Monday, March 9, 2009

Comic 553: (Pirate) Baying at the Moon

Oh hello there! Have you heard of this new comic 'XKCD?' I have not read through the archives but it appears to be kind of not very good! Like this one from just today, for instance! It is about how the Pirate Bay people are being tried, and how the Swedish legal system doesn't have a jury, and because hey! these guys are Swedish! there is a hilarious misunderstanding because it's a jury of his peers! OH MAN, did you know peers is a term used in torrenting? And guys, the Pirate Bay people run a TORRENT WEBSITE.

Okay, so seriously. Normally I'm a big fan of puns. This just doesn't do it for me. A good pun is natural. It flows. It plays on words in a clever way. It should come from a natural conversation. This seems forced. First: the Pirate Bay people would never be wishing that the trial was happening in America, because they are actually breaking American laws. Second: I don't think anyone, ever, has been sitting in a jail cell (which--hey, they haven't been convicted yet, why are they in a jail cell?) and said to someone else "man, I sure wish this was in some other country." I mean, that's just not a natural setup for a joke. The setup to a pun is important, Randall. Make an effort.

Apparently Randall looked up the Swedish legal system on Wikipedia and read they don't have juries there, and thought he'd show off his newfound knowledge with his loyal fans. It's like using the word flautist. Yes, it's technically correct, but mostly it's a useful word if you want to show off that you know things.

So, before I go, a shout out to the Cuddlefish who posted here a long time ago complaining that we here at xkcd sucks ignore the alt text, which is the punchline, and ignoring the alt text means we are not getting the joke. I am writing this next part just for him:

this alt text is really incredibly dumb and i hate it

Anyway yeah, congratulations on perfecting your distillation methods for mediocrity, Randall!


  1. not to mention the fact that even if it were good it's still just a dumb pun. That's a pretty flimsy basis for a comic. I mean, 2 seconds on google turned up this list of dumb puns and surely Randy will admit that he doesn't want to be at that level.

  2. A good pun is all in the execution. The best-executed pun has pages and pages of build-up for that one horrible moment.

  3. Honestly, I laughed out loud. Twice. I felt like xkcd was funny again.

    On the other hand, I did feel like the pacing was wrong. I was particularly bothered by the rather pointless statement about seeding generously appearing *after* the intended punchline (the pun on the word "peers").

  4. Three times a lady!

    Randy probably felt it was necessary to explain his joke. Some people would have missed it otherwise.

  5. pun aside, this comic was just wankservice for the pirate bay fanboys. feh.

    also, carl, the link to the comic is broken.

  6. That is because I am a dumbass. FIXED.

  7. Eh, I agree the comic is horribly forced and the pun sucked but the alt-text is worth a minor chuckle, srsly.

  8. Eh. It's a breed of humor that I kind of detest--the "you did something I don't like, so I hope something annoying happens to you" variety. I want those people to fall off bridges.

    (get it?)

  9. I agree that, as puns go, this one is rather weak. I'm not as experienced as you in the art of wordplay, so I couldn't have explained WHY it failed. I simply know I didn't laugh.

    But I do know it had nothing to do with most of the things you explain in your post. First, the pirate bay people, as depicted in this comic, are obviously quite ignorant of American laws; the fact that a jury is involved is clearly the limit of their knowledge. AS such, it's not unreasonable that they might wish the trial was taking place in the United States, because while they have broken American laws, they have not indicated that they would know this (quite the opposite, in fact.)

    Second, I am SURE "anyone, ever" has been sitting in a jail cell and wished they were in another country. Most obvious would be stupid American teenagers arrested while on vacation in Mexico, but I'm sure there are countless other examples.

    As for sitting in jail before being convicted; that's actually quite common. It's the difference between Jail and Prison. For a crime like this, I'd expect the defendants to be released in exchange for bail money to ensure their appearance in court, but a jail cell like the one depicted (with many people and a bench) is primarily for holding alleged criminals before their trial.

