Take it or leave it.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Last week was my mother's birthday. Listening as the steady stream of Happy Birthday messages came in - first her friend Maria, then her sister Gail, then finally my grandmother called to sing her that oh so familiar song - my first thought was, how sweet. Then I couldn't help but think, how derivative! Who on their birthday has not picked up the phone to someone singing happy birthday (usually off-key, and often rushing to the end or leaving the song unfinished)? Who has not sung it herself? You say it's just the thing people do. But when did this singing to each other begin? Or like so many other things, did some pioneer first break into tune on a friend's day of all days and a tradition was born for a string of copiers to follow?

In the good book Gone Girl, the protagonist has a secret joke with her husband, Nick, about how everything is derivative. Even saying everything is derivative is itself derivative because someone else has said it before you. There is nothing new under the sun. A phrase that is also unoriginal. Oy vey!

In the movie Good Will Hunting, about troubled math whiz and genius Will Hunting (expertly played by Matt Damon in a script he wrote with Ben Affleck), love interest Skylar suggests they go out for coffee. Will's reply: "Maybe we could get together and eat a bunch of caramels. When you think about it, it's just as arbitrary as drinking coffee."

Does it take a genius to see through the routines of life and offer an alternative that's not so run of the mill? Or must we all to some extent be carbon copies of each other? It seems we live in a world of memes and they spread like wildfire. Just as Keanu. photo motivator77b3a8ea53e7c018100c175fdeee88b7c3a48c4d.jpg

TV and other mass media, the Internet especially, make this phenomenon even worse, propagating figures of speech and customs and dress codes which the audience views, talks about and then emulates. Listen closely to the next conversation you have and watch how clichés get tossed back and forth like a hot potato (this itself is a cliché).

Never has the world been so overpopulated, and yet never have we as a culture become so homogeneous. The great film Lost in Translation makes fun of this when it has movie star Bill Murray travel to Japan to shoot a whiskey commercial during which he is urged by the Japanese director to make like Roger Moore in 007. In the Japanese's mouth the "Roger" comes out like "Lodger."

The East has been Westernized. But it goes both ways. I too now know how to dance Gangnam Style.

How to be original? Is the trick living in a bubble? Avoiding all things cliché, either popular media or social functions (in which everyone behaves like sheep)? Or is the trick simply being conscious of how easy it is to be unoriginal, and taking a little extra effort to say or do something unique?

I'd like to end this by urging you to be original. But since such an injunction is itself unoriginal, let's use a less common alternative and say this: Be without precedent. Or even better: Be your own precedent. Be Paradigm. Even more unconventional: Be Paradime.

Saying such a thing, and acting accordingly, we are if not the first then among the chosen few to live with originality. That's something worth singing about.

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