Died in a Blogging Accident has lived up to its name and died... in a blogging accident. That is to say it has concluded. You can still re-live the magic by clicking here to start at chapter 1. For genuine criticism of XKCD, please click the top link to the right (XKCD Isn't Funny).

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Comic 987: Unmet Potential

Original xkcd 987:
title: Potential; alt-text: "The bunch of disadvantaged kids I was tutoring became too good at writing, and their essays were forcing me to confront painful existential questions, so I started trying to turn them on to drugs and crime instead."

(Did you ever notice that if you inspect the "img" element for these comics the "title" property contains the alt text and the "alt" property contains the title of the comic. I have, and it nearly causes me physical pain to label them wrong... but I suppose I have to stick with convention.)

If the execution didn't hurt so much I would likely have GOOMHRed at this one... at least ironically.

I was one of those kids who teachers always often used the "not working at your full potential" type of comments on. I was bright and clever and showed talent for many things and engaged in the classroom but then ended up getting mediocre grades. One time I worked out the math on the value of assignments in a "computer" course and got a perfect mark on the six assignments I wanted to do and just completely skipped the four I didn't... 60% was a C.

Now Randall here is either mocking me for believing that I ever had potential in the first place or giving me permission for having been a slacker because the world couldn't have handled me if I'd been motivated. The hover-text seems to be an indictment of the educational system for failing to help students meet their potencial or a nihilistic acceptance of the validity of said practice because thinking citizens tend to rebel when The Man tries to put them down. Hey... at least the comic made me think... so that's something.

But this brings me to the actual comic. Without the GOOMHR there's no funny in the comic itself. Framing the question of unmet potential as "they complain if you don't but complain more if you do" is pretty bland as a set up and punchline if you are not the kind of person who has failed to meet their potential and has come to terms with it. The giant robot isn't really a surprise because the lack of anything engaging in the first two panels makes the comic read as:
See comic as a whole:
Think - "Hey, a giant robot, I wonder what that's about?"
Read: When teachers complain, "You're not working at your full potential!"
Think - "Heh, if all the slackers who think they are geniuses were as smart as they think they are and actually met their narcissistic expectations, the world would be full of super-villains with giant war machines."
Read rest of comic: "Don't take it to hard, they complain way more when you do."
Think - "Uhm... was that the joke?"
Read alt-text: "The bunch of disadvantaged kids I was tutoring became too good at writing, and their essays were forcing me to confront painful existential questions, so I started trying to turn them on to drugs and crime instead."
Think - "Uhm... what?"
I will grant that elements of this comic entertained me... but the execution, taken as a whole, kinda falls flat.


  1. I think what Randall is trying to do hear would work much better in a video format. Imagine it unfolding temporally in, say, a YouTube video. I'm also imagining actors here, and better effects, which I think would help this joke enormously.

    In the first shot, you see a kid at a desk staring out the window and there's a voice-over of the first two panels. Immediately after the final word of "Don't take it to hard," there's an explosion and the kid springs to his feet and moves to the window. The camera follows him as other kids gather around, and we see a car fly past the window. The video cuts to an outside shot of the robot on its rampage, and the voice over says, "They complain WAY more when you do."

    I think it would work a lot better. In general, any joke with the main punchline being a total visual surprise is going to work better in a video because you simply CANNOT look ahead.

    Still, I think it might have helped if Randy had given us something more to look at. Showing us a kid at his desk, looking out the window lackadaisically before the explosion and the car flying would add a lot. I mean, just the whole reversal of Typical Bored Student to Maniacally Evil Scientist would be nice here, since, you know, THAT'S THE JOKE.

    Of course, this might require Randy to spend more time drawing so that the visuals in this visual art form can actually convey the joke without quite as much reliance on the words. Of course, it also seems like the stick figure style is too limiting for what he wants to do here. A better artist could take this same writing and, through more clever artwork, turn it into a comic that, while I wouldn't love it, would at least be one that would probably make me chuckle briefly before moving on. Instead, I yet again say to myself, "I wonder what XKCD SUCKS has to say about this, because damn, this needs work."

