Friday, October 2, 2009

Comic 644: Lobotomy

It's time for a guest post from Kirk! Kirk kirk kirk krik kirk. woo!

Let me start off with a disclaimer of sorts. I have found that over the last few weeks I have kept a constant expression of ambivalence to all the new xkcd comics. I believe this is a result of two different factors at play at once. On one end, after being on xkcdsucks for so long, I believe I’m so ready to see the bad in xkcd that it prevents me from laughing at jokes I might have otherwise found funny. On the other end, whenever I question how bad a comic is, I ask myself “is it really that bad, compared to the verminous, soul-tainting badness of 631?” and the answer is always going to be a resounding “No”.

That in mind, here is my review.


The Art

Since this is xkcd, it is impossible apparently to say the artwork is bad, because as the cuddlefish have yelled oh so many times, “the art is just XKCD’s style!” So I am going to judge art on two different questions: 1. Does the art enable the audience to figure out the setting of the joke? and 2. Does the art add any more humor to the joke?

1. Yes. You can clearly see that the first person is a surgeon and the second person is patient, it isn’t like some of the earlier xkcds where an anchor chair could just as easily be a bathtub. I mean, sure the surgeon shouldn’t technically have the mask on while talking to the patient, unless the patient had SARS oozing out of his arm, or something. But we most associate the mask with a surgeon, so it is an acceptable break from reality.

2. No, the art does not add any humor to the comic at all. This whole thing could have been written in IRC conversation form and no humor would be lost.

The Joke

As I said in the top, I would have trouble laughing at new xkcd comics even if they were of top quality. But this one feels more like a paid ‘comedic’ endorsement of Linux than a joke. I may be the only one here, but this comic has the structure of a ‘comedic’ commercial, you start with a silly, outrageous situation then you plug whatever feature could cause that outrageous situation to occur, then you name the product. Here you have ‘controlling USB ports with your mind’ -> ‘there will have a patch for everything eventually’ -> LINUX. In a good joke comic, everything is supposed to build up to a punch line, but here the only thing that is funny is the beginning of the comic, and everything leads up to the message “Linux is great” which is kinda annoying and not really funny at all. [Carl again: I think this is a good point and I am going to rephrase it: The humor of the situation comes from the idea, tired as it is, of making humans like machines. That is a vaguely unusual concept. But it's introduced in the first panel - the last panel, the joke, is just a run of the mill Linux joke. It feels like a letdown. Sorry for interupting, Kirk.]

Randall has already had a few comics that are more a plug of a product than a comic, but he usually goes at it from the other direction: Product -> Feature of that product -> wacky thing that occurs because of the feature. Here are a few examples:

Smarter health care -> Digital prescriptions -> Bad handwriting becomes bad font

Google Latitude-> Show locations ->Megan is one kinky girl

Kindle -> Lets you check Wikipedia everywhere -> secretly Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy

So yes, this isn’t the first time where xkcd is used to plug things Randall likes, but I feel like the change in order weakens the current comic, because in the three examples I’ve linked, if the joke is strong enough on its own, the comic can still be funny. Of course, the punch lines of the three comics I posted range from terrible to alright, so the comics aren’t great, but the potential is there. But as I’ve said before, the current one’s order makes the message of ‘Linux is great’ come across as the true theme.

Oh and I guess I could talk about how the dialog in the last panel is fucked up nine ways to Tuesday, and we have another Humans as Robots comic. But you know, you get enough of that on the blog normally, and I am not guest posting to say exactly what Carl would.

The Alt text

Ok, the alt text made me laugh. I’ll admit it, I like the alt text here a bunch. The suturing of a vista sticker reminds me a bunch of early black hat, and was unexpected after the ‘Linux is great’ theme of the comic. And a lot of humor is derived from the unexpected. I only wish he took the same wacky situation and looked at from the surgeon’s perspective throughout. Then the comic would be making fun of people who take Linux too seriously, which I would have enjoyed heartily.

