Monday, September 1, 2008

Comic 470: Protesting Is Only Fun If You're Angry

goddammit this comic sucks

As you all know by now, I am too busy currently to post my own thoughts. this will change soon. Until then, let's welcome back our good friend Esteban Smarinetti for his thoughts on this comic.

I can certainly handle snark/pretentiousness. Some would even say I deal almost exclusively in that domain. I am generally spiteful of people apathetic to politics. I can put up with them, however, so long as they don't vote out of ignorance. Combine snark and pretentiousness with political apathy and ignorance, however, and, well, you can expect a beatdown on my end. Taking it one degree further, if you're not only apathetic to politics, but look down on those who do care about politics with snark/disdain, you would be first against the wall if I were king (wouldn't I make a good Stalinist?). xkcd is now permanently on my shit list.

Some would say it's easy, and perhaps even encouraged to make fun of protesters. Some would say that complaining about the political slant of an online cartoonist is a waste of time (those who feel this way probably don't read this blog). And some would say the larger themes I'm seeing in this webcomic, which is inherently a lark, are not only insignificant, but not even there. To counter point 1, consider wherein the joke of the strip lies. The joke is not about making fun of the irrationality of protesters; we don't see protesters doing anything particularly crazy. In fact, the sincere protester, as petite and earnest as a stick figure can be, just stands there in dismay. What Randall is making fun of is not the craziness of extremist protesters, but the entire concept of protesting. The joke implies that the ironic billboards are actually the correct stance: that things are somewhat ok, or maybe not, whatever, it doesn't really matter anyway. For a purported hard science defender, this comic reeks of hipster postmodern smugness. Didn't Randall once have a strip promoting slicing a hand off these kind of people?

Secondly, yes, Randall's following amounts to nothing but a particularly weird subculture, but within that subculture, he's a lead player. Not only is every xkcd strip guaranteed to make the front page of Digg, but the very competition to submit the latest xkcd and get your article on the front page has created a Digg subculture of its own. People who claim to be nerds worship the ground that Randall walks on, give him a free pass under any circumstances and flame anyone who disagrees. It's one thing to have this kind of following when it is unmerited. It's another to have this following when you're having a negative, pernicious impact. Of course, if popularity on Digg was taken verbatim, the Republicans would be nominating Ron Paul in Minneapolis this week en route the fast track to the White House.

But keep in mind how crucial Internet subcultures have been in post-Web 2.0 politics. It's arguably the main reason Obama eventually overtook Hillary Clinton for the nomination (or at least surpassed her in fundraising), and it's the reason George Allen's macaca comment turned a potential Presidential candidate into a Republican loser in a red state. Even when the internet and social media doesn't directly impact politics, it's an indication of where the future is heading, so it's where the mainstream media looks. Randall has already gotten written up in Wired, and he's fast on his way to becoming one of the impresarios of web culture as its influence only grows stronger. All this at the same time as he's basically promoting apathy and distain for people who do care among his legions of followers. Keep in mind that, with the Internet aflame in the wake of the Democratic Convention, Sarah Palin's nomination, the upcoming scaled-down GOP Convention and Hurricane Gustav echoing Katrina, this strip couldn't have come at a worse time in terms of taste (though Randall probably thought the exact opposite in regards to his timing, as it injects himself and his ego into the political fray at a peak moment, however stupid his commentary may be).

Finally, in regards to whether the deeper meaning exists, you can take the strip at face value if you want. I was trained from an early age to look for deeper meanings in images and cultural artifacts, no matter how banal they may ostensibly seem. If you see any other deeper meanings to the strip, or find evidence that contradicts the deeper meaning I see, feel free to leave it in the comments. Until then, Randall Munroe, you are dead to me.

My main thoughts were a) this is not that funny, and b) Simpsons did it! When the Simpsons visit Washington DC (way back in 1991!) they see these protesters in front of the White House. As you Randall's "Things Are Pretty Okay" is very similar in particular to "Things Are Fine" + "A-OK." Not going to say he stole the joke, but you must admit it's close...
well look it was the same joke that is what you need to know.

And now that we're at it, it's not all that different from a Toothpaste For Dinner comic from earlier this summer...

Again, I'm sure it's all a coincidence...


