Sunday, January 24, 2010

You're Not In The Target Audience!

Hello, darling cuddlefish. I'm sorry I missed a week. It's not you, it's me. But I'm back, and I want to talk to you about something you've been saying a lot.

I know you think that it's clever or insightful to insinuate that we're not part of the "target audience" whenever we dislike an Xkcd that you liked because of its nerd references or whatever, but I think you should know that it's just not true. And it hurts, deep down where I'm soft like a woman, every time you say it.

The problem is it's not true, unless Xkcd's target audience is "everyone who likes Xkcd," which it isn't. Xkcd's target audience has always been, broadly, "nerds." Or more specifically, people who like nerdy humor. A lot of the appeal of Xkcd in its early days is that it felt like a comic that was made by People Like Us. Then it stopped being funny.

A lot of people seem to assume that the regulars here lack sufficient nerd cred to be considered part of the target audience. Maybe it's not apparent, but this is simply not true. We have mathematicians, computer scientists, physicists, and engineers, all of whom dislike the comic--often because, not in spite of, their expertise in the fields. There are several instances where I personally thought a comic was at least okay, only to find that it seriously offended someone who knew more about the field.

At the same time, it is worth noting that I'm not a stereotypical nerd. I'm a social scientist; I like creative writing and studying culture. I note this primarily because for the longest time, Xkcd was not just stereotypical nerd humor. This is easy to miss. It wasn't just a comic that was "LOL science!"--indeed, 3/4 of the comic's self-description is "romance, sarcasm, and language," all traditionally the fields of us non-hard-science people. Xkcd was remarkable because it bridged the gap between the nerdy and the non-nerdy. In many ways it marked a change in the culture, where being into traditionally nerdy things did not make you a social pariah, and where people who were not into traditionally nerdy things could still be at home among nerds.

In many ways this has not changed (more on that in a bit); it's the quality of humor that has declined. There is a reason that it has gone from possibly my favorite webcomic to a webcomic I'm happy to regularly say sucks on a blog. It's not that the target audience changed or I stopped being part of it; it's that it started sucking.

Now, has the target audience changed to an extent? Certainly. It is much more focused on the dregs of internet culture now, deriving humor from memes, memes, memes. "Hey guys, have you heard about the internet? IT IS HILARIOUS." The thing is, while this is certainly contributing to the comic's decline, it still doesn't alienate any of us from the target audience. Indeed, if anything this represents a broadening of the target audience.

Perhaps that's part of the problem--the comic was once geared towards "people who liked things which were clever," and is now geared towards "people who are complete idiots." If that's the case, then I'm proudly not part of the target audience, and happy to continue mocking it.

Finally, I'd like to point out this is mostly another ad hominem attack--it fails to actually respond to any of the points we raise about why Xkcd sucks.

Have an evening.

36 comments:

  1. Sorry for contributing to the eventual circlejerk, but wow, Rob. Great post. Your description of what xkcd used to have but now lost (no, not dignity, I mean that other thing which made it funny) is excellent.

    Strange to say this of a post on a blog about a webcomic, but it was also fairly insightful in the way those things that don't really tell you anything new but organize all your disjointed notions often are.

    There's a few things I'd like to say, and this will probably look like an argument but I agree with everything you said; I'm just trying to add to it.

    Xkcd's target audience has always been, broadly, "nerds." Or more specifically, people who like nerdy humor. A lot of the appeal of Xkcd in its early days is that it felt like a comic that was made by People Like Us. Then it stopped being funny.

    I keep repeating this, but I think it's not irrelevant: This decline in relatability coincides with Randall's transition from an existentially confused, shy, childish (in the positive sense) scientist (at NASA, no less) with an odd sense of humor to a perverted, pandering, crude stalker who makes a living off a webcomic into which he won't even bother putting effort.

