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Miguel de Cervantes (2) vs. Joan Crawford

The winner from yesterday is Mohammad.

The strongest case for Ed McMahon came from Chris in comments: “Taking the guest out for drinks after the seminar would also be easier for McMahon than Mohammed.” And that’s not a bad argument.

But as Nick put it, if there’s a translator (which I’m assuming there is), McMahon loses, “unless ‘Heeeere’s Johnny’ and knee slapping is some kind of highly advanced form of language (perhaps from aliens or brought back from the future) that can be translated to give us a cure for cancer, world peace, and longer battery life for smartphones.” Unfortunately, “Heeeere’s Johnny” and knee slapping is not in fact some kind of highly advanced form of language—at least, I’ve seen no papers making that claim in Psychological Science or PPNAS, so I don’t believe it yet.

And there is a positive argument in favor of the Prophet. As Johannas puts it: “1.6 Billion followers – that’s more than Justin Bieber. And Mo didn’t even sing.”

And now for today’s contest:

OK, this one will be fun: one of the greatest writers of all time—the inventor of the novel, for chrissake!—versus the one and only Mommie Dearest. What could possibly go wrong here? I’d love to have them both in my seminar—but, unfortunately, only one can advance.

Who will it be? The father of meta-literature or the drama queen?

P.S. As always, here’s the background, and here are the rules.


  1. Chris lbs says:

    Cervantes would take the room where the brave do not go, that is a big plus. Joan would slap you and teach you to be catty.

    Cervantes for the win.

  2. Martha says:

    Cervantes by a long shot. I remember spending much of one spring break when I was in college reading Don Quixote — even before breakfast (amazing for me). I could never imagine being that engrossed in Joan Crawford movies.

  3. Ethan Bolker says:

    Cervantes. Then I’d have to read DQ before the seminar – which has be on my to do list for a long time.

  4. Deinst says:

    Cervantes. Given your interest in the complexities of intellectual dishonesty, you would probably be interested in his comments on Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda. He could also talk about Pierre Menard, who I suspect would be more amenable to him.

    • Xi'an says:

      You beat me to Pierre Ménard! That would be my argument as well, that only with Cervantes could Jorge Luis Borges turn plagiarism into a new form of art. So 200% Cervantes! (Besides, I have nothing but a very vague notion of who Joan Crawford was. At least she did not start a religion.)

  5. Jonathan (another one) says:

    OK, to get serious for a minute, the two writers I’d sacrifice mightily to meet are Cervantes and Sterne. I’ve known plenty of people like Joan Crawford already.

  6. Jameson says:

    Book 1 of Don Quixote was good, but it’s book 2 that’s the true classic. In other words, Cervantes is the kind of presenter who only gets better when he has a bigger audience to react to. Joan Crawford, on the other hand, is probably most motivated (ie, desperate) if her audience is shrinking.

    (But Murasaki invented the novel. She should be in the bracket. She’d be a strong contender, but not so strong as to make it just a kabuki. And yeah, I know that joke is an anachronism, but you get the idea.)

    • Jameson says:

      Thinking further about Murasaki, and joking aside, I think she could replace John Updike. Personally, I’d like to see more women with a shot at the quarterfinals; in the current lineup, Jane Austen is about the only one I wouldn’t be surprised to see making it even that far.

    • Martha says:

      Yes, Murasaki Shikibu (pseudonymously) is generally credited with inventing the novel — 11th century, well before Cervantes. And Tales of Genji is also engaging — far more than anything Jane Crawford has ever done.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Crawford. She was right about wooden hangers.

  8. Shecky R says:

    You’re showing your age Gelman… I’ll bet a lot of readers here have never even seen Joan Crawford.
    …OK, they’ve never “seen” Cervantes either, but still, Miguel dearest in a landslide.

  9. Manuel says:

    Miguel beats Joan with a single hand, for sure

  10. zbicyclist says:


    Imagine Cervantes reading or reciting from the works of Cervantes which did not survive? (because Cervantes invented the novel, but did not invent The New Yorker).

    (upthread: “Murasaki invented the novel. She should be in the bracket.” I look forward to the many worthy nominees that didn’t make this year’s 64 making next year’s 64. By the end of this exercise, we will likely have enough worthies so we don’t have to repeat)

  11. Jonathan Gilligan says:

    I’m sure people wouldn’t make those awful comments about Joan Crawford if she didn’t have a named chair.

  12. Jameson Quinn says:

    Cervantes:Pide y suplica humildemente, cuanto puede, á V. M, sea servido de hacerle merced de un oficio en las Indias de los tres ó cuatro que al presente estan vacios, que es el uno la contaduría del nuevo reino de Granada, ó la gobernacion dela provincia de Soconusco en Guatimala, ó contador de las galeras de Cartagena, o corregidor de la ciudad de la Paz, o dar un tal seminario en una universidad que agora todavia no se ha establecido, que con cualquiera de estos oficios que V. M. le haga merced, la recibira, parque es hombre hábil, y suficiente y benemérito para que V. M. le haga merced, porque su deseo es continuar siempre en el servicio de V. M., y acabar su vida como lo han hecho tus antepasados, que en ello recibirá muy gran bien y mercedes.

    Summary: he already applied for a job in America, calling himself “skilled and sufficiently deserving”, so it’s only just we give it to him.

  13. Mark says:

    Cervantes was no Joan Crawford. Ergo, Crawford.

  14. Eric says:

    I have to vote for Crawford. My Spanish is limited to “yo quiero Taco Bell”… I’m not sure that I’d enjoy his presentation enough.

  15. WB says:

    Cervantes. Just imagine his thoughts on the current Middle East, Islamic terrorism, and the notion of a clash of civilizations.

  16. Matt Beaven says:

    Cervantes with a translator if necessary.

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