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One Wonders - The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal
March 5th, 2008
09:09 am

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One Wonders
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.

(110 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

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From:thetathx1138
Date:March 5th, 2008 02:18 pm (UTC)
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I actually find the idea that no matter how great you are, there's always someone better to be a little humbling and something of a relief. Perfection is off the table, some other guy beat you to it. You can simply focus on EXCELLENCE.
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From:scifantasy
Date:March 5th, 2008 02:46 pm (UTC)
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There's that, and there's also this: nothing drives like competition. It's more useful on skill and practice-based metrics than ones that are luck or genetics-based, or for that matter arbitrary (Guitar Hero versus beauty), but the idea that there are always people better than you can keep you working to be better.
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From:nuala
Date:March 5th, 2008 02:23 pm (UTC)
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It's a bit depressing that people can't accept who they are, but instead feel the need to compare themselves to some guy on youtube who has more time than you to spend perfecting his mad guitar skillz. I can think of far better things to do with my time than compare myself with Angelina or wonder if I will ever be as good at writing as Joss Wheddon. Ya know, like getting back to writing that sitcom that I've started, and the other 2 movies I'm working on, or going for a walk and enjoying being alive... etc.

/hottest babe in the village ;-)

Edited at 2008-03-05 02:24 pm (UTC)
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From:oceansedge
Date:March 5th, 2008 02:34 pm (UTC)
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"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 find it refreshing and encouraging that Dove ® is attempting to do just that. Because it's right and noble? Maybe a little, but mostly because it's GOOD PR, does the fact that it's done for their own reasons make it any less of a good message? I hope not. And at least it's a good sign that the world is changing, albeit slowly.
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From:shandra
Date:March 5th, 2008 05:08 pm (UTC)
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Also, if you really look at the models they might have aspects to them that are not traditionally model-beautiful - older, heavier - but they are still highly beautiful individuals.
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From:spqr_ragazza
Date:March 5th, 2008 02:37 pm (UTC)
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That's exactly the way I feel, but in the opposite direction, coming from Rome (land of the old superlatives) and New York (the other land of the new superlatives) to Montpel (the land of, meh, pretty cool). I think your movie aspect of this post is interesting, but in those big cities, the insecurity gets ratcheted up a notch: Not only do you know Angelie Jolie exists and therefore you suck, but YOU ACTUALLY MIGHT RUN INTO HER AND HAVE YOUR FEARS CONFIRMED. I find that in this small town, that level of insecurity is more distant - sure, she's hot, but she's a Hollywood movie star - no one REALLY looks like that. And so we revert to closer to your medieval scenario.
From:bonerici
Date:March 5th, 2008 02:42 pm (UTC)
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angelina jolie is ugly. she is a walking skeleton with synthetic lips and some sort of silicon swelling below her face, veiny arms, match stick thin legs, she looks like a tuberculousis victim or someone dying of aids. Most of the ladies on hotornot that score a 6 or 7 are hotter than angelina jolie because they don't look like they have aids.
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From:theferrett
Date:March 5th, 2008 03:04 pm (UTC)
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...to YOU.

Or is EDT the world again?
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From:napalmmk9
Date:March 5th, 2008 02:43 pm (UTC)
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This was very depressing in high school, for me (like I needed more depression in high school?) I went to a suburban public school for a time that had a reputation for sending its graduates to Pratt and Cooper Union for the arts. I wanted to draw and paint for a living, I'd decided, and alllll around me were people who were vastly better at what I wanted to do than me. And the fact that they were better was apparent at a single glance.

If it weren't so hard to be the best, it wouldn't mean anything.
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From:kitashla
Date:March 5th, 2008 02:52 pm (UTC)
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I completely understand. Back in junior high, I was the best artist in the entire grade. It was well known and it was something for me to hold on to in a school where no one liked me, talked to me or had anything to do with me. But if I was drawing, I'd at least get some positive attention.

The next year a new guy came to the school that blew my art skills away. (Though in retrospect, I realize that it wasn't that he was better, simply different.) All the people that used to sit around and watch me draw, went and watched him instead.

I hated him the entire time I was at that school because he was better than me. And in turn, I felt like my skills were worthless. Put me off art the rest of the time I was at that school.
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From:xiphias
Date:March 5th, 2008 02:44 pm (UTC)
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You know, Shakespeare was the best of, like, a dozen guys. Marlowe, Beaumont, Fletcher, Kyd, Jonson, Middleton, Tourneur, Greene, a couple others.