    Now, I'm not an expert but I think the stereotype of a "nerd" evolved after the "nerd" itself. We can't really call people whom the stereotype refers to -or part of whom it refers to, possibly- nerds because, well being a stereotype it is somewhat imprecise. It's a heuristic used by the outgroup. Being imprecise, it is also uninteresting to the ingroup, or the "nerds" themselves: In the best case, it is uninspired and dull; in the worst case it is downright offensive.

    Given this, I think reality wouldn't contradict a guess that xkcd's idea of a nerd went from the ingroup knowledge to the outgroup stereotype, and consequently it lost appeal [to us]. Now you won't like this, Rob, but if we infer from the the art then the artist has traded an intimate familiarity with "nerds" to a second hand stereotype of them.

    This is of course a crazy thing to propose because why would someone stop being nerdy just because they changed their job? You'd think it would take a hell of a lot more outside force to, uh, make a nerd into a non-nerd. Now to be fair, I bet Randall still thinks of himself as a nerd, but interestingly his self-image appears now -from the comic- to incorporate precious little which is not part of the popular nerd stereotype. And people I don't think people really stereotype themselves, so this implies some things about him.

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  2. A lot of people seem to assume that the regulars here lack sufficient nerd cred to be considered part of the target audience. Maybe it's not apparent, but this is simply not true.

    Also, a lot of people here count the Fourier transform comic among their favorites, me included. Anyone who knows enough to understand Fourier transforms, but dislikes a comic about a barely high-school level prime number proof, clearly does not dislike it because he is not in the "target audience".

    Also, if I am not in the target audience, should art really have the right to piss me off? Not understanding something when I'm out of my depth is fine for me, but I don't like the idea of an "anti-target audience".

    We have mathematicians, computer scientists, physicists, and engineers,

    Don't forget at least one [future] biologist.

    [Xkcd] wasn't just a comic that was "LOL science!"

    More than that, it was never about science or math at all, I think. It was more of a way of looking at things which tends to be common (and obvious, both to themselves and others) in mathematicians and scientists. I'm sure, on the other hand, everyone can think of lots of scientists, or mathematicians who are very competent but not nerds at all. Or "nerds" who haven't gone to college.

    Hence the relation to social acceptance: It's weird and socially reprehensible to be obsessed with a differential equation to the point of neglecting your life and society, which a common stereotype would have nerds do. The same is not true for a nerd's way of approaching things; it is neither reprehensible nor acknowledged by the stereotype. (Which makes sense, since a stereotype should be simple and easy to apply- figuring out how someone thinks takes time, effort and attention.)

    [Xkcd] is now geared towards "people who are complete idiots."

    Well, I realise that's an intentional sweep but I would say it targets nerds, as thought of by someone who doesn't know or understand nerds very well. I'm doubtful Randall consciously presumes an idiotic audience, but then again, who knows. I know I'm not so sure anymore.

    ---

    PS: I knew it! You definitely sound like a social scientist. Now I wonder why was I so sure you were doing math/physics?

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  3. I wrote a guestpost about comic 962 before I read this... I said basically the same thing... I fail.

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  4. Comic 693:-

    Nobody:What would happen if Narnia/The Phantom Toll Booth was real?

    Randall: Well, no one would believe the people who went through.

    Everyone else: No shit.

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  5. I think the joke is that they always find themselves or some shit, but in reality this would be a glaring fuck up on the rest of their natural lives. Not just that they wouldn't be believed.

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  6. HAHAHAH HILARIOUS.

    oh wait, no.

    And my god does he just repeat the "punchline" in the title text now? Why even have it?

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  7. Well said. I still find myself enjoying the old xkcd comics, but the new ones are pretty impossible to stomach. Especially when looking at things like Comic 692, which fails to actually make a joke, other then A) Wouldn't it be funny if in Dirty Harry he was inturrupted mid famous monolouge (to the tune of xkcd is now just a webcomic in which Randall points out stupid jokes he thought of while watching classic movies) and B) Counting is serious math, and only Rain Man can count to six (in which Randall is basically saying he wouldn't be caught in the same situations as characters in movies because he's smart).

