Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Comic 747: Nerds and "Nerds"

Greeks and Words
I think chart comics generate a weird little subset of controversy in the webcomic world. Some people think they are great, a way to express a funny idea in an amusing, specific way. Others think they are lazy, allowing an artist to get away with drawing nothing but points, bars, or circles. My own opinion is that there is nothing wrong with charts as a comic medium, but that they are too often a crutch for writers who can't think of anything better to make jokes about.

There is, on the internet, a strain of thought that glorifies the Nerd. It is the mindset, if I may generalize horribly, that loves John Hodgman, loves arguing about operating systems, spends most waking hours on Reddit, spends most of their income at ThinkGeek.com, and most importantly, loves announcing their nerdiness to the world. Nerdy is the new cool, to some people. Now, the one thing one might expect from this neo-nerddom that is not actually true is that they are really nerds. They like to think they're smart - and many are - but more important than being smart is pretending to be smart, acting like you love nerdy jokes and nerdy references. It's about the culture, not anything that culture originally stood for.

Of course, a central tenet of this blog is that swirling at the center of this faux-nerdery is the comic xkcd: it's perfect for people who want to say they read a nerdy comic but don't actually want to read jokes that require anything more than a passing knowledge of high school science and the more popular of the 4chan memes. Like many groups, the fake-nerds feel a compulsion to define themselves, in order to make themselves more confident that they are in a special group while Certain Others are not in it (this is why some xkcd apologists feel so strongly that if someone doesn't like xkcd, they must not actually be a nerd, ie, they are "not in the target audience").

The point of all this meandering is that if there is one way to pander to "nerds," it's to reassure them that yes, they are nerds, and tell them exactly where you think the boundaries lie. As comic, it isn't very funny. Let's do a quick experiment: Compare the comic above with the sentence: "The only people who care about the distinction between 'geeks' and 'nerds' are those who are both." I think it says exactly what the comic says, though it's presented entirely verbally and not visually. Is it funny? I don't think so. But you can find out for yourself: Ask a friend who has not read the comic if they think that sentence is funny. Does changing it to a graph make it any better? I'd say no. I'd love to hear reason why I'm wrong, though, but I basically think that this is a statement of a banal fact and nothing more.

It's also odd that the comic itself presents one definition of geeks/nerds, and the alt-text an entirely contradictory one (it says that nerds are a subset of geeks, ie, all nerds are geeks but not all geeks are nerds).

that is all.


================
Did anyone else think that Scott Kurtz came off as kind of an asshole in the most recent Penny Arcade TV? I don't read PVP so perhaps I am not in the best place to judge, but he mostly just seemed annoying and somewhat self-important, like pvp is one of the most important webcomics there is.

Guys: probably you heard this already, but Kate Beaton got a cartoon published in the New Yorker! You can see it here. Of course, the New Yorker is a different medium from webcomics, but still, to get published there is quite a big deal and could be a major point in her career, not to mention it could influence some other webcomic artists as well. What do you guys think of it?

70 comments:

  1. You forgot to address the fact that the words "Geeks" and "Nerds" may or may not technically be labeling their respective circles and therefore the chart may or may not make sense from a completely objective standpoint.

    WE WANT YOUR OPINION CARL

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  2. I laughed. Well done, Alsworth. Well done sir.

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  3. oh right: my opinion is that this comic is fine, it's clear what he meant. There isn't a good reason he couldn't have done it more "correctly" but whatever, I say. whatever.

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  4. Clarity isn't what's important! What Ves's high school math teacher said IS!

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  5. Isn't Scott Kurtz always an asshole?

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  6. I don't think it is saying, "The only people who care about the distinction between 'geeks' and 'nerds' are those who are both," I think it is, "The only people who care about the distinction between 'geeks' and 'nerds' are geeks and nerds." Like the circles represent characteristics of geeks and nerds, and where they overlap is characteristics that they share.
    Not really that funny, but makes more sense than what you got out of it.

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  7. No, anon, thats not right. The central bit says "people" sooo... anyway, this comic gets a big fat meh from me.

    A friend of mine showed me the xkcd iPhone app today. I lost some respect for that friend, but it did give me an excuse to look over some of the funnier old xkcds and I smiled at the cenrtifuge one (my personal favourite).

