Intelligent, Witty, and Disappointingly Crude.
So, XKCD has a reputation for being one of the best webcomics out there. I disagree. Sure, it has some amazingly obscure jokes that require mathematical knowledge to understand, and sure it is often funny, but, more often, it descends into mean-spirited humor. For example, Black Hat Guy, upon hearing the old riddle involving the three words in The English Language that ends in "ngry", cuts off the jokester's hand, saying "Communicating poorly and then acting smug when you are misunderstood is not clever. I hope we've learned something today". Apparently, making inane riddles is a crime worthy of dishandbobulation. But really, most of XKCD is based around communicating poorly and then acting smug when you are misunderstood. That's the basis of all the really obscure mathematical jokes. Speaking of acting smug, that adjective could describe most of the comic. It's very highbrow, and it's often condescending towards Liberal Arts Majors, Pedants, people who hate Neologisms, internet nerds, string theorists, and people who have eclectic interests. Many strips are written purely to be annoying to the reader. Yes, it is funny, but it's not the type of humor I like. One out of five stars.
Most elitist humour ever.
On the whole, there are very few people who know anything about String Theory, or Schrodinger's Cat, so much of XKCD's science, maths and computer-programming based humour will make no sense whatsoever to much of the uneducated masses. The enjoyment people get from XKCD is not from finding the jokes actually funny (they often aren't), but from understanding the jokes at all. Reading XKCD, you sort of give yourself a congradulatory chuckle everytime you actually understand a joke, as though this is your reward for all those years, learning the in and outs of programmer languages:
- "Damn, I knew all that time spent learning about the properties of Strontium would come in handy!"
- I am not trying to suggest that elitism is bad.
- I am not even condemning XKCD for being elitist. I actually praised it for being so.
- By pointing out that the humour is elitist, I am merely trying to suggest that some will not get the more sophisticated jokes which cater to specific niches. I am treating the term "elitist" as partly synonymous with "niche" in that both terms apply to smaller, specific groups.
- Regardless of whether or not the jokes are elitist, (admittedly, many of XKCD's jokes are simple and straightforward), the major criticism I am making of XKCD is that I don't find the jokes funny, and that the only humour I could exact from the site was the self-congratulatory kind I have mentioned earlier. This is a personal case of YMMV, but of course, that goes without saying in a subjective review.
Elitist? Count me unimpressed
I got into xkcd years ago, back when it was probably on strip two hundred something. What it was then was slightly surreal and a refreshing touch of "hey remember those wierd things you used to do?" Years later, what more has really been done? Maybe it has gotten more openly bitter about liberal arts and maybe had a few strips where the author thought he could make people aware of stuff. Mostly though, it feels like I've read the same 4 strips two hundred times a piece. Mostly though it's the same old stuff only now it's wrapped up in the pretension of being "Genius Bonus" Science jokes while at the same time trying to appeal to a large audience. This means that really most of his jokes end up referencing 11th or 12th grade science and doing some cheap word play or clearly misunderstanding them. I'm a "liberal arts major" and honestly, I get most of his jokes, the ones I miss seem like something that can be thought of after skimming over a wiki page. There's no genuine wierdness or inspiration to them and so they get stale pretty quickly. xkcd has been trapped between being the "Science" comic and appealling to a large audience [mostly of geeks granted] which limits anything really interesting that can be done with jokes. It's like referncing Plato's Cave or Schrodinger's Cat; It's a small part of a field that people who don't know what they are talking about cling to. So it's turned to mentioning something you learnt in 11th grade and expecting you to be impressed or else just saying "Hey! I do wierd things too! Listen to me!". With that in mind, even the old jokes seem more trite. He hit a niche before anyone else was willing to exploit it so directly: Pandering directly to nerd nostalgia that isn't based on brands. Which was nice for me until I saw what was happening. Now it just feels like he could say any wierd thought he's had and people who have had it will give a standing ovation. It feels sort of trapped in that stage we all had once where we'd say anything to fit in, without necessarily understanding it; "Hey Physics Majors! I hate Liberal Arts too!" or "Hey Internet! Isn't 4chan craaaaaaazy?" Once you scratch past the surface, xkcd has nothing wierd and nothing interesting. Just empty stick figures telling you stuff you might recognize and hoping that it will amuse you.
To my fellow members of TV Tropes: Thank you for introducing me to xkcd. It's officially my favorite webcomic. :) I always get a good laugh whenever I read it. As a matter of fact, no matter how sad I may feel, a good read of xkcd always cheers me up. :) I like the characters too, whether they be one-shot or recurring. They may be ordinary stick figures, but they're very well-made. They're very expressive for people who, in a matter of speaking, don't seem to have faces. You probably heard this before, but I also like the pranks Black Hat Man pulls. The science and math jokes are very good as well. I look forward to the new strips as well as perusing through the previous ones. :) There is one drawback, though. Since the comic updates on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, it may have restarted the love-hate relationship I once had with the weekend when I was a kid. ;)
In three words: Hit and Miss.
But the hits and misses will vary. To some, like myself, the bizarre romance related comics are amusing and the science jokes can be quite funny, but the Maths jokes are impenetrable and the move/TV references are bland. To others the Science will confuse and the Maths will be hilarious. All in all it is worth a look but it will often be a week or so between genuine belly laughs. Still it is gratifying to know that such High Brow, if slightly Elitist, humour exists on the internet and I have yet to see a Black Hat or White Béret strip that didn't at least raise a smile.
Basically, the ultimate tautology.
This series is hit and miss. When it's good, it's really good. When it's bad, it's really bad. And when it's clever, it's really clever. I mean, there's not much else I could critique about it. There's no overarching plot, no character development, but he does that on purpose. This comic lives to make bad puns and pander to nerds like me. And that's where it excels. A lot of the charm of xkcd comes from being glad that you understood the friggin' joke in the first place. There's far more hits than misses when he makes math/science jokes than anything else. But... sometimes Randall tries waxing philosophical, and when he does, it's more likely to miss. Recently, there's been an increase in quality; more hits, less misses. His "five minute comic" week was likely the best stuff he's done in years, and then he comes out with "Positive Attitude," which is both uplifting and humorous. So, in short, this comic is made by a smart guy, for people who are smart. And there's nothing wrong with that.