    I suppose it was the logical extreme of the direction of mathematics Randall's been going in though--from Fourier transforms to *counting* at which point, the target audience is now comprised primarily of people who like recycled jokes and those who enjoy watching the pathetic downfall of someone who stopped taking the time to put genuine thought into their comics.

    I never hated Randall for stick figures, but he's pretty clearly shown that he can do better then that. I liked the stick figures for their ability to prioritize content over graphics. Randall, if anything, seems to be going in the opposite direction now (well, the graphics are usually still stick figures, but when they aren't---xkcd 631 happens).

    And I still do believe Randall is intentionally targeting (or trying to target) nerds, but he forgot to put the thought and care into his comments and came up with something that reminds me of myself when I make a socially awkward joke that isn't funny because I didn't think carefully. The difference is that half the time *I* catch those jokes before I make them, and that's in the split second the thought comes to me. Randall's trying to make a webcomic where he gets at least two days of forethought before it.

    As for 693, I fail to see a joke, yet again. Perhaps it's supposed to be some sort of philisophical conundrum, but it doesn't really make me think. It's not that horrible, but it's not xkcd anymore.

    I do consider myself in the target audience for xkcd, but not in the audience that xkcd actually attracts. And I miss the old xkcd. Randall may just think we're some standard critics, and hey, everyone's got them, but there's no way that any "Penny Arcade Sucks" or "Questionable Content Sucks" community has nearly the following of xkcd sucks or even the same kind of content (few comics get the "used to be good, now sucks" treatment from people who dislike it).

    So why can't Randall start thinking again, drop the sex (I don't mind profanity/adult content, but it's not fitting in xkcd, and it's never been funny, not once) and stupid movie jokes (the timeline was very original and pretty cool, but most of his stuff is changing a one-liner from a movie that stands out in too many other ways), and bring back the xkcd we once loved?

    Probably because too many xkcd 'fans' still exist, husks with nothing to do but pretend stuff is funny and insult those who think it isn't.

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  8. Hey guys check out this article I linked it in the previous post but it's pretty great.

    Dude is basically saying that the if the hero never comes back from her archetypical journey, the author has fucked up. You're not getting "incredible events transform you, and you transform people in incredible ways", you're just getting "run away from all your problems into an imaginary world where you totally rock."

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  9. Actually, anon... 693's pretty horrible, alright.

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  10. Your explanation of what you liked about XKCD back in the day is right on the money; what made it so refreshing to read was how it treated nerdiness as something to be celebrated and shared with everyone, rather than as a social stigma or as a reason for superiority. I just disagree with you that XKCD has profoundly changed.

    I mean, yes, sometimes you have comics without a lot of merit, and sometimes you have downright shitty comics. But if you read the archive from any point you run into some that are decent, some that are great, and a lot that are sappy, redundant, boring, etc. The thing that I've seen change is the extent of XKCD's readership; I run into more and more people who aren't like me who really like XKCD. As a result, I think I've attributed a lot of the XKCD hate here as a way of distancing yourselves from the "people who are complete idiots" who comment on the forums and talk about XKCD.

    Therefore, I propose a challenge. First, break XKCD's archive into maybe three time periods: early, heyday, and what you see as the period of sucky decline. Second, identify the things that you think XKCD has lost in the decline period (originality, insight, drawing quality, all the stuff you criticize regularly). Then, take a random sample from each time period and assess it on those qualities. If you can show that a sample of current XKCD comics is worse according to some pre defined metrics than were they heyday comics, then you'll have proved your point. Otherwise, maybe something else explains your change of opinion.

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  11. I LIKED XKCD BEFORE IT WAS COOL

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  12. I dunno if you guys spotted it but TVTropes seems to be run by some of the XKCD hardcore. Maybe he's pandering to that audience a little with 693 and 692. TVTropes gets a nice few mentions in the forums and that's only from my experience of going there when I don't get the comic or when I'm linked to them from here. That being said, he's doing it badly. I love TVTropes but the only reason I go to XKCD anymore is so I can see you guys criticise it.