  2. Also, have you ever considered that you weren't as smart as you seem to think you were, and that maybe a C was actually what you deserved? I've met a lot of people in my long career in academia who say about how they were the people that teachers said weren't fulfilling their potential and who needed to be pushed and... almost always unimpressive. Not stupid, just absolutely nothing special, other than their whacking great sense of entitlement.

    Maybe you're right, but maybe this is you.

  3. Re: Sean Schönherr
    You have said what it is I wanted to say but couldn't say properly.

    Re: Anonymous 12:58PM
    I have spent a lot of time thinking about that and have decided that I am probably somewhat above average when it comes to intelligence and well below average when it comes to self-motivation and commitment.

    The problem is that almost everything in the world is about 99% effort... sure you wouldn't be able to do that amazing thing without that magical 1% talent but unless you also have that 99% effort you are no better then those without it.

    I feel that a piece of the problem, for me at least, was that I was smart enough to get As or Bs without much effort and that was why, when I got to college I started flunking the classes that required more effort then I had adapted to putting forth. This is why there are enrichment programs to "challenge" the "smart" kids and ensure they get used to the amount of effort that is required to achieve their potential rather then the amount of effort required to be average.

    I try not to have an attitude of entitlement. I was given the gift of intelligence and denied the gift of motivation through no choice of my own and fortunately have also been blessed with the gift of contentment so I'm OK with being mediocre... most of the time.

  4. Title is shown on hover, alt if the image is not in existence. Makes perfect sense

  5. Yeah...Randall's a failure at life because he's not working at his full potential.

    Yup, that must be it.

  6. I actually liked the execution very much. YOU read it in the wrong order and schizophrenically read the left side of the comic whilst looking at the right side. I liked the setup, how you weren't exactly sure what was going on, and then you were hit with the epicness of the final panel.

    I liked this comic. It's a good comic.

  7. Does anyone else think it's incredibly sad that this blog even exists? Randall Munroe, whether you like what he does or not, is simply an artist who is sharing his work at no cost to you. If you don't like XKCD, you don't have to view it. It's that simple. And, frankly, it's a bit disturbing that you seem to get off on spouting this kind of stuff toward someone who didn't do anything to you. It seems to be symptomatic of an underlying problem in your psyche.

    Billions of people read XKCD and enjoy it. If you don't, there are hundreds of other webcomics out there for you to enjoy. There's no point whatsoever in sitting around in your basement being angry about one particular comic strip, beyond showing the world what a sad, lonely jerk you are.

    I know I'll probably be flamed for this post, but it needed to be said, and I'm sure there are others out there who agree with me.

  8. Billions of people read XKCD and enjoy it.

  9. I also enjoy critiquing xkcd... seriously, I suppose you don't read movie reviews or book reviews?

    Also it's funny how you assume I am a sad lonely jerk angry about a comic in my basement... technically true, but it's funny that you would automatically make that assumption.

  10. People who say they are clever but lazy are the worst kind of people. If you don't do it, you can't do it. Stop lying to yourself.


  12. My people have sent me to acknowledge your message. We do not understand how this information pertains to us, but are grateful for it nonetheless.

  13. Today's comic is a pile of derp. Before even scrolling down I read "The 20 most-played christmas songs" and then I naturally look to the right to see "Baby Boom."

    Randy is really digging this early punchline thing. Then again, maybe I shouldn't complain if it means cutting out graph comics.

  14. I don't say this very often about xkcd, but I thought this comic was relatively good..

  15. My suspicion here is that not everyone is cursed in such a way as to always take the entirety of something in before beginning to process the details.

    For example; when I'm reading a book I will often spoil the "surprise" at the end of a page because I notice that despite the fact that Jon is in dire peril, I know he'll be OK because is says "Jon get's up from the ground" or whatever down there on the bottom of the page.

    As such, I imagine those who are not cursed in this way would have likely enjoyed this comic a lot more then me.