Wednesday, February 21, 2007

When worlds collide

Humour is a funny business, isn't it? Here I was thinking I'd written one on my funniest-ever posts and yet everyone else thinks it's rubbish.

I am of course referring to my previous post titled "Literary Alchemy". Which, in the odd way blogs work, is the one that comes after this. The general reaction to the post has been so negative that I think it's worthwhile trying to deconstruct it and explain what I was trying to do so that maybe others can learn from my mistakes. Before I start, however, let me say that I know I'm opening up a can of worms here even though I'm aware of something I said in a previous post some months back - all blogging careers end in failure. I think I may be about to prove that some end sooner than others.

So. First off let me state unequivocally that the post was meant to be funny. I thought I'd flagged that up by bookending the bit about being struck by inspiration while making love to my wife. Reader, no such interaction occurred. Not that night, nor for some considerable time in recent history. Mostly we're just lying there living in our separate worlds. I'm busy composing posts in my head for the next day's blog. I don't know what my wife is thinking about but it certainly isn't sex. At least, not sex with me.

The body of the joke was meant to be multi-layered. The first target was myself. I kept thinking of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza while I was composing it. Tilting at windmills and all that. The basic premise that anyone can take a small pile of unsaleable (and probably unreadable) secondhand books and make a fortune out of them was, I thought, completely ludicrous and illustrated how far out of touch with reality I have become. The theatre of the absurd also comes to mind here, and I've used this technique before, usually with happier results.

The second target I was aiming at was the financial services industry. Not capitalism itself I hasten to add. I'll make my views on capitalism clear within the next couple of posts or so since it's obvious that this subject underlies much of the negative feelings the post provoked. Financial engineering is however an aspect of capitalism I do abhor. Fat cats down in London and in other financial centres inventing fancy ways to make obscene amounts of money without actually doing anything that adds to the public good. Well, that makes me livid.

I attempted to satirise these city wide boys by introducing a load of technical terms and techniques that are in common use in the financial futures market. At the same time I hoped this jargon would add a spurious authority to the post - thus making it funnier. This attack on the market, incidentally, was the bit I thought was rather clever. Unbelievable as it sounds, many financial schemes sold to the public today are indeed based on as flaky a premise as the one posited in my post. And if you think that is of little concern to you - well, if you have a pension then you're wrong. To make up for the actuarial deficits that have grown over the years fund managers are indulging in increasingly arcane and risky financial engineering to boost returns and bridge the gap. Don't take my word for it either. Check out Warren Buffet, the world's second-richest man, on the subject. Buffet believes that the whole banking sytem is at risk from the growth of the derivatives market. Maybe it's safer to stick your money under the bed after all.

In hindsight I can see that this part of the post was where the joke really started to backfire. Mainly because, I think, I'd overlooked something. I live in two worlds - one commercially-oriented and the other the world of books. I know a reasonable amount about both. I assumed my readers did too. Most writers, I realise now, don't share that common interest or knowledge of the financial markets and therefore are not actually equipped to see the joke. Indeed, most writers appear to abhor capitalism so it isn't just disinterest - it's actual hostility. No wonder you didn't find the post funny.

Of course, there are other possibilities here - maybe the joke itself wasn't funny or maybe it's the way I tell 'em but I don't think so. Without meaning to, I definitely hit a raw nerve. A nerve I'll attempt to dissect before the week is out.


  1. I'll stick with my last comment with added eyebrow!

  2. Worry not, dear Pundy, I did take it as the humour that I have come to expect from you, which I love.

  3. I haven't looked at the comments to that post, and will do so after writing this comment as I wanted to write this comment in ignorance to give you my undiluted reaction to your post.

    I read it in my rss reader and felt repelled. But why? English inhibition. I can't get over it. I realised you were trying to do something, but could not see what. I just couldn't get over my embarrassment at reading it, and then my annoyance at myself for being embarrassed instead of a "let it all hang out" reaction. This probably sounds rather incoherent as I've just drunk a glass of rather good 2003 Bordeaux, but for what it is worth, there you are -- the lack of understanding of a "non-creative" type, but at least a dim awareness that you were on some plane that I wasn't, so perhaps I am not a philistine, more of a nascent uncomprehending outsider -- who is v English and too uptight.

  4. Pundy,

    I never thought it rubbish at all and realised later it was satire. My comment from a rushed folly, was rubbish. :-)

    Just chill!

  5. I thought the first few paragraphs were hilarious. (That said, I still haven't recovered from one post where you described what you/men? think about when having sex. Thanks to you, I now vote ALWAYS keep the lights off and the music LOUD.)

  6. Well I liked it, and knew it was a joke from the beginning..........
    erm, you forgot to give the address of the site for buying "Pundy Futures"..........