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  13. The problem is twofold:

    1) xkcd suffers from the clichéd "it's popular so it sucks" I hate being one of those people who starts hating on something just because of its fanbase, and xkcd's fanbase isn't my only reason for hating it, but it is a problem. xkcd would suck a lot less if so many people didn't think it was so fucking awesome and have to mention it and share every comic with you all the damn time, like they're so super cool for knowing about it.

    2) Because it's popular, Randy has an ego. He's so damn full of himself, he doesn't give a shit anymore. He only cares about pandering to the legions of fans and giving them what they want (ie, LOL SCIENCE and MEMES), rather than trying to be clever and witty like he used to be.

    The target audience hasn't changed (though I'd agree with Rob and say that it has perhaps simply broadened), Randall just doesn't care about his audience anymore. Sadly, the typical xkcd fan doesn't realize this.

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  14. Don't have a lot of time right now.

    "As a result, I think I've attributed a lot of the XKCD hate here as a way of distancing yourselves from the "people who are complete idiots" who comment on the forums and talk about XKCD."

    The problem with this theory is I didn't start disliking it because of the fans; I started disliking it when I started hanging around here as an XKCD apologist. As the new comics kept coming out and kept being mediocre, I was eventually forced to change my tune.

    "First, break XKCD's archive into maybe three time periods: early, heyday, and what you see as the period of sucky decline. Second, identify the things that you think XKCD has lost in the decline period (originality, insight, drawing quality, all the stuff you criticize regularly). Then, take a random sample from each time period and assess it on those qualities. If you can show that a sample of current XKCD comics is worse according to some pre defined metrics than were they heyday comics, then you'll have proved your point. Otherwise, maybe something else explains your change of opinion."

    The biggest problem here is that would require me to spend more time reading XKCD's archives than I would care to. The other problem, which is methodological in nature, is it would work okay if someone went through and broke them up based on certain landmarks of terribleness and then fed them to random people, but as an experiment on one person it's not likely to work.

    What you'd need is to find people who have never read XKCD, after dividing the comic up into your proposed eras. A decent sample would be necessary. Then you'd feed them each a bunch of the comics and ask each of the groups which ones they liked on a numerical scale.

    Of course, that would only tell if people who had never read XKCD like the different eras; it wouldn't measure whether the target audience has changed, nor the effect that comparing the good older XKCDs might have on your perception of the newer ones.

    Let's say you watch a movie which is basically a low-grade Star Wars ripoff, without ever watching Star Wars--not a bad movie in its own right, and you enjoyed it. It had all the elements you like in a movie, and you're really none the wiser about there being the same movie but better out there. You call it 8/10.

    Then you watch Star Wars. You watch it and it's like the old movie, except better, and the old movie pales in comparison. Even if ultimately Star Wars is only an 8/10 on your movie scale, it has redefined what you think of the old one--now it might have gone down to a 5/10.

    But here you run into a problem, where if you introduce the sample to the good set of XKCD they might decide that they like all of them--perhaps they think the experiment might have positive results for XKCD if they respond positively.

    This is to say nothing of the difficulty to find people within the so-called target audience who have not read XKCD at any point.

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  15. xkcd is to be written as either XKCD or xkcd, but never Xkcd.

    I'm not saying that because I respect the name of xkcd, but because missing something that is explicitly answered in xkcd's about page (near the bottom) is a huge hit to credibility.

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  16. But Rob, is it not so that truth if it be such is not destroyed by other truth? If what we would hold true, is vanquished by another truth, elsewise known to be such, and thus contradicted, it is surely not truth indeed. What is true does not contradict itself: a thing may not be both great and slight.

    Is it not also so that in likewise manner, existence of a thing may not be voided by existence of another? For how can a thing exist and yet fail to do so, based merely on the knowledge of him who observes? And what of differently informed observer?

