Objects of the class “Objects of the class”

Objects of the class “Foghorn Leghorn”: parodies that are more famous than the original. (“It would be as if everybody were familiar with Duchamp’s Mona-Lisa-with-a-moustache while never having heard of Leonardo’s version.”)

Objects of the class “Whoopi Goldberg”: actors who are undeniably talented but are almost always in bad movies, or at least movies that aren’t worthy of their talent. (The opposite: William Holden.)

Objects of the class “Weekend at Bernie’s”: low-quality movie, nobody’s actually seen it, but everybody knows what it’s about. (Other examples: Heathers and Zelig.)

Objects of the class “Lawrence Summers”: despised on the left for holding silly right-wing attitudes and simultaneously despised on the right for holding silly left-wing attitudes. (Another example: Arne Duncan.)

Objects of the class “Pauline Kael”: a woman who’s the top person ever in a male-dominated field. (Another example: Agatha Christie.) Not the same as objects of the class “Amelia Earhart,” who are famous for being women in a male-dominated field.

Objects of the class “George Orwell”: when they call it “Orwellian,” it’s something Orwell would’ve hated. (Another example: Franz Kafka. A Kafkaesque world is not something Kafka would’ve wanted.)

Objects of the class “Sherlock Holmes”: cultural products that are well remembered but systematically misremembered. The Sherlock Holmes thing is that it’s my impression that a lot of people think of Sherlock Holmes as just solving crimes by sitting in a chair and thinking. But actually Holmes spends a lot of time out and about: he’s a physically fit guy, not just a brain in a vat.

Objects of the class “Verbal Behavior”: the criticisms of the thing are more widely read than the thing itself.

Object of the class Jacques Cousteau: people who are world famous, but of a category for which there’s only one famous person. (Some other examples: Evel Knievel. Stradivarius. James Naismith. Frederick Law Olmsted.)

I love these. We need some more.

43 thoughts on “Objects of the class “Objects of the class”

  1. Objects of the class “Duke football”: College athletic teams overshadowed by teams in other sports at the same university.

    Objects of the class “Cyndi Lauper”: Talented performers overshadowed by other, very similar performers who came on the scene at the same time (in this case, Madonna).

    Objects of the class “QCA”: Incoherent things people persist in using anyway.

    Objects of the class “The Big Lebowski”: Films better known for their memorable lines and/or characters than their plot. (Other examples: Casablanca, Fletch, Zoolander).

    Also: Heathers was *not* a low-quality movie.

  2. Objects of the class “Dolly Parton”: Insanely talented people who are assumed to be dumb because of how they look.

    Objects of the class “Buffy”: Things that are seen as feminist for being more than two standard deviations less awful than their surroundings.

  3. Objects of the class “Claudius”: historical figures whose reputation is now almost completely dictated by fiction that was *consciously* playing counterfactual secret history games. In _I, Claudius_ and _Claudius the God_, Robert Graves played with the idea that the emperor was not an idiot but a secret genius. Now everybody thinks he was a secret genius thanks to Graves, even though there’s no evidence for it.

    The play _Amadeus_ by Peter Shaffer suggests Salieri secretly hated Mozart, and now that’s the conventional popular take. Again, there’s no evidence it’s true, and Shaffer doesn’t believe it is. To be fair, the first plays suggesting that Salieri plotted Mozart’s death started appearing shortly after Salieri himself died, to the distress of his family, and there seem to have been conspiracy theorists who actually believed it.

    In the Foghorn Leghorn class, most Americans wouldn’t put Yogi Bear there, but the character is known around the world in places that know nothing about baseball. Also, most people around the world wouldn’t recognize Ralph Kramden of “The Honeymooners” when they watch Fred Flintstone.

  4. Time to throw the proverbial “debate grenade”

    Objects of the class: “Six Sigma”: statistical/analytical terms used incorrectly/inappropriately for marketing purposes by professionals who sell themselves as analytical experts.

    [Gets popcorn and sits to watchs the fireworks :)]

    • Oh that’s not even close to being a debate grenade. Try something like this instead:

      Objects of the class “bleeding patients with leeches”: A beloved solution which usually makes the problem worse. Other examples: p-values, land wars in Asia, mass immigration, socks-with-sandals, whiskey, free healthcare, abstinence only sex education, tenure, and p-values (because they deserve to be on the list twice)

      that’s how it’s done.

