They're Trying To Prove A Point, I Guess

By | Friday, October 12, 2012 3 comments
I still read a number of newspaper strips. It's not discussed much in comic fandom because they have a reputation now for being terribly bland and unfunny. Plus, the size of the strips has shrunk so much over the past several decades that most of the classic adventure strips are no longer viable -- there's barely any room these days for anything beyond two talking heads. There are a few, though, that still make me smile from time to time, so I keep them in my feed reader along with the webcomics I follow.

But today, several of the cartoonists seem to be conspiring to prove that they're old, out-of-touch farts who scream at those young kids to stay off their lawns. Setting aside however funny you might think these comics are or aren't, here are some newspaper comics that ran today, showing varying levels of not-quite-with-the-times-edness.

Brevity is probably the most up to date of the ones I saw today, but making jokes about Apple screwing up their mapping functions is old news. The new software debuted a full month ago, and Apple CEO Tim Cook made a formal statement/apology towards the end of last month. Now, to be fair, creators Guy Endore-Kaiser and Rodd Perry aren't terribly far behind the rest of us, but it does seem a bit odd to even try to present your comic as being on top of current technological trends when you know what you're creating isn't going to see print for at least a month.

Moderately Confused is a couple years behind. Jeff Stahler has put in smart phones, but the characters are still calling them smart phones in casual conversation. Instead of, you know, phones. But more tellingly, the joke relies on the assumption that moving a lot of data from one phone to another requires a great deal of effort. But haven't most companies offered free file/data transfers for the past few years? You don't even do it yourself; the Verizon (or whomever) employee does it as part of your the service packages they offer. I think that's pretty standard any more because it's a way to convince you to keep with the same company when your contract is up for renewal.

Frank and Ernest has a similar problem. "You have a photo album on your phone?" is a question that may have gotten asked when cell phones were just coming into wide-spread use, but who doesn't have a photo album on their phone any more? Also, didn't pretty much all phones solve the problem shown below eight or ten years ago by putting locking systems in place so you couldn't accidentally butt-dial someone? Bob Thaves generally is more successful when he sticks with unusual puns.

Pardon My Planet has a simple artistic problem today. Vic Lee has depicted a young, trendy couple watching an old cathode ray tube television set with a separate cable box sitting on top of it. (It has to be a cable box -- VCRs and DVD players are too deep to set on top of a television set.) Seeing a set like that, I would almost expect to see a pair of rabbit ears connected to it.

Speed Bump is the most behind the curve that I've seen today. Custom painted running stallions on the sides of vans was indeed a thing... back in the 1970s. I'd like to ask Dave Coverly when was the last time he actually saw one. Perhaps in the precise setting he's depicting in this comic?

I also considered showcasing the Rubik's Cube reference in Zits, or the lack of basic understanding of Netflix in Non-Sequitur, but you could make an argument for both of those not being cases of behind-the-times. I'm skeptical, but I can see a counter argument's validity there.

I don't expect every comic to be hip and topical, and I don't expect the creators to be expert in the latest in technology. But the issues here have more to do with contemporary culture than with the technology itself. I spoke some time back about how comedy only works if you can provide it in the appropriate context. A joke from 100 years ago might not work today if the audience doesn't know all the components of it -- if it plays off specific individuals who are now long dead or broadly accepted societal norms that have since changed.

I don't know. Maybe these guys are catering to a specific audience and HAVE to use out-of-date cultural references because their audience is just as culturally out-of-date. There's that old saw about how a trend is officially over once a newspaper reports on it; maybe the cultural shifts that the rest of us have seen really are that much slower to reach someone who still reads a newspaper. Of course, even if that is the case, that means these cartoonists are alienating potential new readers who, like me, might read the strips online and find their way-too-late attempts at topicality unfunny. If that's the case, they'll soon find themselves speaking only to an aging audience who won't be replaced once they die off.
Newer Post Older Post Home


Matt K said...

My cell phone occasionally takes an unwanted photo as a result of jostling among items in my pocket. I bought it in 2008...

But I'm sure you're also aware that that type of issue has largely been fixed and if it were a real problem for you, you'd go out and get a new phone. Which is my point. It's not that they're out of date with the technology itself, it's that they're out of date with how people think about and react to the technology.

Matt K said...

I'm aware that you're getting a little preachy again lately, Kleefeld, and that someone needed to attempt a wisecrack before it was too late. ;-)