Friday, February 5, 2010

Comics Don't Have To Be Funny!

Oh hello. I was just reading one of the eight trillion comments that say that comics don't have to be funny, so when we complain that XKCD isn't funny we're missing the point. I think this last one might have convinced me!

Except, not.

Let's start by acknowledging a fact: not all comics are trying to be funny. You can list graphic novels as examples if you like, or you could name a number of webcomics that routinely do something other than make jokes or attempt humor. I'm not disputing this! Some of my favorite comics aren't supposed to be funny.

The problem is, XKCD is trying to be funny about 90% of the time. The latest one? Trying to be funny! The elevator one? Trying to be funny! The strip games one? Trying to be funny! "Spirit" was not trying to be funny. And so on down the line. Very rare is the XKCD that is not trying to be funny.

Admittedly, the type of humor, if you can call it that, isn't always the same. Sometimes he's not so much telling a joke as trying to get you to laugh at a situation which is trying to be amusing. Not all comedy requires jokes. We get it.

The thing is, XKCD is trying to be funny and failing. So when we say "where's the humor?" or "where's the joke?" or "where's the punchline?" it is not that we are failing to understand that some comics are meant to be serious. No, there's a lot going on behind the scenes! Let me take you through a typical instance of me reading a comic.

It starts with reading the comic. Contrary to popular belief, I do not generally start with any sort of critical thought engaged. I read it and formulate an initial reaction. Generally that initial reaction goes something like this: "Yes, and?" At this point I go back over it and look more carefully. Did I miss something? Why am I supposed to care about this? Why should I find it funny? On some particularly bad examples, it's difficult to imagine even why Randy thought this was supposed to be humorous. Mostly, though, the joke, such as it is, is pretty easy to spot. It's just not a compelling joke.

I think a good analogy to use here is that of a little kid dressed up in a Halloween costume. You can tell that he is trying to be a fireman or whatever. It's really obvious from the oversized helmet--he has all the trappings of someone trying to dress like a fireman. There is no arguing that he's not trying to look like one. But for all that, you would not, at any point, actually think that he is an actual fireman. If presented with a lineup of actual firemen, you would pick him out as the one who is not a real fireman.

So too it is with Randall's jokes. The problem is not that we don't know what the joke is supposed to be, or that Randall isn't trying to be funny. It's patently obvious that he is trying to be humorous. All the trappings of something which is supposed to be funny here. It's just that, for all his efforts, he does not actually succeed at humor. You can point out all the things he tried to do that failed--but no matter how hard he tries, it doesn't actually pass as funny.

So we say "okay, where's the joke?" in response. What we are saying is, despite the fact that it is patently obvious what Randy is trying to do, it is so unconvincing as a joke that we must be missing something. We never are, of course. Sometimes a cuddlefish comes out and explains that this joke is actually about something which it very clearly isn't, and explains why he thinks that's funny, but this cuddlefish is invariably wrong. The joke is really obvious. It's just not funny.

(Stay tuned next week for Objectivity In Art: Why You Should Be Stabbed In The Face For Suggesting That It's All Subjective So We Have No Grounds Criticizing It (title pending).)

109 comments:

  1. My brother had a girlfriend who got mad at him for hanging up first. He got off the phone after a talk, thinking that all was well, and she immediately called back, angry. This led to a series of fights and the decline in their relationship that eventually led to them breaking up.

    So, for me, 698 never came close to being funny because it didn't seem like such a ridiculous situation to me. "Crazy fights/situations in relationships" as a theme seems like a bad choice to me, as people do really dumb things in relationships.

    Actually, on second thought, it's not a bad theme by default, I just don't think this comic takes it far enough.

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  2. I just realized that this post isn't specific to 698, but it might as well be.

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  3. Yeah, people like that really exist. I was in a car with someone who played the hang up first game for a good ten minutes. That was a fun trip.

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  4. It's all subjective, so you have an infinite variety of grounds for criticism? That would seem more consistent. Subjectivity gets a bad rap because people fail to apply it consistently (objectively, even).

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  5. Since comics are supposed to be a visual medium, I'm more annoyed by the complete lack of any artistic effort whatsoever in the drawing of the strip. The drawings are badly-designed, badly-staged and badly-illustrated. Why does he get so much attention?

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  6. Because he says words that the *typical* nerd enjoys reading and understanding because it makes them feel like they're part of a special, clever-person club.

    That really is it.

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  7. well, some people enjoy eating mussels and snails whereas I personally think that's disgusting.
    bottom line: everyone is entitled to his own opinion. you might not be able to understand someone's opinion, but who are you to judge them?!
    also: objectivity in art? that's pretty much an oxymoron. please don't make a fool of yourself..

    //sry if my english isn't that good. I'm from the "old Europe"..

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  8. But afga, if 'everyone is entitled to his own opinion', doesn't that mean that we are equally entitled to our opinion that xkcd sucks? Why should we be judged for this opinion by those who like xkcd?

    If art is completely subjective so that people can't say that it is bad, doesn't that also mean that people cannot say that it is good? If the subjective nature of art means that negative assessments can't be made, then equally positive ones cannot either.

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  9. For me the best example of objectivity in art (well, for a very loose definition of "art") is the Irate Gamer.

    Normally I can sympathize with the idea of subjectivity far enough to think that if an artwork has something that speaks to an individual personally, and this makes them enjoy it, they shouldn't bother worrying about anything else.

    But in the Irate Gamer's case, every single observable fact about him supports the case that he's an untalented hack with no real knowledge or love for his subject, just looking for a quick buck. And while I don't think "respect for the fanbase" is necessarily a good thing, his Orwellian opposite of screening all negative comments, and flagging any YT video criticizing him shows that he's a failure as a person as well, and fucking weak.

    Some people may genuinely feel subjective amusement the first time they see an Irate Gamer video, but they cannot continue to like him for long unless they ignore a lot of objective facts.

    Now granted, most cases of art and criticism aren't this clear-cut. But they do exist in principle!

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  10. Guess I might as well start posting under a name since I've been posting here long enough. (I was Bob Dole for those of you that read that post)

    I liked your analogy, Rob, but I feel this is one of your weaker posts. I think that might be because it's hard to say WHY Randy fails specifically whereas your other posts had more solid reasoning.

