I thought paper would protect you

This is a story about the moronic, arbitrary manner in which things become popular on the internet.

Commenter Ueli asked if an old pre-9/11 eKarjala entry about rock/paper/scissors was the “first instance of this quote that’s passed around so much.” The entry in question is an analysis of the old hand gesture game, written in the traditional style of “internet rant,” which is where you assume a tone of contrived rage as a means for creating jocularity. It’s as if you’re saying, “I would like to make some observations about a well-known topic. These observations make me angry! LOL!” You might recognize this tone from 90% of eKarjala.

I hadn’t heard of any such quotation being passed around, so I Googled the exact phrase “I thought paper would protect you.” There were 12,000 instances, each more retarded than the last. From what I could tell, all of them were from a curious rewording of my original idiotic post. Included in the search results was a Digg link to the following image, which was Dugg an ass-boggling 8,343 times:

Paper can't win

This image was from the website run by Found Magazine, which is an excellent publication that archives all the mysterious notes and pictures one occasionally finds randomly dispersed amongst civilization. So to recap: Apparently somebody printed out an edited version of a 2001 eKarjala entry and left the document lying around in a public location, where it was then recovered by a subscriber to Found Magazine and added to the Found database, from where it was then linked to by Digg and in consequence became parroted on thousands of message boards and MySpace pages. If that’s accurate, this would easily be the dumbest series of events that’s ever happened.

For the purposes of comparison, here’s the original eKarjala entry

I understand that Scissors can beat Paper and I get how Rock can beat Scissors, but there’s no fucking way Paper could beat Rock. Apparently, Paper is supposed to magically “wrap around” Rock, leaving it immobile. Why the hell can’t Paper do this to Scissors? No, never mind Scissors, why can’t Paper do this to people? Why aren’t sheets of college-ruled notebook paper constantly smothering students as they attempt to take notes in class? I’ll tell you why: because Paper can’t beat anybody. A rock would tear that shit up in about a minute.

Whenever I play Rock/Paper/Scissors, I always choose Rock. When somebody claims to have beaten me with their Paper, I punch them in the face with my already-clenched fist. I’ll say, “Oh, shit, man, I’m sorry, I thought Paper would protect you. Asshole.

As you can see, it wasn’t the most imaginative observation ever written—probably every hacky stand-up has written something similar. What’s fascinating is that certain instances of the circulating quotation are not just posted anonymously, but instead attributed to Dane Cook or Mitch Hedberg. This is nothing new. The ambiguous origins of anonymous quotations are commonly transposed onto popular figures, even if the quotation is manifestly beneath their actual work, as in this case (even with regards to Dane Cook). People don’t trust anonymous sources, and all it takes is one jackass to implicate a specific individual. If this rock/paper/scissors bit is somehow still circulating in a few more years, people will start attributing it to Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde. Eventually everyone will agree that it was originally pontificated by Thomas Jefferson just after he signed the Declaration of Independence, when he updated the “Rants” section of his GeoCities webpage, “Thomas Jefferson’s little corner of the internet.”

Although this rock/paper/scissors text was circulated on a very small scale, the manner of its distribution is emblematic of the internet as a whole, which insists that certain things be popular, and it doesn’t necessarily matter what: a hideous dancing baby, the senseless engrish from an obscure video game, a random 1980s pop hit by Rick Astley. We are so desperate for commonality that any random cultural artifact can become a shared experience, and this is especially true on the internet, which is viral not just in nature but in consequence, making us nauseated from the absurdity. This observation makes me so angry! LOL!

39 thoughts on “I thought paper would protect you

  1. Wow… that was my away message for some time in college. I never knew where it came from or who wrote it (and had actually never heard of you until my sister blogged about your site last month, but now I’m a subscriber. woo.).

    Kudos to you for a bit of semi-anonymous internet fame.

  2. Argh, you’ve pried the repressed memory of that blasted dancing baby from Ally McBeal from the depths of my skull. I hate you. I still love you though.

  3. Seriously though, check the Myst thing too, I used that for years as a promotion to get people to come to this website because that one it still makes me laugh to this day, and I recently started seeing it unaccredited in friends’ away messages. You’re an anonymous fucking phenomenon.

  4. the simple fact that this came back to you either tells me that the world is 104% INSANE, or you sir are the craftiest person in the world when it comes to long-term lame lying. either way, i like it.

  5. According to the original FOUND entry, this was found by a friend of Mary Ingram on the floor outside a math classroom in Moore, Oklahoma. Internet works in mysterious ways.