    I think your statement about wikipedia is unfair as well. While it's possible that a situation like the one you described led to the comic, it isn't very likely in my mind. In fact, I think that's part of the reason the pun falls flat.

    As you point out, the "peers" pun isn't exactly a stretch, and would likely occur to anyone for whom "a jury of your peers" is a familiar concept. If the joke could have been made without reference to the country in which the proceedings take place, I suspect it would have been. The trouble is that Sweden DOESN'T have a "jury of one's peers," so he was forced to add the set-up about America in order to make the pun work.

    It is this setup that ruins the joke, I think. The concept is worthy of a slight chuckle, alone, but doesn't really work with this case because of the realities of the Swedish legal system. Rather than put the concept aside for a more natural one, though, he decided to plow forward and correct for the factual problems in order to tell the joke anyway.

    This was, I think, a mistake. But, apart from your observation that the set-up is weak, I don't think the rest of your post is fair or accurate.

  10. Weirdly, I think Rob got this one mostly right (well, except for all the paragraphs other than the second--pointless and unfunny). It's a pretty good pun. But the setup is really awkward.

  11. Uh, how could you possibly think it unlikely that Randall looked up the Swedish legal system on Wikipedia? This is Randall "three Wikipedia comics in a week and a half" Munroe here. He lives, breathes, and dreams Wikipedia. That's, like, his /function./

    He heard about the Pirate Bay trials happening, probably on /. or something, and then decided to read about Sweden's legal system. That's not a stretch. Then he was like "oh shit Charles, NO JURY" and thought up a pun. Perhaps he didn't do it out of a desire to be a know-it-all, but it really sounds like it.

    I appear to have poorly written my aside about the jail cell. I considered adding in "surely they have posted bail" but decided against. Yes, I am fully aware of the difference between jail and prison. I just didn't bother articulating.

    So, here's the problem with your 'the Pirate Bay people in the comic are ignorant of America's laws' thing. The Pirate Bay people are /real people/ and they are not ignorant of America's laws. This is established in pretty good detail on their website, if I recall. They know about American law, and mock Americans who email them for being ignorant of Sweidsh law all the time. I expect real people portrayed in comics to correspond to reality on some level.

    I can see how one could make this particular pun work pretty well, especially after input from the first Cuddlefish in this comment thread. First, drop the 'explaining the joke' bit. Randy may suck at comics, but he isn't Tim Buckley.

    Second, make it a story. Give it some setup. Make it about some people in America who hosted a torrent tracker site and went on trial. An elaborate lead into a story.

    "Oh man, that sucks. What was the sentence?"
    "Sentence? They got off!"
    "Yeah, they're American--they were tried before a jury of their peers."

  12. I'm very disappointed Realist liked one of my paragraphs.

  13. is there a type of cuddlefish that both spells the term wrong, and also writes too much? like a teal deer/tldr cuddlefish?

  14. he was actually reasonably intelligent, though apparently thinks it is unlikely that Randall reads Wikipedia?

  15. No, no, the pun is actually good in my opinion. The setup is quite lame. The alt-text is lamer.

  16. Okay so I am apparently hugely ignorant of everything so this comic totally flew over my head. Good fishing to everyone else in battling the legions of Cuddlefish!

  17. This is my official declaration of caution that we not go too far with characterizing ourselves as "battling the legions of Cuddlefish" to the point of making ourselves too heroic. I mean, we're kind of the protagonists here, but ... aw hell, as long as it's all fun, no harm done.

    I just don't want to see our smugness turn into self-aggrandizing smugness. Perhaps we should refer only to others battling cuddlefish? That's what we've generally done already, I'm just throwing more cents at the idea.

    And this isn't a response to your post Amanda so much as my mental counter ticked off enough uses of "battling cuddlefish" that I had to wave a flag.

  18. ok fine thomas you know what i hate you too

    just kidding I agree okay now are you happy

    I am wondering, though, what would be the cuddlefish's natural enemy? I'm not really talking in terms of the anonymous poster, more like... would it be some angry bear?