    But really its hard to say more than he just DOES fail. I suppose you could get into the minutiae of comedy and how he bypasses practically all the finer, more subtle aspects and bulldozes his way through a subject - placing the beat panel on a pedestal as the height of hilarity - but that would be a very long post.

    Don't get me wrong, though, I love a well used beat panel. Awkward silences are usually funny.

    I'm really looking forward to the objectivity in art one. I commented on it before (as anon) and can't wait to see all the people cry foul and whine about how art is completely subjective.

    I just hope you have a really compelling argument. It's something I've been trying to convince people of for years.

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  11. XKCD isn't about the jokes, it's about the good illustra- oh wait.

    So, it's about the charact- oh not that one either.

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  12. Huh? Why do you think this is a weak post? I don't see that at all. I feel like I could make a decent argument against (some of) his other posts if I felt like it, but here it's not even possible - what he's saying is objectively right, and self-evident. I think most of the people who bring up the other points "you're jealous" etc are just ignorant, or angry and not thinking very clearly about what they're writing, but anyone who seriously says "xkcd is not trying to be funny" is just fucking dumb.

    Rob's not trying to takedown every xkcd comic ever made, or any of them for that matter. Carl does that three times a week.

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  13. Maybe just because the fact it is self evident takes some of the steam out of the argument for me.

    Pointing out the sky is blue isn't too compelling to me :)

    With that, I didn't say it was a BAD post. I just didn't enjoy it as much as the other ones.

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  14. Yeah. I mean hell, if you did think it was a bad post that'd be fine, I just want to see where you're coming from.

    I'm also looking forward to the subjectivity in art one, cause I'm sure a lot of people will disagree, and that might actually be interesting to talk about, unlike xkcd lately. I think maybe Randall is trying to kill this blog by churning out mediocre, but not terrible comics.

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  15. I have an arguemant. If x=g^2 then goto 2. Bet you didn't think anyone here would know what a Qbasic is did yah? I think Randal doesn't need to make a comic about Qbasic. Secretly, that means that Randal wants/needs to make a comic about Qbasic, but he's already done so many about Python that he needs to wait a few hundred more comics before he can do such a thing. (In this case, the argument is really hard to find, and it is not a good one). Also, you lost The Game.

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  16. @daniel daniel: of course! you guys can think and say whatever you want about the xkcd comics. but pretty much every post here mentions the "xkcd forumites" (or something like that) and how dumb they must be for liking the comics. and that's the point that bothers me. the people here are like "I hate xkcd and to me it's not funny - therefore everyone who thinks it's funny must be an idiot!"
    that's just ignorant and intolerant.

    for the "art" part: no you can't say that some piece of art is good or bad. you can only say that TO YOU and IN YOUR OPINION it is good or bad, leaving room for everyone else to make up their own minds about it.

    btw: I don't like every xkcd comic and I don't visit their forum. so I am no forumite or fanboy.

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  17. I really, really, really dislike the horrendous insult leveled against anyone with talent by people like afga.

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  18. afga, does it really bother you that much that some people on the internet think you have bad taste? Why?

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  19. scott: please tell me - where did I insult people with talent?
    or are you just trolling?

    anon: no, it only bothers me when people start insulting others for their taste. you can think whatever you want about my taste, but don't assume that I have to be a silly nerd for liking some xkcd comics just because they don't match your sense of art / humor / whatever.

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  20. You know what's ignorant and intolerant? Assuming that people who dislike something you enjoy are ignorant and intolerant.

    Dan: I wish it weren't necessary to point out that "yes, XKCD tries to be funny and yes, it still fails." There was nothing too insightful to be said here. I could go and explain what goes wrong with his comics all the time, since he tends to fall into the same traps, but that's material for several other posts. (I am glad you liked my analogy. I was pleased with it.)

    Objectivity in art has been bothering me forever. There's always useless pieces of shit like afga who think that their reading of the Wikipedia article on 'relativism' has made them the complete authority on declarations of quality, and that anything which is not inherent to the very universe itself is so objective you can never hope to have a conversation with it. Indeed, objectivity is such a rare creature they don't believe it exists in art at all.

    (Spoiler alert: have you ever heard of a word count?)

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  21. Hey, Afga, obviously we're saying that TO US, IN OUR OPINION, xkcd forumites are mouth-breathing neckbearded retards. WHOAAA, MAAAAAAN, what if EVERYTHING is relative! Then you can't legitimately complain about us, unless you're expressing that we're intolerant TO YOU, IN YOUR OPINION! My mind is bloooooooown h oly shit RELATIIIIIIVE

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  22. afga: You insult them by saying they don't exist. If art is 100% subjective, and therefore every creation exactly equal in quality, then that of course makes every creator be of equal talent. And, because even if quality is objective, it sort of has to be judged on a relative scale, in a world where nothing is better or worse than anything else we are essentially saying that nobody has any talent.

    Of course, I'd also personally find it insulting, were I Maynard Keenan or Stanley Kubrack, to be considered equal to Lady GaGa or whoever is responsible for Epic Movie, but that means nothing to you.

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  23. rob: haha, very nice, thank you for your comment! you absolutely proved my point - which you obviously didn't (want to?) understand.

    1. I only assume that people who judge others by their taste (of art) are ignorant and intolerant. reread my comment and get your facts straight.

    2. "useless pieces of shit" like me? Really? That's plain funny how immature you appear by writing stuff like that. Come on, grow up and argue like an adult - or I'll have to tell your mommy what a foul-mouthed boy you are :)
    And btw: Nope, didn't read any Wikipedia article to make up my mind which negates your whole argument. Damn, sucks to be you.

    3. (If that spoiler is supposed to concern me) - I have heard of a word count, but I don't see the connection here. Please explain.
    If it's about your upcoming post on objectivity - nevermind.

    To the others: I'm out for dinner, gonna answer later tonight.

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  24. haha I like how you're all like "waah I want you to treat my idiotic point of view like it is serious, COME BACK AND PLAY GROWN-UP YOU BIG MEANIEHEAD." Poor little relativity-tard.

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  25. @ScottMcTony:

    If everything is subjective, what's to stop you from saying they have talent? If quality is subjective, then talent can be subjective too. People disagree about quality of art and whether the artist is talented pretty much in direct proportion.

