Thursday, May 6, 2010

Rube Goldberg and his U.K. Counterpart

In covering the disastrous and still unchecked oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the media refers to BP's "Rube Goldberg" remedies. This reference may be lost on those of younger generations, even though it is now a standard dictionary entry. Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) was an American cartoonist (2nd image) remembered for his series of comical drawings of complicated machines designed to perform simple tasks (example, 1st image). "Tickled by the human tendency to choose the most difficult route from Point A to Point B, Goldberg came up with machines that he called 'a symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results.'" Goldberg won a Pulitzer Prize and founded and headed the National Cartoonists Society, but his name will forever be eponymous for fantastically complex and impractical machines and schemes. It has also been lent to contests like the premier event, the National Collegiate Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. The task of the 2010 entries was to dispense an appropriate amount of hand sanitizer onto a hand, which the winning machine - devised by a team from the University of Wisconsin-Stout - performed in 120 steps.

The "Rube Goldberg" allusion may also be lost on our British friends, who are more apt to be familiar with Goldberg's counterpart, English cartoonist Heath Robinson (1872-1944), whose name also entered the language in association with ridiculous contraptions. "Essentially he was caricaturing the age of the machine and the self-importance of some of the people caught up in that age - creating complex inventions that achieved absurdly simple results, while the audience looked on solemnly." Robinson (3rd image) captioned some of his cartoons with names like "Inoffensive method of ascertaining the weight of a lady friend" and "Resuscitating stale Railway Scones for redistribution at the Station Buffets," but others, like the machine to pick up discarded cigarette butts (4th image), were self-explanatory.

1 comment:

  1. You might have the last two images swapped.

    But I do sympathize with both of these blokes.


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