I mean, he's GOOD, don't get me wrong -- but one of the reasons he looks so good is that he was the biggest fish in a pretty small pond. There have been a bunch of books written about how we, as a culture, decided that "Shakespeare Is All That And A Bag Of Crisps", rather than any of the other playwrights working at that time.

Put you in a group of people INCLUDING Shakespeare, and, depending on tastes, you may be even more popular.
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From:theferrett
Date:March 5th, 2008 03:04 pm (UTC)
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Hmm. Shakespeare versus blatant dick jokes.

Still not seein' it.
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From:blergeatkitty
Date:March 5th, 2008 02:45 pm (UTC)
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I have a friend who's been so ruined by this mentality that he's chosen these very small, very specific things and trained himself to be the best in the world at them because he can't stand not being the best at everything. If you can't rank it, he isn't interested.

Dude hasn't voluntarily read a book, attended a concert, seen a movie, or played a recreational sport in years, but he holds the world record high score in Arkanoid. Yay?
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From:cynicalcleric
Date:March 5th, 2008 10:28 pm (UTC)
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Arkawhat?
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From:kitashla
Date:March 5th, 2008 02:48 pm (UTC)
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I have no good reason why, but I love this post very much. I think because it does such a great job of putting things into a proper perspective.

I'm not the best in the world. And I might not be the best at everything. But I'm the best at something, even if it's within my own little circle.
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From:blackcoat
Date:March 5th, 2008 03:00 pm (UTC)
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What's actually *really* interesting about this, is that my 'circle' isn't so much a single circle as a set of Venn Diagrams (these people are friends with these people who don't know these people who are also friends with these people, etc, etc), in each of which, I hold the 'best' title at different things. So, I'm not really the best at anything of everyone I know, but there are lots of people who think of me as their go-to guy when they need X done.


That's kind of cool, actually.
From:jcochrane
Date:March 5th, 2008 02:54 pm (UTC)
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Sounds like someone is questioning whether their self-worth needs to be based internally or externally.

As if it was as simple as flipping a switch.

I feel most of us (not the sociopaths) are hard-wired to want the attention, approval, and affection of others. That makes it hard sometimes to adopt an attitude of not caring what others think about oneself.

I wish I knew more about belief systems which emphasized centeredness. Anyone got titles of good books on that subject?
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From:kadiera
Date:March 5th, 2008 03:04 pm (UTC)
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As someone who grew up in a town of ~1500, with little contact outside the surrounding farmland....

...I'd much rather be a pretty smart cookie out in the big wide world than the smartest kid anyone I knew had ever met. Less pressure this way - that way, if you're ever wrong, it's the end of the world. And in a town that size, no one ever forgets anything stupid you've ever done.
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From:thetathx1138
Date:March 5th, 2008 03:20 pm (UTC)
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On the other hand, the prettiest girl in the village was also Rape Victim #1 back in those days. So I think there are some tradeoffs.
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From:tsumik
Date:March 5th, 2008 03:18 pm (UTC)
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"Researchers examining the human genome letter by letter have estimated that humans share 99.9 percent of their DNA, leaving just 0.1 percent to explain all the individual differences among us."

Which makes me think regardless of how we look we're all basically in the top 1/10 of a percent.

And this is completely off base but you might want to try to break a guinness world record as I hear there are alot out there that are fairly easy to beat. This way you can be best in the world if only for a little while. Even if someone comes along and beats your record right afterwards you still get a framed certificate from Guinness.

I got the idea from watching a funny show I like http://www.mtv.com/overdrive/?id=1580686&vid=207544
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From:bhagwan
Date:March 5th, 2008 04:01 pm (UTC)
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The difference between The 10's and the 7's probably has most to do with photography, makeup, poise, setting, and timing. In other words, it has been clearly demonstrated that if you walk into Britney Spears on her way out of 7-11 at the wrong time of day, you're likely to say "cute, maybe, but no Britney Spears."

So, I suspect that I see girls just as cute as Angelina every day. They just don't have the professional polish applied. I think that once you learn to look for that face underneath, you'll be startled at how many gorgeous people there are.
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From:andrewducker
Date:March 5th, 2008 04:16 pm (UTC)
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I feel much the same way. Many, many people are pretty. They just don't have the army of makeup artists.
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From:weds
Date:March 5th, 2008 04:31 pm (UTC)
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"But I wonder what it'd be like to be the best out of a smaller crowd, sometimes."


