Here there be monsters (socratic) wrote,
Here there be monsters
socratic

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This puddle is sort of like the grand canyon, only smaller and full of water. And no burro trails.

Americans always make grandiose and unsubstantiated statements and comparisons. It's like they think they're the gods of overstatement. Maybe we are. I do it too, of course, it's in my star-spangled blood. For an example of my own behavior in this respect one need look no further than a few posts down on my journal, where I make the claim that even Shakespeare wrote boring crap in his journal, if he kept one. This may be true, there is no doubt that not every sentence from Shakespeare's pen was an irrefutable classic, but why mention him at all? I'm not ever going to be Shakespeare's equal in fact I don't even think it's possible for there to be another Shakespeare in this day and age because the competition's too stiff. Back when he was writing there were a few dozen playwrites around, now in every endeavour you might try there are thousands if not millions you are competing with. You can't hope to outshine them all in every piece of work, you can only hope to do enough to stand out to some people and to leave a mark. You might argue that the use of Shakespeare still makes sense because he is the greatest of all time in this particular arena (that's an arguable point in and of itself of course) and so any issues or problems he had are ones that everyone is going to encounter. That's certainly true, but the comparison to Shakespeare can be damaging in and of itself. What happens when, as is inevitable, you stumble upon problems that William Shakespeare never had? Does that make you a failure? Of course not, that's a laughable idea, but by setting yourself up with the Shakespeare comparison you've put yourself in position to think like that. It's a comparison that's unnecessary in the first place. Why not compare yourself to someone more realistic, like a Thomas Pynchon who only puts out a book every decade or so, or a Woody Allen who missed about as frequently as he hit. Plus with Woody Allen you can always beat him in one catagory, the not fucking your step-daughter catagory. I'd imagine he gets that a lot when he's having creative differences with somebody. "Hey Steve, you want to change the script? Fuck you. Which one of us wrote Annie Hall? Huh?"

"Well that's true Woody. You've got an excellent point, that was a great movie. On the other hand, which one of us is sleeping with a woman he met in college and which one is sleeping with a woman he used to feed strained peas to? I'm just saying your judgement isn't exactly irrefutable."

Or even if he's not going to argue the point he can get a dig in. "You're right Woody. When you're right you're right. I won't tell you how to write your screenplay and you won't tell me how to raise my step-daughter."

I think part of the reason that Americans tend to compare themself to the best of the best, rather than merely good people with whom they might have more in common, is because we tend to see things in black and white. It's strongest in the political realm where partisanship has gotten out of control. People who don't like Bush not only don't like them, they hate him as a stupid evil mongrel of darkness. I don't blame them, I count myself among that group, but it's certainly an exageration. Likewise many people who support Bush believe that he's the second coming or even better because Jesus had all that pesky no-killing and respect the poor bullshit. The truth is always somewhere in between the extremes, but that's an area few people are willing to occupy. It's a choice between atrocious and wonderful.

It's not just politics either. One of the most egregious example has to be the sports-commentary world, where people are predicting championships before the season has even started. They ask each other "Who's going to win tonight" and make outrageous guarantees. The truth is that nobody knows how a game, let alone a season, will turn out until it's played. There are injuries and breakout stars and lucky bounces of the ball. The persistance in trying to deal with certainties irritates me but I think I understand it. People like controversy, people like solid and clear ideas. Saying "Well I think the As have around a 73% chance to win this one, unless there's a strong breeze in from the left side of the outfield in which case it will neutralize their power a little and flip the advantage to the Braves" is much less compelling than saying "The As are going to win tonight, they're just the superior team and it's not even going to be a contest."

It doesn't matter when it's sports, but it matters very much in areas like politics and science. Those are realms where everything we deal with IS uncertainty and where claims made too strongly are not much better than lies. Economics is a realm where they do this a lot, declaring that a certain policy will have a certain result on areas as diverse as GDP, wages, and advertising. The truth is nobody knows. Rational choice theory is based on the assumption that humans always act to maximize their pleasure, and even with adjustments for varying ideas of the good life and the fact that people don't have perfect knowledge it still doesn't come close to predicting true human behavior. Even so, you don't hear economists say "Well I think that if we do X there is a decent chance of some gains in area Y."

So if you have a problem or a flaw it's got to be a problem or flaw inherent to the writing process, exemplified by the use of Shakespeare as the standard and the attribution of said problem to the Bard. It can't just be yours. That'd be too nuanced.

Personally, I'm going to start comparing myself to Po Bronson.
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