September 6, 2004

Answers to two recent blogpolls.

On Saturday, I asked readers to guess which one of three performers--Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, or Alice Cooper--I had seen in concert, and then Sunday, I asked readers to spot the lie in a particular post about the construction of Madison's Overture Center. I've been checking the results all along and find it interesting how stable the numbers are, which gives me some inkling of why actual scientifically done polling based on relatively small numbers is reliable. And not only has the pattern of answers in both polls stayed about the same all along, but the answers have been correct! I saw Alice Cooper (and only Alice Cooper) in concert and I completely lied when I asserted a belief that the dome is "beautiful." So, now, why did people do so well getting those answers? Do readers know me so well and am I that knowable on the question of what concert I would happen to have seen and what I would lie about, or were both questions surrounded by clues and cues that helped people guess correctly?

The easier question, by far, is spot the lie. With five potential answers, purely random guessing would lead to more errors, but having more answers dilutes the strength of the random-guesser vote. And two answers are quite unlikely to be lies ("gleaming" and "elegant," which came in at the bottom of the vote, with 8.5% and 11% respectively). Also near the bottom was the fussy-about-facades answer, with 11.4% of the vote. Of course, a place like Madison would tend to have historical preservationist types who would get involved in a big project like this. The second place answer, that I find random junk "picturesque" still only got 28.9% of the vote. People were attracted to this answer above the other wrong answers, I assume, for the obvious reason that junk is not in fact "picturesque." Regular readers might remember earlier pictures of junk on this blog and know to avoid this answer. The correct answer--that the dome is "beautiful"--got 40.2% of the vote. I'm thinking people got this because they were looking at the picture and did not themselves think the dome was beautiful. Certainly, it does not approach the beauty of the other dome in the picture, the one on the state capitol building. By the way, I regret writing "I knew I was lying" in the post setting up the poll, because it implies that one can tell a lie without knowing it is untrue, and I am critical of people who do that in political debates. And I was even alluding to the political slogan "Bush lied!" in the title of the poll ("Althouse lied!").

But, now, why did you guess that I would have seen Alice Cooper (51.2%) of the vote and not Pink Floyd (34%) or Bruce Springsteen (14.8%)? My theory is that you thought about my present day motivation to ask the question. Since Alice Cooper was the most interesting choice, I probably felt like doing that particular poll because Alice Cooper was the answer. It's too boring to have gone to a Bruce Springsteen concert, and that's why that answer came in last. Thus, correct answering doesn't really have anything to do with an understanding of my musical taste. In fact, it's pretty random that I even went to see Alice Cooper at all. It was a long, long time ago, by the way. It was back when "I'm Eighteen" was a hit (1971). I'm not even sure if "School's Out" was out yet (1972). It was the summer of either 1971 or 1972, in an obscure part of southern New Jersey, and my younger brother wanted to go to the concert. Even though I thought it was embarrassing to go to an Alice Cooper concert--people my age (20 at the time) considered him a joke--I loved the single "I'm Eighteen," so I went. There was an elaborate stage show, which I can't remember anything about. I do remember, I think, that at one point he stripped off a layer of his costume and had on a skin-tight gold lamé body suit, and that was the sort of thing that just wasn't done at the time by anybody my friends would respect. In fact, I remember Iggy Stooge performing on campus (at the University of Michigan) in 1969 or 1970 and everyone shaking their heads and expressing pity for this late-stage has-been who was taking off his shirt, writhing on the ground, and suddenly stooping to the pathetic ploy of renaming himself Iggy Pop. How astounded we would have been if we could have known that 35 years later these two would still be around and would be respected and that Iggy would still look good with his shirt off.

UPDATE: One of the reasons we thought Alice Cooper was a joke was because he was seen as a Frank Zappa side project, a Zappa prank. The album I listened to every day back then was "The Mothers Live at the Fillmore East," which includes some comical references to Alice Cooper:
Well, it gets me so hot
I could scream

You can read all the lyrics here. [Not for the faint-hearted.] I still love that album! People who love the song "Happy Together" but don't know "Live at the Fillmore East" are missing a key perspective.

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