Monday, November 12, 2012

The Best Song About Wishing Wells (My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad)

When two (or more) things attempt to exist in one place in pop culture, My Dad Can Beat Up Your Dad helps determine which one wins.  More posts like this can be found here.

TODAY'S MATCHUP:  "Wishing Well."

I have been thinking lately about what it says about people that among the first things we think of when given a chance to get three wishes--

-- I am speaking hypothetically here since as we all know you cannot actually get three wishes because wishes don't exist, not the way we think of them, which I am aware of, so when I say given a chance to get three wishes I'm talking about if you were, say, a character in a story that got three wishes, say, a character like in this story I wrote just now:


Two Wishes

“So I have three wishes,” he said.

“How’s that again, now?” she answered.

(That not being the kind of thing that one usually hears on a first date.)

“Three wishes,” he said. “I have three wishes.”

There was an awkward pause during which she wished she had ordered appetizers, after all, because maybe some mozzarella sticks would have helped fill in the gap in conversation that had just occurred.  Plus she might have liked some mozzarella sticks even if her blind date had not just said he had three wishes.

“Um…” she said, and stirred her drink.

“I’m only telling you because I really like you, already, and I think we will probably hit it off,” he said, and after a moment added “So I want to be completely honest with you.”

He also felt a boyfriend (maybe a husband?) who had three wishes, ready to go, was something most women would want.  

But he kept that to himself, for now.

“As in…” she looked for the right words, “Wishes, like on a birthday cake?”

“Or from a genie,” he said.  “But that’s not where I got mine.”

“Where did you get yours?” she asked, wondering if the answer would matter.

“From a lizard,” the man said.

(The answer, she realized, mattered.)

It suddenly occurred to him that this was not going well.

He muttered something under his breath. 

There was a flicker.

“What did you say?” she asked him.

“Nothing,” he said. “Should we order some appetizers?”


That's a 250=1 story, just for you!  (What's a 250=1 story? Find out here.)

Anyway, if you were a character in a story and had three wishes, would your first instinct be to wish for more wishes?  And if it is, and it seems like it is because that's become a trope in pop culture, wishing for more wishes, then what does that say about us?

Anyway, I think it says something awful about me and humans and probably you that someone says "I give you three wishes" and the first thing we think of is to say "I wish for more wishes," that first thing being so automatic that by now we can't have a story about wishes without saying "I give you three wishes but you can't wish for more wishes,"

Because upon being given almost unlimited beneficence, the only thing we can think of is "I want more almost unlimited beneficence." And that makes us seem terrible.  Just awful:  Not only is nothing good enough, but even things that are beyond-believable-good aren't good enough.

I remember once talking to my dad about winning the lottery, and what we would do if we won the lottery, and my dad said this:

"I wouldn't want to win the lottery because do you know how much they take in taxes?"

Never mind the grammar; that's the flip side of the I wish for more wishes thought: I wouldn't want this great thing unless this great thing is even better than it actually is.

Imagine turning down free money because someone keeps part of your free money you wouldn't otherwise have if you didn't get offered the free money!

That kind of thinking reminds me of "The Ultimatum Game." But before I get to the Ultimatum Game, I'd better first introduce the first of the Wishing Well songs from today:

That's Terence Trent D'Arby, "Wishing Well," a song I remember from when I was a lot younger than I was now.  It mentions, in its lyrics, "butterfly tears" and "crocodile cheers", which seems to me to be really mixed-up, metaphorically speaking.

I tried a search to see if a butterfly tear was a thing, and apparently it's a phrase that's used in various titles and stuff, so a lot of people must think it means something to talk about a butterfly crying, but I can't think what it means.

A crocodile tear, I know: It's a mock crying, a fake-out, based on the old legend that crocodiles cry as they eat people.

I know, that's not the legend you know.  You know about the legend that says crocodiles cry to lure in their prey, but that's not the actual story.  The actual story was  first written by John De Mandeville, back in the 1300s, when he talked about his travels and wrote about crocodiles crying as they ate.

