What the Dumbwaiter Hides

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Red curtain revealing trees on stage. What the Dumbwaiter Hides comic title page.
Cartoon parody of 'The Woods' artwork by Sleater-Kinney album artwork by artist Michael Brophy.
Cartoon of Thomas Jefferson writing at his desk. As well as being the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson was a keen inventor.
Side view of Thomas Jefferson holding rope in workshop. Jefferson invented the dumbwaiter, and other devices that allowed food and drinks to be cleverly transported throughout his Monticello mansion.
Cross-section view of a dumbwaiter working to raise wine bottle. A bell would ring, and a bottle of wine, …
... or a hot meal would magically appear into the dining room. Close-up view of man looking at roast chicken on plate.
Side view of Thomas Jefferson placing book onto bookshelf. But Jefferson did not invent these things for the benefit of his mansion's staff. For Jefferson did not have staff.
Slave woman entering empty room to sweep up. Jefferson had slaves.
Side view of slaves in garden tending to vegetables with garden tools. Although famous for his anti-slavery views, …
… Jefferson was a slaveowner, who had dozens of slaves working on his property. Cartoons of slaves working in vegetable garden.
Comics panels of black female slave walking up staircase with tray of food. Thus, the dumbwaiter was not primarily to save his slaves extra trips upstairs.
That was not Jefferson’s main concern. Jefferson invented the dumbwaiter to hide the awkward truth from his guests.
And to hide the truth from himself. A bell interrupted the chatter.
Cartoon dumbwaiter opening up to reveal a steaming roast meal inside. As if from nowhere, the roast meal entered into the room through the dumbwaiter.
Cartoon drawing of shoppers walking in outdoor shopping precinct, wearing fashionable clothes near Apple store. Black and white illustration on a dutch angle by Stuart McMillen.
Black and white illustrations of shoppers outside apple store, waiting for store to open. Today, our globalised economy works like a dumbwaiter.
Rear view of young man wearing a backpack walking into an Apple store. We walk into a shopfront like diners entering Jefferson’s mansion.
Excited, happy customers looking at new iPhone and devices in electronics store - cartoon illustrations. Inside the shop is a ‘feast’ of consumer goods on display for us. We inspect the immaculately-packaged objects of desire.
Here they are for us to relish. Comics art showing a close-up of hands unboxing a cartoon iPhone, holding the phone in hands on top of box.
Side view of cartoon people looking at iPhones in electronics shop, trying the new devices. Pristine objects inside a bright and cheery showroom.
Two young men - friends looking at phones in an Apple Store - cartoon drawing from a low angle. This is the experience on our side of the dumbwaiter.
High angle illustration of security guard on duty inside electronics store, looking out over customers. Hidden out the back are all of the things that they don't want us to see.
Dumbwaiter with Apple iPhone box inside, with bell ringing with 'ding-a-ling!' text as the dumbwaiter door opens.
The dumbwaiter hides the modern day wage slaves. Comics art showing women wearing face marks working inside sweatshop garment factory. Illustration broken into comic panels.
Cartoon high angle job of worker in computer factory, installing computer chips onto circuit board. It hides the mundane jobs.The long hours.
Comics art of angry boss shouting at woman in factory. The exploitative bosses. Half of the people on Earth live on less than $3 per day so that we can have our Western lifestyles.
Cartoon comics art of Nike shoes factory, with workers on assembly line putting sneakers into shoeboxes.
High angle view of sneakers inside shoe box, inside dumbwaiter. The dumbwaiter hides them from us.
The dumbwaiter hides the 'sacrifice zones' of Earth. Comics art of man with chainsaw cutting down tree. Cartoon artwork with logger wearing hard-hat and dust mask, and brightly coloured overalls.
Cartoon view of logged tree stump in foreground, with other tree stumps in background, and falled trees on the ground. The parts of the planet deemed acceptable to clear-cut, excavate, pollute, and deplete.
Comics art of workers wearing overalls cleaning up sludge with brooms and buckets. Practically every object in our lifestyles was born from a sacrifice zone.
Cartoon workers wearing hazmat suits cleaning up oil spill on beach with shovels and buckets. The dumbwaiter of geographic distance makes these parts of Earth invisible. The dumbwaiter hides them from us.
Cartoon factory chimneys emitting pollution - green coloured smoke billowing from smokestack. Comics art of industrial pollution inside dumbwaiter door.
Low angle view of factory worker wearing face mask looking up to see polluting coming from factory smokestack. Dumbwaiters stop us from seeing the people who work in the sacrifice zones.
Cartoon factory workers in clothing factory and iPhone factory. But they also stop the people in the sacrifice zones from seeing us.
Man wearing gas mask at a beach holding dead fish in rubber gloves - near polluted coastline. Both factors are critical for maintaining the exploitative relationship.
Cartoon workers wearing face masks, staring at the viewer. For such a lopsided relationship to continue, it is crucial that we must never look each other in the eyes.
Cartoon iPhone box inside dumbwaiter. The dumbwaiter hides them from us.
Cartoon Steve Jobs wearing turtleneck shirt giving a talk at produt launch. The dumbwaiter hides all of the things that CEOs don't show in their keynote presentations. The things that the companies leave out of their ads.
Cartoon smiling Steve Jobs holding up the Apple iPhone at launch. All we hear about are the shiny exteriors. The stylish products that somehow teleported into this world through the magical hatch.
Rear view of audience members watching a speaker talk on stage. Listening to these sales pitches, we become just like Jefferson and his diners.
Comics art of people posing for a selfie taken on phone, with hand held out in front of man. We focus only on the steaming roast meal. And forget to ask how the kitchen staff are doing.
Side view of Thomas Jefferson writing at his desk, writing about 'the abolition of domestic slavery.' Today, we rightfully criticise Thomas Jefferson for his hypocritical use of slaves.
Side view of black slave working inside white slavemaster's living room. And the systems he contrived to keep him from experiencing the 'cognitive dissonance' of inconsistently thinking one thing, but acting another way.
Logo parody of Levi's jeans: Elvis jeans - on a shopping bag being carried by a shopper on the street.
But Jefferson’s dumbwaiter trick is alive and well in our lives today. View of tired looking worker inside a dimly-lit sweatshop.
Illustration of Thomas Jefferson as a cartoon, proudly holding a book. Jefferson used the dumbwaiter to hide the truth from himself.
Comics art of shopper in clothes store looking through piles of clothes, inspecting clothes. And we use dumbwaiters to keep ourselves from seeing the dark parts of our supply chains.
Man distractedly looking to the ground over his shoulder. But even though the dumbwaiter hides the dark secrets, …
… the things that it hides are still there. Drawing of rear view of man crouching down to look inside hatch.
View from inside low hole of man crouched down to look inside. It is up to us to be brave.
Drawing of rows of women working in sweatshop, sewing blue jeans together.
Close-up low-angle drawing of surprised man's face illustration. It is up to us to ask what the dumbwaiter hides.
Tired-looking women wearing headscarves looking at viewer - cartoon illustration. Drawing of women working inside sweatshop, lined up in a row.

