2018-03-11

XKCD - #1952 - Backpack Decisions & Questionable Content - #3676 - Put It On A Jazz Drive


When I was a kid, I didn't really understand how jokes worked. I didn't really understand how anything else worked either, but that's beside the point. I think it's a fairly universal thing for kids, when they get a laugh out of someone, to tell the same joke over again to see if they can get the same laugh. I've heard a few different people with children talk about things like this happening. And then the next stage, when that doesn't work, is somehow making the punchline 'bigger'. "To get to the other side!" becomes "To get to every side everywhere!", and so on. 

Just in general, kids don't understand the 'more is less' idea. You can see this in Hyperbole And A Half's "The Scariest Story", where the idea of 'a closet' quickly becomes 'THREE HUNDRED CLOSETS'. I remember specifically from my own childhood, after I first saw the Spongebob episode "Graveyard Shift" for the first time (and keep in mind I was like, five) I tried telling my own scary story, which took the idea of 'the lights will flicker on and off and etc' and turned that into 'and the lights will go up and down the wall and turn red' or something to that effect. 

I find it kinda interesting how when you do 'scary' too much, it stops being scary and becomes funny. Like, 'the killer with a hook for a hand' is scary, but then if you make it 'the killer with a hook for a hand and a skull face and he leaves a trail of blood with every footstep' suddenly that becomes a cartoon. Conversely, if you do 'funny' too much, it stops being funny and just becomes dumb, or, on occasion, a little bit creepy. 

I understand that in the two comics above, the exaggeration is part of the joke. I understand that. But the exaggeration is taken to such a degree that I can only think that these characters as depicted would not be functional people. And yes, I am taking the joke seriously, but only because of how the jokes are presented. 

In the XKCD, Randall is framing the comic to be #relatable. The first-person caption, the fact that the stick figure is standing in a store instead of shopping online, the way the graph underneath lists common things like laptops instead of Randall-specific things like 'hosting server' or etc. These things are meant to make the reader put themselves in the stick figure's/Randall's shoes. We are meant to be laughing with him, not at him. 

In the Questionable Content, we are viewing a moment in a story. This story includes a recollection of a suicide, discussions of war by a veteran who lost all her squadmates, a near-death from drinking, etc etc. My point is that Questionable Content, although it may be generally comedic, has Serious Moments. And in order to take these Serious Moments seriously, there needs to be basic order and logic. Sure we can have super science cardigans and all that; but nobody is going to spontaneously learn to levitate, the laws of physics still apply to everyone, etc. If someone is punched in panel one, they should have a bruise in panel two. Logic needs to apply.

In short, because of the context and presentation that these two comics have, the silly one-off gags that could be funny instead become worrying. Like, Emily just described herself as having vivid long-term hallucinations that she can't distinguish from reality. That's a problem! That's a big big problem! She works at a coffee shop with boiling liquid all day! I understand her thing is that she's unrepentantly weird, but there's a difference between enjoying weird food and literally being unable to tell what's real and what isn't. I know it's just a one-off gag, but now for every strip Emily appears in, I'll be thinking "Why has she not gone on meds yet that's what they're FOR.".

The XKCD comic is less unnerving since we don't have as much of an established universe, but it's still troubling. Again, I understand, exaggeration, comic effect; but the comic does not lend itself as framed to cartoonish hyperbole. Look at the art, it's a detailed drawing of a standard shopping aisle. And the guy is going over concerns that a person would probably actually have when buying a backpack. That makes the comic seem more grounded in reality. 

A better image would be the guy literally digging through a massive pile of backpacks, with the narration like "That one doesn't have pockets, that one's not waterproof, none of these are good enough, none of these are good enough", and then the caption could be "I've spent more time trying to find the right backpack then I spent trying to find the right college." I'd still think it was a weird choice for a comic, yknow, like, seriously, it's just a backpack; but it wouldn't be worth a write-up. 


On an entirely unrelated note, I don't know to what extent any of you are invested in me as a person beyond the #content I produce. Which is totally understandable if you aren't, really, I'm just a guy. But on the off chance you've been wondering why I took that break back in 2015 (back when I thought one paragraph out of four counted as 'reviewing the comic'), please feel free to check out the first thirty minutes or so of the latest episode of my dumb podcast (autoplaying sound warning if you click the link), where all is revealed, possibly to an uncomfortable degree. 

In conclusion, I dyed my hair again.