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.