Bad & Getting Away With It

There’s been tons of hoopla about these slides that some guy showed at GoGaRuCo . Seriously, so much hoopla that I’ve been unable to absorb the guy’s name (note: I have a really, really hard time with names as it is, so…). Also so much hoopla that I don’t even really know what to link to so that people will have an idea of what I’m talking about if they don’t already. I guess _why did a decent job of explaining it by not explaining it. The short story is that there were some slides in a presentation with very scantily clad ladies doing very suggestive things. Everyone’s freakin’ blogging about it and I hate to me-too this thing, but I do want to express a thought I haven’t seen yet and I also neglected to make a post this month, which has been bugging me.

And Now, a Tangent

So in college, I played trombone in the marching band. It was good times and we had this principle that we called The Stupid. This may not make perfect sense to people who haven’t experienced band social dynamics first hand, but I’m going to try. Basically, the trombone section had a reputation amongst the rest of the band (360ish total members) for doing ridiculous, stupid things for no reason. It had been decided amongst ourselves that, rather than try to live this down, we’d just run with it. So we did Stupid things on purpose; frequently to humorous effect. I mean–we were always entertained, others were only sometimes entertained.

That was the big flashy visible part of the Stupid. We got elaborate, spending large percentages of our meager college student incomes on Stupid ideas that we planned for weeks. We went to great lengths. The part of the Stupid that wasn’t so visible was the great lengths we went to to ensure that we didn’t… inflict the Stupid on anyone who didn’t opt in. We had the goal of making so that if you missed some prank (or whatever you want to call it, not all of it was traditional pranks) of ours by a few hours, you’d never know it happened. We had varying levels of success with it, of course, but I think we did a pretty good job.

We also tried to go to Stupid lengths to be helpful to the band in general; we’d help clean up or take care of something that we saw needed doing rather than just waiting for someone else to do it or reporting it or whatever. I should point out that the directors found the Stupid highly unamusing in the way that I think is probably appropriate for teachers to find the antics of their students. Taking care of things and working hard was sort of our effort to come out net neutral in their minds and not get in hot water.

So the ‘bones weren’t nationwide (well, the Stupid did get on ESPN in the background a couple times and of course we were on TV performing at games, but not for our antics, generally), as Giles says, but we did have a reputation for being bad and (the key to being bad) getting away with it.

The Moral of Our Story

So, as things go in college, people get older and graduate and new folks come in, etc. Traditions shift and change. There came a day when some new kid was really jazzed up about the flashy, visible, bad part of The Stupid and didn’t have the working-hard, cleaning-up-after-yourself, help-others-out part of the Stupid down so good. Basically, he was seeing the bad and didn’t see what let us get away with it. And he (I’m actually talking about several people over a period of time and series of events) did something he thought was Stupid, but was just stupid. He got on people’s nerves, got in people’s way, maybe he broke something that cost money… and he didn’t do anything that would make people think, “Well, that’s alright, because… whatever.”

So I hope you see where I’m going by now. Amongst Railsers (as a broad generalization and as distinct from Rubyists) there’s a bit of a tradition of being bad. DHH is, arguably, the originator of that attitude and he’s certainly been an icon of it. I’m not even saying he’s wrong. I’m saying that whenever you have people like him (and he is, I should stress, not alone, here, Cf. Chad Fowler, Giles Bowkett and Zed Shaw) there will be others who look up to that way of being, who idolize it, who imitate it, but who, ultimately, don’t get it.

These freshman, as it were, will do the flashy, visible, bad part of the image (perhaps poorly, but perhaps not) but neglect to do the more subtle things that let their idols get away with it. I’m not sure what it is those idols are doing, specifically, that makes up for their behavior (they certainly aren’t practicing their music the most). I suspect that, really, everyone has to find their own way to make up for acting like a jerk.

What I’m driving at is that if you’re setting an example (as anyone highly visible in a community is) for being so awesome that no one minds when you’re a jerk, you have to take a bit of responsibility when others imitate you and screw it up. I think Matz chose (probably by nature, rather than consciously) an easier path: If you set an example of being humble and nice and people imitate you and fail, they’ll at least have the safety net of, “…well, his intentions were good.”