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Sleep is where Ralph is a Viking
June 10, 2007 7:06 AM   Subscribe

"Oh, boy, sleep! That's where I'm a viking!" From the Simpsons episode "Lisa the Vegetarian," one small Ralph Wiggum line that's sparked some big debate on the internet. Does Ralph use "Viking" to mean "One who excels"? Or does Ralph dream of being a Scandinavian warrior? Not content to keep it online, people are calling radio shows (June 5th's episode, around the 49 minute mark) to gain support for their opinion. Perhaps only the show's writer, David Cohen, can settle this.
posted by Greg Nog (467 comments total) 81 users marked this as a favorite

 
One who excels? How often is that usage even, er, used?
posted by delmoi at 7:13 AM on June 10, 2007


I think I've been misinterpreted that joke for my whole life. Here was my interpretation: I assumed that "viking" was a figure of speech I'd never heard, that was synonymous with "pioneer" or "groundbreaker". So I always thought the joke was that Ralph was basically saying "Sleep is an area in which I excel". I never thought much of the joke, mostly because (I thought) it was based on a figure of speech I wasn't familiar with.

But I was just thinking about this joke, and I realized he probably meant that he has dreams about being a viking (in a literal sense), and he can't wait to go to sleep so he can be a viking again. That's way funnier. I am retarded.
"I am retarded": yea verily.
posted by psmealey at 7:13 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Worst. Meme. Ever.
posted by ColdChef at 7:15 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


My feelings on this controversy can best be summarized by this poster:

"If the people in this thread are being serious, then the internet needs to get blown up or something."
posted by psmealey at 7:17 AM on June 10, 2007 [22 favorites]


This debate might be on more solid ground if Ralph had claimed to be a shark. It would still be stupid, but it there would at least be some reasonable foundation for speculation.

"Hey, that new guy's really a shark! He's going to source our success all the way to a modern proactive solution plateau!"

Right -- that's something we might hear in an office. But this next phrase...?

"Wow, I think we can all agree that our new vice-president, Mark, is truly a paradigm-shifting viking."

THAT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE. (Why would a Wookiee live on Endor?)

If this IS a new and exciting piece of idiot-slang in English, why don't the cool kids say it yet? Who's repressing the viking revolution?

We need answers, damn it.
posted by CheeseburgerBrown at 7:19 AM on June 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


I thought the joke was that "Viking" was a Wiggum family word meaning "high achiever".
posted by stammer at 7:19 AM on June 10, 2007


Perhaps only the show's writer, David Cohen, can settle this.

Or can he?
posted by gubo at 7:20 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Incomplete:Part

Best of Ralph Wiggum: Part 1 | Part 2
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 7:25 AM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


answer: the latter. in his dreams he is a viking. move along.
posted by Busithoth at 7:28 AM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


Plate of vikings.
posted by cortex at 7:31 AM on June 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


I believe that David Cohen has already stated that it was widely misinterpreted as being about "sleep", when it was actually a sly jab at government censorship.
posted by RavinDave at 7:31 AM on June 10, 2007 [6 favorites]


I choo-choo-choose to believe that anyone who overanalyzes this joke is a moron.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:34 AM on June 10, 2007 [8 favorites]


I suppose it's yet another instance of Simpsons fiends trying to find an excuse to hark back to the golden years.
posted by Neilopolis at 7:41 AM on June 10, 2007


If pillaging is your game, and you earn the sobriquet Ravenfeeder, you can legitimately be said to be at the top of your profession.
posted by Abiezer at 7:43 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'd always assumed that in his dreams he was Randy Moss.
posted by Flashman at 7:44 AM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


Dude. Ralph dreams of being a viking. That's it. Who the hell uses "viking" to mean "high achiever"? If Ralph had said, "Yay, sleep! I'm a viking of sleep" -- then okay, sure. I don't know that this would have been that funny (it might have if he'd followed it up with a mean look and a "grrrr!", then put his head down and immediately started snoring), but that's not what happened. As it stands, I don't see much room for misinterpretation. Anyway, we know Ralph has an active and somewhat disturbing fantasy life (witness the Harvey-esque leprechaun that encourages him to start fires), so this is hardly out of character. I mean, come ON.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:45 AM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


how can there be only two entries for the nerdfight tag? did the internet get blowed up?
posted by bodega at 7:47 AM on June 10, 2007


I'm pretty sure this may qualify as stonerfight, actually.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:48 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Huh. I always thought the line was funny precisely because of this ambiguity.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:48 AM on June 10, 2007


Wow, this is strange. Because just the other day, I realized that when Ralph utters his famous line in "Lisa's Rival", he isn't actually using "smells" as an adjective, but as a participle. He means to be saying that his cat's breath contains the olfactory capabilities similar to those of catfood.

Totally changed the way I watch the show. These writers are geniuses.
posted by felix betachat at 7:54 AM on June 10, 2007 [13 favorites]


For Ralph to refer to himself as a "high achiever" would imply some self awareness that, in general, he's a low achiever. But that's totally contrary to what makes Ralph such a funny and sympathetic character.

Me fail English? That's unpossible.
posted by Nelson at 7:54 AM on June 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


Wow. Just wow.
posted by birdherder at 7:55 AM on June 10, 2007


Oh Boy, Mefi! That's where I'm a viking.
posted by jonmc at 7:58 AM on June 10, 2007 [13 favorites]


I'm pretty sure this may qualify as stonerfight, actually.

No, that would be stonerdoze. They don't fight much.

"Oh, boy, stoned! That's where I'm a viking!"
posted by y2karl at 8:03 AM on June 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


How is someone who dreams of being a viking funny? Someone who a) excels only a sleep (which he proves, as he falls asleep instantly) and b) thinks "I'm a viking!" is a way of expressing that excellence, now that's funny.
posted by dobbs at 8:03 AM on June 10, 2007 [5 favorites]


For Ralph to refer to himself as a "high achiever" would imply some self awareness that, in general, he's a low achiever. But that's totally contrary to what makes Ralph such a funny and sympathetic character.

But when he delivers this line, he's just been embarrassed by his failure to avoid eating a worm during class. Now he's given the opportunity to perform a task appropriate to his skillset.
posted by stammer at 8:04 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's a fascinating debate. I mean, witness the annoyance in the small set of replies here so far--for some reason the idea that one would interpret it as "high achiever" just really gets under some people's skin.

Anway, I assume "X, that's where I'm a viking" will become a new snowclone.
posted by statolith at 8:07 AM on June 10, 2007


"A big debate" about a throwaway line in a Simpsons episode from almost 12 years ago? Ummm ..... okayyyyy .....

I'm with Neilopolis. It could also be a way to attempt to drum up interest in the upcoming Simpsons movie, maybe?
posted by blucevalo at 8:10 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


The best part are the comments that indicate Ralph would have said it a different way if he had meant (either option), without taking into account Ralph's poor diction. Ralph is the poster boy for Occam's Razor.
posted by user92371 at 8:13 AM on June 10, 2007


i eated the purple berry. it tastes like... burning.
posted by exlotuseater at 8:14 AM on June 10, 2007


stammer nails it.

Anyone who thinks it's a literal translation (that he BECOMES a viking in his dreams) is really just not thinking too hard.
posted by grum@work at 8:17 AM on June 10, 2007


'So, you...like to...overthink...stuff?'
posted by hojoki at 8:20 AM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


Oh boy, MetaFilter! Where everyone is a plate of beans!
posted by sidereal at 8:20 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Good gravy. I think I remember this argument being hashed out on Usenet.

Like, TEN YEARS AGO.
posted by evilcolonel at 8:21 AM on June 10, 2007


I'm a viking, so I am really getting a kick out of most of these replies.
posted by RavinDave at 8:23 AM on June 10, 2007




This is the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard. I can't begin to make the first step in the logic whereby this is not a boy saying he dreams about being a Viking. I just looked up Viking in the Oxford English Dictionary to check I'm not missing some vital part of human experience. (I'm not. It still just means a Viking.)
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:26 AM on June 10, 2007 [5 favorites]


QED
posted by statolith at 8:30 AM on June 10, 2007


This is utter bullshit. This is the type of bullshit conversation that ends friendships, because one friend realizes the other friend is just a mouth-breather.
posted by autodidact at 8:30 AM on June 10, 2007 [11 favorites]


I can reluctantly see the ambiguity. It wouldn't have existed in the case of either, say -

"Oh boy, sleep! That's where I'm a cowboy!"
or -

"Oh boy, sleep! That's where I'm an astronaut!"

But the ambiguity arguably implied by "vkiking" would be tipped the other way, if it had instead been something like -

"Oh boy, sleep! That's where I'm a champion!"

I can't believe I just spent so much time thinking about this.
posted by yhbc at 8:37 AM on June 10, 2007


Ralph is a Unitard.
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:42 AM on June 10, 2007


I'm pretty sure most members of metafilter are vikings.
posted by srboisvert at 8:43 AM on June 10, 2007


Bookmark this thread, guys. This is how we figure out who the pod people are.
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:45 AM on June 10, 2007 [24 favorites]


It's a fascinating debate. I mean, witness the annoyance in the small set of replies here so far--for some reason the idea that one would interpret it as "high achiever" just really gets under some people's skin.

I noticed that, too, statolith. Here are some of the really interesting things I've learned about all this:

A) About 60% of all people seem to think Ralph dreams of being a Viking. Roughly 40% think he's using "Viking" to mean champion.

B) Those who side with the dreams explanation seem a lot more willing to say "No, this is the ONLY WAY it makes sense." The people who side with the champion explanation seem more willing to conclude that either is valid, but one is preferred.

C) No one's really overthinking this (except me, I guess, since I just posted it to the blue); almost everyone I've asked -- regardless of which interpretation they side with -- offered their interpretation immediately, based entirely on a gut reaction.

D) For what it's worth, the translators of the show side with the "champion" explanation in the foreign-language dubs on the DVDs: link to the forum where I first got involved in all this hullaballoo.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:49 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


VK TEST PROTOCOL (contd.)
If subject answers B, "He is a metaphorical Viking", recalibrate and proceed to question 3.
Q3. Describe in single words only the good things that come into your mind about [pause] your mother.

posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:50 AM on June 10, 2007 [11 favorites]


If the writers really meant for Ralph to dream of himself as a viking, don't you think they would have finished the joke by having Ralph actually dream of himself as a viking?

Can you imagine the visual gag they could have had with that? And you think they deliberately passed that up?
posted by grum@work at 8:51 AM on June 10, 2007


This is retarded. Here I go...

It's absolutely him saying that he dreams of being a Viking. If I cock my head and squint really hard, then I can kind of see where the other interpretation would come from, and yeah, it's kind of funny, largely because I picture Clancy using it as a term of encouragement for young Ralph.

However, it's much, MUCH funnier to me to have kid-who-can't-help-but-eat-his-worm, pathetic, real-life Ralph contrasted with the vicious barbarian he apparently - and apparently exclusively - is in dreamland. The fact that he knows this, that his imagination is specific enough for this dream and yet constrained enough to allow no others, and that he just jumps right into his fantasy life with glee after what should've been a mortifyingly embarrassing episode, makes it all the funnier.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:52 AM on June 10, 2007 [22 favorites]


How odd to see our half-baked assertions, distilled during overanalyzing late-night debates, discussed by other people. These other people seem not to understand the irony in being shocked that these trivial assertions were debated while taking the whole debate much more seriously than we ever did. You engaged in this debate because it was a fun distraction for you and your friends, like a jigsaw puzzle or a thought experiment. Why do these other people care? It's bewildering.

Just a data point from something in my past.
posted by zennie at 8:53 AM on June 10, 2007


So much funnier if the joke is that Ralph is a literal viking in his dreams.

Two key points against the other interpretation:
1) It's not funny.
2) The work "viking" doesn't mean that.
posted by supercres at 8:56 AM on June 10, 2007 [19 favorites]


navelgazer: Exactly.
posted by supercres at 8:58 AM on June 10, 2007


If the writers really meant for Ralph to dream of himself as a viking, don't you think they would have finished the joke by having Ralph actually dream of himself as a viking?

You can't make an animated show if you took every opportunity to include a sight gag. Not even if you're making Family Guy. The show was about Lisa's conversion to vegetarianism, not Ralph. It was a throw-away, two second line.

Here's a question for you people who think "Viking" meant "champion". Can you find a single reference to using the word "Viking" to mean someone who excels anywhere in literature? Anything at all?

It's not a question of "underthinking" it's a question of "uninformed thinking". The people who say they're using the word viking to mean someone who excels are just not that familiar enough with the word to really decide what was meant. The person who started this whole thing said so himself.
I assumed that "viking" was a figure of speech I'd never heard, that was synonymous with "pioneer" or "groundbreaker". So I always thought the joke was that Ralph was basically saying "Sleep is an area in which I excel". I never thought much of the joke, mostly because (I thought) it was based on a figure of speech I wasn't familiar with.
They weren't familiar with the word and so they got it wrong (which they admitted)
posted by delmoi at 9:01 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


COULD OVERTHINK A JAPE ON SCREENS
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:05 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


delmoi, were there any previous references -- anywhere in literature -- to "Eat My Shorts" as an expression of dismissal, before the Simpsons writers coined that usage?
posted by Greg Nog at 9:07 AM on June 10, 2007


This is retarded. Here I go...

You, sir, have quite cogently summarized the first 45 years of my life.
posted by sidereal at 9:10 AM on June 10, 2007 [6 favorites]


Greg Nog, I just want to say, the artwork in your comics is really good. But you still need to go to bed now and have a little nap for a while. Everyone needs a little nap now and then.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:13 AM on June 10, 2007


how can there be only two entries for the nerdfight tag?

Because nobody has posted the excellent 'Predator ship' board-fight yet. (Slightly more self-aware as it's mostly one guy and a bunch of people provoking, but hilarious nonetheless)
posted by statolith at 9:20 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Here's my take on this important issue:

It is pretty obviously Ralph saying, "Sleep is where I dream of being a Viking." Does anyone think Ralph has the intelligence to be capable of using the work 'viking' as a metaphor for 'one who excels'? Has anyone ever used that slang? Would Ralph be capable of inventing it? Was there ever any point in the show when another person used 'viking' in that way?

However, I do like to think about the possibility that he was saying, "I'm such a viking at sleep," because it is possibly the stupidest slang ever. The thought of people going around saying, "I'm a real viking of _____" or "I'm such a viking when it comes to _____" makes me laugh very hard, simply because it sounds so stupid.
posted by papakwanz at 9:23 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Both are right, because... a wizard did it.

A Wizard Did It.
posted by Benjy at 9:24 AM on June 10, 2007


I've always heard it as the metaphorical viking - in sleep I am the strongest, I conquer. In sleep I am the best.

The "nobody uses viking to mean champion" argument doesn't hold water any more than the "cromulent isn't really a word so that joke isn't funny" argument. English is a flexible, nimble, shifting-pathogen language and is more than able to absorb that slight stretch of a figure of speech -- even if the writers just made it up. Or, more likely, even if the writers just made Ralph or Clancy make it up.
posted by dirtdirt at 9:24 AM on June 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


For Ralph to refer to himself as a "high achiever" would imply some self awareness that, in general, he's a low achiever. But that's totally contrary to what makes Ralph such a funny and sympathetic character.

Me fail English? That's unpossible.
posted by Nelson at 9:54 AM on June 10


eponysterical?
posted by ninjew at 9:28 AM on June 10, 2007


doesn't hold water any more than the "cromulent isn't really a word so that joke isn't funny" argument

Wow, way to miss that one. The joke is that "cromulent" isn't really a word. Why would anyone say that makes it not funny, when that's the joke?
posted by papakwanz at 9:29 AM on June 10, 2007


I'm such a nerd I can't let this go. It's clearly "in my dreams, I'm a Viking warrior". Just listen to the intonation in the horrible cam copy on YouTube (00:21 to 00:35). The down tone in the closing syllable of viking makes it clear he's talking about the role, the act of being a fearsome Norse warrior. If he meant it metaphorically to refer to the present situation it would have been a flat tone.
posted by Nelson at 9:29 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


And the joke here is that Ralph is using a similarly concocted piece of speech.
posted by dirtdirt at 9:30 AM on June 10, 2007


NO

NO NO NO

FFS PEOPLE
posted by thirteenkiller at 9:30 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


dirtdirt: and ralph is smart enough to make that conceptual leap? Ralph can make the connection between: "Viking: a race of Scandinavian barbarians and conquers" to "I am a viking of X, meaning that I am just as powerful in doing X as the Vikings were at conquering"?
posted by papakwanz at 9:32 AM on June 10, 2007


This is retarded. Here I go...

You, sir, have quite cogently summarized the first 45 years of my life.


It was actually just the first 20 years. It just felt like 45 because you're slow.
posted by srboisvert at 9:35 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


And Ralph is not just making up a word, as was the joke in the "cromulent" bit. Then he would have said, "Oh boy, sleep! That's where I'm a flinkyflank!"

If the "Viking of Sleep" people are right, Ralph, well-known to be a unitard, was making a fairly complex metaphorical leap, which he simply is not capable of doing.
posted by papakwanz at 9:36 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


English is a flexible, nimble, shifting-pathogen language and is more than able to absorb that slight stretch of a figure of speech

Yes, exactly - which is why people are arguing about this in the first place - we're used to this goddamn inexterminable cockroach of a language having umpteen layers of literal and figurative meaning.

God, I love the Frankenstein's monster that is English. Sewn together out of dead languages and living ones that it kills and uses for spare parts. If the human race were exterminated, English would find a new host or wait for one to evolve. English does not sleep. It waits.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:36 AM on June 10, 2007 [59 favorites]


Oh, what am I doing?

I had always thought of it as being both. In Ralph's dreams, he is a viking. This doesn't at all rule out the second interpretation, where he is excited about sleep because his dream self is superior to his waking one—in his dreams he is a viking, as opposed to real life, where he can't even manage to not eat a worm for two seconds. The "Oh boy" supports this, I think. "Oh boy, off to dreamland, where my lack of smarts, social skills, or self-control are helps and not hindrances to my pillaging, worm-eating ways." Why does he like being a viking? Because vikings are beyond him in a way that he finds desirable. If I dreamed about being a viking on a regular basis I would probably get nervous about my unconscious, not exclaim with joy at bedtime.

Short version: He doesn't have to have explicitly intended to say "Sleep, where I am a champion" for that meaning to be implicit in what he's said.
posted by felix grundy at 9:37 AM on June 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


Here's my sandbox. I'm not allowed to go in the deep end. That's where I saw the leprechaun. He told me to burn things.

Plateofbeans Analysis:

Where "sandbox" is a thinly-veiled metaphor for the Nietzschean abyss, and "leprechaun" is the manifestation of our darkest repressed antisocial desires. Ralph is a terribly disturbed individual with sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies that must be sublimated in order to maintain psychological coherence.

WRONG. IT'S A REGULAR SANDBOX AND A FANTASY LEPRECHAUN BECAUSE RALPH FANTASIZES A LOT. Okay?!
posted by exlotuseater at 9:38 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


felix grundy, I choo-choo-choose you.
posted by papakwanz at 9:42 AM on June 10, 2007


Oh, puh-lease This is RALPHIE WIGGUM we're talking about. When he says, "viking", it means he said "viking". Whether he actually meant "viking" or not is irrelevant. He could dream he was Abraham Lincoln on a Penny Farthing bicycle and still say he was a viking - for reasons that should be clear to anyone who's seen enough Simpsons episodes. Of course, "viking" could refer to Ralphie shoving crayons up his nose again, licking paint off the walls, or swallowing the funny little clouds flying off the back of his daddy's car - the effect would be the same.

Now that the joke's been explained at considerable length, let's start singing "Springtime for Hitler".
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:42 AM on June 10, 2007


come on, everybody, if we can just thrash this out another couple of hundred threads, we'll beat the whole PH jail thread.

and for the record, I'm not angry at people who interpret it differently. I love multiple interpretations, it's just so random and academic, the energy spent on it seems lost in the aether.

shouldn't the rule typically be "what's funnier?"
dual interpretations can add humor, (not just frustration) so win-win for the writer, who's moved on long ago to more important matters.

Like 'bananas or berries in my cheerios?'
posted by Busithoth at 9:43 AM on June 10, 2007


I've made these arguments on one of the other linked boards, but here is why I believe the writers meant Ralph to mean "when it comes to sleep, I am unmatched!"

First of all, translated versions in French, German, Porteguese, Czech and Dutch all support this interpretation. For example, the Dutch translation is "Slapen, daar ben ik goed in" or "Sleep, that is something I'm good at." Sure, translations are sometimes wonky, but every single translation supports the same interpretation.

Next, the line makes more sense in context, as a Mefite above has explained. Ralph has failed at worm-cutting, but then Ms. Hoover tells him to sleep and he perks up because, unlike worm-cutting, sleep is where he's a Viking. I even hear the emphasis on "I'm" in the line. ("That is where, I, unlike others, am a Viking.") The line could be a humourous nonsequitur about dreaming, but the champion interpretation makes more sense to me in context.

As for no one using the word "Viking" to mean "champion" , I would point out that people did start using use the term in this sense after the episode. But back to the point -- we would understand Ralph if he said "When it comes to sleep, I'm a god." We would even understand him if he coined a phrase like "When it comes to sleep, I'm a pipehitting gangster." In other words, when it comes to sleep, you don't mess with him. So there's no problem with using new terms to convey a meaning.

The writers could made the joke by saying "Sleep, that's where I'm a champion" but it's much funnier to exaggerate Ralph's prowess and use an absurd unexpected comparison, hence, "Sleep, that's where I'm a Viking."

Some people feel it would be out of character for Ralph to use a clever turn of phrase, but he has gone out of character before to earn a laugh or serve the purposes of the story, such as when he giving a stirring performance as the dying George Washington.

Finally, for all the eye-rollers, the reason this some of us (on both sides) find this debate interesting is that for over a decade, thousands of other people have interpreted a memorable scene in a way that never occurred to us. We're in two separate worlds!