  1. This post reminds me of a preaching group that tours from college to college across the US to yell at students about their sinful ways. I believe it was in Texas that someone appeared beside one of these red-faced holy men in a robot outfit, waving a sign that said "Robots Are Awesome."

    Two additional picket signs I wanted to see in Randall's panel:

    1) "[citation needed]"
    2) "xkcd sucks go home"

  2. A blog about hating a web-comic? Seriously? If you don't like the comic don't read it. You don't need to flame the poor guy. Simpson's have done everything and coincidences happen all the time. Who's pretentious here, the guy who puts up geeky little comics three times a week or the guy who has time to post a enormous wall of text about said geek? Anon out, bitches

  3. This here's a TEAM effort, champ. If you don't like our self-righteous criticisms, don't read them?

  4. I'm glad someone in the XKCD forums caught the Demetri Martin similarity. The way it's worded is almost the same.

    >Graffiti’s the most passionate
    >literature there is, you know? It’s
    >always like “Bush sucks!”, “U2 Rocks!”.
    >I want to make indifferent graffiti.
    >“Toy Story 2 was okay!” “I like Sheryl
    >as a friend, but I’m not sure about
    >taking things further”, “This is a

    Look him up on YouTube, he's great.

  5. Dammit E----! You need to focus on the actual problems with the comic, not go off on harebrained crusades against hipsterism when they aren't justified.

    In short, I have strong doubts that Randall is a fan of the Bush administration. At worst, this is in the vein of the "Sometimes I just can't get worked up about copyright law" comic.

    If we assume that comedy is about something being "wrong", then the absurdity here is not "Protesters! they're wacky!" but rather the absurdity of carrying around a sign to indicate that one does not feel very strongly about things. It's not a protest of protesters... maybe you guys are letting this meta-criticism go to your heads...

    Anyway, the problem with this comic is that it's too easy. As you note, this joke is easy and has been done before multiple times.

    Now, I think this is a fairly unoriginal comic, but if it has anything new, it's in the "anyone up for Scrabble?" sign and the alt text. these point to the problem of people joining social movements purely for social benefits, sense of community etc, which is probably worth mocking. The other versions don't really swing that way. Granted, "Guy pretends to be socially active to get girl" has been done elsewhere, but it isn't addressed in your post.

  6. OK, clearly early this morning was Prime Party Time on the comments for this thread and I was maybe not invited. Insane.

    Robots are indeed awesome! I think irreverent protest signs would be more fun than contented ones. "We Demand Great Sandwiches!" or "Respect Our Third Amendment Rights!"

    and of course "Bring Back Arrested Development!"

    Anon - yes, this is a blog about hating a webcomic. Was is the xkcdsucks url that gave it away? I am sorry you figured out our secret. Also I rarely accuse xkcd of being pretentious (though it happens) generally "lame" is the adjective I associate with it.

    The simpsons have not done everything, and quality webcomics are not plagued by these astounding coincidences.

    Thomas: Aww, we're a team! this makes me feel good.

    Andy: Yeah, that Dimitri Martin quote is good, and similar. Dimitri Martin is great, and I will probably regret forever missing a very easy chance to see him live. Loooooooong story. Wasn't he supposed to get a Comedy Central show? What happened to that?

    Pat, I agree that the most obvious problem here is how easy it is. But I think Esteban was basically using this comic as a jumping off point for larger criticisms. I don't think Randall intended the "joining a movement for social reasons" meaning. I think he could have (and maybe made a better comic) if it was like "My Hobby: Going To Protests, But Only To Meet People" and maybe he'd have a sign saying "I am a nice guy!" and "I wholeheartedly agree with your cause or candidate!"

  7. Man, Esteban, I think you're kind of reaching here. (Felt that way about the Star Trek comic you reviewed too). This is basically a "My Hobby" comic, just in a slightly different format, and obviously Randall doesn't do or agree with all the things he says in those. He said on his blog that he's a big political junkie (It was in his Obama post), which hardly suggests apathy. Sometimes looking for a deeper meaning is appropriate, I don't think it is here. It's just a boring comic.

    About Randall's influence growing online - I think he's losing readers (Alexa chart). Course, most of his readers probably use Linux, so they wouldn't have the Alexa toolbar installed anyway, but what the fuck ever.

    Also random xkcd fan, please post this blog to the xkcd forums. I want to hear what you have to say. I'm serious.

