Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Barnum Effect*

Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake

Following my previous post I was fascinated by the idea of Librarian stereotypes. Just the other day I had a conversation with a friend about stereotyping. She was eager to tell me about myself based on my astrological sun sign. I wasn't very interested, I have to confess, because astrology is bullshit and, if she really wanted to know about me she would find out for herself. It reminded me of Richard Dawkins parody of astrology (replace 12 nationalities with sun signs and their stereotypical personalities and listen to how absurd it becomes - watch the video below - Enemies of Reason).

But I digress.

In my search for steretyopes of Librarians I came across a brilliant blog called The Wit of the Staircase. (From the French phrase 'esprit d'escalier,' literally, it means 'the wit of the staircase', and usually refers to the perfect witty response you think up after the conversation or argument is ended. "Esprit d'escalier," she replied. "Esprit d'escalier. The answer you cannot make, the pattern you cannot complete till aterwards it suddenly comes to you when it is too late.")I delved into it and have to say it was the funniest, best written and interesting blog I had seen for a long time. I returned to the bio of the author and was shocked to realise that she was dead. Someone was maintaining the typepad account as a memorial to Theresa Duncan. When I read that her partner had also died soon after the penny dropped - I had read about the pair in Vanity Fair some time ago - The Golden Suicides. A little weird.

Also on the blog was the lyric to a song read at Ms Duncan's funeral. I have been collecting funereal music on another blog (Good Grief), so was interested in hearing this one.

Walk Between the Raindrops

A shadow crossed the blue Miami sky
As we hit the causeway by the big hotel
We fought
Now I can't remember why
After all the words were said and tears were gone
We vowed we'd never say goodbye

When we kissed we could hear the sound of thunder
As we watched the regulars rush the big hotels
We kissed again as the showers swept the Florida shore
You opened your umbrella
But we walked between the raindrops back to your door

In my dreams I can hear the sound of thunder
I can see the causeway by the big hotels
That happy day we'll find each other on that Florida shore
You'll open your umbrella
And we'll walk between the raindrops back to your door...

--Steely Dan

I checked out the clip on YouTube
The song is a clever, laid back jazz rock syncopation (it reminded me of Michael Franks), but the thing that struck me in these synchronous little connections was the South Beach imagery that accompanies the lyric. My friend who boasted a keener knowledge of me that my own via had lived in South Beach for several years (and I have visited there - on the return voyage from the Bahamas following a shoot).

All very interesting - but I attribute no superstitious significance to any of the above whatsoever.

By the way - I've had my 'chart' done and, I am told my rising sign - scorpio - is a stronger than my sun sign.

I'm off to find a goat so that I can do some entrail reading.

*The Forer effect (also called personal validation fallacy or the Barnum effect after P. T. Barnum's observation that 'we've got something for everyone') is the observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people. The Forer effect can provide a partial explanation for the widespread acceptance of some pseudosciences such as astrology and fortune telling, as well as many types of personality tests.

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