Besides, not everything we do has to cure cancer.
posted by Yogurt at 9:45 AM on June 10, 2007 [17 favorites]


delmoi, were there any previous references -- anywhere in literature -- to "Eat My Shorts" as an expression of dismissal, before the Simpsons writers coined that usage?

My apologies if I missed the sarcasm. Eat My Shorts, as said by Judd Nelson, delivering lines written by John Hughes
posted by 23skidoo at 9:48 AM on June 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


I doubt that anyone thought "viking" meant "one who excels" when the episode first aired. (Though some people here will probably claim they did.)

A lot of geeks went around saying that line a lot, and it started getting applied to various things. I had a roommate who said it for just about anything. "Oh boy, a job interview! That's where I'm a viking!" Now when people see that episode they get all confused, having heard references to the joke far more times than the actual joke.
posted by agropyron at 9:48 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


And the joke here is that Ralph is using a similarly concocted piece of speech.

But that's totally inconsistent with Ralph's main linguistic role in the show, which is as flawed echo of common usage. He's not known for his apt coinages, he's know for his mangling of existing idioms and cliches and such.

For Ralph to use "viking" in a novel sense, he'd pretty much be obliged to mis-use it in said novel sense. Ralph using a subtle but not mockery-worthy innovation of language in a throwaway line like that makes no sense.

Had he been set up for it: say, had we had an earlier scene of the Chief explaining that Wiggumses aren't the goat-hearders of Springfield's Iceland, they're the vikings or some such, then, sure, we could brook a motivation to write an odd usage into Ralph's line, but even then we'd expect said usage to be more humorously flawed. Not apt but broken: so travels Ralph Wiggum through the minefield of common speech.
posted by cortex at 9:49 AM on June 10, 2007 [6 favorites]


Obviously, Mr. Cohen (or possibly one of the other Simpsons writers throwing out ideas in a collaborative session, since no single person ever writes an entire episode despite Hollywood crediting requirements) came up with the line that could mean different things to different people in order to make it appeal to the largest potential audience possible. The use of jokes with flexible interpretation is what sets the true genius of The Simpsons apart from the lesser attempts at humor of Family Guy, South Park, etc. and what will allow the show to run forever without ever becoming cromulent.
posted by wendell at 9:50 AM on June 10, 2007


The writers could made the joke by saying "Sleep, that's where I'm a champion" but it's much funnier to exaggerate Ralph's prowess and use an absurd unexpected comparison, hence, "Sleep, that's where I'm a Viking."

It also suggests the image of his supportive parents using the phrase to cheer him up and give him a sense of confidence in his sleep skills.
posted by stammer at 9:50 AM on June 10, 2007


English is a flexible, nimble, shifting-pathogen language and is more than able to absorb that slight stretch of a figure of speech -- even if the writers just made it up.


There's glory for you.
posted by Tullius at 9:50 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Chalk me up as one of the pod people; before Ralph utters the line, Ms. Hoover tells him to "... just try to sleep while the other children are learning," in a resigned way that indicates that this is a frequent occurrence. Ralph's validation of his frequent inaction and passivity by comparing himself to fierce aggressive Vikings is what makes me laugh, and "the conceptual leap" isn't all that farfetched, given Ralph's propensity for bizarre non-sequiturs and Chief Wiggum's habit of coddling and praising his son's unorthodox behavior.

So, in summation, I'll laugh for whatever reason I damn well cho-cho-choose.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:53 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


(Setting aside entirely the simple fucking sense that if your joke is esoteric, you don't fuck it up by making the straight line funny too.)
posted by cortex at 9:53 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Some will consider this overly blunt, but it has to be said.

If you think it's a metaphorical Viking, you have what people call "autism". It's nothing to be scared or ashamed of. Some people call autism a disease, just because you are different to some other people. But I think it just means you are special and you can make a special contribution. Your medical practitioner will tell you more!

Remember, everybody is different. It doesn't mean you're not a Viking!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:54 AM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


THE ANSWER
posted by brain_drain at 9:57 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Imho, imdb links are as tacky as Amazon links or Wikipedia links--they are the first resort of the lazy. Doubly so in this case as Amazon owns the Internet Movie Database.

Always there is a more useful and interesting link than the first hit on Google if one bothers to scroll down:

Lisa The Vegetarian

David Cohen

Ralph Wiggum Soundboard
posted by y2karl at 10:01 AM on June 10, 2007


If you think the interpretation is anything but "that's where I'm a Viking [warrior]" you are fucking austistic.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:01 AM on June 10, 2007


Perhaps in sleep, he is an expensive kitchen appliance.

That's only other "viking" I know of other than the sailing, pillaging, burning, poetry-reciting, being-eaten-by-Grendel kind.
posted by Foosnark at 10:04 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


If ever a thread screamed out for negative favourites, boy this is it
posted by bonaldi at 10:04 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Whoa, EMRJKC'94, I promise I did not read your post before making mine.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:04 AM on June 10, 2007


The more reasons you give to try and explain the "metaphorical viking", the more you remind me of that Intelligent Design dude sitting next to Kirk Cameron describing why God had to have invented bananas.

Also, autism.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:05 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Anyone know where I can find some support for my recently diagnosed autism?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:08 AM on June 10, 2007


Viking was originally a verb: Norsemen who went ‘a-viking’ took part on raiding expeditions. Clearly Ralph was alluding to this practice when he said that's where I’m a-viking…
posted by misteraitch at 10:09 AM on June 10, 2007 [6 favorites]


You know who else harboured fantasies of associations with Norse heritage?
posted by Abiezer at 10:11 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Viking ranges are very fine appliances... you might even say they excel at being ranges.
posted by cosmonaught at 10:14 AM on June 10, 2007


That line has always confused me, but for a different reason: Does Ralph actually understand what a viking is? Does this bumbling kid secretly dream of raiding, looting, burning, killing and raping? Is there a lot more going on in his head than he's letting on?

Or is he just confused in his understanding of what a viking is? If so, what *does* he think a viking is?

Either way, it's funny. But I don't see anything to support the belief that viking definitely equals champ.
posted by A dead Quaker at 10:15 AM on June 10, 2007


If you think the interpretation is anything but "that's where I'm a Viking [warrior]" you are fucking austistic.

Time to put Wapner on the barbie. Definitely put Wapner on the barbie. I'm a fuckin' excellent driver, mate.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:15 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


From the Viking website:
"Viking has become synonymous with the epicurean lifestyle."

"Now we’re applying Viking perfection to new categories like cookware, cutlery, and small appliances."

Has any body even considered this interpretation?
posted by cosmonaught at 10:18 AM on June 10, 2007


Scandinavian warrior
posted by mrgrimm at 10:18 AM on June 10, 2007


DING DING DING

Most people heard reference to the joke before they ever saw this episode (in syndication, many years after it first aired).

Just like people thought that Bob Dylan ripped off The Animals with House of the Rising Sun ... there are dozens of examples of this in pop culture.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 10:25 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


I suppose a work can fairly be said to have achieved canonical status when legions of overeducated and understimulated people begin debating its subtlest linguistic nuances. Congratulations Matt Groening, you've joined the ranks of Lao Tzu, Moses, Paul, Mohammed, Dante, Goethe and Shakespeare.

It's a shame you showed up just as the party was ending.
posted by felix betachat at 10:31 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


It seems obvious to me that a Viking is a conqueror. And so I always assumed Ralph to be using it metaphorically.
posted by tomboko at 10:36 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Those who side with the dreams explanation seem a lot more willing to say "No, this is the ONLY WAY it makes sense."

Yes, exactly, because we find it astounding that anyone familiar with the character and the show could possibly read more into it than him simply saying "sometimes I dream of being an action hero/warrior". You have a brain defect if you think Ralph has even the slightest ability to knowingly make subtle wordplay.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:39 AM on June 10, 2007


Oh ho, wow. 102 comments in less than four hours! Making people bicker, that's where I'M a Viking!

And 23skidoo, thanks; my question was serious, and yeah, I forgot all about Eat My Shorts predating the Simpsons.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:42 AM on June 10, 2007


At what point in this controversy do the boys at MythBusters step in to show everyone how it's done?
posted by ZachsMind at 10:46 AM on June 10, 2007


But back to the point -- we would understand Ralph if he said "When it comes to sleep, I'm a god." We would even understand him if he coined a phrase like "When it comes to sleep, I'm a pipehitting gangster."

But he didn't say "when it comes to sleep, I'm a Viking" He said "Sleep, that's where I'm a Viking". If he had said "Sleep, that's where I'm a god" it would seem to mean he dreams of being a god, although the 'other' interpretation would be more plausible because god is used in that way, while Viking is not.

The "nobody uses viking to mean champion" argument doesn't hold water any more than the "cromulent isn't really a word so that joke isn't funny" argument.

The whole point of the cromulent joke was that it was inserted into a statement about language. It wouldn't have been much of a joke if Homer had simply said, totally out of the blue in one episode that "Shelbyville has perfectly trasiblus water" or something like that. Totally random words in totally random places isn't funny. It's funny when it's in the context of language itself
posted by delmoi at 10:49 AM on June 10, 2007


sleep != dream
posted by RavinDave at 10:52 AM on June 10, 2007


I've always assumed that "viking" was some bizarre form of generic praise in the Wiggum family, but I, for one, welcome the new real-viking interpretation. It's funnier.

I think the reason I never saw it before has something to do with my interpretation of "where." I interpreted "where" as something like "the field in which," while it was supposed to be a literal "where." I guess I don't tend to think of sleep as being a place (semantically), so that possibility flew right over my head.
posted by obvious at 10:52 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


But it isn't totally random. Even if no-one ever used the word viking to mean 'champion' surely it isn't that far of a leap to see it used that way? It's not a nonsense word, it's not a made-up word. It's a character who is quite a bit off using a specific word in a way that is quite a bit off, but still make sense. This unorthodox usage ends up being sort of poetic. And funny.
posted by dirtdirt at 10:59 AM on June 10, 2007


I think the reason I never saw it before has something to do with my interpretation of "where." I interpreted "where" as something like "the field in which," while it was supposed to be a literal "where." I guess I don't tend to think of sleep as being a place (semantically), so that possibility flew right over my head. Posted by: obvious.

Eponysterical!
posted by Navelgazer at 11:00 AM on June 10, 2007


In the Swedish translation of this episode, Ralph says "sleep, that's where I'm the manager of a Saab dealership."
posted by zippy at 11:09 AM on June 10, 2007 [8 favorites]


I side with the metaphorical vikings over the dream vikings. The idea of it as a figure of speech is funnier than as Ralph's recurring dream.
posted by cusack at 11:10 AM on June 10, 2007


That's a good point Navelgazer... wouldn't have have said "That's WHEN I'm a viking!" had he been referring to his dreams/sleep?
posted by cusack at 11:12 AM on June 10, 2007




I'm a Viking even when I'm awake. LONGBOATS AHOY!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:24 AM on June 10, 2007


I can't believe that there's any argument at all.

A viking is

any of the Scandinavian pirates who plundered the coasts of Europe from the 8th to 10th centuries.


That's what he's dreaming of. Duh.

There's no argument.

The word viking only means this.
posted by MythMaker at 11:24 AM on June 10, 2007


You're all a bunch of unitards.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:26 AM on June 10, 2007


This is almost a no-brainer to me.

How could little Ralph Wiggum have the mental agility to use the word "Viking" as a symbol for "excellence"?

Most Republicans can’t even do that.
posted by rougy at 11:27 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Knock knock
Who's there?
Interrupting viking cow.
Interrupting viking cow wh--
MOOOOO!

Now that's funny. 'Cos the cow excels at interrupting, you know? Or maybe because it's actually interrupting.

Rude fucking viking cow, either way.
posted by YamwotIam at 11:27 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


If it's true that all the other translations say "Sleep, I'm good at that!", it's almost certain to be because of a script change that failed to get into the closed captions. Otherwise, why wouldn't they just translate Viking literally? A non-existant turn of phrase in English will work just as well or badly when translated literally in other languages.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:29 AM on June 10, 2007



Yes, exactly, because we find it astounding that anyone familiar with the character and the show could possibly read more into it than him simply saying "sometimes I dream of being an action hero/warrior". You have a brain defect if you think Ralph has even the slightest ability to knowingly make subtle wordplay.


I find it amazing that this discussion is causing so much antagonism, and also strange that all of it is coming from the "It can only mean Ralph dream of being a Viking" side - as if they're somehow defending themselves from personal attack. Can anyone clarify why you (or they) are getting so hot under the collar about it?

So, while we're sniping, I find it strange that someone's thinking can be so one-dimensional they can only see the joke in one light. My brain immediately jumped to the "I'm a champion" interpretation because it would be like Ralph to get meanings subtly twisted about in that way; but I can easily see it in the other way as well. For what it's worth, I can totally see Constable Wiggum calling Ralph "my little Viking" when Ralph has mastered something, and Ralph picking up on that meaning of the word. I also don't think it's necessary for Ralph to actually be cognizant of the double meaning for the joke to work.

Dude, I'm fucking autistic.
posted by frobozz at 11:29 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


"When I grow up, I want to be a principle... or a caterpillar!"

Does this mean Ralph has no understanding of careers and thinks he can become a literal caterpillar, or does he believe someday he shall, like a caterpillar, go through a metamorphosis and become something beautiful? Only hundreds of screaming nerds can find out for sure.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:36 AM on June 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


How could little Ralph Wiggum have the mental agility to use the word "Viking"

I don't think you need an in-world explanation, although people have offered them above ("maybe his father said it" etc).

The real reason is that the writers thought it was funny to use this over-the-top term, so they let Ralph use a big word -- just like when he suddenly has the mental ability to recall the Canadian national anthem during the model U.N.

Could some of the "it's obvious he's dreaming of a being a Viking" people explain how almost every single translator of the show came up with the other supposedly-obscure interpretation? (Some are still ambigious.)

Alao, would a Spanish speaker care to add to the list of translated lines? You can see the episode in Spanish by Googling lisa vegeatariana mediafire or checking the North American DVD, I believe. I believe it's around the 6.5 minute mark or so.

On preview: Otherwise, why wouldn't they just translate Viking literally? The German is apparently: "Oh man Schlafen, in der Beziehung bin ich ein Vikinger"
posted by Yogurt at 11:39 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Can anyone clarify why you (or they) are getting so hot under the collar about it?

Because the alternate interpretation is just too absurd to be tolerated. This isn't like hot vs mild salsa or should Paris Hilton be on Metafilter, where there are conceivably reasonable explanations on both sides of the issue. It's like you people are saying the world is flat. I try to be open to new ideas and respectful of other people's opinions, but sometimes I just gotta draw a line and stand up for reason.
posted by thirteenkiller at 11:39 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


It's ambiguous, open to more than one interpretation. Nice. Way to go, Simpsons writers -- you did something not merely entertaining or funny or snarky, but actually artful.
posted by treepour at 11:44 AM on June 10, 2007


I am also amused by exlotuseater's comment above, where he attempts to make fun of overanalysis, but his "under-analyzed" version is wrong. Ralph's not fantasizing about a Leprechaun. He's hallucinating a Leprechaun. A Leprechaun who is indeed a "manifestation of our darkest repressed antisocial desires." When the Simpsons are happily celebrating Ralph's triumph, the Leprechaun tells Ralph, "BURN THEM ALL." That ain't just a harmless child's fantasy.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:51 AM on June 10, 2007


Ralph being excited by being able to sleep because he dreams of being a Viking (and considers it a *place*, hence an almost literal "where") is funnier than him using Viking as a metaphor for being good at something. And far, far more in tune with who Ralph is.

Going by all those who feel otherwise, and the translations which seem to go along with them, I'll just put forward the theory that the aliens clearly take over multilingual people first, to assist their further spread into the general population.
posted by Freaky at 11:53 AM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


Viking, bloody hell. I'd much rather be Klingon than a Viking.
posted by pax digita at 12:02 PM on June 10, 2007


He's not dreaming of being a Scandinavian warrior, he's dreaming of being a Scandinavian and of living in a social democracy, and the creators are thereby sticking it to Fox, showing how even Ralph is capable of understanding how the political system they are proponing is inferior to that of northern Europe.
posted by klue at 12:04 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


I figure he means excellence. When the writer is thinking about a joke to put into an episode, right there he was thinking along the lines of showing how Ralph is happy that he's at least good at sleeping. But saying "that's where I'm a champion" isn't funny enough for the Simpsons. That would be an ok joke for a lesser cartoon. If you watch simpsons you'll notice that they will always work on such a plain joke to twist it a bit. 'Viking' is just that twist. Ralph isn't being unusually smart - he still doesn't know what a Viking is, that's precisely why he's using a word that's not really appropriate. He has some vague idea what it might mean and he's using it to mean he's good at it, he'd say 'champion' but he can't string half a dozen words together without at least one of them being more or less off. The joke is that Viking doesn't really mean that, but you can still understand what he's trying to say. He doesn't mean he's a real viking because he doesn't know what the hell a viking is. What's a battle? It's funny that the same reasoning is used to prove he can't use 'Viking' metaphorically.. That's almost too absurd.. Anyway. I'd say it's 80% viking-as-excellence and 20% possibility of real viking. Both are possible but second is too far-fetched.. it /would/ be funnier if it wasn't so far-fetched though. Like say if there was some reference in another episode that would support it.
posted by rainy at 12:08 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Now that that's solved, tell me, what does Bart mean when he says, "don't have a cow, man?". Is he suggesting that:
  • it is unwise to make a sexual conquest of a cow?
  • it would be similarly unwise to make a sexual conquest of the fictitious chimera, the cow-man?
  • no one, save a farmer, should own a cow?
  • he recommends that one should not give birth to a cow?
The last it the most implausible, as a cartoon human could not give birth to a fully grown heifer. This would also not make any sense. Wouldn't it make more sense to give birth to a calf?
posted by psmealey at 12:10 PM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


Because the alternate interpretation is just too absurd to be tolerated.

See, this is what's absurd to me. You actually want to completely disallow (not tolerate) alternate interpretation (despite the fact that a significant percentage of people seem to understand the alternate interpretation). The reaction is simply way too overblown for the situation, in my opinion, and is fascinating in some way that I, myself, don't understand at all.

Also, a huge part of my interpretation came from context - the words written down simply mean, "I am a Viking in my sleep." But the scene - the buildup to the line, and especially the actor's reading of it - all indicate that Ralph is a champion sleeper. If I wasn't sure whether or not 'Viking' was used as some sort of slang for 'champion' in English, I would take this scene to indicate that it was - which may be where the translations of champion come from. Perhaps the actor doing Ralph was brain damaged and read the line in the 'champion' sense contrary to the writers' intentions?

It's not, "what does 'Viking' mean in the dictionary?" It's "what is the whole set-up of the scene saying?"
posted by frobozz at 12:13 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


"When I grow up, I want to be a principle... or a caterpillar!"

Does this mean Ralph has no understanding of careers and thinks he can become a literal caterpillar, or does he believe someday he shall, like a caterpillar, go through a metamorphosis and become something beautiful? Only hundreds of screaming nerds can find out for sure.


Talk about the elephant in the room! Fuck the caterpillar — what kind of kid wants to be a principle? And does he want to become, literally, a principle, to make his escape from the cruel world of physicality in a puff of abstraction? Or does he only seek to become a personification, an avatar of some higher concept? And which principle, exactly? Cold, senseless evil? Bernoulli's?
posted by enn at 12:19 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


My favorite instance of dubbing to make fit for commercial television broadcast is in the movie Quick Change, when the protagonists are being robbed or carjacked or something, and Geena Davis's line is changed from "this is fucking ridiculous" to "this is VIKING ridiculous".
posted by squarehead at 12:20 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Um...to continue with the Viking=conqueror metaphor, a friend of mine just reminded me:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, episode 76, The Yoko Factor:
Xander: "All I can--" (paces to the other side of the crypt) Can you believe this!? Like I'm some sort of useless lunk. It happens I'm good at a lot of things. I help out with all kinds of . . . stuff. I have skills . . . and . . . stratagems. I'm very . . . (looks to Anya) Help me out.

Anya: (nonchalant) He's a Viking in the sack.
Somehow, I don't think she means "fond of horned helmets and performing the blood eagle".
posted by Katemonkey at 12:22 PM on June 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


He's an x in the sack is a standard turn of phrase.

I get the feeling this thread is going to be cited in someone's multimedia manifesto.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:28 PM on June 10, 2007


(I don't know why I keep coming back to this thread. As I said, inexplicably fascinating.)

Even if the writers and everyone involved meant that Ralph was dreaming of being a Viking, doesn't it give you (the non-champion people) any satisfaction out of letting your brain hear it the other way? Doesn't the charming stupidity of Ralph meaning, enthusiastically and proudly, "That's where I'm a champion!" and saying Viking, get to you? I can't imagine going around and missing out on subtle absurdities like this - it's one of the small pleasures of my day to hear things in strange ways, other than how the speaker meant them, and play with them in the back of my mind.
posted by frobozz at 12:28 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Has Ralph said anything even slightly metaphoric in any episode? Ever?
posted by luriete at 12:36 PM on June 10, 2007


[Weighing in on the most important matter in this most important discussion . . . ]

delmoi, were there any previous references -- anywhere in literature -- to "Eat My Shorts" as an expression of dismissal, before the Simpsons writers coined that usage?

I realize this isn't exactly literature, but in high school we used it in this sense about every other sentence throughout the entire school day. This would have been in the late 70s.

However if its "literature" you want we have these fine examples
  • Eat my shorts v. Drop dead, go jump in the lake (The Official Preppy Handbook, Lisa Birnback, 1980)
  • 'eat my shorts' means drop dead, go jump in the lake (The State of the Language, Phillip Howard, 1985)
  • Eat my shorts tampon breath- I really saw something! (1986)
  • Eat my Shorts! an exclamation of defiance or contempt, popular among male high school students (The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, Tony Thorne, 1990)
Last but not least, you won't want to miss Rick Dees' 1984 hit, Eat My Shorts.
posted by flug at 12:37 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


No. Ralph doing something stupid then admitting he's only really good at being unconscious is not funny.
posted by thirteenkiller at 12:38 PM on June 10, 2007


(I don't know why I keep coming back to this thread. As I said, inexplicably fascinating.)

