Friday, February 13, 2009
The Warren Harding Effect
Ohhhh, Valentine's Day is upon us once again! I love it all. The pomp! The circumstance! The frolicking! This year, V-day falls on a Saturday, preceded oh-so-appropriately by Friday the 13th. If you've been reading this blog the past couple of years, you know that Valentine's Day is one of my favorite days of the year. And most likely, you also know that I've been high on Valentine's Day even though I've been single and alone in the nearly three years I've been doing this.
Well, I have news for you: I won't be alone this year. I only mention this on Friday the 13th because I am superstitious as hell and really enjoy sabotaging myself. I'll write more about that subject another time. Today, what I want to talk about is the Warren Harding Effect. What is the Warren Harding Effect, you ask? I'm about to tell you. I didn't know about it myself until I read the book "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell, which I highly recommend if you're into learning about how the mind works and why our snap judgments can be incredibly accurate or mislead us into folly. There's a chapter in the book that's devoted to how we, all of us, give the benefit of the doubt to physically attractive people, which makes us overlook some obvious character flaws. When someone is really good looking or charming, we get blinded. It's primitive and visceral and hard to avoid. Ladies, I'm talking about Mr. Hardbody. Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome. The Charmer. The guy with a wink in his eye, even when he's not winking. The smell good man. The dude with the perfect hair and day old stubble who makes panties drop just by walking down the street. That guy. Gentlemen, I'm talking about Ms. Hotstuff, the minx who looks so smoking hot that you feel like crying when you see her because you're never going to get close enough to do her laundry. The girl with the sculpted glutes, the tight hamstrings, the floating boobs, the flawless skin, the combination of which would lead you to commit a felony just to spend 10 minutes alone with her. The girl who doesn't even SEE you, because she's wearing heels and her eyes never wander below her chin. That girl.
When we see Mr. Hardbody and Ms. Hotstuff -- or, more typically, people who are a few rungs below them on the hottie ladder -- we are hypnotized and it affects our judgment. For all you "deep" people out there who claim to be above this, please review your history and tell me that you never got jelly-legged over someone you were attracted to. It happens all the time; it's natural. We see things that aren't there. We fixate on that sexy smile, the one that's seemingly focused on us and only us. We fill in the personality gaps ourselves. We assume they have a sharp sense of humor, wit, intelligence, and compassion for others. They are the ideal and if we could capture them, attract them somehow, we too would be elevated to bask in their carnal powerwattage. We are more compelling, interesting, and attractive just by our association with these glittering jewels.
Of course, it's all a delusion. We're blinded by beauty. For, sometimes -- not all the time of course, but a lot of the time -- these people are not what we think they are. They're just people, genetically gifted, yes, but just people. People with flaws, sometimes serious ones. So why do we attribute great things to them before we even know them?
It's the Warren Harding Effect.
In Blink, Gladwell discusses Warren Harding, our 29th President. Harding is commonly regarded as one of the worst, if not THE worst President in U.S. history, though Bush is going to give him a run for his money one day. He was completely incompetent. So how in the world does a man like that ever become President? (Okay, silly question.) Gladwell provides an answer. He may not look like much to you, nor to me, but in his day, Warren Harding was considered a very handsome man. That old coot you're looking at was yesterday's equivalent of Mitt Romney: charming and attractive. No scratches on the surface. He LOOKED Presidential, it's as simple as that. And no joke, women who'd just earned the right to vote through the 19th Amendment to the Constitution (which Harding supported), thought he was dreamy. Which is ironic, since by many historical accounts, Harding was a poon-hound who had several extramarital affairs.
Much like today, partisan politics predominated back then, and it was party bosses, not voters, who decided Presidential nominations. When the Republican Party -- apropos, yes? -- was looking for someone to nominate, most of the other candidates had too many enemies or were deemed unsuitable for one reason or another. Enter U.S. Senator (R-OH) Warren Harding. Harding looked the part and he was so dim, he'd never pissed anyone off with a loud opinion. The Republicans met in one of those smoke-filled rooms and chose him as a compromise nominee for the 1920 Presidential election. He won in a landslide, the largest in history, served two years, and died of a heart attack in 1923. During those two years, corruption in his administration was rampant. His Secretary of the Interior accepted bribes and illegal loans and ended up in jail. Another cabinet member was convicted of accepting bribes; another skimmed profits and accepted kickbacks from the Veterans Bureau, and directed underground alcohol and drug distribution. He too, went to jail. Two aides of the aforementioned helped them destroy evidence and then promptly committed suicide. All in just two years.
And you thought Bush was bad?
The moral of the Warren Harding Effect is an old one: Beauty is skin deep and we're often blinded by it to our detriment. So, on this Valentine's Day 2009, let us make a pact to FIGHT the Warren Harding Effect. Let's agree not to be blinded by beauty, charm, and a tight ass. Let's look a little deeper. For I see a correlation between the Warren Harding Effect, absurdly unrealistic expectations among today's dating masses, and the loneliness that many people feel on this singular day of romantic love. So, please, for the love of Warren Harding, stop undressing Mr. Hardbody and Ms. Hotstuff with your eyes! Stop picturing them naked! Stop fantasizing about them in the shower! Instead, draw your gaze past these two self-absorbed airheads and take a long, meaningful gander at Mr. Troll and Ms. Witchwart. No, a little lower. Down there. Yes, that's it. And the other normal people standing in Hardbody's and Hotstuff's aura, look at them. Sure, maybe they're not what you thought you were looking for. But that's a GOOD thing, trust me. The genetic medians, most of us, need love too. And maybe you'll be surprised. Maybe, just MAYBE, they'll have what you need because they're far more equipped emotionally than Mr. Hardbody and Ms. Hotstuff to provide it. Or maybe, if you're more open-minded, you'll get lucky and meet someone you're very attracted to, who has all those important qualities that the diamond couple is sorely lacking. Can life get that good? Yes.
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!