  8. “hipster postmodern smugness”
    what do these words mean in combination?

    Also I wholeheartedly agree with your observations for the improvement of this comic, Carl.

  9. I disagree. Randall's point is that it is fun or funny/would be fun or funny to do this (even if he doesn't). Esteban is saying that that is a terrible thing to say, that there is nothing fun about apathy. But perhaps I should let him defend himself from here on.

    I don't trust alexa. I'm not sure how to see Randall's influence (maybe some kind of google-searches-over-time thing) but as long as he makes a living off bad comedy he is too popular. If he gets better though then it's ok. I have less and less faith that that will happen.

    If anyone ever sees this on the Dreaded Forums send me a link - I am not going to submit it myself though. I think I have enough self-esteem to withstand them, but I don't want to get into any kind of flame or troll war with them. But I am sure we could win over some new fans. I sense some disillusionment there.

  10. I dunno. I think it's kind of a stretch to jump from "Randall thinks this joke about apathy is funny" to "Randall thinks that apathy is OK." I didn't even interpret it as a joke about apathy or protesters at all, just "Check out this WACKY SCENARIO I thought up, guys!" The punchline was just the guy being annoying. Much like in these two strips.

    I'd have to think about it some more, I guess. The comic seemed too innocent to me to attribute all this subtext to it.

  11. I like the smug but self-conscious dismissal of those of us who don't think this comic was intended as a comment on society that says that all protesters suck and that you shouldn't care about politics and should, in fact, be actively apathetic.

    If you want to call something postmodern in a negative sense, maybe you shouldn't be deconstructing it? Because deconstruction is far more postmodern than holding up inappropriate signs. Deconstruction is also perhaps the silliest artifact of postmodernism. I rather wish it had died with the rest of the movement back in the 80's.

    Take it from someone who both writes things on the internet, engages in political discourse on the internet, and makes casual glib jokes on the internet: it is never a good idea to assume that something that has been written is intended as a sweeping attack on an entire group of people, or a claim of some deep political significance. I call Obama 'Hope' or 'Hopey' because it amuses me. There are those who believe that I worship him as a Messiah because of this. I'm pretty routinely misinterpreted, and it is usually by people who have already decided that I am wrong before they even read what I have written.

    This is something I've been finding on this particular blog: the assumption (and I don't feel that I am stretching too far) is that XKCD is going to suck before we have read the latest installment.

    It's usually pretty obvious when Randall is getting preachy. They are usually neither very subtle nor very clever. So not only do I think Mr. Smarinetti is reading too much into this, he is reading too much into it in a pretentious, postmodern, deconstructionist sort of way.

  12. Ok, clearly Esteban has opened a can of worms here. I will let him respond, if he wishes, and I will just say that he clearly has a different voice and take on xkcd from me, and I think it's ok to mix things up every once in a while, and I will be back to my usual posting soon. I actually think I'll have time today to write something on the furry comic, not that I know what I'll say yet.

  13. Wait, you don't know how to describe how bad it was or you don't know in what way it was bad and are currently attempting to locate anything possibly unfunny about it?

  14. I just miss the days when we were talking about how boring XKCD has been lately and not how XKCD is a poisonous influence in our culture and will ruin America, freedom, apple pie, and Jesus.

    No problem with you posting his essays, though. I would never miss the chance to accuse someone of being deconstructionist.

  15. I mean that I don't know what I will write about it yet. The posts do not all come in a flash the moment I read a post, you know.

    If nothing comes to mind I'll talk about one of the ones I missed recently.

  16. Ha, you're right about the disillusionment. Much as I love(d) xkcd, I do agree with a lot of this site. For the most part, I agree with your (as I see it) constructive criticism.

    I think the last xkcd I found amusing without having to surf through the LiveJournal comments was the one about voting machines. =(

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know I appreciate that you're not just a "isxkcdshittytoday" thing, and that you actually take the time to think about what you want to write.

  17. Thank you, I appreciate it. I have said before and will say again, this site would have stopped after a week had it not been for the incredibly nice comments that started appearing.

    I really like isxkcdshittytoday, but it's more a one time thing, of course...

  18. It's also rather similiar to this The Pain comics 'My Slogan' and 'Kicked Out the Antiwar Rally'.