1387: Clumsy Foreshadowing

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Clumsy Foreshadowing
'... hosts were unexpectedly fired from ABC's 'The View' today. ABC will likely announce new...'
Title text: '... hosts were unexpectedly fired from ABC's 'The View' today. ABC will likely announce new...'


A common trope in movies is to establish a significant event which will later become relevant to the main characters by having some kind of news reporting shown on screen. This is most commonly a television broadcast, though radio broadcasts and newspaper headlines are also used. Sometimes attention is drawn to such a news story, and in other cases, it's subtle foreshadowing that can easily be missed. In any event, if news reporting shows up in fiction, savvy viewers will immediately expect it to become relevant to the plot in short order.

Of course, in real life, news stories generally don't directly and obviously impact the lives of most people viewing them. Randall suggests that life will seem a lot more ominous if we imagine every news story as happening in the background of a movie, which would make us instinctively assume that they foreshadow something that will soon impact us directly.

In this case we see three random headings from news stories, all of which are fairly mundane in real life, but which would seem highly foreboding in a movie:

  • Shark populations booming off east coast comes from a report released week before this comic, about the preservation of Great White sharks. A growing population of Great White sharks is positive news as the species is important to marine ecosystems and its numbers have declined in recent years. Sharks aren't a significant threat to humans, with fewer than a dozen humans killed by sharks in a typical year, worldwide. In a movie, however, such a report would heavily imply that a shark attack, or something similar, was imminent.
  • SpaceX to attempt new rocket launch today. SpaceX is a privately owned space transport services company. On March 13, 2014 they reported a launch date for their first OG2 mission containing 6 satellites. While interesting to space enthusiasts, this is a fairly ordinary update about the progress of the company. In a movie, such a report would imply that the launch would become important to the plot in some way, which could involve the protagonists going into space, a crash or explosion affecting them, the rocket encountering some extraterrestrial threat, or SpaceX technology being used as a threat against humanity.

The title text news hosts were unexpectedly fired from ABC's 'The View' today references ABC's The View where two of the co-hosts, Sherri Shepherd and Jenny McCarthy, were simultaneously reporting leaving the program the day before this comic appeared. In real life, this is a very mundane story which has little impact on the lives of most people. In a film, however, it becomes loaded with meaning. In a workplace drama, it could mean that the protagonist might have a chance to replace those fired leads. In a political thriller, it might be revealed that the hosts were fired to keep them from revealing sensitive information. In an action movie, those fired hosts could be involved in a deadly plot that will soon involve the protagonists. By placing real-world headlines into a fictional context, even low-stakes stories can become rich with potential meaning.


[Heading and text above the panel:]
Today's News
North Korea threatens U.S. over upcoming movie
Shark populations booming off east coast
SpaceX to attempt new rocket launch today
[Arrow pointing down towards the comics only panel.]
[Cueball, holding a towel, walks past a TV with a news report shown on-screen.]
Cueball: Bye! See you tonight!
Offscreen person: Have a good day!
TV: Researchers are reporting record numbers of sharks...
[Caption below the panel:]
To make news stories seem way more ominous, imagine you're hearing them from a background TV in a movie as the main character leaves.

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There is a trope for this kind of thing. --Koveras (talk) 08:11, 27 June 2014 (UTC)

I think the news tropes [1] and [2] are more specific to this scenario. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I almost made the following edit: "that foreshadows the onset of some kind of danger, such as shark attacks, tornadoes, shark-tornadoes" with the last part linking to the Sharknado article on Wikipedia. Is explainxkcd allowed to be this silly? I think we should be this silly. 09:21, 27 June 2014 (UTC)

Why not? It is a legitimate movie. Also, that towel might be a "Hitchhiker's Guide..." reference, if it is indeed a towel and Cueball is the main character. But it might be a cape or something else. 11:51, 27 June 2014 (UTC)

No, the towel signals that he is going swimming, as the background TV predicts shark attacks. Rtanenbaum (talk) 12:53, 27 June 2014 (UTC)

What does the stuff with The View have to do with foreshadowing? Unless it's implying that Ms. McCarthy is going to try to drown herself in shark infested waters while our protagonist tries to save her... --Andyd273 (talk) 13:48, 27 June 2014 (UTC)

It doesn't. The explanation needs to be changed to read 'the title text' instead of 'the title' in the paragraph talking about The View. I'll fix it. --Dangerkeith3000 (talk) 15:04, 27 June 2014 (UTC)
"Unless ... Ms. McCarthy is going to try to drown herself in shark infested waters" We should be so lucky. 16:15, 27 June 2014 (UTC)

Is there a Jaws reference here? Or does Randall just really love sharks? 19:06, 27 June 2014 (UTC)

por_que_no_los_dos.jpg? 18:20, 28 June 2014 (UTC)

Why does the movie reference have to be action/thriller? The 'news report in the background' has been used for all types of movies to foreshadow something that will happen later in the film. It's also used in other media, though it probably is most popular in movies. --Ima420r (talk) 03:36, 2 July 2014 (UTC)

My first guess after reading the comic was that all the news stories appeared related. North Korea threatening the USA, possibly by attacking them with a shark invasion. Then a rocket to take out the sharks. Tharkon (talk) 22:17, 10 December 2014 (UTC)

Should we be ruining people's lives like that? 12:44, 18 November 2015 (UTC)