Expectations, academia and humour

“Events dear boy, events”. To quote a friend who quoted Harold McMillan, when asked why things hadn’t

[What did you discover about the dacians? The archaeological excavations have uncovered deep trenches. It is clear. The dacians were digging]
Photo source: http://comics.cevamarunt.ro/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/comic_2010-01-04_daci.jpg

worked out. Well, I have recently taught a course for non-specialists and I realised that my take on Archaeology has very little to do not only with the public’s perception of it (this would be expected), but also with the expectations of what Archaeology should be. Most likely, this is due to the way  Archaeologists have presented their work so far. Then, I started thinking about expectations in respect to academic work. The logical conclusion (for me at least 🙂 ) was to write some thoughts on comics, jokes, and other not-so-traditional ways of conceiving and conveying a message: what better example of “things” that fail to meet the criteria of what is traditionally deemed as serious research, but manage to get to the heart of things.

The first of my favourite presentations is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muVfidujxRg
It is a demonstration that starts from the idea that “You can not just assume things”, and proves it through the case-study of physics and “My little pony” cartoons.

Secondly, but as good (and even just for the music score): Little red riding hood for engineers http://vimeo.com/3514904
This school assignment meant to reinterpret the “Little red riding hood” fairytale is definitely one of those “putting things into a whole new perspective” projects.

Lastly, there is the comics genre. A great way of making ideas and knowledge vivid and dynamic, from graphic novels (like Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, by A. Spiegelman), to short comics. A good example (especially for all those in the academia world) being the one and only PhD comics: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive/phd062510s.gif (deconstruction method + methodology issues critique + research politics + humour in the area of an A4 paper).

All these examples use images and text to construct a narrative. They show how by using mixed media and a wide variety of elements, one can tell some awesome stories. Through highlighting connections between things that seem remote, static figures are brought back to the dynamics of life. In the end, they might fail to meet some expectations, but you can not humor everybody, right?

(I recall the day I opened a conference paper presentation, on the topic of dismembered human bodies, with a joke on cannibals, and boy than there was silence…til now I didn’t manage to figure out if the joke was the problem, or that this medium was so unexpected in that academic environment. Anyway, just in case anyone might be looking for a joke that goes well with fragmentary bodies topics: “A cannibal goes to another cannibal and says: ‘I have come to ask for your daughter’s hand’. ‘Do you have it here, or take out?’ ” )


2 thoughts on “Expectations, academia and humour

  1. Archaeology and humour is a great topic. I do know a great joke about archaeologists that I tell frequently, but it’s delightfully rude so I won’t share it here. There’s a rather wonderful Onion article which always raises a smile:
    Although its target is how history and archaeology are presented on television, rather than the subjects themselves, Marcus Brigstocke’s “We Are History” is still as funny as it always was, even though it’s a decade old now (perhaps even funnier, because it mercilessly lampoons the kind of public engagement work that historians and archaeologists now have to undertake with more fervour than ever). Some kind soul has uploaded them all to youtube, which is just as well because if they’ve not been released on DVD by now they probably never will be:

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