100 People With Guns At Their Heads: Intro to Popology

So. After many diversions and distractions, it is time to turn TWIATITC to its original purpose: The metrics of popular culture. Not jackometrics -- Popology. Thus we begin notes for the first chapter of the Great Pop Culture Book I Will Never Write.Among the goals of popology is to provide a simple, objective answer to questions such as:Which is the more historically important figure: Karl Marx or Sigmund Freud?A countless river of words has been expended on this question, on questions directly related to this question, on questions formally similar to this question. (Who is the greater artist: Bach or Beethoven? Which is the more important cultural figure: Barney or Big Bird?) It is commonly held that such questions are so elastic in their logical content that no objective answer to them is possible. I disagree.True, there are hardly any meaningful, non-controversial answers to the question. In fact there are several answers on either side of the question that are intellectually air-tight, which is confusing and analytically inelegant. And yet there are examples of such questions that are easily answerable. Which is the more historically important figure: Abraham Lincoln or me?A very high degree of certainty attaches to "Abraham Lincoln" as the answer to the question, "Which is the more historically important figure: Abraham Lincoln or Patrick Quinn?" A very high degree of certainty, a degree of certainty uncommon in the social sciences and unheard-of in much of contemporary cultural analysis. It is that degree of certainty to which popology aspires.What degree of certainty is that? For the moment we will defer quantitative statements and invoke a thought experiment that illustrates the point. We will call the level of certainty that attaches to the answer "Abraham Lincoln" in the above example "popological certainty." A proposition is said to be popologically certain when it meets the test of the Rule of 100 People With Guns At Their Heads. If you were to snatch 100 educated people off the street, point guns at their heads (it's a thought experiment, OK? Lighten up.) and ask them, "Which is the more historically important figure: Abraham Lincoln or Patrick Quinn?", and if you told them that you would instantly kill them if they answered incorrectly, 100 out of the 100 subjects would answer "Abraham Lincoln."The Rule of 100 People With Guns At Their Heads provides a scale of certainty. Imagine that you asked the subjects, "Which is the more culturally important institution: The Museum of Modern Art or the Flat Earth Society?" It is conceivable that our 100-person test sample might include a couple of flat-earthers, who would, in all sincerity, respond, "The Flat Earth Society." Of course you would have to shoot them -- but the other 98 pass the test, and those results imply a degree of popological certainty of 98 percent. That's acceptable for our purposes. We're not aiming for perfect certainty. In popology, as in horse shoes and hand grenades, close is good enough.The example "Lincoln or Quinn?" suggests that there is some collective assessment of "importance," some unquantified but commonly understood scale of social and historical influence, some metric that at least theoretically ought to be applicable to "Marx or Freud?". If we can provide an effectively indisputable answer to "Lincoln or Quinn?", we ought then to be able to provide an equally indisputable answer to "Marx or Freud?". And yet there are hardly any meaningful answers to "Marx or Freud?" that pass the Rule of 100 People With Guns At Their Heads.The object of popology is to provide an answer to, "Which is the more historically important figure: Karl Marx or Sigmund Freud?" that passes the test of the Rule of 100 People With Guns At Their Heads.


tomking 16 years, 9 months ago

This is a tough one. Both had beards. One looked outward, one looked inward. One made us reconsider human society, the other made us reconsider the penis. But I'm betting that Freud spent far more time considering his penis than Marx, therefore Freud is a wanker and Marx wins. Is that how it works?

tomking 16 years, 9 months ago

Its safe to assume that Lincoln engaged himself in a lifelong struggle to free his intellect from the psychic bondage imposed by his penis. Clearly, Quinn has never undertaken such a discipline. Lincoln wins.

tomking 16 years, 9 months ago

Well first of all, its PENII that neither have. Secondly, even though these costume characters have no visible suggestions of genitalia, they must reproduce somehow. Once I saw Big Bird skating in a Holiday On Ice in Houston, and an hour later he (?) was back in Harlem on Sesame Street--there must be more than one. And Barneys are everwhere nowadays. How do they do it?

tomking 16 years, 9 months ago

Marx here also, Bad Brad. I'll take revolution over self-absorption anyday.

lazz 16 years, 9 months ago

marx sold more books than anybody 'cept jesus & co. marx over cigar boy any day of the week and twice on sundays. big bird and barney? barney wears purple. 'nuff said. (and if it really came down to it, an enraged Big Bird would stomp the shit out of barney and any other puppety thing ... unless, perhaps, he got gang jumped by pcp-enraged teletubbies...)

lazz 16 years, 9 months ago

oh shit, quinn, sorry to go off topic so fast, but i gotta tell the ultimate "how do they do it" story --- one afternoon at the bar, JURASIC PARK was on. one of the patrons stares at the screen, stunned, and asks, "how'd they teach those dinosaurs to do that?" is that what you mean by gun to the head popology?

lazz 16 years, 9 months ago

sadly true. and this person wasn't drunk. i won't name names here, but anybody who knows this person would never doubt ... just one of many bon mots. one saturday afternoon i was in there, just me and this other person, and also i brought along parker. who was, of course, eating cigarette butts off the floor. i barked at him to stop, and this person scolded me -- "That's what dogs do! You know, like when you're a kid and you eat dirt. It's just like that. It's natural."

lazz 16 years, 9 months ago

and don't forget, big bird came up in the tough neighborhood. nice folks,to be sure, but nothing comes free there. he's earned it. barney's a suburbian singin' dinosaur. c'mon.

