Monday, May 21, 2012


I found The Oatmeal's recent comic extolling the virtues of Nikola Tesla to be pretty embarrassing.  Even without doing much research into the matter it reeked of hero worship.  Specifically, it seemed to be that Internet specific brand of drooling hero worship, elevating Tesla beyond misunderstood genius to a Chuck Norris caliber geek demigod.  The cult of Tesla is fairly strong among a certain subsection of Internet geeks, due in no small part to the excellent film "The Prestige", and the universal desire to show how cool you are by liking someone the mainstream isn't familiar with.  I imagine that many members of this cult read The Oatmeal (I read it as well, so I'm not knocking the fanbase).

Essentially, The Oatmeal's comic argues that Tesla never did anything bad and Edison is some kind of constantly evil-doing super-douche (I imagine the word douche was used a record number of times in the comic proper, since it's an image and not text I can't be bothered to count).  The comic gives credit to Tesla for pretty much anything he ever had anything to do with, and gives none to Edison.  I think the piece crossed the line into uncomfortable when it discussed the eventually fatal injuries suffered by Clarence Dally, an employee of Edison's working with X-rays.  It also mentions that Edison nearly went blind from exposure himself.
"Dally is considered to be the first American to die from exposure to radiation -- FINALLY Edison invents something original!".
The ante was upped when Alex Knapp at Forbes published a criticism that pushed a few of The Oatmeal's buttons.  I had to agree with the vast majority of Knapp's points, though I won't reiterate them here.  What I found doubly interesting was The Oatmeal's response, which foamed with just as much rage as the original article. (Bonus pointer for Internet debates... if every second or third point you make contains profanity, you may want to attempt a second draft). In the end, the cartoonist dismisses all criticism with the following:
"I'm a comedian, and I speak in hyperbole.  If you sharpshoot my work you will find that I exaggerate for the sake of comedy... My comic was a meditation on being a geek and by example explores one of the greatest geeks of our time: Nikola Goddamn Tesla".
Do you know when a comic stops being "just a comic"?  When jokes don't appear to be on the agenda.  This "comic" was a mostly straight faced piece of Tesla-worship.  If somehow it was misunderstood satire, then I'd love someone to point out the places where it is in any way indicated that The Oatmeal was exaggerating.  It was so deadpan that I'm sure readers are already taking it's assertions at face value.  That's the problem with freedom of speech.  You have the freedom to spread misinformation and exaggeration all you like.  It's up to the audience to think critically about what they read, and sadly many of us are ill-equipped to do so.

Really, it wouldn't have bothered me if not for the "EDISON IS A DEMONIC EVIL SATAN HITLER THAT SHOULD ROAST IN HELL" tone of the whole thing.  Come on, the dude accomplished a lot.  Can't we applaud what Tesla did without putting a black cape and mustache on Edison?  Tesla was really neat and brilliant, a lot of people don't know who he is.  And The Prestige is a great movie.  I hope we can all agree on that much.


  1. Tesla is The Greatest

    Yes, yes! Tesla invented nearly every aspect of modern technology! AC power, generators, the telephone, radio, electric cars, microwaves, radar, submarines, the diesel engine, the computer, CDs and DVDs, the Internet, and now the Iphone! Every facet, every nuance, every part of our modern technology was either conceived, directly invented, or taken from his work!!! A string of thieves, charlatans, imposters, and usurpers starting with Edison have stolen the credit for all of this technology from the rightful inventor, Tesla! Tesla was the greatest person in the history of the planet and you must all worship him!

  2. You know who ELSE invented nearly every aspect of modern technology???