Tuesday, April 1, 2008

29 Horses

Why is competence too much to ask? And why are we expected to be polite to people who can't manage it?

Imagine the following: you arrive at a club to see a band play, and discover that no music will be heard any time soon because the sound guy has thrown up his hands in despair at the "broken" sound system. Apparently no one can figure out how to fix it, and no one thought to tell the bands about it beforehand. But no one is yelling, or even speaking firmly-but-kindly to the sound guy or any other staff member at the club about what appears to be a fiasco in the making. Finally one of the band members steps up and gets things working, and ends up running sound the whole night - all the while being perfectly nice to the people whose jobs he's doing.

Imagine further: one of the musicians that gets on stage before the band you came to see would be more plausible as a character on SNL than as a real person. The songs are bad, the complete lack of charisma or presence of any kind is almost hard to believe. The only things that make it bearable are your friends making snarky comments on either side of you and the guy across the room miming hanging himself. And yet, when this poor girl asks the room "should I play one more, or should I be done?" the meager crowd pauses, understandably, but then assures her that she should indeed play one more.

I'm all for being nice - I think being a genuinely nice person is a great thing. But is this being nice, or is this politeness-out-of-obligation actually the opposite? Is it nice to tell this girl to go on making a fool of herself so we can spend another three and a half minutes making fun of her? Are we doing her any favors by prolonging and reinforcing her delusion that she should, in fact, continue to get up on stages and make these noises for anyone too polite to leave the room? Wouldn't we all be better off - her not least - if we just came out and said that no one liked it?
Think about it. By being polite, we are 1. lying, 2. giving ourselves further opportunity to mock her, 3. setting her up for untold future mockery from future audiences.

And the sound guy: our being polite to him pretty well screws over all future bands who'll be stuck with his incompetence potentially ruining their performances. It might not be as detrimental to him as our similar behavior is to the poor girl who thinks she's a songwriter, but we're really not doing him any favors by letting him continue to be terrible at his job.
Since being polite rather than nice is clearly a bad choice, what does the alternative look like? If we're genuine and straightforward, what sorts of crazy things will happen? Well, maybe the incompetent sound guy will get fired. And maybe the bad songwriter will give up and find another profession. And maybe some guy (or girl) who's been busting his (or her) ass reading books and taking classes and learning from friends how to run sound will get hired instead. And maybe some kid who's been playing the amazing songs he's written on streetcorners and in subway stations will get a chance to take the stage.

"What happens to the incompetents?" you ask. Shouldn't we give them a break? Well, maybe the guy who couldn't run sound will decide that he really wants to learn, and he'll go take a class somewhere and figure it out before he gets himself hired at another sketchy club. And maybe the terrible songwriter will discover that she's actually excellent at writing pretentious greeting cards, and will have a very successful career. And maybe, just maybe, we'll all end up better off.

Because really, who knows how many horses until the end of the world?


Unknown said...

if this is half as amusing to people who have no idea what you're talking about as it is to those of us who know how many horses until the end of the world, you've done your job.

Alison said...

heheheheh. gracias.