I keep coming back to it too, but not because I find it fascinating. It's more like that scratch in the roof of your mouth that would heal if you could stop tongueing it, but you can't. With apologies to Chuck Palahniuk
posted by psmealey at 12:41 PM on June 10, 2007


He doesn't mean he's a real viking because he doesn't know what the hell a viking is.

But Ralph's plausible misconceptions about what a Real Viking is in no way casts doubt on his ability and willingness to happily imagine himself to be a (poorly conceived) Real Viking. He has seen a Bugs Bunny send-up of Wagnerian opera, perhaps, or encountered Vikings on television. I imagine his notion of a viking would involved a weapon and a spiky helmet and lots of hollering.

Seems a lot more in character than him dreaming about himself sitting around being competent.
posted by cortex at 12:41 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sadly, I participated inn this debate elsewhere. Yes, I know. This is what I said:

It could be both, you know. Not so much "I'm a Viking at sleeping" as some have posited, but more along the lines of "When I'm awake, I'm Ralph, with all the Ralphness that entails, but in my dreams, I am powerful - I could be a Viking, or Superman, or a knight, or an unbent wookie." That way, the statement retains Ralph's literal minded naiivete, while giving us a glimpse into his inner life. It sounds uncharacteristically wise, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

More arguing ensued here.

The absurdity inherent in B (the literal interpretation) is more consistent both with the character and with the humor of the show. The reason this debate exists, and the reason it could be both, is that it comes off as being not only absurd, but unintentionally poetic. Ralph's character, though, isn't even remotely capable of the sort of thought process wherein he would use "viking" in a purely metaphorical way. If the writers were going to work in a dramatic departure from Ralph's character for comic effect, it would have to be a much larger part of the plot to work. Remember, Ralph frequently expresses himself in non-sequitors. In this case, it just so happens that it comes out as a deeper longing - to be good at something, to be powerful, smart, and dammit, to have another worm to eat.
posted by louche mustachio at 12:41 PM on June 10, 2007


What fresh hell is this?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:42 PM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


oh. my. god. this just broke my brain.

I didn't realize it was even POSSIBLE to get this many people to all stage this sort of discussion without breaking character and giving it away. It's like some sort of flashmob.

THAT IS WHAT THIS IS GODDAMMIT. DO NOT TELL ME OTHERWISE.

The other possibility is is too horrific to contemplate.
posted by Stunt at 12:51 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Hello, Stunt

This is real

This is what humanity has become

Look upon us and weep in terror

posted by Greg Nog at 12:55 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


I imagine his notion of a viking would involved a weapon and a spiky helmet and lots of hollering.

Seems a lot more in character than him dreaming about himself sitting around being competent.


Possible, but something feels a bit off. Seems to me, still, it's out of character for Ralph to get some idea of what a viking is, and then dream about being one, and then tell the world coherently about it. If he saw something similar to a humorous view of vikigs as rendered by Bugs Bunny, then the joke wouldn't make much sense because it depends on him dreaming himself to be a ferocious and efficient conqueror. Nah, then you'd need him to see some historical war epic or a PBS feature and figure out that's vikings and that they rock and then dream about them. Possible, but out of character for him.

He isn't dreaming of himself being competent, he's having a kneejerk reaction along the lines of "oh great they finally asked me for something I can really do well and when I tell them so they'll at last praise me!"

It's a little silly to argue so much about a joke that wasn't so great anyway, with either interpretation.
posted by rainy at 12:59 PM on June 10, 2007


what does Bart mean when he says, "don't have a cow, man?"

He's suggesting the following:

(1) There is such a creature or occupation as "cow-man." This might be a more mature cowboy, or might be something like a minotaur; Bart isn't specific on this matter.

(2) One should neither have sexual congress with, nor consume as food, a cow-man.

The puzzling thing is why he would offer this admonition. Perhaps he once witnessed Homer consuming a cow-man, and found it distressing, or saw that it caused Homer distress. Perhaps the denizens of Springfield are renowned for their love, either gustatory or sexual, for cow-men, and he's urging them to mend their ways.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:00 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


OK, perhaps we can solve this.

If you think Ralph meant a literal Viking, but that the writers may have intended to evoke the idea that Ralph likes being powerful instead of pathetic, then you're OK. You're probably right. Some of you may have phrased it in a overblown pseudointellectual manner, but you're alright.

It is only if you think Ralph does not dream about being a literal Viking that you make the baby Jesus cry.

Please feel free to clarify your position so that the coming civil war can be averted.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:02 PM on June 10, 2007


Can anyone clarify why you (or they) are getting so hot under the collar about it?

1. Because it takes so much work to interpret the word "viking" as a metaphor for achievement, rather than meaning "viking".

2. Because Ralph looking forward to being a metaphor for achievement is much, much less funny than him anticipating being an actual viking.

3. Therefore, all of the mental convolutions needed to interpret the word "viking" as meaning something other than "viking" are solely in the service of making a previously funny joke not funny.

The joke is an innocent. The joke is a civilian. Please don't waterboard the joke.
posted by lemuria at 1:05 PM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


4. It's Sunday.
posted by cortex at 1:08 PM on June 10, 2007


This is fascinating because it's a matter of how much weight you give to context and how much to the dictionary definition of a word. Now that I thought of it, I always tend to give much more weight to context. I bet I'm easy to trick into thinking a made-up word is real, or that a word has a meaning it doesn't because I'd just assume it means what the context says it means. Rather than say go from word's definition and change the context drastically to fit that.
posted by rainy at 1:08 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Dear AskMe,

I need to begin a regimen of ritual sacrifices that will end with the world being purged in blood. I have procured a goat. Any tips on sacrificing medium-sized animals in a one-bedroom apartment? Stains, noise management, disposal, etc. This is going to be a regular thing for the next thirteen months so I really need to get a routine down. Thanks for any input.
posted by furiousthought at 1:09 PM on June 10, 2007


The context does not lend itself to your interpretation, rainy. Sorry.
posted by thirteenkiller at 1:09 PM on June 10, 2007


Put me down as another vote for it meaning he is a literal, actual viking warrior. I'm quite interested in my reaction to the opposing view, though - for some reason I find it quite difficult to believe that anyone genuinely believes the other interpretation, and that they're just playing some sort of bizarre devil's advocate to help fuel an inexplicably raging fire.

For some reason, people finding things funny which I do not find funny makes me angry in a way few other things do. Like, say Larry The Cable Guy - totally aggravating to watch. Not just because to me, he's not funny, but because so many other people seem to be going crazy for it. It's intolerance, plain and simple, but hard to avoid.

And for me, the "Ralph meant champion, using viking in a slightly unorthodox fashion" just is. not. funny. Ralph using "where" about sleep/dreaming as if it were an alternate reality on equal footing with his "real life" is, and him being a rampaging, bloodthirsty warrior in his fantasies even more so.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:10 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


How could little Ralph Wiggum have the mental agility to use the word "Viking" as a symbol for "excellence"?

Though I generally like the Simpson's, and find at least some of the material VERY clever and funny, this illustrates a big problem I have with it too: Not very smart characters say really clever things all the time. Contrast this to Beavis and Butthead, where the boys never deviate from always "dumb".
posted by Tube at 1:10 PM on June 10, 2007


Lemuria: Okay, there's little point in debating which interpretation is funnier, but I'll note that the humour behind the "where I'm a champion" interpretation is that Ralph thinks he's the best at an activity in which no one actually competes. That's the joke.

It's made funnier by the unexpected and over-the-top use of the word Viking to illustrate just how unstoppable at sleep he is.

The literal interpretation of his line seems unimaginative and dull to me.

But I stand by the translations as being the real piece of evidence here. People smart enough to speak two languages all agree with me. :)
posted by Yogurt at 1:10 PM on June 10, 2007 [6 favorites]


what does Bart mean when he says, "don't have a cow, man?"

I've read the phrase 'someone's having kittens' (or some variation) meaning, 'someone's having a fit,' in literature going back to at least the 1920s or 30s - I believe in one of Dorothy Sayer's mystery novels, and I'm pretty sure somewhere else as well. I wonder how the kittens morphed into a cow.

Ralph doing something stupid then admitting he's only really good at being unconscious is not funny.

See, just reading your explanation of it in the sentence above made me start laughing all over again. In school, people used to tell me that laughing at too many things made me an uncool dork. They were probably right, but it's much more fun this way.


Because it takes so much work to interpret the word "viking" as a metaphor for achievement, rather than meaning "viking".


It doesn't take any work for me - it's how I interpreted the scene originally. I had to think for a second before I realized, Oh, they could have just been meaning Ralph dreams of being a Viking. As I said, context, context, context. If some people can get a kick out of it both ways, why get upset about it?
posted by frobozz at 1:16 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


OK, I think all hope is lost. Hopefully Cthulhu can fit me in sometime tonight.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:16 PM on June 10, 2007


I find it interesting that this thread is well on its way to 200 comments, despite the fact that, allegedly, no-one gives a shit about The Simpsons anymore.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:18 PM on June 10, 2007


All I know is FOX cancelled Strange Luck after a dozen or so episodes. Same with Firefly, VR-5, Tru Calling, Millenium, Freaky Links, and countless others. Yet, The Simpsons apparently has not been cancelled, and never will be.

I stopped watching The Simpsons soon after Maggie shot Mr. Burns. Or was it when I found out Nancy Cartwright has become a scientologist? I recall that discovery causing me to throw up in my mouth a little. Ever since then I look upon the whole of Simpson-ness with disdain and a feeling not unlike when you eat too much halloween candy as a kid, and you realize you're probably too old to go trick or treating again next year anyway.

Either there is no god, or there is a god, and he hates me.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:19 PM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


It's not, "what does 'Viking' mean in the dictionary?"

that is an utter infarrowengius argument ... it is the sort of ponteen filabilaber i would expect from a bollandious emberitian like you
posted by pyramid termite at 1:22 PM on June 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


Definitely funnier as a metaphor.
posted by stammer at 1:24 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've been thinking a lot about this (God help me) since my earlier posts. I normally am one to argue for interpretive flexibility, so I think there's a way that we can all Bee friends.

At the time of the original airing of the episode, the intended meaning (on the part of the authors) was likely, "When I sleep, I dream of being a Viking." It is, as many have noted, the simplest and most straightforward answer, especially considering that it comes from Ralph Wiggum, someone not know for his ability to make conceptual leaps and metaphorize words by using them in a completely original context. It's the kind of simple-mindedness that fits perfectly with the boy who once called someone "Supernintendo Chalmers."

Some things to consider of course:
Does Ralph know what a Viking is? Unlikely, at least in the sense that he probably doesn't understand what a Viking does, when Vikings existed, where they lived, etc. But, even given the pathetic education received at the hands of Mrs. Crabapple, Ralph has probably seen a Viking somewhere, and it is completely fitting in his character that he would find it neat to imagine himself wearing the hat. See this picture (courtesy of brain_drain). Ralph in a Viking hat = funny. Ralph imagining himself running around in that hat = funny.

We also know, from the fact that Ralph has an imaginary leprechaun hat that tells him to burn things, that Ralph has a dark side. So perhaps he really does imagine himself killing and conquering. It's possible, although not super likely.

So, I think that given the original context, the simpler, literal interpretation of Viking is likely. It is also the most obvious way to get a laugh.

Is the other interpretation possible? Sure.
As has been pointed out, Ralph has surprised us at times: see his performance of George Washington in the school play. Plus, this is a cartoon and not really bound to obey strict laws of characterization or physics. There have been plenty of other continuity errors over the course of the series (for example, in early episodes Smithers appears almost African-American; also, in some early episodes Krusty's white skin is the result of make-up, while in later episodes it appears to be his natural skin color). The writers, who are smart people, certainly could have seen that the line is potentially ambiguous (that 'Viking' could be a metaphor for 'champion' etc.) and thought that it was funny enough of an idea for Ralph to think of himself as a metaphorical Viking of sleep (that is, champ of sleeping) that they decided to break character. Similar examples: Homer: "No tongue, eh? How did he talk or eat... or laugh, or LOVE?!" Bart: "I am familiar with the works of Pablo Neruda!" Plus, Ralph has a few times displayed some ability to think in complex terms: "It tastes like . . . burning!" is a rather creative adaptation of a descriptive word from one sensory realm to another; plus, his amusement at "I choo-choo-choose you!" and "Let's Bee Friends!" also shows that he can on some level grasp the multiplicity of possible meanings in words.

Still, all that said, I think it is unlikely that in the original context the writers (or Ralph) meant, "In the field of sleeping, I am metaphorically a Viking because of my ability to excel at being unconscious." The metaphor is a bit too obscure and implausible. My bet is that 99.9999% of viewers -- myself included -- took the literal interpretation of 'Viking.'

Now, as others have noted, the statement became a bit of a catchphrase: "Oh boy, school! That's where I'm a Viking!" "Oh boy, cooking dinner! That's where I'm a Viking!" "Oh boy, sailing! That's where I'm a Viking!" etc. etc. As with most catchphrases, it probably started out as a simple nonsequitor, a bit of nonsense to amuse others who would get the reference. However, as the catchphrase grew (although I personally have rarely if ever heard anyone use it outside of the episode) people realized the ambiguity in the sentence itself -- that is, the grammar of the sentence
(regardless of the context of the initial utterance) can be interpreted to mean multiple things. People utilized this ambiguity to metaphorize the word 'Viking' and make it into a term that meant "champion" or "one who excels.

Now, no piece of work has meaning outside of some structure or context. Meaning doesn't reside in an episode of The Simpsons outside of the cultural context that receives and interprets it. When the first episode aired 10 years ago, the context probably did not contain the means to interpret 'Viking' any way but literally. Now, after years of contentious debate, the 2007 cultural context in which this episode will be re-received and re-interpreted contains both interpretations. Any text is a product of the accrued interpretations over time, and any text only remains current or important to the extent that it can be re-interpreted in a new cultural context, regardless of the intentions of the author. So, the line now potentially has both meanings; in 2007, the very debate over the meaning gives it that second possibility; the culture and its members now have the ability to say, "Yeah, it is possible for one to be a Viking at doing something." Where does this alternate meaning come from? It's not "in" the episode, it's not "in" the language, it's not "in" the viewer, but it arises from the interplay of these forces.

So, my opinion is still that the best way to interpret the line is literally. It seems (to me) the funniest way and the most fitting with Ralph's character. I can see the appeal and the reasoning behind the metaphorical interpretation, but it doesn't seem to work as well for me, so I will leave that one by the side of the road (although I may start saying "That's where I'm a Viking!" using 'Viking' in the metaphorical sense). Others may find the opposite to be true, but I think that it is important to realize that it is likely that the difference in interpretations is, to a certain extent, historically determined (ie. the metaphorical can only arise after the literal has been reinterpreted). Either, though, seems valid (that is, within the realm of possibility) to me.

Now, give me my fucking plate of beans.

on preview: I don't think the translations hold much water as supporting evidence for either view because
1) Do we have proof that people aren't just lying about the translations?
2) Were the translations taken from detailed discussions with the writers about what the writers intended the sentence to mean?
3) Who cares about a bunch of damn foreigners!

Also on preview: I'll go on record that while I rarely watch new episodes anymore, I still think the show is funny and better than most comedy on TV. The writers can still hit gold now and again, even though it isn't what it used to be.
posted by papakwanz at 1:36 PM on June 10, 2007 [10 favorites]


I've never considered this argument before.

I've always interpreted it as Ralph excelled at sleep. Remember, this is Ralph Wiggum, a boy who is a connoisseur of paste. He also described the taste of poison berries as "burning." This should put things in perspective.

That's just what I think though.
posted by champthom at 1:36 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


And for me, the "Ralph meant champion, using viking in a slightly unorthodox fashion" just is. not. funny. Ralph using "where" about sleep/dreaming as if it were an alternate reality on equal footing with his "real life" is, and him being a rampaging, bloodthirsty warrior in his fantasies even more so.

I thought it was mildly funny because he screws up because viking is the wrong word to use, like he always does. And also funny because he's so eager to please and imagines that him doing so good at sleeping will impress the teacher. What's fascinating to me is that Ralph always gets words wrong but when he says 'viking', everybody opens the dicionary studiously and then say contently, just as I thought, it doesn't mean that. lol? Ralph as a real viking is also funny but a bit too far out. As someone else said the flow of that scene goes like this: 1. ralph, can you keep from eating worms during class?. 2. ralph eats worms 3. annoyed teacher: ralph, can you go to sleep 4. sleep is where I'm a viking! If you walk into a room at 4 exactly, I can totally see how you'd understand it as him dreaming to be a viking..
posted by rainy at 1:38 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Also, to add on what I said, he is asked to take a nap after failing to dissect a worm because he ate it. By asking to put his head down and sleep, he says he's a viking at that because he actually can succeed at that task.
posted by champthom at 1:39 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


is there perhaps a grain of autism in the "champion" interpretation? If so, I believe this lends that reading credence. Simpsons characters are iconic. They're designed in all aspects (appearance, speech, action, character) to work stand for a small set of human aspects. Characters like this are useful in storytelling and ESPECIALLY in comedy because they act as a shorthand for a more complicated and diverse portion of society, and therefore are easy to identify and to indentify with. The former is important for clarity amd the latter is important for emotional resonance.

In Ralph's case, we have the optimistic mentally handicapped child. Much of Ralph's behavior can be seen as autistic, and so it's not hard to imagine that mildly to extremely autistic people might identify with him. Furthermore, as the existence of this argument shows, the disconnect in social awareness in communication situations which is the hallmark of autism is also commonly experienced by "normally" functioning people, albeit with less frequency.

Thus, it is with our autistic ears that we listen to Ralph; and the honestly autistic tendency to do back-bends in order to tease meaning out of an ambiguous exchange leads to the "champion" interpretation. Notably, there is something alluring about this interpretation. We aren't bomb-barded with a host of other interpretations by those who missed the first mark (well, except in jest); this is the obvious second choice and the first choice for those who did not or could not decode the line as a reference to norse pirates.

in earnest, I think that the "out of context slang leads to misunderstanding" theory is most viable, but I'm interested in the fact that this interpretation is so readily accepted by the mind, when it hardly seems obvious.

meanwhile, we're all wasting our lives.
posted by es_de_bah at 1:40 PM on June 10, 2007


I just watched the clip again, listening to Ralph's intonation. This is what I heard:
"That's where I'M a VIKING."

The strong emphasis on both words implies to me that he is using 'Viking' literally, as in literally equating his identity to that of a Viking. "Sleep is the place where I actually am a real Viking." It is slightly ambiguous, I'll grant that, and the intonation "that's where i'm a VIKING" would have been the most strongly supporting the literal interpretation (in sleep what am I? A VIKING, that is what I am when I sleep!)

I think other intonations might have lent credence to different interpretations:
"THAT'S where i'm a viking" (That realm is the one in which I excel in the manner of a viking)

"that's where I'M a viking" (I, yes I, am the best, like a viking, in sleep).


Also, someone brought up earlier "sleep != dream", but I think the line also points to Ralph's simple-minded understanding of sleep. He doesn't think "when I sleep my brain creates various images that I take for real" but "in sleep I travel to a magical world where I am transformed to a Viking (or some other fantastical being)."
posted by papakwanz at 1:49 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why is everyone saying that hearing word as metaphorical is "autistic"? Isn't autism characterized by an inability to grasp figurative meaning? (IANAExpert on Autism). Maybe those of us on the literal side are the truly autistic ones :(
posted by papakwanz at 1:50 PM on June 10, 2007


ARRGGHH!! BEANS! BEANS! BEANS! BEANS! BEANS! BEANS! BEANS!


B E A N S ! ! !
posted by JHarris at 2:03 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Okay, lemuria:

For some of us, the metaphor idea was indeed the first thing we thought of. There were no convolutions, there was no intellectual effort involved in coming to our interpretation. I'll walk you through the split-second thought-process that must have gone through my mind when I first heard the phrase.

1) Ralph eats his worm, rendering him unable to perform the classroom task at hand.

2) Ralph recognizes that he has performed poorly.

3) Miss Hoover gives Ralph an opportunity to sleep.

4) Ralph's "OH BOY!" informs us that he is delighted at the prospect of sleep.

4)a) Because he has just been publicly shamed by his inability to carry out simple classroom activities, we wonder, "Why is sleep so appealing to Ralph? Is this something he's actually good at?"

4)b) Ralph's continuation of his "OH BOY" statement, "That's where I'm a Viking!" seems to insinuate, by way of context, that yes, Ralph is good at sleep. This interpretation seems natural to those of us who associate Vikings with kicking ass. They were not simply some random group of humans; they were a group whose most recognizable virtues were their fierceness, their willingness to destroy anything that stood in their way, their utter supremacy whenever given a chance to prove themselves.

This is the best I can do by way of explaining why I came to the conclusion I came to.

And papakwanz, you said "My bet is that 99.9999% of viewers -- myself included -- took the literal interpretation of 'Viking.'" But no, we didn't. Based on my admittedly informal and unscientific polling, it breaks down more along the lines of 60/40, not 99.9/.1.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:04 PM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


You are all wrong. Clearly Ralph dreams of being a Minnesota Viking.
posted by chicken nuglet at 2:05 PM on June 10, 2007


story my bro likes:

"so this one time i was getting drunk with some friends, and my buddy jeff had been really trying to impress this one blond gial all nite. at one point, i mentioned that a movie saw was really campy. jeff looked pensive for a moment and then offered, 'yeah, like tents and stuff?h

"i couldn't help it. i laughed out lout for a good 10 seconds or so. everyone else was mortified."
posted by es_de_bah at 2:07 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Dudes... (and dudettes) I don't think any of you heard me.

Nancy Cartwright is a scientologist.

This entire argument is made moot for that single reason.

Please turn in your Nitpicker licenses. You're all a disgrace.
posted by ZachsMind at 2:08 PM on June 10, 2007


Why is everyone saying that hearing word as metaphorical is "autistic"? Isn't autism characterized by an inability to grasp figurative meaning?

