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XKCD Explained, One Strip at a Time (xkcdexplained.tumblr.com)
91 points by KirinDave on Oct 29, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 89 comments

_Infinitesimal Jest: Towards A Intertextual Metanarrative Of Subtextual Resonances Between XKCD and XKCD-Explained_

* It can and has been claimed by that the humor in XKCD is superficial, driven more by the dog-whistle power of recogition of cultural signs and signifiers than by a "true" or "significant" humor. Of course, an equally valid critical response questions the notion of "truth" and observes that the free play of signs and signifiers unmoored from a confining narrative core is a potent artistic force driving the work.

* A persistent debate between critical factions regarding XKCD is the question of whether those who claim XKCD is superficial don't understand the scientific and cultural references in the work, which debate is addressed by a direct recitation of those references in XKCD Explained.

* A common critical observation about XKCD that may not be obvious to the lay reader who does not closely track the comic is that it might be repetitive, which is to say that when the comics are stripped to their narrative kernel, many of the comics are essentially the same.

* Another common observation that may not be obvious to the lay reader is that it might be derivative, with comics repurposing the narrative and conceptual core of other, non-XKCD webcomics. This of course is an invalid critique, as XKCD exists intertextually with all other webcomics and is in fact enjoined to make use of and amplify the key ideas of those other comics.

* A more easily observable concern with XKCD is the relationship between the comic and gender, and in particular with sex, that concern being itself the observation of a subtext that implies that all references to sex are titillating to its audience, within which audience broad cultural norms have precluded actual experience with the reproductive act, and often contact with the opposite sex.

* Which of course drives us to the key concern with XKCD AND XKCD Sucks, which is that the authors of both works, being themselves bound to the norms of the media of English text, believe men are superior to women. Note the phallic symbolism of the letters "X" and "K", and the subordinate positions of the vaginal characters "C" and "D", the last of which represents (semiotically) the supressed but controlling desire of the male writer to maintain a pregnant state in the female reader.

You don't HAVE to use complicated words and sentences, you know. No one's impressed. No one sensible, anyway. Your content may be relevant or even valid but it's presented in an almost haughty lexicon.

Unless you're parodying something in which case WOOOSH

The parent comment is a parody of self-important postmodernist "analysis". (Note that the scare quotes, or "scare quotes", around the word "'analysis'", are typical of our hegemonic, phallocentric culture.)

I prefer to hold fast to the idea that this commenter actually believes that I think the letters C and D are vaginal.

Thank you so hard.

Oh give it to me KirinDave. Yeah, that's what I need.

I believe the word you want is "yonic."

100 internets to you.

Holy Fuck dude I think we need you to consult for us.


Hey! It's like Marmaduke Explained (http://marmadukeexplained.blogspot.com/), but, in a subversive twist, the commentary is less funny than the comic. Postmodern!

Managing to make a satire of XKCD less funny than XKCD is itself a kind of perverse achievement, and I applaud them for that.

What I find funny is that Randall fell victim to exactly what he accused Jim Davis of a long time ago. Early XKCD was, if not necessarily brilliant, unexpected and often very clever in its jokes. I know one of its earliest influences was Achewood, which, for those of you who don't know, is the Webcomic To End All Webcomics, against which nothing but the best print comics compare. It was more effortless and came across as a comic trying to say something.

His nerd jokes were occasionally actually really good. When they weren't, they came across with the air of "Fuck you, I'm not putting these comics online for you." Occasionally he'd hit upon a nice riff with his heartbreak comics, too, and his whimsical outlook towards life was a lot more sincere and less forced. Then he homogenized, began repeating joke concepts, and started spitting out a lot of derivative work, with only the occasional truly clever idea. It's never gotten worse than mediocre, but it's very frequently mediocre.

I guess what I'm trying to say is all of you should read Achewood instead. The nerd jokes are better (http://achewood.com/index.php?date=09232002), it's funnier than any comic I've ever read (it's the comic that topped Calvin and Hobbes after seventeen years on the top of my list), and it's a real start-up, selling monthly premium updates rather than relying on any advertising whatsoever.

