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03 March 2007 @ 07:13 am
"Who sawed Courtney's boat?" indeed  

“I, said the Sparrow….”

Hello, all!

Reprinted below (with a tiny bit of filling and sanding to make it smoother and, I hope, lovelier) is my response to an email I read last evening from friend lydy about an entry in her LJ entitled Who Sawed Courtney’s boat. If you haven’t read her entry, you may want to do so before you read my post below, as mine may make a wee bit more sense if you’ve read hers (or it might not—you can never tell). Also, there are some good comments there, although I did not know that when I originally wrote this. (lydy has also made a follow-up post basically wondering why the original post hadn’t generated any disagreement.)

As to why I’m posting this here, in my LJ instead of as a reply to her post … well … I guess it’s mostly because this got a little long and I felt more comfortable with it here. I will be going to her entry and replying with a link to this. (I also intend to make a couple of shortish replies to some of the comments there.) It’s all so circular, don’tchaknow.

Date: Fri, 2 Mar 2007 5:57 pm
To: lydy
From: Fredcritter
Subject: Re: Who sawed courtneys boat

At 1:25 AM -0600 03/02/07, lydy wrote:

> I dunno if you read my LJ. There’s an entry called, in fact,
> Who Sawed Courtney’s boat.

Actually, yes, I did read it. With no small interest. Believe it or not.

> Frankly, I don’t have a fucking clue.

Do any of us? Do we know for a fact that Courtney’s boat was sawed? Did Courtney even have a boat? Whatever rocks it, I guess...

> I did the best I could, but if you wouldn’t mind stopping by
> and correct me -- after all, it’d only be polite -- I’d really
> appreciate it.

I hope this will not disappoint you, but I am not at all convinced that you are in fact in need of … um … “correction.” If one wanted to engage directly, one could certainly address your entry’s focus and/or perspective … but not matters of fact—I do believe you accurately described the part of the elephant you were feeling at that moment. Hm. Is the elephant more often the one we’re describing or the one in the living room?

Which leads us exactly to the point: all communication is by reference … to one degree or another. How can one identify which references are “in” and which are “just”? Who makes that determination? With what criteria?

 * * * * *

You see, your entry illumed and engendered so many pathways to interesting thought and discussion I hardly knew how or where to begin; not to mention how I would find the energy to follow even some of the pathways to any appreciable extent, or to see it all through.

 * * * * *

As I read, I also thought, with disgust, “Oh, the wanny-woos have again started yammering about the possibility that somebody might feel excluded, eh? I’ll bet the lurkers even support them in email.”

 * * * * *

Note that while an unrecognized reference may be thought to be exclusionary, a recognized reference is most certainly inclusionary.

 * * * * *

Me, I think references are kind of like a sorting hat. I’d rather hang out with people who find references to be charming, fascinating, and/or enticing (think: Rocky & Bullwinkle; Animaniacs; Mr. Brust’s story of the Brokedown Palace; &c.) than those who find them annoying and off-putting (cf.: fuggheads).

Of course, context matters, delivery matters: I tend to prefer references when they’re slid in quietly—take ’em or leave ’em (all subtle-like)—and I freely admit that I, myself, will usually by annoyed by a reference when it’s delivered on a huge neon sign accompanied by a nudge like as to knock me off my feet and a Post-it proclaiming me to be an idiot if I don’t immediately recognize whence it came. Hard to imagine, I know, but apparently there are folks whose mileage may vary.

 * * * * *

Is it a reference or merely a bit of stolen wit? A clever turn of phrase passed on for your enjoyment? New coin that appears antique? If the last, is the appearance of antiquity intentional or inadvertent; implied or merely inferred?

 * * * * *

Maybe I’ll just post this email entire as my reply. Then I won’t be a lurker, regardless of any support which may be discerned herein.

| Da Fredcritter
|  “Of course, all autobiography is mythic, just as all myths
|    are stories that never happened but are always true.”
|      —Jaime Meyer, Minneapolis StarTribune
|       (in a review of Theater Mu’s “Dancing Crane”)

Date: Fri, 2 Mar 2007 6:05 pm
To: lydy
From: Fredcritter
Subject: P.S. (Re: Who sawed courtneys boat)

At the time I read your entry there had been no comments to it. I go now to see if there were some. That may be relevant to interpreting correctly my previous email. Or it might not. I don’t know, since I haven’t yet read … erm … you know … like that….

| Da Fredcritter
|  “...the United States lured me not merely as a land of milk
|    and honey, but also, perhaps chiefly, as one of mystery, of
|    fantastic experiences, of marvelous transformations.”
|      —Abraham Cahan

kip_wkip_w on March 3rd, 2007 01:41 pm (UTC)
I saw Courtney's boat at the restaurant near the first Minicon I attended (unless it was at the other one I attended). Sort of a steakhouse, with objects all around for decor. One of these was one end of a boat which I estimated at being 50% of the boat. I kept pointing it out and took a picture.
Lianatezliana on March 3rd, 2007 01:52 pm (UTC)
Ah. So that's what "Who sawed Courtney's boat?" is all about. (... she says, over a decade later.)