    You can't say that everything is subjective and then fail to import the concepts of "good" and "bad" into that framework. Of course, that doesn't mean that people will suddenly enjoy being judged harshly for their taste. It's generally better for discussion if we separate judging art from judging people, and arguments of the form "This is objectively wrong, therefore you're wrong for liking it" tend to make people emotional and, let's say paradoxically, less objective

    Of course, "You can't judge art because everything is subjective" is nonsense, we agree on that. Even if everything is subjective, some things are more subjective than others. Alternatively, context matters, and most things are context.

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  26. Uh, Rob, you're kind of degenerating into a standard internet commenter, which isn't helping your case at all. Additionally, when you start discriminating against people who have opinions contrary to yours(e.g. calling them "cuddlefish"), aren't you turning into a hypocrite?

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  27. When will you idiot cuddlefish learn that cuddlefish is not a derogatory term?

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  28. Cuddlefish is also not synonymous with "anyone who has an opinion contrary to Rob's".

    Really, though, Rob, for anyone to take you SERIOUSLY, you must argue seriously, by raising your discourse to the standard of high school forensics club.

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  29. Pat: Everything is so subjective nothing is objectively better or worse than everything else, ergo nobody is objectively more or less skilled for making it than anybody else, ergo they are all equally talented on any objective scale, ergo talent doesn't exist.

    Of course I think the premises necessary for that line of reasoning are nonsense. Afga does not seem to agree.

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  30. And mind you I was only explaining why I think finding everything that subjective is an insult to people with talent.

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  31. Well, it's not the ordinary cuddlefish that xkcd sucks is against, its only the ones who are vehemently against us genuinely disliking the products of a person who once entertained us a significant amount. I can promise you that most, if not all, xkcdsucksters are ex-cuddlefish, and probably still like many other webcomics. The people we genuinely hate are the ones who spit in our eye and say "OMFG! YOU'RE SUCH A HATER! HE'S DOING BETTER THAN YOU, YOU LAZY DUMSHIT YOUTUBE-COMMENTER TRASH!". Those morons are on the same wavelength that the people who actually flame the xkcd forum are, and either way I think they can go fuck themselves.

    Now that I have that out of the way, here's my opinion on the whole xkcd sucks group. I think they're all genuinely hoping to improve xkcd through their criticism, hence the title XKCD: Overrated they used to use. Most criticism in this blog goes like this: improve the art, get better jokes, quit trying to pander to a target audience that you obviously aren't, ditch the pretentious emo stuff, more Mr. hat. I think that most cuddlefish (other than the aforementioned retards) could agree with all of that, and the fact that we don't like the current xkcd's

    I, for one, love a lot of the old ones. I liked the kid in the box, I would've liked to actually see more of the red spiders, I liked the math ones, the first two valentines day ones, the list goes on. However, the current XKCD's just seem like watered down retiredness. They are to the old ones like spore is to sim city, like Ringo is to the rest of the Beatles, like Michael Jordan is to... younger Michael Jordan. We're saying they suck because they fail to live up to the previous work, not because every XKCD sucks, and the fact that there is a group crying about the decline in quality is a testament to the value of Randal's original work. Least I Could Do doesn't have a blog devoted to saying how much it sucks, because it has always been about a retarded, man-child, sex offender, whore, self insert, douchebag moron. People see that, think "this is retarded" and leave. Meanwhile, people see old xkcd, think "this is freakin cool", read up to the newer ones, and either convince themselves that it's amazing out of love for the older ones, or realize that some sort of massive brain trauma must have happened to Randall halfway through the history of XKCD and ruined the quality of his webcomics. Thus, the division of Sucksters and Cuddlefish is made.

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  32. we have a name! we are the Sucksters!

    actually i don't think it sounds too cool but markus i like you anyway

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  33. The Less You Know, The More You Make
    "Salary Theorem" states that "Engineers and Scientists can never earn as much as Business Executives and Sales People."

    This theorem can now be supported by a mathematical equation based on the following two postulates:

    1. Knowledge is Power.
    2. Time is Money.

    As every engineer knows:
    Power = Work / Time

    Since:
    Knowledge = Power
    Time = Money

    It follows that:
    Knowledge = Work/Money.

    Solving for Money, we get:
    Money = Work / Knowledge.

    Thus, as Knowledge approaches zero, Money approaches infinity, regardless of the amount of work done.

    Conclusion:
    The less you know,the more you make. ;)

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  34. That also implies that the more you work, the more you make.

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  35. it also implies that cuddlefish make infinite sums of money OH SNAP

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  36. bruce bash (ur head in)February 6, 2010 at 2:56 PM

    but then like robbietard here must make like...

    INFINITY PLUS ONE-
    -
    -
    -
    -
    -
    WAIT FOR IT
    -
    -
    -
    -
    BILLION




    -bitches

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  37. There's no way you can honestly say that you don't start with a previously unformed opinion that every xkcd comic is going to suck, because you always say they suck, and they don't always suck. (A lot of the time they do, but not always.)

    You also can't say that you always see and understand the joke, because you don't. The recent 9/11 comic is a prime example.

    You're just SAYING that you are openminded so that when you don't have a better reason to dislike a comic than "there's an unoriginal use of a principle of humor in this one," you don't have to shut up and accept that that isn't a real reason to dislike something.

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  38. "There's no way you can honestly say that you don't start with a previously unformed opinion that every xkcd comic is going to suck, because you always say they suck, and they don't always suck. (A lot of the time they do, but not always.)"

    Two problems here. First, this is what I actually said: "Contrary to popular belief, I do not generally start with any sort of critical thought engaged." That is, I do not start by looking for errors. I am reading it. I said nothing about not having an opinion.

    Second, I very frequently say that I liked one, or that I would have liked it if it hadn't been for the fact that I hate XKCD. I just never write the comic reviews, so you don't get to see that.

    "You also can't say that you always see and understand the joke, because you don't. The recent 9/11 comic is a prime example."

    How can you say I didn't understand that one? I don't think I even commented on it.

    "You're just SAYING that you are openminded so that when you don't have a better reason to dislike a comic than "there's an unoriginal use of a principle of humor in this one," you don't have to shut up and accept that that isn't a real reason to dislike something."

    I very rarely make that argument.

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  39. hey anon 3:14! are you.. an idiot?

