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British cartoonist Matt is a fan of Modern Family

NEWS - TV NEWS

A sort of crossover of British and American humour/humor...

The Daily Telegraph cartoonist Matt is a fan of Modern Family. In the Review section of last week’s paper, on Friday 25 May, he said:

“When the current series of this brilliant family sitcom finishes tonight, I’ll have to satisfy my craving with DVDs of old episodes”.

Yes, that's right, this news isn't from the internet, but from words printed on paper (not printed out from the internet). You know, like they had in the olden days. This seems deeply weird. ("Where is the link? The link to the news? I need a link to click on...!") But what's even weirder is the fact that, twenty years ago, people would have been like, "What's the internet?"

Anyway, here is a link for clicking on; not to the news itself, but to some of Matt's recent cartoons on The Daily Telegraph website. They're topical, so you'd probably need to be familiar with British current events to get all the jokes. Similarly, this is the problem with the otherwise great anthology books that have been published, collecting lots of Matt's cartoons. Since they're from a while ago, even British people who keep on top of current events struggle to remember what was happening at the time when a particular cartoon was published, thus more or less obliterating the key factor: context. For future editions, including a brief note about contemporaneous headlines might be very helpful.

Matt's one-panel cartoons appear every day in The Daily Telegraph, one of the major British newspapers, and make witty observations on current political happenings, often combining two completely separate things in brilliant fashion, in a way that you'd probably never think of, but makes perfect sense when you see it. Thus, a newspaper column is probably the perfect format for this type of humour, because the cartoon is often accompanied on the front page (or elsewhere in the paper) by the relevant headlines.

Trying to take it out of context is a bit trying to watch a show like the drama The Wire (or, perhaps more relevantly, a sitcom like Arrested Development) in the wrong order or missing out episodes or something. It just wouldn't work. Though in those cases the context is largely internal to the show (perhaps less so with Arrested Development), whereas a cartoon like Matt, though it has recurring characters or character types, is less about self-referentiality and more about engaging with the wider political context, and commenting wryly on it.

Nevertheless, though Matt regularly critiques the absurdity of topical events as well as situations in general, the cartoons never come across as bitter, but rather poke gentle fun at natural human stupidity and foibles, and the ways these manifest both in political decisions and in ordinary people's reactions to the way things are.

Perhaps his cartoons have something in common with Modern Family's sense of humour, which is said to be a warm and funny look at the foibles of a modern, dysfunctional family.

In fact, most of the best TV shows are about family in one way or another. Characters who face regular conflict with one another, but who ultimately care about each other. It's not only a great set-up for a show (while allowing a lot of room for flexibility to accomodate the show's distinct, individual identity), but is also a resonant theme. It's not just an entertaining dynamic, but also ties in with life.

(Okay, something like Southland is a bit different, because it's actually about the breakdown of family life, and the resulting breakdown of society (hence the bleakness), but at least the characters are trying to hold on to some semblance of family life. Similarly, but with a slightly more positive balance (though not without their sense of tragedy), shows like Angel and Sons of Anarchy explore the tension between moral compromise, the battles of life, and the bonds of found family in dramatic and poignant ways.)

Anyway, if you're a fan of the US sitcom Modern Family, and also the British cartoonist Matt, this news should be quite cool, as it always is when you find out that someone you're a fan of is also a fan of something you're a fan of. Like the fact that Joss Whedon loves The Matrix, and Harry Potter, and Doctor Who, and Galaxy Quest, and the Star Trek reboot.


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