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  8. I enjoyed the new xkcd. "Screw this, let's ask Michael Bay", Bay's long-winded doomsday scenario, the midterm elections and the alt text were all viable jokes (the individual merits of which are debatable, but certainly the first was an unexpected surprise for me and the third made me grin). It even ended on a punchline.

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  9. Thank you for the name-dropping in the alt-text, Randall, you have enlightened me

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  10. meh, i didn't think that one was all that interesting. it's a pretty mediocre expression of that old "people spicing up legitimate science reporting with Maxtreme Hollywood Physics, also Michael Bay for some reason" saw that Munroe keeps picking at.

    i love chainsawsuit's disastorm series. it goes on for a while after those comics, and it gets better.

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  11. This comic would have some passing value if it included any artistic effort and wasn't a sentiment that's been passed around the internet like an STD.

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  12. Hey, we finally know Megan's last name! She's Dr. Megan Scientist.

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  13. Speaking of Scott Kurtz, does anybody remember the PVP Makes Me Sad hate blog? That was kind of cooler than this one, because Kurtz would periodically turn up and have a hissy fit, then a bunch of people would immediately smell blood and gang up on him, then a bunch of apologists would show up to defend him, and of course a whole lot of trolls helped keep each such incident going as long as possible.

    Good times, but I guess the brightest lights do burn themselves out the quickest.

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  14. Ranarius WebfootJune 1, 2010 at 11:25 PM

    Carl, I really think this comic works much, much better in its current form as a graph than it would as a sentence like what you suggested. The major difference is that the sentence only gives the information that, well, the only ones who care blah blah etc. However, I think the comic succeeds in placating me because there are certain assumptions that one has when one sees a Venn diagram. Structuring it as a Venn diagram with the circles labeled "Geeks" and "Nerds" slips in the assumption that the comic is going to be ABOUT the distinction between geeks and nerds, since clarifying such distinctions is one of the major purposes of such diagrams. Said assumption is then subverted, hard.

    In short, it's not fair to write it as a sentence without starting it off with "The difference between geeks and nerds is..." I can't think of a way to phrase such a sentence in a non-awkward way, so the graph medium is about the best I can think of for this joke. Which is actually a pretty decent joke, I like short and subtle, although like all short and subtle jokes it dies a terrible death under intense scrutiny.

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  15. The difference between geeks and nerds is that one leg is both the same.

    I wanted to write "the difference between geeks and nerds is that one person who cares is both the same," but the reference might have been a little too difficult to immediately detect and it wouldn't have transposed as neatly over the top of the original joke. OH WELL.

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  16. Maybe its because i read thid at 7:30am after no sleep but i really liked this one. burning alligators... lol

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  17. Ranarius WebfootJune 1, 2010 at 11:44 PM

    I suppose if we allow some amount of content change like and good medium translation, you could do something like "The difference between geeks and nerds is that STOP ARGUING ABOUT THIS NOBODY CARES!"

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  18. Ranarius WebfootJune 1, 2010 at 11:50 PM

    And now that I just read 748, I have to comment on that too. Probably the best Xkcd I've seen in a long time. For one, I would watch the shit out of any movie with "a roiling, alligator-filled wave of flame." Secondly, the punchline wasn't completely telegraphed in the early panels, but neither was it a non sequitor like, say, bring Facebook into the discussion, and I actually lol'ed at it. Thirdly, the alt-text was clever and subtle enough to get me to smirk. "Ooh, look at me I'm giving you boring information OH WAIT it was a trap to make fun of you!"

    "the blog ruse was... A DISTACTION
    i HAVE the mockery"

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  19. Jimbobbowilly (Max William Gore)June 1, 2010 at 11:56 PM

    (It's probably worth mentioning that I'm not the same person as Jimbob. After reading Stephen Bond's screed against anonymity/pseudonymity I generally put my real name in parenthesis, though I doubt the dude I stole my screen-name from gives a damn.)

    Randall's milking a disaster again. Yeah, I understand his intentions in mocking the media's sensationalism, but this is pretty serious shit. Why not put some deconstruction in? Oh right, because making artwork of people dying of carbon monoxide doesn't make people giggle, as if they're supposed to.

