Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Murder in the Morning

Every so often I get an email from Bob Mankoff keeping me updated on the funny side of life. Sometimes murder can have a funny side too. In The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Steven Pinker makes the claim that violence has been decreasing over the centuries, and now is the best of times to be alive in terms of the likelihood of staying that way.

Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker, decided to investigate the Pinker hypothesis using The New Yorker cartoons. He looked at the number of murders depicted, decade by decade, starting with the 1930s. He said to qualify as a murder, either there needed to be a dead body in the drawing...

or the imminent appearance of one.

Using these criteria, he counted 111 murders in more than 76,000 cartoons.

This means the homicide rate for all cartoons in The New Yorker is greater than that of 14th-century London.

As for the better angels of our cartooning nature, the data are mixed. If The New Yorker had stopped publishing at the end of the 1980s—the magazine was much safer than New York in those years—it would support Pinker's hypothesis. Since then, however, these pages have apparently become more lethal.

Mankoff pointed out in his letter that there have already been four homicide cartoons in 2011 and he feels the need to make some changes. He is going to increase the police representation in cartoons and impose the strictest gun control in cartoon country.


  1. Oh that's funny, "Increase the police representation" and 'Impose the strictest gun control in cartoon history."

    What will those of us who get a vicarious thrill from his murders do then? Elections are coming up again (didn't we just get done with them?)

  2. I agree, Peggie, we need more not fewer murders in the New Yorker. Only 111 in 76000 cartoons is a measly number. Kev

  3. Aside from Inspector Gadget , Mike Shamus and Dick Tracy, I don't know any Toon Town detectives so I wonder how many of the murders even get solved. Most of the other cartoons with police presence seem to be located at doughnut shops but I, for one am happy that these shops are safe for those lovers of the little round delicacies with bullet holes in them.

  4. MC, a policeman in Philadelphia was killed either inside or coming into a donut shop a few months ago. Is NOWHERE safe?