I mostly agree about XKCD. Though I did not find (http://achewood.com/index.php?date=09232002) very funny. I will never let my family down by programming in Java.

The problem with Achewood, and why it's never been a hit, is that you have to read from the first comic to really get into it. The humor is character-driven and very rich, and you don't get any of that without starting from the beginning. But in six panels it's making four or five jokes, which is pretty astounding.

Perhaps. I found that the artwork got more accomplished in the recent comics, so it's nicer to look at.

It is definitely inspired by Marmaduke Explained, and we love that blog. As for the rest, we'll let the audience decide.

Yep, definitely not funny.

Marmaduke Explained has the benefit that Marmaduke is worse. It lacks the basic fundamentals of a joke in many cases. For what it's worth, XKCD does not have this. It may or may not be funny, but it is not awful.

XKCD certainly has its share of completely punchless entries (http://bit.ly/4E2Uv0), especially in the first year.

It sort of amazes me that so many people can be fans of discomfort humor and missed-context humor (like in "The Office" or "Parcs and Rec") and yet when it is applied to something friendly to them they flip out. We all agree the outrage over this silliness is part of the fun in this project. You could probably apply this same joke to ANY webcomic if you have the right tone. If you want to see someone doing it wrong, check xkcdsucks.

Am I the only one who doesn't enjoy discomfort/missed-context humor no matter the subject/participants? I always just feel embarrassed and ashamed that I can do nothing to help the fictional character out of their predestined impasse, and angry at the author for putting me in such a situation.

That's why I dislike so many "comedies". Too many rely on a character acting like an idiot; it's too easy to empathize with them.

Yes, clearly. The Office: bad. XKCD: good. It's all so clear to me now.

If xkcd is "unfriendly" to you, xkcdsucks is actually pretty damn funny. Randall appears to have actual groupies, so it's hard to feel too bad for him, even if Carl and Aloria can be pretty mean.

Yeah, I just don't like making fun of the drawing style. "This just in stick figures are crude, etc. etc."

Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog: you understand it better, but the frog dies in the process. Mark Twain

The author of this blog is trying to kill the frog.

A second valid response would be to correctly attribute the quote to E.B. White: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/E._B._White

You should do this one: http://xkcd.com/33/

"the androgynous figure has arbitrarily promised not to make humor out of referring to itself any longer. given the assumption that the 'blank stare' is funny, the promise has been broken and regret sets in."

I agree. To my way of thinking if someone doesn't understand XKCD and laugh at it the first time they see it they aren't going to find it funny after an explanation.

The explanation of a joke can be a joke itself - witness several of the "explanations". While I like XKCD, they aren't ALL successful either.

This guy is writing a blog explaining the comic XKCD using a dry, faintly sarcastic tone.

Note: He seems to have issues with XKCD's apparent feminist slant.

Although deconstructionism forces us to concede that any "slant" in XKCD is merely a textual artifact, and all critical perspectives on the work are equally valid, it is nevertheless more equally valid to conclude that XKCD's gender politics may be more self-serving to the author than a legitimate (pace manocentric male-ocratic words like "legitimate") statement of empathy or outrage over the station of the modern woman in today's technological world.

(Taking this comment seriously...) After spending time with Randall IRL, I'm convinced his feelings on the subject are genuinely empathetic.

That said, I don't think the comics are a particularly good expression of this. The male is always being rational-logical and the female intuitive-wholistic, which seems a bit sexist, even if the rational-logical character is always the butt of the joke.

I think you're trying to make a joke, but if not, I have no idea how you reached that conclusion.

He is using deconstructionist language on deconstructionism itself. This is funny because it shows us that deconstructionism contradicts itself.

"tptacek explained". Nice.

I'll refer you to Lacan, if you don't mind.

Look at tptacek's other posts. He is making a joke here. It is a funny one.

Its always frustrating when things more more equally valid than other equally valid things.


No, he has issues with Randall's desperate nice guy affectations -- the obnoxious "ladies, I sure do love cunnilingus" vibe.

