Not long ago, a journalist I follow on Twitter dished this nugget of intellectual complexity:
Lately, I’ve noticed that the sentiment expressed in that Hemingwayian Tweet is not a unique one, especially within the community of the World Wide Web. Many users of the InterShire decry contrarianism and its purveyors as lazy denizens of an intellectually-stunted world.
The contrarian viewpoint, they say, is the Easy Way Out; the contrarian can hide behind claims that he is “hey, just trying to be the Devil’s advocate here,” freeing him to say almost anything under the cover of his habit of taking the opposing viewpoint.
The problem with this argument is twofold:
First, contrarian thought is integral to human progress. Without it, the status quo would reign. And the status quo is often very much worth unreigning.
(Think: Slavery, Women’s Suffrage, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, the rock band Foreigner.)
And further, this:
Usually, contrarians aren’t contrarians at all.
Imagine that my opinion is the following:
The television show The Wire is brilliant; perhaps the greatest piece of narrative art made in the past ten years.
The astute reader would say,
If my answer were, “And…nothing. I think The Wire is great and that’s really the end of it,” we have a problem. Or we have a problem if I put phalanges to keyboard, tear off 1200 words on the subject, and expect you to read it.
It is neither interesting nor unique that I think The Wire is great. You (probably) think The Wire is great, Anthony Weiner thinks The Wire is great, most people think The Wire is great. A (generally) unanimous decision has been reached.
On the other hand, what if, for instance…
I watched the first two episodes of both Girls and Breaking Bad and after each of those experiences, wanted to call for a CAT scan of the collective brain of all of America because I thought those episodes were terrible and while it would be great if I had time to watch all of the installments of something that starts off so badly, when it comes to holding my attention, isn’t the burden of proof on the artist?
See, that might be the starting point for an interesting essay. Not necessarily a good one, or one that would be fun to read, but certainly one with the potential to say something new*.
*More or less. It is reasonable to think that others have written similar pieces.
If I did write such a thing, though, it is possible that I would be accused of being a Contrarian.
Even though, while theoretically disliking Girls and Breaking Bad’s respective first two episodes, I could have been enjoying buttered popcorn, the television series Game Of Thrones, oral sex, the latest album from the Black Keys, Sloane Crosley’s How Did You Get This Number, cotton candy, looking at Ferraris, symmetrical faces on my human companions, or any number of things that almost everyone else also enjoys.
Most of the time, contrarians only appear to be contrarians because they have the restraint to keep their most mundane opinions to themselves. They write only when they have something new and interesting** – something contrary to popular opinion – to say.
And that is exactly how it should be.
Assuming that all contrarians are evil (or that you “hate” them) just because they think about things differently than you do is shortsighted, silly, and potentially dangerous.
And calling someone a contrarian based only on what she writes, Tweets, or posts on Facebook is like calling someone an angel because you see her dressed like one on Halloween.
It’s possible that she’s an angel all the time, but chances are pretty good that she’s not and instead eats lasagna, watches The Wire, and spends her time not being a messenger from heaven, like the rest of us.
And anyway, even if she were an angel all the time, it’s not like we couldn’t use a few more angels.
**This doesn’t mean that the only opinions worth reading are opposing ones; just because you also like Led Zeppelin IV doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write about Led Zeppelin IV. It does mean, though, that if you don’t have something new to say about Led Zeppelin IV, you’re probably better off not writing it down. (This is pretty much the opposite of that thing your mother told you about not having anything nice to say.)
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