    That said, I urge you to explain me this: how is it that the merits and good qualities of a film, allied to its essence as they are in their permanence, but be dispelled as corollary to existence of another film, or worse yet mere knowledge of it, as if the devotions of a dishonorable gentleman to his good wife, which falter at the mere sight, or even knowledge of another amorous maid? Clearly either has been shown blatantly untrue by instability of its being, being at once absent and yet not so, as if a mirage of the desert.

    Thus tell me this at your esteemed disgression, is it not so that qualities of a meritous likeness of a film by Mr. Lucas may not have their beings be contingent on lack of knowledge, as has been said?

    Moreover, kindly advise me on this matter, for is it also not evident that judgement passed in ignorance is not to be relied upon, for it may lead the judge to ruin as a tampered compass may lead its ship to ruin? Can it be false then, with any likelihood, that xkcd has not a course for bearing merit to one man which it lacks wholly for another?

    With respect then, sir, I shall assert, the reasonable facts of our matter being thus laid bare, we have no option but to recourse to our reason's order, unless it has transpired that we are not sane and competent adults, but frivolous children of a dubious mind. As is the kidney stored in a refrigerator inevitably to pursue a movement towards dairy milk, such is it without escape certain that if xkcds of past have possessed merit, that merit shall appear to us as much as them, it not being the case that either of us is of unsound mind.

    Rest easy then, my dear friend Robert, as we need not concern ourselves with the identity of the appraiser. The merit shall not remain hid regardless of who he may be; as such, that honour of appraisal I would be pleased to extend to you.

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  17. "xkcd is to be written as either XKCD or xkcd, but never Xkcd.

    I'm not saying that because I respect the name of xkcd, but because missing something that is explicitly answered in xkcd's about page (near the bottom) is a huge hit to credibility."

    Yeah, the reason that I write it Xkcd is as an intentional act of disrespect. Way to catch on!

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  18. Alex, yes that's true. But then isn't it a bit capriciois to order grammar and orthography around like that? It's the worst kind of prescriptivism, he barely even invented the "word"; it exists only in a horridly circular definition.

    The whole thing was a probably a joke in the first place, of a very mildly hilarious (to me at least) kind which goes out the window the moment it gets in the way of actual discussion, and good riddance I say.

    And besides, who wants to have stupid looking sentences that start with a lowercase letter? That would be like buying an xkcd tie for your cat, except that your sentences are not malicious, cruel hearted, heinous assholes who probably deserved it in the first place. Hopefully.

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  19. Also, I meant liver not kidney, dammit. It's the liver that moves towards the milk. I think.

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  20. I think it's unfeasible to construct a sample of responders who don't know XKCD at all, which is why testing to see what people's holistic reaction is to early and late comics isn't really possible, even though it would be the best test. That's why I'm suggesting that you and Carl, who seems to have a list of attributes of current XKCD characteristics that make it suck, should analyze them on some predetermined, generally objective characteristics, like art sloppiness, dialog after punchline, makes an interesting point, etc. This could be as simple as looking at categories, like reference jokes, puns, thought experiments and sex jokes, and seeing how the frequencies have changed. Of course you guys aren't objective, and would know which ones came from which time period, but you could probably be honest in ranking on criterion like that.

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  21. Right, but a thoroughly scientific experiment of it, one that is bereft of any sort of experimenter bias, is the only way to really be "objective" (I kind of hate that word). Anything else is a flawed experiment at best.

    I'm not saying it's a bad idea, of course. But I don't want to delve through the archives like that. If someone were to categorize them I'm sure we could come up with some criteria.

    Though I'm not sure how that would take into account for ideas that we liked at first that Randy just kind of did to death.

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  22. Jay_toolazytosigninJanuary 25, 2010 at 8:23 PM

    You know, it actually bothers me that you write it Xkcd. I know it's stupid but I just can't help it.

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  23. I was feeling particularly snarky.