This guy just just nailed it.

Well, this has finally motivated me to buy the XKCD Volume 0 book (http://store.xkcd.com/).

It will be a birthday present to me from my wife, so I used her credit card. I had previously been concerned that purchasing it from her and for me would have required me to explain every, single comic. Now I can send here this link instead.

She can also tell her friends she bought me "a subversive book on gender relations" rather than "a comic about that Linux thing".

I think for some reason I'm going to go and make her a sandwich.

I think XKCD is sophomoric, but this is largely just of godawful quality.

The blonde girl calls megan’s boyfriend and convinces him to make some delicious nachos. However, he doesn’t know that the blonde girl’s real motive was to kill megan’s wifi signal with the microwave he uses because they were playing a first person shooter video game against each other over the internet, and the blonde girl wanted to kill her.

If you're going to write something scathing about how foolish thing X is, you had better make damn well sure your writing is actually better than thing X. This reads like a bright 12-year-old posted it (but not that bright.)

The explanations of the jokes are funny because they're not funny. You see, you'd normally expect explanations of jokes to be funny. But these explanations are not funny. That's what makes the whole thing funny.

"You see, you'd normally expect explanations of jokes to be funny."

Who would expect that? It's a old cliche that explaining a joke isn't funny or entertaining. I certainly wasn't expecting humor when I looked at it.

(Nor did I find any, but then, the "it's funny because it's not funny" shtick is right up there with "Bill Clinton is a horny guy, amirite?" jokes in Dated Gag Heaven.)

Well, there is an interesting effect. Some of the jokes in XKCD are so bad that explaining them dryly has the unintended consequence of making them funnier. For example, http://bit.ly/UiiM5.

Not really. It's just "unfunny" and "uninteresting description of unfunny".

Now, if there were an additional level of description, something could be salvaged.

"The writer of the explanation characterizes a 'full rugby uniform' as lacking any trousers, belt, or shoes to invoke homophobic stereotypes about the English."

...Meh, maybe not even that would help.

Except they aren't very funny, and in quite a few cases completely wrong.

thanks Alex. it's really not that hard guys.

Not really. I hope I'm not being overly critical, but "a weary customer" is pretty purple prose, and "intelligent enough to be aware of its affect" -- "affect?" C'mon. "Effect."

If this were some other kind of writing, like a forum post or a blog entry, no problem, stuff like that wouldn't faze me. But I think you have to clear a high bar in quality if you're writing some sarcastic & condescending criticism of something else... especially when the "something else" is already aiming at a (relatively) highbrow audience. Otherwise it's not credible to me and not funny.

Not deliberately purple, I suspect: substituting "weary" for "wary" is a pretty common mistake.

In that particular case, you missed the joke, so no.


Anyone who doesn't get that graphing historical toilet usage times resulting from tragically poor medical science against modern toilet usage times resulting from pathetic laziness and/or extreme nerdiness regarding laptop computers is hysterically brilliant and funny, needs to get a life or at least go away and stop bothering people.

I don't know the guy, but judging from the hot girls modelling T-shirts on the website, I'd take a guess that the author of XKCD is not a male hyper feminist as the critic tried to claim. Hot girls don't go for male hyper feminists. He's simply a confident male who has figured out that making smart girls happy (thru fun comic strips starring smart girls) tends to get him laid. In this he is no different from any man who tells a gal a joke to help her relax.

Criticizing a wildly popular work of art known for weaving complicated math and science topics into quality jokes is dangerous to begin with. There is so much danger that the reason you don't "get it" is because its over your head and you don't know it. To then express the criticism with such poorly-written captions is just sad.

XKCD forever.

Amusingly, there's an inversion of that last bit being played out - the response to people not finding the "gag" of the explanations hilarious is that the joke is just so over folks' heads. We can't get the "real" joke!

The "real" joke is that, hey, this guy that people call "funny" occasionally makes unfunny comics - and we can find unfunny ones from years back! No? Uh, the "real" joke is that there is no humor, so it's a joke. ...Or, um, would you believe that the "real" joke is that people find our shtick dumb and object, because they're just not cool enough to give a thumbs-up to half-assed attacks on things they like?

