Wednesday, February 22, 2006

There is a fixation on superlatives in Western culture, a borderline fetish that manifests itself in speech and other forms of communication regardless of the topic. It is representative of an inability to convey the significance of an idea or action, itself representative of a stunted vocabulary and capacity to use the English language. It is not enough that George Bush is a bad president, but for NOW magazine and hardline Democrats, he is in fact the worst president ever, no doubt the result of some complex algorithm that computes the relative merits of the likes of Chester Arthur, Millard Fillmore, Grover Cleveland and Henry Harrison into a single number, likely two-digit, so that the resultant metric can be likened to a percentage. It is not enough that a given wide receiver is fast, but he has to be the fastest of the more than one thousand players in the league. It is not enough that some the pilot of a bobsleigh duo is good at being a pilot, but she must, without qualification, possess the best hand-eye co-ordination of everyone in the competition. That Thai restaurant down the street is the now best restaurant ever, deserving more than the usual nine thumbs up because a pretty good restaurant doesn't seem to cut it anymore.

We have some asinine fixation on being, similarly without qualification, living in times that offer us the best and the worst of everything. Our football teams are the best, our quarterbacks the best at making the hot reads, our leaders the worst ever, our poor the poorest and most beleaguered ever, and so on. The shortage of cranial capacity is not limited to Jim Nantz, your local NBC news team or the Trotskyist on the street corner. Ironically, the complexity that is the product of a seemingly inexhaustible suppply of information does not lend itself to the development of subtle, nuanced views that concede shortcomings. Instead, they have led to gross simplification and absurd reductionism. The result can be the markedly polarized rhetoric of the recent Canadian federal election. Two parties, more or less similar in their positions, were both guaranteed to lead the country down a path that would culminate in a promptly delivered apocalypse. Indeed, Stephen Harper in eight weeks went from being a lackaidaisical, impersonal leader to Ross Perot, Hitler and the Antichrist all rolled into one.

These superlatives are an attempt to superimpose meaning on a world that has grown immensely in its scope, to the point where a large fluff of celebrity culture and bad indie rock surrounds a kernel of intelligibility and meaning. It is as though we must shout in order to be heard in a cacophony of communication not unlike a university debate on the Middle East. A proverbial town hall full of shouting analysts is the result, the real points concerning bad presidents and good quarterbacks lost in an attempt to make the story told the greatest one ever, the points the greatest points ever made by anyone.

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