Fun with Continuity

April 2, 2008

A while back, I planned on making “retcon” the word of the day. Not yet in the OED, “retcon” is probably one of the most useful words in the English language. The word, an abbreviation for “retroactive continuity” comes from that emerging English dialect, Comic Book English. From the Comics Dictionary:

“to ‘retcon’ is to change history, so that something that had existed in the continuity of the fictional universe, not ONLY doesn’t exist now, but in the fictional history, NEVER HAS existed. This can be true of an event, of a character, or whatever”

The word has occasionally snuck into general discourse, as in this article in the SF Gate where the author adopts the term to describe Bram Dijkstra’s revisionist art history:

In the useful and fast-spreading parlance of comic book fans, Dijkstra has boldly “retconned” most of 20th century American art history. That is, he’s given it a new “retroactive continuity,” rewritten it so that a discarded early movement suddenly becomes the consummation of everything that came before and a martyr to just about everything after.”

I bring this up because of this week’s episode of “How I Met Your Mother,” the best episode of the show’s 3rd season, and one of the series finest. One of the show’s outstanding features is the way it plays with continuity and the sequence of events. The show regularly tells things out of sequence, inserting small sight gags that often turn into whole stories or stories that get the Rashomon treatment much later. This week’s episode proved that point by turning a throw-off sign-off into a 30 second reprisal with reference to a website that not only works, but is accompanied by a 20 minute song written by the show’s creators. It’s a little like watching Lost only funnier, less pretentious, and not a constant test of your ability to remember random facts. Also, the characters actually interact with each other on HIMYM.

For those of you who don’t watch, here’s a quick sample.

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