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  40. rob: I'm glad you enjoyed what I wrote! That you obviously ran out of arguments and had to resent to insults again is unfortunate - well for you that is. At first I thought this website was about real criticism and open minded discussion, but you showed me quite the contrary and therefore I don't expect very much from you anymore. But that's fine with me.

    femalethoth: uhm, yeah.. whatever... I never said that 'everything' was relative.. I think I didn't even use the term "relative" up to now..
    so you trying to make fun of me are just ultimately exposing yourself to ridicule. well done!

    scott: That's actually an interesting point! Maybe you can quantify talent by the amount of people subjectively liking your art? I'm not sure either, but at least that would allow to say that.. Van Gogh was a better and more talented artist than I am, because my pictures look like shit and even I don't like them ;)

    But if the 'objective quality' of art was determined by the number of people liking it.. that would also mean that xkcd was objectively BETTER than xkcdsucks! But Rob would probably disagree so that can't be a means of objectively judging art, too..
    I really am curious about the whole "objectivity in art" thing and I can't wait to see what arguments Rob is going to present to us.
    But wait a second.. if only one single person - let's say I - would disagree with Rob's objective argument.. doesn't that mean that everything Rob said really was only subjective in the end? Or maybe it would only mean that I'm just a moron?! :/
    Difficult subject. As already stated: I'm curious.
    Good night.

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  41. "But wait a second.. if only one single person - let's say I - would disagree with Rob's objective argument.. doesn't that mean that everything Rob said really was only subjective in the end?"

    If people disagree that the world is round, that does not make the shape of the sky subjective. Nice try, though! You're still a complete fuckwit.

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  42. ... whats a cuddlefish? I'm feeling like I walked into this conversation late.

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  43. If the amount of people who like something determined talent, it would also mean that Lady GaGa is better than Maynard(of Tool fame, if you are unaware), even though most serious fans of music who are aware of both of them would disagree.
    You could always say "the percentage of people familiar with the subject matter, casual audience excluded-", which I very nearly agree with, but that's tricky as hell to quantify.

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  44. Rob: No, that probably makes them morons. A possibility I already mentioned above so you're not making any point or sense.
    But nice try yourself.
    And again insulting me? What did I ever do to you? :)

    //Damn I can't sleep when I'm confronted with so much idiocy and incompetence in argument. Shame on you!

    Scott: Yes, I agree with you on that one. Mere numbers of people liking something don't really work.

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  45. The popularity argument is one of the dumbest ones out there. Popularity is not the same as skill or talent or quality--popularity reflects a combination of factors--marketing, timing, luck, and so on. The fact that record labels and movie distributors function as the arbiters of what makes it to the mainstream or not, and marketing and hype affect how many people actually hear or purchase or see something, essentially means that quality is really at no point taken into consideration.

    "And again insulting me? What did I ever do to you? :)"

    You're an idiot relativist. Your mere existence is an affront to thinking men everywhere.

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  46. Interesting that nobody considers that a number of subjective opinions is an objective value; i.e. there is an objective difference between something 50 million people like and something 5 people like.

    NINJA'D! Ah well.

    I always wondered how anyone was going to talk about "objective art" without at least defining some of the basic tenets of "art", as well as considering the point I just made.

    It presents some difficulty for the argument here if we're looking at "comedy" as an objective value; even Carl himself talks about people finding things funny (a subjective opinion) and goes on to make a point about many people finding certain things funny and other things not funny (see the FAQ, not sure which one). Unfortunately, the actual success of xkcd tends to put those critical of it in the minority, meaning the "objective comedy" ratio would be positive.

    Just by the by, as more comments have been posted while I was formulating this, "quality" is an equally iffy construct. What is quality if it's not also based on the subjective opinions of a specific group, say for example "experts"? And how would this group be defined?

    The popularity argument (or quality argument) is typically countered by claiming that those who enjoy xkcd are deluding themselves to some extent. Again, it's possible to just turn that around and say the critics are deluding themselves. Given that any pre-existing attitude will tend to confirm itself (psychological need for consistency), either side could be equally deluded.

    Now comes the argument that the critics here were once fans and therefore cannot be deluded by need for consistency, which is unfortunately not validated - it's not a trivial assumption that people who used to dislike xkcd and came to like it would be as visible as the critics are, so we can't just assume that that group doesn't exist.

    In the end, it all comes down to people throwing opinions around. Personally, I don't see the value in arguing that a certain viewpoint is BETTER than another - it's enough to present a viewpoint properly and let it stand for itself. After all, if we all just said "sod it, it's all subjective", things would likely stagnate at the lowest common denominator. So, in a sense, I'm glad this blog exists, though I don't agree with the posts as often as the authors might like... ;)

    All discussion starts getting ridiculous if you take the whole "subjective" thing too far, and it just leads to people saying the exact same things and prefacing it with IMO. There's just no POINT to assuming total relativism.

    On a side note - yeah, Rob, this time, you actually are being fairly hypocritical. "In my opinion" of course. :-/

    afga said:
    "[...]but pretty much every post here mentions the "xkcd forumites" (or something like that) and how dumb they must be for liking the comics. and that's the point that bothers me."

    This is fairly self-evident. No "assumption" of intolerance there.

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  47. I have never, under any circumstances, argued that it is not cool to mock relativists. Relativists are the dumbest possible humans on the planet and should be rounded up into camps and tortured. When they complain they should be reminded that it's just their opinion that their conditions are intolerable.

    If you can find an instance where I said that it is not cool to tell relativists that their existence is offensive and they should be put down, then I will concede the point of being a hypocrite. Burden of proof's on you.

    I love how all of you dumb fucks are trying to preemptively attack next week's post by setting up strawman arguments against the arguments you just know I'm going to make.

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  48. Rob: ..well, maybe I'm an 'idiot relativist'... or maybe you're just unable to respond anything valuable, let alone prove me wrong and that bothers you because up to now you thought of yourself as the eloquence and intelligence in person? Just my assumption, though.

    That (mere) popularity can't be used to measure art or talent was already stated by Scott and myself, but thank you for repeating and elaborating our point. Useless, but at least you tried.

    If your "objectivity in art" thing isn't about popularity.. or 'apprehended quality'.. then what is it about? I really am interested and I'm not trying to mock you here. If you're just going to say "Randall isn't capable of drawing a straight line on his stick figures" or.. "Those heads aren't attached to the bodies!" ..well that would be really lame and disappointing. So I really hope you have got something better in mind!

