Sunday, September 23, 2007
The Company My Dad and Grandfather Worked For Used To Spell "Quality" With a "W"
Sometimes I wonder what makes a thing popular.
Let's assume that the majority of the world equates popular with good. Keep in mind that I am not stipulating that popular equals good. I am not implying that that which is popular is good. If put to it, I would probably prefer to lump everything popular into the category of "not good," knowing full well that in doing so, some things will be erroneous labeled "not good" (e.g., Earth, Wind and Fire: once popular, always good; Superman: really popular, mind-numbingly good). Granted, that last parenthetical might lead to a etymological discussion of "good," but, after this statement, I am going to skip right over that.
Alright, so, things that are good can be made popular, but not all things that are popular are good. So...how do they become popular? Why like something that is not good? And here, I am beginning to see that this argument will go nowhere without a discussion of what it means to be good. Fine. Let's go there.
I, of course, am not talking about "Superman" good. This good is not the sense of "obedient, moral, virtuous." However, the sense I am talking about might have something to do with virtue. I am talking about "good" in the sense of competence, skill, cleverness, validity, genuineness. Yes, good has myriad meanings: unspoiled, pleasant, proper, large, favorable. But, in the sense of, music, movies, books, individuals, products, TV, what have you, let's go with a general sense of quality, shall we?
Yes, yes, before I even begin, I hear the contrarians out there quashing my argument: good is relative, you say. Of course, it is. But, what is not? Quality is an individual determination, right? But, each individual has to exercise his/her right to judge the quality of something for that argument to be valid. I am proposing that very few folks do that.
I'll begin by admitting I don't always do it. I have indulged in things because it was the thing to do, rather than individually assessing anything to decide whether I really liked it or wanted to do it. A bad evening of laser tag circa 1983 comes to mind, among other episodes. We all swallow the line every now and then. But, it seems, and this is not an earth-shattering revelation, at all, that the mass of humanity just takes what they are given without thinking about it.
Whatever is on TV. Whatever is on the radio. Whatever the hot song is. I would extrapolate this out to books, but we already know that a minority of the population reads anything (is my job becoming obsolete?). That being said, I am sure that the majority of that minority buys whatever everybody else is reading.
Ah, I love this train of thought writing. Here is an example of the power of the mass popularity monster: twenty five percent of the US population claims to have read a book last year. That is about 75 million people. Let's assume we have that many "readers" in the US. Harry Potter's latest adventure unleashed itself on the US to the tune of about 5 million copies on the first day. Let's assume the less motivated bought an additional 3 million more (okay?). That's about ten percent of the "readers" buying a book that was media-fied into this thing that EVERYONE was buying. Now, how many people went and bought that book because of the media buzz, and how many bought it because they find the Rowling series to be "good"? Yes, the overwhelming majority of the purchasers of that book would call it good. But is it?
An interesting thing I am discovering as I investigate the phenomenon of popularity, is that it doesn't take much to make something popular. I mean, okay, just about one Bible has been sold for every living breathing person on Earth--that's pretty popular. But, Britney Spears, who at one time was supposedly hotter than Mercury (now she's more like toxic), has sold four million records, according to some, possibly unreliable, figures. That's practically nobody, really. It's not even half the population of Manhattan. Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon has sold about 40 million copies, alone. But still, that still leaves about 260 million people who don't have it. And even if half of them are really old or really young, that's still 130 million for the "not purchased" side, against the 40 on the "purchased" side.
I'm sure that someone with a much bigger brain than me could explain the nuances of these sales figures, but, in the long run, popularity is perception. Quality is perception, too. And, at this point, you can perceive that what you have just read is neither popular, nor quality!
You can blame this entire entry on Geggy Tah (who was once popular...for about ten minutes...in 1996):