Ladies and gentlemen, this is the side-project to the side-project.
In this cartoon caption, which was selected out of hundreds of submissions and voted to the top of the pile by New Yorker readers, Jeff Burd, of Gurnee, Ill., cashes in on a rivalry that’s as old as time itself — that between cats and rodents — and a reference to a movie that’s nearly as old. Namely, Jaws.
(Before we move on, let’s, for Burd’s sake, ignore the fact that judging from the length of its tail, the creature sitting in the easy chair is probably a rat — not a mouse — and therefore not very likely to be inside, or for that matter, eaten by a cat, Jeff, and table this obvious oversight as an unnecessary, but certainly thought-provoking, aside.)
Even for someone as obviously dimwitted as Jon Davis, the rivalry between cats and mice is so cliched that in order for him to wring any comedy out of it, he must turn it on its head, or at least knock it sideways. Garfield — too stuffed with lasagna, too depressed, too world weary — has reached a detente with the rodents that inhabit Jon Arbuckle’s house, his laziness making coexistence a possibility. Burd went straight for it, though.
It might not be his fault. Readers will recall that just a few weeks prior the Caption Contest trotted out another tired inversion of this stale trope: in the contest for the first March issue, a mouse pointed a handgun at a cat, who raised its paw as if to defuse the situation. (Winning caption, somehow: “Six rounds. Nine lives. You do the math.”)
Perhaps Burd took us through the looking glass on this one, if you will, by inverting the inversion of a trope that has gone stale, but I think we’d run the risk of rendering the democratic aspect of the Caption Contest devoid of meaning by granting him so much guile — surely not every voter went through this painstaking process. It’s also tempting to think of Burd’s caption as, perhaps, a reference to Garfield for the Jon Davis faithful. It’s as if he’s saying that this is the price of Garfield’s Nevillian complacency: massive rodents. Does the dopey Husband not resemble a middle-aged Jon Arbuckle? a Jon Arbuckle that has somehow finally found marital bliss? Besides, for a simple Midwesterner there is perhaps comedy to be found in the concept of a cat larger than Garfield.
But, no, Burd’s caption draws its strength from its deft use of a reference to what IGN ranked the fifth greatest moment in cinematic history: the part in Jaws when Brody says, having espied the massive, eponymous shark, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Perhaps the most incredible feat in Burd’s caption is it’s fealty to the blocking in Spielberg’s classic — aside from not taking place on a boat, it’s a spatial and temporal facsimile of the scene. Brody, portrayed by the now-forgotten Roy Schneider, sees the Great White near the stern of the boat and backs up, through a small threshold, to the bow/bridge (it is a small boat, after all) to deliver his line. One can imagine the Wife in this scene following the same steps: discovery, retreat through threshold, delivery.
But Burd’s storytelling falls apart when we factor in the detail he chose to ignore, the telephone. Certainly Burd doesn’t expect us to believe the Wife had picked up the phone to — what? — order a bigger cat? But the narrative capacity of the mind has no equal on this planet, and it’s quite the editor, too. When faced with the one-two punch of feline-rodent enmity and a Spielberg reference, we are apparently willing to forgive such oversights.