Sep 172008

I’m curious about the biases and associations of ideas and beliefs that we hold, especially those inherited from society. I believe this bias for originality comes from three things.

The first is obviously the expectations of certain things to be original. For example, if I tie my shoelaces the same way as everyone, no one decries that I’m being unoriginal, however, if I put up a comedic shot, people may call me “unoriginal” and “copycat” derisively. People expect creative endeavors to be original. So, let’s find out why.

The second reason for this bias, goes back over 2000 years ago, to the time of Plato. Our society has been greatly influenced by the Greek philosophers and we carry their legacy in our society today. Plato believed (or suggested heavily–it’s hard to know his mind) that there was a realm of “forms” in which the blueprints of everyday things exist. He suggested that what exists in the sensate world is somehow inferior to this world of pure concepts and forms, and I believe that partially because of this we believe that copies are inferior to the original.

The third reason is because there is a (mostly) unconscious value of authenticity held by our culture. “Be (true to) yourself” is sort of the motto of this value. Our understanding of authenticity was partly shaped in the Romantic era of the late 18th century, when art was transformed from created through rules and proportions, to an act of self-expression of personal emotion. The notion of “pure” ideals for art for the sake of the art itself was also popularized that time and the “starving artist” is a archetype borne of that era. So, when someone is being unoriginal, they are not simply being unimaginative or making a poor judgement, they are committing the sin of being inauthentic and not expressing themselves.

In all of this, it must be remembered that I am not arguing that originality is a bad thing, or isn’t a good thing. I simply want to bring this particular unconscious bias into consciousness. By doing this, for example, I stopped complaining about Hollywood movies being unoriginal (though I praise originality when I see it) and recognize that they are here to tell stories, and the stories they tell and how these movies tell them mean something to us and speak to us in a way that we general like to see the stories portrayed again and again. So, while I do have lower expectations of Hollywood movies, I get greater enjoyment out of them. This is one way making this bias for originality conscious has impacted my life, by adding a bit more enjoyment to it.

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