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Thomas Jefferson invented the dumbwaiter to hide the slaves that he used to run his mansion. Today, we use the ‘dumbwaiter’ of globalisation to hide the dark parts of our supply chains.

Also read my blog post Behind the Dumbwaiter, which includes more information about how I developed the Jefferson/dumbwaiter concept as the basis for a comic, and a list of further reading.

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5 October 2019

Certainly there are areas of the world that lack material wealth, and certainly the humans who populate those areas have comparatively more difficult lives, but every society has gone through similar industrialization, and the west has come out more prosperous, more peaceful, and more egalitarian for it. So-called "sweatshops" only exist because the economic alternatives are worse. The facts are, as the U.N. measures poverty, "extreme poverty" globally has been cut in half in the last couple of decades, and by almost three-quarters since the 1970s. Places in Southeast Asia and Africa have seen great improvements in prosperity and general wellness. According to The Economist, this is due almost exclusively to the economic growth and wealth creation that free enterprise catalyzes. Economic liberalization is the best solution to poverty humanity has ever employed. So-called "sweatshops" seem to be an integral part of the path to economic prosperity, and I often wonder what those who issue blanket criticisms of such practices would replace them with? Just banning them would only make things worse, because as I pointed out, people only work there because the economic alternatives are worse. Certainly there is more work to do, and certainly we shouldn't rest on our laurels, but we should also be particularly keen to point out the progress we have made, considering that misery and tragedy make up the majority of the news cycle, and yet there is much to be grateful for and to celebrate in our world.


2 October 2019

University lecturer introduced me to your work. Hoping to see more thought provoking and challenging work in the future which I can share further with others. Thank you.

Jennifer Purdy

30 September 2019

Excellent cartoon! Very thought-provoking; thank you for creating it.

Jean-Marie Desroches/

30 September 2019

Hi Stuart, I recieved your last cartoon about the dumbwaiter and I think it is very interesting. I also notice that I firts knew about your work through the oil peak cartoon which was translated and posted on a french website. I do think it would be nice for me to post your work on FB, but that would be at the condition that it is adequatly translated in franch. Would you like me to send you the French version ? It could spend some time to do so during the week of october 7th. Please let me know if it interests you and if so, explain how to proceed. Thanks you.

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