Patrick Quinn 16 years, 9 months ago

Good lord it's Tom King! Whereya been?

An excellent snapshot analysis that speaks directly to my point. You applied to the question an objective standard--the more important figure is the one which is less the wanker--and offered a metric to guage the standard: how many times each looked at his penis.

But can the analysis be extended to other subjects? In our other exmple, we can plausibly suggest that Patrick Quinn looks at his penis more often than did Abraham Lincoln, but can we assert it with popological certainty? More to the point, how can we apply this standard to Big Bird and Barney, who do not possess penises? What supernatural insight is required to measure the wankiness of Big Bird and Barney? Have we not entered the realm of uncomputable numbers?

Your analysis is like the best of modern social science--it's elegant and meets the conditions of the problem at hand, but does not generalize well. I must regretfully say that it does not meet the test of the Rule of 100 People With Guns At Their Heads.

But thanks for jumping in--you've been missed.

Patrick Quinn 16 years, 9 months ago

All true! But what about Big Bird and Barney? I ask you, what about Big Bird and Barney?

Patrick Quinn 16 years, 9 months ago

Lazz offers a suggestive metric... the number of books sold. We can do something w/ that.

I don't think that Big Bird is a dead lock to take Barney. Over the years I've detected a lot of repressed rage in Barney--all those spitty kids hanging all over him, and him the descendent of Giant Carnivores That Once Ruled the World.... The Teletubbies, on the other hand, well, I'm scared of the Teletubbies. Creepy creepy creepy.

TK, you raise a popologically interesting point when you observe that there are more than one Big Bird and more than one Barney. I begin to see the glimmer of an answer to our question that passes the Rule of 100 People With Guns At Their Heads....

Patrick Quinn 16 years, 9 months ago

Correct on both counts, Mr. A. The object of 100PWGATH is to clear the air--to illustrate, as you astutely observe, that everyone involved in the exercise already knows the answer. So let's not fart around w/ a lot of scholarly wiggling: There is a correct answer to the question, and moreover that answer is universally known. The gun is merely to weed out the Johnny Knoxvilles of the world, to establish beyond credible doubt that humanity is capable of agreeing upon broad cultural propositions. While it might be the case that the example question would not produce a universally consistent answer in the UK (I have my doubts about that--Lincoln is one of the few American figures the Brits approve of), the experiment is equally valid if we substitute "Winston Churchill" for Lincoln. The point is to establishthatthere exists a universally recognized hierarchy of cultural "importance"--or, as we see in the next blog, of cultural significance.

I, too, believe that the absence of firearms in the practice of the social sciences is a grave failing....

Patrick Quinn 16 years, 9 months ago

Bad Brad:

I applaud your enthusiam for the subject and for our much-esteemed bloggers. I demur only in the case of murderama's preference--I agree entirely w/ yr analysis, but based on what (little) I know about our two subjects, I'm thinking Freud is more likely than Marx to get tossed out of the gin mill onto the street at two a.m. I think Marx was a bit of a prude.

Patrick Quinn 16 years, 9 months ago

I'm keeping my answer in my pocket at the moment, only because this Popology arc is going to run a while--the next three are already filed w/ Phil.

Patrick Quinn 16 years, 9 months ago

In truth I can't pretend to any real knowledge of the relative drinking habits of Marx and Freud, altho getting the two of them in a bar at the same time would no doubt have been vy interesting.

The Von Stein ref is vy good, but since the next few blogs are already written, I must regretfully confine the present discussion to the two wankers already in play. But after we've established our Popology ground rules, we can introduce any number of names and maybe even say something interesting about them....

Patrick Quinn 16 years, 9 months ago

Bad Brad--

You devil you. You're getting ahead of the rest of the group, but I suspect you'll enjoy where we end up--which will indeed feature something very much like a popology tournament.

Bad_Brad 16 years, 9 months ago

Well, Patrick, here's how I opine that the blog authors of this web site would find in this case:

Tom King (Foodways) would pick Freud, as I imagine Freud would probably be more into fine dining and (especially) organic foods than would the proletarian Marx.

