Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Old People and Online Commentary

Finally, proof! From the BBC a few weeks back:

This is why your Sunday matinee performances are usually awkwardly quiet. I always assumed that old people didn’t get my jokes because they couldn’t hear what I was saying, or because they’re “dumber than normal people,” or because they’re “twisted and evil creatures.” But then, I’m a cruel and awful person. Turns out that the divide is caused by a natural degeneration in one’s cognitive abilities, such as short-term memory, keeping two trains of thought going simultaneously, etc.

For me, the best part about the article is the talk-back section at the bottom where all of the old people get to write in with their own personal anecdotes about how young humor is just not funny. From the article:

“I am over 60. I am just as quick-witted as I ever was - but I simply don't find
some of the the (sic) things that are supposed to be funny to be funny anymore.
In other words, I have matured. My sense of humour (he’s British) is no longer
puerile, but a lot more subtle. Sorry, I am not slower on the uptake!
Anthony Owen, Monmouth, UK”
No longer puerile? Why don't you go eat some poop, you big fart-headed dumbo a-hole?

Good use of the grammatical anomaly known as a “double the,” by the way, but completely missing the study's punchline. The experiment was not a test of what is or is not funny. Instead, it asked participants to fill in the blanks on jokes to see if they can figure out the proper punchline for the joke – essentially we're talking about pattern recognition. The idea is that people should be able to recognize the structure of a very basic joke (“knock, knock!” “Who’s there?” “Wakawakawaka!”) regardless of the subject matter. In fact, the researchers went out of their way to pick the most age-neutral jokes possible. Read the example joke in the article. Not exactly side-splitting hilarity, but at least you know why it’s supposed to be funny.

You’ll see these talk-back sections attached at the bottom of many online news articles. It’s the new news fad. Hell, we just had a presidential debate where all of the debate questions were sent in by youtube viewers. It's a new world out there, where politically active snowmen finally have their day in the sun.

I appreciate that the world's great news corporations are finally willing to fake interest in what people think about stuff and things, but often times you’ll read these comments from people and it will be painfully obvious that they didn't really read the article.

If you actually want to comment on the article, then you're not helping your case if you can't speak intelligently to what the reporter just wrote. You'll just look like an idiot. If you just want to write something for the sake of being clever and biting, albeit tangential to the topic, then do what I did and get a blog.

And this is not just for humorless old people; this goes for everyone out there, from young punk teenagers to soccer moms to pompous Ivy League college students. Please: if you or anyone you know is going to start gracing everyone with your two cents on every article you see, do us all a favor and take the time to understand what the article is about first.