xkcd remains one of the last few web comics I check with any regularity. I once assumed much of the strip's hardest-core geekery would fly straight over my head, but the lay reader only really needs command of four facts to get by:
- You can do lots of stuff with the programming language Python
- Math 'n logic cannot withstand application to love 'n sex
- "If you were a sort function, you'd never break the nlogn barrier"
Thus armed, I checked for new installments the other day and found this one:
Though eminently chuckleworthy on its own merits — we've all met that guy, many times and in many guises — I suspected it of having a parodic element that I was missing. Google turned up a post confirming it: apparently Randall Munroe is making light not just of bland people but of a Dos Equis commercial as well.
But by that point, I no longer cared; the post itself turned out to be on a blog called "xkcd sucks", which is about the author's distaste for xkcd — and nothing else. This astonished me, though it shouldn't have; we're all aware of the sprawling culture of internet bitching, however we vainly try to ignore it. This particular effort just happened to take internet bitching to a level of specificity I've never before encountered.
The blog makes the case for its existence thusly:
I have been getting increasingly pissed at xkcd recently. It's feeling more and more like Randall Munroe is a man who is out of ideas, so he is just writing comics that include as many references to computer science as possible, or his hilarious relationships with many women, or comics with hardly any effort put into them, or some other not actually funny idea. While I still like a new comic on occasion, I feel that more and more of them need the Iron Finger of Mockery knowingly pointed at them.
This sounds like a relative of the common "But I'm helping!" justification for sociopathically compulsive complaining, whereby the complainer/justifier casts himself as a noble whistleblower, denouncing culture's naked emperors and thus improving the lives of readers, listeners, players and viewers everywhere. I do see a kernel of truth in this stance: creators sometimes get lazy, and when they do, we should pay them less mind. But I submit that no creator of culture, no matter how careless and lackadaisical, is as lazy as even the most indiustrious generator of pure ridicule.1
And let us never underestimate the "creepy weirdo" factor. Adam Cadre put it best in his writeup of Alasdair Gray's Lanark, a postmodern-y early-80s novel about a young fellow who kills himself over a bad case of failed art atop failed woo:
One of the things Lanark gets right is the link between female inattention and unhealthy attitudes towards art. In Lanark, Thaw can't get girls, so he cathects onto a church mural he's been commissioned to paint, and when that project goes sour, he goes mad.
[ ... ]
Not everyone who is bereft of female attention is capable of creating his own art. Sometimes he gets worked up about other people's. And hangs out on Usenet.
Sometimes he is a genuine psychotic who reads a harmless epigraph in an [interactive fiction] manual and cries, "You have bastardized. Do not be so proud of this. It is disgusting; you are not showing off, but spitting upon decent works. [ ... ] You offend literacy. I myself deeply care what Wittgenstein (and Eliot) wrote and thought, and I hate to see it bastardized."
Sometimes he is merely a sociopath who defends his attacks on everyone who has ever written a piece of IF by claiming, "Many people here think I'm a troll, a destructive presence, someone who doesn't care about IF. But if truth is to be told no one cares more about IF than I do. I'm the demanding mother who disciplines her son not because she hates him, but because she loves him. I'm 'trolling' you people not because I hate you, but because I love and respect interactive fiction."
Sometimes he is a stalker, obsessing about a single author and declaring that the "worship" of this author "has gotten out of hand in the IF community, when the truth is that there is little substance to him," and that this is as important an issue as world hunger, because "injustice is injustice."
One of the themes of Lanark is that people who are getting laid do not say things like this.
Thaw goes crazy because without a girl to deeply care for, he must instead deeply care about his mural. Which is better than deeply caring what Wittgenstein wrote and thought. But not as good as deeply caring for a girl and having a girl deeply care for him.
While I concur, I'm not going to make the connection that anyone who would build a blog for the sole purpose of ragging on someone else's internet thing must be going through one hell of a dry spell. (But can you imagine it otherwise?) I will argue that the energy currently spent whining about what's wrong with cultural entity x would be much more wisely spent making real stuff. This is not simply a coded version of "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all;" I mean that, if you think something's bad, the ultimate rebuke is not to thrust the "Iron Finger of Mockery" but to make something better and eat its lunch thereby. You think that comic is bad? Make a better one. You think that blog is bad? Make a better one. You think that podcast is bad? Make a better one. Pull a reverse Ellsworth Toohey and get those false shrines razed.
This is why I don't burn my precious days of life posting screeds to a blog called, say, "Kevin Smith has Failed to Deliver on His Early Promise", find that to be the case as I may. Even simply ignoring the Kevin Smith films I think mediocre is a more positive move; disseminating knowledge about better movies (and why they're better) is a further step up. The best response would be to make better movies, but you'll have to stay tuned for that.
1 Though sometimes culture and ridicule profitably intersect, as in the widely-respected satirical programs that come out of English television in the 60s and 70s.