Last weekend, I flew home to Seattle with a couple of friends for a Pumpkin Beer fest that my dad’s brewery puts on (read about it here – 82 different beers!) We managed to squeeze in a trip to Bainbridge Island on Saturday morning, and because it was cold and windy, we all needed hats. Mike and Carley ended up with red knit ones, and Amanda and I got fake furry trapper hats that were popular about four years ago, but it was cozy and we matched, in pairs! And at some point in our outing we started talking like East Coast cops who were also toddlers – “Tha bwuddahs in bwue bedduh get back on da fewwy so we can got to da pwumpkin fwest!”I assure you, it was hilarious!
Later that night after the fest, we were back at my dad’s house shooting the shit, and after a while my dad asked, “so, what’s the deal with this ‘brothers in blue’ thing?” I looked at my friends and then back at my dad, and laughed because explaining humor is hilarious (though my dad really is funny) and said something like, “well, we just kind of decided it was funny, so now we say it”. Because it’s hard to pinpoint where inside jokes originate, and when it all comes from the shared experience of acting like toddler cops in half-matching non-cop hats, it’s especially hard to put into words.
In the airport back to SF, Amanda and I were talking about that exchange and why exactly it was such a preposterous but of course valid question. Not to get too too, but last year I went to a conference at the Guggenheim put on by the ICI, and Nato Thompson of Creative Time pointed out that the manipulation of visual culture is no longer the purview of visual art. We all manipulate the visual world every day, all the time; companies that are not even in the design business do it, ads to it, on and on. Thompson’s ultimate goal was to point out that art should move away from the manipulation of visual culture and into other areas, but in this question about jokes, it seemed that his statement would be an apt point to bring up.
Inside jokes are funny because they are humor that necessarily excludes other people. It’s a tribal thing. And in a world where we are all increasingly inundated by earnest textual info (no longer the purview of editorial departments or publications), it becomes increasingly fun to make your words increasingly nonsensical. The reason there is an ever-widening sliver of the internet that is snarky, irreverent, and respected is evidence of that – people need tones and platforms on which to express themselves that have not already been fully co-opted.
This is resulting in ever more oblique ways to differentiate yourself. When we weren’t talking like geographically ambiguous cops (accent distinctions were attempted; I was the one to point out that we just sounded like babies) we were taking pictures! And posing for an earnest, down-home, county-fair picture with a 1000 pound pumpkin, smiling because we all got how cliche the photo was but deciding we’d added enough of our own spin with our matching/un-matching ugly hats, in Seattle, the capital of the too-cool-for-school party and bullshit that we were but weren’t participating in – it could go on and on. Right there: creating visual culture by manipulating the cultural tropes that came before, just to walk away from the photo op and slide back into the nonsense mashup word stew that is proof of why it’s important to have good, smart friends.