I am touched (sincerely) that a number of people have written in to explain that the headline I mentioned liking yesterday -- "I, For One, Welcome Our Chinese Banker Overlords" -- was based on a famous riff by Anchorman Kent Brockman on The Simpsons.
I take these in the spirit of "psst, you have some spinach in your teeth"-style friendly warnings. It dilutes my gratitude not at all to say, I am aware of this, and it was the point! The drollness and incongruity of applying the familiar Brockman theme is what I thought was funny. And, no, no, no, I'm not implying any similarity among the different kinds of overlords! It just made me laugh.
Serious point: when writing for the mixed audience that comes to web sites -- much more thoroughly mixed by nationality, language skill, age range, and cultural reference points than is the case for most print publications -- it can be a challenge to figure out exactly how much to explain. Some parts of an audience will instantly get any quote or reference -- "Luke, I am your father" / Dave's "Top Ten" List / "Harmonious Society" / "I, for one, welcome.." Others won't. Explain too little, and you're being obscure; explain too much, and you risk sounding over-obvious or killing a joke -- with instant feedback either way.
Anyone who has ever written or spoken via any medium in any age has faced the challenge of knowing the audience. But with newspapers, magazines, and books the problem it's not as tricky because like-minded audiences tend to self-select. That's true to a degree of web sites. But the worldwide reach, the scale, the speed, the unpredictable patterns of searching and linking, etc all make for a larger probability that a given posting may be seen by people outside its "natural" audience.
The solution is probably one that good written publications apply in any case, and that is also generally useful in life: finding unobtrusive ways to explain allusions when there's even a slight chance they may be missed. In conversation, I absolutely hate it when people say "Have you heard of Mr. X?" or "Does the name Y mean anything to you?" I prefer to say, "Mr X, who of course was Czar of all the Russias, ..." or "Mr. Y, the renowned pimp from Baltimore,..." If you say "of course" or "the famous" you can convey the information while implying that of course the other party already knows it. On the same principle, I always say my name as the first thing out of my mouth when meeting someone I haven't seen for a while, to avoid any potential "What the hell is this guy's name?" awkwardness on the other end. Correspondingly, I think people are behaving badly when they fail to extend the same courtesy, and I outright hate it when someone asks, "Do you remember me?" I generally do, but this gets things off on the wrong foot.
In any case, thanks to readers for the reminders. And shortly, the much less lighthearted topic of economic collapse. Jeesh.
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