Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Ides of March

This post doesn't have anything to do with the Ides of March, but today is March 15th so it seemed like an appropriate title. Also, I don't know if you're aware of this, but thinking of a title is one of the most difficult parts of writing this blog every week.

I've never been good at coming up with titles, and one reason is probably that I don't think they're all that necessary. In Essential Stories (my collection of short stories), all the stories are untitled, and when I was in high school and college, I used to draw a lot and create other forms of visual art, but I never saw a reason to give a title to anything I created. Titles just seem like artifacts to me. They're not really part of the process of creating something -- they're just something you tack on when you're done. They're really nothing more than labels, and I grew up during a time when applying labels to things was considered a way of separating them into ad hoc and artificial categories.

So labels are kind of useless. It doesn't matter what you call something -- what matters is what something is. Perhaps Shakespeare said it best when he wrote that "that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

But anyway, back to the Ides of March. One of the ways children learn things is by forming general rules based on specific observations. For example, they learn that in English, the suffix -s generally denotes plural (when applied to a noun), and the suffix -ed generally denotes past tense (when applied to a verb). These general rules are a vital part of constructing a language model, but sometimes the rules can be applied incorrectly. For example, the plural of child isn't childs and the past tense of bring isn't bringed.

Children make mistakes like that a lot when they're learning something, but they eventually get it right when they realize that most rules have exceptions. Unfortunately, adults often fall victim to over-generalization as well, but unlike children, they don't always eventually get it right. For example, everyone knows that The Ides of March refers to March 15th, so many people assume that the Ides of any month lands on the 15th. Unfortunately for them, it doesn't. It's 15th for a few of the months and the 13th for all the others.

But as I said at the beginning, this post doesn't have anything to do with the Ides of March. I actually had a lot of different things I was planning on writing about, but I'm not going to write about any of them this week because I'm going to write instead about the governor of New York being forced to resign after it was discovered that he spent a small fortune on high-priced call girls.

To be honest, I've never understood why what someone does in his personal life should affect his professional life. I see how consorting with prostitutes could destroy a marriage and a family, but I don't see why it should destroy a career. And in case you're wondering, I'm not really that naïve. I'm aware that this kind of thing happens all the time -- I just don't think it should. What a person does in private really has no bearing on what he does in public. The only reason we think it does is that people are constantly telling us it does. Remember what I said last week about lies being repeated until everyone believes them? Case in point.

For the record, I'm not defending Eliot Spitzer. I don't know a thing about him, and I didn't even know he was the governor of New York until I read about the so-called scandal.

As a matter of fact, I don't have a thing to say about him, good or bad. What I really wanted to talk about is the last call girl he saw. Apparently, being a call girl just paid the bills -- she was actually an aspiring singer. And now, due to the perverse nature of fame in this country, her notoriety may pay off. I read somewhere that a lot of people are suddenly interested in her music now. It isn't that being identified as a prostitute has made her a better singer somehow -- that's not why they're interested in her. It's that once you're famous for anything -- whether it's good or bad -- you become a celebrity and people suddenly take an interest in everything you do.

So she'll undoubtedly get a record deal out of this, and I wouldn't be surprised if she becomes a pop superstar who sells millions of CDs and eventually goes on to make awful movies. That wouldn't be at all unusual. My only observation is that if she does become a famous singer and this trend continues, not only will pop stars of the future simply dress and act like whores, they'll actually be whores.

By calling her a whore, it might sound like I'm arguing against my original position about applying labels. But I'm not. She just happens to be a whore. And as I said before, what matters is what something is, not what you call it. So maybe a better title for this week's post would be "What's in a Name?" But I'm sticking with "The Ides of March."