Saturday, September 23, 2006

Google Bomb

Noah, who is no longer blogging daily, has yet another post on celebrinerd (which he says will be the last).

This one's interesting because it deals with the concept of a Google Bomb - something I didn't know about before today. The idea is that a crucial part of the Google algorithm notes the number of times a key phrase appears as an anchor in a link to a page, rather than necessarily appearing on the page itself. So a page could be flagged for a phrase that it doesn't even contain if a large number of people use that phrase in links to the page.

This seems like a sensible thing to do. After all, we can't expect pages about the subject we type in to Google to necessarily contain the keywords we type in. The idea would be that people who think of this page in similar ways would have flagged it, increasing its ranking (based on supposed usefulness).

But this isn't an entry about Google Bombs. This is an entry about Ken Jennings. Noah also links a blog in his post that talks about Google Bombing Jennings. This bit rings true:


So if you liked him when he was on Jeopardy, or if you’ve got a thing for Mormons, or if you just like further perverting the internet with google bombs, or if you like the sound of celebrinerd, help Ken out and put up a link. If nothing else, it’ll get him to stop being so smug and going on and on about how wicked smart he is. Stupid Ken Jennings I hate him so much!


Probably nobody hates Ken Jennings (what's to hate? Nice guy, smart.). I didn't know that much about him until the Celebrinerd thing came out - but since then I've glanced at his blog a couple of times. Anyway - reading that reminded me (for reasons unknown) that I've been meaning to write diatribe against Ken's unfunny Jeopardy! love letter.

Lots of people liked this. But I just don't see it. So here's a laundry list of what, exactly, it is I "don't see:"


  • Comparing your relationship with an institution to a romantic fling is not funny - and I know this for a fact because IDS columnists do it weekly.

  • Pickig on someone for something intentional is not funny - which in this case applies to giving Jeopardy! advice on its "look."
    You seem to think “change” means replacing a blue polyethylene backdrop with a slightly different shade of blue polyethylene backdrop every presidential election or so. Would you mind a few suggestions on how you might really freshen up your act a bit?
    Well, um, YES Ken, because the look is how it is on purpose. Jeopardy! is shooting for a sophisticated image. That's why there was never any flash to begin with. You'll notice, if you watch other game shows, that they're all lights and colors. Jeopardy!'s look is a deliberate rebellion against that. See, flashing lights and garish colors are cheap - and the reason they're "cheap" is because they're a sure attention-getter. It's like having things jump out of closets as an excuse for a "scare" in a horror movie. We all know that the best horror movies rely on psychological tension and creepy atmospherics to create their thrills. But these movies are also rare - because you can get thrills on the cheap by just appealing to the purely animal side in people. Have something jump at them, there's an involunatry fear response. Simple, ergo not very impressive. Now, we can argue about whether Jeopardy! achieves its goal with its blues and understated sound effects, etc. - but the point is that it's one of Jeopardy!'s selling points. They're actively trying not to change. So it's unfunny to give them advice about how to do something they're not trying to do.


  • Picking on Americans for being stupid is not funny - Here's the offending line:

    Does every freaking category have to be some effete left-coast crap nobody’s heard of, like “Opera,” or, um, “U.S. History” or whatever?

    See, this is the same reason Eddie Izzard is a snore. This one's been done so many times it's hard to believe anyone still laughs at it. And it's even less funny than its usual boring self here because of the added "um," drawing attention to the punch line. The main reason this doesn't work, as anyone who has ever been to a foreign country will know, is because foreigners, as it turns out, are equally dumb about this stuff. The myth of educated Europe turns out to be just that - a myth. Things aren't funny unless they're at least a little bit true. Of course, it depends on the unexpected finish, but the unexpected finish has to say something that everyone knows but no one says. That's what humor is - starting from court jesters who told the truth to the kings and all the way down to the present day. Repeat something enough and it isn't funny anymore. An example of a funny use of the "stupid American" meme can be found here, by the way - in Stephen Harper's (infamous) 1997 speech to the Council for National Policy.
    It may not be true, but it's legendary that if you're like all Americans, you know almost nothing except for your own country. Which makes you probably knowledgeable about one more country than most Canadians.
    This is funny first of all because it takes a tired old theme and repeats it with a twist. This time it isn't Americans who are stupid, it's Canadians. It's funny because Canadians are some of the biggest offenders on repeating the "stupid Americans" meme - and throwing things back in people's faces is usually good for a laugh. But most of all it's funny because it's true: for all the TV programs that have played in Canada interviewing ordinary Americans and making fun of them for their stupidity about politics, Canadians are also shockingly ignorant of how their own country works. If what Ken were saying here (a) involved a real surprising twist, (b) said something new or (c) said something true, it might get a laugh. It does none of these, and so I yawn.

  • Making obvious and expected comparisons is not funny - So, here we compare Alex Trebek to a robot.

    Nobody knows he died in that fiery truck crash a few years back and was immediately replaced with the Trebektron 4000 (I see your engineers still can’t get the mustache right, by the way.)

    Hardy-har. As though there's even a single person alive who's seen Jeopardy! and hasn't honestly thought Alex Trebek might be a robot.

  • Poking fun at pretension with equally contrived devices is not funny - In this case, picking on Alex Trebek's highly irritating habit of adopting a foreign accent (with wrong phonology for the German words, in fact) with this silly suggestion:

    You know how Trebek likes to read foreign words in these thick, strained accents, thinking he’s being muy auténtico? He should continue to do this, but instead of delivering them himself, he needs to have a little ventriloquist’s dummy with a sombrero to pipe in with those words.

    Right - because that would just be a riot - having a ventriloquist's dummy on Jeopardy! This one almost got a laught out of me - becuase Alex Trebek is really annoying with them furrin pronounciations. But it already looks so ridiculous in real life it's not funny to add a ventriloquist's dummy. Noah told me about an SNL sketch I missed where they had some kind of ordinary conversation where people kept saying Spanish words with these exaggerated Mexican accents. Now THAT's FUNNY! And it's funny because it's just there - no need for stupid props. I think it would be great if some random contestant someday would just start imitating Trebek on this one. You know - if the question is "The Pieta was sculpted by this famous Renaissance architect." And of course Trebek over-pronounces Pieta. Then the person answering could say "Who is Michaelangelo?" in the most exaggerated Trebek imitation he can do. I would pay good money to see the look on Trebek's face after a couple of rounds of that. But I wouldn't pay anything to see Trebek with a ventriloquist's doll!



I'm sure Jeopardy! is ripe for satire - but this one all seemed so canned. But maybe it's just me. I know lots of people who like this (and lots of people who like Eddie Izzard, for whatever reason). So maybe I'm just missing whatever it is.

I'll keep reading Ken's blog, though. Whether or not he's genuinely funny, his blog is interesting and has lots of cool links to stuff I'd never be motivated to go out and look up on my own.

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