Law in Contemporary Society

What's the joke here? Do you have any feelings about it?

-- GregOrr - 09 Apr 2009

In a vacuum, I think this is kinda funny. It's got this "Gee, it was that simple all along" vibe that's good for a chuckle.

Relating it to the class, the first thought that springs to mind is obviously to cast Prof. Moglen in the role of the flying penguin and us pupils as the landlocked crowd. You'd probably have to switch the words to something like "All you need to do is figure out exactly what you want to do and exactly how to do it" though.

So I guess next you'd want to ask yourself how you think the penguins on the ground feel. Maybe they're inspired that something that seems impossible was accomplished with such a basic premise. Or maybe the obviousness/simplicity of the advice in both cases works against itself somewhat because it invites a sort of "well, duh" response that disinclines them to really follow suit. Depends on the state of mind you're in when you look at it.

-- JustinChung - 10 Apr 2009

Thanks, Justin, I like your answer. Anyone see it differently?

-- GregOrr - 11 Apr 2009

I think the joke relates to the traditional cliche: If you put your mind to it, you can do anything. Traditionally, we constrain ourselves to laws of physics, but the cartoon demonstrates that it was just a matter of effort to get these blubbery, aero-un-dynamic penguins to fly.

I actually was reminded of the Obama article where Barack's former classmates were amazed that they were in the same place that they had always been and that Obama had (almost all-of-a sudden) become this extremely powerful, important person. It was as if he was flying and they were still sitting on the ground. To me, it all relates back to the traditional group mentality. If everyone is satisfied with the limitations that society places on us, then society will remain stagnant. But if some of us make the effort for social change (or change in the legal profession), then we might actually achieve things we always thought impossible.

-- LaurenRosenberg - 11 Apr 2009

My wife's friend had a similar interpretation, Lauren, but she resented the sentiment. It struck her as patronizing and unrealistic - penguins are blubbery and aero-un-dynamic, and it's ridiculous to suggest they could fly if only they tried harder! (She's a lawyer struggling at a less-than-elite firm.)

There are a few other interpretations, including the one I suspect was actually intended by the cartoonist.

-- GregOrr - 12 Apr 2009

My reaction was along the lines of "wow, simplicity is best," or something vaguely resembling Occam's razor. Similar to Justin, I was amused at how something so simple could solve a problem so profound. For the split-second between seeing a flying penguin and reading what he was saying, I expected some physics mumbo-jumbo, which would also have made me laugh.

I didn't initially make the connection to our class, but I like Justin's characterizations. But wouldn't that imply that Eben is doing something impossible? In my mind, the next frame of the cartoon is the flying penguin belly-flopping into the sea with his comrades laughing in delight - perhaps my physics background is just over-analyzing a simple cartoon.

-- KeithEdelman - 12 Apr 2009

So, anyway, my lawyer wife has taken up painting. We decided that she would recreate three New Yorker cartoons for our bathroom. I immediately thought the penguin one was saying something like "live within your nature." It's funny to think of penguins feeling bad about themselves, feeling that they could fly if only they tried harder... We love penguins! New Yorker cartoons often make ironic metaphors for modern anxieties, and I just assumed that's what the artist had in mind. That kind of intention has a cute, sweet, melancholy kind of intimacy, whereas more direct interpretations, while in a sense optimistic, feed feelings of inadequacy.

Further, I see a more general kind of lesson, something like "if only we could see ourselves as others do." We see all that stressful flapping as this poor guy putting too much pressure on himself - penguins aren't supposed to fly. (Whether the penguins on the iceberg share this point of view, I'm not sure. Maybe they vary, with the wise old ones seeing it this way, some of his peers feeling jealous or insecure, some of the young ones filled with wonder... This may be reading too much into it.)

So I liked the cartoon and voted for it when my wife was choosing what to paint. It now hangs in our bathroom. I didn't realize other people wouldn't have the same interpretation, and it was only after some confused back and forth with friends that I discovered most people actually see it more like you all have. As it turns out, even my wife had something else in mind. I still think my interpretation holds up, but I'm not completely sure, and it's hard to know how much contrary evidence to absorb before giving up my view. At a minimum, I can say that people in my bathroom are getting the wrong idea about what I mean. But then we get to talk about it, which is fun.

Here are our other two:

-- GregOrr - 19 Apr 2009


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r8 - 07 Jan 2010 - 21:42:24 - IanSullivan
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