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Isle Be Damned
Of all the standard cartoon clichés, the guy marooned on a desert island might be the most common. The island is always impossibly small and sports a single palm, usually with coconuts. The guy (for some reason, it’s always a man) is otherwise alone in the picture, surrounded on all sides by a boundless sea.

Other elements can be freely added. Sea creatures, especially sharks, are a common prop. Any item from a universe of flotsam may wash up, ships may pass by, bottles come and go. It is even possible that another human might be included, perhaps on a nearby island. I would put such cartoons in a separate category, however. In its purest form, the man marooned is a trope for existential isolation filled with dread and devoid of meaning. Hence, the jokes.

Most of those jokes come at the expense of the strandee, making fun of his solitary and probably lethal circumstances. Even while he is being cruelly mocked, though, the poor schnook always manages to keep hope alive. Someday, he thinks, one of those ships will stop to rescue him. He’ll get a response to his message-in-a-bottle. Or something will wash up on his shore to make his life better or even to deliver him to safety.

His hope is eternal. But why is it that cartoonists never make fun of him for even daring to hope? His predicament is futile, after all. Those three coconuts are his only source of food and water. The sun beats down relentlessly, at least until a storm comes along and swamps his little sandbar, sending him to the bottom. He will surely perish alone on his forsaken island, and to have hope for any other outcome is clearly demented. So why not pile on him for that? His frustration is fair game for humor, as are his fears, his pain, his dreams, and his loneliness. Why should his misguided optimism be any different?

Is it possible that hope is a humor taboo, something that shouldn’t be joked about? It’s a good question, and I congratulate myself for asking it. On the only occasions I can remember someone laughing at hope, the laugher was either a monstrous super-villain or a right-wing radio talk show host. I don’t count these examples as actual humor, but rather sadism accompanied by maniacal barking. There is a difference.

So why does hope get off so easily? Of the seven heavenly virtues, it takes the least comedic guff. Chastity gets horselaughed all the time these days. Patience, charity, and kindness are at least the objects of mild joshing. Humility and temperance are so rare that they get no attention of any kind, and diligence was dropped as a virtue years ago because it’s no longer cool.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I am a big believer in hope, but I also think that nothing in this world should get a free pass from comedy.

So let me try this: Two men in a rowboat have beached on the island. One of the men, holding a bottle in one hand and looking intently at a note in the other, says “Yes, I’m sure this is the right place.” The other man looks in puzzlement at the island, seeing only the palm tree…and a single tombstone. Cue the laugh track.
Yes, voting matters. Polls do not.
~ H, Santa Cruz