For those who have not yet had the pleasure, William Hamilton is a brilliant cartoonist. His works are most often found in The New Yorker magazine. He is also a lawyer and a playwright. Few people capture the privileged preppy world as well as he.
(Post ‘Official Preppy Handbook’?… or maybe some downward social mobility?)
William Hamilton , in a very real way, got me through law school and my bar exams in terms of social interaction. He remains to this day my steadfast companion when I attend virtually any (non-Jewish) social functions, especially of a professional nature.
(The whole ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ aspect is an ongoing theme)
Hamilton’s cartoons shed light on what is, to most of us, a very closed segment of society. It is a world populated by preppies, high-society types, Park Avenue wives and daughters, corporate big wigs, business executives, high-end lawyers, and members of exclusive yacht clubs and country clubs.
(It’s when you overhear people actually talking like this that you ‘get’ Hamilton)
I was introduced to Hamilton the way most of his admirers were… through his New Yorker cartoons. I was still working in the theatre in those days, so many of the nuances of his humour went over my head. I experienced a similar situation later on when I began to follow Scott Adams’s Dilbert cartoons. It was only when I worked in a government agency where the office was set up in a standard ‘cube farm’ plan (i.e. many cubicles set up throughout the office space in a manner remeniscent of a petting zoo) that I truly ‘got’ his humour.
(Always a bit awkward in certain situations, I particularly enjoy the party cartoons)
Similarly, while I enjoyed Hamilton’s characters and situations and admired his wit and gift for language, it wasn’t until I was put into a position where I had regular contact with a lot of preppies that I fully appreciated his work.
Other settings for Hamilton’s works include gentlemen’s clubs, office board rooms, cocktail parties, the insides of chauffeured limosines… anywhere where his people can let their sparkling dialogue glitter all the more.
(I often say this in court, regarding sentencing someone to ‘community service’)
Over the years, many Hamiltonianisms have crept into my conversation. I can’t help it. Sometimes I am in one situation or another, I open my mouth and out comes one of Hamilton’s snipptes of dialogue line right out of the pages of The New Yorker magazine.
Here is a recent example…
I didn’t plan it. It just slipped out. It was tucked away in some ivy league corner of my brain and, at the right moment, sallied forth and presented itself. And, all credit to Mr. Hamilton, it got a positive response from those within earshot.
Here’s another one…
(Of course, the listener has to be old enough to get the reference)
Many of Hamilton’s best pieces revolve around introductions at parties, functions and get-togethers.
For those who’ve found Hamilton’s cartoons amusing, I high recommend going over to The New Yorker magazine’s The Cartoon Bank and enjoying as much as you can stand.
Until then, I will leave you with some of my favourite Hamilton quips…
Of course you’re going to be depressed if you keep comparing yourself with successful people.
Old is when your daughter announces she’s seeing a younger man.
Someday, you may thank me for breaking what was becoming, in this family, a vicious cycle of inheritance.
You know, when I get over my thing for bad boys, Chip, you’re going to be one of the first to know.
I’ll see if he’s emotionally available.
She’s a Rolex. He’s a Timex.
Oh, God. Here comes the global-village idiot.
Boys, boys. You’re getting loud and no one gives a damn how big your salaries used to be.
I tried a slice of pizza yesterday, and frankly I don’t get it.
Frankly, what’s killing me about this marriage is realizing how entirely preventable it was.
Thank you, Mr. Hamilton, for making my life a better, wittier place.
 Along with Lisa Birnbach, author of The Official Preppy Handbook and True Prep, and English writer P.G. Wodehouse author of the Jeeves & Wooster novels and many other humourous books. After my call to the bar, screenwriter and director Whit Stilman rounded out my ‘social advisory committee.’ Without them, I would be lost.
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