38 Comments

  1. The Weingartens frequently indulge in impossibly obscure references, but that isn’t a problem with this strip. I’ve never heard of the “Shirtwaist” fire, but in light of much more recent garment industry tragedies that have occurred in Bangladesh (and elsewhere), it is fairly clear what sort of incident was meant.

  2. I don’t think that’s too obscure (assuming you’re referring to Shirtwaist). Also, IMO, not too dark as it was quite a long time ago. Of course, some things a long time ago may still not considered fit for humor (YMMV) if they still affect modern society, but the Shirtwaist fire seems quite removed, like the Hindenberg disaster.

  3. Usually called the “Triangle Shirtwaist Fire”. And I’m surprised to see it called rather obscure! It’s really notorious within labor movement history.

    I can’t recall the title, but within the last year or so I saw a work of historical fiction dealing with the immigrant milieu of the early 20th Century, and at one point a young woman goes out looking for a job and we all are thrown into a panic — “OMG, she’s going to work at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory! No no no, don’t goo in there! Don’t take the job!”. But of course she did.

  4. I had always conflated the Triangle Shirtwaist fire with the triangular Flatiron Building. But, while I was confused, I was aware.

  5. Not too obscure for his audience. Yes, pretty dark. But not too dark for his audience.

    > It’s really notorious within labor movement history.

    But, sadly the labor movement history itself is pretty darned obscure in modern American pop culture, don’t you think?

  6. Which is not to say that this strip is without suspicious dating. Okay, she can be sarcastic with a 1911 reference, that the girl ought to know is too far back. But is it possible the housekeeper’s mother really did use human-powered sewing machines? And automated guidance is not all that new. In the 50s and 60s we had an electric Singer at home, and in the early 60s when my mom wanted to replace and upgrade it we looked at used items from the classified ads, and many were home-use adaptations of professional lines, using sets of cams to guide fancy stitching, and even the early days of magnetic media — “programs” recorded on “mag cards”.

  7. This is also a devastating incident and a book about it –

    (I can’t believe, tho, that there is a movie about them; didn’t know it ’til I looked up the title.)

  8. NONONO – that’s the wrong URL . . . The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women
    [Bill, please remove ASAP]

  9. Put me in with those who agree that the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is not too obscure or too dark.

    As for Mitch4’s comments about dating: We don’t know how old the housekeeper is, but it’s plausible to think that she might be my age, which is 60. My grandmother had a treadle-driven sewing machine (I liked to use it as a little boy), and my mother must have used it when she was young. To be sure, my mother had an electrical machine by the time I came along, but it would still be accurate to say that she used a treadle-driven machine. So I think the dating is not unreasonable.

  10. I should have specified that I meant too obscure for the general public. Too obscure for you guys is a concept that doesn’t exist.

  11. It amazes me – still – how many people will NOT use google if they don’t know something, or don’t even know how to do that. Maybe ’cause I’d had library research training oh, so many years ago, but it’d be easy enough, if necessary, to look up ‘shirtwaist fire’ in google and go on from there.

    NOT that any of US had to do that, of course . . .

  12. I don’t mind – always willing to learn something, even from comics. But then, that’s just me. I guess curiosity and wanting to learn is why I went into the library field.

  13. “I should have specified that I meant too obscure for the general public. Too obscure for you guys is a concept that doesn’t exist.”

    If this were another strip, perhaps. But its not. We can critique Barney and Clyde for being pretentious and/or smug, but it plays for its audience. And this is certainly not too obscure for Barney and Clyde’s audience.

  14. I’m pretty sure my mother did have a foot-powered sewing machine. (I’m 74, and we were rural lower-middle class, so 1950s, if that datum helps.) Can’t remember her doing much sewing on it or anything else, though.

    My wife bought one at a garage sale twenty or thirty years ago because it was cute; don’t hink she’s ever used it.

  15. ‘“OMG, she’s going to work at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory! No no no, don’t goo in there! Don’t take the job!”. But of course she did.’

    As far as movie dialog goes, that’s right up there with “Men! Today we go into battle. But not just ANY battle. Today is the first day of the Hundred Years War!”