That's what I was going to mention. Examples of brain disorders in which people see connections between things most people do not see connections between might be schizophrenia or possibly bi-polar disorder (not as sure about the last one, but I've definitely heard it about schizophrenia).

You're the autistics, we're the schizophrenics.

That is all. If anyone sees me anywhere near this thread again you have my permission to beat me over the head with a shovel.
posted by frobozz at 2:08 PM on June 10, 2007


Scene: an apartment. A phone is ringing. LEMURIA answers the phone. It is her BOYFRIEND.

LEMURIA: Have you seen this thing on the internet where people are arguing about what Ralph means when he says "Sleep, that's when I'm a Viking"?
BOYFRIEND: No.
LEMURIA: What do you think he means?
BOYFRIEND: Well, I guess he means it's a metaphor for achievement.
LEMURIA: Fuck you.

SCENE.

(this really happened but I said f-you in a nice way.)
posted by lemuria at 2:09 PM on June 10, 2007 [8 favorites]


The strong emphasis on both words implies to me that he is using 'Viking' literally, as in literally equating his identity to that of a Viking. "Sleep is the place where I actually am a real Viking." It is slightly ambiguous, I'll grant that, and the intonation "that's where i'm a VIKING" would have been the most strongly supporting the literal interpretation (in sleep what am I? A VIKING, that is what I am when I sleep!)

Nah, that doesn't sound convincing to me, because the viking is the punchline to the joke, whichever joke it is. Also, consider that Ralph always puts an emphasis on nouns (or at least that's the way I remember it). Plus, if he's using viking as a metaphor, he's using it to emphasize how good he is, to make it stronger, hence the emphasis. Putting emphasis on "that's" would be out of character for poor Raphie, in my opinion; it'd make him out to be more articulate than he is. Just imagine him saying it like that.
posted by rainy at 2:11 PM on June 10, 2007


I doubt that anyone thought "viking" meant "one who excels" when the episode first aired. (Though some people here will probably claim they did.)

I'll claim that I did. Mostly because I actually did, though (note: I would change your wording to "Ralph was using 'viking' to mean..."). I guess you could say I'm lying. *shrug* ...and I've actually never heard anyone use the "viking" line in a different context.

Also, I really can't help but laugh at the people who are so vociferously adamant about either interpretation being 100% right and the other being completely and unequivocally wrong, despite so many people falling on both sides of the fence.
posted by the other side at 2:16 PM on June 10, 2007


what papakwanz said, and thanks for pointing that out.

This thread guarantees all participants entry into Internets Valhalla, by Odin's one good eye!
posted by mwhybark at 2:22 PM on June 10, 2007


Would someone promoting the utterly nonsensical "literal dreams of vikingness" interpretation please address the fact that the translations all discard "Viking" in favor of some form of "excellence"?

Heretics.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:26 PM on June 10, 2007


They don't all discard it. The Portuguese says something like "in that I am a Viking." The German apparently says "in that respect I am a Viking."
posted by Yogurt at 2:37 PM on June 10, 2007


were there any previous references -- anywhere in literature -- to "Eat My Shorts" as an expression of dismissal, before the Simpsons writers coined that usage?
posted by Greg Nog at 10:07 AM on June 10


Bender says it to Prinicpal Vernon - twice - in The Breakfast Club (1985).

My credentials as an all-around Viking of pop culture hereby established, I'll say only this: the complete lack of ambiguity (or indeed anything much beyond a sort of dazed id) is intrinsic to the character of Ralph Wiggum. He is an unambiguous-non-sequitur-spouting machine. His cat's name is Mittens, and that cat's breath does smell like cat food, and when he sleeps he dreams that he is a seafaring Norse warrior.
posted by gompa at 2:40 PM on June 10, 2007


To all those who are self-reporting, "that is what I thought when I first saw it," I'm not going to say you're lying, but it is possible that after you saw the episode you heard the metaphorical interpretation and then retroactively thought, "oh yeah, that's exactly what I thought when I saw it." That is to say, you "remembered" it later, rewriting over the original interpretation with the new one and forgetting that the new one ever existed. Eyewitnesses being often unreliable and all that.

Greg Nog:
1) Ralph eats his worm, rendering him unable to perform the classroom task at hand.

2) Ralph recognizes that he has performed poorly.

3) Miss Hoover gives Ralph an opportunity to sleep.

4) Ralph's "OH BOY!" informs us that he is delighted at the prospect of sleep.

4)a) Because he has just been publicly shamed by his inability to carry out simple classroom activities, we wonder, "Why is sleep so appealing to Ralph? Is this something he's actually good at?"


Or: Why is sleep so appealing to Ralph? Because sleep to him is more fun that class? Why is sleep more fun? Because in class he's a worm-eating idiot; When he sleeps, he's a VIKING.

4)b) Ralph's continuation of his "OH BOY" statement, "That's where I'm a Viking!" seems to insinuate, by way of context, that yes, Ralph is good at sleep.

Or that he likes being a Viking. Who doesn't like being a Viking? You're assuming that Ralph wants to perform better, that he wants to excel at something and perhaps show off to others how good he is at that activity, rather than that he wants to be something different and better than what he is.

This interpretation seems natural to those of us who associate Vikings with kicking ass. They were not simply some random group of humans; they were a group whose most recognizable virtues were their fierceness, their willingness to destroy anything that stood in their way, their utter supremacy whenever given a chance to prove themselves.

And thus it would be fun to BE one, not to sleep in a manner analogous to the way the Vikings acted.

Pope Guilty: Would someone promoting the utterly nonsensical "literal dreams of vikingness" interpretation please address the fact that the translations all discard "Viking" in favor of some form of "excellence"?

Have we actual proof of that?
Plus, maybe the European countries where this was (allegedly) changed still have bad memories of the Vikings and wanted to distance the sweet, dumb Ralph from the evil pillagers who once invaded their country. (i'm kidding)
posted by papakwanz at 2:41 PM on June 10, 2007


Er... forgetting that the old one ever existed...
posted by papakwanz at 2:42 PM on June 10, 2007


Also, I really can't help but laugh at the people who are so vociferously adamant about either interpretation being 100% right and the other being completely and unequivocally wrong, despite so many people falling on both sides of the fence.

It's interesting. It's something that people can feel is 100% true because it's definitely true inside their minds with the way they understand the world. But like anything in language, it varies from person to person.
posted by delmoi at 2:43 PM on June 10, 2007


What's funny is that Ralph is so delighted at the prospect of the Viking adventures he's going to have that he completely forgets that he was feeling bad seconds before, and also that he apparently has more or less the same dream every time he goes to sleep.

I'm in the camp that says "champion" people fail the Turing test, but good luck to you all. I remember a Metatalk post complaining about people writing little followup posts acknowledging their own spelling mistakes. Several members said that they actually appreciate those corrections and would miss them if they weren't there. While this struck me as a completely bizarre opinion, I had to eventually acknowledge that it was sincerely held.
posted by teleskiving at 2:53 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Papakwanz:
To all those who are self-reporting, "that is what I thought when I first saw it," I'm not going to say you're lying, but it is possible that after you saw the episode you heard the metaphorical interpretation and then retroactively thought, "oh yeah, that's exactly what I thought when I saw it." That is to say, you "remembered" it later, rewriting over the original interpretation with the new one and forgetting that the new one ever existed. Eyewitnesses being often unreliable and all that.

I've never heard 'I'm a viking' expression before today, though. I don't remember this joke, but I'm sure I saw the episode many years ago. I don't remember how I understood it back then, although my guess is, the same way as now. From reading the scene now, metaphor interpretation makes much more sense to me and is a bit funnier, although real viking ralph is also quite funny.

I take exception to your implying that making a metaphor is out of character for Ralphie. I don't see how making a simple metaphor is any smarter than being literal. He doesn't say "My memories will disappear like tears in the rain". He's more like a sports commentator saying that Magic Johnson sure seems a hurricane today. A dumb metaphor is as dumb as anything it can replace. I imagine writer thinking to himself at the moment, "wait, isn't it a bit too smart of Ralph to metaphorize like that? Yeah, but he screws it up by using inappropriate word as a metaphor to hilarious effect.". Simspons often take things out of character for one liners. And he isn't much taken out of character.. It much more convincing that he only has a very vague idea of a viking of somone who's strong at something or effective, or victourious, and applies it to being good at sleep, which would be a inappropriate if he knew vikings are known to be ferocious fighters and sleep is not something they were particularly famed for.

This all makes much more sense if you follow the possible train of thought for an episode writer. Ralph screws up and eats worm. Ralph is vaguely aware that the teacher is not perfectly happy about that. He is asked to at least go to sleep. Now he's happy he can do that, but just saying "I'm happy I can sleep well" isn't funny. If you're a writer you can make it funny by having him do a misguided metaphor. You could also make it funny by introducing a new line into the joke, making him dream of being viking, that's also possible but that does not follow the natural evolution of a joke in the making.. Then again, I could be wrong. It's happened before (right..).
posted by rainy at 3:11 PM on June 10, 2007


Another vote for the literal meaning here.
posted by Hildegarde at 3:25 PM on June 10, 2007


The true question is this: Is Ralph dreaming of himself as a viking, or is he truly a viking that dreams of himself as a Ralph?

BEST. RALPHISM. EVER.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:25 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


I wonder if there is a language problem here. It reminds me of a friend of mine who told a redneck joke. He grew up with farm boys--his joke was meant to laugh with the redneck, but having grown up in a San Fran suburb, my exposure to rednecks was the movie Deliverance. I was laughing at the rednecks, and our conversation came to a halt and he looked at me with some anger and confusion.

Where I come from, Viking means badass. Simple as that. Maybe if you grew up in the Midwest, where many people are actually descended from Vikings, then this term probably has a much more complex meaning, so using the term to mean champion or badass just doesn't make any sense.

The answer to this is the answer to this question:
Do you have a problem with the use of the word Viking, or is it with him saying "when it comes to sleep, I'm a champion"?
posted by eye of newt at 3:27 PM on June 10, 2007


UH, H... HELLO? IS THIS THING ON? AH, GOOD, IT WORKS FOR ONCE. GOOD JOB. *COUGH* OK.

ATTENTION POD-PEOPLE OF EARTH.

THANK YOU FOR SO GRACIOUSLY STANDING TO BE EASILY COUNTED. THE BRAIN-HARVESTERS WILL BE MAKING THEIR ROUNDS SHORTLY TO HARVEST YOUR POOR, ADDLED BRAINS, AFTER WHICH THEY WILL DISCARD THE EMPTY HUSKS AND SHELLS OF YOUR CORPSES.

WORRY NOT. THIS TIME WE SHARPENED THE WHIRLING BLADES OF BRAIN-SCOOPING DEATH. I KNOW LAST TIME WE DID THIS WE HAD SOME... PROBLEMS. SORRY ABOUT THAT.

ALSO, WOULD IT BE POSSIBLE FOR ALL THE PEOPLE THAT ARE POD-PEOPLE WHO ALSO HAVE THE BRAIN WORMS... COULD WE MAYBE GET YOU TO JUST LINE UP OVER THERE AND MAYBE JUST QUIETLY AND TIDILY SHOOT YOURSELF OR SOMETHING? IT'D BE REAL GREAT IF YOU COULD DO THAT STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO THE GIANT PITS SO YOU JUST SORT OF NATURALLY FALL IN THERE.

GREAT, THANKS. THE MULCHING MACHINES WILL BE ALONG ANY TIME NOW. NO, REALLY, IT'S NOT A PROBLEM.

WHAT? WHY? WELL, YOU SEE, LAST TIME WE WERE HAVING THIS REALLY FANCY DINNER FOR PRIME MINISTER Z'ORGFL'CK... RIGHT, AND THERE WAS AN INCIDENT. YOU'D THINK THE COOKS ERR I MEAN THE SCIENTISTS COULD IDENTIFY A NASTY CASE OF THE BRAIN WORMS BY NOW BUT I'M SURE YOU ALL KNOW HOW HARD IT IS TO FIND GOOD HELP THESE DAYS, WHAT WITH ALL THE SCOOPING AND MULCHING AND ALL THAT.


OK. I THINK THAT'S IT. TURN IT OFF NOW. NO, WAIT.

OH, ALSO: WE JUST WANT TO THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT AND HOSPITALITY DURING THESE TRYING TIMES. IT REALLY MEANS A LOT TO US. THANK YOU, PEOPLE OF EARTH.

OK, HOW WAS THAT? GREAT, GOOD. FIRE UP THE BARBECUE! OH GOD, IS IT STILL ON? TURN IT OFF! TURN IT OFF, YOU IDIOTS! OH, FOR THE LOVE OF CTH*psshsht-click*
posted by loquacious at 3:29 PM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


The fuck?

People assumed there was some secret definition of "viking" which was an antonym of "complete fuck-up?"

Based on what? Just how the hell do you misinterpret that line?

"That's where I'm a grizzly bear!"

"Hrm.... clearly there must be more to that joke. It certainly can't just end with the supposition that Ralph dreams he is a grizzly bear. Grizzly bear must be another way of saying 'very successful person' I suppose... yes... yes truly that makes much more sense."
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 3:32 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


On watching the clip again...

Ralph doesn't even feel badly about this incident. He doesn't even admit that he did anything wrong, the worm went into his mouth and he happened to eat it. Not his fault. I don't see any sense of failure in Ralph in that moment at all.

And then he's just pleased that he gets to go to the place where he's a Viking.

I really think that's it.
posted by Hildegarde at 3:33 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


It never occurred to me until I saw this thread that Ralph might mean anything other than he dreamed of literal Vikinghood.

I think that a kid Ralph's age would have little idea of what a Viking is like, other than:

a. hat with horns
b. furry clothes
c. (maybe) yelling
d. (maybe) big sword

I can't imagine he'd think of Vikings as being generally good at stuff. Superman is good at stuff. The president is good at stuff. Lisa is good at stuff. Vikings get to yell all the time, and wear a funny hat. Sleep is fun, because "Sleep" is a place you magically can go where you get to be a Viking.

I mean, if you asked me to give a list of classes of stereotypically competent people, I don't think Vikings would make the list, period (well, maybe today they would, thank you MeFi) - which is why the weird other meaning hasn't occurred to me.
posted by crinklebat at 3:33 PM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


I take exception to your implying that making a metaphor is out of character for Ralphie.

OK, let's think about what it takes for Ralph to make this metaphor.
He has to
1) Understand that he is good at sleeping.
2) Understand that Vikings were mighty and awe-inspiring as warriors, sailors, and conquerors.
3) Make the conceptual connection between his skill at sleeping to the Vikings' skill at waging war, two things which are not at all alike.
4) Be quick enough on his feet to pull that obscure comparison out of nowhere.
5) Want to demonstrate to others his skill at something in response to his recent failure at worm dissection.

For him to make the literal statement: I AM a Viking when I sleep, all he need to know is
1) Vikings wear cool hats.
2) I want to wear that hat.
3) When I sleep, I see myself wearing that hat.

Am I saying it is impossible? No. It *is* out of character, but that does not rule it out of the realm of possibility. I'm not even saying that the metaphorical interpretation isn't funny, although I think the literal interpretation is a bit funnier (and a bit sweeter... it keeps Ralph simple and innocent.)

*I* take exception to Pope Guilty calling it nonsensical that Ralph meant the statement literally. How? How is it nonsensical for a small, slow-witted child to enjoy dreaming about being a Viking?

In response to rainy's possible train of thought, how about this:
Ralph eats worm. Ralph knows that he did something bad. He is asked to go to sleep. Now he's happy because in sleep he doesn't do stupid things like eating worms, instead he wears a cool Viking hat.

As for the translation issue again: Translation *is* interpretation and change, not carbon copying. Nothing in one language is completely synonymous with something in another language, especially humor. Things funny in one culture will not be funny in another. What gets translated from English to Danish/German/Swahili has just as much to do with what's funny in the new language and culture as what the words meant in the original. I am sure that in 400 episodes, there have been many, many jokes which were greatly changed in their translation, either because the joke in English doesn't make sense in the new language, or because it referenced some particularly American bit of pop culture that someone from another country probably wouldn't get, or because the particular images in the American joke need to be changed into vastly different images for another culture. So, unless you're willing to make a particularly complicated argument about why *this* joke's translation reveals the "true" meaning but others do not, the translations can serve as nothing more than circumstantial evidence.

Here's my ultimate take: It is unlikely, for all the reasons above, that Ralph could make the metaphorical connection between his ability to sleep and a Viking's ability to wage war. Not impossible, but unlikely. Ralph himself most likely meant it literally, although I'm not willing to die in a ditch over it, and if other people think he meant it metaphorically, fine.
Now, the writers may have intended to make the line ambiguous. Or, regardless of any intentions of Ralph or the writers, we viewers can find in Ralph's words an unintended message: Yes, Ralph, not only are you a Viking IN your sleep (that is, when you dream), but you are a Viking AT sleeping, because you really are good at lying motionless. And we love you for it.

posted by papakwanz at 3:38 PM on June 10, 2007


To all those who are self-reporting, "that is what I thought when I first saw it," I'm not going to say you're lying, but it is possible that after you saw the episode you heard the metaphorical interpretation and then retroactively thought, "oh yeah, that's exactly what I thought when I saw it." That is to say, you "remembered" it later, rewriting over the original interpretation with the new one and forgetting that the new one ever existed. Eyewitnesses being often unreliable and all that.

Oy, papakwanz, you're reaching, man.
posted by the other side at 3:38 PM on June 10, 2007


damnit. /i
posted by papakwanz at 3:41 PM on June 10, 2007


"THANK YOU, PEOPLE OF EARTH."

Oh great. Now there's space drool all over the thread. Thanks a whole heck of a lot.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:41 PM on June 10, 2007


HOW DARE WORDS BE AMBIGUOUS?!
posted by Kattullus at 3:41 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's just...it's one thing when words actually ARE ambiguous. It's just that in this case, they're really not.
posted by Hildegarde at 3:42 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


HOW DARE WORDS BE AMBIGUOUS?!

That's the thing. Viking isn't ambiguous in the least...

Or on preview what Hildegarde said.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 3:45 PM on June 10, 2007


Maybe not an ambiguous word, but very clearly an ambiguous meaning.
posted by the other side at 3:45 PM on June 10, 2007


Hmmmm....I'm going to have to go with no. No ambiguous meaning at all. None. Unless you're really wanting to see one.
posted by Hildegarde at 3:47 PM on June 10, 2007


the way i look at it, you're daned if you do and daned if you don't
posted by pyramid termite at 3:48 PM on June 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


That said, is it wrong in me supposing that to assume that certain words have a meaning you aren't familiar with requires an enormously poor grasp of the English language?
Tim: "Look at that building over there!"
Bob: (thinking) "Hrm.. now... by 'building'... does he mean 'building' or 'building'... seriously how vague can he be. 'Building.' Oh crap. What if that was some sort of joke.? Oh god, should I be laughing? Shit, better laugh just in case." "Hahaha! Good one Tim!"
Tim: "...What the fuck is wrong with you?"
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 3:48 PM on June 10, 2007


Maybe not an ambiguous word, but very clearly an ambiguous meaning.

Ok, see, I don't think you can do that. Considering the words contain the meanings. The only ambiguity that could arise is if the word itself is ambiguous. Since it isn't there really is no ambiguity.

Christ, where is languagehat when you need him?
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 3:50 PM on June 10, 2007


Wrong, Hildegarde. As evidenced by the many people here who got a different meaning without wanting to specifically see it. Just because you can recite the definition of "viking" doesn't mean that Ralph wasn't using the word in a different fashion.
posted by the other side at 3:50 PM on June 10, 2007


CitrusFreak12, context. I'm not talking only about the definition of that single word.
posted by the other side at 3:51 PM on June 10, 2007


We have no reason to suppose that he would. Please show me the frame or line of dialogue wherein Ralph gives the appearance of being lessened or frustrated or even showing any kind of acknowledgment that he has failed in some way, to the point that he would retreat into something he felt he was good at. Minus that piece, I think your interpretation utterly falls apart.
posted by Hildegarde at 3:55 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


I can see both interpretations, although the literal-Viking interpretation was how I understood it when I saw the episode. I think the metaphorical-champion interpretation is interesting because it seems the people who leapt to that interpretation are understanding sleep as a place (a "where") whereas I don't think of sleep as a place, so I assumed that "sleep/where" necessarily meant dreaming.

This argument reminds me very strongly of an argument I had with my husband about whether or not Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer" refers to baseball. Somehow, we're happily married despite our vicious and irreconcilable differences on the matter.
posted by joannemerriam at 3:56 PM on June 10, 2007


papakwanz:


OK, let's think about what it takes for Ralph to make this metaphor.
He has to
1) Understand that he is good at sleeping.
2) Understand that Vikings were mighty and awe-inspiring as warriors, sailors, and conquerors.
3) Make the conceptual connection between his skill at sleeping to the Vikings' skill at waging war, two things which are not at all alike.
4) Be quick enough on his feet to pull that obscure comparison out of nowhere.
5) Want to demonstrate to others his skill at something in response to his recent failure at worm dissection.

For him to make the literal statement: I AM a Viking when I sleep, all he need to know is
1) Vikings wear cool hats.
2) I want to wear that hat.
3) When I sleep, I see myself wearing that hat.


No, you're totally missing the point that he messes up on his metaphor. He *really* wants to say he's a champ, or a wizard, or a master, or first-class. It happens so that he's not a Wizard with Words. He doesn't know anything about vikings, not even about hats, which I'll admit are neat. He's heard the word somewhere and he misuses it. That's really the funny part. He doesn't have to make any conceptual connection of vikings being good at war, etc etc.. Vikings might be a good choice for a metaphor involving some activity that takes toughness, like a football game. He might have picked up on that somewhere, but he's oblivious to the fact that it's not really applicable to sleep at all. In your version, Ralph has to be even smarter, he has to know what vikings are, more or less, (nice from someone who doesn't know what a battle is), has to understand that it's cool to be one, etc. If he's just dreaming of having a nice hat and a sword, then the joke isn't funny as such - it'd be only funny if he's dreaming of being a fearsome warrior. Or at least much funnier, anyway.

