Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A typical English teacher spouts off

Every time I think I'm out, they keep pulling me back in!

CJ Colluci and MoXmas are leading a delegation demanding I expand upon something I wrote yesterday in Sexual Politics, sexual jealousy, fiction vs. analysis, and the novel I should be writing:

Once upon a time, I drove one of my writing classes into fits because I insisted that people do indeed fall into types, that all of us are to a great degee typical. I went on to say that there are in fact a very limited number of human types and I made a list that didn't come close to filling one side of the blackboard.

CJ and Mo and a few others want me to post the list.

This is something I'm reluctant to get into.

For one thing, to do it right, I need to dig out my old lecture notes and, even if I knew which box in the garage or the basement they were packed away in, that's a memory vault I'm not sure I want to visit. It's dark, it's creepy, it's full of bats and spiders, there are at least three evil trolls guarding the door, and God knows what skeletons lay entombed inside.

And for another, I'm worried it might provoke me into writing the book I should have written 15 years ago, except that now I'd write it online in an endless series of long posts that would drive away all but my most loyal readers---Hi, Mom!---and which Atrios, Wolcott, Shakes, and Avedon Carol would never link to in a million years.

Maud Newton might link, but she'd be doing it out of pity, and who needs a pity link?

But then CJ, Mo, and the others are among my most loyal readers and their loyalty ought to be repaid.

Still, there's the problem of getting started. Probably I should just post my list and wait for the angry objections to pour in.

Lance, you blithering fool, those aren't types, they're cliches!

Mannion, you horse's ass, don't you know the difference between a character type and a personality disorder?

Son, I love you, but even a mother can stand only so much tedious pedantry.

So it seems to me that before I got started I would need to define my terms, at least differentiating between temperament and type.

Then I'd need to explain how while a character may be a type, a type isn't a character.

I think I'll start there, because it'll let me write about something I love.


The main characters on Cheers included three variations of the same type. I'm not sure what to call the type.

The pedant?

The know-it-all?

The pompous windbag?

Diane, Frasier, and Cliff.

All of a type, but very different characters.

The three of them approached life at second-hand, through things they'd read. None of them could resist the temptation to show off their store of knowledge, and they each did it to establish their superiority over others.

But they had very different temperaments, backgrounds, and educations, and the differences caused extreme variations within their type.

Diane and Cliff were both damaged goods. They were insecure, sexually conflicted---Diane thought her romantic and erotic life should be driven by her mind and her body's attraction to Sam confused the hell out of her and was a blow to her vanity besides; she never got over resenting Sam for making her want what she thought she should have been too good to want. Cliff, of course, had serious Mommy problems.---and they were both egocentric and expected the world to revolve around them.

Frasier, because of his education and training as a doctor and psychiatrist, was more inclined to listen to other people and also step outside himself and see himself as others did.

Sam (advising Frasier on how to get out of the trouble he's in with Lilith): Listen, I know what you'd tell me in a situation like this. First you'd say a lot of gobbledy-gook no one could understand, but then you'd get me to go back there and face the music, admit the truth.

Frasier: You're right, Sam. Confronting one's fears is one of the five ways to resolve an inner conflict. Of course the other four being...(Stops himself dead.) God, aren't I a pompous ass!

He had more of sense of humor about himself and more self-awareness. Temperamentally, too, he was more outgoing and affectionate. Diane and Cliff wanted to be loved and admired. Fraiser wanted to love and admire others and he succeeded. It's why he was able to become one of the gang, while Diane had to stay on the outside. He could enter into their games, often despite his better instincts.

Frasier: Now what mindless subect are you beating to a slow, lingering death? What's the best car?

Norm: What's the best car song.

Frasier (like a shot): GTO! You hear them lyrics, boy, you're buring rubber!

His generosity of spirit, his temperament, is what made him not another second banana, but the second male lead, one of the show's three heroes, Woody being the third, although Woody wasn't a male lead, he was the juvenile, the young lover. Diane was the antagonist. Cliff was one of clowns.

Don't get me started on the differences between types and archetypes.

Cheers also repeated the type of the dimwitted innocent. Coach was replaced by Woody. Same type, very different temperaments and consequently very different characters.

So, temperament is our inner weather, the inchoate core of our personality, the "self" that nature and nurture conspired to curse or bless us with. Type is the outward manifestation of temperament, the face we present to the world, and it's shaped by temperament but also by expectation and choice. Temperament is feeling, type is behavior.

People of different temperaments can wind up as similar types, and people of similar temperaments will turn into different types.

Some people are resenters. They feel slighted by everybody and everything. This is basically a very egocentric personality. People like this just know in their bones that the world ought to be paying them more attention, recognizing their merits, and applauding their every effort, but for some really unfair reason this isn't happening.

Everywhere they go they find themselves pushed into the wings when they ought to be front and center, and it's always because the teacher, the coach, mother, friends, editors, bosses, or blog readers are inexplicably drawn to someone far less deserving!

We all know this kind of person. But I don't consider this a type, because this kind of person shows up as a lot of different types.

My favorite is the Self-righteous Wet Blanket.

We all know this type. The type who can always be relied upon to spoil the fun by pointing out that there are children starving in Africa.

When a conversation is getting lively, people are having a really good time, joking around or being passionate about something that matters to them, the Self-righteous Wet Blanket will always pipe up to point out that whatever it is doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things.

How can you waste all your time arguing about baseball when Bush is shredding the Constitution!

The object, of course, isn't really to make people be more serious. It's to give the Wet Blanket control of the conversation.

This type is similar to the Little Red Hen who can always be counted on to bustle in when others are goofing off, or doing things that the Little Red Hen thinks aren't the things that need to be done at the moment, and make everybody else feel guilty and ashamed by the example of the Little Red Hen's energy, diligence, and responsible nature.

Some Little Red Hens are resentful personalities and they have the same object as the Self-Righteous Wet Blankets, to make themselves the center of attention and admiration.

But many Little Red Hens are in fact energetic, diligent, and responsible...and compulsive.

And, by the way, don't let the gender implications fool you. There are plenty of men who are Little Red Hens.

Resentful personalities can also turn out to be Rebels. They say they want a revolution, and they all want to change the world. But when you look closely you see that the new world they want to create will have themselves as princes and princesses, if not kings and queens.

Other types that resentful personalities can become are the Instigator---this is the type who is always egging others on to challenge authority, act up, and rebel, while lingering safely in the background, out of range when the shit hits the fan---and the Underminer. Underminers divide into other types: the Saboteur, the Foot Dragger, the Naysayer, and the Obstacle Builder.

You know who I'm talking about, right? They work in your office? They live in your dorm?

Ok. I'm sure you get the picture. That's enough for now. Tonight, if I feel brave, I'll go down into the memory vault and see what I can unearth.

Meanwhile, I could use some help here.

What are some types you know and love...or loathe?


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