Jun 25, 2011
In ancient times when I was a college student, there were two popular cartoons in the free papers around Los Angeles that succinctly described the absurdity of existence and helped me to laugh at it: David Lynch’s The Angriest Dog in the World and the Life in Hell strip by a young unknown named Matt Groening. The themes of angst, frustration and loathing of self or others were a mirror in which many on the fringes of that fast lane metropolis could recognize their lives. More than thirty years later, after a peripatetic professional journey, I find myself working as a translator among peers whose real world and imagined tribulations are not unlike the comic characters of my college days. Great leaps forward in communications technology and infrastructures have made the global local, and while this has created opportunities for many, there are also many who feel threatened by the wide-opened world in the shadow of the Machine Translator and the threat of terrorist language monkeys in faraway jungles willing to work for peanuts. Online forums bristle with fear and indignation at the perceived attempts of “big player” agencies – puny enterprises on a global scale with laughable fractions of market share for language services – to enslave poor freelancers and grind down their self-loathing souls further.
Enter Mox’s Blog by the engineer and translator Alejandro Moreno-Ramos. Like Lynch and Groening long ago, he captures the spirit of our fast, confusing times in characters which are archetypes well known in the translation world. I can see more than a little of myself or others in my working environment in all the figures of the strip, even the poor pet turtle, who, like my dog, must endure the topsy-turvy life so common for translators’ companions.
It is an odd phenomenon how the most communicative of visual media are so often the simplest in form. The crude stick figures Alejandro draws accentuate rather than diminish the essential characters and their message. Mox is the brilliant, but wide-eyed innocent who will probably never acquire the self-esteem to demand what he is worth. Long-suffering Lena, his girlfriend, doesn’t understand his world of deadlines and linguistic arcana but loves him nonetheless and is perhaps his only hope of connecting with the real world. Calvo, the experienced translator seduced by the Dark Side, is an ambivalent figure for me. He demonstrates the essential truth that to achieve good fees and respect in the language professions it is often necessary to project an attitude which commands them. He has mastered this well, but at the same time he suffers from ethical deficiencies which cause him to abuse others and which may ultimately lead to his fall. Pam the Evil PM and Bill the Clueless End Client show so many behaviors we encounter to our frustration, but in Mox’s world we can laugh at them and perhaps realize that they hold less sway over us in the real world than we might imagine.
Indeed, laughter is empowering and can build bridges of understanding. In his comic, Alejandro covers a great range of our daily professional frustrations and humiliations, often exaggerating in the manner expected of the medium, but so better revealing the basic truths and the feelings we should acknowledge and respect. There is a little of Mox in me and a little of Calvo, and I welcome this realization for the opportunity to laugh at myself and reflect on how I can improve professionally and personally. I don’t know if agency project managers and other translation buyers would feel the same way about Pam and Bill, but I hope so. The world is much less cruel when we see the humor in it, even in its dark situations. And by bring humor to a profession whose participants too often despair at its absurdities, Alejandro does us all a great service.