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  20. Really enjoyed alot many intresting things you have posted .. good job

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  21. Jimbobbowilly (Max William Gore)June 2, 2010 at 12:32 AM

    "Parenthesis" is singular so the phrase "in parenthesis" is incorrect as there are two parentheses, "(" and ")".

    You know how sadomasochists dress up in Nazi uniforms sometimes? There is a "G" on my armband and I am whipping myself.

    Captcha is bucks, which is what Randall makes more of than Tom Siddell.

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  22. BAHahAHHAA!!!

    this is the funniest comic since the one about a short piggie trying to drive a minivan full of baby animals to the mall!!

    ~ Banana Man!

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  23. Does anybody else think that Randall has ripped off this: http://www.shoeboxblog.com/?p=16935

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  24. I... I don't get the newest XKCD at all. All I see is regular XKCD trying-to-be-funny-by-being-obscure.
    -Why did he just say "Top Kill" instead of what's actually happening? Does he expect it to be so famous that people reading his archives will instantly get it? Or people not listening to the news?
    -Why is the news team asking Michael Bay? Reporters do like trying to report sensationalism over moderation, but they'd never go that fa- oh wait, it's a shallow parody. If it works for Meet The Spartans, it'll work for Randall.
    -Why is Michael Bay listing off a disaster sequence? Bay is the big explosions guy, not the complex-plot-guy, h- oh wait, shallow parody. Nevermind.
    -What the hell is the midterm elections doing there?!
    -The alt-text is meant to be funny? I mean, it'd be well-executed if there was a joke there, but "you do not get vitamin D from reading blogs" is not a joke.

    And the worst part is that people here are saying they really like it, but none of them have actually explained how it's funny; they all just say "this is a good comic because it's unexpected".



    Also, Scott Kurtz was always a renowned pretentious asshole.


    And Anon2:19, I do believe you're right! IIRC, Randall does read Chuch & Beans, and that comic was from only one month ago!

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  25. Surely they should be interviewing Roland Emmerich for a response like that?

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  26. Actually, I snorted a little bit at this one, but then came to the EXACT SAME CONCLUSION (the bit about the sentence, not the bit about "fake-nerds" (though it may be true (nesting parentheses FTW!))) shortly afterward.

    The main reason I kinda liked it at first glance being that I'm a geek AND a nerd (YES I AM DO NOT DISPUTE IT SO I READ XKCD TOO BAD) and I feel that way myself. Anyway... I've heard you complaining about "fan-service" in the past, and while sometimes I sorta like comics like that, I do agree with your point, to a point (yes, I used those two words next to each other on purpose, no, you aren't supposed to laugh at it).

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  27. What's the actual reasoning for the conclusion that people who have strong opinions on the distinction betweens nerds ang geeks are both nerds and geeks, beyond "Randall said so"?

