of the typographical kind.
I simply wanted to let you know that I enjoy your blog more than any other. Truly you are a light in the wilderness, and an inspiration to us all.

Angry Kem said...

Thank you, Mr. Fawkes. I tried to spread a little bit of insanity every day.

Jessica: And I have the urge to watch you do it.

wheelhead said...

Couldn't the Perfessor be a carnivorous bird? Albeit the "fat, lazy, haven't actually worked a day in the last 30-odd years" type of carnivore? Oh, wait, the Senator bird is the eagle in this strip.

Now I'm weirded out, too.


Michael said...

Two points:

Point the First: In Roger Zelazny's eminently readable Nine Princes in Amber, in a somewhat different universe, there is a fast foodery called "Kentucki Fried Lizard Parts."

Point the Second: The English (and others in the English speaking parts of the world) sometimes refer to desertion from the military as "French leave." One bit of French slang for desertion is passe Anglais, which literally translates as "English leave."

dmontag said...

I don't think the characters in "Shoe" are supposed to be chickens, but I don't know what kind of bird they are supposed to be. Chickens can't fly all that well, and the characters in "Shoe" fly regularly and well.

Angry Kem said...

Dmontag: That's true. In fact, the very good film Chicken Run revolves almost entirely around the fact that chickens are not built to fly (especially, I suppose, if their wings have been clipped).

Michael: The historical sniping of the French and English has fascinated me for quite some time now. The medieval English portrayed the French as cowardly traitors; the French portrayed the English as the same. Moreover, there was a persistent international rumour that the English had tails. The romance Richard Coeur de Lion has some amusing bits wherein Richard goes running around slaying Frenchmen and Greeks and thus, at least in his own mind, proving conclusively that the English are tailless. The French, in the meantime, are so afraid in the Holy Land that they just wave their weapons around and shout a lot but don't really get around to attacking anybody much. At one point, the poet compares the French to the Saracens (the mortal enemies of the Christians, painted throughout the poem as more or less the epitome of evil). The Saracens come off looking better.

Yael said...

It would also be interesting to note that the national bird of France is the rooster. However, I'm not sure when this started, maybe the Revolution? Not very medieval in that case.

When DID the nickname 'frogs' for the French begin, anyway?

Randy said...

Assuming the Perfesser himself isn't a chicken (which I never really saw, myself), why should it be so odd for birds to be talking about eating chicken? By analogy, how odd would it seem to suggest the bizarre idea of humans (let alone canines, felines, mustelids, etc.) eating mammalian flesh? For some reason, it seems like people tend to lump birds together as if they're all just one species.