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  24. There are those who say we are not xkcd's target audience.

    I concur.

    But that is because RanDULL now writes to the whiny little bitchboys (hence the domineering/always correct women) who fantasize about sex 29/8 (one word - Megan) and think that they are cool because they know about the latest pop-tech fad(have any of them really read an issue of Wired?)

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  25. it's interesting what you're saying about nerd culture and randy's relation to it.

    earlier xkcd seemed kind of unaware of how nerdy it was. it was just earnestly joking and pondering and where it was coming from with its jokes and ponderings happened to be a nerdy background.

    but now randy seems conscious that he is writing a Nerdy Comic for Nerdy People, so he's lost that casual...i guess you could call it innocence...about his own perspective.

    it's the difference between the lyrics of a musician who's writing about his life of bar fights and being down and out, and then his attempts to write similar lyrics after he's made it big and decamped to a mansion in Laurel Canyon.

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  26. Keep: yes, there is definitely a level of self-awareness which can be bad for a comic. Most often, the most honest ways to capture a subculture are when you are writing about it without really being aware you're writing about it. Randall was just writing about things that interested him. I'm going to credit him with a level of awareness--he knew that he was a nerd, and he might have known about the cultural phenomenon he described, but it wasn't his focus. He was mostly writing stuff that he wanted to write.

    Not everyone lets fame get to them, but in Randall's case, I think he had the problem that: while he is sensitive to criticism, he is sensitive to both positive and negative criticism. Which is to say, when his comic picked up, he took all of the praise to heart. He became keenly aware of what he had become famous for, and decided to try to make his comic more like the things he was famous for.

    The best analogy I can think of here is probably M Night Shyamalan. He wrote a couple movies with twist endings that made them famous. People liked the twists, so it sort of became his thing. Now every movie he made was built entirely around a twist ending, or, in some cases, a long series of twists so you can't tell what the actual twist is (except you can, because if the twist is that there isn't a twist it would be lame). He became so wrapped up in the twistiness of his films they started imploding on themselves.

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  27. Anonymous @ 3:19 AM:
    The thing that first got me to look up xkcdSucks was when an xkcd comic mentioned the Voynich Manuscript and some of the more annoying xkcd fans insisted that the manuscript's Wikipedia entry needed an xkcd "in popular media" listing.

    TV Tropes caters directly to the sort of person who would do that. "I just noticed this show has wood in it. I'm going to list it on TV Tropes, under the trope 'Floats like a Duck.'" (Yes, I'm obscurely referencing one of the good xkcds, but the point still stands.)

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  28. If the anons keep saying those things, rob, and you say they aren't true, that what's the real difference between you and a person who actually likes XKCD? Did it just rape your mom or something? It doesn't suck that bad to make a fucking blog on it does it?

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  29. I know the very next post here is going to call me a rabid XKCD fan, but I refuse to try to legitimize my post by acting like I don't like XKCD....

    I just want to put it out there that you may have identified the audience slightly wrong: I'm a female (socially adept) computer engineer with a pretty heavy liberal arts focus on the side. And clever or not, the strip often picks up the kinds of thoughts that I have but never have permission to express - too nerdy for my humanities friends, not nerdy enough for the engineers.

    The reason I like XKCD is because of that recognition of "yeah, this is the way I think - thank goodness I'm not completely insane" - doesn't matter if I relate to the scenario or not, I recognize the thought process behind it.

    And yeah, I generally think it's funny too, but granted I've always made similar jokes and not a lot of people laugh at them so I learned to shut my mouth, for the most part....

    That being said, I take issue with the analysis that this is a case of the transition from viewing nerds from an "in-group" to "out-of-group" perspective - my feeling has always been that XKCD is about struggling at the boundaries of nerdiness, so it is precisely the conflict between the "in-group" and "out-of-group" that makes XKCD funny. If you feel like you fit into one of those two groups (either you ARE a nerd - in, or you recognize and find nerds funny - out), then you'll find strips that lean more one side or the other funnier.