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  28. Wow.
    Randall is clearly in the thrall of one of his fits of competence (747 and now this) that seem to seize him every now and then. I’ll walk through the usual suspects:
    1) Art.
    While the quality isn’t anything to write home about, it’s leagues better than what we’ve come to generally expect from xkcd—which itself isn’t saying much. There are still floating heads, which is asinine, and Randall has a lot to learn about panel arrangement (the fourth panel, while nicely colorized, is too small to really distinguish anything), but he’s done a very good job of showing rather than just telling. Make no mistake, he’s still telling (which in light of the nature of the joke is kind of necessary), but he’s finally showing us as well.
    2) Delivery.
    The first couple panels still stink of setup dialogue, and for my part something needles me about the ‘dr. scientist’ ‘s response in the second panel. It’s too blunt a commentary. It reminds me of what happens any time Family Guy tries to be topical and send a message and Seth MacFarlane just beats the viewer over the head with it. The message Randall is trying to send might be a good one, but being so painfully unsubtle about it lessens the impact.
    Past the first couple panels, no major complaints. There’s no post-punchline dialog (provided you take Michael Bay’s interpretation of how it would affect the midterms as the final punchline, which I do). There’s two jokes here: first, the running (panels 3-5) punchline of Michael Bay’s imagined oil spill disaster, and then another (mercifully more subtle) jab at the media for playing it straight and treating someone with no political background whatsoever as a political analyst, asking him how it might affect the midterm elections. Because of this, ppd after the running joke is inevitable, but Randall has (acquired somewhere) the good sense to leave this comic on the note that he did- he hasn’t dragged us back to Ms. Straight Woman to fumble through pointing out how ridiculous it is to take political analysis from Michael Bay.
    3) The Joke.
    Randall doesn’t score too big here on originality (Hur Hur Michael Bay likes explosions and big disasters Hur Hur), to be fair. He could have replaced Michael Bay with Roland Emmerich and produced much the same comic (“big-budget director envisions real-life disasters as though they occurred in their own movies!”). Now, it could be my own personal brand of humor that takes such a shine to panels 3-6, but this absurd little imagining reminds me strongly of Patton Oswalt and his sort of jokes (a good example would be here, specifically the part where he talks about the Martini & Rossi commercial), his particular flair for taking something already ridiculous and ridiculing it by dragging it into the realm of nonsensical, almost fantastical parody. I especially liked the image of James Carville atop a burning alligator, very Pattonesque. With panel 5 he’s channeling Carlin (but then who doesn’t channel Carlin?) with his depiction of how such a natural disaster might wipe out human settlements, it’s actually rather similar to this. Needless to say Randall doesn’t compare to the master, but it passes muster.
    Overall I think this is about the best of a comic we can hope for here at xkcdsucks, under current conditions. Most of the issues with this comic that I see are things that can be fixed if Randall would grow a pair and get himself a fucking editor, but he’s set against that so barring a massive change in character from Comrade Munroe I’m afraid this is it folks—for better or for worse. :/

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  29. Ah, so that's why he stuck with a chart on Monday. He was busy drawing six panels for today! That looks like it was almost as much work as most of us put into our own jobs on a daily basis. Plus, the alt-text was uncharacteristically sharp. The actual idea behind the comic is overhashed, tho. Holy fucking shit you guys the media is totally disingenuous!! But two out of three ain't bad.

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  30. Chalk me up as another Person Who Dislikes Dr. Scientist's Dialogue In Panel Two. But I guess it ain't bad. Not thought about it.

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  31. I don't get what's the focus of today's comic: the cheap media sensationalism, or the Michael Bay disaster description? The latter is just bullshit; about 98% of the world's population could come up with something funnier and more clever than that ("Sparking fuel lines ignite the fuel/air mix"?? Sounds like lyrics written by a very, very, very bad 70's prog rock band). As for the former, the comic is way too shallow to make humour out of that. I like the premise, but the execution is extremely bland. The ending, at least, IMPROVES the comic instead of killing it, which is miraculous enough.

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  32. http://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/bzwym/what_happens_when_the_hurricanes_start_this_year/, posted like a month ago, is funnier than the latest xkcd, and despite the terrible photoshopping, it looks better. The art in xkcd 'doesn't matter,' sure, but panel four in the latest comic is hideous, and everything else is just stock xkcd, "reporters interviewing guy." The next comic will probably be "girl sitting at computer talks to guy behind her" or "guy on a raised platform speaks to a crowd of people."
    You know, add "with awkward dialogue" to the end of all of those.

    The last line of the latest comic isn't so bad. It has decent timing, at the least.

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  33. I liked today's Dilbert, because "partnerless loving" is, itself, a funny nickname for partnerless loving. Alice's look of horror is also charming.

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  34. Illiterate ScrubJune 2, 2010 at 9:17 AM

    I'm loving the 'geek 2 geek dating' banner ad.

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  35. The real problem with the new one is the fail of confusing Michael Bay with Roland Emmerich. Well, aside from that "Roland Emmerich explains the news" and "everything is good news for Republicans" are two different jokes, neither of which are original.

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  36. What is Randall's obsession with Michael Bay? He already did the "Bay has crazy overblown plots" in the Harriet the Spy comic. There has to be some other well known director or writer he could have used, right?

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  37. I took the Michael Bay thing as stab at the fact that we seriously just asked James Cameron what we should do about the oil spill.

