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Sad Story

In May 2007, I posted to the TCS list a Sad Story:
Show: Lizzie McGuire

Background: Lizzie is a pretty normal girl, about age 14. Larry
Tudgman is a nerd her age and one episode he asks her out. She feels
bad about rejecting him and decides to go on a date, but then he
tells people at school that they are boyfriend and girlfriend. She
breaks up with him and says they aren't compatible. She expects him
to cry. The conversation continues as follows:

Tudgman: I guess you're right. We're living a lie. I need a
girlfriend who's into astrophysics, amphibian skeletal systems, and
rotisserie baseball.

Lizzie: Yeah. And I need a boyfriend who's into
"stuff". (small laugh)

The show then cuts to Lizzie's thoughts, and she thinks:

"Maybe I should develop some interests."

But then she adds:

"And then I could join a club and meet a boy there."
Someone replied:
I don't think that's necessarily a sad story at all.

Inexplicitly Lizzie is into a lot of things ... like figuring out
relationships, attraction, cultural ideas and expectations for girls.

These things are at least as important as amphibian skeletal systems.
And David Deutsch wrote:
In a way, yes. But in practice that's not really comparing like with like. There's 'figuring out' and there's 'figuring out'.

For instance, if the boy's figuring out leads him to the conclusion that existing ideas about amphibian skeletal systems are fundamentally flawed, and if he's right (or even interestingly wrong), then it will lead him to *gain* exactly what he's looking for: more and more chances of being entertained, respected, mentally enriched -- and indeed paid -- for doing that very kind of thinking, which he is already doing for the intrinsic fun of it even today.

But if Lizzie's figuring out leads her to the conclusion that existing ideas about relationships, attraction, cultural ideas and expectations for girls are fundamentally flawed, then whether she's right or wrong, this will lead her to *lose* all the things she is currently looking for. She will only get those things if her thinking ends up with the same conclusions as most of the other girls who are doing it.

I think the story is indeed sad because of the pause, and her subsequent thoughts, during which she did *not* say that she found those cultural ideas wonderful to think about -- nor anything else, for there was no such thing. It was precisely because Lizzie recognized her own life as being devoid of the kind of interests the boy had, that there was a painful gap. Which she eventually filled by deciding to do *more* of what she's not intrinsically interested in.

Elliot Temple on February 7, 2009


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