I agree with you that him dreaming of being a viking isn't non-sensical. It IS nonsensical that some have said that first version is impossible. To me, that seems like a very literal interpretation of language. This isn't a doctorate, for allah' sakes, it's a cartoon. You, too, are allowed to stretch words' dictionary meanings for humorous effect, too! I let you. As long as it's funny.

I agree that translations are not much important, except for proving that many people can easily interpret it that way. Consider, also, that if they were in doubt they could easily get in touch with the writers.

I also agree that if we assume for the sake of argument that literal version would need Ralphie to make the metaphor intelligently, i.e. knowing exactly what and who vikings are, and going from there, then the other version looks much better. If we assume he doesn't know any of that and he's making a wild shot out of ignorance, my version looks better.

I figure the writers didn't see the literal interpretation at first, but later on when they saw it again, it'd occur to some or most of them. And then they'd just say, well, I guess we made two jokes for the price of one. Anyone thinking 'raise'?
posted by rainy at 3:57 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


What a coincidence! Me and some of my vikingest friends were discussing this just the other day. We had no idea it was some sort of internet meme.

In the end, we decided that the most cromulent interpretation is where you accept both the slang meaning (big or intense) and the literal meaning simultaneously.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:57 PM on June 10, 2007


The particular images in the American joke need to be changed into vastly different images for another culture

But why would this be necessary HERE if the joke is "Ha, Ralph is so simple that he enjoys imagining he is a Viking?" What is culturally specific about that, except perhaps some sensitivity about Vikings, in which case, the easiest fix would be to change Viking to firefighter or something.

And why would all these translations, each adapting to their own native culture, happen to strike upon this same supposedly incomprehensible pod-people interpretation of "sleep, in that respect, I am the best"?

Gathered from the other boards linked above:

French = "Dormir, c'est là que je suis le plus fort" ("Sleep, that's where I'm the most strong!")
Dutch = "Slapen, daar ben ik goed in" ("Sleep, now that's something I'm good at")
Portuguese = "Ena, pa, dormir! E nisso que sou um Viking" ("[Unknown], sleep! In that I am a Viking")
German= "Oh man Schlafen, in der Beziehung bin ich ein Vikinger" ("Oh boy sleep, in that respect I am a viking.")

Hm, I had one more at some point. As I mention above, you can listen to the Spanish one here, but I don't have the ear to transcribe the line.

I understand that translating humour in general is a tricky business, but this particular joke seems to have pulled the translators to the same place. I don't think that's because there's something peculiarly American about the literal "he likes dreaming about Vikings" reading of the joke.
posted by Yogurt at 3:58 PM on June 10, 2007


Wrong, Hildegarde.

Ohhhhh!! I see. By "wrong" you meant "you are correct."

It's ok, Hildegarde, he's agreeing with you. He just chose to be really ambiguous with his phrasing.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 3:59 PM on June 10, 2007


For the purposes of science.
posted by Katemonkey at 4:00 PM on June 10, 2007


It's just...it's one thing when words actually ARE ambiguous. It's just that in this case, they're really not.
There's a team called Vikings. Do buy a number of shotguns and dig a moat when they come to town. I wonder what marine corps are thinking, they're off somewhere fighting aladdins when Vikings are touring their countryside.
posted by rainy at 4:02 PM on June 10, 2007


By 'viking' Ralph clearly meant 'ninja' but due to his learning disabilities, he can't tell the difference. It could be worse. He coulda said 'pirate' in which case he would have meant 'guy who likes to dress up as a furry animal and rub up against furniture.'

In sleep, Homer is a pirate.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:02 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh great. Now there's space drool all over the thread. Thanks a whole heck of a lot.

LOOK IT ISN'T OUR FAULT YOU'RE MADE OF SUCH TASTY MEAT. NOW DO YOU SEE THE VAST SUPERIORITY OF OUR COLD, HARD CHITINOUS SHELLS?

GODDAMNIT I'M TALKING TO MY FUCKING FOOD AGAIN. SHUSH, YOU. BACK IN THE PIT.
posted by loquacious at 4:05 PM on June 10, 2007


I know I should stay away from this thread, but I'm compelled by something about the way it's playing out a common dynamic from literature classes I've taken and taught, in which a group of people attach themselves tendentiously to a misreading that somehow seemed immediately obvious to them.

It seems clear how the problem arose: the scene seems to set up a (much less funny) punch line in which Ralph declares himself a champion sleeper (and as someone noted upthread the writers apparently considered this joke and perhaps even wrote it into a version of the script that was used by some of the translators). But then the scene takes a sharp turn into a non-sequitur about Vikings, which of course is Ralph's comic signature (see gompa above) and so shouldn't be too surprising. If you're already expecting the punch line about him being good at sleeping, perhaps it's easier to convince yourself that this was still what the joke "meant" than to laugh at the unexpected and weird content of Ralph's free association.

But it's still just a misinterpretation, however understandable. That is, unless (as I very much doubt) someone can really provide evidence that "champion" is an available meaning for the word "viking."
posted by RogerB at 4:09 PM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


There's a team called Vikings. Do buy a number of shotguns and dig a moat when they come to town.

yes, i'm sure that digging a moat will really discourage vikings with boats
posted by pyramid termite at 4:12 PM on June 10, 2007


It's got to be Viking=Viking. It's way funnier to believe Ralph looks forward to raping and pillaging in his dreams.

That is all.
posted by Dr. Zira at 4:14 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


maybe he meant he was a vicodin and couldn't remember how to say it

would that mean he dreams that he's a pill or that he's really dull when he sleeps?
posted by pyramid termite at 4:16 PM on June 10, 2007


After reading this thread, I shudder to think how narrowly I've avoided disaster by abstaining from meetups.
Me: I certainly am enjoying this refreshing alcoholic beverage in the convivial company of you fine people from MetaFilter.
Pod Person: How dare you say that about my mother!
Really, between this and the cat brain parasite people, at this point I'm pretty much afraid to leave the house.
posted by enn at 4:17 PM on June 10, 2007


I think the metaphorical interpretation appeals to more intelligent people because it works on two levels: first, that Ralph has clearly had it drilled into him, probably by his parents, that he's a great sleeper, and that when embarrassed he can find refuge in a skill that's really not worth bragging about; second, that whatever authority figures found it necessary to reassure him chose a really odd phrase to describe his skill, probably knowing that it would appeal to his imagination. It's a joke about Ralph's emotional life, his family, his feelings, how he sees the world, and how he bounces back from setbacks like accidentally eating a worm.

The literal interpretation is only funny insofar as it conjures the image of a small boy wearing a viking hat - a vulgar, witless joke that I can see appealing to small children, thugs, and the borderline retarded, but that is thin and unsatisfying to a mature and engaged audience.

I feel rather sorry for those stuck with the literal interpretation, thinking that that's as good as the joke can be, that people who see more in it are imagining things or deluding themselves - but then, I guess there has to be a demographic for Family Guy.
posted by stammer at 4:20 PM on June 10, 2007 [15 favorites]


"LOOK IT ISN'T OUR FAULT YOU'RE..."

Alien dude, if you're so frikkin' superior to humans, how come you ain't mastered the capslock key yet? Now git back in yer flying tu-tu and go home before I chastise you a second time.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:26 PM on June 10, 2007


stammer would pick "99."
posted by papakwanz at 4:26 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


My initial reaction when I watched it was that Ralph was anticipating returning to a CONSISTENT and ONGOING dreamspace in which he is a Viking.

The humor, to me, came from the implication that Ralph has only one long, consistently unspooling dream to which he returns each time he sleeps. Implicit in that is that Viking=Viking, as the alternate explanation loses the sense of Ralph's dream having continuity.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:27 PM on June 10, 2007 [5 favorites]


You're assuming that Ralph wants to perform better, that he wants to excel at something and perhaps show off to others how good he is at that activity, rather than that he wants to be something different and better than what he is.

Indeed. That seems entirely inconsistent with his character. Look at all the other things he enjoys doing; he isn't particularly good at any of them. He does not seek approval from others, because he knows he will not get it. Deep in his psyche he knows with absolute certainty that he isn't good at anything; his level of understanding of this allows no exceptions. Repression of this feeling is the motivation for much of his rich fantasy life. Thinking himself to be good at something he actually is good at, and feeling pleasure at this, would be a remarkable character development for Ralph, not an off-handed joke.
posted by sfenders at 4:27 PM on June 10, 2007


"After reading this thread, I shudder to think..."

Personally I'm afraid this'll reach wikipedia and they'll make a page about the controversy, and then other people in wiki will complain that this issue doesn't deserve its own page, and then I'll have to run around in my house screaming like I'm in a submarine that's been hit.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:28 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'd just like to say that we're fast approaching 300 posts on this, and I was completely sarcastic when I was calling for us to reach it (see, even in a thread based on ambiguity in language, I fail to avoid it).

Also, I'd like to state that if anyone could come up with a method of figuring out how/why humans turn a particular nuance over and over like this, while allowing others to go uninspected, well, there's money in them there field!
posted by Busithoth at 4:29 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think the metaphorical interpretation appeals to more intelligent people because it works on two levels: first, that Ralph has clearly had it drilled into him, probably by his parents, that he's a great sleeper, and that when embarrassed he can find refuge in a skill that's really not worth bragging about; second, that whatever authority figures found it necessary to reassure him chose a really odd phrase to describe his skill, probably knowing that it would appeal to his imagination. It's a joke about Ralph's emotional life, his family, his feelings, how he sees the world, and how he bounces back from setbacks like accidentally eating a worm.

The literal interpretation is only funny insofar as it conjures the image of a small boy wearing a viking hat - a vulgar, witless joke that I can see appealing to small children, thugs, and the borderline retarded, but that is thin and unsatisfying to a mature and engaged audience.

I feel rather sorry for those stuck with the literal interpretation, thinking that that's as good as the joke can be, that people who see more in it are imagining things or deluding themselves - but then, I guess there has to be a demographic for Family Guy.
posted by stammer at 7:20 PM on June 10 [+] [!]


I just wanted to repeat that comment. That is the greatest comment ever.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 4:29 PM on June 10, 2007


You are all completely fucking retarded and you make me angry. I'm closing this window now.

(He dreams of being a viking in his sleep.)
posted by Jimbob at 4:30 PM on June 10, 2007


THE BRAIN-HARVESTERS WILL BE MAKING THEIR ROUNDS SHORTLY TO HARVEST YOUR POOR, ADDLED BRAINS, AFTER WHICH THEY WILL DISCARD THE EMPTY HUSKS AND SHELLS OF YOUR CORPSES.

Ah, so that's what that unidentified flying kitchen implement was!
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:32 PM on June 10, 2007


That is the greatest comment ever.

Comments - that's where I drive a diesel truck!*




*The diesel truck of excellence.
posted by stammer at 4:35 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


The literal interpretation is only funny insofar as it conjures the image of a small boy wearing a viking hat - a vulgar, witless joke that I can see appealing to small children, thugs, and the borderline retarded, but that is thin and unsatisfying to a mature and engaged audience.
posted by stammer at 7:20 PM on June 10


The "sleep, finally something I'm good at!" joke is equally simple-minded. Come on.

What appeals to me about the literal interpretation is not simply imagining Ralph in a Viking hat, but, like BitterOldPunk, imagining Ralph having an ongoing, consistent dreamworld in which he's ALWAYS and ONLY a Viking. That Ralph would see himself that way - completely at odds with everybody else's conception of him - shows he simultaneously can conceive of himself as a Viking, while also recognizing that it's only in his dreams that he can be that way. It's rather sweet, really.
posted by joannemerriam at 4:44 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Ohhhhh!! I see. By "wrong" you meant "you are correct."

It's ok, Hildegarde, he's agreeing with you. He just chose to be really ambiguous with his phrasing.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 3:59 PM on June 10 [+] [!]


CitrusFreak12, except that no one in this thread (including you) is actually thinking that I meant "correct" when I said "wrong." But, hey, good on you for being a disingenuous jerk about it.

and as someone noted upthread the writers apparently considered this joke and perhaps even wrote it into a version of the script that was used by some of the translators

I don't know about "apparently." As far as I can tell, that was just a supposition. Even if it were true, I don't think it would completely discount the other interpretation. Look, all I'm saying is that there are clearly many people who all got the same very specific meaning out of it, largely context surrounding the joke. That's a little different from disingenuously saying "haha, you meant CLOCK when you said COW! I win!"
posted by the other side at 4:44 PM on June 10, 2007


in which a group of people attach themselves tendentiously to a misreading that somehow seemed immediately obvious to them.

Except the people attaching themselves most violently to their reading of it are the literalists here, not the metaphorists, most of whom seem to be saying it can be read both ways.

I don't think it's been mentioned before, but is the whole right brain/left brain thing still considered a valid way of looking at a division in thought processes? (Or was that pseudoscience to begin with? I don't know that much about it.) I haven't heard it mentioned in a few years, but I'm seeming to see the differences in the two columns in the page linked to played out here.

(Dammit frobozz, get off the thread.)
posted by frobozz at 4:47 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


how come you ain't mastered the capslock key yet?

THE SUBTLE INTONATIONS YOU SEEK ARE FOR MEAT-PUPPETS SUCH AS YOURSELF. SHOUTING IS MANDATORY. CAPSLOCK KEY ALSO REPLACED BY "KILL ALL HUMANS" BUTTON.

Now git back in yer flying tu-tu

IT'S... IT'S NOT A TU-TU! FEARLESS, NOBLE DEATH-DEALING SHIP IS STYLIZED AFTER FEARSOME AND FUNCTIONAL WARRIOR KILT. SHUT UP.

and go home before I chastise you a second time.

HA HA YES! BE ANGRY! MAKES YOU MORE TENDER AND FLAVORFUL! YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT WE MOCK YOUR DISGUSTING VIVIPAROUS SEXUAL PRACTICES AND INABILITY TO MOLT. HA! SILLY HU-MONS.
posted by loquacious at 4:48 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


BitterOldPunk nails it. And I don't know why I'm finding myself so infuriated by those making intellectual leaps to come up with the "champion" explanation. All I have to add is for those who think Ralph would have no idea what a Viking is, may I direct your attention to a little comic strip called Hägar the Horrible.
posted by evilcolonel at 4:50 PM on June 10, 2007


Sleep is where Ralph is a viking. This insinuates he recalls having dreams in which he is a viking. This is most certainly apocryphal, because in the early seasons, it was made quite clear Ralph has a brain the size of a peanut. If they're trying to make Ralph surreal and deep now, I think it's high time all the Simpson writers are locked up and shipped to Guantanimo.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:52 PM on June 10, 2007


CitrusFreak12 and Rogerb both provide evidence of my theory that this is just a language problem. Apparently where they grew up Viking != badass champion.



Interesting.
posted by eye of newt at 4:52 PM on June 10, 2007


What appeals to me about the literal interpretation is not simply imagining Ralph in a Viking hat, but, like BitterOldPunk, imagining Ralph having an ongoing, consistent dreamworld in which he's ALWAYS and ONLY a Viking

Even beyond that...Ralph is a pretty tragic character. Nothing ever goes right for him. He hasn't been delt a good hand in life. Therefore, it feels right that he gets to dream of being a viking every night, and that he obviously looks forward to this in some joy. All is at peace in the universe, because Ralph Wiggam is able to escape the limitations of his earthly body and be someone else, someone cool for a while. That's why I like to interpret the joke this way, I think...it's a sweet, nice way to see things.
posted by Jimbob at 4:53 PM on June 10, 2007 [5 favorites]


Jimbob: Exactly!
posted by joannemerriam at 5:00 PM on June 10, 2007


1. Ralph's peer group is into comic books.
2. Thor is a comic book character and a viking.
3. "Viking" = viking.

He calls his teacher "School Mommy." A metaphor is a stretch.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:02 PM on June 10, 2007


yes, i'm sure that digging a moat will really discourage vikings with boats

I was thinking about, iirc, Harry Harrison (co-authored) book about vikings where they travel in-land and raid many cities. That's where I learned about that neat blood eagle practice.. Anyway, I don't imagine they only attacked places that you could drag the boat to. Like if it's a place 10 miles inland, or more, I don't think you'd drag 10 or however many ocean-going boats to it (and back!), rather than doing a standard moat-crossing routine, whatever that is. Moat makes it harder to ram the gates, scale the walls, so you're really thinking of making a makeshift bridge over it, really. Good luck if you ever have to cross a moat with your idea, though.
posted by rainy at 5:04 PM on June 10, 2007


Wait, kirk -- Did you just say:
He calls his teacher "School Mommy." A metaphor is a stretch.
?

Are you saying that Miss Hoover is actually, literally, his mommy?
posted by Greg Nog at 5:04 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


it feels right that he gets to dream of being a viking every night, and that he obviously looks forward to this in some joy

...this seems to me to be the answer truest to Ralph Wiggum's character and the tone of the whole show. Ralph's waking life is shown as fairly random; he's always the one at odds with (or out of touch with) whatever is going on. That his dreams are a reassuring source of consistency to Ralph is the funny part, not that he's a Viking per se.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:08 PM on June 10, 2007


I think the metaphorical interpretation appeals to more intelligent people because it works on two levels: first, that Ralph has clearly had it drilled into him, probably by his parents, that he's a great sleeper, and that when embarrassed he can find refuge in a skill that's really not worth bragging about; second, that whatever authority figures found it necessary to reassure him chose a really odd phrase to describe his skill, probably knowing that it would appeal to his imagination. It's a joke about Ralph's emotional life, his family, his feelings, how he sees the world, and how he bounces back from setbacks like accidentally eating a worm.

I think the metaphorical interpretation appeals to people educated beyond their intelligence; people who are clever enough only to know better than to trust their own reasoning, and whose opinions, in the absence of suitable received wisdom from the authorities to whom they would otherwise turn to avoid embarrassment, are informed by a distrust of simplicity and a grasping after needless complexity, the obscurantist nature of which (they realize) can only help to disguise their facile thinking. The sort of straightforward non sequitur under discussion is precisely the sort of thing can undo them; finding no recondite subtext to explain the absurdity in the joke as written, they scramble to fabricate their own; their crushing insecurity convinces them that to accept the joke as a simple one would be to not "get it," a humiliating exposure of their own failings.
posted by enn at 5:08 PM on June 10, 2007 [13 favorites]


~
posted by Jimbob at 5:11 PM on June 10, 2007


And I don't know why I'm finding myself so infuriated by those making intellectual leaps to come up with the "champion" explanation.


Greg Nog:
C) No one's really overthinking this (except me, I guess, since I just posted it to the blue); almost everyone I've asked -- regardless of which interpretation they side with -- offered their interpretation immediately, based entirely on a gut reaction.

As people have tried to painstakingly explain, those with a metaphorical interpretation didn't make great leaps - it was the first thing that came into our heads. Then we saw that others thought differently, said, Hum, why did I see it that way? and then came up with intellectual explanations.
posted by frobozz at 5:11 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Except the people attaching themselves most violently to their reading of it are the literalists here, not the metaphorists, most of whom seem to be saying it can be read both ways.

The same is true, I daresay, with literal vs. metaphorical readings of the most culturally influential works. Sometimes the literalists soften their position by offering to strangle the metaphorists before immolation.
posted by fleetmouse at 5:11 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


CitrusFreak12, except that no one in this thread (including you) is actually thinking that I meant "correct" when I said "wrong." But, hey, good on you for being a disingenuous jerk about it.

By "being a disingenuous jerk" you mean "using the same logic I used" right?

I know what "wrong" means. But just because I know the definition of the word "wrong" doesn't mean that you weren't using the word in a different fashion. I mean, maybe it's not an ambiguous word, but very clearly an ambiguous meaning. Right?

Right??

Because that's the logic you were using right before you called me a jerk.

Thanks for playing.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 5:11 PM on June 10, 2007


Actually, you know, I think the funniest part about it is how Ralph is interpreting what "sleep" is; just like the living room is where he watches TV, and school is the place where he sits in a desk, sleep is the place where he's a Viking. Perfectly logical.
posted by Hildegarde at 5:14 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


kirkaracha: Comics are all about battles. There isn't a single square centimeter of comics that isn't about battles. Ralph knows not what a battle is. Ralphie, who I have nothing but respect for, but, alas, I have to say that he doesn't have what it takes to view comics. Who do you think he is, Einstein? Not to mention that Thor isn't a very common comics character. Ralph != comics store guy.

However, looking through all possible reflections on both jokes in this thread, I have to say that, first of all, I missed a lot of possible depth to this joke (bound to happen with Simpsons being fast-paced..), and literal interpretation is more attractive than I first thought, much more attractive. The other one still seems more natural. I think this may be like cocaine and heroin, if you try either one first, you will always think it's better. Metaphor idea occured to me first and everything else seems like overanalyzing the joke..
posted by rainy at 5:14 PM on June 10, 2007


There seem to be two camps in the "Ralph as a sleeping champion" interpretation. One is that Viking = champion, and therefore it makes sense. The other is that Viking != champion, and Ralph is making another non-sequitor. Of course, the Vikings were very successful at what they did, so it's conceivable that someone could associate Vikings with success, which is why "Viking" works better than, say, "cowboy".

At any rate, that people put so much emotional investment into a particular interpretation of a three-second throw-away joke that really wasn't particularly funny either way to the point that they feel they must, seemingly seriously, denigrate the intelligence of The Others really bends my Wookie.
posted by dirigibleman at 5:22 PM on June 10, 2007


I find it amazing that this discussion is causing so much antagonism, and also strange that all of it is coming from the "It can only mean Ralph dream of being a Viking" side - as if they're somehow defending themselves from personal attack. Can anyone clarify why you (or they) are getting so hot under the collar about it?

The metaphorical interpretation seems so willfully perverse to me that I'm really finding it difficult to believe that this isn't just some extremely well-orchestrated troll/practical joke. I'm envisioning some kind of unholy alliance between Total Fark and Improv Everywhere.

