Randall Munroe teaches us what we all already knew


One thing that immediately struck me about the latest xkcd comic is how mind-numbingly funny it is. In an online world that is increasingly lacking in genuinely funny and original content, I applaud Randall Munroe for making the effort to craft such a cleverly written and highly innovative comic strip. The flow and meter of the stick figure’s words are so vivid and musical, and Randall marks the beginning of this intellectual and comedic adventure with such highly articulate words as: “The right to free speech means the government can’t arrest you for what you say.” Incredible! It’s a wonder that the Founding Fathers even thought it necessary to dedicate entire paragraphs to the concept of freedom of speech when our good friend Randall can do the job for them in only one short sentence.

Alright, I give up. Sarcasm really isn’t my thing, especially when I’m going to have to spend so much of my time unravelling this giant honking piece of shit. Honestly, it makes me wonder what kind of person who writes such good what-if columns and had some of the greatest early webcomic strips of all time can be so completely delusional now. Let’s get started.

This comic is just fundamentally contentless at its most basic level and performs absolutely no actual social work: the kinds of people who invoke freedom of speech as an actual defending argument are either 1) such literal plebeians that they wouldn’t be moved by a condescending and unapologetically preachy webcomic or 2) were never even trying to argue with you in the first place and just wanted you to fuck off because you were being annoying. There is no person in the world who would look at this comic and actually learn anything from it. Munroe’s comic is pretty much equivalent to going to a Wal-Mart and trying to teach the customers what free speech means: it’s so obviously pointless, undeniably useless, and completely masturbatory.

And even if this comic actually did answer some sort of real social problem, it’s stupidly blunt, completely unfunny, and not original in the slightest. There is a concept called “satire” that Munroe could have used to convey the lesson that he wanted us to learn, but I guess it was just beyond his capabilities. Instead, he decides to talk to us as if we’re all braindead children, and he makes it incredibly clear that this comic’s sole reason for existing is because poor Mr. Munroe had his little baby feelings hurt after losing an argument against someone.

I mean, really. Look at it! It’s just terrible. The majority of the comic is literally just a stick figure talking to you at various angles and poorly-done zoom in shots in order to add just enough “variety” that your eyeballs wouldn’t instantly implode upon seeing them. For the last panel, he even just draws a literal picture of a door because he thinks that will compensate for his complete lack of any meaningful illustration in the majority of the panels. I would figure that most reasonable artists would try to make up for the lack of illustration with some particularly poetic English constructions, but I guess Munroe decided that the 300,000 people watching him really love to hear his visceral and almost nonsensical musings expressed with both the vocabulary and wit of a 10-year-old schoolchild.

The worst part about this comic is that everybody agrees with it. It’s such blatant preaching to the choir, such an unimpeded pandering to some sort of Reddit self-superiority circlejerk of which I’m 100% certain exists. Munroe could have easily leveraged his audience to address an actual intellectual issue in public discourse, such as, for example, our tendency of overvaluing individual rights in a pluralist society to the detriment of moral development, or perhaps why “absolute freedom of speech” is impossible, or just ANYTHING INTERESTING, really! Not the shitty and completely boring habits of uneducated literal plebeians who don’t know the meaning of free speech.

I’d like to ask just one question before signing off: Why is it that engineers always insist on getting so heavily involved in public moral discourse when they really have no idea what they’re talking about? I’m an engineer too, but at least I acknowledge my limitations. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a philosophy major try to relay an armchair theory about the construction of bridges, or an English major try to demonstrate a faulty mathematical proof. But who knows? Munroe has always seemed to think that our society is becoming the chest-beating jock-dominated world of Idiocracy, but I think that the far more insidious problem is the growing group of middle class STEM-majoring pseudo-intellectuals who arrogantly think that they completely understand ethics, public policy, and morality. Fun fact: you need to actually take an ethics class before you can claim to understand it.