    J: Nice comment! I agree with almost everything you said :)

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  49. But afga, most people here do not simply label anyone who likes xkcd as an idiot. If someone gives cogent, sensible reasons for why they like a particular comic, most people here respect that, even if they do not of course agree. The xkcd forumites regularly excoriated on this site are those which make absolutely stupid and/or arrogant comments about why the comic is supposedly good -- comments along the lines of "I don't get it but Randall wrote it so I know it's funny!", or "this is an example of something that is geeky and it's good to be geeky, it makes us better than others!", or "I too have in my life used a computer! Therefore this is good". These are not direct quotations, of course, but certainly echo sentiments repeatedly expressed in the xkcd forum. We rubbish them not because they like xkcd per se, but because the mind-numbingly stupid reasons they express and way they talk about themselves. This kind of audience helps explain why xkcd has gone down the mediocre/rubbish road it has.

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  50. It is about how there is such a thing as objectivity in art. Are you really that fucking stupid? Jesus Christ.

    You're not going to get me to stop insulting you by trying to do the whole 'maybe you're not capable of responding intelligently' troll, sorry. That's pretty much the weakest possible form of trolling. I'm perfectly content with (a) the fact that I am morally and intellectually superior to you (b) the fact that I'm quite capable of arguing with eloquence, wit, and intelligence. I just have negative respect for you.

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  51. wow rob, you're really falling apart. To think I used to respect you

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  52. Oh noooo I have lost the respect of an anonymous poster because I am doing the same shit I always do! WHAT WILL I EVER DOOOOO

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  53. ... did you honestly post the same minute I commented? (though I recognize the hypocrisy as I reply 3 minutes after your post)

    Insulting people with differing people makes you no friends and doesn't garner any support for your cause. Additionally, loudly proclaiming that "I am morally and intellectually superior to you" on the internet does not, under any circumstances make that true, and only makes you seem elitist.

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  54. Rob: Your beef with afga is your own. All I'm saying is that, unlike in many other posts, from where I'm standing, you don't look like you have the high ground here. I wasn't referring to "mocking relativists", but to calling out somebody for actually presenting an example of intolerant behaviour as hypocritical, in case my first post wasn't clear (it probably wasn't, it's late and I've had a long day). Everything else is between the two of you.

    As regards "strawman arguments" - I'm not actually trying to disprove anything. I'm presenting my own thoughts on the whole relativism/objectivism thing. The point where I get stuck trying for an objective standard is that there is no obvious set of measurable criteria, introducing a subjective criteria selection bias. I haven't found a way around that problem. I would love to read your thoughts on the matter next week, because although I'm not sure you'll change my mind, I am sure you'll bring up some interesting points. The fact that I'm still lurking here and reading the posts I tend to disagree with ought to prove that they interest me all the same, no? I even said I probably wouldn't comment much, and here I am again... oh dear... :D

    And, to reiterate: relativism in its extreme form is POINTLESS for any discussion of almost anything! I'm not condoning it, I thought I was taking it ad absurdum! It is worth bearing the relativistic viewpoint in mind, though, if we don't limit ourselves to it.

    @daniel
    I'm not too sure whether people liking humour because it appeals to their subculture and little more is equivalent to stupidity. But it's certainly not a quality other people have to like.

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  55. I have email notifications and I am at my computer. Is there a problem?

    "Insulting people with differing people makes you no friends and doesn't garner any support for your cause."

    Let's see. The only friends I would make by being nice to relativists are relativists, so... remind me why I am concerned about making friends? And the people who do not already support my cause are pretty much all idiot fucks. So... remind me why I am concerned about garnering support for my cause?

    "Additionally, loudly proclaiming that "I am morally and intellectually superior to you" on the internet does not, under any circumstances make that true, and only makes you seem elitist."

    You're right! Saying something doesn't make it true--the fact that I am, in fact, morally and intellectually superior makes it true. Saying it is just an observation. (Much like observing that the sky is blue does not make it blue, it merely reflects reality.)

    And do I look like I am concerned about seeming elitist? Come on, now.

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  56. "All I'm saying is that, unlike in many other posts, from where I'm standing, you don't look like you have the high ground here."

    This is because I am doing nothing but insult him because he is an idiot. I don't negotiate with relativists. I just abuse them until they go away.

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  57. You know what? I'm not going to try and argue. I don't negotiate with bigots.

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  58. Finally someone gets it. Christ.

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  59. Anonymous said:
    "[...] I don't negotiate with bigots."

    Muhhahahaha! I do. Just because I don't like somebody's methods, thoughts or beliefs or whatever, doesn't mean I can't have a good time talking to them. And if bigotry is all I get - well, trolling can be fun. Although I normally don't have time for that kind of thing.

    Aaargh. I need to sleep. I'm babbling. :-/

    Captcha: musai. Sounds samurai-ish. Meh.

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  60. daniel daniel: Sorry, I didn't mean every single person here. If you say the forumites are idiots and have more prof for that than "because they like xkcd which sucks" - well, that's fine with me! I didn't even once read anything on the xkcd forum so I couldn't disagree with you even if I wanted.

    Rob: "It is about how there is such a thing as objectivity in art." ... Uhm, okay.. that didn't further enlighten me at all. So yeah, I think I'll have to remain 'that fucking stupid' until next week.
    And you got me wrong! I don't want you to stop insulting me! That only helps my point and, frankly, it's kinda cute.
    Also I have to deny the whole troll accusation! Because in my opninion you, sir, are a troll. Maybe a little bit more sophisticated than the usual species, but a troll you are nevertheless. A pretty delusional one that is.
    But let's not get to personal I suggest. In the end this is all about a silly webcomic that's not worth all the hate.

    Btw: Damn it's hard to keep up with you guys. Writing in a foreign language sure is slowing me down :(
    Yes, a little sympathy would be appropiate ;)
    Just kidding - because I know certain people would love to take that for real and desperately try to mock me again.

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  61. Actually J., it's not worth bearing the relativist viewpoint in mind. It's just fucking dumb.

    Fuck you Afga. You're fucking dumb.

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  62. J: Once again a very good comment! I like your thinking and I agree with everything you said, especially the middle part about the relativism/objectivism thing. I'm not sure I would have been able to express my thoughts so properly here.

    Jay: I think we'll have to agree on not liking one another. I can live with that.

