What is depicted on the cover of the New Yorker from February 6, 1937?
April 24, 2012 10:57 AM   Subscribe

What is depicted on the cover of the New Yorker from February 6, 1937?

Here's an image.
posted by morninj to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
it looks like an ocean liner coming into/at harbour in an African locale ? (sailboat and a number of small pole or oar driven boats with black folks on them, white folks on deck looking out)

Or are you asking if it is a particular liner and locale ?
posted by k5.user at 11:02 AM on April 24, 2012

Best answer: It is an ocean liner pulling up at a port, where the local inhabitants come out in small boats to entertain the tourists by doing things like singing and diving for money. This was a pretty common tourism interaction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; here's a photo taken from the on-board tourist's perspective.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:02 AM on April 24, 2012 [8 favorites]

Here's an early 20th-century account by a liner passenger of the practice.

"Our next place of call Madeira we did not go ashore here, but we had a good laugh at the little black boys diving for money they are very fly and will not dive for anything but silver, there were also a lot of natives that come alongside to sell their wares."
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:05 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

The ads for cruise lines which make up the page's border would indicate that this is likely to be the West Indies or elsewhere in the Caribbean.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:06 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

It looks like a woman has dropped her handbag overboard, and the men in the boats are diving after it.
posted by grar at 11:13 AM on April 24, 2012

That, or the cruisers are tossing things in for the men to retrieve on purpose. But there's a purse-looking thing under the woman in yellow with her arm stretched out on the lower deck.
posted by grar at 11:14 AM on April 24, 2012

I believe that purse-like thing is meant to be an open porthole with a head emerging from it. Below it is the coin the woman in yellow has thrown, with motion lines.
posted by neroli at 11:25 AM on April 24, 2012

I'm guessing this might -- if it isn't generic -- be the annual World Cruise of the Empress of Britain, which had departed New York on January 6 of that year, or a Caribbean cruise taken prior to the World Cruise.

It does appear that in those days, Caribbean cruising and world cruising was a seasonal activity undertaken by cruise liners otherwise engaged in the Atlantic crossing. Nassau was one of the more popular destinations out of New York. The Cunard ships Franconia and Carinthia were known for this.
posted by dhartung at 11:25 AM on April 24, 2012

Any current subscriber should be able to follow this link and then page through to find out what it is.
posted by smackfu at 11:46 AM on April 24, 2012

smackfu, I just paged through the entire issue twice and found no explanation of the cover, sadly. But, I did find out that nothing has changed in New Yorker cartoons in 75 years.
posted by The Michael The at 11:59 AM on April 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Same here. I can make it into a bigger image, but I don't see an explanation either. Lots of travel ads though.
posted by cashman at 12:02 PM on April 24, 2012

Here is the bigger version.
posted by cashman at 12:22 PM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

There have never been explanations of New Yorker covers in the issue; just the title of the work and the artist's name.

cashman's image makes the "throwing coins" and "coming up with coins from a dive" details much clearer. Here's a 1935 ad for Cunard White Star Line's Sunshine Cruises, the 1937 (presumably) version of which is second from the bottom in the left border image.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:26 PM on April 24, 2012

Keep in mind that The New Yorker in this era was of most importance to a particular strata of New York society and culture. The covers were, then as now, often deliberately enigmatic or ambiguous, often with attenuated or ironic social commentary. (In those days, the upper classes enjoyed being teased.) The magazine was almost unknown outside of the city except for certain cultural circles.
My parents met because my mom noticed my dad was always reading it in the University of Chicago library.

As far as I can determine from the NYT archive search results, no particular individual cruise during the period of Dec. 1936 to Feb. 1937 was noted beyond the usual shipping and mail notices and social notes such as honeymoons. The major West Indian destinations (at least from New York) were Bermuda, Nassau, Kingston, and to a lesser extent Port-au-Prince and Havana.

I really feel it's most likely that this simply celebrates cruise season, and may not even depict a particular ship, especially given the variety of cruise schedules in the border column.
posted by dhartung at 12:30 PM on April 24, 2012

The artist, Roger Duvoisin, did several tourism-themed covers for the New Yorker.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:31 PM on April 24, 2012

I don't get this as a celebration of cruise season or cruising, but rather a (subtle?) criticism of it, and the disparities between the cruisers and the inhabitants of the islands, to whom they are throwing a pittance for a form of exploitative entertainment. But I don't know anything about the artist or anything else.
posted by synecdoche at 12:34 PM on April 24, 2012

I believe that purse-like thing is meant to be an open porthole with a head emerging from it. Below it is the coin the woman in yellow has thrown, with motion lines.

I agree. There are two outstretched arms from the ship, and two divers in the water. The people with outstretched arms have just thrown something (unidentified) into the water, and there's one diver trying to get each object.
posted by John Cohen at 12:47 PM on April 24, 2012

synecdoche, two points. First, the modern critique of the colonialist mentality was still very much in infancy in 1937. This was before the American Civil Rights era, before the era of decolonialization, before even the independence of India and the Philippines. The US military had quit Nicaragua in 1933 and Haiti in 1934. To the extent that the narrative of West Indians mattered, it would have been strongly paternalistic. Second, the arc of history and culture since World War II has led us to a point where we turn this around and privilege the native narrative, such that we cannot see things that come from the era before without interpreting them anew.

None of this is to prove that Duvoisin couldn't have been, as you say, subtly criticizing the practice of greeting cruise ships, but rather to say that intent is unnecessary when all you need to do is depict this practice honestly; an audience of 2012 cannot help but see the ways in which this is demeaning and indicative of a gulf of wealth and class, but it's unlikely that the audience for the cover in 1937 would have, at least not as a cutting point.

That's my impression, anyway, as a lifelong reader of the magazine. Any criticism would have been more about the social aspects of spending time on vacation away from your cares. This was a magazine of entertainment, not Jacob Riis. The problems of the rest of the world were, in large part, the problems of the rest of the world.

Additionally, a perusal of Duvoisin's career (mainly children's books) indicates little in the way of political content; indeed, one of his best-known book series, The Happy Lion, suggests a number of colonialist critiques (an African lion in Paris). Beware politically correct history!
posted by dhartung at 11:40 AM on April 25, 2012

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