Bruce Eric Kaplan has a theory: everything we do is motivated by love, hate, or hunger. He doesn’t mean hunger as the state that follows peckish, but as something much broader.
Kaplan is well-known for his New Yorker cartoons with the distinctive “BEK” moniker in the corner of single-panel, starkly black and white frames. He was a writer for Seinfeld and more recently was an executive producer for the HBO series Six Feet Under. Nearly 200 of his cartoons have been gathered into a new collection I Love You, I Hate You, I’m Hungry.
Through recurring subject matter like the routines of daily life, unfulfilling relationships, and the ridiculous things people say as a matter of habit he paints a stark picture of contemporary urban society. A couple in a doorway parting after a date say, “I don’t know if I can take another lovely evening”. A husband remarks to his wife at the dinner table, “I bumped into a new girlfriend last night”. And a man at home on the telephone gestures in exasperation as he says, “I’m not trying to say anything—I’m just talking”.
Kaplan frequently frames ironic commentary around empty conversations with strangers. Approaching a woman standing alone in the middle of a living room, another woman opens with, “Tonight I’ll be performing a monologue about where I like to shop, my hair color, and something my mother did that upset me”.
A book like this forces the question of whether it’s all worth it and I like Kaplan’s take on basic human motivations. It’s easier to laugh about the strangeness of our present context when we recognize that we’re not alone in our experiences. The philosopher in me particularly loves this cartoon: A women on an escalator in a shopping mall turns to her friend and says, “I have no idea where we parked the car, or why we exist”.