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Eric: On the Mac, we got something that looked identical to the Banana Jr. instead of Clippy. I always felt a little superior because of that.

(From Irregular Webcomic. Click on the thumbnail for full sized assistance, Skipper!)

People know that I can get... tired... of clich»s and pop culture references and jokes that go past their expiration date. The archetype for this is people making jokes about Alanis Morissette not knowing the definition of the word irony, and the fact that that itself is ironic. This is a joke that got played out in 1995, when the actual song came out. It got desperately overplayed out in 1996. Current retreads of the joke just make the Baby Jesus cry and makes VH-1 retrospectives about the 90's 15 minutes longer, on average. (And frighteningly, somewhere in the last 10 years I actually started liking the song. But that's neither here nor there.)

But sometimes, a joke that becomes a clich» and even overtired regenerates. It becomes a part of our shared culture. It becomes a shorthand for a thousand other jokes. I don't particularly want to get into significator theory, but what the Hell, we're here -- it becomes the sign that represents something far more, and brings instant recognition and understanding.

Somewhere along the line, Clippy crossed over into that category. Even though current generations of Microsoft Word have improved their little helpful sprites immeasurably, Clippy is instantly recognizable as a symbol of worthless feature bloat. It's not just that Clippy is paternalism incarnate -- it's that the 'helpful tasks' he pops up to help you with are nothing of the kind. "Would you like help writing a letter?" No, Clippy. I've been writing letters since I was 3. I think I've worked out the intricacies of writing the date at the top. Where the Hell were you when I was putting together a three source massmailing to be printed to PDF, followed by labels?

And so, Clippy showing up in a comic strip gets a grin out of me. Even though it's not functionally possible to hear a new Clippy joke, and even though Clippy humor has, if anything, been more overplayed than jokes about "Ironic," Clippy still works in humor. When he shows up, we have an instant introduction of all of Microsoft's worst traits in a cheerful cartoon sprite, and that can be used effectively and with humor.

Help Desk is of course the king of this, but Morgan-Mar shows Clippy's use to distinction here. Good show as always, sir.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at February 9, 2005 12:16 PM


Comment from: Wednesday posted at February 9, 2005 3:44 PM

Hee. The timing.

Comment from: David Morgan-Mar posted at February 9, 2005 5:26 PM

Hmm. Yesterday I complained about not getting snarked. Today I get snarked. This calls for more experiments on this cause and effect...

(Or alternately I could just try writing decent gags every day...)

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 9, 2005 5:33 PM

You complained about not getting snarked?

Well... um... DAMN MY EYES!

Comment from: Azathfeld posted at February 10, 2005 2:13 AM

Last good Alanis/irony joke:

"What happens to an irony-powered robot trapped in a room full of Alanis Morisette albums?"

Comment from: Johan Forssell posted at February 10, 2005 3:56 AM

"I don't particularly want to get into significator theory, but what the Hell, we're here"

Dear Eric. Pretty please, with a bottle of whiskey on top, always "get into" things. That's what makes your writing interesting.

Comment from: larksilver posted at February 10, 2005 11:33 AM

Here, Here!

Please, please "get into" things. You do that without being obnoxious. I didn't know that was possible. It certainly is obnoxious when *I* do it.

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