Kirk out.


  1. Hey, your post was quite entertaining and humorous.

    I've also noticed the same ambivalence when it comes to new xckd comics. But oh well.


  2. Dasafrak and Grue helped me out finding those examples, thanks guys.

  3. Do you think the doctor was an asshole, so he put a Vista sticker on the guy knowing he was a linux fanboi?

    Because I thought it was a joke about "Vista Ready" being code for "shitty hardware"

  4. I did call him a old era black hat, so I do assume he is an asshole.

    I probably liked the alt text for all the wrong reasons. But goddammit I liked it.

  5. Kirk, I'm really happy for you, and I'mma let you finish, but Carl's rephrasing of that point was the best rephrasing of a point of all time.

  6. Great review, Kirk! And since I didn't take the time before, Person #1's posts were great too!

    At first reading, I had the impression that the comic could work as a light mockery of Linux fanboys, playing on the scenario "do something downright wacky and pointless because Linux somehow will contrive something for it", but now, I'm not sure anymore; just as Randall could be crafting an absurd and laughable idea to poke fun at a wacky Linux fan characteristic, he could as well have made this comic because he actually thinks the idea is THE KEWL.

  7. Yes, I also got the impression that the comic was actually making fun of Linux fanboys, not praising them.

  8. Possibly meant to be ambiguous so as not to alienate sections of his fanbase.

  9. See the thing is, the alt text shows that the comic is happening from the patient's point of view. So I don't think it is making fun of him. That was my logic, anyway.

  10. "On the other end, whenever I question how bad a comic is, I ask myself “is it really that bad, compared to the verminous, soul-tainting badness of 631?” and the answer is always going to be a resounding “No”."

    My thoughts, exactly. =)

  11. Okay, now that I actually read the review, my two pennies...

    I'm also pretty sure Randall is making fun of Linux fanboys. That, coupled with the good ol' "humans = machines" trope xkcd is so good in abusing. See, the fanboy thinks the brain is just like an OS kernel, and you can just twitch in there to make it work. Of course, there's the matter that you can't simply recompile a brain, but... that's xkcd.

    But I'm not sure either. Randall is somewhat tricky, you see... After 631, I prefer NOT to know what he's thinking.

    Nice review, though. Especially liked that it was furtherly illustrated. =)

  12. Another Byte on the WebOctober 2, 2009 at 7:34 PM

    This is the kind of comic that makes people that are surrounded in some degree by freetards laugh. As I see it, the joke is that Linux Fanboys worship their OS enought to believe it will (Eventually) do everything.

    By this optic it is a fairly good comic(better than most recent comics anyway), and the Alt Text compliments it well.

    But no nowhere as good as the past Linux-based comics, such as the sudo one, or the pokémon-ubuntu.

    Captcha: idnewo. idnewo if this was a great comic.

  13. Referencing 548 reminded me of something:

    Why the fuck did he make it say "Hitchhikers Guide" rather than "Don't Panic"?

  14. Because "Don't Panic" is on the back.

  15. i thought it was the cover that was just the two words "don't panic" ? Perhaps not. In any case, had it said that, the joke would have been so much better, because you would have had to make the conclusion in your head.

    also: ch00f! how have you been, man??

  16. I just wanted to point out that the main idea behind 644 was clearly plagiarized from a more creative mind.

    The sequence of events that led to Randall's creation of 644 are depressingly obvious. He stumbled across this comic after watching Scrubs, and he decided to take a big shit on it.

    Randall stole the idea and then utterly demolished it beyond any hope of being salvaged. 644 was a self-inflicted wound against the world of web comics, with only one single parasitic weasel of a man who benefited from the catastrophe: Randall Munroe.

    tl;dr: xkcd 644 is worse than 9/11.

  17. At least in the first description of the Guide (ch 3) it doesn't expressly state whether 'Don't Panic' is on the front or back, but the natural and most logical interpretation is certainly that it's on the front. And would certainly have made a better joke, as Carl said, in that comic.