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  38. Geeks & Nerds comic:

    So here's how it could work: It's disputed which one means "socially awkward" and which one means "obsessive hobbyist".
    But the only people who dispute which means which are those who are both "socially awkward" and "obsessive hobbyists".
    Aha.

    EXCEPT
    Randy's alt-text fucks up that possible (and sensible) interpretation. Because according to him, one group are the obsessive hobbyists, and the others are only obsessive about particular hobbies.

    Nice job breaking it.

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  39. My favorite part of 748 is the image of James Carville riding a burning alligator before an alligator-filled hurricane of fire. So, do I complain about "show, don't tell" or do I accept the fact that no artist's rendition could hold a candle to that mental image? (Although, it may be possible.)

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  40. Jesus Christ, the new xkcdexplained is hilarious

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  41. So did you all just miss what Randall was referencing? It spread like wildfire amongst my geeky and nerdy and dweeby friends. Ye all apparently are not the target audience for having missed out on this viral venn ;)

    http://laughingsquid.com/nerd-venn-diagram-geek-dork-or-dweeb/

    The comic still isn't very good, but better somewhat with this context.

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  42. Phew! Thank goodness that wasn't linked to here already, Anon 11:44, or you may have ended up looking a bit of a chump!

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  43. This is another one of those XKCD comics I can't even stand to look at, the previous occurance of that being the Flake equation. Too similar to previous graph comics, no humour and pure lazyness. Eugh.

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  44. Today's I liked. The art was what I like to call "Randy good" - not actually "good", per se, but considering it's stick figures not at all bad. It has the usual throwing rocks at the media for not actually listening to people who have a clue (which is something I rather like to see), and good god do I want to see a movie with a "rolling, alligator-filled wave of flame".

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  45. Carl:

    I loved your explanation of Faux-nerdiness. That was the most eloquent I've seen that put in a long time. Kudos. =D

    I would however like to say I would have substituted being "perceived to be smart" instead of "pretending to be smart".

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  46. On the PVP TV thing, it struck me as odd that 'Erika' had a portrait of the Queen up on the wall. As a brit I don't think many people are that patriotic in the same way that you will get pictures of Presidents on the wall in America. Just struck me as odd that someone would put that up on their office wall.

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  47. but how are we supposed to know she's british otherwise

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  48. Mr Carl or whatever, is it possible that you just care too much?

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  49. you will get pictures of Presidents on the wall in America.

    where the fuck in america to people put pictures of presidents on the wall

    like i can only imagine some grotesque parody of a republican framing a portrait of reagan

    i mean okay MAYBE some people might have washington crossing the delaware or something

    but what

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  50. Actually, a friend of mine's father has a picture of the Bush family on his wall (odd, but whatever).
    And I'd bet money there were tons of those red-white-and-blue Obama posters up on people's walls after the 2008 election.
    Neither of those things change the fact that putting pictures of a president (past or current) on one's wall is a really weird thing to do. Hell, our citizens will do things as bizarre as flying the confederate flag, but they don't put pictures up. America by and large doesn't subscribe to that particular flavor of nationalism.

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  51. man i don't think people really decorated the interiors of their houses with HOPE AND CHANGE posters, did they?

    weird if they did

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  52. @Ann: To his credit, it is from a different source. All the same, thank you for quoting my light profanity and fury at an XKCD comic that, amongst other things, managed to give a conflicting definition. I suppose "Not Language" is still related to "Language", mind you.

    I have a picture of John Cleese -- is that patriotic? I don't particularly like any of the Royalty except for Liz, and she's already all over my money. Reagan was pretty bad-ass, though, and if I were an American, I would totally put up a portrait of that glorious god-president.

    For the record, I enjoyed the latest hurricane comic. If he cut out the first two panels, it would've been pretty hilarious. But hey, it gets better as you read -- how long has it been since that happened?

    Captcha: Lusing. It is what Lusers are constantly doing when they fail at using computers; it is also the process by which one increases the brightness or sheen of a fibrous rug. Look it up.

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  53. People were weeping with joy and dancing in the streets. There were parades. It wouldn't surprise me, regardless of oddity, if people got worked up enough to put those sorts of posters up if they were inspired enough to go on riots of joy through the streets.

