“The Born Loser” comic strip is Chip Sansom’s often funny take on living in a Rodney Dangerfield world in which the main character never gets any respect.
Yesterday’s strip, carried in hundreds if not thousands of newspapers, is a sweetly surreal mélange of Rip-van-Winkle quaintness and ideological imperative.
The dialogue in the strip goes like this:
Little Boy: At last, it’s here. Yahoo!
Dad: What’s all the fuss about?
Mom: Don’t you remember when you were a kid—one of the best events of the year was when the Christmas toy catalog came in the mail.
Earth to Chip…Earth to Chip…They don’t wait to send toy catalogues until the next-to-last day of November anymore. They send them in October, and maybe sometimes in September.
When characters of a certain age behave like characters of an earlier age, technically called an anachronism, the result often engenders in the audience a quiet joy at encountering “quaintness.” The classic example is Stendhal’s “Charterhouse of Parma” (“Chartreuse de Parme”) in which the early 19th century characters exhibit the behavioral characteristics of people in the 16th century. In a sense, Chip Sansom does the same thing by running this particular joke on a date for which the joke would have been relevant 30 or 50 years ago, but no more.
But despite locating his comic strip sometime in the 50’s to 70’s, Chip gets the ideology right, because that hasn’t changed one iota over the years.
Ideology, as I have often written, is typically expressed in the details that make up the narrative or imagery of a work of communication or a work of art. The details are like liquid refreshment that fills a “vessel of communication,” which in this case is the joke.
It’s a hard concept that I think this one example of “The Born Loser” will make much easier to understand: The joke (vessel) is the idea that through the generations, children have the same reaction to events that their parents did even if the “born losers” among us forget what it was like to have had those feelings as a child. The feelings in this joke revolve around the anticipation of Christmas (an ideological selection, too, as it promotes one religion over others).
The detail that Chip twists ideologically is the anticipation that the father forgets. Here are some of options for that detail that Chip did not select:
- Looking forward to getting together with cousins you see once a year
- Baking special foods or treats with mom
- Selecting or decorating a Christmas tree
- Putting lights on the outside of the house
- Practicing for a caroling group
Of course, there’s plenty of time before December 25 for Chip to hit these topics in the strip, but right out of the chute, he made sure that the hidden message of the strip was that Christmas is about engaging in commercial transactions—AKA buying stuff—especially stuff for oneself. In one neat little joke Chip supports the pursuit of selfishness and the commercialization of all emotions, two of the ideological underpinnings of contemporary society and discourse.