The Yellow Kid on the Paper Stage
Introduction Origins of the Kid Class Warfare on the Urban Stage Race and Ethnicity Selling the Kid The Death of the Kid
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Class Warfare on the Urban Stage

Much of the humor of Outcault's Yellow Kid cartoons depends on placing the urban poor in a faux upper-class environment; sometimes this position mocks the rich and at other times it appears to highlight gross caricatures of the poor. Why is this funny to late nineteenth-century Americans? In part, it subverts the increasingly codified roles assigned to the rich and the poor. It defies the growing sentiment that perhaps America is not the promised land of opportunity, a land of unending capital, and instead suggests that the only place where roles can be reassigned is in a fictional, two-dimensional world—where the genre must be comedy in order to subvert reality. On the other hand, we can also see hints that some readers might be laughing at the Yellow Kid and his mischievous gang. This kind of comedy descends directly from 19th-century entertainments—minstrel shows, variety, and vaudeville—and indeed the Kid cartoons are like a frozen-frame vaudeville skit that takes as long to thoroughly read as sitting through a 20-minute vaudeville sketch.

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