    I liked Kirk's review. The comic...was mediocre, which is OK. The colour was a good touch. I too interpreted it as (gently) mocking Linux users, displaying endless belief in Linux's power, and, armed with this belief, starting something that they couldn't (yet) finish (typical them, typical them, typical them!).

  18. I like Kirk's review mostly because he appears credibly objective, but I disagree in that I think this does make fun of Linux fanboys. Also, this is less humans as machines trope and more juxtaposing a hilariously stupid attitude (Linux users installing hardware in the hopes that it will be supported... one day...) into a familiar situation where the absurdity is readily apparent without intimate knowledge of the subject at hand (i.e. Linux user psychology).

    Although, I don't really know much about linux folks and their hardware purchase habits, but I'm giving xkcd the benefit of the doubt for the sake of humor here. Yes, it's a somewhat presumptuous, arrogant, mean spirited thing to do but screw you, linux users. I'm a somewhat presumptuous, arrogant, mean spirited man who thinks nothing of entertainment at others' expense.

    This comic wasn't OMG STOP THE PRESSES great, but the joke was there, it worked, it was geeky in the way I expect xkcd to be, the art was nice (sure it's minimalist but I think the teal and grey worked great). It wasn't patronizing (except of linux users, but they're acceptable targets for me, YMMV). Basically, it was good. And the reason that's great is that previous comics were bad, and the positive differential in quality over time is promising.

    Also, Amanda, that comic was absolutely hilarious! Thanks for the link, but I'm afraid your plagiarism theory is poppycock.

  19. Seriously, this blog has run its course. Everybody gets it, except the authors of this blog. The TGIFridays comic definitely needs some venomous outrage, but comics like this are actually funny, and at the very least, inert. Lately, though, this blog seems like an exercise in what you can find wrong in something in you look really, really, really hard. I get this blog's existence, I just wish it would hold itself to the same standards it holds xkcd.

  20. hooray, somebody else who reads Cowbirds in Love!


    p.s. I am back from vacation

  21. "DON'T PANIC" is almost certainly on the front because, in the last book, a prototype of the 2.0 is found that simply reads "PANIC".

  22. Do any of you know the first goddamn thing about computers? You are all PCs, shag off.

  23. A-P what plagiarism? I will assume you are talking to the Cuddlefish who gave me the very amusing image of Randall pooping on a character from Scrubs.

    And Kirk, I will grudgingly admit that this is a good review and you are sort of an okay dude I guess.

  24. also welcome back and so on to ch00f and Sam!

  25. This wasn't the funniest comic ever, but—at least in terms of artwork—he seems to be heeding you guys' advice. The art's getting better, and the joke wasn't as sucky as some previous ones.
    The alt text made me chortle, but the comic itself was pretty meh.

  26. I'll achieve your love someday, amanda. Just you wait.

  27. Actually, #644 could be considered one of the best computer jokes in xkcd (alongside with #379, #138 and of course #149). I do.

    It is actually a mockery of Linux, not something you would put in a commercial. It makes fun of the fact that Linux users are used to not having hardware support for many gadgets and devices (webcams, printers, scanners, the iPhone, 3-G internet-based solutions, some video cards, sound cards, modems etc). True, Linux catches up and eventually someone releases a free-sofware driver for nearly everything, but the fact is that oftentimes people buy hardware to which there's no current support under Linux, especially early adopters.

    I laughed really when I first saw this one. It's not brilliant, but pretty funny.

  28. I'm over a year late on this, having just been exposed to this site, but I'm both surprised and a little alarmed that I immediately recognized the context of your reference to #631 as a quote from Lore Sjoberg's now-defunct Book of Ratings (and/or The Brunching Shuttlecocks, whence the Book of Ratings came forth). And then I got derailed thinking about Lore and his hatred for Scrappy Doo.