"OK, we're all going to go on every message board we can find and tell people that we genuinely believe Ralph used Viking to mean champion. Do not break character under any circumstances before the big reveal on June 30th."
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:25 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


seemingly seriously

In order to weed out the non-serious ones, perhaps we need to consider each comment and debate whether or not it was intended as some form of irony.
posted by sfenders at 5:25 PM on June 10, 2007


dirigibleman:
Viking as a champion in something that takes toughness and aggressiveness = yes. Viking as a champion generally is a stretch, but possible. Viking as a champion in sleeping is a non-sequitor.

This whole thing is like a picture where you see a young woman's bust with a turned head, then refocus and see old woman's face facing you, then refocus again and see young woman again, etc etc. The one you focused on first may seem more likely.
posted by rainy at 5:28 PM on June 10, 2007


Pointless snark. Finally, something I'm good at.
posted by Balisong at 5:29 PM on June 10, 2007


Thanks for playing.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 5:11 PM on June 10 [+] [!]


CitrusFreak12. Okay, don't stop acting like jerk. Seriously, though, it's really not necessary. *sigh*

Anway... the "logic I was using" was based on all of the people in this thread who sincerely (not disingenuously or flippantly) explained why they interpreted it the way they did. Not a single person sincerely believes that I didn't mean wrong when I said wrong. Again, when I said "ambiguous meaning." I was not referring to the single word on it's own, which is what you seem to be doing. I was talking about the entire joke.

"OK, we're all going to go on every message board we can find and tell people that we genuinely believe Ralph used Viking to mean champion. Do not break character under any circumstances before the big reveal on June 30th."

That's just ridiculous, Horace. The reveal is on July 4th.
posted by the other side at 5:31 PM on June 10, 2007


Christ, where is languagehat when you need him?

Goddammit, I was hoping to stay out of this batshitinsane thread, but I was alerted to the Hatsignal and dragged in bitching and moaning. Now that I'm here...

I agree with Hildegarde, BitterOldPunk, and RogerB, whose interpretation seems to me unimpeachable. I'm seeing a lot of no-soap-radio action here. If anyone can point me to a slang dictionary or other pre-Wiggum source where Viking has the meaning desired by the Metaphorians, I'll gladly concede the possibility. Otherwise, it's into the brain-harvesting pits with you!
posted by languagehat at 5:34 PM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


Ok, see, I don't think you can do that. Considering the words contain the meanings. The only ambiguity that could arise is if the word itself is ambiguous. Since it isn't there really is no ambiguity.

The meaning of a word isn't contained in the word itself, but rather in how the word is used.
posted by treepour at 5:42 PM on June 10, 2007


If Ralph had said "When it comes to sleep, I am a Viking" there would have been no debate about what the meaning of the joke was, even though no one had ever used that metaphor before. The fact that the line was more ambiguous doesn't change the fact that you can introduce half-applicable terms and understand them through context.

Half the joke here is that "I'm a Viking" is a funny way for a kid to say he's good at something.
posted by Yogurt at 5:43 PM on June 10, 2007


"If anyone can point me to a slang dictionary or other pre-Wiggum source where Viking has the meaning desired by the Metaphorians, I'll gladly concede the possibility. "

Well, Viking and badass certainly go together--just do a Google search.

And the Urban Dictionary defines badass as "A person who defines supreme confidance, nearly divine abilty".

Like I said earlier, I'm not sure everyone in the US (or world) has learned this meaning of the world Viking, as plainly explained by several posters.

We tend to think English is the same everywhere, but it isn't. And that leads to language battles like we are seeing here.
posted by eye of newt at 5:43 PM on June 10, 2007


I wasn't told of no reveal. I'm against. Even if all reveal I'll keep saying I meant it.
posted by rainy at 5:45 PM on June 10, 2007


the other side: You really need to drop the name calling. Seriously. It makes you seem pretty immature. Heaven forbid I disagree with you. You're right. What a jerk I am. ::sigh::

-_-;;;;;

That said, hooray for languagehat!
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 5:45 PM on June 10, 2007


This kid would favor the literal viking interpretation too.
posted by bunnytricks at 5:45 PM on June 10, 2007


Treepour: Yeah you're right. I realized that shortly after and hoped nobody would call me on it. :P
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 5:46 PM on June 10, 2007


267 comments? How is this possible?
posted by maryh at 5:46 PM on June 10, 2007


MaryH? You have a problem with there being over 267 comments in this thread? Alright. I accept your moral objection.

*secretly pushes the independent thought alarm button*
posted by ZachsMind at 5:48 PM on June 10, 2007


267 comments? How is this possible?

How is it not possible that a checker not recognize a portabello!?
posted by loquacious at 5:49 PM on June 10, 2007


For a kid who imagines an arson-happy leprechaun and Wiggle Puppy ("That's a dog he made up who flies by wagging his tail. Heh, I tell you, that dog has had some amazing adventures.") while awake, dreaming about being a Viking would be downright dull.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:51 PM on June 10, 2007


And why would all these translations, each adapting to their own native culture, happen to strike upon this same supposedly incomprehensible pod-people interpretation of "sleep, in that respect, I am the best"?

They're clearly suffering the cognitive deficiencies that go along with being foreign. They can't even speak perfectly normal English, for God's sake.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:52 PM on June 10, 2007


"What's That? Sadly, the education of the youth of amerika is declining in more than one way. The other day I was on the internet and the commenter was unable to identify the meaning of a Ralph Wiggum quote. And no, she wasn't new...and to make matters worse the commenter next to her didn't know either."
posted by Greg Nog at 5:52 PM on June 10, 2007


Ralph is a pretty tragic character. Nothing ever goes right for him.

Oh, the opposite! He's the most sympathetic and optimistic character of the show. Because nothing ever goes wrong for him, either. He's just obliviously happy and content all the time, whether he's eating worms, smelling his cat's breath, or bending his wookie.

(OK, OK, I have to admit that the episode where he choo-choo-chooses Lisa and she breaks is heart, well there poor Ralph is tragic. But that episode is unusual and clearly not canon.)

There's a reason Ralph almost won that Internet popularity contest a few years ago. What was that thing, I can't find a link to it now.
posted by Nelson at 5:52 PM on June 10, 2007


If Ralph had said "When it comes to sleep, I am a Viking" there would have been no debate about what the meaning of the joke was

I have to think you're wrong about that. Would it have meant that he thought that Vikings were known for sleeping particularly well? Or that when it comes to sleep, he likes to set forth on a sea voyage to make pillaging raids on British villages? Either interpretation seems about equally sensible.
posted by sfenders at 6:05 PM on June 10, 2007


"heaven forbid I disagree with you"

Huh? You started off being both disingenuous and sarcastic with every response to me starting with this one. Instead of engaging with me in an actual discussion, you took the snarky route (hardly bothering to respond to me directly). "Ohhhhh!! I see. By "wrong" you meant "you are correct." It's ok, Hildegarde, he's agreeing with you." "Thanks for playing."
You seem much more interested in snarking than discussing. It has absolutely nothing to do with you disagreeing with me.
posted by the other side at 6:06 PM on June 10, 2007


Okay people let's get this outta your system once and for all. Don't forget part two.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:07 PM on June 10, 2007


Sfenders: It would have meant "When it comes to sleep, I am unstoppable." Neither of your interpretations are sensible, as you guessed.
posted by Yogurt at 6:08 PM on June 10, 2007


I don't think you'd drag 10 or however many ocean-going boats to it (and back!), rather than doing a standard moat-crossing routine, whatever that is.

it was a joke ... but seriously, european castles evolved from hill forts in response from the threats from vikings, who at first were going up rivers to raid towns and monasteries and wouldn't have had to drag those boats at all to find good targets ... and one would have to get one's liege lord's permission to build a castle as it could be taken as a sign of defiance in that time
posted by pyramid termite at 6:09 PM on June 10, 2007


"Thanks for playing " was certainly meant as a snark. Name calling is a great way to get that from me.

The fact that you took the first one as a snark simply means you need to adjust your humor meters. If you think making a harmless sarcastic comment for illustrative purposes is "being a jerk," you haven't reading MetaFilter long enough.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 6:10 PM on June 10, 2007


I'm on the literal interpretation side.

And it's not because I'm a literalist as opposed to a "metaphorist", but rather because RALPH is.

When he says a leprechaun tells him to burn things, he means it in the most literal sense. When he says "All my toys are sticky" - it is completely literal. I cannot recall a single other one-liner from Ralph that was not a literal phrase that could be delivered by a 3 year old. Whereas Homer is sometimes given intellectual lines to get laughs for out-of-character remarks, Ralph never seems to have such inconsistencies.
posted by p3t3 at 6:11 PM on June 10, 2007


and as far as this controversy is concerned ... i didn't know that viking meant "one who excels" ... and i sure didn't know that people would argue passionately over it's usage in a cartoon

it's such a complex argument one could probably call it byzantine
posted by pyramid termite at 6:12 PM on June 10, 2007


Ah, now I understand what "overthinking a plate of beans" means.

This may be the stupidest thing I've ever seen on Metafilter. I think everyone who's read this thread is now dumber for it.
posted by bjrubble at 6:14 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


(Looks around, embarrassed ... at least this late in the thread no-one will see me, right?)

Katemonkey, the problem with using Anya's line as precedent / reinforcement is that she was born somewhere in Scandinavia at the time of the Vikings, and even had a relationship with one (Olaf). Presumably she has actual experience of what Vikings are like in the sack.

Oh, and the beauty of Ralph's line is in its ambiguity and deft touch; one interpretation which is perfectly logical, and another which, while not strictly a real metaphor, could be. Like Shakespeare, the real importance lies in that beauty, not any attempts at literal interpretation - something legions of high-school English teachers have destroyed over the years.

In other words, you're all retarded.
posted by Pinback at 6:15 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Can we go back to having flamewars about politics, religion and fatties? Please?
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:19 PM on June 10, 2007


pyramide termite:
I thought it's not a joke because if the city is close enough to water, boat is a good way to get over the moat. However, if you think about where Vikings team play their games, many of the places are far away from oceans and rivers to make moat a good defence against quarrelsome footballers. If you live in Brooklyn right by east river, you might want to obtain twice the number of shotguns as would be necessary somewhere in the middle of arizona and skimp on the moat.. anyway, I think the example of the team is a pretty good proof. Unless they *do* mean to say they kill babies, rape, murder, wield axes, work for Byzantine Emperor and eat magic mushrooms before each game. Might it be remotely possible that they just mean 'kickass'? Might it be also remotely possible that Ralphie means "I kick ass at sleeping"? Now if you excuse me I have to tend to the space capsule..
posted by rainy at 6:24 PM on June 10, 2007


This may be the stupidest thing I've ever seen on Metafilter. I think everyone who's read this thread is now dumber for it.

I like whimsy. This is Good Thread™.

But as I said to Dolores Montenegro in Calling All Quakers, "Have it your way, Baby!"
posted by fleetmouse at 6:25 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


You know how they say that when you explain a joke, it's no longer funny?

I don't think I can ever laugh again.

In other words, you're all retarded.

I'm a unitard!
posted by dirigibleman at 6:27 PM on June 10, 2007


This may be the stupidest thing I've ever seen on Metafilter. I think everyone who's read this thread is now dumber for it.

That's because everybody's been missing the point. The real question here is whether Vikings are moral, especially when compared with Pirates.

Only when we've examined the moral dimension will we be able to fully comprehend Ralph's true stance with respect to Vikings.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:34 PM on June 10, 2007


If you think making a harmless sarcastic comment for illustrative purposes is "being a jerk," you haven't reading MetaFilter long enough.

It is true that I often forget to up my Jerk-O-Meter standards for MeFi.

*recalibrates Jerk-O-Meter for real world discussions*
posted by the other side at 6:39 PM on June 10, 2007


The real question here is whether Vikings are moral, especially when compared with Pirates.

it's funny how no one ever asks that about the buccaneers, but they've won a lot more lately
posted by pyramid termite at 6:40 PM on June 10, 2007


Has Ralph said anything even slightly metaphoric in any episode? Ever?

Yes, I think. Didn't he say "Lisa is the new Ralph!" in an episode when Lisa was getting something wrong at school?
posted by statolith at 6:42 PM on June 10, 2007


This thread smells like hotdogs!
posted by ZachsMind at 6:45 PM on June 10, 2007


In a demented way the whole joke is kind of sweet, I guess. Think about it: Ralphie's a slow kid, with a clueless father, bullied by everybody, but in his dreams he's a swashbucking adventurer. Good for Ralphie.
posted by jonmc at 6:45 PM on June 10, 2007


The real question here is whether Vikings are moral, especially when compared with Pirates.

I expect that vikings and pirates are both consequentialists rather than deontologists, so I must confess I don't see the conflict.
posted by fleetmouse at 6:47 PM on June 10, 2007


"When it comes to sleep, I am unstoppable." Neither of your interpretations are sensible, as you guessed.

And yours is? I once knew someone who was remarkably good at sleep. She could fall asleep just about anywhere, and remain in undisturbed slumber in the middle of a Viking battle, without the aid of alcohol or head injury. She did seem to have an admirable talent for sleeping. It would never have occurred to anyone I know to describe her sleeping technique as unstoppable, much less "Viking". Not simply because it's a seemingly out-of-place adjective to use in reference to sleep; if it were just that, it would make sense in the sort of way that might appeal to writers of the Simpsons. But there is a more fundamental problem, which is that sleeping is typically thought of as a "rest" activity: We do not stop sleeping, we stop to sleep. If you're sleeping, you're already stopped. Sleep can be metaphorically and literally stopped or interrupted in various ways, but none of them seem to apply here without quite a stretch. Even assuming that Ralph for some entirely non-funny and out-of-place reason had inverted the usual habit of thought about sleep and words that describe it, and chose a bizarre metaphor to match, we could still question his motivation for saying such a thing. If it was simply to boast about his remarkable talent for sleeping, that would require not only that he depart from his usual ways of total obliviousness to his own talents and others' appreciation of them, but also that either he has some unusual sleeping habits of which we were previously unaware or that he's been led to believe so by some equally unlikely process. Perhaps if he'd said something more like that, we'd be arguing over whether it was just a warning that nobody would be able to wake him up, or whether the writer was secretly a member of some sort of little-known ninja order who practice Viking-style sleep-fighting. But I for one would be arguing vigorously that no shallow interpretation makes any sense.
posted by sfenders at 6:49 PM on June 10, 2007


I leave the internets alone for 48 hours and come back to THIS? And I thought reading about Cheney's heart malfunction on the crawl in my hotel room while Larry King and Anderson Cooper devoted entire hours to Paris Hilton was weird...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:54 PM on June 10, 2007


I once knew someone who was remarkably good at sleep.

you KNEW snow white? ... COOL!
posted by pyramid termite at 6:57 PM on June 10, 2007


300! That's where I'm a loincloth!
posted by Kattullus at 7:01 PM on June 10, 2007


That we could all aspire to be more like everybody's favorite self-actualized overachiever: Hagar the Horrible.

Talk about ambition, he rapes and pillages his way into America's heart each and every day.
posted by dgaicun at 7:05 PM on June 10, 2007


Viking viking Viking viking viking viking Viking buffalo.
posted by lumosh at 7:06 PM on June 10, 2007


No one who thinks that "Viking" is some kind of metaphor is invited on the longboat. NO HERRING FOR YOU.

*re-adjusts helmet* I feel better now.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:07 PM on June 10, 2007


Sfenders: Okay, now you're just tweaking me. But if your friend had said she that when it came to sleep, she was a god, a hero, an Olympian, public enemy number one, Batman, or any other leading, dominating figure, you would have got the message. She's special at sleep. She's better than the regular person at this talent.

"Viking" is just the same rhetorical device with an extra tweak of absurdity because it's a comedy.
posted by Yogurt at 7:11 PM on June 10, 2007


I must say I'm a little disappointed that no one knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who's willing to torment David X. Cohen with an awkward phone call. I did hear that the question was submitted to Onion's A.V. Club, so maybe they'll have the resources to get at the authorial intent. Their teaser for next week refers to the origins of a comedy catchphrase. I have my horns crossed.
posted by Yogurt at 7:15 PM on June 10, 2007


Never let an author's intent get in the way of a nice, thick, juicy interpretation.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:22 PM on June 10, 2007


Quoth my husband after I explained this thread to him: "And that's different from Fark how?"
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:36 PM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


I have 306 owies.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:36 PM on June 10, 2007


What the hell people, what the hell.

FWIW I don't remember anything in the DVD commentary of this episode talking about the meaning of Viking. I could be wrong, though.
posted by Talanvor at 8:04 PM on June 10, 2007


this thread tastes like burning
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:06 PM on June 10, 2007


I think any of y'all who haven't read Planet Simpson (2004, Random House/Da Capo) by Chris Turner (a Mefite - I'm outing him as Gompa here and now), should get thee to a bookstore post haste.

I'll also out myself as his wife, while I'm at it.
posted by Mrs Hilksom at 8:09 PM on June 10, 2007


i'm outing myself as president bush ... you people are so MEAN!!
posted by pyramid termite at 8:12 PM on June 10, 2007


Looking through all the linked threads, and the way this one has turned out, I'm amazed at the consistency of the responses. I've never before heard of a debate where one side so regularly suggests that the other side is maintaining their opinion as an elaborate hoax - which i almost believed myself, initially, though I can now reluctantly see where the Metaphorians are coming from, and after reading a few people's explanations, maybe that explanation is funnier than I initially gave it credit for.

Essentially, though, given those twin responses of incredulity and anger, in so many people, over such a simple thing?

We are doomed as a species. Doomed.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:22 PM on June 10, 2007


+1 the dumb kid dreams of being a Viking

Because that's what he said. I don't need to imagine a family history for this two-dimensional character to support this, or come up with a self-serving imagining of the writer's intentions, or rely on a statistical analysis of foreign translations.

I don't have to generate any of my own "facts" to support this interpretation. I can grasp the other view, but unless you suffered some kind of sporting team related indoctrination at an impressionable age, viking = winner is a curious leap to take.

But then I always thought Metafilter was full of people very good at connecting the dots, just not in the right order. A lifetime of that, and the resulting collisions, would really exercise the justification gland, but justifications have to be justifiable and rationalisations need to be rational.

For example, if you find yourself positing your own backstory for a cartoon character in order to support an argument, or other such constructions, then you are insane.

Crippled and insane. Just thought I'd point that out.
posted by hifimofo at 8:37 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


My boat had puppies!
posted by louche mustachio at 8:39 PM on June 10, 2007


To me this line is only funny because it's ambiguous. Neither interpretation seems completely satisfying so I find humor in the uncertainty. Maybe it was just a dumb line about being a viking, maybe it was nonsense, or maybe it was something else. It requires no explanation. It's either funny or it's not.

I do find it bizarre, however, that people are insisting that it must be interpreted literally because it flies in the face of common usage. Ralph clearly has an idiom all his own so why should we insist, now, that he be shackled to common usage? Why does it even need to make sense? All the joke requires is plausibility. Ralph is hardly a scion of linguistic precision so it seems odd to insist that he said, unambiguously, exactly what he meant to say. Maybe if the metaphorists are guilty of overinterpreting than the literalists are guilty of underinterpreting?

Really, I understand why the joke needs to fit some logical mold for certain people so I don't really find it as bizarre as I led on, but come on, you guys just have such a hard on for the Truth. If this thread involved a religious text it would have either languished or resulted in blood-shed. I'm not sure which. Thank god it's only a cartoon!

And that's different from Fark how?
This thread lacks lolcats.

We are doomed as a species. Doomed.
This is really why we're so great.

posted by prosthezis at 8:44 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


I can't believe I'm coming out of the woodwork for this, but I just have one phrase to shout at everyone who argues that they are relying on 'context' to explain their 'deliberately metaphorical' interpretation:

That's not a non sequitur!

For the few seasons I watched, Ralph Wiggum was pretty much a non sequitur on legs -- Almost every humourous line he spouted was funny precisely because it was absurd; it never appropriately followed what preceded it.

If you think that Ralph is responding to the situation only by pointing out that sleep is something he can do well, you're arguing that the line is completely appropriate to the scene. In which case, you're ignoring the context of Ralph himself.

I'd say QED here, but I'm not sure that means what I think it means.
posted by zaeon at 8:45 PM on June 10, 2007 [7 favorites]


If this thread involved a religious text it would have .... resulted in blood-shed.


The night is young.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:50 PM on June 10, 2007


Wow, zaeon, I also can't believe that you came out of the woodwork for this. That's your second ever comment and you're user number 3665. Where have you been all those years?
posted by Kattullus at 9:01 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Bravo, Metafilter, bravo.

Now off to bed with you, where you are all vikings.
posted by meh at 9:05 PM on June 10, 2007


...or whatever.
posted by meh at 9:06 PM on June 10, 2007


i tried to be a viking in bed but the horns kept tearing up the pillows
posted by pyramid termite at 9:09 PM on June 10, 2007


Vikings do it before Columbus.
posted by cortex at 9:11 PM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


What? Still? Fuck! Jesus!

Well, at least I've developed a newfound appreciation for Paris Hilton as a topic of conversation and analysis.
posted by furiousthought at 9:12 PM on June 10, 2007


If you think that Ralph is responding to the situation only by pointing out that sleep is something he can do well, you're arguing that the line is completely appropriate to the scene. In which case, you're ignoring the context of Ralph himself.

I'm familiar with the works of Pablo Neruda.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:24 PM on June 10, 2007


Ralph Wiggums has a posse!
posted by Neilopolis at 9:25 PM on June 10, 2007


Having read every comment in this huge trainwreck, I am ready to admit that the metaphorical interpretation can be funny but not nearly as funny as the various nuances of the literal interpretation, and it takes more mental gynastics to reach the metaphorical-based humor. As several have said, if you have to resort to noncanonical character backstory speculation to explain your interpretation, it's a good indication that you're fighting a losing war.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:27 PM on June 10, 2007


Er, Wiggum.
posted by Neilopolis at 9:30 PM on June 10, 2007


knock knock.

who's there?

boo.

boo who?

aw, why ya crying?