    In other news: I have been acknowledged! My entire life has been leading up to this moment.

  6. 2001. I don’t know, I was like 13 and I don’t know how I found this either. The fact that this is still my favorite…”blog”…is mind-boggling, because either your comedy’s matured at the same speed of my aging, or my sense of humor has stayed -exactly the same-. I was glad when this finally got fucking acknowledged for being awesome though.

  7. How many people would you estimate leave posts that you’ve never met before, percent wise? Just curious, because I pretty sure you don’t know me, considering my social circle that frequents your site live far in horror that is known as Canada.
    And what ever happened to that one time that that guy offered to connect you to a hiring national column or something? It was in a reply post.

  8. Margaret: Probably over 97%, as far as I know. Most the people I know in real life don’t care for my website, or at least not well enough to leave a comment. They’ll be like, “So, you still update that website?” and I’ll burst into tears and say, “You could at least check every once in awhile!” I’m not sure which comment you’re referring to, but anyway one mustn’t trust an offer like that. If you start to trust anonymous commenters, they’ll eventually rob you blind. Or you’ll end up with a sweet job or some shit.

  9. I have seen this phrase used on many an Internet message board, and until I read this I never thought it made sense. Thanks for enlightening me, and kudos on being a silent phenomenon.

  10. Don’t worry Eric.
    I’m never going to give you up.
    Never gonna let you down.
    Never gonna run around and desert you.

  11. “(even with regards to Dane Cook)”..

    LOL out loud.

    Also, thanks SO MUCH for the brain takeover with that stupid Rick Astley song. Aiieeeeeee.

    Make it stop!!



  12. Okay guys. I think this is serious. Is he dead? I think he’s dead. What are we going to do? Who’s going to make us laugh (lord knows Jerry Seinfeld can’t)? Who’s going to make us cry? Who’s going to persuade us to commit moronic silly crimes, like trespassing?
    I propose a resurrection. Someone go find his body, I’ll find some red candles, an alter and my “Raising the Dead for Dummies” book.

  13. I’ll draw up the pentagram – we’re assuming he’s in hell, right?

    I wonder if there’s any goat farms in the area…

  14. Listen here you little ingrate! “The paper beats rock” is from a hand game hundreds of years old. The observation that paper shouldn’t beat rock probably dates back just as far. The interpretation shown above is from my website, originally in 2001. Here’s comedian Demitri Martin’s version—which is radically different, but which reaches a similar conclusion! Sorry to shout Tony but you’ve pissed me off damn you!


    This clip is from 2007! Demitri Martin’s first CD was released in 2006, which was around when he became popular! I don’t know when Demitri Martin wrote his rock-paper-scissors joke! You can irritate him on his own website if you like! But anyway it doesn’t matter because our interpretations have nothing in common. Maybe Demitri Martin has also yelled at you before, but that doesn’t mean I’m copying him right now! It just means that we both despise you! And what you’re not understanding is that when people have an idea, and express that idea via any written, verbal, musical, or visual form, what they’re doing is called being creative! For example, right now I’m being creative in the sense that I’m creating these sentences, which as far as I know have never been written before! “You’re dumb,” while surprisingly grammatically correct, is not creative, Tony! It’s just thoughtlessly mean-spirited! You haven’t even insulted me in a clever fashion! And what you should know is that if you ever do create something, and express an idea, you might find that other people have already expressed an idea similar to your own, with similar themes! Don’t be alarmed by this, Tony! It’s just a sign that you’re thinking in the same universe as other thinking people! And other non-thinking people, too, who would go to websites and write “you’re dumb” because the world of thinking people confuses them and makes them afraid! And that’s you, Tony! You non-thinking savage! That’s you! You’re dumb!

  15. I saw that going around somewhere on the internet and thought it was sooo hilarious, then yesterday when I was reading your blogs starting from new and going to old, I saw the rock/paper/scissors and immediately thought “no way! is this the guy who started it?” WOW you are so huge and no one knows it!

    you need to be known guy! 25 huh??…
    darn, I wish I knew what you looked like so I could picture you in my dreams

  16. Wow. You are.. hilarious. Someone sent me your link and said “you must read this” I’m so glad I did. I came home in a shitty mood, and reading this site made me laugh until my cheeks hurt. Thanks, and I hope you keep posting.
    Your cool.

  17. OK, am I going to have to be the first to comment on the apparent fact that whoever edited this message to create that picture did so by removing all capitalization and advanced punctuation?

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