Which isn't the whole story, either, as there was no John De Mandeville, not really: According to this site, "John De Mandeville" was the made-up name of John de Bourgoigne, who wanted to write a travelogue but had never been to anywhere but Egypt, so instead of going somewhere he just plagiarized others, wrote it under a pseudonym, and presumably got rich and famous before being exposed by Oprah De Winfreyoign.

The Ultimatum Game, which I mentioned, is an economics experiment in which two people are asked to divide up money.  The first person is given $10, and has to offer to share it with the second person in a take-it-or-leave-it deal.  If the second person accepts the offer, both keep their share.  If the second person rejects the offer, both get no money.

So, if Person 1 offers Person 2, say, $5, and Person 2 accepts, each gets $5.  But if Person 2 rejects the offer, neither gets anything.

What would you suppose would happen, if that game were actually tried in real life?

Song number two is Wishing Well, by The Airborne Toxic Event,

That's the acoustic version, which I like better than the original one.

Frankly, I like this Wishing Well a lot better than D'arby's weirdly-metaphored song; the extended metaphor of having a terrible night while wishing you could yourself become a coin tossed into a wishing well appeals to me.   "Like you were just a wish that could turn out well" is a line that is both hopeful and sad at the same time.

Anyway: what would you offer the other person if you were Person Number 1 in the Ultimatum Game?

The answer might surprise you, given how we deal with wishes: In an experiment studying just that, most people offered more or less equal shares of money to Person 2, which economists tend to explain as being motivated less by a sense of fairness and more by a fear that Person 2 will reject the offer, which really makes no sense, economics-wise -- I mean the person rejecting the offer makes no sense, as if you have no money and I offer you some money, you should take it no matter what, even if I get more than you.

But Person 2 often rejects the offer if the offer is perceived to be unfair, and so we learn a little something about ourselves when offered something for nothing: Person 2 is the more important person in that study, I think.

There's actually a third "Wishing Well," this one by Blink-182:

 That's the least hopeful yet: A wishing well leads to what sounds like death, or at least terrible experiences:

I went to a wishing well, but sank to the ocean floor
Cut up by sharpened rocks and washed up along the shore
I reached for a shooting star, it burned a hole through my hand
Made it's way through my heart, had fun in the promise land

And it's probably not the wisest thing to do, looking for meaning in Blink 182 lyrics,  but it brought up the other dark thing about wishes

which is that, as they are written in fairy tales, and in our imaginations, they often can seem really superselfish, although that characterization isn't really fair.

When someone asks what you'd do if you had three wishes, they aren't really asking what you'd do to make the world a better place, and so answering "I'd wish to cure cancer" is all well and good but that's not really the thought behind the question, and answering that way is kind of like when you'd ask your mom what she wants for Christmas and she'd say something like "All I want for Christmas is my kids to get along with each other," which was a dumb thing to say and you were hoping she'd say "gloves," but, then, who really asks for gloves for Christmas?

Which is as good a note as any to end on, because I've run out of things to say.

Winner: "Wishing Well," by The Airborne Toxic Event.

Authors! Bloggers!! People Who Like Free Books!!! People who have a surfeit of exclamation points!!!!

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Andrew Leon said...

Steve Martin is great, but I don't think he was thinking big enough. Besides, absolute power like that would suck.

If I had 3 wishes... I don't really know. Well, I know one of them: that at least 10 million people would buy AND read each of my books. It wouldn't have to be the same 10 million people for each one. That seems like a good place to start for me.

Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

I would not be greedy. Three wishes:

1) One billion dollars.
2) A body as handsome as Ryan Gosling.
3) Ten years younger so I can enjoy numbers one and two.

Those are not greedy at all. And I'm taking all the work upon myself by just wishing for a billion dollars. I'm the one that has to figure out how to spend it all.

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