Thursday, October 23, 2008

Yeah...I Still Don't Get It

I stopped by the insane world of B.C. fairly recently. Today, however, it is necessary to return, as the completely bizarre reference that made the last featured strip even less comprehensible than usual has put in another appearance.

What is it with the Hart Descendants and Batman? Evidently, someone saw The Dark Knight and thought it was really, really good. Never mind that the film appeared months ago; it clearly reverberated in Little Hart's brain, setting off an uneasy creative* process that has led, in the end, to various stilted Batman jokes making their awkward, inappropriate way into B.C. The result is mind-meltingly odd: a comic strip set in the Stone Ages referencing a twentieth-century technological device used by a character created in 1939 and featured in a 2008 film. The Hartsies aren't really even bothering any more, are they?

Whereas the last Batman comic contained a joke** whose intent and purpose seemed to have been lost in the mists of time, this one is, at least, explicable via the Middle Ages. The concept of a town full of stupid people is an old one and turns up in folk tales from many lands; the basic idea is that if we can laugh of the idiocy of people who live over there, we won't look like such idiots ourselves. One can imagine Chaucer having fun with such a story, which would constitute an amusing look at the human condition.

In the twenty-first century, we do not often tell such stories. We have transferred our scorn to certain segments of society or, occasionally, certain geographical areas; we don't target "towns" but "the red States" or "Newfoundland."*** The idea of a stupid town seems quaint****...which, of course, it is. The Hard Descendants are most comfortable when they are being medieval. In fact, today's comic reads like a bad translation from the Middle English. Look at how awkward those phrases are. "Pretty dumb town" has no ring to it at all and sounds like something a five-year-old might say. "How dumb was it?" is a transparent set-up line. The reply is not clever and is delivered with terrible ennui. It all falls kind of flat.

In Middle English, however, the dialogue comes alive with utterly delicious alliteration. I'm actually not entirely certain that "A Fayre Foltish Toun" is not the title of some lighthearted medieval ditty, probably sung as a round. The punchline is also worthy of song. All the words used are rich and musical. The stupidity of this joke about stupidity is obscured by the beauty of its setting.

Frankly, the Hart Descendants should just leave their comics in Middle English. They are poor translators and are depriving their readers***** of tiny, perfect doses of pure poetry.




P.S.: "Bakke beken" does, in fact, mean "bat beacon," but to our dull ears, it probably sounds rather like "Back bacon." Ah well.

*Well...technically creative. In a sense. To a certain value of creativity. Never mind.
**Well...technically a joke. Etc.
***I do not laugh at Newfoundland. I have never been there, but I would like to go. I've heard that the people of Newfoundland have a great appreciation for the accordion. Frankly, no one else does. I should enjoy travelling to a region in which my poor accordion is not regarded with horror.
****Albeit perhaps not in my favourite medieval sense of the word.
*****All six of them.

7 comments:

Skullturf Q. Beavispants said...

I think I'm going to start referring to people and things as "foltish" now.

Jeff Lee said...

"The idea of a stupid town seems quaint (albeit perhaps not in my favourite medieval sense of the word.)"

...which is?

Angry Kem said...

Jeff Lee: Definition #2:

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/m/mec/med-idx?type=id&id=MED35505

(I'm not entirely certain that URL is going to work. If it doesn't, go back to the footnote; I'll build the link into it.)

It is not a word whose descendant I especially like to hear, but I have to admit that I like explaining Chaucer's "queynte"-related puns to students. They are always rather shocked.

Michael said...

There are several examples of foolish towns. Eastern European Jews told stories about the fools in Chelm. Danes had similar stories about Molbo. The archtypical foolish town was Gotham.

There actually is a town named Gotham in Nottinghamshire. But that's not where the Caped Crusader comes from.

Angry Kem said...

Michael: Yes. The Chelm stories are the ones with which I'm the most familiar. I'd forgotten about Gotham, or I would have mentioned it. Examples of things the fools get up to tend to be along the lines of cooking potatoes before planting them to save time or lamenting that the moon has fallen into a pond. C. S. Lewis uses the tradition in Voyage of the Dawn Treader; he has a whole island of fools.

The odd thing is that if you take the Gotham stories into account, the B.C. joke is almost funny...but I'm sincerely doubting that the Hart Descendants are aware of the connection.

'Whalehead' King said...

Who doesn't like the accordion?

Alkibiades said...

And this is why I love footnotes; one learns the quaintest things!

heh heh heh, I said "foot"note...