David Ryan (Yellow Dog) would certainly pick Marx, as his ideology is clearly opposed to that of GWBush. I don't know what Freud's political ideology was.

R Gillaspie (Codename Murderama) would pick Marx, as I presume that Marx would be more prone to drunken exploits in seedy taverns than the uppity academic Freud would be.

Meghan Bainum (Garden of Earthly Delights) would clearly pick Freud, as his indepth analyses of the penis no doubt inspired her indepth analyses of the vagina. I don't know if Marx was much into sex or sexual politics at all. But he certainly wasn't as into it as good ol' Sigmund.

Brad Weiner (Notes on Notes) would probably pick Marx, as I'm guessing that Marx was probably more into music (especially local music acts) than Freud.

Jen Hein (Jenni from the Blog) would most likely pick Marx, as Marx was probably much more into the whole introvert/extrovert thing than Marx was, given that Freud was, after all, a psychologist.

Miles Bonny (LK) would pick Marx. Same reason as Brad Weiner.

Liz Weslander (Got kids?) would pick Freud, since Freud was much more into the complexities of child psychology than Marx.

Will Averill (Great Expectations) would pick Marx, as I believe that Marx didn't care for England much either.

Leslie vonHolten (The Eastside Bridgeburners' Society) would pick Freud. Same reason as Liz Weslander.

Eric Melin (Be/head the Critic) would pick Freud. I take Freud to be more into complex movie critiques than Marx.

Jason Barr (Farmhouse Blues) would rate this as a toss-up, as I believe that neither Marx nor Freud was a Christian.

Misty Nuckolls (Napalm in the Morning) would probably choose Marx, as I believe Marx had much more sympathy for people who hate their jobs than Freud did.

Marx 7, Freud 5 (and 1 tie).

Bad_Brad 16 years, 9 months ago

Actually, correction to my last post, I believe that Jenni from the Blog would choose Freud, given that Freud is more into the psychology of being an extrovert versus an introvert. So, that makes the final score actually Marx 6, Freud 6, with 1 tie.

The only blog left is yours, Quinno. What say ye?

Bad_Brad 16 years, 9 months ago

Quinno - how about a popology tournament? Marx/Freud could be a first round game, with the winner advancing to the second round to face the winner of some other popology match-up. This could be fun!

Aufbrezeln Eschaton 16 years, 9 months ago

Brilliant. I'd have to say that the majority of our gun-to-the-head subjects would say "Freud", simply because they've done SNL skits on him, and you hear more idiots in bars spouting off about penis envy than the fate of the proletariat. As far as who fucked up the uberconsciousness more, that's a close one.

OtherJoel 16 years, 9 months ago

I'm not sure, Patrick, but I think I read somewhere that Karl Marx liked the drink. I reluctantly vote Marx, though if I had to pick one "let's come up with the solution to everything" theorist, I like Lorenz Von Stein much better. He had many of the same criticisms of capitalism that Marx had, but his solutions were far more realistic (and more or less came into practice after WWII in the US and still are around in Scandanavia and to a lesser degree in GB and Canada - the 'social democracy' idea if you will...). Interesting guy - but I'm veering here - too many social theory classes - sorry...

OtherJoel 16 years, 9 months ago

Oh yeah - I don't think Von Stein is a big enough name for popology. I just wanted to qualify my Marx vote.

Big Bird hands down, lazz. Sesame Street was a tough neighborhood (before some developer came through, brought in Starbucks, Whole Foods, and $500,000 condos), but back in the day, you didn't fuck with the Bird, man...

liz 16 years, 9 months ago

I'll have to disagree with your assessment Brad. I've been out of grad school for a few years, so my brain is too mushy to comment all that intelligently, but I think Freud was pretty full of it, and if I remember correctly, he wasn't exactly a feminist, so I'll have to go with Marx.

UKept 16 years, 9 months ago

Interesting...two questions, though.

First, by shooting anyone who answers incorrectly, you are assuming that the person performing the test knows the answer, in which case, why bother shooting the testee's in the first place?

Second, you are assuming that the testees have at least some familiarity with the subjects. Were I to whip out my gat, and go around the streets of Norwich asking whether you were more important then, say, George Brett; I imagine I'd get a fairly 50/50 response (and deported); as people, threatened with a gun, might guess. So force determines the winner of a popularity contest--it's like Homecoming all over again.

On a side note, I believe firearms should be more widely used in marketing. Second, I believe that saying testees repeatedly is funny--cause testes are nuts.

Patrick Quinn 16 years, 9 months ago

OK Lazz, come clean--is that a true story?

I sure hope it is. Anyway I regret to say that a strict popologist would have to shoot yr bar patron....

Patrick Quinn 16 years, 9 months ago

SNL skits! Excellent! SNL skits count. Idiots spouting off in bars count. Welcome aboard, mitzibel--yr halfway to becoming a popologist.

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