By Anthony Greenaway
While working with the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology in an effort to help digitize a part of their David P. Campbell Postcard Collection, I was exposed to many interesting and funny postcards. This isn’t too surprising considering I worked on old comic postcards. Some of the humor went over my head, but other cards were still funny considering the jokes are over 100 years old. For example, one postcard was headed with a finely dressed man saying “I had this taken while out in riding in my own automobile.”
Here “it” refers to a photograph, as if the postcard is a photograph taken for reasons of vanity. The irony comes from a little sign attached to the car: “4 Hire 50¢ per hour” it reads. The veil is uplifted, and the nicely dressed man is exposed to be a common person just like me and you! Okay, the humor is lost when the joke is explained, but the point stands. This point I’m referring to is this: Despite being separated by 100 years I can still find these jokes funny.
There are many ways we can argue that our culture now is different from that of the past. For example, we’re more accepting of different kinds of people and their lifestyles now, an extreme idea for the people of the early 1900s. Despite such extreme changes, we never stopped being American. We are neither more American now than the people of the past were back then. Cultures don’t stop being and influencing their people, even long after the original people are gone.
Cultural continuity is the idea that cultural ideas and mores persist despite social change. Ideas and beliefs held by the people of today can be traced back a surprising many number of years. One might expect humor to be the quickest to change, as what’s topical changes every day. However, this collection proves that is not the case. On the subject of topical humor, another example is of a man who has women sitting on top of his head, along with the caption of “What’s on your mind?” The man literally has women on his mind.
Despite the objectifying nature of the joke, it’s one that’s still easily comprehended today. Similar jokes are even still made despite 100 years progress! The fact that we have this continuity makes certain social problems from our past still relevant today. If even our dirtier jokes can be traced back to the 1800s, what other beliefs do we still hold despite our best efforts?
This doesn’t mean that we don’t change at all. To say that there is no real change would be extreme. As I’ve said earlier, disenfranchised peoples still enjoy more equality than they did in the past. I know this especially well, as I am gay. We only got the right to marry four years ago! As more proof of this change, here is a final postcard.
This image isn’t very funny to me, instead leaving me with many questions. Who is Lulu, first of all? I feel like that knowledge is integral to the joke, if there even is one. Why are they drawn so grotesquely, and was their misshapeness humorous in itself? Why are their eyes so big? They only make the image seem creepy. If I’m being honest, this postcard only works to make me somewhat uncomfortable.
We change every day. There will always be new events and elements in the world that will force us to do or think something new. However, the continuity of our culture will always be there for as long as someone can trace their history back to our own.