November 23, 2011

Do you like this?

I will say that the label “new and improved” always sounds promising, and believable. Why wouldn’t you “improve” the “newer” version of something? Otherwise you’d just have the “original formula”. I prefer the “extra-strength” version for my money.

If anything is to be considered the “number one” whatever, there must be some sort of quantifiable data to support the claim. We all agree on that. Whether it’s sales that determine the “number-one movie at the box office” or “the number-one record on the Billboard charts,” scientific studies that award “the number-one pain reliever” (or is that sales too?) or simple statistics, like what determines “the number-one leading cause of death among columnists”. That would be frustration, of course.

Most superlative “awards” are subjective, albeit some walk a finer line than others. A recording artist may release either a “greatest hits” or “best of” compilation of previous work. The “greatest hits” aren’t always the “best of”, unless there aren’t enough “hits” to make a complete album or the music is too bad for there to be a “best of”. Either way, these compilations are always a safe bet for the casual fan.          

The term that annoys me the most, however, is “world famous”. You hear people make claims all the time such as, “This is my Aunt Ruthie’s world famous apple pie” or “My boy is world famous for his pinewood derby car designs”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if your Aunt Ruthie, son—or the wares in question—hasn’t ever ventured past the tri-state area, let alone into a foreign country, then they cannot by Magellan’s standards be considered “worldly”, let alone “world famous”.

Besides, you can’t be “famous”, never mind “world famous”, unless you’ve achieved a level of notoriety that can be measured by household name recognition. If seven out of ten members of your target demographic audience can’t pick you out of a line-up, then you definitely aren’t “world famous”, and may even be treading the thin ice of “famous”. More likely you’re just “infamous”.

It’s never enough to just be “famous”. People don’t desire to just be “rich” or “famous”, they wanna be “rich and famous”. Some become famous for being rich, like Paris Hilton. Some become rich after achieving fame, like Snooki—although neither deserve either.

If the latter is the most likely way I’d become both, for me the consolation term “world famous” will do just fine instead. I have noticed though, that while it’s the public decides who’s “famous” and most of who’s “rich”, the term “world famous” is generally self awarded—and that bothers me.

The problem likely started back with P.T. Barnum more than 100 years ago. When he dubbed his circus “the greatest show on earth”, he started a trend of grandiose promotional hype the likes of which had never been seen on this planet. What a genius. Who could pass up attending “the greatest show on earth” if it stopped in your little corner of the world? I’ll tell you who—nobody. And that’s why his promotional prowess is studied in every Marketing 101 class to this day.

Therein lies the problem. Every yahoo with a rogue recipe, tourist attraction or sideshow act thinks it’s perfectly all right to start throwing around the term “world famous” all willy-nilly until the term itself loses the punch it’s intended to deliver.  

Maybe there should be a consortium of noted experts from every field known to man that could congregate in a neutral location (likely Switzerland), to analyze claims of global fame and award only those deemed worthy of the term. Then we’d have something.

It’d be like the Olympics. You might say you’re the best curler in the Ukraine, but until you get out on the ice with those slick Canadian sweepers and compete for gold, you’re just a pig farmer with a passport. Only the best of the best can truly be considered “world famous”.

So until the day when I can be assured by a panel of unbiased taste testers from across the globe that the tuna-fish sandwich I’m eating is someone’s “world-famous recipe”, I’ll just call it like I sees it. And likely eats it.

Throughout my life I’ve been bombarded with promotional claims for products and services containing superlatives, the validity of which has always confused me, assuming these distinctions are in fact real. Seems nothing is worth your time, attention or hard-earned money unless it’s the best, fastest acting or new and improved. I understand that adjectives are meant to make something ordinary sound extraordinary, but there needs to be some sort of litmus test to ensure that things remain just good enough to be true.  

Chuck Crowder is a local writer and general man about town. His opinions are just that. Everything expressed is loosely based on fact, and crap he hears people talking about. Take what you just read with a grain of salt, but pepper it in your thoughts.


November 23, 2011

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