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  63. Another thing: If one holds a viewpoint to be correct, they believe everyone who disagrees to be incorrect. This isn't true of every opinion - obviously I don't hold that everyone must prefer metal, nor do I think my sexual habits are necessary better than anyone elses - but this does hold for absolutely any view someone considers to be "right" and not just "a type of thing I enjoy more than another type of thing." So for that reason I am always annoyed when someone is railed as an arrogant elitist for, essentially, saying someone who disagrees with them is wrong. We all think that, they're only stating it, so what?
    Plus, isn't this what Rob always does?

    PS: Afga, ur dum lol

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  64. Scott: Can you elaborate on me being 'dum', please?

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  65. You know something Afga, I'm snowed in and pretty bored, so I'm going to try something different here. I will be nice to you.

    I want you to explain what exactly your position is on relativism and art. Frankly you aren't writing clearly, probably because English isn't your first language, but I want you to try. Will you do that for me?

    I will then tell you, why, exactly, you are wrong, which you are. But I will be nice. I promise.

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  66. Man, Afga's already dropped to the lowest stage of pseudo-troll discourse:
    'Pretend to be really happy/relaxed while treating your detractors like children'
    :(

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  67. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  68. What amuses me is when people pretend to find things funny that really just annoy them. Like they're so incredibly above it, they can just laugh at it. 9/10 times it's bullshit.

    "That's plain funny how immature you appear..."

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  69. Wow, I thought I posted that twice, but it's some Anon fucking with me. OK dude, I fell for it, you got me good.

    Original post said "what I hate," not "what amuses me."

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  70. opinions aren't facts dipshits

    No, not yours, angry jackasses thinking that they're so clever because one of the most popular webcomics today is actually BAD

    Nope, not yours either, whiny fanboys who are chronic masturbaters to comic 631

    Also I don't give a shit about that 10 stupid responses to criticism thingy the opinion's not fact one is completely worthless.

    Fuck this blog. Carl sucks at criticizing, trolls suck at criticizing. Also the "where's your comic smart guy" post sucks BALLS! Probably the cuddlefish meant for "you try to write a comic that excludes all the bad things of which you said to xkcd." Which is IMPOSSIBLE 3 times a week

    Also stop being a whiny ass prick Rob. If you make posts like these, at least don't do that fucking calm, teaching demeanor to 2 year olds. Go fuck yourself, you think your so clever.

    If you claim that xkcd is such torture and that you can't avoid it, then why is Carl sitting there, trying to write a post for every comic? IS IT THAT HARD TO AVOID, FUCKTARDS? IS IT FUN? SURE IT IS! That's why we're doing it because its entertaining to type the same points over and over again at a webcomic. No one fucking cares anymore from your blog. 99 percent of your comments block is of cuddlefish.

    Fuck you R, isn't Rob dropping to the lowest stage too you dumb fuck? "pretend to be happy/relaxed while treating your detractors like children?"

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  71. "No one fucking cares anymore from your blog."

    Well, you do. Enough to type up a 250 word unintentionally hilarious WAAAAAnt about it, at least.

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  72. Depressingly, I have to agree with Anon 5:49 on this one. Ironically, similar to comic 690, the truth appears to be somewhere in between these two extremes, the opinion represented by the fanboys, and the opinion represented by this blog.

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  73. That's not ironic, it's just dumb.

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  74. I just stubbed my toe. COULD THIS DAY GET ANY MORE IRONIC?!?!?!?

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  75. R: Naah, I'm just a friendly person and I don't see any sense in hating and thoroughly insulting some guys I don't even know on the internet. But I guess you can interpret everything I do or say any way you want even if it serves your silly point of me being a troll.
    And btw: I AM really happy and relaxed right now. I don't see what's wrong about that.
    Plus: If I treat some people here like children it's because they behave just like that. Rob even said that he is only out to insult me and isn't interested in any discussion with me. Come on, is that appropriate for an adult or is it rather childish? Be honest.

    Jay: Dude, those are subjects you can talk about like forever and it's pretty late at night here already. But I'll try to give you a short summary and I'll be glad to hear what you think about it.
    First.. 'relativism': I think absolute relativism is dumb and you can't really argue with those relativist guys which is annoying and frustrating. And btw: I don't believe I am one of them. But the other extreme isn't any better either. People who say "my music is better than yours" or "my apple pie tastes better than your mom's" are just as stupid as relativists. I actually deem myself somewhere in the middle.. maybe a little bit farther on the 'subjective' side, because I think that most things of our daily life are mostly (!) subjective - be it art or lunch. But I won't deny that there can be some objectivity within those things too. That's why I'm curious about Rob's post next week. I hope it will give me something to think about although I don't believe it will drastically change my mind.

    Second, my position on art:
    I think art is a highly subjective matter. Important: I don't claim it is exclusively subjective - I just lack the means of quantifying it in any proper way right now.

    I think it is most important to differ between ART and SKILL.
    A painter can most skillfully paint a picture of a tree which looks exactly like the original. But is it art? Would a photography of that same tree be art? Would a picture of that tree with a nice sunset in the background instead of the real boring one be better? I'm sure different people would give different answers to those questions.
    Therefore I think you can objectively measure skill (e.g. how close is that painted tree to reality?), but you can not measure art because art is what each an everyone makes out of it in his own head..
    You can paint a banana in blue color (what some 'artist' really did) and some people would like it and some people would hate it. Where's the objectivity in that?
    Again: I would be happy to be presented with contrary proof. There are most certainly a lot of things I haven't taken into consideration yet and I'm not vehemently insisting on my point of view.
    As for xkcd: I think we all agree that the guy who makes this comic isn't very skilled at drawing, but art doesn't neccessarily require a lot of skill (like the banana guy) and still some people will like it, because skill isn't everything there is to art.
    So "objectivity in art" may be applied to some extent for making a statement about the skill of the artist, but not for art as a whole and most certainly not for how it effects different people.

    Sorry for my lack of expressing the things I want to say in a proper way. I hope it's not all to flawed..

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  76. I wasn't going to post a comment just now but then I decided I would.

    IRONY.

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  77. But what about creative skill? Nobody does or can disagree that Perry Bible Fellowship is drawn by a more able artist, but what about the skill in coming up with better jokes? Nobody thinks some Jonas Brother is a more technically proficient guitarist than David Gilmour, but what about the creative ability(Admittedly more attributable to Roger Waters than Gilmour, but you get the point) in making more original music?
    Why did I feel the need for two examples that follow identical patterns? Because I felt like it, you see.

