Cultural Context

I have just noticed another example of what Liam and I have taken to calling “context jokes”.  They are not all actually jokes; they are statements, images, or whatever that you can’t appreciate without the context.

For example: “A chicken and an egg are in bed.  The egg rolls over and lights a cigarette, and the chicken says, ‘Well, I guess that answers that question.'”

Consider the amount of backstory you have to have to giggle at that.  You’ve got to know that the chicken and the egg were probably having sex, that lighting a cigarette is something you do after sex, the old saw about “Which comes first”, and–last but not least–that “come” can be euphemism for “have an orgasm”.

Now, a lot of things depend on cultural context to get their point across, but in many cases it can be glarked; in the “spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch” joke, all you have to know is that Catholics cross themselves, but Jews don’t.  Similarly, in the “Do you think we have time?” joke, it works almost as well no matter who is supposed to be saying the punchline, and while the “Yes, sir, but now their eyes are open” joke communicates nicely that the person telling it considers Baptists to be idiots, nearly any other group the joke-teller dislikes could be substituted without loss of humor.  By contrast, context jokes depend entirely on their backstory.

This comes up because I’ve been reading the Forge again–this is a bunch of people who do rpg design.  One of them developed something called Primetime Adventures, in which the players create a TV show.  Given the way the mechanics work, one player is going to have narrative control at the end of a scene; while he is required to narrate in such a way that the character who “won” that scene achieves her goals, it is possible for his narration to not be satisfying, at least at first.  The example given was “OK, the Stakes are for Buffy to save the world by killing Angel.  While it’s possible for her to do this in a cool way, it’s also possible for it to be narrated as “Tuxedo Mask swoops in and beats Angel up, then holds his limp body in place for Buffy to kill him!””

Yeah, so those of you who’ve watched Sailor Moon are now giggling, and the rest of the world stares in blank confusion.  What’s more, “Tuxedo Mask” has entered Forge terminology as “NPC who steals all the cool stuff even while nominally allowing the PCs to participate”, adding another layer of context…