Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Eustace Tilley celebrates 82nd birthday

I've been dallying in the Rossosphere -- or should it be called tilleying? -- clicking from one New Yorker related thingie to another, giving my self-diagnosed attention deficit disorder absolutely free rein, skipping and skimming through the pages of the House that Ross Built and then surfing the net looking for blogs devoted to that same edifice.

It started with the arrival of the annual anniversary issue with the Eustace Tilley cover last week. I was also propelled by the buzz from the haiku summarizing New Yorker stories at Drunken Volcano. (Which TS also posted about in All Intensive Purposes, blockquoting some different haiku from the ones I selected, and concluding with a pretty neat one of his own, bemoaning the fact that the haiku blog seems to be on hiatus.)

Today's date is the cover date of the first issue of The New Yorker Harold Ross published in 1925, using Rea Irvin's Eustace Tilley on the cover. Every year, Irvin's original art appears on the cover of the anniversary issue, with a few exceptions, as noted by Barry Popik.
Who is Eustace Tilley? Well, he is the top-hatted twit, invariably described as a "Regency dandy," who appeared on the cover of the first issue of The New Yorker, dated February 21, 1925, appeared on the cover of every late-February "anniversary" issue from 1926 through 1993, and has appeared on anniversary covers intermittently since then, albeit sometimes as a burlesque of himself; the peerless underground cartoonist R. Crumb drew him as a pimply teen-ager in 1994, and the canine portraitist William Wegman rendered him as a fop dog in 2000.
Very Tina Brown, that Crumb cover -- and very David Remnick, that Wegman doggie cover. But mostly it's been all Eustace, all the time. I remember the Crumb cover, but I couldn't find it online. Ditto the Wegman. One gets the feeling the New Yorker's intellectual property lawyers have been sweeping up after the editors' flights of fancy. After all, the familiar visage of Eustace Tilley is a powerful branding statement, and you don't mess around with branding statements.

Eustace began as an affectionate, ironic swipe at the aspirations to urban sophistication shared by much of the New Yorker's intended audience. Over the years, the irony deepened as the depth of the magazine's journalism also increased. What would Ross have thought about the Seymour Hersh stories about Abu Ghraib and contingency planning to use tactical nukes in Iran that first broke in the New Yorker? And it's not as if he is the only tough and probing reporter writing for the magazine. For example, the anniversary issue featured Jane's Mayer's article "Whatever It Takes" on the impact of the "24" TV show's approach to torture on the U.S. military.
This past November, U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, flew to Southern California to meet with the creative team behind “24.” Finnegan, who was accompanied by three of the most experienced military and F.B.I. interrogators in the country, arrived on the set as the crew was filming. At first, Finnegan—wearing an immaculate Army uniform, his chest covered in ribbons and medals—aroused confusion: he was taken for an actor and was asked by someone what time his “call” was.

In fact, Finnegan and the others had come to voice their concern that the show’s central political premise—that the letter of American law must be sacrificed for the country’s security—was having a toxic effect. In their view, the show promoted unethical and illegal behavior and had adversely affected the training and performance of real American soldiers. “I’d like them to stop,” Finnegan said of the show’s producers. “They should do a show where torture backfires.”
One person who wasn't too happy about the article was Rush Limbaugh, a friend of the show's producer interviewed by Mayer. Emily Gordon posts an excerpt from the transcript of Limbaugh's response on his show in Emdashes, one of the most comprehensive of the blogs devoted to the New Yorker and related topics (I borrowed the term "Rossosphere" from Emdashes).
It’s a story about torture in the TV show “24”. There are a whole bunch of different approaches that Jane Mayer takes, but basically she went out and she found people in the US military who are saying, “‘24’, stop the torture, because you’re making US soldiers think it’s okay to do!” I could not believe this when I read this stuff. As an aside, I told my friends at “24”, “Don’t do this. This is a woman that tried to destroy Clarence Thomas with Jill Abramson, who’s the DC bureau chief of the New York Times,” but it was too late.
Carolita Johnson is a dedicated New Yorker reader who posted "God Loves Those Beetles" in her blog Newyorkette in connection with Jonathan Rosen's recent story about Darwin's rival, Alfred Russel Wallace.
The best line in the whole magazine, and the most pertinent for me this week came from Jonathan Rosen’s critical piece, “Missing Link,” about the renewed interest in the story of Alfred Russel Wallace, Darwin’s less lucky, less wiley (and, notably, less unwilling to endure the slings and arrows of a public unwilling to believe their uncle was a monkey) contemporary:

