Analysis, Close Reading, Egotism

IWSG: Lazy Reference Humour

This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, which cross-posts on each others’ blogs on the first Wednesday of each month.

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge 2016

The suggested theme in this month’s edition is ‘pet peeves’.

One of my biggest peeves is writers using references in place of humour. Both Family Guy and The Big Bang Theory get stick for this – rightly in my opinion – but during the last week I’ve read an extract from the Ernest Cline novel Ready Player One which takes this to an incredible extreme.

There’s nothing wrong with fiction drawing on references to real life of course – in fact it’s a good thing, as it connects the fictional world to the wider real world, giving the fictional world a greater sense of depth and a broader range of material to draw jokes from.

One of my favourite examples of this kind of humour is from the second ever episode of Family Guy. After Stewie Griffin opines that television is evil because of its influence on Charles Manson, the show cuts away to Manson’s jail cell where he’s watching TV. Manson says “If I haven’t seen it, its new to me” – a slogan NBC were using at the time to promote their repeats. On the surface level this is (darkly) amusing because of the contrast between the very serious image of the mass murderer and the very silly idea of him repeating back an advertising slogan.

Thinking a bit more deeply, this is also a joke about the nature of advertising. By attempting to mould viewers’ desires to suit their own, advertisers are basically trying to do what Manson’s paranoia convinced him that The Beatles were doing.