The first time I heard that, it seemed to me that it was being used as a yardstick. I was a tiny bit off-put and asked nicely for an explanation. I got a vague waving of hands and repetition of the phrase preceded by "You know...." At that point it became clear to me that, indeed this was being used as a yardstick, and I didn't measure up. These days, my opinion of the speaker would have dropped. Back then, my opinion of myself dropped.

Unfortunately, exchanges of similar sort are a part of what drove me away from fandom. They also drive me away from cocktail parties. Neither of which are your problem really. I just wanted to provide a perspective on the "feeling excluded" aspect.
starstraf on March 3rd, 2007 03:46 pm (UTC)
I still sometimes get the 'feeling excluded' part - and I waffle between it being the opion of the speaker or of me being dropped. but more often I get the "oh more secret handshakes - I'll move along until I find a group of people that I understand most of the conversation."
Lydy Nickersonlydy on March 3rd, 2007 06:22 pm (UTC)
As I understand these things, that's one of the meanings of Courtney's Boat. These things get slippery fast, and I never know which bits of fanspeak people know and which they don't. If you explain something they do know, you can sound dreadfully condescending.

Some people explain in-jokes dreadfully, and the result is off-putting. fredcritter gave some examples of truly terrible delivery. Fans are less socially adept than many (although not all) social groups. I asked a friend of mine who has taken against fandom to describe for me why in-jokes made him so unhappy with us. He gave what I found to be a terribly illuminating example.

There was a potluck at my flat, and he had brought one of his cheap and good potluck standards, spaghetti covered with Parmesan cheese and other spices. Kind of like an Italian version of the Spicy Sesame Noodles you can get in Chinese restaurants. One of my fannish friends said something about "baby vomit." Turns out there's some sort of in-joke from somewhere that thinks that Parmesan cheese looks and smells like baby vomit.

You know, it's just kind of icky to have your contribution to a potluck with a bunch of strangers be called baby vomit. It translates into "you suck." The person who had said it, though, apologized, and managed to do it in the worst possible fashion. She explained the in-joke, several times, each time pressing my friend to agree with her. She wouldn't let it drop. She wanted my friend to call his food baby vomit. Euwww. The nudge-nudge-wink-wink in-reference can be annoying. Being condescended to can be annoying. But pressured into accepting a joke you don't think is funny is dreadful.

We also tried to smooth things over, myself included, by trying to assure my friend that there was no reason to take offense, nothing was going on that he need to be upset about, because after all, there was this funny joke that, even if he didn't find funny, she did so it was all ok, no autopsy no foul. Which distilled into the other people in the room also demanding that he think that calling his food baby vomit was funny.

That was one of the most enlightening discussions I've ever had on the topic of why some people don't like fandom even though it looks to me like it should be their ball of wax (which is properly spelled bailiwick)

I think it really depends a lot on your initial trajectory into fandom how you perceive it. If you stick around some, and move around some (i.e. the same people will be the same people, but they are not all of fandom) there might well be pieces of the community that you quite like. But bouncing off it like you'd hit a wall becomes far more comprehensible to me, now. I also think I better understand why people can feel excluded by an in-joke, even if it is explained.
starstraf on March 3rd, 2007 09:18 pm (UTC)
I've been in very much the same potluck situation - unknowingly bringing a meat dish to a lesbian and bisexual womens potluck - and oh it's the 'man sleepers dish' - I've never attended again, even though I have individual friends in the group, as a group I do not feel welcome to interact with them.

Fandom in jokes tend to be reginal - there are Mpls jokes, Apa jokes, Tucker jokes and such. Often I think "oh that is an in joke of this group, and I'm sort of a later comer or outsider hanger on so that is fine if I dont' get it" Usually when someone tries to explain I still don't get it so I many many years ago stopped asking for explanations. I think it was most driven home that that is not part of my language buy 2-3 various buttons going around groups that I am part of, and folks giving me one of the buttons for the in-joke that I was actually THERE and PART of when it happened and I still didn't get it.

It is just a type of bonding / humor that I don't understand, it isn't the way my brain is wired - in the same ways that most of my friends see the movie Aimliee as a sweet romantic comedy and I see it as a weird deranged stalker chick that lives in a town that not only accepts that but encourages it.

but then some in-jokes - or more accurately shorthand phrases to trigger shared memory experiences - I know and cherish - This being fredcritter's journal the one that comes to mind is sometime during a SEMP (Snotty Elitist Music party) some babe comes in after a particularly good song and says "Set Break" and everyone in the know gets up and goes change to goto the hot tub.
A monstrous ramblingbibliofile on March 3rd, 2007 11:26 pm (UTC)
Okay, I hadn't made the connection before, but this conversation has just explained why I never felt completely comfortable in the lesbian-feminist community in the town where I grew up. I never even made it as far as a potluck. That exclusion wasn't so much language based as my consorting with me or even not being lesbian. The not feeling welcome remains the same; only the mechanisms that created the coolness differed. (I hope that makes sense.)

