2387: Blair Witch

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Blair Witch
"Are you concerned the witches won't breed in captivity?" "Honestly, we're more concerned that they WILL. We don't know what it involves, but our biologists theorize that it's 'harrowing.'"
Title text: "Are you concerned the witches won't breed in captivity?" "Honestly, we're more concerned that they WILL. We don't know what it involves, but our biologists theorize that it's 'harrowing.'"


The Blair Witch Project is a found footage horror film released in 1999. For the marketing campaign of the film, the producers created the legend of the Blair Witch, a supernatural being whose legend originates in Burkittsville, MD. As it sometimes happened in Protestant societies in the colonial era, a woman was ostracized from the community after having been accused of witchcraft. This woman, who tends to conflict in name with various versions of the lore, would supposedly attempt to inflict revenge upon the community that exiled her, and these fearful people fled from the town.

The comic takes a humorous turn on the legend, suggesting a conservation program to save the Blair Witch. While the film was described by reliable sources as faked and misrepresented footage, the Blair Witch is postulated as separate species that is being tracked by the IUCN Red List. With the rise of camera-phones in the modern age, sightings of beings that are most likely fictitious, such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, are becoming rarer over time, due to lack of credibility of a reported sighting without visual evidence (although with the rise of deepfakes, even visual evidence might lose credibility in the future). A species which has not been notably documented for a long time would indeed be moved to the "possibly extinct in the wild" category, as Megan notes.

Rather than taking this to mean the Blair Witch does not exist however, Megan instead suggests habitat loss as the reason why encountering a Blair Witch might be more difficult. Habitat loss is in fact one of the most prominent and concerning reasons for extinction in recent years. Megan claims that suburban projects have fragmented the witch's "spooky forest" ecosystem, a reference to the many species that are dying off due to encroachment, logging, and similar human activities. Migration due to climate change is also an observable phenomenon in animal populations (and some plant populations, depending on their mode of travel while in seeds; those that rely on animals to germinate will migrate as well).

Megan then proposes a plan to catch and breed Blair Witches in an attempt to resurrect the species. This final panel is more obviously humorous, as even if the Blair Witch did exist separate from humans, there is only one,[citation needed] and thus any attempt to breed and repopulate would be futile. It may be possible that this is not a problem, but if it is, it could also raise the objection that any pair of Blair Witch may both be female, and thus unable to reproduce. This could be resolved by (a) assuming that Witches can (sometimes?) be male as well, (b) assuming that half of Blair Witches are transgender, or (c) assuming that, much like Tremblay's salamander, females can reproduce with a male of a related species (most likely human, in which case the project might have difficulty obtaining approval from an ethics review board.) The phrase "Blair Witch Reintroduction Project" is a reference to The Blair Witch Project.

The title-text suggests that the comic is a lecture, as Megan's whiteboard and pointer would suggest. A (presumed) student asks whether Megan is concerned that witches won't breed in captivity (a serious real-world concern to the IUCN). If this is a press conference, the question would be asked by a reporter instead. Megan replies that they are worried that there will be breeding, but biologists are unsure how the breeding occurs, calling it "harrowing" (presumably because they have captured the Blair Witch and it has set a curse on their laboratory as she supposedly did in Burkittsville). Historically, communities practicing witchcraft may have fled to the woods to engage in sometimes very sexual behaviors that others at the time were very frightened by.

Randall previously wrote about an ill-advised fauna introduction project in 2349: Rabbit Introduction, but at least rabbits are cuter and less harrowing than witches.[citation needed]


[Megan is standing in front of a screen looking away from it at an audience off-panel. She is holding a stick, pointed at the chart behind her. The chart shows the stick figure from The Blair Witch Project. Above is an unreadable line of text, and below are two smaller rectangles a smaller one above the other, the small seems to be empty, but there seems to be some kind of graph in the bottom one.]
Megan: Other than the fake 1999 video, there have been no Blair Witch sightings in 30+ years.
Megan: The IUCN redlist says the witch is "possibly extinct in the wild."
[A close-up of Megan's face. The screen now shows a habitat map, with four separate shaded areas enclosed in a dotted line. The dotted line and one of the areas goes to the upper edge of the screen indicating they continue beyond the shown area. Beneath the dotted line and to the right there are three small squares, one of them clearly shaded the same way as the areas above. Next to each there is an unreadable label.]
Megan: Development in the Maryland suburbs has fragmented the spooky forest habitat.
Megan: Climate change will push any remnant populations north.
[Back to the original setting, Megan is standing with the stick pointing downwards, and the chart is out of frame.]
Megan: That's why we plan to capture any surviving witches and establish a breeding population.
Megan: Then, in time, the Blair Witch Reintroduction Project can begin.

