I've seen at least a million people. I've looked at their faces, compared them to mine, maybe even heard their voices and gotten an idea of their personality. Even if you discount the pan-across-the-crowd shots - and I do - the number of movies, TV shows, YouTube videos, and just plain travelling I've done has allowed me to see a staggeringly large number of human features.
When I think of the mathematics involved at seeing so many nationalities, ethnicities, hair styles, eye colors, nose shapes, and body styles, it fills me with a little awe. I've got a pretty damn relevant sample size of the world.
But I wonder what it would have been like to live in a medieval village. A town of maybe a thousand people. That thousand people would be pretty damn close to everyone I'd ever met.
I wouldn't have TV or magazines to show me what other people looked like - only expensive portraits. So by and large, the only way I'd know what an African guy looked like is if I ran into one, which would be unlikely. And the merchants back then travelled well-worn paths, so I might see some travellers... But without jet planes for easy access, most of the people passing through my town would be local, too.
If I lived in a big town like London or Paris? Oh, that's a hub. I'd see a lot more people. But some distant, not-quite-podunk-but-not-quite-a-player town? Why, I doubt I'd see ten thousand faces in my life, and the sample range would be awesome. A big ol' sea of white faces and similar accents, all stored in my databank.
Thing is, though, it'd be great to be a beautiful girl. Because if you were pretty, you'd have hardly anyone to be compared to. I mean, come on, you know a really cute girl right now who's not model-quality. "Wow, she's pretty," you think. "But she's no Angelina Jolie."
But you only know Angelina because she's the thousandth of a percent. Hollywood went and found one of the most beautiful woman in the whole damn world, and presented her to you because people like looking at pretty things. But really, when you look at at Angelina Jolie, you're looking at a a statistical anomalies (along with some traces of plastic surgery, and probably clever Photoshop). She's not the most beautiful girl in the village, but of every pretty girl who ever went to Hollywood to try to start a career.
Yet in the thousand-person village, with a database of only ten thousand people to compare to, you wouldn't have to be that pretty to be the most beautiful woman anyone had ever seen. There are girls reading this right now who, under the correct circumstances, could have had local poets vying for their attention, had trails of boys behind them, have gossip told about them because everyone was watching their every move because they were so damn beautiful.
Yet on MySpace or HotorNot.com, they're maybe a 6 or a 7. Because the sample size is so much bigger now.
Which makes me wonder. Women have poor self-esteem because they are continually being asked to compare themselves to the top hundredth of a percent of beauty. And that's a little exhausting, knowing that you might be cute but you're not THE BEST IN THE WHOLE DAMN WORLD.
But me? I like playing Rock Band. In my little local circle, I'm probably the best at it, able to get through everything but "Green Grass and High Tides" on Expert. Here, I'm king. But a single YouTube video can take me to the guy who aces "Through the Fire and Flames." And thanks to the Internet, now there's nothing I can't do well that I can't instantly find some guy who whips my ass at it a thousand times over. I know precisely where I stand in the world.
Which is a little depressing. I'm competitive, and to find out from the get-go that "Yeah, you're only here on the bell curve" is a sad reminder of my own inadequacies. It does take away a little of the joy of finally acing "Flirtin' with Disaster," knowing that this triumph for me is strictly a personal triumph that wouldn't impress the die-hards in the least.
Will that change as time goes by, though? Now that we have a relevant ranking that we can apply to ourselves at any moment to know where we stand in the world community, will our attitudes mutate to start shrugging off the "I'm not the best in the world, but I'm pretty darned good anyway?" Or, as with the continual barrage of "SHE'S PRETTIER THAN YOU, YOU SHOULD LOOK MORE LIKE HER" ads directed at young women, will consumer culture find a way to latch on to this insecurity and drive a stake through it?
I dunno. But I wonder what it'd be like to be the best out of a smaller crowd, sometimes. Put me in a group of ten randomly-chosen people, and chances are good I'm their fucking Shakespeare.