It's like finding out you're only there on the bell curve, except for the crushing disappointment that everyone either gave you a misinformed assessment of, or lied to you about, how tall the bell goes.

It's crawling out of the tiny pond only to discover the other fish you were said to resemble grew wings years ago. It's not even that they grew the wings out there; they didn't even have to crawl out of the pond to start, the way you thought. They had wings from the get-go. Some of them lived near the surface of their own ponds the whole time, so that their wings would stay dry and lift them out at the first opportunity.

It's worthy to nothing in sixty seconds.

It's also an inability to make your case without mixing trite metaphors.



Edited at 2008-03-05 04:32 pm (UTC)
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From:forsythferret
Date:March 5th, 2008 05:28 pm (UTC)
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Cripes, some of the comments on that Guitar Hero video are brutal. Envy, or just being spoiled by watching the top 1/100000000 of players who practice particular songs over and over?
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From:tormentedartist
Date:March 5th, 2008 05:39 pm (UTC)
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One thing that you must account for is that beauty is subjective. I for one don't find Angela Jolie to be that beautiful. Or most hollywood women for that matter. For me beauty is a weird thing its not a mathematical problem. I like certain features like large breasts, a heart shaped face and a shapely behind. But even with that there are women out there who I find beautiful that vary widely.
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From:absolute_tash
Date:March 5th, 2008 05:51 pm (UTC)
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You really understand women so well. Which is to say, you understand people really well and consider us chicks people right along with you.

Living in L.A. is an odd experience. I'm an L.A. 7. I haven't had any work done, and I have a real job instead of living in the gym, so I'll never be an L.A. 10. But man, in Muncie Indiana? I'm the fucking prom queen, bitches!

I think that having such a giant sample to draw on will ultimately make us realize that there are more of US than THEM. You can splash all the Angelina Jolie you want over the internet - but there's just one of her. There are a million of us L.A. 7's. And we're more fun.
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From:theferrett
Date:March 5th, 2008 05:54 pm (UTC)
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Hey, I think you're a total babe!
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From:roaming
Date:March 5th, 2008 06:21 pm (UTC)
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What does one do if one doesn't think Angelina is at all good looking? Kinda makes the whole comparison chart flip upside down. I'm lost. :-)
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From:kisekinotenshi
Date:March 5th, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
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If I lived in the middle ages, I'd probably be quite a bit more attractive. Firstly, since I'm from peasant stock, I would be a lot skinnier (less food and more work back then), and I have a nice face and shapely body under my fat.

And I probably wouldn't care as much about what I looked like. XP
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From:redcoast
Date:March 5th, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC)
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Women have poor self-esteem because they are continually being asked to compare themselves to the top hundredth of a percent of beauty.

Well - that's kind of a broad statement. Consider that we also only hear about the Top Students or the Top Businessmen or Top Whatever, but that doesn't seem to hurt most people's self-esteem. Most runners don't watch the olympics then dissolved into tears because they'll never be that good. Clearly, something else is at work.
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From:miripanda
Date:March 5th, 2008 06:41 pm (UTC)
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Well, /some/ people compare themselves to every standard and feel inadequate (I quit viola because I was never going to be Paul Neubauer...)...

Still, achievements don't make up the sum total of who we are and how we're judged in the same way "appearance" sometimes seem to. I don't look in the mirror and see "decent board scores, poor grades, entry-level-job, slow jogger"...I see "decent eyes, pudgy midsection, round face" etc....
(Deleted comment)
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From:miripanda
Date:March 5th, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC)
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I think the reality tv boom has made everything worse, because people don't register "Well, they culled hundreds of thousands to find the few who are perfect-looking".... they register "See, I was right, that's what "normal" people look like elsewhere"
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From:platypuslord
Date:March 5th, 2008 06:45 pm (UTC)
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Reminds me of this comic from Wondermark:
"What if I'm okay with not being the world's greatest at something? What if I'm content to be an easygoing, well-rounded individual whose pursuits are more about personal enjoyment than internet competitiveness?"
"This guy in Norway's been doing that since Eisenhower. And he has a theme song."
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From:redcoast
Date:March 5th, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC)
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I think I decided to be a writer because I had met a lot of writers, and, I figured, I might actually be hot as a writer.
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