  19. Basically you can all expect any and all comments from me on this post to be completely unrelated to the post.

  20. I agree, Amanda, and would characterize Carl as a bear, feeding at the stream of webcomics. He swipes at the weaker fish in his (obviously superabundant) spare time, but one day he noticed the crappy crappie were all coming from Lake xkcd and decided to create an outpost for other (obviously cranky, blind, out-of-touch) bears to come and swipe at the overabundantly unfunny xkcd fish.

  21. Wait wait but I am the Momma Cuddlefish! what do i do i am so torn between my abundant offspring and my newfound bear friends.

    And Thomas YOU FORGET that the xkcd fish are OF COURSE hugely funny and it is in fast we who are the unfunny ones because we do not appreciate humor and cannot draw our own comics!

    CAPTCHA: staimp, the sound of Carl stomping on a Cuddlefish after it lunges upstream in an attempt to challenge him.

  22. Amanda I do not know exactly how long you've worn that icon but it is extremely appropriate in light of our aquatic brainstorm.

  23. Sorry, I don't agree with you this time Carl. The pun made me laugh out loud, which is a scarce occurrence these days in the land of xkcd. Maybe its just because I'm a law student so I appreciate the lawness of the joke. The alt text was also funny...can't really explain why. Because it captures the essence of torrents, I suppose.

    The discussion of the realism of the people conversing in the jail is a bit silly. This is coming from a blogger who reads a comic that has several talking dinosaurs who repeat their actions ad infinitum. I didn't actually see anything wrong with the setting Randall used - unless you point it out specifically, it's not something that pops out at me or nags my common sense like crazy because I've come to expect silliness from xkcd. :)

  24. Rob, I think you were being too hard on the comic this time. I agree, the setup was awkward, but the pun itself wasn't all that bad; it could have been done better, but it's better than everything Randall has posted the past two months. The more I read your blog the more I get the impression you and Carl are becoming more unwilling to recognize the good points of some comics and magnify their errors. It makes for better reading, I'm certain, but what's happening to your sense of fairness?

    It's starting to sound more like you're locked into ranting rather than criticizing, so show me one person who can't rant, or start delivering better critique.

    As Just Another Cuddlefish said, you pointed out the inherent weakness in the pun, but the rest of your post wasn't fair, just...a bashing rant that I don't feel was justified or pointed at the correct aspects of this comic.

  25. Rob week already? Perhaps I judged him too harshly previously, I enjoyed this write-up.

    Puns are already basically the easiest form of humor, and if you can't get it to flow right... chances are it's just a crappy joke.

    Also, just for the sake of conversation, (in the US Justice system), if you can't make or are held without bail, you're held in a cell until your court proceedings are finished... which includes sentencing. This is probably why our wonderful artist drew them in the jail cell.

  26. Naomi: I did not once use the word 'realism.' Were I to use a word, I would have used the word 'believability,' which this comic lacks, and is a quite different creature from realism.


    If anything my problem is I'm too lenient in the interests of fairness and full disclosure. In this particular instance, Randall took a type of humor that I'm usually a big fan of and managed to make it shitty and annoying. I didn't find anything particularly meritorious about it so I didn't mention any of those things.

    K: Yes clearly. (Re the US justice system, honestly, I know that, I just didn't see why the pirate bay people haven't made bail and didn't develop the point to the point where it was accurate, because I am lazy.)

    Carl should be back for next comic probably?

  27. yeah I can do the next one I think. It won't be as early as this was but I can do it.

  28. Yeah, this comic just made me cringe. I think my main problem with it was that it's not only a forced pun, but it's a character throwing out conversational bait in order to make a forced pun. It's not a question of whether or not people in jail would ever think about being in a different country--it seems to me like the character is making a blatantly random remark for the sole purpose of pulling out his clever pun and then going, "Ha, get it? I'm clever, right?"

    This person would annoy me in real life, too.

