Friday, 15 January 2016

Eschewing Balance.

Back in the mid-90s I was doing a college course leading to a Higher National Certificate in Business Studies. (Business? Yeah, I know. But anyway…) We had to do a project requiring us to assess the pros and cons of privatising British Rail (which was a public body back then.) So I did, and I came up with eight reasons against and one for. I got low marks because, said the Head of Department, my conclusions weren’t ‘balanced.’ I argued:

‘Why do they need to be balanced? I’ve assessed all the factors known to me and made a rational case against privatisation in the ratio of 8:1. Isn’t that how you come up with decisions?’

The Head of Department accepted my reasoning and gave me high marks. That was Round 1 in the bag.

And I’m still doing it. I was walking around Ashbourne the other day considering the question:

‘Abba and Simon & Garfunkel were both commercially successful groups in the 60s and 70s. Compare and contrast.’ So I did (in between prosecuting my search for a heavy woollen sweater in the charity shops and enjoying the rare treat of having double cream with my Americano.)

They were both appealingly tuneful, which largely, I suggest, accounts for their more-or-less equivalent success in the mainstream market. The difference, I would further suggest, lay in what underpinned them. Abba were largely about glamorous image – they were leading lights in the glam rock movement. Simon & Garfunkel were about lyrics – they were the advanced guard of the art rock movement. Where Abba had ‘Gimme, gimme, gimme a man after midnight,’ S & G had ‘All lies and jest, ’til a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.’ The bottom line, I think, is Paul Simon. He was the difference. And that’s why Abba now sound dated, where Simon and Garfunkel don’t. It’s a matter of long legs vs poetry. Bubblegum vs Dolcelatte. No balance; no need. The winner:

(And there’s a deeper philosophical argument around the question of qualitative judgement, which probably means I’m wrong. That’s life.)

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