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Tuesday, November 27, 2007


A few months ago, as an experiment in "random noise humor", I asked the posters over at Lookout Landing to indulge in a "non-sequitur only" conversation thread. There was a healthy response, and some fun reading that came out of it. You can see the results here.

A couple of things stood out to me... first: it's damn hard to make truly random responses. Most attempts at random thought generation are actually based on abstract (or hidden) neural connections. If I say "angry" and you reply "popsicle" it may sound random, but there's probably a connection in that grubby little mind of yours. Sometimes these hidden connections reveal something about the writer... sometimes they reveal something about how the reader fills in the gap. Either way can be entertaining from a psychological perspective. Sometimes the most humorous posts are the ones where a secret meaning emerges purely by accident. This can be entertaining in the same way that the Garfield Randomizer is. I wish there were more venues to continue this kind of experiment.

Secondly, I encountered this graphic, which was posted as a non-sequitur response to a previous post, but also includes an attempt at absurdist humor based on a non-sequitur within it. I've been ruminating on this cartoon far too much over the last month so I need to write about it.

This brought to mind an old routine by George Carlin. He once said that anything was funny, even rape. To prove his point he told his audience to picture Bugs Bunny raping Elmer Fudd. You were supposed to laugh. You were supposed to concede the point. The problem, for me, was that Carlin's routine wasn't actually funny. He didn't prove anything.

Now to my confession... When I first read this cartoon I contorted with laughter. In fact, I revisited it the next day and LOL again. How is it that this four panel cartoon succeeded where George Carlin failed? My conjecture is that the humor in this cartoon has nothing to do with actual rape (unlike the Carlin bit) but instead relies on shocking the reader with massive changes of tone. To begin with, Doug (a Nickelodeon cartoon about a sixth grader) should never be talking about date rape. This juxtaposition alone is like much of the humor found at the Garfield Randomizer site I linked to above (where Family Circus characters are made to quote HP Lovecraft.) But it's the final panel that hits hardest: when we are suddenly pulled back into the typically goofy cartoon world after reading through a scene involving serious emotional gravity. It may actually be the beads of sweat on Doug's brow that sells this cartoon more than anything else. It's those drops of sweat that reinforce that this isn't just a random panel mashup... Doug is still freaking out, but Doug's friend has suddenly reverted to 6th grade shenanigans.

So... is it funny? If it is, does that mean that rape can be funny? Or can I rest assured that rape is still unfunny, and this cartoon cracks me up for other reasons?

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At 11/27/2007 03:57:00 PM, Blogger Jon said...

Nope, stone cold unfunny to me, bro.

At 11/28/2007 10:25:00 AM, Blogger John said...

Yes, well you're no help then are you.

What do you know about humour anyway? Your country is still making Mr. Bean movies!

At 11/29/2007 04:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First thing I opened the blog, I looked at the comic. Not funny. In any way. Then I read your entry. George Carlin routine not funny (then or now)in any way.


At 11/29/2007 04:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as someone who was date raped with the well you we f&*ked up as the excuse- NOT funny. In fact it makes me sick that you happen to think it is funny.

At 11/29/2007 04:53:00 PM, Blogger John said...

Thanks for contributing to the dialogue. I thought about deleting your comments because they are unsigned and feel like a personal attack. While I think anonymous attacks are cowardly... (The correct course of action is to email me directly if you would prefer not to own your comments publicly) I'll leave your post as is. It helps remind me of just how powerfully offensive this subject is to most people.

At 11/29/2007 05:17:00 PM, Blogger Jon said...

So I am curious - why the difference in your response to the different comments that you received?

At 11/29/2007 10:29:00 PM, Blogger John said...

Of the three responses, you and Diane stated that you didn't find the cartoon funny. That sort of rules you out from being able to comment on the meat of the post, but fair enough.

The third respondant included the line that it makes her "sick" that I found it funny, which feels very judgmental. Also, they posted anonymously, which is something I've had a problem with in the past. Lastly, they played an "emotional trump card" by saying they were a victim of date rape. Once a person has said that, they automatically win any argument regardless of the validity of their ideas. I don't sit well with this tactic.

Thanks to Site Meter and some sleuthing on my part, I'm pretty sure I know who "anonymous" is, and she is someone that I care about and I feel bad if this post has caused her any pain. I do think there are good reasons for someone to say, "Hey... I find that really offensive." I wish she had phrased her post differently is all.

At 11/30/2007 07:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dropped you that email. Sorry if you didn't like the way I worded it, but ............ I responded honestly.

At 11/30/2007 11:27:00 AM, Blogger John said...


I understand that the cartoon I posted can be hurtful and offensive to people. That, in part, is why I found it fascinating and worth writing about. I understand if you disagree with my conclusions. BUT PLEASE DO NOT ASSUME THAT I POSTED THIS BECAUSE I FIND DATE RAPE FUNNY.

The point of the first half of the post was to say, "Hey this is really weird. Normally, this topic is never funny, but I found myself laughing at this cartoon. Why is that? That's messed up... so what's going on here."

And the second half was an attempt to say, "OK, maybe the reason it was funny to me has to do with absurdity. Because rape, as we all know, is NOT a funny topic."

I work as a counselor with people who have sometimes undergone sexual violence/domestic abuse. And I've talked intimately with many friends and lovers who have been raped in their past. Members of my family have been sexually abused. Believe me, I am not trying to take the topic lightly. I was trying to share something that disturbed me and be honest about it.

And thank you, Anonymous, for contacting me directly. I hope you don't mind that I quoted some of my response email in this public comment.


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