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  54. The new comic would be great if it stopped at panel 2.

    I have never seen more post-punchline dialogue.

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  55. People were buying Obama coins, Obama collector plates, and Obama Chia heads. Hanging a poster would be the *least* strange thing they did.

    Hanging the president's photo is common in municipal buildings, so maybe that translates to some doing it in home offices, which might lead someone to assume a Brit would have a picture of the Queen? Yeah I don't know. It wouldn't shock me if someone did it, but no I wouldn't expect it to be standard behavior.

    As for the latest xkcd, I wasn't inspired to hate it. So that's something.

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  56. I actually liked the Michael Bay one. It kind of feels like Mr. Munroe let his imagination go (but without sex, which is an instant plus), and then framed it in some weird shenanigans. Said shenanigans are mildly implausible, but more plausible and infinitely funnier than, say, 746.

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  57. the Michael Bay one is inspired by the fact that the US government actually called James Cameron in as an expert. it would be funny if it were actually about James Cameron.

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  58. "the Michael Bay one is inspired by the fact that the US government actually called James Cameron in as an expert."

    God bless America.

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  59. basically randall just retold this joke: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeSUuj98Rx0 (south park)

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  60. james cameron is an expert, how can you deny that the man who directed the terminator and aliens is a leading expert on totally rad shit

    plus i mean he knows all fucking KINDS of things about environments, avatar was like an inconvenient truth with kitty sex

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  61. I quite liked the current one, but it just fizzles out. But Ean's right - take just the first two panels, and turn Michael Bay's response into the alt-text, and it would have been much better. Short, snappy, and telling a proper - if somewhat recycled - joke.

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  62. So randall parodies the government asking a movie director about the oil disaster by having a news crew ask a movie director about the oil disaster.

    Can he at least put a little effort into his joke ideas? Like asking a squid since they're fucking experts when it comes to black liquids.

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  63. http://i50.tinypic.com/2501l4n.png

    That works a LOT better.

    Although the last exchange still sounds a little absurd.

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  64. I like the idea of asking James Cameron about the disaster. It's gives the impression of "our scientists are out of ideas and we need something totally batshit to maybe inspire them or at least piss them off until they come up with something". I'd have maybe asked Terry Gilliam or David Lynch, but I guess they wanted a plausible answer.

    Asking Michael Bay for possible results of the oil spill is just a predictable excuse to make the same joke about his movies.

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  65. I wasn't aware that James Cameron had been seriously asked. That actually makes it worse for me. I thought it was kind of a funny non-sequitor to ask Michael Bay about catastrophes rather than boring scientists, rather than parody.

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  66. I saw a comic about the fire hurricane a few days before the new XKCD came out. Did anyone else see it?

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  67. I just wanted to say that I stopped reading Kurtz's comic a long time ago because of his pompous self-righteousness. So, that was probably really there, what was seen in the Penny Arcade TV spot.

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  68. http://www.smbc-comics.com/?db=comics&id=1777#comic

    Randall is the left one in this beautifully renditioned SMBC comic

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  69. RE: Kurtz

    Yeah, that's Kurtz. It's hard to tell what to make of him. I don't think he's intentionally an asshole -- on most occasions -- but he certainly is, hm... pompous? Looks down on people. Even the ones he looks up to (Such as going from insulting the Garfield comic strip to basically copying the formula for himself, and then nutting himself over the fact that Jim Davis sent him an autograph because he likes PVP). Some would say he's earned this right (Which would be all of his apologists).

    PVP Makes Me Sad's author, and then the replacement author, and then the replacement's replacement (Me), have probably all given up on the entertaining pastime of critical PVP discussion for the simple reason of being unable to continue visiting PVPonline.com on a monthly, weekly, or haha daily basis. The strip sucks too much (Especially when you start picking apart the patterns to how and why it sucks) and it's boring, plus Kurtz is almost a reasonably nice guy if you look past how he doesn't understand certain basic principles of comedy, art, and human worth. Short version: I'm sure none of us read PVP anymore, nor do we want to. I'm largely content to wait for PVP's to die on its own time and terms; a natural heat death.

    RE: Kate Beaton

    I am excited for her!

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