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Young Geoffrey

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The horror! The horror! (of one's personal axe being gored) [Jul. 9th, 2010|12:43 pm]
Young Geoffrey
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The horror! The horror!
(Anthropology majors of the world unite!)

One Two
XKDC webcomic used under
CreativeCommons licence 2.5.

Back in the 80s, "feminist jokes" were all the rage for a season or two in my circle. Usually, they would focus on feminists' alleged lack of a sense of humour. For example,

Question: "How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?"

Answer: "That's not funny!"

The joke was and is funny because it did and does illustrate a truth about people (usually, of course, women) for whom Feminism more or less informs every waking moment, but also because it illustrates a more universal truth. Namely, that very few of us can easily laugh at ourselves and what we consider important.

All of which is to note that the reactions to today's XKCD webcomic at its Livejournal feed is in equal measures hilarious and depressing.

Hilarious, because a blatant troll (hover over the cartoon above to see just how blatant!) gets the expected and desired reaction: Dozens of anthropology majors take offence and rise up on their hind legs to type comments saying so. Depressing, because a blatant troll ... well, same thing, really.

The first fish to rise to the bait is someone called Haribo, who says,

"How would they get to TVs without the concept of three? Someone didn't think about this joke for more than a few seconds!

"Also that alt text is pretty dickish. Fuck this comic."

The alt-text, for those who want to savour it, reads as follows: "Cue letters from anthropology majors complaining that this view of numerolinguistic development perpetuates a widespread myth. They get to write letters like that because when you're not getting a real science degree you have a lot of free time. Zing!"

Now, I am not an anthropology major, but I have dabbled and am grateful to people who have spent time studying cultures other than my own. In other words, I like anthropology, though I don't think I'm qualified to weigh in on whether or not it is a "real science".

I am, however, qualified enough to suggest that far too many people in our culture (I speak as a white, male, Canadian, for the record) certainly shares a propensity with others to make all kinds of loud and excited noises any time someone comes around and hurts our particular feelings.

To paraphrase Ani Difranco, some things just aren't worth getting one's panties all twisted up about. And a webcomic taking a deliberate and deliberately cheap shot at a particular field of academics really is one of them.

Originally posted at Edifice Rex Online, which you really out to check out.

This entry was originally posted at http://ed-rex.dreamwidth.org/8868.html. Comment there using OpenID, or here as per normal.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: rantipole6
2010-07-09 09:08 pm (UTC)
As an anthropology BA holder, this delights me, mostly because I knew so many clueless people in my department that would probably be up in arms about this. I find it funny that a lot of anthropology majors will so vehemently defend the desecration of Native American burial grounds and removal of sacred objects in the name of self-serving scientific research, but god forbid anyone should poke fun at anything they consider sacrosanct. What a bunch of tools.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2010-07-10 03:08 pm (UTC)

Hey! I *use* tools! How dare you insult my utensils?!?

What amuses me most is that, of the comments I bothered to read, most seemed to be most upset by precisely what he said would upset them: his contention that anthropology isn't a "real" science. Can we say "jab hit the target" much?

(For the record, I think there's all sorts of good in the "soft sciences", but when they pretend to have the predictive qualities of physics, they start to look pretty silly.)

Meanwhile, I'm curious. How long before a burial ground — Native American or otherwise — becomes fair game for desecration — or even just archaeological excavation?
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[User Picture]From: jade_noir
2010-07-10 01:44 am (UTC)

on titles and different interpretations of humor

You should put that title (mountains from molehills department) from the f'book on the livejournal post! you put a lot of effort into your titles and it's one of your writing strong-points.. if not often a cheesy play on words.

...so you're also subscribing to the lj rss feed now!it certainly does add a little giggle to our Monday, Wednesday and Friday friends-pages!

I love the usage of the 'zing' in his postscript.

and yes we all need to learn to laugh at ourselves. I personally wasn't so deeply effected or interested in the offended souls of the anthropologists but I can see how they might be a bit hurt by the comment just because it touches on a thing that I believe that many anthropologists are insecure about: the validation of their career as a science. Because in most of societies (and my) eyes, it is not an exact science but some (desperately trying to be rigorous) academic anthropologists may be busy fooling themselves that it is a scientific field because they are jealous of the definite validity and provable nature of other forms of experimental studies. Those people might however have the ability to laugh and would laugh the hardest perhaps, because in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, " Humor is an almost physiological response to fear". In conclusion, I have some confidence that the more serious and thoughtful anthropologists who read this comic would be the ones to actually laugh out loud.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2010-07-10 03:18 pm (UTC)

Re: on titles and different interpretations of humor

I was tempted by your suggestion to modify the title (and flattered that you've noticed the effort I put into my headlines!), but finally decided to leave well enough alone, mostly on the grounds that I don't like messing with history — but also due to sloth.

