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The bees have died

November 23, 2015

I particularly enjoyed a recent episode of the webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, colloquially “SMBC” (warning: occasional blasphemy and obscenity). The visuals help, but the joke works without them:

Father: Congrats on your graduation! Here’s a bottle of champagne.



Father: Hahahahaha! There is no champagne! It’s filled with bees!


Daughter: Huh, I thought it would be terrible and crazy, but there’s actually nothing happening because they’re all dead inside.

Father: And now you’re prepared to enter the labor force.

At the risk of explaining away the humor, I ask: could it have been any other animal than bees? I doubt it. Ants? How would that be scary? Wasps? Who would care that they died?

Their being bees works on a number of levels. In increasing order of complexity, here are a few:

  1. Bees fly, sting, and move in groups
  2. Bees live in hives, and so are a symbol of conformity, and produce honey, and so are a symbol of industry
  3. But beeswax is used for candles, and so bees are a symbol of enlightenment
  4. Moreover, honey is sweet, and a similar color to champagne; indeed, fermented honey (mead) was one of the first alcoholic drinks, and so honey is associated with inspiration
  5. Bees die after they sting you, which makes it difficult to be angry with them; their sting is more like poetic justice
  6. Because they both produce honey and sting, their deaths are bittersweet: they no longer threaten us, but they also can no longer help us
  7. For several years now the bees have been dying (cf. e.g. the 2012 documentary More than Honey), which we have made into a parable of how attempts to control nature lead instead to both its and our destruction

I’m not saying that the use of bees in this comic was natural, any more than was the use of bread in the eucharist; I’m saying only that it was inevitable.


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