It is clear from a rational reading of this joke that the person knocking at the door is named Boo, and that Boo thinks the person who has answered the door is crying. People who interpret the joke differently are chromosomally damaged savant garde finger painters and salad dressing drinkers.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:31 PM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


After the Paris Hilton thread dropped Metafilter's average IQ by 37.2 points, this discussion comes as no surprise at all.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:36 PM on June 10, 2007


DON'T MIND ME. I'M JUST GOING TO HOSE EVERYONE DOWN WITH THIS MARIN-ERR, SPECIAL ANTI-FUNGAL SPRAY. FOR, UH, YOUR PROTECTION. YEAH, YEAH, IT MIGHT TASTE A BIT LIKE BROWN SUGAR, PAPRIKA, PEPPERS OR SOMETHING. MAYBE, UH, A LITTLE TERIYAKI OR MOLASSES OR SOMETHING.
posted by loquacious at 10:03 PM on June 10, 2007


Jesus, I can't believe no one else has mentioned this. David Cohen already addressed this in a video interview he did a while ago. Here's the video.
posted by puke & cry at 10:21 PM on June 10, 2007


^^^RICKROLL ALERT^^^

The PSA brought to you by the Society to Kill Idiotic Memes
posted by RavinDave at 10:26 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Rickrolls? In MY metafilter?
posted by Greg Nog at 10:29 PM on June 10, 2007


Remember that comment from fleetmouse about literalists vs metaphorists through history? And frobozz trying to walk away? Haha. Yeah.

Dear old prig languagehat made his injection, and enn did for Mr.Encyclopedia's principles. The Kabaddi Champion turned to Mr. Dictionary and was assured, but reddened when that authority was not respected. The school mommy fiasco, the anticipation of cromulence, the conspiracy theory, the statistics, the jerk. I enjoyed it all, thanks everybody.

Stammer got it right early, but psmeasley won the real race. Greg Nog, though quite the Viking, is responsible for much rape and pillage.
posted by Prince Nez at 10:33 PM on June 10, 2007


God, I love the Frankenstein's monster that is English. Sewn together out of dead languages and living ones that it kills and uses for spare parts. If the human race were exterminated, English would find a new host or wait for one to evolve. English does not sleep. It waits.

Kekeke English rush?
posted by Verdandi at 10:47 PM on June 10, 2007


Okay... I wasn't going to do this, but do you want to hear the REAL story behind the Ralph Wiggum Viking quote?

Before he became a success in Hollywood, Matt Groening lived in Santa Maria, north of Santa Barbara, and briefly worked as a used car salesman for Iversen Motors (warning: unsolicited saxaphone music), where the mascot was the "Hiking Viking". And every time somebody at the show mentioned going up the coast, he'd say "That's where I'm a Viking".
Finally, Cohen got sick of it and inserted it in the show as a line by the 'unitard' Ralph to point out to Groening how dumb it was. Everyone thought it was going to get him fired, but Groening was impressed. Apparently, nobody had ever stood up to him before. And he rewarded Cohen by making him co-creator of Futurama with him.

Also, when the episode was written in early 1995, the Minnesota Vikings had won the NFC Central Division, and there were a lot of football pools at the production company.

Now you know...
...the REST of the story.
posted by wendell at 12:01 AM on June 11, 2007 [6 favorites]


And nobody seems to mention the relationship between Homer's signature grunt "D'oh" and his favorite food: donuts. Coincidence? I think not. The ads for "The Simpsons Movie" feature donuts very prominently, and they play a pivotal role in the movie's plot (and also, this will be the first time Homer gets to substitute a PG-13 rated profanity for the "D'oh", but I'm not at liberty to reveal what it is). I can't tell you how I know all this, but let's just say that Nancy Cartwright's Scientology isn't the most interesting affiliation among Simpsons insiders.
posted by wendell at 12:09 AM on June 11, 2007


Where have you been all those years?

Oh crap, it's when?!
posted by zaeon at 1:13 AM on June 11, 2007


but let's just say that Nancy Cartwright's Scientology isn't the most interesting affiliation among Simpsons insiders.

Hmm... Harvard alumni, maybe? Or Pinkertons? Some hearty broth of both?
posted by maryh at 1:22 AM on June 11, 2007


And nobody seems to mention the relationship between Homer's signature grunt "D'oh" and his favorite food: donuts. Coincidence? I think not.

That would explain also why Lenny or Karl's favourite expletive is "Aw, nuts!"

Now the pieces are all coming together. All's well that wendells.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:26 AM on June 11, 2007


Finally, Cohen got sick of it and inserted it in the show as a line by the 'unitard' Ralph to point out to Groening how dumb it was. Everyone thought it was going to get him fired, but Groening was impressed. Apparently, nobody had ever stood up to him before. And he rewarded Cohen by making him co-creator of Futurama with him.

Consider THOSE shenanigans so CALLED.
posted by JHarris at 1:38 AM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


"That's Where I'm a Viking: A Semiotic Deconstruction"
kyleg. MetaFilter, Vol 7, #61936. (Abstract)

Ralph Wiggum may not know what all Viking entails, but he knows it connotes power. While his waking life is a constant struggle between the dichotomy of his quest for love and approval (see: pursuit of Lisa) and misanthropic revenge fantasies (see: leprechaun, which as a manifestation of his subconscious tells him to bring pain and destruction), in the dream world that he escapes to he embodies the only persona (that he has thus far been exposed to) which he can equate with strength and being respected as well as feared. As Ralph is a frequent target of bullying (though he often seems to not take it very personally), it is easy to speculate that his perceived weakness, especially in contrast to his father who inhabits the traditionally hyper-masculine role of police chief, would cause him a great deal of inner turmoil and angst, leading to the development of a vivid, more satisfying fantasy life. Thus, the signifier of Viking represents the masculine ideal which Ralph actively embodies during his dream states, and taking on this role is so enjoyable that he actively anticipates it when he is to fall asleep.

The other proposed option is that Ralph is (possibly erroneously) conflating Viking, a term of which he may know little or nothing of the factual realities, with a merit-based accolade such as champion or winner. In this hypothesis, he is compensating for his own shortcomings in the intertwined realms of educational and social norms by announcing to his peers and his immediate superior that sleep is an activity at which he is quite skilled, despite the apparent conception that he is below average in every social and educational arena. However, this would seem out of character with his otherwise nonchalant or blasé attitude toward traditional social norms of conformity (see: reactions to his poor bladder control). For this so-called metaphorical interpretation of Ralph Wiggum to hold true, it requires such a stretch of the established basis of his character as to ultimately be untenable.
posted by kyleg at 1:43 AM on June 11, 2007 [5 favorites]


wendell writes "but let's just say that Nancy Cartwright's Scientology isn't the most interesting affiliation among Simpsons insiders."

The Stonecutters are real?
posted by concrete at 2:24 AM on June 11, 2007


Even as a Simpsons fan, this whole thing is ridiculous.

If any good can come of this controversy, the best I can hope for is that people will stop wearing those VOTE FOR PEDRO t-shirts, and replace them with either LITERAL VIKING or METAPHORICAL VIKING tops.

(and I can happily continue to write them off as fucktards)
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:29 AM on June 11, 2007


Roughly 40% think he's using "Viking" to mean champion.

Is it wrong to want to beat each and every one of those people to death with a cricket ball in a sock?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:21 AM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Is it wrong to want to beat each and every one of those people to death with a cricket ball in a sock?

No. And using a golf ball inside your batting glove to improve your strokes is also totally within the laws of cricket.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:52 AM on June 11, 2007


In Katemonkey's poll the numbers, after 67 votes cast, are 74.6% literal, 22.4% metaphorical and 3% oh god please get a life. All told a stunning defeat for the oh god please get a life party. Apathy doesn't triumph, who'da thunk?!
posted by Kattullus at 5:11 AM on June 11, 2007


What might tip some people to the "literalist" position is this: In order for Ralph to use "Viking" as "champion" ... that is, in order for him to say : "At last, something I can do well!!" he would have to first admit that he's a failure at other things. Part of Ralph's humor is that he's blithely unaware of his failings and charges straight ahead nonetheless.


/On the other hand, the other side has the "translator" argument, so I'll not take sides.
posted by RavinDave at 5:50 AM on June 11, 2007


According to this, the translation argument appears to be nonsense.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:03 AM on June 11, 2007


Oh wait, that's probably wrong. I hate everything.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:05 AM on June 11, 2007


Hah!

I always thought "literal viking"

Now I understand "champion of sleeping" too.

They are both funny, and now everyone hates me.

Huzzah!
posted by 5MeoCMP at 6:13 AM on June 11, 2007


I prefer my toast butter-side down.
posted by zennie at 6:17 AM on June 11, 2007


This is just as bad as the argument over the proper way to hang toilet people.

And by the way, it hangs AWAY from the wall. By god, if I had my way, all you `toilet paper hangs against the wall' types would be rounded up and kept away from normal people. There's no room in this world for that kind of madness.
posted by tomble at 6:49 AM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


So, this is worth 350+ Mefi posts. Nice.

By the way, Viking=pioneer. So much so NASA used the word to name a probe - but this is not rocket science. If large numbers of people took Viking to mean pioneer the moment Ralph said it, then whammo, Viking=pioneer. Besides, if nothing else the television moment is funnier when Viking=pioneer. In the other context, it just means crazy dream, which is rather bland.
posted by Muddler at 6:50 AM on June 11, 2007


But "pioneer" and "champion" are not satisfactorily similar. The argument that Ralph is saying "Oh, boy, sleep! That is where I break new ground in the mapping of territory literal or figurative, independent of a question of actual notable success or fame or the ultimate dominance of my field!" is even sillier than the champion line.
posted by cortex at 7:05 AM on June 11, 2007


Why not "Oh boy, that's where I'm a caterpillar!" or "Oh boy, that's where I'm a horsie!"? Something more Ralph-like? He doesn't strike me as the type who aspires to rape, pillage and generally kick ass. And (again) there's no mention of dreams anyway -- just sleep.


/There, I've given arguments on BOTH sides.
posted by RavinDave at 7:14 AM on June 11, 2007


Stop plate of beansing this, for god's sake. It's embarrassing to read.

He said "sleep is where". Where? Where is sleep? Is it a place?

Damn right it's a place. All he meant was that there was a place called Sleep, and he was a viking there. He's a viking like it's his job, because it is his job. He gets paid to dress up like a viking and jump up and down on beds.

PROOF.
posted by iconomy at 7:22 AM on June 11, 2007


the proper way to hang toilet people.

With a noose?

I am Lothar of the Toilet People! Far have I gone and much have I flushed!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:28 AM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


So, you guys "flush"? I usually just move after 3 months.

I'll have to give that a whirl.
posted by RavinDave at 7:32 AM on June 11, 2007


Zis is very simple. First ve are going to sleep and then we are a viking again. Und ve remain a vike until ve once more go to sleep.

Zere.
posted by Phanx at 7:45 AM on June 11, 2007


IT WAS HIS CHILDHOOD SLED.

Also, Ralph doesn't realize that he's already dead.
posted by mkultra at 7:58 AM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Perhaps he is VERY good at being a Viking? A viking Viking, perhaps? Or perhaps he is the master of lucid dreaming, and often uses this power to pretend to be from Norway?
posted by blue_beetle at 7:59 AM on June 11, 2007


Besides, if nothing else the television moment is funnier when Viking=pioneer. In the other context, it just means crazy dream, which is rather bland.

No, no, no, no, a thousand times no: Ralph has no concept of the state of wakefulness versus sleephood. For him, sleep is merely the state where he is, quite literally, A VIKING. Of course just a one off, crazy dream about being a viking isn't that funny, but sleep being Ralphie's consistent gateway into an alternate form of being, as far as he is concerned, and, further, one in which he is a powerful, marauding barbarian is hilarious, in a way which him merely being so excellent at sleeping as to be labelled a pioneer is not, and can never be.

He doesn't strike me as the type who aspires to rape, pillage and generally kick ass. And (again) there's no mention of dreams anyway -- just sleep.

He has a leprechaun who tells him to burn things. Also, again, Ralphie doesn't mention dreams because he does not know what a dream is. He is either:

* Awake, and a small boy prone to mishap.
* Not awake, in somewhere he has learned is called "Sleep". there, and only there, he IS A VIKING.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:03 AM on June 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


RALPH MEANT GLADIATORS. HE LIKES MOVIES ABOUT GLADIATORS.
posted by quonsar at 8:06 AM on June 11, 2007


We are all literally arguing over a shade of blue. Could it be, our eyes?
posted by iamkimiam at 8:09 AM on June 11, 2007


Finding this thread for the first time only now, all I can say is I don't know any of you people.

What makes anyone think that any thought went into this joke beyond, "What funny thing should we say Ralph dreams of being?" Immediately several funny/random things were named, they went with Viking.

Anything beyond there is just the decontextualization that occurs whenever you ponder ANY word for too long.
posted by hermitosis at 8:12 AM on June 11, 2007


decontextual ... decontek ... My cat's breath smells like cat food.
posted by RavinDave at 8:19 AM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


OK, I hate to do this, but for those of you who are actually taking this seriously, here's the Something Awful thread from May 31, where this all got started. And I quote:
So just to recap, the plan is to act like we truly, earnestly believe with all our hearts that Ralph is actually dreaming of being a literal Viking. Do NOT, I repeat DO NOT break character. If someone suggests that "viking" is just an expression or a metaphor, act like they're totally crazy. There is literally NO LIMIT to how far this can go.

posted by designbot at 8:21 AM on June 11, 2007


FWIW: I always thought he meant “champion.” It never occurred to me that he dreamed of being a viking, though now that I think about it it does make sense.

This has been a very amusing thread. I worry about anyone who isn’t smiling while passionately debating their side.

I also stand when I wipe and I don’t pay attention to how I hang the paper.
posted by bondcliff at 8:36 AM on June 11, 2007


Wait a damn—

You stand? Like STAND-stand?
posted by cortex at 8:46 AM on June 11, 2007


Well, it's more of a squat. Knees are bent, ass about a foot off the bowl. I find it gives me a more...

Wait. Why am I telling you this? Is this going in my permanent record?
posted by bondcliff at 8:49 AM on June 11, 2007 [7 favorites]


As a Viking literalist, I have a sad story to report.

As I we were going to bed last night, I told my partner (not a big Simpson's fan, but knows Ralph) about Ralph's line and asked him what he thought it meant. Without prompting he said "he means he's a champion". All I could do was roll over and go to sleep, hoping that in my Viking dreamself would be able to protect me from the Pod Person in the bed next to me.
posted by Nelson at 9:28 AM on June 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


I agree with bondcliff. (about the standing thing)
posted by papakwanz at 9:38 AM on June 11, 2007


Wow.
posted by Merlyn at 9:44 AM on June 11, 2007


"The Internet is full. Go away."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:51 AM on June 11, 2007


Binary logic will eat your soul.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:54 AM on June 11, 2007


Good morning!

(Plus, what's most interesting about this is not the arguments people bring to back up their interpretations - since you can form a coherent argument in favor of anything - but rather the subconscious implications of about 20-30% immediately thinking 'champion' - like one of those 'I'm going to say a word and you say the first thing that jumps into your head' things.)
posted by frobozz at 10:00 AM on June 11, 2007


It's a metaphor. That's funnier. Now git off my internets!
posted by stenseng at 10:00 AM on June 11, 2007


"Free assocation", frobozz.
posted by cortex at 10:08 AM on June 11, 2007


"Free assocation", frobozz.

Yes. One of those things. I will perform brain scans now, if there are no objections. Some of you are obviously lighting up in the wrong places.
posted by frobozz at 10:50 AM on June 11, 2007


I'm late to the party, but here's another vote for literal. I agree with the idea of Ralph dreaming of running around in a circle wearing a viking helmet.

I prefer the idea of Ralph thinking of a viking as someone who wears a cool hat instead of a champion or conqueror. It seems more in line with his character.
posted by threetoed at 10:54 AM on June 11, 2007


Just so everyone knows, we are ~380 comments closer to divining the truth behind this important issue.
posted by Drexen at 10:55 AM on June 11, 2007


Ralph Wiggum: Viking, Champion, or Evil Genius?

Perhaps we have been focusing on the wrong question. Rather than asking whose interpretation is correct, we should ask: what does it mean that this dispute has achieved such a pitch of intensity? And further: what does this situation imply vis-a-vis the question of the existence of God?

First of all: the Simpsonian context. During a classroom activity, Miss Hoover admonishes Ralph: "Try to sleep while the other children are learning." Her tone of resignation indicates that there is no question of Ralph's being able to learn along with the other children. Ralph is, in his essence, opposed to learning. He is, we might say, the incarnate principle of anti-knowledge.

Ralph replies gleefully to Miss Hoover's request: "Oh boy, sleep! That's where I'm a viking!" The crux of the debate. On the one hand, Ralph may find the prospect of sleep exciting because he expects to dream of being a viking--or, rather, he expects to undergo an experience that you or I would describe as "dreaming of being a viking." For Ralph, as has been noted, the idea of "dreaming" is as irrelevant as the idea of "learning"--a crucial coincidence of irrelevancies, as we shall see. For Ralph, "sleep" is not the realm of dreams, of unrealities; it names a parallel reality, as valid as the reality of waking, if not more so. For Ralph, there is essentially no difference between reality and illusion--the viking Ralph of sleep is no more or less real than the idiot Ralph of waking.

On the other hand, Ralph may be excited about sleep because sleeping is the arena in which he excels; here, he is a metaphorical "viking," a champion sleeper. But what would it mean to be a champion sleeper--what, if not precisely to have conquered the unreality of sleep, to have raised sleep to the level of a fully valid reality? Surely the champion sleeper is the one who experiences sleep most powerfully, who recognizes no ontological chasm between sleeping and waking. But, as we have seen, for Ralph to experience sleep as reality is for the sleeping Ralph to be, literally, a viking. The literal and metaphorical meanings thus imply one another--the debate about which interpretation is correct turns out to be a non-debate. "That's where I'm a viking," indeed.

But if the two interpretations, far from excluding one another, in fact imply one another, what conclusion can we draw from this unexpected turn of events? What are we to make of the fact that an utterly vapid non-debate has come to occupy the thoughts and passions of so many internet users? Here, I think, we would do well to recall that Ralph is, as has been shown, the very principle of anti-knowledge, of ignorance, of stupidity. His failure to distinguish between sleeping and waking is a crucial clue. As we recall from Descartes, it is the Evil Genius that erases the distinction between sleeping and waking; it is the Evil Genius, the principle of universal error and illusion, that renders true knowledge impossible. Indeed, who would dare to exclaim, "Oh boy, sleep! That's where I'm a viking," if not precisely that Evil Genius? And can we not go further: is it not Ralph Wiggum, Descartes' Evil Genius, whose malign deception has caused so many presumably intelligent people to put so much time and thought into a debate so manifestly unworthy of either? The spirit that reigns on this Metafilter page is the spirit of Ralph Wiggum, the arch-fool and Evil Genius unbound.

QED: there is no God.
posted by DaDaDaDave at 10:57 AM on June 11, 2007 [18 favorites]


That—that—is a first comment. Welcome (back) to mefi, Dave.
posted by cortex at 11:13 AM on June 11, 2007


In order for Ralph to use "Viking" as "champion" ... that is, in order for him to say : "At last, something I can do well!!" he would have to first admit that he's a failure at other things.

no, you don't have to be a failure at other things to be a champion at one thing especially. A person can be aware of their true forte without believing that they've never achieved basic competence in any other field...
while both interpretations seem plausible, I only really think the metaphorical one is funny, so that seems to be the way to go. the literal one is sort of cute I guess, but it's not actually humorous to me. But perhaps it's a question of verbal vs visual humor - if you like the idea of someone being proud of excelling at sleep, and using the metaphor of an adrenaline fueled warrior to denote excellence generically, but accidentally in that very inappropriate context, vs, if you like the thought of little ralph wiggum in a funny hat or whatever (see, I don't even really know what the joke is there -)
posted by mdn at 11:34 AM on June 11, 2007


MY GOD PEOPLE LOOK AT YOURSELVES!!!!!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:47 AM on June 11, 2007


Hey cliff notes, get lost!
posted by cortex at 11:56 AM on June 11, 2007


WP:BEANS vs. MF:BEANS.
posted by yeti at 12:00 PM on June 11, 2007


Metafilter: prophylactic admonition may trigger novel mischief.
posted by cortex at 12:11 PM on June 11, 2007


pro-skub
posted by Snyder at 12:11 PM on June 11, 2007 [3 favorites]


        ----------
/ REST \
/ IN \
/ PEACE \
/ \
| Metafilter |
| 0 Au |
|killed by a meme|
| |
| 2007 |
| * * * |
\/\_)/\//_\(\/)_/\/_
(God I hope I formatted that right)
posted by JHarris at 12:28 PM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Do you want your flags identified? [ynq] (n)
posted by cortex at 12:33 PM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


He clearly means it in the literal sense. 'That's where I'm a dinosaur!' would serve the same function. It's just a 'funny noun non sequitir' gag.

People arguing that the metaphorical interpreation is funnier, and the Simpsons' writers are the funniest in the business, ergo Ralph must be talking metaphorically, are basically smoking crack. It's a throwaway line.

The reason this debate has gone on so long is that it exposes some hitherto unperceived fault line between those who think a cigar is just a cigar and those who think it's a penis. YOU'RE ALL OF YOU SMOKING PENISES!!!!111
posted by RokkitNite at 12:39 PM on June 11, 2007


I don't get it. Can someone please explain how the answer isn't blatantly fucking obvious?
posted by dersins at 12:46 PM on June 11, 2007


My favorite instance of dubbing to make fit for commercial television broadcast is in the movie Quick Change, when the protagonists are being robbed or carjacked or something, and Geena Davis's line is changed from "this is fucking ridiculous" to "this is VIKING ridiculous".

A-ha! So Ralph's real line is "Sleep! That's where I'm a fucking!"

But a fucking what? Or is it the verb "a-fucking"? Oh, this doesn't solve anything.

