The “where’s my elephant?” theory takes it name, of course, from The Simpsons episode in which Bart gets an elephant (Season 5, episode 17, to be precise). For those of you who don’t know the episode: Bart wins a radio contest where you have to answer a phone call with the phrase, “KBBL is going to give me something stupid.” That “something stupid” turns out to be either $10,000, or “the gag prize”: a full-grown African elephant. Much to the presenters’ surprise, Bart chooses the elephant — which is a problem for the radio station, since they don’t actually have an elephant to give him. After some attempts at negotiation (the presenters offer Principal Skinner $10,000 to go about with his pants pulled down for the rest of the school year; the presenters offer to use the $10,000 to turn Skinner into “some sort of lobster-like creature”), Bart finds himself kicked out of the radio station, screaming “where’s my elephant?”
…the “where’s my elephant?” theory holds the following:
- If you give someone a joke option, they will take it.
- The joke option is a (usually) a joke option for a reason, and choosing it will cause everyone a lot of problems.
- In time, the joke will stop being funny, and people will just sort of lose interest in it.
- No one ever learns anything.
For those that were surprised when Trump was elected or Brexit passed a referendum, the “Where’s My Elephant?” theory of history may provide some solace. With reference to Boaty McBoatface and to the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, Tom Whyman pitches that “joke” options will be selected significantly more-often that you’d expect or that they should.
Our society is like Bart Simpson. But can we be a better Bart Simpson?
If that didn’t cheer you up: here’s another article, which more-seriously looks at the political long-game that Remainers in Britain might consider working towards.