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
"Off for Europe—Where They Won't Do a Thing to the Effete Monarchies."
"In the Louvre—The Yellow Kid Takes in the Masterpieces of Art."
"Mickey and His Friends Hobnob with Royalty."
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Class Warfare on the Urban Stage


As Lawrence Levine tracks in his book Highbrow Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America, the rich wanted their cultural institutions—as well as their social institutions—to match Europe's, seen from across the Atlantic as the benchmark by 19th-century Americans.1 They moved to create a respectful air around what was once popular entertainment enjoyed by all. The president of the New York Philharmonic, George Templeton Strong, began his active campaign against audience unruliness in 1870, and conductor Theodore Thomas would humiliate noisy audience members and even started barring them from entering the concert hall if they were late, at least until the first selection was over.2 Levine notes that by the turn of the century American audiences are considered more polite than European audiences, to the chagrin of many.3

This need to control seeped into the art world as well; the Metropolitan Museum of Art refused to allow a plumber in overalls to enter the museum on a weekday afternoon, angering some newspapers in the city and fueling such headlines as "Sober Workman Has to Leave Art Galleries" (note the assumption that if a working man were barred, it was probably because he was drunk); "Art for the Well Dressed"; "Sensitive and Refined Plumber Affronted."4 Until 1891 the museum remained closed on Sunday, shutting out workers who might have been able to enjoy the collection on their day off.5

Yellow Kid DiaryOutcault mocked upper-class fascination with Europe during the Yellow Kid's triumphal trip around the world beginning in 1897, with text supplied by Rudolph Block and Edward Townsend, his collaborator on McFadden's Flats. Although the series highlighted the follies of the rich, the critique lacked the bite present in cartoons set in the New York City, where readers could see impoverished living conditions in comparison with the wealthy; the comic slipped further away from its grounding in urban tensions, perhaps because the cartoon was striving to reach a wider audience through the stunt.6 Around the World with the Yellow Kid showed the Kid visit England, where he schmoozed with royalty; Scotland; Ireland; France; Spain; Switzerland; Italy; Germany; and Egypt, in a broad farce that made fun of European institutions and stereotyped countries' inhabitants. While Block or Townsend wrote the text for the Around the World series, Outcault himself was likely the author of the Yellow Kid Diary entries written during the same period. Probably the height of the Around the World scenarios was "Mickey and His Friends Hobnob with Royalty," (January 31, 1897), which shows the crowned Kid amidst a scene of debauchery in the throne room; and "In the Louvre—The Yellow Kid Takes in the Masterpieces of Art," which once again presents a nightmarish scene for elite New Yorkers. The Yellow Kid brandishes a dripping palette in the famed museum, while other urchins are copying paintings very near the actual painting. At the top, a kid has burst through a painting. In the crowd are several upper-class pedestrians, a couple of whom look concerned, but many of whom laugh at the kids' antics. The book "How to Talk French" pokes out of one kid's pocket, and Venus de Milo, the obvious sign of high culture, bemoans "If I had my arms I would spank some of these kids."
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1 Beckert, Sven. The Monied Metropolis: New York City and the Consolidation of the American Bourgeoisie, 1850-1896. Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 50.

2 Levine, Lawrence W. Highbrow Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard University Press, 1988. 186-187

3 Levine 194.

4 Levine 185.

5 Beckert 268.

6 Blackbeard, Bill. Introduction. R. F. Outcault's The Yellow Kid: A Centennial Celebration of the Kid Who Started the Comics. Northampton, MA: Kitchen Sink Press, 1995. 78. Editors had high hopes for increased sales, but tehre was no increase in middle-class subscriptions—readers just picked up the newspaper at newstands.