  16. I’m sure I could write a book consisting solely of stuff I’ve learned in 26 years of running CIDU.

    Maybe several volumes.

  17. “Too obscure for you guys is a concept that doesn’t exist.”

    Hoo, hoo, ha, hee, ROFTL. So true, Bill.

  18. Andréa: I don’t mind learning stuff either, but if I have to look stuff up to understand what a comic is talking about, I’m unlikely to find it funny.

    My problem with Barney and Clyde being based on obscure information is not that it’s obscure, but that they often seem smug about it.

  19. I’ve used a treadle-powered machine, but only in a demonstration (someone had one at an event, “look how we used to do it”). However, I go (normally) to a lot of yard sales around here, and I’ve seen several treadle machines that were clearly in use until recently – usually in estate sales, so an elderly person owned it, but still. I’ve also seen treadle machines that have had a motor grafted on to them (the motor pulls the cord/belt that used to be moved by the treadle). Those old machines were solid metal; they didn’t do complex stitches like modern machines, but for sewing a straight (or gently curved) line through just about any materials they work very well.

    I could easily believe that her mother held on to an old treadle machine and kept using it. I found the joke quite funny – she clearly knows exactly what the girl is visualizing.

  20. A link telling people who don’t look things up, but bug you for info–>
    Google Is Your Friend!

    giyf.com seemed kinda slow responding on my computer this morning, so I provided this
    https://web.archive.org/web/20200122130107/http://www.giyf.com/

    Same but responds quicker http://giybf.com

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ftQ6A3DKKeg Google Is Your Friend, the musical (2:32)

    Postings so far seem like it’s been a comedy of (delayed) errors as to when this bunch of links will be displayed, but here goes at 2:17am EDT.

  21. I’m mid-50s, and my mom used a hand-cranked Singer (not even treadle-powered) all through the 70s and 80s.
    And I had never heard of the Shirtwaist fire, but the context with “horse-drawn streetcar” was enough to give it to me.

  22. “Winter, funny that you’d mention smugness about obscurity just as a Frazz strip is being posted.”

    Exactly what I though whilst trying to ‘get’ Frazz . . . frankly, all that ‘translating’ is more work than *I* want to put into a comic (mainly ’cause I know I won’t learn anything from it).

  23. @Kilby: obscurity is relative. The problem here is why is Dabney taking off his head? Why does he say that distance is unimportant? Clyde wasn’t talking about distance; it would have been marginally better had he but said ‘Il n’y a que le premier pas qui coûte’ (the quote every Frenchman knows even if they don’t know its origin).

  24. I was just saying to a friend a few minutes ago (in a different context) that a reader should never have to work harder than the writer.

  25. As far as the age of treadle sewing machines goes: I know someone who still uses one for leatherwork. He basically retrofitted a bunch of bits and replaced things with heavier-duty things — you can tell that I don’t entirely understand how sewing machines work. But treadle-powered sewing machines are still used by hobbyists for specialty purposes. And growing up, my mother inherited her grandmother’s Singer, and used it a couple times. I mean, because it was her grandmother’s, rather than because she didn’t have a better one already, but other people my mother’s age were still all about how much better treadle-powered ones were than electric ones, as late as the 1980s. Yeah, they were kinda in the hippie-to-hipster category.

  26. Olivier: Mme. Marie Anne de Vichy-Chamrond, marquise du Deffand, after being told of the legend that St. Denis was decapitated and then walked miles carrying his own head, remarked, “The distance is nothing. It is the first step that is difficult.” In the comic, Clyde seems to have dreamt the first three panels.

    I am surprised that every Frenchman knows the line but doesn’t know its origin. It seems to me that knowing the origin is the only way it would make sense.

  27. Boise Ed: Without the context, it seems sensible, meaning “The most difficult part of any difficult task is getting started.”

  28. By any chance, is that marquise du Deffand quote related to the quote sometimes heard in Warner Bros. cartoons: “Watch that first step! It’s a Lulu!”

  29. My mom had my (other) grandmother’s treadle sewing machine, but at some point by the time I was in high school it had been converted to an electric machine.

    Treadle machines are still used by the Amish.

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