  29. As a person basically raised on puns by his father and grandfather, I hated this comic. Seriously, half clever, half cringe-worthy word-related humor was a core part of my family (the other two being alcohol and politics (often mixed with interesting results)). I feel like Randall defiled my childhood, like I just stumbled upon some rule 34 image. First, a pun is all about lead-up. Where is it? What we get is a pun thrown directly in our face and dammit, that's wrong. A good pun needs to be coddled like a baby, raised in a loving household, and gently sent on it's way when it's matured. Second, you never bring up a pun out of nowhere. When someone does that, it reminds me of being in grammar school when kids would walk up to me and ask me how many fingers I had and then say thumbs were not fingers and it pissed me off every time (thumbs are fingers, god dammit!). Finally, the alt-text: whatever, it was lame, formulaic humor. Attacking it would be predator-like: all goin for the one with the broken leg and all. (Now I'm done ranting. This one just pissed me off more than usual. And yes, I do know what paragraphs are--fuck off.)

  30. And yes, I noticed my "it's" a moment too late, any future grammarfishes. It's a rant, and this is the internet.

  31. I dislike that you view it as a battle against those who post anonymously. Is that not in effect saying that people who disagree with you are wrong and stupid by default, because they may not be regulars on this blog?

    I read this blog fairly regularly, bits and pieces I agree with but for the most part my opinion strays from that of the blog as a whole. Am I to be regarded as stupid and blind, fooling myself into enjoying Randall's comics because I know nothing better?

    Thanks for reading if you did, to hell with those that didn't =).


  32. David, sweetheart, perhaps you should read the banter between Thomas and myself? Furthermore, we actually do not think it's a battle against those who post anonymously (nor have we ever said so, I do not think, and if we did it was likely in jest), more like we are tired of having to say the same thing over and over again to anonymous posters who think they are clever and are actually just repeating what everyone else has said before.

    Also I would not refer to you as a Cuddlefish because you are not really anon, you are apparently David. And anyway you are speaking intelligently and not completely ignoring the post, as Cuddlefish are wont to do. It is the Cuddlefish who attack viciously and swiftly (and therefore rather blindly) and then instead of leaving under the cover of black ink it is a cover of anonymity.

    (you guys i did not know until this moment today how fitting the name cuddlefish would be! ink? anonymity? it is even better than anonny mice!)

    Cuddlyfish! I am sorry you are feeling such rage! When you have calmed down some I shall give you some cuddly hugs. And I will not bother you about your thumbs because I hated that too.

    Kristen: Yes! Because now I understand the "joke" and that was why I found it unfunny.

  33. with regards to mocking anon posters: If you had to register an account to post a comment, it would be a tad unfair for us to mock those posters who chose not too. But given that you can just type anything into that box that says "Name" and don't need an account or anything, just the ability to click on a button and mash some keys, I feel ok mocking you for avoiding that minimal effort.

    Also, it's really annoying to read all the anon posts and not know which anons are the same people responding and which aren't.

  34. Carl do you remember that one anon that told me I was straying off the point for wondering if he was the same Cuddlefish? WHAT DO WE CALL THESE MONSTROUS CREATIONS I vote for something better than "I shall Fishtrate you" because that does not sound like a clever mix of "fish" and "frustrate" as much as it sounds like the castration of a fish.

  35. This was the worst xkcd I have ever read.

    I was going to rant about there only being three prosecuted, but there seems to be some businessman that no one cares about too.

    I seriously thought that Randall added himself next to them to show his sympathy or something.

    Rob, you summarized pretty much everything that I had thought of about this one.

    And what the hell is up with the drawings? It's not just that they don't have any necks; all I see is arrows pointing into circles.

  36. Goomba: their bodies' dangly shapes makes me think they're made of cobwebs or poorly made dreamcatchers. Is that what happens to stick figures when they're tired and hungry from being in jail?

  37. Amanda: It's more of an effete whine really. But of course, the internet is perfect for exaggeration.

  38. I did giggle at the alt-text, I'm afraid it must be said, but only because I can empathize with the subtitles thing. I once had a copy of a film (THAT I HAVE NOW BOUGHT LEGALLY!!!!) with some dodgy looking subtitles and I learnt some random bits of Swedish...

