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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Revision as of 00:37, 4 March 2013

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!

We have collaboratively explained Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",". xkcd comics, and only Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",". (Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",".%) remain. Add yours while there's a chance!

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Humans
At this point, if we're going to keep insisting on portraying dinosaurs as featherless because it's "cooler", it's time to apply that same logic to art involving bald eagles.
Title text: At this point, if we're going to keep insisting on portraying dinosaurs as featherless because it's "cooler", it's time to apply that same logic to art involving bald eagles.

Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Title text explanation needs improvement. Cleaning up required.

The comic is set in the future, with two hovering robots discussing ancient history, in particular the clothing styles of kings and queens of the now extinct human race. It appears that robot archeologists have long ago unearthed remains from the human civilization. Recently they must have discovered something new, that presumably indicates the wearing of colorful clothing by human monarchs. Until this occurred they had no reason to believe that people wore clothing. Noting that some humans had metal rings around their heads, they have drawn the conclusion that these formed a separate species "Human Kings" and the crown is a natural outgrowth of the skeleton.

When dinosaur bones were first dug up, the idea that dinosaurs were scaly, reptilian-like creatures was developed with the information available at the time. In recent times, it's been discovered that most dinosaurs actually had feathers, and in well preserved specimens, often from the Jiufotang Formation in Northern China, feathers of various forms are clearly visible.

As this runs counter to the widespread and long-held image of dinosaurs as dramatic reptiles, the public has been reluctant to accept this new discovery, especially as the addition of feathers often conjures up the image of a giant chicken. (See 1104: Feathers). Had it been discovered that dinosaurs were in fact covered with 6-inch long razor tipped spikes, people may have accepted this immediately as it conforms to the stereotype of dinosaurs as killing machines. There have even been attempts to claim that the feathers did not exist.[citation needed]

In the same way, the new information on kings and queens being covered in fabric runs counter to the movie inspired image that the robot on the right had about humans, picturing them as being pink warriors that could grow metal out of their heads. (The head-metal image may have been inspired by the discovery of kings and queens buried or entombed with their crowns lying on top of their skulls - for example the Electress Palatine Anna Maria de'Medici. If the robot beings in this comic don't know enough about human anatomy, they may assume that the metal crown is a specialized part of the human skeleton.) Since they themselves are made of metal, they may conclude that that humans also were part metal.

Shown at least some evidence pointing to the truth - that humans typically wore clothing, and that a monarch's crown is only a symbol worn atop the head and not part of his or her body - the robot is predictably disappointed. Humans wearing clothing reduces them, in its opinion, to "big pillows". Something made of cloth (or covered in it), at least in this robot's mind, cannot be a significant actor in history.

The robot fails to reason that, among other things, history was what it was, and its wanting things to have been a certain way does not make it so. In addition, just as the clothing-wearing human is more than a mere pillow, a feathered dinosaur is not necessarily merely a giant chicken.

The reference to colorful fabric may also be indicative of the popular and mistaken view that all ancient statues (particularly ancient Roman and Greek sculpture) were white. Instead, many of the statues were painted (sometimes rather gaudily due to the low availability of various dyes) and the paint has merely worn off, leading to the present belief that ancient Athens was a city of shining white marble porticoes, colonnades and statues. (See Reference)

The title text references our failure to change the popular image of dinosaurs to reflect the way they truthfully once were. Randall jokingly suggests that we should apply the same "featherless is cooler" logic to popular images of bald eagles (since they are modern dinosaurs), and remove their feathers (only in depictions of them, presumably), leaving them entirely bald.

It is worth noting that this comic was released a few weeks before the scheduled release of Jurassic World, a reboot of the Jurassic Park movie franchise. This new movie, while supposedly aware of recent advances in dinosaur research, still depicts dinosaurs as giant lizards without feathers. It seems likely that the robot's comment about "pink humans" is targeted at this movie, especially given Randall's many earlier references to Jurassic Park and his fear of velociraptors.

Transcript

[Two robots are hovering in mid-air in the comic; what appear to be their optical arrays are facing each other]
Robot 1: You know, new research suggests ancient human kings and queens were covered in colorful fabric.
Robot 2: Ugh, I like movie humans more. Screaming pink warriors with metal crowns poking through the skin on their heads!
Robot 2: Now they're, what, big pillows?
Robot 2: Science ruins everything.

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