...so you're also subscribing to the lj rss feed now!it certainly does add a little giggle to our Monday, Wednesday and Friday friends-pages!

If you mean the XKCD feed, then yes. And it certainly does make life a little brighter (as does Pearls Before Swine).

I can see how they might be a bit hurt by the comment just because it touches on a thing that I believe that many anthropologists are insecure about: the validation of their career as a science. Because in most of societies (and my) eyes, it is not an exact science ...

Yes, exactly. Possibly the worst offender along those lines is economics which, because they deal with so many numbers just love to dress up their research as if they were writing up repeatable and falsifiable experiments.

Speaking of non-rigorous experiments, the cartoon certainly managed to gather quite a bit of anecdotal evidence to support its own thesis that anthropology majors don't have much of a sense of humour about themselves.
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[User Picture]From: girliejones
2010-07-10 10:24 am (UTC)
The joke was and is funny because it did and does illustrate a truth about people (usually, of course, women) for whom Feminism more or less informs every waking moment, but also because it illustrates a more universal truth. Namely, that very few of us can easily laugh at ourselves and what we consider important.

I don't understand what you are saying here. As a woman, feminism kinda does inform every waking moment - I don't get to not be a woman for random momemts in the day. Also, the idea that if I don't laugh at what you (or the joke) laughs at, that means that I can't laugh or don't have a sense of humour?
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2010-07-10 03:37 pm (UTC)
As a woman, feminism kinda does inform every waking moment - I don't get to not be a woman for random momemts in the day.

But in fact, feminism doesn't inform every waking moment of all women — or probably even most women.

Which I think reinforces at least part of the point I was trying to illustrate with the feminist/lightbulb joke. Namely, that we (human beings) have an extremely strong tendency to universalize that which is important to us, personally. And to take that which we find important, far more seriously than do those who don't share our enthusiasm/concern/passion/what-have-you.

To put it another way, I think that most of us (maybe all of us; I like to think I'm an exception but it may be I just don't recognize my own sore points) have a very difficult time laughing at ourselves and at that which we hold most dear.

Also, the idea that if I don't laugh at what you (or the joke) laughs at, that means that I can't laugh or don't have a sense of humour?

No, that certainly isn't the point I was trying to get across. But I would hope that if you, for example, were a regular reader of a sometimes mean-spirited comic like XKDC that you wouldn't suddenly say, "Fuck this comic" just because it one day mocked something dear to you, rather than something you didn't care too much about it.
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[User Picture]From: girliejones
2010-07-10 03:40 pm (UTC)
I do read XKCD and I'm kinda just not finding it funny these days. That particular one was one in a line of not really that funny comics and I must say that i think it reads tired.

And I dunno that feminism doesn't inform the waking time of most women, I think possibly its in the definition and the perception rather than the execution (that it doesn't). The struggle for equality and all that ...

I can and do laugh at myself. But there's a difference between me laughing at myself and you laughing at me, if you get me.
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[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2010-07-10 06:55 pm (UTC)

D'oh! (I almost never forget to include a subject-line!)

That particular one was one in a line of not really that funny comics and I must say that i think it reads tired.

I liked it, in part because The Count was one of my favourite Sesame Street characters, and because it reminded me of a number of Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons in which he paired early humans side-by-side with dinosaurs — and which, apparently (though I can't find a sitation) for which he would always receive an outraged letter or two from irate paleontologists.


[Further edit: Speaking of having a sense of humour, if Wikipedia is to be believed, the paleontologists have officially decreed those spikes to be, in fact, "thagomizers".

I've been aware of XKDC for a long time, but have only been reading it regularly for a while, so I won't venture an opinion as to how it compares to its earlier incarnations. It's makes me smile more often than not, though.

And I dunno that feminism doesn't inform the waking time of most women, I think possibly its in the definition and the perception rather than the execution (that it doesn't). The struggle for equality and all that ...

I was thinking, first, of all two many younger women I know and have known who use the "I'm not a feminist, but ..." line, but mostly of religious fundamentalist women of various isms who (somehow) really do, consciously, reject feminism, equality and probably everything else that you and certainly I consider Good and Proper.

... there's a difference between me laughing at myself and you laughing at me, if you get me.

I think I do, but there is also a difference between finding a comic funny when it's laughing at others, but then deciding it's "pretty dickish" when it goes after one's own particular major. (Of course, the internet in general and Livejournal in particular being what they are, it's quite possible most of those objecting weren't regular readers of the strip but instead were just piling on at the urging of one offended party.

.

Edited to fix bolloxed HTML.



Edited at 2010-07-10 07:06 pm (UTC)
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