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The whole Blair Witch legend didn't exist before the movie. This doesn't seem too evident from the explanation, which is written as though there was a historical basis for it. 03:23, 19 November 2020 (UTC)


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Mexico_whiptail Not the result that I can't remember right now, a tropical location? Has (moving to had) an all female lizard species. SDT 03:28, 19 November 2020 (UTC)

Have you considered the possibility that the Blair Witch, if female, could be bred with human males? They may not need Blair Witch males to reproduce. I seem to remember that some parthenogenic lizards need to have sex with a male of a different species to reproduce. The male sperm does not contribute to the genome of the offspring but is required to trigger necessary hormonal, etc. changes. I could not find a reference to this. (~Unsigned?~)

It's a bit sparse, but mentioned in here anyway: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tremblay%27s_salamander (meanwhile, I was going to mention either the 'Jurassic Park' thing or the Komodo Dragon as an example (but WZ-parthonegenisis of isolated females would produce just male offspring). Maybe they have sequential hermaphrodism, probably protogynous given what we might consider the active population's active gender-bias. 06:04, 19 November 2020 (UTC)

Why is the pointer called a baton? If it's not called a pointer, why not call it a wand?J Milstein (talk) 04:35, 19 November 2020 (UTC)

I've never seen anyone call it a "baton" before this analysis. Maybe it's a foreign thing? 09:45, 19 November 2020 (UTC)
I would associate "baton" primarily with music conductors (but also relay races) where English has adopted the French/similar word for "stick". Meanwhile "pointer" might be right, but in my head relates more to a mouse-cursor these days, if there's a projected image. "Stick" itself seems to fit (there's much symmantic overlap, given it's just a different linguistic root of the same broad concept) but with not enough context could easily be a twig, thumb-drive, etc, so not entirely sure if it's the ideal replacement. English is complex like that, and I don't think there's a simple name that's universally better than any other. An imperfect search on an online store under office items gives "telescopic pointing stick" or (rarer) "...rod", from which we might drop the telescopic aspect given that's not an obvious/relevent detail above. But it was interesting to ponder... 17:38, 19 November 2020 (UTC)
I'm pretty sure they're called "pointers". And in modern times the physical sticks have been replaced with small laser devices, and they're called "laser pointers". Barmar (talk) 17:49, 19 November 2020 (UTC)
"Baton" is the French (and perhaps other languages) word for "wand," although it can also refer to the musical conducting stick. Duraludon (talk) 02:04, 20 November 2020 (UTC)

Can we keep the captured specimens in a brothel and ask them to enchant themselves to be irresistible to men? That way the conservation project can pay for itself, and it would merely be whoroing instead of harrowing. I'll show myself out. 19:01, 19 November 2020 (UTC)

I got the feeling that the quotation marks in 'harrowing' are there because there is a wording joke. Since I lack vocabulary, I could not understand it, but it felt like a sex joke. Whoroing may be the intended one. (20/11/2020)

by context, it's in quotes because she quotes the biologists. 17:14, 20 November 2020 (UTC)
it's also an agricultural term. After you plough the land, you harrow it. The gerund is "harrowing". Probably a typical activity in the type of landscapes the comic references? 20:07, 20 November 2020 (UTC)
Another possible definition could be this, from the Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina series? [1]
To harrow and to plough (plow) were methods of "tilling fertile soil" (old sense of tilling). As such, both terms were used as euphemisms for coitus (or to ravish) as in, "He harrowed his wife." "Harrowing" as a word (not a gerund) means "acutely distressing" as in, "Joe had a harrowing experience," and breeding Blair witches certainly would be such an experience, if they were real. So I think Randall has pulled off a truly epic pun. CoyneT (talk) 04:50, 22 November 2020 (UTC)