“(…) when a later British biologist, J. B. S. Haldane, was pressed by a clergyman on the nature of God, he reportedly said, “He has an inordinate fondness for beetles.’”
The reason the line was pertinent to her, she explains, is that she "recently had the opportunity to admire the evolutionary accomplishment of New York’s most common beetle: the German cockroach" up close and personal. Johnson is not only a reader and a blogger. She is an artist and a cartoonist, one of the younger generation of New Yorker cartoonists. In addition to her writing, she posts rejected cartoons on her blog, along with links to the published New Yorker cartoons at Cartoonbank, photographs and paintings, often works in progress.

And then there's I Hate the New Yorker, the first New Yorker blog I first visited -- in connection with this link-rich post about James Wolcott's takedown of New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik. It led to others.

In his prospectus for the magazine in 1925, Ross made a statement that inadvertently put Dubuque on the map.
Mary Regina Hayford loved her official designation: "The Little Old Lady from Dubuque." She spent 25 years dispelling the myth that Iowans are provincial and backward. The "Old Lady" term was created by Harold Ross, founder of The New Yorker magazine, who said in his 1925 prospectus for the publication that it would not be directed to "the little old lady in Dubuque" (although some sources say the word "old" was added later). In 1964, Dubuque leaders decided to capitalize on the sobriquet, holding a contest to find a real-life "Little Old Lady." At 60, the 5-foot-tall, 110-pound Hayford was given the title and began a whirlwind career.
Ross's attempted geographic exclusivity to the contrary, the New Yorker has always had readers west of the Hudson, some very far west indeed -- like journalism student John Bucher, who blogs at New Yorker Comment from faraway Vancouver. His "Dialing It Down" is a follow-up to the Gopnik/Wolcott flap that's a nice blend of dish and balance.

Finally, I would be remiss if I wrapped up this rambling, annotated list of free associations without mentioning Chiasmus at the New Yorker, by author and chiasmus expert Dr. Mardy Grothe, who sharpened my awareness of a rhetorical device I've encountered in the past but never knew the name of. Chiasmus is the reversal of the word order in two otherwise parallel constructions for impact or emphasis. One of Grothe's examples features a great name in New Yorker history.
One of my all-time favorite quotes--and one of the most popular in my personal collection of over 8,000 chiastic quotes--comes from a man who served as a staff writer at The New Yorker from 1935 to 1963. For decades, as America struggled through the Great Depression, the Great War, and the Cold War, literate people everywhere regarded A. J. Liebling as a gifted and prolific writer. This was a view he also shared. In fact, he once boasted:

"I can write better than
anybody who can write faster,
and I can write faster
than anybody who can write better."
Having begun with New Yorker haiku and concluded with chiasmus in the New Yorker, the question is, can a New Yorker haiku also contain a chiasmus? Let's see, maybe something about trying to bring the passion for the New Yorker under control...

New Yorker arrives:
If I don't consume it now,
It will consume me.


Emily Gordon said...

Madison Guy, I'd say you're practically in the Rossosphere yourself!

Mike said...

For more about Dubuquers' reactions to Harold Ross's statements, see "Pussy-Words of Manhattan Sophisticates" at

JJB said...

I like the gait of that entry. Cheers for the link.