Title text: Also, is it just me, or do Japan and New Zealand look suspiciously similar? Has anyone seen them at a party together?
This comic shows a map of the world. The X in the center, labeled "ME", indicates Randall's approximate location in the U.S., and two arrows point west and east from it. The map uses a format, popular in America, which places the American continents centrally, therefore splitting Asia, (parodied by "you-cut-asia-in-half"). The comic then shows Europe labeled "The West" as it is commonly referred to, despite being located to the east of Randall, and Asia similarly labeled "The East", despite being west of Randall. Randall is therefore annoyed with the common terms "the West" and "the East" referring to locations east and west of him respectively.
"The East" and "the West" were defined in geographical terms from the traditional boundary between Europe and Asia. They were later expanded or (mis-)appropriated to include references to cultural, political, and trade connections. Another east-west division comes from zero longitude (the prime meridian): the Western Hemisphere and Eastern Hemisphere are defined in reference to it, and world maps are often centered on it. The fact that the prime meridian runs though London, England, is an artifact of the British Empire's dominance —and British exploration of the world— in the 1700s and 1800s. In particular, British astronomical tables (made by the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London) were widely used to determine longitude all over the world. The need for establishing a precise zero-longitude is one of the two technological necessities to make a sextant work as a tool to calculate accurate position for map making.
In short, "the East" and "the West" should simply be viewed as a reference to map coordinates and not as relative to where you are as suggested by the comic. An America-centered map does not redefine "the East" or "the West" anymore than an Australian up-side-down reversed map redefines "the North" or "the South".
The convention of orienting maps with north at the top and west at the left was started by the Greek geographer Ptolemy. In his work Geography he introduced the first coordinate system with latitude and longitude. Randall shows some other possible map orientations in 977: Map Projections.
The title text comments on the similarity in shape of New Zealand and Japan, and suggests that one may in fact be the other in disguise. The similarities are partly explained by both forming as volcanic island chains.
- [Map of world with North America centered. An "x" is placed near east coast. Asia is labeled "The East" and Europe "The West."]
- "The East" <- West x (me) East -> "The West"
- This always bugged me.