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Revision as of 23:19, 6 January 2014

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Feel Old
'How long are you going to keep this up?' 'Statistically, only four or five more decades.'
Title text: 'How long are you going to keep this up?' 'Statistically, only four or five more decades.'

Explanation

This is yet another comic following xkcd's recurring theme of using cultural or pop-cultural event dates to reference how much time has passed between two events, often with the stated intention of making someone realize how old they are (see Comics to make one feel old as well as this xkcd blag post). In each case, the joke is derived from the shock that many adults feel upon realizing that events that feel relatively recent actually took place many years or even decades ago.

This becomes especially acute when it's pointed out how old someone born during that time would be. Perhaps this is because for many people, there are fewer significant events and changes in their lives after they reach adulthood where there are no grade numbers and annual class changes to mark the continued passage of years. Hearing many years have passed framed in the context of the age of a child allows you to realize how long the period really is as you recall how much had occurred in your own life and how much you had grown by the time you were that age.

In this case, Megan makes Cueball feel old by noting to him that the 2016 U.S. presidential election will be the first U.S. presidential election in which there will be eligible voters who are too young to remember the September 11 terrorist attacks which took place in New York City on September 11, 2001 (commonly referred to as "9/11"). These attacks were, in many ways, a defining event for an entire generation of Americans. This statement is made on the basis that the eligible voting age in the United States (the minimum age you must be to be eligible to vote in an election) is 18 years old, which is set by the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Eligible voters in this election will have been born on or before November 8, 1998. The youngest voters will therefore have been approximately two months shy of three years old on September 11, 2011. Megan is presuming that three year olds (or at least some or many of them) were either too young to retain any memories from that age, or at least were too young to appreciate the significance of the attacks such that they would be retained memories 15 years later.

The previous U.S. presidential election took place November 6, 2012 and eligible voters would have been just shy of seven years old on September 11, 2001. Megan similarly presumes (or at least is generalizing) that voters who were seven on 9/11 were old enough to retain that memory through adulthood.

Particularly for those who were of voting age on September 11, 2001, it might seem startling that by election day, 15 years will have passed since 9/11. This might be particularly so given how significantly 9/11 shaped American society in the years following the attacks. 9/11 was a significant political point in the elections following the attacks as well as in non-electoral politics (such as discussions over homeland security, military actions, etc.) To realize that there are people who have reached adulthood and weren't even old enough to be aware of 9/11 when it happened is a stark reminder of the passage of time since the event. The following election on November 3, 2020 will be first in which there will be eligible voters who were born after 9/11.

When Megan asks Cueball if he wants to "feel old", he replies resignedly, suggesting that he recognizes (possibly based on the previous strips) that she's about to make him feel his age, but claims that he's ready. However, after she makes her statement, he admits that he wasn't ready. While he's technically aware of his age, that kind of perspective still catches him by surprise, and likely causes significant emotional discomfort. His additional discomfort may also be as a result of the serious and significant events of 9/11 Megan references in comparison to previous strips where lighter things like film release dates are cited.

In the title text, Cueball asks Megan how long she can "keep this up" (i.e. how long she will continue to mention things to make him feel old). However, instead of addressing how long she can keep coming up with uncomfortable facts, she references a new fact that (intentionally or not) that likely has a similar effect of making Cueball feel old: That they're only likely to live another forty to fifty years (suggesting that they're both in their mid- to late- thirties).

"How long are you going to keep this up?" Is also a question that is likely asked to Randall often. Perhaps, through this comment, he is confirming that he will continue making these comics until death or for as long as he possibly can.

Transcript

[Megan talking to Cueball]
Megan: Wanna feel old?
Cueball: Does anyone? But OK, go ahead, I'm ready.
Megan: This is the first presidential election in which there are voters too young to remember 9/11.
Cueball: ...I wasn't ready.

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