I’ve finished my BA thesis, and I’m leaving the polish for tomorrow. I feel like rambling. My mind falls to the topic of in-jokes in entertainment.
Theoretically, they are bad. You need to create inclusive works, products of entertainment that as large a group of people as possible understand, that draw in a large audience rather than rejecting interested people with a mess of opague references and jokes that pull on background knowledge exclusive to a small group of people.
For a long time, this was the chief concern with TNM, until our testers assured us that the in-joke to out-joke(?) ratio in TNM is quite fine, that all the obscure references are supplied by a healthy helping of regular pop-culture references and normal jokes relying on clever characters being funny. But before that, while we were still worried about being too exclusive, I came to realize that I love in-jokes.
But not just my own. I mean other people’s in-jokes too. In-jokes that technically, I don’t get.
In many cases, it’s enough to realize that something is an in-joke. It’s great if I see other people laugh knowingly – I don’t feel excluded, I enjoy looking in on a community I’m not a part of and observing their culture. Often, when the in-joke in question is encountered on the Internet, I will track down the source of it, attempt to crack it open and figure out what makes it fun, and against common wisdom (jokes aren’t funny if you have to explain them) I’m usually amused upon solving the mystery. I don’t laugh as I might have if I had been in on the joke from the start, but I realize how clever it is and I smile.
Phonogram is an in-joke I’m not in on. I was never a fan of Britpop – when Suede, Blur, and Oasis were big among even my Danish friends, I was discovering Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Megadeth. As I read Rue Britannia, I didn’t know most of the bands they mentioned, I didn’t get even a quarter of the references and jokes, I had to constantly flit to the glossary in the back of the book, but I had no problem with it. It was almost anthropological, examining an artifact from and a tribute to a community that I wasn’t and never had been a part of.
Of course I’m glad that there are so many normal, regular-people jokes in TNM that players who weren’t part of the PDX community around 2002 don’t become annoyed that they’re missing something, but I hope that there are many people like me among our players, who will pick up on the in-jokes and be amused even if they don’t understand them. Because it does add another dimension to the mod when you understand that most of it’s based on the artifacts of a small, in-bred (and long-extinct) community.
Past experience shows me that I don’t really have enough commenters to end my post with a question like this, but I’d quite like to know: What do you think about other people’s in-jokes? Do they amuse you? Do they annoy you? Do they make you feel excluded? Or do you ignore them, knowing they’re not for you? Please take a moment to answer if you have time.