Also, I really hope this thread isn't strong enough to launch another pirate/ninja/zombie/proctologist type meme where everything is all "I CAN HAS BEARSIRK" and "horned hat vs. eyepatch" and such like.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:46 PM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't get it. Can someone please explain how the answer isn't blatantly fucking obvious?

It is.

To ALL of us.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:52 PM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Then why are you arguing?
posted by dersins at 1:03 PM on June 11, 2007


Holy fucking hell. I go offline for 24 hours, and this goddamned thread has metastacized. What could people still be discussing?

The thread itself. MetaFilter is eating its own tail.
posted by bicyclefish at 1:03 PM on June 11, 2007


400 little viking metaphors later...
posted by Burhanistan at 1:15 PM on June 11, 2007


400 fucking comments over a Ralph Wiggum line?! What the hell?!

And to think I used to consider Metafilter the PBS of community sites. Can we go back to youtube posts now?
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:52 PM on June 11, 2007


I had no idea anyone anywhere took this line to mean anything other than "Sleep? That's where I am a CHAMPION!" This is fascinating.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:03 PM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


My favorite instance of dubbing to make fit for commercial television broadcast is in the movie Quick Change, when the protagonists are being robbed or carjacked or something, and Geena Davis's line is changed from "this is fucking ridiculous" to "this is VIKING ridiculous".

Oh man, I remember Quick Change Edited for TV. So bad it was good. Geena Davis and crew are pleading with off duty cabdrivers to take them to the airport and she says "I'll give you $20,000... AND A BLOWJOB" which became "AND A BIG HUG" (which was absovikinglutely my euphemism of choice, especially around people who had no idea)

Hi, I'm Erik. Can I get a big hug?
posted by 23skidoo at 2:50 PM on June 11, 2007


Wow. This just got weird.
posted by cortex at 2:56 PM on June 11, 2007


First off, this is the dumbest thread ever. I clicked on this accidentally cause I wanted to see a Miho Hatori video, and I didn't wait for the whole page to load and ended up clicking the wrong link.

I always took "that's where I'm a viking" to mean both (or either). I never knew if it was intended to metaphorically mean that Ralph is awesome at sleep, but every time I've seen that episode, my brain has stopped to ponder it. I think the metaphorical explanation is funnier than the literal one, but I don't know if that's what was the original intention of the writers.

Apparently, a lot of people came to the same conclusion about the metaphorical explanation, and that really gets under the literalists' skin, because it would never ever occur to them. The literal explnation makes perfect sense, so why would the joke have any other meaning?

If Wendell's anecdote about it being an inside joke is true, it should give them pause, because it is makes the line an inside joke among the Simpsons writing staff, but doesn't at all preclude the literal or metaphorical meaning of the line.

I don't think that viking is a synonym for success, but there's soomething about the word itself and the way Ralph says it. If he had said 'monster' or 'pirate' or 'policeman', I would have taken it as literal, but if he used any number of words I would take it the same way.

That's where I'm a COWBOY!
That's where I'm a WINNER!
That's whre I'm THE PRESIDENT!

I like that last one as much as I like the viking one. Like the Godfather of Soul... Ralph Wiggum as The President of Sleep. I like sad, pathetic, adorable, retarted Ralph Wiggum thinking of himself as something powerful, or even vicious (again, literally in his dreams but also metaphorically meaning, 'right now I'm Ralph Wiggum but I am a viking of sleep!')

Also, a lot ofthe literalists are real assholes about people having different opinions, and I guess I'm going to have to go and break up with my girlfriend over this because she wants me to concede to her viewpoint. Oh well.
posted by elr at 3:01 PM on June 11, 2007 [2 favorites]


If he had said 'monster' or 'pirate' or 'policeman', I would have taken it as literal, but if he used any number of words I would take it the same way.

I'm totally not trying to gotcha you, but what about the word "pirate" makes you see the literal side? Because aren't pirates like vikings in drag, with maps?
posted by 23skidoo at 3:13 PM on June 11, 2007


Get your poetry on with the Ralph Wiggum Conceptualist Pocket GaugeTM:

Ralph: "When I grow up, I'm going to bovine university!"

Ralph believes he will grow up and be killed and processed at a slaughterhouse and sold as meat for human consumption. 'University', while a colorful euphemism, is not an accurate description of a slaughterhouse, as there is no accredited degree process or specialty tutoring.

LITERAL | | | | | | | | | | METAPHOR
______________________________


Ralph: "I made Bart in my pants!"

Ralph does not believe he manufactured a living human being inside of his own pants. Ralph is also not trying to insult Bart, in a common manner, by comparing him with excretory function (e.g. 'I eat shit like you for breakfast'). Ralph simply believes 'Bart' is slang for urination.


LITERAL | | | | | | | | | | METAPHOR
______________________________


Ralph: "That's where the leprechaun was and he told me to burn things."

Ralph believes he saw a tricksterish, elf-like creature similar to those depicted in Irish mythology and it told him to commit arson. It is difficult to say for certain if what he thought he witnessed was actually a leprechaun, or whether he simply generalized to the closest archetype available in his mind. Other possibilities include a demon, an alien, or a delinquent Boy Scout.

LITERAL | | | | | | | | | | METAPHOR
______________________________


Ralph: "Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner were in the closet making babies and I saw one of the babies and the baby looked at me."

Ralph did not see the teacher and his principal assembling infants like toys, instead he saw them engaged in sexual intercourse, which often results in fertilization, pregnancy, and child birth (cf. synecdoche). Ralph also witnessed the erect penis of Principal Skinner.

LITERAL | | | | | | | | | | METAPHOR
______________________________

posted by dgaicun at 3:26 PM on June 11, 2007 [4 favorites]


Ralph also witnessed the erect penis of Principal Skinner.

Hahahahhahaha. I never got that before. Excellent!
posted by agropyron at 3:47 PM on June 11, 2007


Wait... if that is what it means.
posted by agropyron at 3:47 PM on June 11, 2007


He means that he dreams of being a Viking.

This reminds me of an argument I had a long time ago on the internet about a weezer lyric. The line is in Pink Triangle. It goes: "Might have smoked a few in my time / but never thought it was a crime / knew the day would surely come / when I'd chill and settle down."

I said that the first line was literal, that it was a drug reference. He'd smoked a few joints in his time, but always knew that one day he'd have to clean up his act and become a responsible adult.

Then there was a camp which argued fervently that it was figurative, that "smoked a few" was a reference to breaking women's hearts, which is not a phrase/meaning I've ever heard used.

In the end I think a source in the band weighed in and said that I was right. Suckers.
posted by ludwig_van at 4:11 PM on June 11, 2007


Wait, Rivers Cuomo never thought it was illegal to smoke drugs?
posted by Greg Nog at 4:23 PM on June 11, 2007


Ralph always speaks literally. Always. His cat's breath smells like cat food. His literal reality is just a little borked, and he doesn't have the language or possibly even the mental ability to understand concepts outside of that reality. His teacher is his school mommy. The principal is an old man who lives at the school.

I can see how people could easily interpret it as "Sleep? That's where I'm a champion", because that's a standard sitcom joke sequence. He's asked to sleep, he says "Oh boy, that's something I'm great at!" and goes to sleep. That's a perfectly logical interpretation.

But Ralph would never turn that phrase to mean anything other than the literal. He says precisely what he means. Snagglepuss was outside the classroom going to the bathroom. The sandbox? That was where he met the leprechaun. Sleep? That is where he is a Viking.

It doesn't matter that the phrase could be interpreted as "champion of sleep", or if there is previous usage of viking as champion, or if you find that usage funnier. The joke that the writers always* use is that Ralph says exactly what is happening in his mind, and his language skills are beyond basic. He may make some strange associations, but he never speaks in metaphor. When he says "We're a totem pole", he means they are physically stacked on top of each other. Not that they exhibit the strength and pride that a totem represents. If he says "I'm a Viking" he doesn't mean he has the kick-ass pioneer qualities of a Viking. He means he's wearing a helmet and pillaging.

You can't make the argument that using "That's where" must mean "That is a situation in which" because sleep isn't a physical place. Ralph can't make that distinction. And his waking life is such a dream world already, it would make sense for him to distinguish "sleep" as the place where he continues to dream, but not necessarily as himself. Sleep is where he is a Viking.

*Well, not always. In some earlier episodes he's used as just a kid standing nearby to deliver some needed kid-standing-nearby-joke. But he has already been established as the developed Ralph character in this scene.
posted by team lowkey at 4:31 PM on June 11, 2007 [5 favorites]


Oh, and Rivers meant that he had smoked a few cocks in his time, but that didn't make him gay, as he realized he would end up marrying a girl when he found the right one. Then when he thought he found the right one, and she didn't feel the same way about switching teams. Everyone's a little queer, why can't she be a little straight?
posted by team lowkey at 4:43 PM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]


Exactly. Earnest lesbianism as ironic twist. Not bad for the son of a former NY state guv.
posted by cortex at 4:49 PM on June 11, 2007


So you're saying this thread is turning into a euphemistic Group Hug?

And may I append my previous comment about "Nancy Cartwright's Scientology" to note that in 2004 the folks at MonkeyFilter formed The Cult of Wendell, which has very quietly grown to rival the Scientologists, Mormons, Masons, Shriners, Trilateralists and MeFi Cabal as a Dangerous Secretive Society (at least in a few California communities).
posted by wendell at 5:19 PM on June 11, 2007


I believe in the Tao of Ralph. To speak of Ralph is not to understand him, Ralph just is the moment.
posted by Area Control at 5:23 PM on June 11, 2007


Apparently, a lot of people came to the same conclusion about the metaphorical explanation, and that really gets under the literalists' skin, because it would never ever occur to them.

GODDAMMIT since it's a dream it does BOTH the literal work and the metaphorical work JESUS whereas if you just take it metaphorically you betray yourself as having never been a child hence the outing as pod people now get off of our planet.
posted by furiousthought at 6:03 PM on June 11, 2007


Ralph = Cnut.
posted by tellurian at 6:21 PM on June 11, 2007


Ralph = Cnut

Ralph's a polar bear?
posted by Dr. Zira at 6:40 PM on June 11, 2007


We don't want any more bears!
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:03 PM on June 11, 2007


*sobs uncontrollably*
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:29 PM on June 11, 2007


Is it wrong that I listened to the whole Rick link just to make the rest of this stop hurting?
posted by mosessis at 7:51 PM on June 11, 2007


Ha! You guys are too much. No, it wasn't about smoking cocks either.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:25 PM on June 11, 2007


Is it wrong that I listened to the whole Rick link just to make the rest of this stop hurting?

That's actually the best thing about this thread.
posted by puke & cry at 9:10 PM on June 11, 2007


.
posted by herichon at 12:22 AM on June 12, 2007


Sleep? That swear!
I, Ma: fight king.

It was clearly a reference to the lyrics to the Who song It's Your Turn:
Up here on the ledge
I'm getting pushed to the edge
People line up behind me to step into my shoes,
Up here in the precipice
I'm getting close to my nemesis
People fighting each other to jump into my blues

There's a young kid inside me somewhere
He stays up all night, a vampire that never dies,
With the blood and the moon in his eyes
I hear his voice when I'm comin' down,
Sleep is for fools, whe never see the sunrise,
Who never get to live twice.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:01 AM on June 12, 2007


ixnay on the evealingray, stavros
posted by cortex at 6:57 AM on June 12, 2007


So I finally finished this, and I can no longer see the difference between sides. You are all right. He is a literal, metaphorical, fucking Viking.
posted by dame at 8:39 AM on June 12, 2007


I stand with dame, and somewhere in the mess far above, UbuRoivas.
posted by Kwine at 10:41 AM on June 12, 2007


Worm eaten quickly
Boy dozes in perfect peace
Vikingdom awaits
posted by MasonDixon at 11:50 AM on June 12, 2007


Team Lowkey OTM.

The linguistic criticism is secondary to character role consideration. The son of Clancy speaketh not in metaphor.

Put the shite to a vote.
posted by Grizzlepaws at 12:23 PM on June 12, 2007


.
posted by Skorgu at 3:24 PM on June 12, 2007


This would be a good example as to why Metafilter needs polls.
posted by fallenposters at 7:08 AM on June 13, 2007


Or, y'know, not.
posted by dersins at 8:58 AM on June 13, 2007


Well, shit, let's have a poll.
   Polls?
[ ] yes
[ ] no
[ ] waiting to see the poll results

posted by cortex at 9:05 AM on June 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


The son of Clancy speaketh not in metaphor.

Regardless of your stance on the matter, that is beautiful.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 10:40 AM on June 13, 2007


Shut up shut up shut up!

need a big does o chemo here. stat!
posted by edgeways at 10:45 AM on June 13, 2007


Ralph has used metaphor before, AND has said things that show that he's aware of his failings. He does both in the example below, from the evolution episode "The Monkey Suit":

Ralph: Are oceans God's tears?
Skinner: (looks at Lovejoy and Flanders) They sure are. A+!
Lisa: Ugh.
Ralph: Now Lisa's the Ralph!
posted by statolith at 12:21 PM on June 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


I had to google that, because I had no idea what scene you were talking about. It looks like it aired last year. I don't think there's much more to say than that. There's an argument to be made that "Now Lisa's the Ralph" isn't really metaphor, but... eh. Why bother. The writers don't care about maintaining characters anymore. Why should I?
posted by team lowkey at 2:43 PM on June 13, 2007


Metafilter: Now we're all the Ralph
posted by 23skidoo at 3:02 PM on June 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


The writers don't care about maintaining characters anymore.

Well, but they also throw in things for characters to say that are way above their normal capacities, and use that as a source of humor. As long as they don't overdo it, it's pretty effective.

But yeah, I guess the example I gave is from several season later than the viking quote in question.
posted by statolith at 3:19 PM on June 13, 2007


The first line Ralph says in statolith's example is a use of metaphor. The last line (Now Lisa's the Ralph!) is a metonymy, which is a form of metaphor.

And just to throw in some technicality (at 400+ comments, this is a free-for-all, right?) BOTH interpretations of the viking statements are metaphors...Ralph really isn't a warrior when he dreams, nor is his ability to sleep literally like that of a warrior.

One interpretation is just slightly more abstract than the other. It is also compounded by the fact that one interpretation focuses on the content of the verb (what happens when Ralph sleeps), whereas the other focuses on the manner of the verb (how the sleep is done).

It's just really hard to see it one way, when the other is in the forefront.

This kind of reminds me of a study I read about, where they told people this short story, and then asked the following question:
Today is Friday. There is a meeting scheduled for the following Wednesday. Your boss tells you to move the meeting ahead two days. What day is the meeting?

What they found, based on asking people in various situations and places, was that the meeting was either on Monday or Friday, depending on the person's orientation with time (any concept about time tends to fall into one of two larger metaphor structures, which both happen to be figure-ground reversals of each other), as well as nuances in their individual meaning and associations with the word "ahead".

Point is, there's no clear cut answer on the Ralph dilemma, as it's subjective and there are many variables at play, including personal associations and lexical ambiguity.

What makes me really happy though is that this thread has so many comments! The Simpsons are fucking GREAT.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:14 PM on June 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


This kind of reminds me of a study I read about, where they told people this short story, and then asked the following question:
Today is Friday. There is a meeting scheduled for the following Wednesday. Your boss tells you to move the meeting ahead two days. What day is the meeting?


Heh. I guess you missed that askme thread?
posted by ludwig_van at 6:16 AM on June 14, 2007


Ralph has used metaphor before

Of course he has. One could feasibly argue that he ONLY speaks in obtuse metaphor (or similie), e.g.: "tastes like burning", "smells like catfood", etc.

When it's all said and done, however, there is only one possible interpretation of the viking line. He's clearly talking about a little known and very dangerous sexual position that is on the books as being outlawed in 17 of 50 states.
posted by psmealey at 6:24 AM on June 14, 2007


Heh. I guess you missed that askme thread?
posted by ludwig_van at 6:16 AM


DOH! I guess I did. Got a link?
posted by iamkimiam at 7:15 AM on June 14, 2007


Oh dear.

Fine. Everything is a metaphor. (That's a metaphor) My shadow looks like a person! (That's a metaphor). I think my shadow is made of chocolate. (That's a metaphor) My shadow is dumb. (That's a metaphor) Similes are metaphors. (Oh, you better believe that's a metaphor!)

Words don't really have any intrinsic meaning. They just represent some real life thing, right? So every word is a metaphor, right? And all interpretations of reality are subjective, so even if all words aren't actually metaphors, it is totally valid to think that they are. I mean, if you want to get technical, we're all just God's dreams, so really, we're all metaphors.

i'm in ur language, viking ur metaphor.
posted by team lowkey at 10:33 AM on June 14, 2007 [1 favorite]


Isn't "my shadow looks like a person" a simile?
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 5:11 PM on June 14, 2007


Don't you start!
posted by team lowkey at 5:36 PM on June 14, 2007


Metaphorlter: all interpretations of reality are subjective.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:39 PM on June 14, 2007


Isn't "my shadow looks like a person" a simile?

No, it's not. It's a plain descriptive statement.

"My shadow is like a person" would be a simile.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:41 PM on June 14, 2007




sfenders: that's a strong claim to run up the flagpole, but i'm not swallowing it until it receives languagehat's seal of approval.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:21 PM on June 14, 2007


Words don't really have any intrinsic meaning. They just represent some real life thing, right? So every word is a metaphor, right?

Nietzsche agreed with you.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:48 PM on June 14, 2007


And I believe this is where he did so.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:50 PM on June 14, 2007


But maybe that's exactly what you were referring to and I'm just being obtuse about it now.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:51 PM on June 14, 2007


(you know who else admired Nietzsche's philosophies?)
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:19 PM on June 14, 2007


(Wagner!)

(also, Mrs. Wagner.)
posted by dersins at 10:06 PM on June 14, 2007


I'm not language hat, but I am a linguist!
All words essentially are metaphors. Additionally, many of our words represent metaphorical concepts. Even down to the simplest phrase, such as "Do you get me?" You don't actually "get" (aka, physically receive) "me". "Get" is part of a larger (huge) metaphor structure that we, as an English-speaking society, base much of our language and syntax around. It's called the The Conduit Metaphor, for anybody who's interested. I think the most fascinating class I ever took was Metaphor 201, by George Lakoff (who literally wrote the books on metaphor and reshaped modern thought on the subject). It blew my mind and changed the way I saw everything. The class was cognitive science, linguistics, and philosophy all bundled together. And we even discussed The Simpsons here and there.

Items in bold represent common metaphor structures that are a bit easier to see in text.

Hmmm. That was fun. What a wordnerd, apologies to all. I miss school, that's where I'm a [insert source domain here].
posted by iamkimiam at 7:27 PM on June 15, 2007 [4 favorites]


No need to apologize, iamkimiam, that was frickin' amazing!
posted by Kattullus at 9:35 PM on June 15, 2007


iamkimiam: I realise that Dr/Prof Lakoff's thoughts are clearly more than can be expressed in a paragraph typed on a website, but there is a massive non-sequitur between "All words essentially are metaphors" and a bunch of highlighted metaphors in a reasonably normal paragraph of writing.

Speaking (heh) as a graduate in poncy (heh) semiotic 'philosophy' (heh), I can kinda side (heh) with an idea that the endless chain (heh) of signification (heh) means that words never = the things they claim to represent (heh), but only refer (heh) to other words (ad infinitum), so that perhaps they are only ever 'metaphors' for the things they purport to signify, or somesuch argument, but if all words are essentially metaphors, what about the non-highlighted words in your paragraph?

What is "all" a metaphor of?
What is "words" a metaphor of?
What is "essentially" a metaphor of? (not so difficult)
What is "are" a metaphor of?
What is "metaphors" a metaphor of?
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:00 AM on June 16, 2007


UbuRoivas: Not all words are obvious metaphors (like the ones iamkimiam highlighted), but all words are metaphors if you trace back their histories far enough. Metaphor, for example, is from Greek metaphora 'carrying across' (which is still the Modern Greek word for 'transport, conveyance'—one of the pleasures of living in the heavily Greek NYC neighborhood of Astoria was seeing vans with METAPHORS on the side [in Greek, obviously]). Many words, like all, can't be traced back far enough to get to that point, but if you think about it you'll see that words for abstract concepts like that must originally have been derived from more concrete ones.
posted by languagehat at 8:10 AM on June 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh dear.

As interesting as this discussion is, my point was that if you allow that all language is metaphor (or that all reality is subjective), you can't actually have a substantive argument about intended meaning.

If we are going to get anywhere with this Very Important Issue, we have to agree that there is an objectively correct answer. And for my particular argument that Ralph doesn't use metaphor, I was relying on the (standard) definition of metaphor where one relays "this thing shares the characteristics of this other thing" by saying "this thing is this other thing". For example: "iamkimiam is a rose", rather than "iamkimiam is like a flower".

Ralph has never used that kind of linguistic metaphor (except for the recent uncharacteristic and debatable "Lisa is the new Ralph"). He doesn't even really use simile. He just says what he thinks is literally true. QED.*

*Done and done.
posted by team lowkey at 11:38 PM on June 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


What a lovely example! How could I possibly argue with that?

"Lisa is the new Ralph" is a snowclone. Quite impressive for a kid who eats paste.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:18 PM on June 18, 2007


"Lisa is the new Ralph" is a snowclone. Quite impressive for a kid who eats paste.

I got the quote wrong initially. It's actually "Now Lisa's the Ralph!"

Anyway, someone should submit this whole Viking question to Language Log. I'm curious to hear their take on it all.
posted by statolith at 12:56 PM on June 19, 2007


Resolved: E-Prime now mandatory on metafilter at all times. The copula can go fuck itself.
posted by cortex at 4:04 PM on June 19, 2007


Point of order: Motion to e-prime not put to poll.
posted by team lowkey at 7:49 PM on June 19, 2007


Helpful hint: E-Prime not usually defined as just leaving out the verb to make grammatically incorrect sentence fragments.
posted by sfenders at 3:57 AM on June 20, 2007


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