I watched just twenty minutes of Project Runway this season while Tessa was convalescing on the couch. However, it was the finale episode, and it was long enough to see yet another contestant behave in a way I find utterly stupefying. For those of you who don’t watch the show, don’t worry, it’s only a metaphor.
Anytways, “Project Runway” had winnowed the contestants down to four designers: two had already made it to Fashion Week, and two others were competing for the third spot: Mila (a vaguely dour 40-year-old woman from Dallas) and Jay (a 31-year-old slightly-queenie guy living in San Francisco). During one of his tête-a-têtes with the camera, Jay was utterly derisive, positively dripping with disdain for Mila, saying he wasn’t even thinking about her, and was only really competing with the two guys who were already in.
Jay vs. Mila
Of course, Jay doesn’t beat the other guys – he doesn’t even get past Mila, and doesn’t go to Bryant Park. Obvious enough, but it led me to thinking: Yes, I know it’s a reality show, but once you look at it philosophically, why the fuck do people say such stupid fucking things? In what way was he helping himself? He obviously believed it would have cost him something to stay silent, or to offer even faint praise (as Mila did to him).
While talking to Tessa this afternoon, she summed it up: all of us have a very complicated relationship with the things we don’t have yet. Entire industries have sprung out of the psychology of want and the self-help of desire, the business of getting things you think you deserve. The most prevalent right now – and the easiest to mock – is The Secret, with its pseudoscience and blaming the victim (“you didn’t want it enough!”), but like all belief systems, it contains shreds of truth.
One could say Jay was just thinking in the Secret’s own vernacular of violent positivity; if he put his sights higher than Mila, he would surely pass her by. Tessa mentioned all the visualization work done by modern athletes, “pre-enacting” both the race and standing on the podium. There’s no room for losers on Sportscenter or at auditions; hell, there’s not even room for people who think they might lose.
I tend to think Jay suffered from one of the more tedious character flaws of young artists – the belief that your own hubris is part of the art itself, and if you drop your pretense, the art will suffer in kind. Kind of like “of course I’m an asshole – I shatter preconceptions, just like my novels! If I offer pleasantries to you, I’m not being honest to my work!” I say this as someone who has no doubt pulled something similar out of my ass.
But here’s the thing: that shit don’t work. It always comes back to the art in question, or the actor in question, or, in business, your sales, your profit, your performance. If you say something asinine en route to your end result, that doesn’t make you a wunderkind or a failure, it just makes you asinine.
There was only one person who said he was the greatest while he was the greatest, and that was Muhammad Ali. All the other greats let their work do the talking: Michael Jordan may have been a dick, but he never went on record. Wayne Gretsky, Dean Smith, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, The Beatles and Jim Henson all behaved with grace, and acted like they’d been there before.
Demurring and acting graciously doesn’t just endear you to your fellow man, it actually relieves pressure on yourself, allowing you to work without additional loss of stomach lining. To those who say they need the extra pressure to turn in brilliance, I say horseshit: if you’re meant to be what you seek, there’s more than enough pressure.
I know being well-mannered about your goals makes for boring television, and you’re never going to sell a book entitled “The REAL Secret: The Universe Doesn’t CARE What You Want” but I’ve seen enough nice guys (and girls) finish first to wonder why everyone else is being such a dick about it.