The Possible Origins of 7 Instantly Recognizable Visual Clichés

Have you ever seen someone throw an old shoe at a stray cat that’s yowling on a backyard fence? Or witnessed a circus elephant rear away in fear when a mouse crosses its path? A whole host of images have become iconic over the decades—thanks to movies, cartoons, and comic strips—despite the fact they’ve never actually been seen in real life (at least by anyone alive and reading this article).


The image of a person so destitute that he is reduced to wearing a barrel held up by a pair of suspenders was first popularized by political cartoonist Will Johnstone. His first such portrayal of “The Taxpayer,” a person from whom the IRS has literally taken the shirt off their back, was published in the New York World Telegram in 1933, and would reappear frequently as the Great Depression continued to wear down America’s morale. In reality, though, barrels aren’t cheap, and the logistics (not to mention the risk of splinters in uncomfortable bodily areas) of actually outfitting one for daily wear make this an unlikely alternative to public nudity.


Getty Images

A sophisticated swain sipping fine champagne from a seductive sylph’s stiletto is the very picture of elegant decadence. Legend has it that this tableau originated at a party held in 1902 at Chicago’s Everleigh Club, one of the nation’s most exclusive brothels at the time. The guest of honor was Prince Henry of Prussia, and during the festivities one of the house “butterflies” (as the working girls employed by the club were called) was dancing on a tabletop to “The Blue Danube” when her slipper flew off of her foot and knocked over a bottle of champagne. A member of the Prince’s entourage supposedly picked up the slipper and placed it to his lips, sipping the bit of bubbly that had dripped into it. “The darling shouldn’t get her feet wet,” he explained to onlookers. (However, there are also those who say the original champagne-from-a-shoe drinkers were Russian ballerinas of the late 19th century, or members of Toulouse Lautrec's set from around the same time.)


Several years ago, President Obama warned some St. Patrick’s Day partiers at the White House not to get too rambunctious—specifically, to refrain from putting lampshades on their heads—since there were plenty of photographers lurking nearby, and the pictures may well come back to haunt some members of Congress in attendance. It’s impossible to pinpoint when someone donning a lampshade as headgear signaled that the party had officially kicked into high gear, but a 1928 Baltimore Evening Sun piece entitled “Life of the Party” seems to indicate that the practice was common enough at the time to warrant a “been there, done that, caught heck from my wife the next day” reaction from readers. Before that, the image likely arose out of vaudeville, and was then popularized by early silent films.


We usually see this image, of a chef expressing the perfection of the meal he’s prepared, on restaurant signs or menus—and more often than not, the pictured chef is Italian. The meaning is immediately understood: the food served in this establishment is done to perfection. But outside of any TV/movie restaurant scene featuring Vito Scotti as a gourmand, has anyone ever really witnessed a chef recommending a dish with such a gesture? The cliché itself, however, may have some basis in an actual Italian hand gesture of kissing the fingertips before tossing them away—a move meaning something like "beautiful," "delicious," or "as good as a kiss."


It’s doubtful that any financial institution ever actually transported cash in containers emblazoned with giant dollar signs—in the grand scheme of things such markings would seem counter to standard security precautions, no? Interestingly enough, however, in April 2015 a gentleman robbed an Olympia, Washington, Subway restaurant and provided a homemade dollar sign bag to the startled sandwich artist (whom he warned “not to do anything funny,” in true film noir fashion). True, he didn’t wear a Lone Ranger mask and horizontally-striped shirt while committing his heist, but the local flatfoots nabbed him nevertheless.


The “hobo stick” or, more properly, bindle originated (as the name suggests) with the vagabonds and migratory workers of the Depression. Hobos were frequently penniless, so they hopped on freight trains and traveled from city to city looking for work. Plastic shopping bags hadn’t yet been invented, so hobos tied their meager belongings into a large kerchief and hung the bundle from a stave or stick for ease of carrying. Somewhere along the way, the hobo stick became a symbol cartoonists used to instantly identify a child as a runaway, as in Norman Rockwell’s famous 1958 Saturday Evening Post cover entitled “The Runaway.”


Thanks to pop culture staples such as the board game Stratego and MAD Magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy” comic strip, Baby Boomer-era American youngsters grew up thinking that all bombs looked like a bowling ball with a fuse sticking out of the top. The cannonball-style bomb does, in fact, have some basis in history; after gunpowder reached Europe in the 1300s, for several centuries Western militaries used dark metal spheres filled with explosives, sometimes designed to be shot out of a cannon. The addition of a loose string wick, however, seems to be a cartoonist's fantasy.

All images via iStock except where noted.

Dan Bell
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.


All images by Dan Bell

The North Face
The North Face's New Geodesic Dome Tent Will Protect You in 60 mph Wind
The North Face
The North Face

You can find camping tents designed for easy set-up, large crowds, and sustainability, but when it comes to strength, there’s only so much abuse a foldable structure can take. Now, The North Face is pushing the limits of tent durability with a reimagined design. According to inhabitat, the Geodome 4 relies on its distinctive geodesic shape to survive wind gusts approaching hurricane strength.

Instead of the classic arching tent structure, the Geodome balloons outward like a globe. It owes its unique design to the five main poles and one equator pole that hold it in place. Packed up, the gear weighs just over 24 pounds, making it a practical option for car campers and four-season adventurers. When it’s erected, campers have floor space measuring roughly 7 feet by 7.5 feet, enough to sleep four people, and 6 feet and 9 inches of space from ground to ceiling if they want to stand. Hooks attached to the top create a system for gear storage.

While it works in mild conditions, the tent should really appeal to campers who like to trek through harsher weather. Geodesic domes are formed from interlocking triangles. A triangle’s fixed angles make it one of the strongest shapes in engineering, and when used in domes, triangles lend this strength to the overall structure. In the case of the tent, this means that the dome will maintain its form in winds reaching speeds of 60 mph. Meanwhile, the double-layered, water-resistant exterior keeps campers dry as they wait out the storm.

The Geodome 4 is set to sell for $1635 when it goes on sale in Japan this March. In the meantime, outdoorsy types in the U.S. will just have to wait until the innovative product expands to international markets.

[h/t inhabitat]


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