Monday, May 21, 2012

stop being shitty, shitty

Alex Knapp wrote an informed, intelligent response to that Oatmeal comic that I criticized the other day, in which he quotes Alex Waller's great piece on the same theme. The author of the Oatmeal, a comic which enjoys a tremendous amount of goodwill, responded with a whiny, petulant reply that is long on attitude and low on factual challenge's to Knapp's piece. Worse, he claims that he's just a cartoonist, and you can't take everything he says seriously. But he clearly wants to be taken seriously as an advocate for the merits of Tesla.... You can't have it both ways. Being wrong is fine, if you're willing to evolve when proven wrong. But take responsibility for what you say.

What an defensive, shitty display. And yet it's all excused, in his own mind and elsewhere, by the fact that he represents himself as some kind of victim of society. I have no idea whether he's really faced the social marginalization he says he has, but even if he has, it's no excuse to be a jerk. The mix of aggression and perceived victimhood is a dangerous cocktail. I'm trying not to comment on the geek thing here, but it has to be said that it seems like he often excuses his worst behavior because he identifies himself as part of an aggrieved subculture.

Incidentally, I just reject his thesis, that Tesla is somehow unknown. He may have been at one time. But that time is long past; he's appeared as a character in movies, been the subject of glowing magazine pieces, has had several books published about him in the last several years, was talked about reverently on MythBusters.... I think the secret is out. And for the record, I was taught about Tesla in high school.

Update: Commenter Mysterious Man from the Shadows makes a good point: the Oatmeal's creator compares Edison to Steve Ballmer of Microsoft. But in fact the far more apt comparison is to Steve Jobs.

Update II: I happened to check out the dude's Twitter feed, and he's continuing on with his denigration of Alex Knapp. He and his followers are saying two things at once: one, that he actually did factually rebut Knapp (which he most certainly didn't do) and two, that it's all just a joke, he's just a cartoonist, etc. etc. (You can tell from his tone that he's very clearly been gotten to.) The combination of the two are utterly self-defeating; if it's just a cartoon and all just jokes, how can he have rebutted anything? If expressing something in cartoon form means that it has no standards whatsoever, how can he claim to have rebutted Knapp at all?

I mean, why stop where he has stopped, if it's all games and jokes? Here, try this on for size: Tesla also invented Jelly Beans. And love. Plus Thomas Edison had sex with little boys. I mean what's the difference? Hey, we're all just joshing here! I'm gonna write a cartoon accusing the Oatmeal dude of murder. Who cares? He can't even write a real comeback. Remember, there are no facts in a cartoon.


  1. Thanks.

    Personally, I hate the 'it's okay to lie if you're joking' defense. The best comedians are servants of the truth. See e.g. Hicks, Carlin, Bruce.

    The worst comedians are cruel bullies who pander to our worst impulses. See e.g. Lampanelli, Rickles, Larry the Cable Guy.

  2. Freddy,

    I think the whole "shitty" thing does not raise the level of discourse. Isn't this one of those "somebody is wrong on the internet" exchanges? I don't think either The Oatmeal or Alex Knapp are really changing our understanding of Tesla's place in history (no offense, guys)...

  3. I'm not a big fan of raising the level of the discourse. You're free to take that as a reason to disregard the things I say!

  4. Don't forget

  5. I swear, this guy "the Oatmeal" is making it harder and harder for me to continue to like Tesla.

    Also, the analogy he makes to Steve Ballmer and Microsoft is interesting. I think of Edison as a Steve Jobs-like figure, and people *do* really praise him. (I'll stop short of re-using "the Oatmeal's" colorful phrasing of how people might treat Ballmer.)

  6. What is it about Tesla that seems to drive people to hyperbolic extremes? No one just says "Tesla was more conscientious and more innovative than Edison, worked harder, and seems to have been cooler and more groovy," which would be a pretty defensible position. They all say "Tesla was the Messiah and Edison raped babies"; it's weird. Is it that everything has to be a hero-villain narrative?

  7. What is it about Tesla that seems to drive people to hyperbolic extremes?

    It is because the hipster aesthetic now reigns supreme. Among a certain demographic, just about all moral/ethical/political questions have been reduced to a battle of consumption choices.

  8. Are we really just having a debate about hipsters?

  9. Freddie are you ever going to shut up about how much you hate the 'nerd entitlement/persecution complex?'

    We get it, you've only made the point in about 10 separate articles. Not that it isn't a good point but I think it's out there now.

  10. @ Son_et_lumiere:

    I've repeated myself on other topics probably 50+ times on my blog. Each time I get a new piece of data of information related to my point, I like to comment on it. As I see it, analysis is an ongoing process, not a "I say this, thus the case is now closed forever."

    Also, just because you've seen Freddie say it many times doesn't mean his latest post on the topic is old hat to everyone. I suppose he gets new readers with each one.

    I'm not trying to be hostile or pick a fight or anything here, I'm just saying I don't mind him re-examining the issue as much as he feels necessary.

  11. I agree with Man from the Shadows. You read a blog because you like what the blogger does; Geek Watch is a part of what Mr DeBoer does

    Also, I feel obliged to point out that, contra Jon EP, I really did get my mind changed by Alex Knapp. All I'd ever read on the subject was some variant of the same rant The Oatmeal posted, and I guess I'd assumed it was more or less accurate. Mr Knapp's corrective was welcome.

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