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  78. "I think art is a highly subjective matter. Important: I don't claim it is exclusively subjective - I just lack the means of quantifying it in any proper way right now."

    Just because you can't personally quantify something doesn't make it subjective.

    I'm with Rob on this one: relativism is offensive and the worst philosophy possible.

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  79. Let's try it this way...

    Different people, or different cultures, will have different things they value in art. Some may always prefer one medium over another, some may prefer certain subjects, some may prefer certain styles, etc. etc. This part is pretty much just personal taste, and should be fine to just chalk up to subjectivity.

    But once this has been understood, it's still possible to critique the objective qualities of a piece of art. Whether this objective judgment is actually helpful or not just depends on what the art itself is trying to achieve.

    Someone saying fantasy works are objectively dumb because dragons don't exist, and they are thus unrealistic, is a moron and missing the point. However, if the workings of a fantasy world aren't even internally consistent at all, if the writer seems to establish rules and then forgets about them, if the story has continuity errors, if the characters have no coherent motivation and the only way you could justify their behavior is to make them all schizophrenic, then the story can still be called "unrealistic" in a very fair sense.

    Similarly, dismissing XKCD's stick figure style right off the bat with no other knowledge is unfair. But going with stick figures does imply that because he isn't concerned about artwork quality, he is instead devoting his efforts elsewhere. Meaning: writing. So critiquing his jokes and his writing is obviously fair game.

    But critiquing his art can still be fair game if his failings in art are actually harming his goal of presenting these written ideas. Regardless of whether you subjectively love or hate stick figures as a style, both sides should be able to agree that in certain individual frames, a stick figure may not be done to the best of its sticky potential. If Randall tries to portray a scene where his stick figures just aren't good enough for you to even understand what the hell is even going on, that's a fair place to criticize not only his choice of setting as a writer, but also his failure to portray it correctly through his drawing.

    There are plenty of objective points that could be discussed, like "if you draw these motion lines like this instead, it's much clearer to see the motion you intended for Mr. Hat here". Or: "When this stick-item is held at this odd angle next to this seated stick-man, it's hard to tell which part is his leg, or even what this object he's holding IS in the first place."

    If Randall thinks he doesn't want to ever bother trying to improve his drawing skills at all, he may ignore the "draw better" criticism and instead focus on the "don't write a scene like that when you know you can't draw it" criticism. But both would be valid and helpful.

    And if he keeps racking up more and more of these objective signs that his strip needs improvement, even by its own stick-figure standards, that's a pretty fair reason to say it sucks.

    ...also, Darth Vader is objectively not a midget.

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  80. Subjectivism in art: Beethoven and Avril Lavigne are really interchangeable?

    The 9th symphony and "Skater Boy": equally great works of art?

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  81. I believe it is sk8r boi

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  82. much as i'd like to discuss art & subjectivity, it'd be better to leave it to next week.
    but some points i'd hope to see:

    - subjective =/= complex or difficult to codify. you can't put your finger on what could be objective about art? doesn't mean art isn't objective. it just means you're not smart enough to make sense of it.

    - a preference (let's say 'Beethoven is better than sk8r boi') implies at least personal standards.
    standards imply a grasping at objectivity.
    (summarised this much this argument seems weak but it's sturdier than it might seem.)

    - there's a difference between art/comics/music etc. that you like and art/comics/music that you respect.
    subjectivists don't acknowledge this (because their critical faculties aren't developed enough AD HOMINEM BONUS!!).

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  83. It's true, I do have personal standards. They involve a preference for music that is not melodically repetitive, does not have an overly simplistic base, does not rely on the trivial and overdone "rise to the fifth with no real change to the tune" for a false sense of development, and does not limit itself to the harmonic complexity of beginning music lessons.

    But that's just me.

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  84. If you ask different people if they prefer Beethoven's 9th symphony or skater boy I'm sure that a fuckload of them will tell you they like Avril Lavigne's song more. They'll even pose the majority if you ask the 'right' group of people (e.g. younger girls?).
    But saying they're all stupid and don't know shit about music can't be the answer. It's not that simple although you'd like it to be.
    The only answer can be: Taste differs and therefore the perception of art differs! You may be able to quantify SOME aspects of art (e.g. how well some instrument is being played) but you will NEVER be able to be completely objective about the PERCEIVED QUALITY of art because it depends on each and everyone of us. Just because I hate something doesn't mean it has to be the same for every single person on the planet.
    That's all I ever said. If you didn't get that then you're probably stupid, unwilling or my english sucks. You choose.

    Adam: "Just because you can't personally quantify something doesn't make it subjective."
    Thank you, that's exactly what I said. I THINK it is highly subjective, but I DON'T CLAIM it to be exclusively subjective. If you're gonna criticise me then get your facts straight about what I wrote and don't make up shit.

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  85. I like your argument: saying something clearly true (they don't know shit about music) can't be the answer; the only answer can be whatever you want, with no supporting discussion!

    I also like which things are objective. Why can't I, with my zero training, grab a guitar and claim to play it well? It's just your opinion that my chords would be dissonant, that I would have no rhythm, and lack the dexterity to produce a coherent melody.

    On the subjective side, apparently it is only a matter of opinion that the "Happy Birthday" song is, um, musically uninventive.

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  86. El Duderino:
    It's common sense that taste differs. Well, at least it should be, but you seem to lack it.
    Any supporting discussion on that is redundant because it's such an obvious point. I hope you'll come to understand that or my hope for humanity will be ultimately lost :(

    About the other things you said: Damn, suddenly you sound like a fucking relativist.
    Nobody likes relativists.

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  87. Rob, the problem with this post is that it totally lacks context. It's fine for you to say, without referencing any exchanges, that you only use the "where's the joke" criticism when there is an obvious attempt at making a joke that doesn't end up being funny, but it's a bit hard to judge whether you're right without seeing some actual comics where you got push back on "where's the joke?" Especially considering that Carl does all the comic reviews, so that you don't really have a history to look back on. Looking at Carl's history, we have lots of examples of him going after a joke that really wasn't the point of the comic, for instance 693.

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  88. A list of people who just completely missed the point: giant squid

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  89. Afga, it's not a matter of classical vs rock. If I were a girl I would want Maynard Keenan's ugly crazy babies, so that's something a bit more comparable - in either case, held against Avril Lavigne, it's a matter of rather original music held against something extremely derivative. As well as far less repetitive things, held against a 4 minute song that has at most 20 seconds of "unique" music.