  5. Objects of class “Statistics”: any field where being highly respected dramatically increases the chances of everyone disagreeing with you.

    Objects of class “management consultant”: any field that delivers no value on average, but somehow makes a living from fluctuations around the average. Like “therapist”, “portfolio manager”, “astrologer”.

    Objects of class “data science”: any field you couldn’t get a degree in 100 years ago and has nothing to do with science.

    Objects of class “Data Mining”: A new method of solution to problems, which in practice reduces to analysts using just two tools: (1) common sense, and (2) a smidgen of the same old math/sci/stats everyone else uses. Other examples might be “lean six sigma”, “A.I.”, “expert systems”, “big data”.

  6. Objects of the class “vim / emacs”: two or more functionally similar alternative that are both individually excellent tools each of whose fans think the other tool sucks.

    Other members of the class: “python / perl”, “bash / tcsh”, “Ubuntu / Fedora / Suse”

  7. Objects of the class “Ayn Rand”: Long dead writer of cult fiction whose work her fans are wont to cite with high frequency as if it were an authoritative scientific, empirical reference to settle policy debates of every hue.

    • Much more interesting (and still true):

      Objects of the class “Ayn Rand”: Polarizing, shoddy philosophers whom people like to criticize in bizarrely ignorant ways, but who do have very neat aesthetics that are ripe for steel-manning. (Somehow, few people do this, preferring instead to either treat her work as a dogmatic absolute, or foolishly attribute modern conservative fuckery to it. For the class schema, I guess leave out “conservative”.)

  8. How about objects of the class “GNU”: recursive acronyms?

    (At least, they told me in college it stood for “GNU’s Not Unix.” If that’s a lie, it’s a lie I like, so please don’t disillusion me!)

  9. Now, I don’t wish for a debate grenade, but how about “amateur bloggers who are more famous for their blogging than for their professional work”.

  10. Zelig and Heathers were both good!

    Objects of the class “My Cousin Vinny”: Everybody’s seen large chunks of it over 10 times but seen it from start to finish maybe once. (Other example: Back to the Future)

  11. I’d put “Heathers” and “Zelig” into “objects of the class ‘Starship Troopers'”. Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers” is a very smart, very funny satire–but lots of viewers never see the joke. “Heathers” isn’t as subtle, but still seems to be widely misunderstood.

    “Weekend at Bernie’s” is not a member of this class.

  12. Objects of the Class “Tiger Mom”: Cultural references that you’re required to have an opinion of for a month after which it is forgotten forever; indeed, to discuss it all is to be seen as hopelessly passe.

    Other instances: Miley Cyrus at the VMAs, Anthony Weiner’s penis, Rob Ford, lipstick parties

  13. Objects of the class ‘Clueless’ – contemporary remakes of Shakespeare for audiences unaware of Shakespeare. Also ’10 Things hate about you’.

  14. Objects of class ‘Thomas Bayes’: amateur mathematicians who contributed theorems to solve small problems, leading to fields of research bigger than the original problem. Also George Boole

  15. Oh, I thought of another one.
    Objects of the class “Don’t look now”: exhortations that effect their opposite. Cf. “Calm down,” perhaps “I’m not racist, but…”

    • “With the greatest respect” usually doesn’t mean what it says.

      “Very approximate” means “very roughly” not “very closely”, although perhaps that is better classed under misunderstandings of meaning.

  16. Objects of the class “Andrew Sullivan”: People who, decades too late, come to one or two notable and correct left-wing views, and then proceed to complain loudly about how the left ignores their wonderful sensibility on that one issue, while deep inside resenting that they’re not fully right-leaning anymore and secretly pining for the great old days of Reagan.

    Objects of the class “David Brooks”: Like the Andrew Sullivan class, except that instead of claiming the left ignores the change of heart, the Brooks class feels duty-bound to endlessly lie and smear the left as having never actually held the good idea in the first place, and wants everyone to bask in their superiority since they are utterly certain they thought of the idea first.

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