The Inscrutability of the Relativity of Popularity

I’ve said it before, but I can’t resist noting again that, as I begin writing this, it is Wednesday morning at 5 o’clock.  It’s the beginning line of one of my favorite Beatles songs, She’s Leaving Home, as many of you probably already know.  And as people who know me closely—if there are there any such people anymore—will know, I love to quote lyrics and books and poems and so on.  But I particularly like when things in the real world evoke or even literally iterate the events of a song.

It’s liable to happen again if I keep writing this, since I generally get up at least this early, even if I don’t have anywhere I have to be.  My insomnia is rotten—or, one could say, it’s very good at what it does, though what it does is not very nice.

I’ve noticed a curious thing.  Yesterday, the post that I wrote in which talked a bit about the physics of black holes—asking some questions about it, among other things—got very few “likes”.  In fact, as of the last time I checked, it had gotten one.  It wasn’t especially long, for me anyway, and I thought it was interesting enough, but I guess it wasn’t appealing.

However, the quite long post I wrote on Monday, dissecting the Bob Dylan song Blowin’ In the Wind got oodles of reads and likes, even though it was about 1800 words long.  This makes it one of my longest posts, possibly the longest, not counting my sharing of sections of Outlaw’s Mind.

I’m happy that people still like “longer” blog posts and read them, at least.

I remember being told once that the optimal blog post length was about 800 words, which seemed horribly short to me to try to convey anything interesting.  It’s nice to know that estimate may be wrong.  I’m steadily disheartened by how little most people seem to read anymore, but even more disheartened to think that—possibly—most people have never been very inclined to read.  Perhaps social media isn’t drawing people away from reading but is simply giving them newer things to do instead of other things they used to do instead of reading.

If that’s the case, then at least I’m glad that there are some excellent YouTube channels with educational and interesting materials about science, mathematics, history, literature, and so on.  I have doubts whether anything educational ever happens on TikTok or Instagram or even Facebook or Twitter, though the latter two can at least be used to share links to educational articles or videos.  And I have seen some creative and hilarious TikTok videos.  These were shared with me by coworkers; I do not use TikTok myself, though apparently my music is available on it.

Referring again to songs, and specifically to lyrics, I often recall the words of the Steely Dan song, Reelin’ In the Years, in which the singer says, “Well, you wouldn’t even know a diamond if you held it in your hand; the things you think are precious I can’t understand.”  This is how I tend to feel about a lot of the world in general.  I really don’t get why some things are popular and some things aren’t.

Which is not to say that I understand none of these things.  Some works of art and music and science and whatnot are so broadly universal in their greatness that even an alien like me can recognize why they are loved.  The music of the Beatles, the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Shakespeare, movies like The Godfather or Alien or the original Star Wars movies, the writing of Poe*, TV shows like Seinfeld or M*A*S*H—these are things that are enduringly popular (some more than others) and of which I understand the appeal quite well.

But I have no idea why anyone cares about the Kardashians**, or why the “music” of Cardi B is popular.  (This assessment is quite apart from the person, Cardi B, herself—from what I’ve seen, she’s charming and funny and seems quite nice, so I don’t begrudge her success.)

Don’t even get me started on wondering why The Donald ever became popular, let alone admired.  The man has bankrupted casinos!  These are places where people come and willingly—one could say willfully—give the house their money!  I, myself, have given my money to a few of his old casinos, and I enjoyed it quite a bit; they were nice, and I used to relish a little blackjack from time to time.  I’ve even been to Mar-a-Lago, quite some time ago, for an AECOM*** Alumni Association event.  It was a bit gaudy, but then, so is Versailles.

But it was horrifying when I was there to see accomplished, well-to-do, middle-aged-and-older adults fawning over the man, even gaggling about him looking for autographs!  I can kind of understand wanting a book signed by its author, especially if it has a “personal” message, or wanting to own an album that was signed by the Beatles, say.  But why fawn over a rather questionable**** businessman who is—admittedly—colorful, in more ways than one, but whose greatest skill seems to be surviving his own mistakes and passing the costs on to others?  And why in the world would anyone think he was qualified to be President of the United States?

Alas, humans are inexplicable to me in many ways—at least when I try to understand them as intelligent individuals.  It gets easier when I recognize them as a large population of unusually brainy primates, who, when you pay attention, are merely doing the stuff that all other lemurs and monkeys and apes do, just on a larger, more complicated level, and who fool themselves into thinking otherwise—it gets easier, but not more reassuring.

So, that’s a rundown of thoughts triggered by the fact that I don’t know specifically why my Monday post was apparently quite popular (relatively speaking), but my Tuesday post, which dealt partly with a bit of General Relativity (in a popular style, I think), was apparently not.  Maybe yesterday’s post is a slow-burner, and people will come back and read it in the future and will consider it some of my finest work.  I doubt it.  Honestly, I don’t truly think it’s some of my finest work, but I don’t think Monday’s post was either.

I don’t understand.  But why would I expect to?  I am a stranger in a strange land.  Your customs and your ways are foreign to me.

Maybe I should just go home.


*Though, man, you should’ve seen them kicking him.  Goo-goo-ga-choob.

**Unless you’re talking about the alien species that first appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation and was more prominent in Deep Space Nine.  They’re not as interesting as the Klingons or the Romulans, but they’re way more interesting than a family that’s famous for the fact that its former patriarch had been part of O.J. Simpson’s defense team, and then for the rest of the family being rich but dysfunctional.

***That’s the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, not the infrastructure consulting firm, of which I just now became aware.

****Yes, he was questionable even back then.  And, yes, I thought so even back then, and well before.

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