Friday, February 20, 2009

So Simple, and Yet So Very Not Profound

Fred Basset is like raisins: relatively inoffensive but disappointing to find in a cookie you thought contained chocolate.* The strip's humour ranges from mild to completely nonexistent, and while it's hard to see why it has survived for so long, it's even harder to work up a good loathing against it. I don't like it in my cookies, but I'll force it down if there's nothing else to eat.

Every once in a while, however, you get a raisin that has fermented and acts as a hallucinogen.** Today's Fred Basset is such a raisin, though it is perhaps less "hallucinogenic" than it is "completely bloody insane."

The comic reminds me, disturbingly, of a cross between Nancy and Love Is.... Fred is smiling just like either Nancy or a Loveshmoo while making a cryptic statement that means nothing but would fit nicely on a Hallmark card. One imagines that just before he drew this strip, the cartoonist 1) ran out of ideas for good and 2) bought a new compass. He played with the latter while attempting to deal with the former, thus producing the...thing...we see below.

The strip does make more sense in Middle English. Fred's conversion of his world from square to round would make a great allegory for the achievement of spiritual enlightenment. Fred has taken the unnatural corners of his universe and converted them into circles...a circle, of course, being a symbol of the completeness of the Almighty. The dog's obvious bliss in the final round panel is understandable, as Fred is now encompassed within the circle and has become one with his Creator. It's all very beautiful, really.

Moving spiritual allegory or absolute freaking lunacy? You decide.

*Actually, I can't stand raisins, but I wanted to make a simile.
**This is not true at all. I'm still doing the thing with the simile, except now it has become a metaphor. Oops.


Fintano said...

Perhaps Fred is on the doggie treadmill of fortune, but doomed always to remain on the bottom.

Thomas said...

The circle analogy works even better in the context of medieval music. Composers and theorists of the time were insistent on music being in triple meter. When composers began writing in duple meter (4 beats per measure, as opposed to 3), it was so revolutionary that the style became known as Ars Nova - the "new art."

Now that composers had a choice of meters, they needed symbols to indicate whether to sing 2 beats or 3 to a measure. The symbol for triple time was, of course, a circle.

Brian said...

But had the round been invented yet?

Thomas said...

Brian - I want to say yes, that by Chaucer's time the round had been invented. I can't site any evidence offhand, however, and don't care to look it up on wikipedia.*
My main point was actually concerning the use of similar symbolism to represent an enlightened, more perfect state. One thing I neglected to mention before: early music theorists referred to triple and duple meter as perfect and imperfect time, respectively. This emphasis on triple meter to represent the Holy carried on for centuries. Giovanni Gabrieli, writing at the end of the 16th century, would employ duple meter for sacred works, but switch to triple at key words such as "Alleluia."

*May it be cast into the pit, etc.

Angry Kem said...

Thomas: I looked it up for you (and may Wikipedia be cast into everlasting flame, etc., etc.). It seems the earliest extant round is actually "Sumer is Icumen In," better known to generations of medieval students as "that cuckoo song with the farting buck in it." The manuscript in which it appears dates from the mid-thirteenth century. Here's a pretty picture:

Thomas said...

Kem: Thanks a bunch! The William of Winchester anecdote makes for a nice bonus.

dmontag said...

I think Fred just wants to join the Family Circus...

Fintano said...

There weren't any other rounds recorded until several centuries later, hence there is speculation that it may stem from a non-English musical tradition, but from the context it would have to be Welsh.

There are Welsh harp manuscripts going back to around this date, which seem to have some structural similarity to "Sumer", but people are not in agreement on how to decipher the notation.

There was a book published on the topic some years ago, which I don't have an easy way to find a reference to.