jokes that sometimes people don’t get

The other day, a friend of mine, or rather, a friend of a friend – I don’t know him very well – was talking about a band he was in, and he cited the Olivia Tremor Control as a major influence.  He even went so far as to tell us that the Olivia Tremor Control was his favorite Elephant 6 band.  So just to joke around a little, I said, “That’s a big statement; what about Neutral Milk Hotel?”

And he went through a quick defense, like “Neutral Milk is just a whole different thing, like obviously Jeff Magnum is great,” and made to continue, unsure of whether this justification/name-dropping was adequate.  But I felt a little bad, because the whole thing was just a joke, a joke about using Neutral Milk Hotel to exercise power over your friends.  And I think that’s actually a pretty good joke, but you really can’t blame him if he didn’t get it.  As I said, I didn’t know him very well, and he didn’t know me very well at all.

And a little while ago I was sitting in a prestigious university library, studying in a group.  At one point a group of asian business people entered through the elevator and began taking pictures of us, some with smart phones, others with photographer’s cameras.  It made me uncomfortable, to be the object of such hopeful attention.  I had just been complaining about the class we were studying for, the inconsequentiality of the tested material and the shallowness of the professor’s analysis, and now these asian business people were projecting onto our well-groomed group an almost utopian potential, as if all the world needed was more blank prestige and high-capital anxiety.  So, riffing off this, and off the discomfort it made me feel, I said, “Ah, to be one of a future elite.”  And no one I was with laughed, or, I think, no one even realized I was joking.

Although perhaps it should be mentioned, that later I was having a conversation with one of my study partners.  I explained the joke, she laughed, she said she thought it was funny, and, although she said I shouldn’t blame our study group for not getting it, she gave me an impressed and hopeful glance, which was OK, I think.


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