Archive for August 25th, 2006

What is real? A short disquisition.

August 25th, 2006

our mutual friend

I should be writing episodes 494 and 495 right now, but to procrastinate, I started reading the comments people were making about 493. The very aptly named Sir Real brought up an excellent question which I’d like to address, “What ‘actually’ happened in the DTWOF world” in this episode? Did Lois trash Ginger’s car? Did Sydney really make an assignation with Madeleine right in front of Mo?

I get confused myself with episodes like this. In fact, I just came up with a conceptual category for them—I’ve started thinking of them as “speculative” episodes. Just as speculative fiction imagines worlds that are different from this one while illuminating some aspect of our reality, a speculative DTWOF episode imagines a course of action that does not actually occur in the world of the strip but which attempts to shed some light on current events.

Being very fond of the first formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative–“Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law”—I like to take it out for a test drive occasionally.

For example, what if we all behaved in our domestic lives the way the Bush Administration conducts foreign policy? Or the way Enron conducted business? (Here are some examples of “speculative” episodes: Foreign Policy, Snug as a Bug, Everyday Enron.)

Obviously, I try not to do strips like this too often because then the whole cartoon universe would dissolve into meaninglessness.

Even so, things remain a little blurry because the behavior of the characters in speculative episodes isn’t entirely inconsistent with their personalities. That’s why they’re funny. (If they’re funny, which sometimes they’re not. Doublethink, for example, I consider a humor failure.)

Like, I wouldn’t put it past Sydney to make a date with Madeleine while Mo was sitting right there. (And I’m sorry, but I must congratulate myself here. Don’t you think “our mutual friend” is the best name for an English professor’s dildo ever?)

Sir Real goes on to ask, “So, Alison, are the events of this strip part of the `canon’, so to speak? Or more of a play-within-a-play sort of aside? (Or a lapse like Watson’s wandering war wound?)” The answer is no, they’re not part of the ‘canon.’ Nor are they lapses. They’re asides.

Aren’t you glad you asked?