    Note that Randall is a scientist who coped admirably with the transition to fame (ie he's a bit of both) - not that I think the writer of the strip is particularly relevant if you enjoy the rest of it.

    My personal theory on why you all have transitioned from "love" to "hate" has little to do with the comic itself, it's more like the way a relationship works: first you had this honeymoon phase where every time XKCD posted a comic you related to, you cheered and loved it, and if you didn't relate, you just ignored it.

    But as you spent more time reading XKCD you found that more and more strips didn't relate to you, so you started getting irritated, and feeling like the strip as a whole "just wasn't funny", at which point you broke up. Fair enough. I think this explains why if you read this blog carefully, people here tend to think opposite strips are the epitome of funny//not funny - I really think there are two main camps of dislikers.

    Also I enjoy reading this blog because I think this whole phenomenon is fascinating to watch, and I like having a twist on my interpretation of a given comic - you guys are pretty decent humor critics, and I've learned a thing or two. :)

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  30. @3:34 stop being rational, it ruins everybody's fun.

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  31. "The reason I like XKCD is because of that recognition of "yeah, this is the way I think - thank goodness I'm not completely insane" - doesn't matter if I relate to the scenario or not, I recognize the thought process behind it."

    Yeah, I recognize it too--it's just, you know, not funny or interesting.

    "That being said, I take issue with the analysis that this is a case of the transition from viewing nerds from an "in-group" to "out-of-group" perspective - my feeling has always been that XKCD is about struggling at the boundaries of nerdiness, so it is precisely the conflict between the "in-group" and "out-of-group" that makes XKCD funny."

    This is basically what I said in the original post. I think mostly what's changed is he is more aware of it now, and his math and science has gotten less intelligent, and there's a lot more stupid internet culture.

    "My personal theory on why you all have transitioned from "love" to "hate" has little to do with the comic itself, it's more like the way a relationship works: first you had this honeymoon phase where every time XKCD posted a comic you related to, you cheered and loved it, and if you didn't relate, you just ignored it."

    Not quite. Try: think of XKCD as being sort of like meeting a quiet guy at a party who has a lot of interesting things to say, and the sort of clever sense of humor that you usually only get in people who are quiet. And you spend most of the party talking to him, and then you start hanging out a lot because this guy is cool, and he's into some cool things and he's good to have around.

    At some point he picks up a job of mindless, soulless corporate drudgery, though, and it changes him. He's still into a lot of the same stuff, but the cleverness has gone, and it fades even more with every day that he works there. And he spends most of his time at work looking at stupid pictures on 4chan. His humor becomes increasingly juvenile, and though he tries to make the same types of jokes that he used to make, they're just not as funny as they used to be, and he ends up repeating himself a lot, to no avail.

    The important thing to note: it's really easy to continue enjoying something, even if it's not very amusing most of the time. The only times I've turned on comics have been if the decrease in quality was so palpable it was frustrating. It isn't enough to just get tired of something--I've got RSS feeds, and before that I had the routines built into muscle memory. It takes so little time to read a comic three days a week, or five days a week. You can burn through an entire archive in a matter of several hours. Indeed, the beauty of the webcomic as a format is that it's so low-commitment. A few hours of invested time reading the archives and you've got free entertainment for as long as it runs. You only get sick of something that has either taken a sharp turn for the worse, or which requires a significant investment of time and was never good enough to justify that investment.

    "I think this explains why if you read this blog carefully, people here tend to think opposite strips are the epitome of funny//not funny - I really think there are two main camps of dislikers."

    This isn't really accurate. You get some people who hate some comics and some people who mildly appreciate them, but it's not the same people each time, and we agree more often than not. (Everyone hated 631, for instance. It's the ones that are mediocre that tend to have a lot of differing opinion.

    "Also I enjoy reading this blog because I think this whole phenomenon is fascinating to watch, and I like having a twist on my interpretation of a given comic - you guys are pretty decent humor critics, and I've learned a thing or two. :)"

    I am glad you enjoy, at least. We aim to please. And also to torment.

