Bonus post: a 64-year-apart synchronicity

Today’s Hi and Lois makes a joke about virtual backgrounds in video app meetings. I’ve seen plenty of video-meeting comics in the last year or so, and maybe a few touching on virtual backgrounds, but this particular one triggered a memory for me:

The memory it triggered was of a MAD Magazine story about fake backgrounds for video calls. The technology it used was “camera phones” — which did exist, but not as an everyday thing generally available to the public — and with fake backgrounds being provided not electronically but as physical backdrops that could be pulled down from a spring-loaded roller, like a certain kind of window shade.

I recalled the piece going thru a series of examples like “Fool your boss”, “Fool your wife”, etc., and finally a “Fool Yourself” where the wrong backdrop was chosen. In today’s cartoon, Hi is almost doing a “Fool Yourself”, if he were using a virtual background but accidentally used a beach or other recreation scene while talking about being in a sickbed or maybe hard at work at his home office.

In trying to track down the MAD piece, my first partial success, with two panels of the MAD story, was at a Peewee’s Playhouse site, in a two-step indirection story that I didn’t entirely follow. But that gave me the 1957 date and the name of the artist, George Woodbridge.

That led soon enough to a Tumblr for MAD fans, and this full image of the original piece!


  1. Maybe I can again find the place where there was a higher-res image (though not as copyable, nor linkable). In this one it’s hard to make out the tags hanging from the alternate scenes in the FOOL YOURSELF panel.
    Or the title and artist on the Etchings book in the FOOL YOUR DATE panel — corresponding to an old supposed pick-up line or invitation, “Why don’t you come up and see my etchings sometime?”

  2. Inter-pane text:

    “A woman may not mind your lying about the size of your yacht, but don’t expect her to do the rowing.”

  3. My recollection of the FOOL YOURSELF was roughly that he was calling in sick to his office and thought he was using the sickbed backdrop, but was actually out at the racetrack and had accidentally pulled down a racetrack backdrop. Or was relaxing at home but used the racetrack backdrop. The actual one — matching bridge party scenes — is a pretty good fit for the Hi And Lois situation.

  4. I remember that MAD article well!

    The Hi and Lois is quite interesting. Maybe he IS doing the “Fool yourself” equivalent. However, if that really is a virtual backdrop, the bucket of ice and (I presume) beer is clearly not part of it. Makes me wonder if Hi is at the beach and fibbing to his boss.

  5. Hi’s cover gets blown as soon as a seagull cruises by in the background, even far away.

  6. Years ago some guy developed a phone booth with coin operated sound effects like airport, freeway traffic, etc. He put them in bars so you could have sound effect to match your excuse. (He said that the most popular one was “battlefield.) It didn’t last too long before he went out of business.

  7. Anyone recognize the ballpark in that second panel? At first I thought it was Fenway, given the B on the vendor’s cap, but Fenway only has two levels of seating on the first-base side, not three. (If not for that, it’s really very close!)

    The giant ballplayer above the outfield seats is awfully specific and makes me think a real stadium had a notable ad up there at some point.

  8. Oh I’m so dumb. I just took another look and that’s not a third row of seats, it’s a roof. I’m 75% sure now that’s Fenway Park. Still curious about the big figure above the seats, though.

  9. My favorite variation of the “etchings” trope was “Would you like to come up and listen to my Marcel Marceau records?”

  10. I think when I started to understand the etchings trope, I thought of the guy as an artistic type, and in part wanting to show off etchings that he himself actually does. Though I did also understand the wolfish ulterior motives, probably from viewing Love That Bob (aka The Bob Cummings Show). Since Bob was a professional photographer, he had models coming to his studio for legitimate work, and didn’t need other lures; but the actual “etchings” lines were around in movies and other tv.

  11. KenK, I want to say that Mad Magazine also invented the “Excuse-o-phone”, or something like that, which would create all the appropriate sound effects, but I haven’t been able to find anything on it.

  12. Before scrolling down to the image, I remembered this, and in particular the final bridge party.. But I was not alive in 1957, and not likely to have encountered a 1957 magazine 10+ years later, so I expect it was in some later collection of reprints.

  13. I cannot use fake background, says Zoom. My computer lacks the power, it says. So I had to carefully craft my background to look somewhat respectable. Move the camera a few millimetres in any direction and the illusion is destroyed.

  14. Powers: Above the right-field foul seats is a set of lights. I can’t tell what’s above the right-field bleacher seats. What ballpark uses letters (Row T) instead of numbers? Too bad the scene isn’t from the right-field seats to show the left-field fence.

  15. SB, as I understand it, Zoom offers two different ways of using a virtual background, and only one has heavy requirements on computing resources which can lead to it refusing to even try this mode if it sees that your computer can’t handle it.
    This method is to continually recompute live the separation of areas that are target (you) and should be shown as-is, from areas that are background, and should be replaced by pixels from the image used as virtual background. The computing job is kind of demanding, and you can see its imperfections in the flickering that often happens, or the amusing sudden appearance of cat parts walking across.
    The other method is basically just classic TV-style Chroma-Key. Of course this one also has requirements on you, namely that you have an actual physical green screen you can drape behind you. Then any green pixels are replaced by pixels from the desired backdrop image. It’s less heavy-duty processing. Like the first method, this one will hide the awful mess in the room behind you — and probably do a better job than the computed-outline method, since you are actually screening it off physically.

  16. I have a tendancy for zoom to interpret the my face as back ground color leading to weird effect of my shimmering in and out like a ghost. I’d be a cool effect if it were intentional.

  17. Mitch4, as I said, I have a perfectly constructed background now (primarily a bookcase full of books) that looks casual enough to appear entirely natural. As long as I don’t move the camera, things are fine. A green screen would just complicate things. Someday I’ll get a new computer.

  18. That (whether to buy a green screen so I can have a fake background or not) brings something else to mind. I worked in a place that was 90 minutes to two hours commute each way on public transit. I wasn’t all that happy about that. When conversation with co-workers would touch on where I lived, when they found out how long the trip was, they’d ask something like “Are you going to move somewhere closer?” I’d always reply “Hell no! I like where I live and I don’t intend to always be working here.”

    For the record, this was off in a very car-centric fringe of the city, not at all like my nice, walkable neighbourhood, so I did not see the areas as at all equivalent.

  19. Bill, I’m certainly not pushing you to use the green-screen option, while you have something else that works for you. I just wanted to clarify, for anyone who might be wondering, that Zoom’s unpleasant message about “your computer won’t support calculated virtual backgrounds” also has an escape clause. (Though not costless either.)

  20. Our reenactment unit did a virtual discussion on our big event of the year – which we did not do this year. (Last year a small group of the younger guys did the event in person to be seen on our FB page, which we lost during the year due to our unit’s name.)

    So the idea was that members of the unit would be on Zoom discussing our Independence Day event (which is a mid July event as that is when the D of I arrived and was read to the public) with members of the public letting him know in advance to let them join us.

    I suggested to Robert that if I “shoveled out” our dining room, which is set up sort of like an 18th century tavern dining, we could go in there and have a nice background. However, same as when we have board meetings – he was at his desktop computer in our office and I was at my laptop in the kitchen. Not quite 18th century looking.

    The unit commander had a photo of the grounds of our headquarter set behind him – other than when he stood up and walked away to get something it looked great.

    We did only have to dress the top half of us in period clothing for this event – and I did not bother with my period undergarments.

    We had 5 people sign on to see us – and two of them were the commander’s parents. But it was interesting to do.

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