It’s NOT simple

 

Worst offense against human consciousness: bad oversimplification. Great art simplifies small and/or large ideas elegantly; crystallizes with beauty of form and content. Communication in all forms can strive for elegance, and often-necessary simplification. Otherwise anyone- even experts in any field- are just babbling schizophrenics to those who attempt to listen. It leaves the listeners only the construction of their own minds (with respect to post-structuralists, communication does/can happen), and encourages ignorance.

Advertising has elevated the business of lying to sell a product or service to an egregious degree, such that we watch ads now during events such as the super bowl for the ads themselves, not to find out about a product.  High entertainment indeed.   It is communication without content, only form.  Marketers do not want people to know content such as what is in a product, or the hidden costs of a service, because that might dissuade a potential sucker- er, customer.  Obfuscation, the intentional bad oversimplification, the appearance of truth within a lie- is what is expected now days to sell anything.  It is the opposite of enlightenment, of learning, of being informed.

This reality of accepting, even expecting bad oversimplification has transmogrified with the cult of celebrity, of instant tech celebrity, and of superficial, fleeting appearances over any other form of being.  While what I am considering is not new, the critiques began long ago I admit- it is the lack of outrage and even boredom with cynicism that does seem to be new.  Some have said they observe a sticking the head in the sand, hands over ears and eyes approach to the overwhelming presence of what I am calling the wash of bad oversimplification (bad in moral, as well as aesthetic meanings), but I find it much more a perverse boredom that does not want to be aware, and while some may ignore the cracks in the veneers of culture, allowing oneself- yes, choosing- to chase the next over stimulating lie in order to feel engaged, it is a drug of such power few ever dreamed of.  Many of those peddling bad oversimplification in all arenas of human activity tend to ignore it.  Mediocrity?  No real communication or exchange?  Grades as a reflection of how well one can cheat, and jobs having no meritocracy but for your age, looks and temporary utility?  The very idea of elegant simplification- of terse, beautiful and informative communication seems not only an unfair expectation, but something for which we have fewer and fewer models and hence any cultural memory for it is evaporating. 

Art that sells because it is obtuse, and the maker has disappeared up his or her own arse hole usually with a mind numbing string of unrelated words or written inanity (substituting verbosity for content) compounds a general expectation that the experts know more than anyone else ever will, and what is not understandable is therefore good and important.  Or as the evangelical christians have marketed so well: in the face of feeling overwhelmed accept your own stupidity and the authority of others- you’ll just never know, and to inquire is blasphemous.  Oh, and you must enjoy the bad oversimplifications given to you.  Ironically, this message can be masked in the sale of simplicity!  Think of the yoga-vegan stereotype of goodness and simplicity, that encourages a degree of happiness and tranquility by ignoring as much as one can, and simply purchasing the right product, eating a particular food, and “not over thinking”.  Bad oversimplifications all.  

It may seem paradoxical yet consistent that only after considering the complexity of an idea, act, or object one might arrive at good simplicity and elegant understanding.  I can’t recall the exact quote, but Twain is noted for saying when asked to give a speech, that it took him about an hour to write a three page speech, half a day for a two page, a day for a page, and a week for a paragraph.  Good simplicity is an art to be appreciated in all forms; a scientific abstract, a research design, an essay, a novel, a film, architecture, design, a policy, a curriculum, an assessment or evaluation design, and any other activity one can imagine, especially speeches.  Or as Bob Stake has put it: simplicity is often a marker of quality (certainly of clarity); and even on the best day, quality is damned difficult to define.

 

Note: Tackling this concept requires a display of my own bumbling over-simplification, I admit- I never said I was efficient at simplifying, just frustrated at being able to identify the problem.  And yes yes- “bad over simplification” is redundant in a sense- but there can be oversimplification that is simply a structural mistake, and does not fall into the moral and aesthetic category of “bad”.  Not  therefore good, but benign perhaps.

As a friend recently said, watching Fight Club is a good way into thinking about the problem, and with humor.