Also, as I was watching (and very much enjoying) Amelie, it occurred to me that she could also be viewed as a crazed stalker and manipulator, and wasn't it a good thing that everyone she knew already liked her.

OTOH, I feel like I might have been around enough at the time to recognize your SEMP example, but alas I don't. Ah well.
starstraf on March 5th, 2007 04:26 am (UTC)
FYI - Set break - Many a years ago at a Congenial there was an amazing music party going on in con suite that had been going on much of the night - and Sue Cane was noticing that the pool area was about to close and she wanted to take advantage of the 'convention only' time at the pool - so between songs she stepped into the consuite in her swimsuit and said "Set Break" and the music party took an hour break to go swimming and hot tub. At various conventions after that either Steve or Fred or I (if Sue was not around) would sometimes say "Set Break" and that was the 'meet us in the hot tub we are taking an hour break from the music' type of shorthand.
Fred A Levy Haskell: Fredcritter eyes onlyfredcritter on March 4th, 2007 01:27 pm (UTC)

I'm not sure I gave examples of awful delivery so much as characterized one.

Your potluck example is so very, very sad I can't stand it.

The phenomenon of the tactless person not only repeatedly trying to explain but also pressing your friend to agree with her view of the universe sounds all too familiar. But I can't quite place it. Do you think it's characteristic of fandom rather than some other social groupings? It certainly does reek of a massively insecure reaction to realizing that you've just horribly offended someone—"Oh, please say it was all right that I said such an offensive thing"—instead of knowing how to actually beg forgiveness. *sigh*

I spent a long time writing my response to tezliana and didn't get anywhere near as much done tonight as I'd intended; so … to be continued…

A monstrous ramblingbibliofile on March 3rd, 2007 11:36 pm (UTC)
These days, my opinion of the speaker would have dropped. Back then, my opinion of myself dropped.

Yes, that's part of the problem nowadays: I'm older, and kids (! these days!) seem to have far more self-confidence than I did at their age. (Another generation gap that I am happy to note, by the way.)

Unfortunately, exchanges of similar sort are a part of what drove me away from fandom. They also drive me away from cocktail parties.

It's so true. I was amazed to visit the UK and realize how much more advanced that Brits are in how to have a polite conversation with anyone, including people you don't know. In this way, Americans I think really can be ugly (that is, rude). It's very sad, too.
Fred A Levy Haskell: Fredcritter eyes onlyfredcritter on March 4th, 2007 12:12 pm (UTC)

Well, that's sort of some of what it's about, anyway. It's certainly one of those phrases that seem to convey different meanings to different people. I'm probably going to have to put together another longish post about Courtney and his damned boat soon now—partly to retell what I can remember of the allegedly real story behind it, partly because I'm rethinking my categorization/labeling of it (it's really a catch phrase, not an in-reference … don'tchathink?), and partly to yammer on at greater length about some of the uses and misuses to which it gets put.

You make an excellent point—one which I'll readily concede. There are those who use the phrase (and others like it) as, as you put it, a "yardstick"—as a "secret password" or "recognition signal." Not only is that just plain icky and irritating, but it can indeed cause perfectly lovely people [who really would fit well into the community (or at least into the particular sub-community in which I think I live) and who would be a positive addition] to feel unwelcome and out of place. I had thought I was covering that in my paragraph concerning the relevance, if not the importance, of context and delivery, but I see that I was not only overstating one particular strain of obnoxious phrase-dropping I was also understating or even forgetting the existence of the sort you cite. I suspect from your report, by the way, that that person didn't themself have a clue what the phrase "meant" and/or how it fit into the general scheme of things and/or why it has bounced around fandom for so long and/or anything that could be reasonably said about it, since the sort of reaction to being questioned you describe is exactly what I'd suspect from someone embarrassed about being "called out" when they were "caught" using a phrase they believed themself to not really understand.

In case it isn't clear, by the way, I have nothing but respect for first-hand reports of feeling excluded, such as yours and Star's, and do not in any way wish to cast doubt upon or belittle them. What I'm tired of are those (whom I labeled "wanny-woos" in my post above) who proclaim that they "get it," but who say (usually at great and annoying length) they are oh-so-worried about some imagined "other people" who will feel excluded because those others won't get it. We certainly need to be reasonable in both our talk and our behavior, but we shouldn't have to walk on egg-shells simply because someone can imagine that someone else might not understand or appreciate something we enjoy. Is how I figure it.