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  32. Anon at 3:14:

    First, I rather think the way to legitimize the post is not to be Anon. Surely you understand how ridiculous autobiographical anecdotes are for backing arguments? I mean, come on.

    Secondly, I will beg your forgiveness but I just have to take the cheap shot at you: What is too nerdy/not nerdy enough for your friends about xkcd, exactly? Cartoon vaginas? Raping relatives of journalists over numbers? Digital-themed anal insertion? Cunnilingus?

    But really that's just an indulgent wisecrack orthogonal to the argument, I'll admit. On a more serious note, well, Anon as you may be I'm sad to hear you felt so alienated from your social circle. That sucks pretty bad, yeah. Hence, merits of xkcd aside, it's wonderful you've found a way to deal with that problem. I mean, hey, can't really go telling ya to stop reading xkcd because it's bad and go back to feeling bummed since you lack affirmation of your introspective musings. Nah, I wasn't sarcastic.

    Next, regarding groups, yes there is quite certainly a spectrum of ubernerd to non nerd. Perhaps I should elucidate my post, in case you referred to it. The core of my point was this: People sometimes stereotype other people. We are people who don't like to be stereotyped for being nerds. Randall used to not stereotype us, now he does. That kinda sucks.

    I guess I can elaborate on him stereotyping us: What I mean is, he is -presumably- attempting to produce art which will be appreciated by his audience. Hence, each strip can be said to represent his assumptions of the tastes of the audience. The assumptions he has lately been making, we deem offending. I think this fits nicely with what Rob (whom I'd say to represent the community a great deal more than me) says, though I don't exactly know since he's, like, ignoring me, man.

    Regarding your prediction, it falls flat: We usually find, maybe 1 in 30 strips mildly amusing, and the rest are numbingly dull mixed with downright offensive. The one we find funny is rarely the most nerdy or the least nerdy. We usually go for, um... If I had to guess, I'd say, I dunno. Good? Funny?

    What you ask us to note we cannot: Randall is not a scientist but a professional webcomic artist. He used to work as a roboticist for NASA, I believe, but he has no PhD, he has no papers out. His contributions to the scientific and technological gestalt of human civilization appear to be... Uh, 4chan's /r9k/? Oh, there's geohashing. I like that.

    As for coping admirably, you state that like it's common knowledge but most people here disagree with both cope and admirable.

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  33. Your personal theory is wrong for me. When I first came across xkcd, I loved it. It was entirely alien to me, it had nothing to do with my preconceptions of being nerdy (which was a label I'd been assigned and grudgingly lived with), totally contradicted so much of what I presumed about life in general and in some ways made me face certain questions I'd been unconsciously avoiding, for fear of not having an answer. Notice lack of any relating or nerdiness. I mean, sure, coding metaphors and stuff were great for me, but it's not like they were the sine qua non of my appreciation, to be pretentious. By the way, I'll say again: Sometimes I didn't like it, but I couldn't ignore it. And I actually liked it for it- I didn't like it because I had to admit it made a good point.

    Now, there's no good points. There's no insight. There's no sincerity. It's just like reading /b/, except it's work sa- Ooops, wait. There's just as much porn in xkcd too! Oh well, there goes the caveat.

    In general, you seem to be under the impression that appreciating art is all about relating to it. This would require (good) novels about women to be unreadable for men and vice versa, to state just one ridiculous consequence of many. Now, when you really relate to something, you like it alright. You know, affirmation. Or as the kids 'round here say, GOOMH! And, I dunno, man. I mean it would be silly for me to sit here and do internet psychoanalysis, but isn't there a problem when your taste in art is comprised of emotional crutches for a frail self confidence?

    Lastly, we have the audience spot on. Mostly male, white undergrads: http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/xkcd.com

    Fun Fact: "rule 34" brings 1.3% searchers to xkcd.

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