    Piracy's lesser-cited educational benefits FTW.

  39. People, please, let's be reasonable!

    Can we all at least agree that "Hungarian" is among the top ten funniest languages to use here? (Esperanto would be implausible, for example)

  40. You really do suck dick, don't you?

  41. Cuddlefish, solicitations for e-prostitution are still illegal. Probably.

  42. that doesn't mean they aren't HOT

  43. One word: contrived. I'm by no means a diehard fan of XKCD, but your comments are going the way of Monroe's comics - increasingly bad. If you don't have anything more insightful to say than "this just doesn't do it for me," then don't say anything at all.

  44. "Apparently Randall looked up the Swedish legal system on Wikipedia and read they don't have juries there, and thought he'd show off his newfound knowledge with his loyal fans. It's like using the word flautist. Yes, it's technically correct, but mostly it's a useful word if you want to show off that you know things."

    This seems to be the basis for 90% of XKCD comics. I think there should be a new section entitled. "I know about x thing and you don't. Now go look it up on wikipedia and marvel at how I knew of it first."

    Intellectual masturbation.

  45. You had to wiki those things?

  46. There was something good about this one? I must have blinked.

  47. Oral sex solicitation cuddlefish: Not on a first date. I'm not a whore.

    Beanerfish: man it's a good thing I said a whole lot more than 'this just doesn't do it for me'!

    Intellectual masturbation cuddlefish: I prefer the phrase 'intellectual onanism.' It is more fun and has connotations of violating something sacred.

  48. Fact that will interest no-one and offend most: most European countries have no jury system. The reason America has one is that it is developed from English common law, which does have a jury system*.

    Anyway, yeah. I didn't find it particularly amusing, but I didn't want to kill myself either. Some might say this shows I have no life. YOU BE THE JUDGE!

    *since the time of Henry III, possibly even before

  49. They're in a holding cell, awaiting trial; it's not supposed to be a prison cell.

    You get so worked up over these; what's with that? I wouldn't imagine that Randall spent even half the time, drawing this, that you did critiquing it. It's cute, relevant to his target audience, and makes a silly pun.

    He's not going for Lehrer quailty humor here.

  50. No, you fucking dumbass, they are waiting for the fucking ruling. That means the trial is over, and the ruling hasn't happened yet. There are two ways I know this! One, the caption. Two, THIS IS WHAT WAS GOING ON IN THE FUCKING NEWS WHEN THE COMIC WAS WRITTEN.

    Incidentally I spent probably five minutes doing that write-up, so... if Randy only spends 2 and a half minutes on each of the comics, he could probably afford to make it a daily thing. Just sayin'.

  51. Ahaha, way to prove a point with erroneous vulgarity and all-caps.

    Honestly, it doesn't matter what stage the "trial" was in; they're in a holding cell. The fact is, none of this has anything to do, whatsoever, with the comic itself. They could be on a deserted island, and the core would be retained.

    The fact that it took you five minutes to write a solitary paragraph makes me feel bad about making fun of your writing-style. Don't worry; one day, you'll be out of primary school, and understand tact and syntax.

  52. Erroneous? Are you aware of what that word means?

    Also, are you a complete idiot or just a complete idiot? I spent five minutes doing the original post. The write-up, as it were. The one about the comic! The one this comment thread is commenting about, in fact! The one that you said I spent too much time doing, actually--oh hey here is an exact quote, from you!

    "You get so worked up over these; what's with that? I wouldn't imagine that Randall spent even half the time, drawing this, that you did critiquing it."

    So yeah! I was responding to that, by saying that the original write-up I did--about the post, the one you were talking about and responding to!--took five minutes! The one which consists of, let's see... four paragraphs plus some hanging sentences, some HTML coding to link to an image, create title text, and shrink the image to the correct size.

    Context! It's the best thing ever, you should learn about it one of these days.