That morning, the leader of our water aerobics class asked if anyone remembered the name of the characters shaped like bowling pins who were in Al Capp's Li'l Abner strip. Her husband, after reading the Kentucky Blue Grass comic, thought they were called Smurfs, but she didn't think so.
Most of us in the pool remembered the characters but I was the only one who (and failrly rapidly) came up with the name "Shmoos". Since I am losing my mind (among other things) I was quite proud of my memory feat in this case. Especially so when several people I asked about it were unable to remember the name (the best one came up with "Igoos").
I looked them up in Wikipedia and was amazed at the philosophical content of the Shmoo characters. When I was a kid I just read the comic and laughed, but Shmoos represent some deep satirical ideas indeed! As well as the economic concept of a free good.
Here are some of the more interesting ones from Wikipedia. I recommend you read them all at the above link.
They consume no resources other than air and reproduce prolifically. The closest natural thing that does anything like that would be wild fruit trees and edible berry bushes. I guess we could include edible fish and land animals, but these usually require quite a bit of work to catch.
They are edible and anxious to please. The Li'l Abner comic panels [hold CTRL and press + to make images larger] show how a shmoo simply "draps daid - outa sheer joy" if a person looks at them hungrily! Raw, they taste like oysters, but cooked they taste like chicken (if fried), steak (if broiled), pork (if roasted), or catfish (if baked).
Shmoos sustain themselves and volunteer to be cooked and eaten. That put lots of farmers and hunters and grocers out of business! (So you see the mixed blessing of a free good.)
"They also produce eggs (neatly packaged), milk (bottled grade-A), and butter — no churning required. Their pelts make perfect bootleather or house timber, depending on how thick you slice it.
"They have no bones, so there's absolutely no waste. Their eyes make the best suspender buttons, and their whiskers make perfect toothpicks. In short, they are simply the perfect ideal of a subsistence agricultural herd animal. "
Shmoo are also entertaining. They put on "shmoosical comedies" that put actors and movie-makers and TV stations out of business. And, like the mythical "snipe", some especially tasty shmoos play hard to get. It is entertaining to go out at night with a flashlight and a large bag and a stick and catch them.
No need for humans to work anymore. So, it seems, with shooos around and procreating rapidly, humans would, in effect, be back in paradise before Adam and Eve sinned. That would put our political leaders and corporate execs and labor unions out of business as well.
In the Li'l Abner comic, the shmoos are hunted to extinction, by "shmooicide squads".
ORIGIN OF THE IDEA
All Capp explained how he got the idea for shmoos in a Cosmo piece in 1949:
I was driving from New York City to my farm in New Hampshire. The top of my car was down, and on either side of me I could see the lush and lovely New England countryside… It was the good earth at its generous summertime best, offering gifts to all.They say "there is no such thing as a free lunch", but, if there was, would it be good for humanity?
And the thought that came to me was this: Here we have this great and good and generous thing — the Earth. It's eager to give us everything we need. All we have to do is just let it alone, just be happy with it.
Cartoonists don't think like people. They think in pictures. Little pictures that will fit into a comic strip. And so, in my mind, I reduced the earth… down to the size of a small critter that would fit into the Li'l Abner strip — and it came out a Shmoo… I didn't have any message — except that it's good to be alive.
The Shmoo didn't have any social significance; it is simply a juicy li'l critter that gives milk and lays eggs… When you look at one as though you'd like to eat it, it dies of sheer ecstasy. And if one really loves you, it'll lay you a cheesecake — although this is quite a strain on its li'l innards…
I thought it was a perfectly ordinary little story, but when it appeared in newspapers, all hell broke loose! Life, in an editorial, hailed the Shmoo as the very symbol and spirit of free enterprise. Time said I'd invented a new era of enlightened management-employee relationship, (they called it Capp-italism.) The Daily Worker cussed me out as a Tool of the Bosses, and denounced the Shmoo as the Opium of the Masses...