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  90. I'm not sure whether the posters on this board need to be "enlightened" to why XKCD-fans like XKCD. It certainly seems to be so. Anyway, here's why.

    I like XKCD about 1/4 of the time. Sometimes, it's pretty evident that the majority of commenters here like it near none of the time. Is my definition of comedy lesser than yours? Do I have "poorer tastes" than yours. Not exactly. The mindset that you walk in to XKCD with ultimately affects the reaction you will have. Before even coming to this blog, I liked XKCD 95% of time, and the only times I wasn't was when the joke was absolutely too obscure for me to care for.

    So why I did I change upon coming to the blog? I became trained to see. I began seeking out flaws, rather than letting them wash over me. I used to read XKCD and drop it when I was finished. Now, I look at it for minutes, counting out the detached heads, analyzing the joke, searching for poor quality. It amazes me how much I find.

    So I suppose, nowadays, that I can't derive as much enjoyment from XKCD. I can't simply laugh at the idea of an olden-time game of DnD written in the Voynich Manuscript. I have to look at the validity of the statement, and check if the facts match up.

    So, William Golding may have called me a level 3 thinker, accepting what comes to me. He would have called the majority of people here level 2 thinkers. So I guess I've matured. But the very reason of XKCD-fans is in their unwillingness to see the flaws. They accept humour on a basic level, and laugh at the idea of a person eating out a giraffe, or of wacky scientists doing wacky things.

    Now, the question is, are they wrong in liking it? I think they aren't. People can't always be bothered to look for flaws. Some people just want to get a senseless laugh at something, similar to when a friend isn't looking and bumps into a wall. It's pretty much harmless, and it allows for some enjoyment in their lives, something I want to have more of.

    So the more we seek out quality, the harder it is to find it. The standard has been raised, and now it's harder to get humour worth our time. Are we better off now? Is this fulfilling us, or just appealing to our need to be better than our fellow man? In the grand scheme of things, are we in this for our own betterment, or for the ability to look down our noses at others? If it's the latter, I feel badly for us all.

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  91. @Mesosade

    To paraphrase someone smarter than I: It's better to be an unhappy man than a happy animal.

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  92. Excellent post.

    Also, while reading the comments, it has come to my attention how many people have never read maddox (or similar humor). I'm sitting here snickering in a computer lab at Rob's replies yet some people here have their panties in a knot over the SRS BIZNES of the Internet.

    Sure, I guess it is kind of weird to say that on one hand, this site aims to be a forum for constructive and intelligent criticisms of xkcd's writing, humor, etc while on the other hand, one must understand that the authors like to troll and mock, and if you can't get that, you're doomed.

    Oh well. Rob's rants tend to be my favorite parts of this site. Keep up the good work.

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  93. First rule of the internet: if you ever have to assert that you "won," you have lost, and you ought to be ashamed of your existence.

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  94. Pitiful attempt after surrendering a few days ago, Rob.
    I challenged you to an intellectual duel - but you came unarmed.
    Get over it.

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  95. I didn't write the rules, dude. There is literally nothing more pathetic than someone sitting on the internet and saying "I WON THE ARGUMENT" because--I assume because I lost interest and stopped responding after the fifth time you said the same thing?

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  96. See: http://rationalwiki.com/wiki/Danth%27s_Law

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  97. Okay, I can acknowledge that your internet e-penis is bigger than mine.
    But you either searched the internet for some "law" to make a stupid point or you are such a geek that you already knew about this complete and utter piece of irrelevant shit in the first place.
    Either way, you are the lamest person on earth. Congratulations for that!

    And btw: The website you posted even says that I am right here: "As an internet discussion grows and grows, it's often tempting to declare victory and move on, especially if you've rammed the point home too many times and your opponent just ignores everything you say. In this case, declaring victory and moving on may be legitimate and excusable."

    Bottom line: You tried to be smart quoting some "law" only virgin geeks know about, and therefore only managed to mock yourself.
    Plus: The text even states that declaring my victory was legitimate after I had to repeat my point over and over again because you were intellectually incapable of getting it and had to resort to ignoring me.
    Well done.

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  98. My opinion is that you didn't win! I'm entitled to that, who are you to judge me!

    ...ah, forget it, this point NEVER actually works, even if you copy and paste from their own words. Funny thing about relativism is it's always their opinions that anyone's "entitled" to.

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  99. Knowing a thing? How lame!
    Also, there's a difference between "driving a point home" repeatedly, and just stating your position over and over.

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  100. Also, are all readers of the Daily Telegraph, oh, what's the phrase you used... "virgin geeks"? 'cos that's where I first read it. You know, the highest selling British broadsheet? telegraph.co.uk? That one?

    I like the world you live in, though! "Anyone who has ever read something about the internet internet that I haven't read is a virgin geek." Once again displaying a wonderful disdain for anyone who doesn't agree with you, and a remarkable hypocrisy. (An XKCD fanboy calling other people geeks? Really?)

    What you're doing here is declaring victory when I at no point agreed to engage with you--because you're an idiot relativist who can't formulate an original thought. It is like an eight year old boy who challenges an adult to a fight, and the adult says "I don't fight little kids," and the kid then dances around declaring his victory.

    I'm not sure who you're trying to convince, here. But since you're here, let me remind you that I'm just doing what I do every day. You are returning to this website repeatedly for the express purpose of declaring victory over someone who has no interest in engaging you in a serious conversation.

    Think about that before you call people pathetic in the future. Projecting doesn't look good on anyone.

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  101. It IS all subjective. But, see, then the cuddlefish lose the argument. Because they're not trying to say, "My opinion is valid too". They're trying to say YOURS isn't. THAT'S why the argument is a bad one: It shoots them in the foot. If it's subjective, then we just share why we don't like something, and then the cuddlefish are being dicks. If it's not, then compelling arguments have to be made.

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  102. Yes, arguing relativism is pretty self-defeating.

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  103. If something is trying to be funny, I expect it to be funny.

    I don't find XKCD all that funny. It's just a fail webcomic for geeks.


    meh

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  104. This is bascially how I feel about the few Questionable Content strips that I've read, although it also applies to a few other webcomics I've seen.

    It's like there's this void where the humor is supposed to be.

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  105. afga, you're a pathetic fuck.

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