The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics

There comes many times over any given year where I find myself in a situation that in order to explain a basic elementary ideal to someone who requires a vast background education just to grapple with the topic at hand, I have to find some way to show them a proper metaphor to bring them up to speed.  They do not have the foundation understanding to build anything of merit conversation wise–when they ask a question, or series of questions just to understand the answer given to them.  Sadly, modern culture has failed to deliver those foundations to the last couple of generations.  There is a part of me that feels sorry for those people, but not to the extent where I am willing to sacrifice my own happiness to quell their suffering.  The reason is logic and a foundation belief system that is rooted in another time when the world made a lot more sense.  It wasn’t however that long ago, but just long enough for modern society to completely revert to the animal mindset of a scribble.

I feel fortunate to have grown up in a time when one of my favorite cartoons was called The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics which played continuously on the Looney Tunes half hour afternoon lineup every day after school.  It was my favorite cartoon as a young kid which came out in 1965 and was directed by my favorite animator, Chuck Jones.  I watched his cartoons as a child and read his book as a young man in my twenties and soaked up every word.  That particular cartoon was a masterpiece and a needed lesson for every young male looking for love.  Watch that classic cartoon below before continuing:

That cartoon reflects an interesting period in American history, and such a time is mandated to return.  Because if it doesn’t, there will not be a civilization to behold in any capacity.  The cartoon is about values and the three-way romance between a dot, a line, and a scribble.  In 2014 America, it is the scribbles who rule the world in virtually every aspect of our society.  As a line who has forced himself to bend into many angles, I understand the line in the story very, very well.

The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics (ISBN 1-58717-066-3) is a book written and illustrated by Norton Juster, first published by Random House in 1963. The story was inspired by Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, in which the protagonist visits a one-dimensional universe called Lineland, where women are dots and men are lines.

In 1965, famed animator Chuck Jones and the MGM Animation/Visual Arts studio adapted The Dot and the Line into a 10-minute animated short film for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, narrated by Robert Morley with the narration almost verbatim to the book. The Dot and the Line won the 1965 Academy Award for Animated Short Film.[1] It was entered into the Short Film Palme d’Or competition at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival.[2]

The cartoon was released as a special feature on the The Glass Bottom Boat DVD in 2005. The cartoon is also featured on the 2008 release of Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection and the 2011 release of the Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 1 Blu-ray box-set on the third disc as a special feature. In 2005, Robert Xavier Rodriguez made a musical setting of the book for narrator and chamber ensemble with projected images, and in 2011 he made a version for full orchestra.

The story details a straight line who is hopelessly in love with a dot. The dot, finding the line to be stiff, dull, and conventional, turns her affections toward a wild and unkempt squiggle. The line, unable to fall out of love and willing to do whatever it takes to win the dot’s affection, manages to bend himself and form an angle. He works to refine this new ability, creating shapes so complex that he has to label his sides and angles to keep his place.

The dot realizes that she has made a mistake: what she had seen in the squiggle to be freedom and joy was nothing more than chaos and sloth. She leaves with the line, having realized that he has much more to offer, and the punning moral is presented: “To the vector belong the spoils.”

Clearly the story of the dot and the line is a morality tale about values; the scribble didn’t have much to offer the dot once she realized that the line had advanced himself into a sophisticated dynamic.  To my young mind it took me nearly twenty years to forgive the dot for neglecting the line in the first place running off with the scribble.  I always sympathized with the line and always—always hated the scribble.  Hate actually may not be a strong enough word—but the human language has not yet come up with something stronger—so for now we’ll let it stand.  But as the years moved on and my life experiences filled me with observation I realized that the journey of the dot running toward the scribble is what drove the line to become better.  If such a thing never happened, the line would have remained one-dimensional and un-sensational.

I have learned throughout time that many women behave like the dot in the story.  They are drawn toward the scribbles of existence constantly pursuing a fantasy of reforming them—mothering them into health.  Women are often not interested in a straight line which does not require their love and affection—they are almost biologically drawn toward scribbles by default.  This is a painful realization if you were born to be a line.  However, if competition is embraced, the line can become something more than normal and if he forces himself to the task, can become much more powerful than the scribbles of existence.  The dot is the female goddess who brings out in the clash of males the best between the two through competitions for her affection.  Without that bar of measurement, then scribbles are the default mode of males.  What has happened to our current society is that females have given up hope of ever seeing a refined line and are just giving up and falling for scribbles.  If scribbles rule the world, then the world becomes their image.  Without the refined, well-managed—articulate lines—the world crumbles.

In this romance the dot plays her part in being the vehicle of transformation of the line into something better.  The scribble plays his part as a rival for the line to work against, but the line is most important—because it is he who brings order and morality to the world through his refined action.  Without that understanding, there is no way for any contemporary conversation about value between males and females to take place.  But make no mistake about it—the villain of life itself is the scribble.  The morality of the scribble is not something to be cherished on any level—but despised and beaten utterly.  There is no choice in the matter.  It is the way things have to be.

Rich Hoffman


One thought on “The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics

  1. Thanks for sharing. I am AMAZED at the vocabulary in the cartoon! Can you imagine anything produced today using such words? It illustrates how low we have lowered the education bar in our schools.


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