It pretty much just ends up sounding very condescending (especially down the page).

Everyone just wants attention. At least xkcd puts some effort into it.

Everyone. just. wants. attention. It's that simple.

Invariably, unless I write this sentence, someone will accuse me of wanting attention; don't.

I'm glad that Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory is not alone in the world.

(Edit; Also, if you're going to over-explain the joke, at least over-explain the alt text too!)

We debated this, but we wanted to do it IN the alt text, which turns out to be a bit of a pain to do on tumblr.

This one is much better (and useful): http://www.explainxkcd.com/

Wow, so there are two blogs explaining xkcd and two xkcd hate blogs. That's what I call success.

I think (hope, actually) that you have the numbers in that sentence wrong.

This one explains it, but the one in the posting "explains" it (comments on it, humorously). Both can be enjoyed in their own ways.

Well, now I do feel like I've just killed a frog.

I feel like this blog is an optical illusion where, if I stare long enough, I'll see John Campbell.

Except I'm still not seeing it.

I've never seen a website where "next" is to the left, and "previous" is to the right.

It's called "tumblr.com" and it's fairly popular.

He also apparently thinks Munroe is a reverse misogynist. There's got to be a proper word for that...

There is also some internal debate about if he is in fact an anti-semite or perhaps just insensitive to cultural issues in general:

http://xkcdexplained.tumblr.com/post/227070875/a-man-wearing... http://xkcdexplained.tumblr.com/post/226266899/the-trick-her...

You guys assume a lot about Randall. Jew-hat? Seriously? Why not a generic black hat?

The second explanation has the benefit in that "blackhats" are generally considered bad guys (descending from the old Hollywood western tradition of bad guys wearing black hats and good guys wearing black hats).

You seem to like taking the worst possible interpretation of Randall possible.

And what do the neutral guys wear? Black hats?

I do wonder what leaps in logic get you from a stick figure's black hat to "Hasidic Jew’s black hat".

Not only did those two posts forget the funny, they might actually create trouble for the xkcd (politically correct activist + google search + no understanding of humor or satire = pain in the ass). Stupider things have happened.

Okay, so you could ignore the obvious resemblance to the Hasidic Jew Hat (http://bit.ly/29cFxJ), I suppose. But then what about "Brown Thighs? = Eww." What is wrong with brown thighs?

At some point I have to question if they guy is doing it subtly on purpose or just completely oblivious, and neither is good.

P.S. We didn't "forget the funny." We went searching for it, and these descriptions are what we came up with.

The hat also resembles all manner of Safari hats and is pretty close to a stick figure representation of the black hat conference.

Ok, you went searching for the funny and never found it. Look, even in satire, implying someone is a racist is bad (I really hope this is satire and the "At some point" sentence is not actually serious).

As for the eww, check the forum http://bit.ly/4rD9cU for an explanation.

"Even in satire, implying someone is a racist is bad".

This bodes ill for The Producers, doesn't it?

Goodwin by indirection it is :)

I suppose the exception would be people who are admitted racists.

"The hat also resembles all manner of Safari hats"

Or porkpie hats, or fedoras.

My interpretation of that joke was scatological. Though, I don't know if that says more about me than Randall.

If that's part of the "satire" then congratulations, you officially don't know when to stop. If it isn't then congratulations, you're an absolute moron.

So, the trolling here extends to trying to imply that the guy's racist?

Nicely done, I guess. I figure this one will ping up to 150+ with this crowd.

Ugh! I get the same feeling reading this as I do reading this: http://garfieldminusgarfield.net/

yeah, clear ripoff of explainxkcd.com. these guys aren't even original

Some of these were really helpful.

Surprisingly, I actually think this may be useful to explain some comics to less-geeky friends who could still be able to appreciate them. Lot of them are horribly ruined by the explanations, but some of them (Locke on Wordpress, for one) would still be enjoyable, I think.

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