Your humble web logger has never been much of a joiner.
Popular activities like religious and athletic observance are about group identification and herd bonding, “grex” as Robert Frost put it, more than they are about the disposition of foreskin and pigskin. They have never appealed to me. Kurt Vonnegut’s enduring neologism, “granfaloon,” is a concept as essential as heliocentrism: once you hear it you know it to be one of the few reliable truths in the universe. A granfaloon is defined by Wikipedia as “a group of people who outwardly choose or claim to have a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless.” Perfect.
So it’s always a shock to me when I find myself close to the madding crowd, inescapably identified in the middle of a social category. Demonstrably demographical. Caught.
I had one of these moments yesterday. If you’ve read my “about” you’ll know I’ve always recognized that I share a number of properties of NPR Nation, but from my posts you’ll know I am alienated from many, many of Public Radio’s collective enthusiasms: baseball, sentimental attachment to religion, precious language, obscure yet banal musicians and composers, horse-race political coverage, and the list goes on and on.
Until yesterday I had begun to think myself above, or at least adjacent to, the general public radio public.
I was jolted back into my demographic identity when Guy Raz started his interview for the story “Fun and Intrigue with the Periodic Table.”
This is what he said:
So no one needs a description of the periodic table, right? It’s sort of as iconic as an Eames chair or the Chrysler Building.
There’s a lot to talk about here. First of all, I don’t know where Guy lives, but I’m guessing I can at this very moment go into the middle of my small, preppy New England town, throw a stick, and hit several people who couldn’t begin to describe the periodic table, much less an Eames chair.
But my main point here is not the hilarious implication that everyone alive on Earth today knows about Eames chairs, or even, frankly, the Chrysler building. It is not even the more credible but still amusing implication that everyone within the low-on-the-FM-dial and listener-supported sound of his voice considers these things iconic.
Here is the point:
In my home, not three feet away from one of the speakers converting electricity into the sound of Guy’s voice, is an Eames chair. Ten feet further on into my house is a folk art sculpture of the Chrysler building.
Coincidence? I think not. I could only have been hit harder by those design allusions if I had a poster of the periodic table hanging over my stereo. Either Guy Raz can see me through the radio or I have to own up to my membership in this group.
Does this mean I have to start watching baseball?