Sunday, August 03, 2008

"Ninety percent of everything is crap."

[Some of you already know the origins of this statement, and some of you were smart enough to click on the link in the previous post. Nonetheless, you've all heard it before + it's a good story and something I believe in strongly, so it gets it's own entry.]

Influential science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon [so much so that Kurt Vonnegut based his character Kilgore Trout on him] penned many familiar quotes, such as "nothing is always absolutely so," "ask the next question" and "live long and prosper."

“Ninety percent of everything is crap" became his most famous quote and is often cited as Sturgeon's Law. The exact date and phrasing is up for debate, but the point is that he said it, and it's a timeless, borderless and genreless truth. The author first used the phrase in the context of the mechanics of criticism:

He made his original remarks in direct response to attacks against science fiction that used “the worst examples of the field for ammunition”. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crud is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms do.

I find this appropriate to keep in mind when reading criticism about current cultural trends [e.g., steampunk] or any and every musical genre you can imagine. It's not as cynical as it may sound. Consider that even in the seemingly worst endeavors, 10% is pretty darn good and worthy of appreciation! We try to focus on that 10% around here. Your time is valuable. Being aware that 90% of everything isn't worthy of your attention is actually a very good thing.


Michael Doyle said...

The first question I expect is, "So, is 90% of Burnlab crap?"

Yes, probably.
But it's all subjective.

The mission of Burnlab is to focus on the 10% that isn't crap, but within that 10%, only 10% of that is truly exceptional. So in such a context, 90% of Burnlab is certifiable crap. (Our crap just smells better than most.)

John M. said...

I'd also say that around 5-10% of what is crap now turns out to be pretty good after a while. We just weren't ready for it when it emerged.

It is all subjective.

If Burnlab is 90% crap, which it isn't, that would take it outside of the realm of true crap, which is 100% pure doody.

That 90% you're talking about is remarkable in its purity.