Theory of Critical Crapness


How are rubbish things, like The Only Way is Essex or Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe, so successful?

Imagine, if you will, a small chunk of weapons-grade plutonium or uranium. On its own, it’s just a metallic lump, with some interesting radioactive properties. Other than killing you of radiation poisoning if you expose yourself to it for long enough, it’s pretty boring.

If you are stupid or psychotic enough to let several chunks of your chosen element come together, though, it’s a different story. When you get enough of it together in a small enough space, it will go critical: the point at which it is able to self-sustain nuclear fission. Get enough of it in a small enough space and it goes super-critical, with explosive consequences. Ka-boom.

I postulate that a similar effect occurs with regards cultural phenomena. Accepting that all such phenomena have their own inherent value, some are qualitatively better than others. The Mona Lisa, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Wuthering Heights, Churchill’s speeches, Lego and Marco Pierre White’s cooking have all been acclaimed as exemplars of their form.

However, this doesn’t explain the astonishing success of examples from, shall we say, the other end of the spectrum of quality. What accounts for the enduring affection with which we regard Buck Rogers in the Twenty-fifth Century, Mister Blobby, S Club, Fifty Shades of Grey, celebrity unreality shows and Geordie Shore?

My theory is that, similar to the radioactivity of uranium and plutonium and twice as dangerous, phenomena each have a metaphorical level of crapness inherent to them. When the crapness level is sufficiently high, it becomes critical and turns from being any old metal and explodes into cultural success. Like a car crash that you can’t stop watching, it becomes so bad that it becomes amazing. Once it’s reached that level, it becomes self-sustaining within society.

This, for me, is the only way one can explain the runaway success of The Twilight Saga, Dan Brown novels and My Little Pony. If a chunk of metal going critical can devastate an entire country, just imagine the effects of crap going critical.

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About David Waldock

Open University graduate, health and life science at undergraduate level, science and society at post-graduate. Interested in how the Internet is transforming the ways in which the public(s) engage with science(s). Also interested in "the skeptical movement" as a form of science activism and it's effectiveness in achieving its goals. Interested in the representation of LGB types in science and in the periscience communities. Work for a well known and loved public institution. Views are mine and not necessarily my employers.

3 responses to “Theory of Critical Crapness”

  1. Sarah Waldock says :

    Brilliant. I think you have it!

  2. ashleyjamespryce says :

    Woah woah woah- how can you criticise Mr Blobby! I admit my love of S Club 7 may have more to do with Hannah Spearitt though.

    • davidwaldock says :

      Quite easily if I’m honest 😉

      I’m not suggesting I don’t enjoy these things, merely that they are the cultural equivalent of McDonald’s 😉

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