Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Back to Neandertals --- again!

Today it's away from writing, and back to Neandertals again. Why? Well I saw a cartoon this morning in Parade Magazine. They have cartoons every week, and most of them aren't that interesting. But this one was. Just a note here: I wish I had a link to the magazine and the cartoon, and the painting from which it was derived. I'd like to show both, so you, gentle reader, could actually see what I'm about to describe. Alas, I don't. So here goes:

The cartoon: A man, in obviously modern dress, is standing in a cave, holding a cell phone. Just in front of him is a frightened-looking "cave man" dressed in fur, in front of an even more frightened-looking "cave woman" and "cave child". The "cave woman" is holding a child in her arms. The caption reads "Let me get back to you, Mort. Apparently this new phone has a time-travel function I wasn't aware of."

There are several interesting things about this cartoon. First, it's funny(because cell phones and their "functions" can be daunting to users), and it's funny because of the situation the man finds himself in. Second, whether the cartoonist intended this --- or even knew he was doing this --- the "cave people" are pretty obviously supposed to be Neandertals. Of course, we ought to remember that most people, if they think about prehistoric humans at all, probably think of Neandertals, but have only the vaguest notion of who or what they were. The drawing from which this cartoon is (probably unconsciously) taken, had "primitive men" who were all "modern" humans, but I'll get to this in a moment.

The cartoonist could have just drawn this "cave family" as "modern" humans in fur kilts, so to speak. In the past, this is pretty much what people who drew "cave men" used to do. But he didn't. The drawing clearly --- at least to me --- suggests Neandertals. Which, in itself, suggests many interesting things, but I won't go into them here or now. Some occasion will surely suggest itself.

But the cartoon isn't even "original". It's based on a 19th century French painting of a very similar scene, but as I said earlier, the artist drew the cave-dwellers as "modern" humans. This is not surprising. After all, the so-called "Cro-Magnons" were clearly "modern", which, once Neandertals were firmly distinguished from "modern" humans(at least in the minds of the people doing the "distinguishing" at the time), probably made French men and women feel much better. And I am sure that this cartoon is at best, unconsciously copied from the above scene, assuming the cartoonist has seen it at all(it's not exactly the most famous painting ever done).

But all of this suggests to me that one way or another, for better or worse, Neandertals occupy a place in the collective "modern" unconscious that is unique, if ambivalent. And will probably continue to do so, in parallel to the arguments that continue to flow back and forth, unresolved, in the scientific community, about the "place" Neandertals occupy, in relation to "ourselves".
Anne G

1 comment:

Lexa Flasher said...

Sorry for the off-topic comment but I thought I'd mention that FSM will be at the pride parade this Sunday since you'd expressed disappointment at missing him at the Fremont parade last weekend.