Monday, February 23, 2009

Of Lying
Of Favorites

This is a public service announcement.

As it happens, people like to ask people what their favorite things are: favorite books, favorite movies, favorite music, and on and on. To this sort of question there are a few possible responses:

  1. "My favorite movie is Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves."
  2. "Oh, um, I'm not sure, I mean, well, gee, I, uh, never thought about it before but maybe, uh...I don't know."
  3. "Well that depends on what kind of movie we're talking about. If you mean, 'What's my favorite sci-fi?' it's Star Trek IV, unless you count TV movies, in which case it's the special two-hour finale of The Pretender. But if I can count movies and their corresponding TV serieses, I pick Serenity and all of Firefly as pretty much the best thing ever. My favorite Joss Whedon, though, is probably Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog or maybe Season 2 of Buffy. If you mean 'best action movie,' it's definitely Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which is also my pick for best romantic comedy, best thriller, and best Morgan Freeman movie. But it's actually not the best Robin Hood movie, because I'm actually a big fan of Roger Miller's work with Disney on their version of it, but if you meant 'best overall movie ever' I'd have to go with..."1

The correct answer is answer #1. Let me illustrate why with a short anecdote.

When I lived in Korea I would make several calls every evening to confirm appointments, follow up on new contacts, return missed calls, and be generally bothersome, etc. Every time I called someone the same thing would happen. They'd answer the phone and say, "Yobosaeyo!"

"Yobosaeyo. Is Mr. Kim there?"

"Where are you?"

At this sudden question I would furrow my brow in confusion and say, "I'm, uh, at home. Where...are you?"

"Who is this?"

"It's the missionaries."

Why this fascination with my location all the time? Every person I called asked me the same question; this went on for months. I would ask to speak with someone and they'd want to know where I was. I already knew where they were, since I was doing the calling, but I thought it might be rude not to ask back so I always did.

And then one day it clicked: they weren't asking me where I was; they were asking me who I was. Oh, the word was definitely "where." But it was an idiom, a semantic twist of language. In Korea, on the phone, "Where you at?" means "Who you is?" Just like how in America, "Why don't you close the door?" means "Please close the door, dear." It's semantics, baby.

So how does this apply to you, friends? When someone asks you your favorite anything, they aren't really asking you that. What they are really saying is something like, "Hey, give me a quick opinion in an interesting category and I'll either agree or debate."

What they're really saying is, "This date sucks. Let's talk about something."

So answer #2 is obviously wrong because it gives no opinion at all. Answer #3 is more information than anyone really wants.2 Answer #1 is exactly what is called for, a quick, debatable opinion.4

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "But what if I don't know what my favorite something is?" Friend, in that case, lie. Make something up. Choose at random from your top ten-ish things in that category and get on with your life. Besides, who's to say that you're lying? Who's to say that your favorite color isn't currently lavender and your favorite dish soap is the kind that smells like apples? There's no law saying that you can't change your mind later, one minute later even, if you want to. And if anyone challenges whether you really think something's your favorite, just give'm the old Kip: "Like anyone can even know that, Napoleon."

1 This post is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of any part of this post to real people, living or dead, is unintentional. Unless it sounds like you. In that case, be sure to read footnote 2 when it comes up.
2 No, don't read footnote 2 yet—wait till it comes up. Then skip to footnote 3, since you ruined this one.
3 If you give something akin to answer #3 and the person you are with lights up and enters what becomes a long, soul-searching conversation, get married immediately. You're not likely to do better.
4 Well, it's not really debatable, but you get the idea.


The Hippo said...

I got a new book to ad to my favorite books. The Prisoner of Zenda.

Bart said...

You know when you read a post and can hardly stop laughing when you're finished reading, and you want to comment but all you have is laughter?

Don't worry. It just takes a little time to stop laughing (unfortunately and fortunately).

"Jibae eetjo."
Bwahaha. Haven't thought about that in a long time. Your footnotes are a work of genius.

David Grover said...

Thanks, Bart. I had you in mind when I wrote that.

Sarah said...

I hate when someone asks me my favorite. Favorite means there is nothing you like better. I can't even remember all of the movies I've seen to pick out a favorite. And there are too many types of movies to just pick an across the board favorite. And it depends on what type of mood I'm in that day which one I would even consider as my favorite. This comment is turning into what you identified as answer #3 so I will just give my standard response which is my favorite movie is Face Off.

Dave said...

I agree that answer #1 is crisper and calls for more conversation, but it has risks.

I say "Yellow," you say "Blue," and we're mostly done.

I argue, instead, for a modified #1 in my paper, "Pop Culture and Conversation: A Tentative Manifesto."

Ask me a question. Go ahead, ask. My favorite movie, eh?

Ok. I respond, "Magnolia, tentatively. You?"

This does three things in three words. It answers, it opens the door for later expansion, and it directs attention to the conversee (where it should be since that person is very interesting indeed).

It also hints at ambivalence but doesn't overwhelm the conversee with wishy-washiness or know-it-allitude. It says "I know what I'm about, but I'm willing to question myself." Such position will seem appealing to a conversee.

Conversor can also buy a bit of time to explain his/her like for Magnolia and won't immediately give offense to a conversee who happens to loathe that film.

Here follows a play in one act to illuminate my point a few more watts:

Conversee (perhaps an attractive woman): "What's your favorite Dave Grover post?"

Conversor: "'Bacon, Egg and Cheese Combos,' tentatively. You?"

Conversee: "Well this one, actually. Why do you say 'tentatively'?"

Conversor: "Because I, too, like this one. 'BECC' includes a great sense of humor, but my Dave-Grover-post interests are multifaceted. I can be direct in my likes and dislikes, but I'm open to wider conversation. Thus, we should get married.


I happen to like this way, though my mind can be changed. What do you think, Amy Adams?

David Grover said...

Dave, you are wise as always. Are you older than me?

I especially appreciate your advice because, as you and DHG are aware, I have a tendency to overwhelm others with my know-it-allitude. However, I don't think Amy Adams reads this blog, so I'm not sure she'll respond.

(I ran into DHG and her friend Kat at Salaam the other night and succeeded in not pretending I didn't know them, so at least I'm better than DL or PG or whoever we were talking about so cryptically.)

Jennifer said...

I hate being asked my favorite. Can't I respond, "This week it's 'The Fifth Elemnt.'"