What do Larry the Cable Guy and screamo have in common?

Theodore Sturgeon, a famous science fiction writer, famously formulated the famous adage, “90 percent of everything is crap.” Music, theatre, food — all of it — but the problem is that no one can come to a consensus which 10 percent is the good stuff. I say Pavement, you say Staind. I say Zach Galifianakis, you say Larry the Cable Guy, etc., etc.
I didn’t mean “you” specifically; it was just a hypothetical situation. I know you don’t like that stuff … mainly because I’m pretty sure most of Larry the Cable Guy’s fan base is illiterate.
But with that being said, that the vast majority of humanity’s output is worthless, that 90 percent of everything an individual creates (essays, mix CDs, children) is garbage, what’s the point?
I think it’s similar to an answer given to the classic theological question, “Why does evil exist?” Without evil, the response goes, we wouldn’t know what goodness is. This understanding comes both from comparisons as well as good coming out as a reaction to evil (like Gandhi or The Thermals).
Sturgeon’s Law can also be seen as a positive. Be it your life choices or your discography, you only need a few brief moments of greatness to be extraordinary. I’ll illustrate with an example:
I don’t really like the whole post-hardcore/ emo vibe that was coming out of Victory Records around the turn of the century. But Thursday, a band that I don’t care for, came out with one particular song that I’ve listened to more than most other songs I can think of.
“Understanding in a Car Crash,” for whatever reason, really struck me in high school. With the over-the-top lyrics, the screaming, the thrashing guitar solo, what’s not to love? To me, at least 90 percent of their material is garbage, but that one song totally redeems them.
It was part of the delicious musical chicken soup that was teenaged mix CDs and meant as much as a song could mean to someone. I look at the lyrics now and find them laughably melodramatic but it served its purpose.
Sturgeon’s Law can be seen as a snobbish and elitist remark but I really do find it empowering. Nothing is perfect, but once in a while anyone can make something truly great. It’s not one in a million either; it’s just 1 in 10. Though I think the law shows that anyone is capable of creating something great, I’m still looking for that 10 percent of decent material from Mr. Git R Done. I don’t think I’m going to find it anytime soon …

Leave a Reply