Wednesday, February 08, 2017

anatomy of a (joke) murder

As I'm sure most of you know, Twitter, in addition to being a hive of scum and villainy, has its own little unwritten rules and points of etiquette that change and mutate every few minutes, so that however constantly plugged-in you are, you'll always be a few steps behind. Well, I say "unwritten", but of course someone somewhere is probably documenting them (pointlessly, since it'll be instantly out of date) in an epic multi-tweet thread right now.

Anyway, my specific point here is this: those of us who tweet tweet about lots of different things, from HEYYYY HOW ABOUT THAT LOCAL SPORTS TEAM to OMG TRUMP IS GOING TO LITERALLY INCINERATE US ALL to HERE ARE SOME CUTE CAT GIFS. Also, from time to time we might want to share a joke of our own devising, in a throwaway sort of way, as if tossing out a witticism down the pub. Trouble is, a throwaway gag down the pub floats away on the ether and is gone, whereas unless you've got some very specific account settings on the go (or go around specifically deleting individual tweets) your tweet is going to be hanging around FOR EVER, or at least until Donald Trump gets us all incinerated and we revert to bashing each others' heads in with rocks for entertainment.

So let's say that there's a thing going on in the news, and you think to yourself: if we were discussing this in the pub I'd lob a gag in here, cos I've just thought of one. But I'm sitting at my desk in my pants, so perhaps a tweet will be more appropriate. But should I check to see if it's an original joke? I don't want to be accused of joke-theft; similarly while I don't expect to be immediately given my own radio show on the basis of a single tweet I don't want everyone moaning about me being LIKE THE GAZILLIONTH PERSON to do that gag this morning. But, equally, you don't want to spend an hour obsessively Googling to see if anyone's done the gag, because a) that's an hour that could be spent doing other stuff and it is JUST A JOKE after all and b) you'll inevitably find at the end of that process that you would have been first if you'd just bashed a tweet straight out, but now that you've spent an hour fannying about LIKE A GAZILLION PEOPLE have done it.

Case in point: the rather humorous lettuce shortage this week that everyone who pretends to like salad pretended to give two shits about before waddling out and picking up a KFC. The idea of it being Europe-wide triggered a synaptic thing in my gagular cortex, and I tweeted the following:
I immediately followed this up with a bit of faux-nonchalant weaselly arse-covering, as follows:
I thought no more of it until someone re-tweeted the following a bit later the same day:
So I thought: I wonder how many other people had the same idea? Turns out there were quite a few, most of them earlier than me, with the caveat that Twitter's time-stamping of tweets is a bit confusing.

All of these people can go fuck themselves, though, as they're as guilty of plagiarising stale jokes as I am. Check out these tweets from during the EU referendum campaign back in May and June 2016.

Is that the first time that particular joke was done? Well, in relation to the UK possibly leaving the EU, very possibly. But in a more general sense, the Remain/Romaine pun must have been done countless times before. Really this is a more general variation on the old non-Twitter-specific conundrum: who makes up jokes? We all know lots, but how many of those did we make up? Probably none. I suppose there's some value here in distinguishing between one-off punnery and properly-constructed jokes, though as always there's not a bright and well-defined line separating the two concepts. In fact this (i.e. where do non-groany/punny jokes come from) is essentially the premise of the Isaac Asimov short story Jokester, which I have in the early-1970s collection Earth Is Room Enough (as also mentioned here).

As always when talking about jokes it's worth repeating the old one about how deconstructing jokes is a bit like deconstructing your cat: you might learn something of interest but the cat will never be quite the same afterwards. As if to illustrate the point, I've no idea who thought that one up either.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Those examples you gave are just the tip of the iceberg!