Rant-Man’s Notebook: Everybody Knows….

Somebody said, “it ain’t that people don’t know anything; it’s that they know so much that just ain’t so.” I think he’s right. There are a lot of notions that people know and repeat to each other, and everybody just accepts them as facts, and I get to be the cranky spoilsport. Here are a few examples…

Starting with sociology…

“Half of all marriages end in divorce.”

Not so. There are about half as many divorces as there are weddings in a given year, but that’s not the same thing. A marriage is an ongoing condition, while a divorce is a single event. What that means is, marriages are cumulative and divorces aren’t. Comparing the number of weddings to divorces ignores all the people who got married in prior years. Do the math yourself.

Let’s try it over a five-year period, with 100 marriages per year, just to make it easy:

Year One, 100 couples get married and 50 get divorced. But there are 100 couples who got married in previous years and are still together. Divorce rate: 25%

Year Two, 100 couples get married and 50 get divorced, but we still have 150 couples married from last year and before, for a total of 250 marriages and 50 divorces. Divorce rate: 20%

Year Three, 100 couples get married and 50 get divorced, but we still have 200 couples married from previous years, for a total of 300 marriages and 50 divorces. Divorce rate: 17%

Year Four, 100 couples get married and 50 get divorced, but we still have 250 couples married from previous years, for a total of 350 marriages and 50 divorces. Divorce rate: 14%

Year Five, 100 couples get married and 50 get divorced, but we still have 300 couples married from previous years, for a total of 400 marriages and 50 divorces. Divorce rate: 12.5%.

Another important point here is the fact that the overwhelming majority of divorces occur among people who have been married before, and what we’re seeing is that a relatively small percentage of the population is getting married and divorced over and over again. The majority of first marriages (about 83%) remain intact until death. Second marriages have about a three times higher chance of divorce. The divorce rate for third marriages is even higher. But the “half of all marriages” myth is just that, a myth. A wedding is not a marriage.


“We only use 10% of our brain.”

Says who? Albert Einstein and Margaret Mead, among others, are supposed to have said something like that, but you have to remember that Einstein was a physicist and Mead an anthropologist; neither one had any special knowledge of the physiology of the brain. Expertise in one field does not make one an expert in other fields.

The obvious fact is that we use 100% of our brains, just not all at once. Anyone who has ever seen a stroke victim will know this; damage done to a tiny area of the brain can have devastating effects.

Do me a favor: when you hear somebody repeat nonsense like this, offer to cut out 90% of their brain and see if it’s true.


Moving on to pop culture…

“Jay Leno is the nicest guy in Hollywood.”

TV Guide just did a whole cover story on this, about what a nice guy Jay is. “Leno is just a regular guy,” they say. Thing is, I think he’s a “Nice Guy” in an entirely self-serving way. He’s nice to his staff, and he likes to be seen as Joe Average, but I keep noticing things.

Have you noticed that Leno’s chair is higher than the guests’? He’s always looking down on them. A couple of people, notably the women, find ways to raise themselves up to eye-level (by sitting on one leg, or by perching in the chair like a bird, or sitting on the arm), and he clearly doesn’t like it. Leno likes to be in charge. That’s when he’s nice.

When he does an interview, Leno is seldom actually interested in what the other person is saying; he’s looking for openings to crack jokes, and God help you if you’re supposed to demonstrate how to do something on his show. Kids come on to show their science projects, and Jay’s throwing the props around the stage and making messes of everything, all for a laugh.

But the big thing that really defines Leno is that he isn’t very generous in spirit. He does a lot for charity, but he doesn’t do much to help the comedians following after him, the way Johnny Carson did for him. He got a huge break, but isn’t passing it on.

There are dozens of comics who owe their entire careers to Johnny Carson. He had comedians on every night, turned over his whole show to them. He revived the careers of Joey Bishop, Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Jerry Lewis, and McLean Stevenson by letting him guest-host; he virtually invented Joan Rivers, David Letterman, David Brenner, Jerry Seinfeld, Roseanne, Garry Shandling… and Jay Leno. Carson was a genuinely nice guy, and the explosion of comedy clubs across the US in the ’80s was largely due to his finding and promoting of comedians.

Leno doesn’t want to do that; he likes to be the funny one. Think about it. How often do you see comedians on the Leno show? Once a month, maybe, and that’s usually Robin Williams. He’s never had a guest-host. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.


“Frank Sinatra was the epitome of cool.”

Nah. Bobby Darin was way cooler than Sinatra.

If you’re done laughing, I’ll explain.

Sinatra’s “cool” is all about power. He’s cool because he’s the Chairman of the Board and nobody does anything without his approval. He’s cool because he knows he can do and say whatever he wants and nobody will challenge him on it. His is the cool of the bully.

Now, Bobby Darin, on the other hand, was cool because he didn’t care what anybody else was doing; he was having a good time and he didn’t care who was boss as long as they left him alone. Darin also made you feel like you were as cool as he was. There was an attitude he had that Sinatra didn’t.

Bobby Darin had a life-long heart condition that ultimately killed him at age 37. He was living on borrowed time, and he knew it, and it came out in his performance. You couldn’t help but get caught up in his exuberance for life. Darin was the first pop artist to bridge the gap between teens and adults.

He was also a better actor. Don’t believe me? See Hell is for Heroes (1962), with Steve McQueen and Fess Parker; Pressure Point (1962), playing a Nazi sympathizer opposite Sidney Poitier (Darin won a Golden Globe for this performance); or his Oscar-nominated performance in Captain Newman, M.D. (1963), which starred Gregory Peck.

Sinatra on his best day couldn’t be as cool as “Mack the Knife.”


“Spider-Man is the best film-adaptation of a comic book.”

Sorry, that honor goes to Men in Black, Mystery Men and The Rocketeer, in no particular order. (I haven’t seen The Crow, but I’ve heard it’s also a worthy contender.) Spider-Man does a great job of capturing the excitement of swinging over New York on a string, and some great action sequences. It also has the “Marvel” attitude, the notion of super-heroes as real people with real problems. But it also has serious problems of plot and characterization, particularly the Green Goblin, who looks like an outtake from the Power Rangers Movie. Of course, once Spidey is in action, all is forgiven. And you gotta love J. Jonah Jameson.

But The Rocketeer, Mystery Men and Men in Black are better films.


The point of this is, you gotta think for yourself. Don’t take my word for any of the above information; go check it out yourself. Like the song says, “believe half of what you see and none of what you hear…” And above all, don’t go around repeating stuff that “everybody knows.” “Everybody” is wrong a lot of the time.

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