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The Dissenting Costanzan #1: An Introduction, “Why Not?”

Seinfeld, Season 2, Episode 5, “The Apartment.”

Jerry: You have no idea what an idiot is. . . .

George: Is that right? I just threw away a lifetime of guilt-free sex and floor seats for every sporting event in Madison Square Garden. So, please, a little respect, for I am Costanza, Lord of the Idiots.

This is the introductory installment of “The Dissenting Costanzan,” a new semi-regular series in which I will attempt—in my capacity as RotoViz’s formal unofficial ombudsman—to examine or call into question some of the arguments, assumptions, evidence, logic, methodologies, and pop culture references made recently on our site. Essentially, I’ve been tasked by Lé Douché to go through our posts periodically and provide multi-topic rundowns on recent RotoViz ideas that might need more work. For the literate amongst you, just think of me as Hamlet’s idealized version of the actor: I am “to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature”—or something like that. Actually, not that at all.

Here’s the loose edict I was given, straight from the powers that be:

The point is to improve the quality of the content on the site by exposing it to more critical thinking. On that note, the goal of your piece should never be to reject another argument, only to point out where it has shortcomings or could improve.

In other words, what you will witness in this series is state-sanctioned and institutionalized bro-on-bro-and/or-bra public nonviolence. Just think of it as mental hazing strengthening intended to make all of the studisticians here better at helping you.

An important if underappreciated part of any analytic process is internal evaluation. An analyst cannot simply focus on the subject matter and call it a day. The analyst must also have a keen awareness of, among others, 1) the manner in which a subject is studied and then publicly presented, 2) the applicability of the tools brought to bear, and 3) the veracity of the assumptions underlying the inquiry. An analyst must have the wherewithal to appreciate one’s own role in the investigative process and the position one takes in relation to the material at hand.

In “The Dissenting Costanzan,” we at RotoViz are looking to make explicit1 the intricacies of our process. My desire is not to “call out” the RotoViz contributors—in part because I respect what they do and understand the degree to which I am their intellectual inferior in many ways. Instead, I desire to call attention to how many factors we consider when doing research, how we go about making certain analytical and representational decisions, how we strive continuously to improve our processes and hold ourselves accountable, and how seriously we take the task of research—even though we’re self-taught amateur hacks who spend too many hours per day thinking about, for instance, what essential qualities exists in the great bad Keanu Reeves movies that distinguish them from the truly awful Keanu movies.2 [Editor’s note: A Keanu Reeves discussion actually lasted for well over 10 emails in a private email chain among the writers.] In sum, this series will seek to be more inquisitive than interrogative in nature.

And, ideally, “The Dissenting Costanzan” will give voices to the multiple and sometimes minority perspectives that press against and out of our collective work. Often people on Twitter say things like “RotoViz hates XXX XXX as a prospect”—as if all RotoViz writers have the same perspective or employ the same analytical process. Even just a quick look at our recent Composite Redraft RB Rankings should make clear that, although most of us share common philosophies, the ways in which we apply those philosophies vary radically on a writer-by-writer and player-by-player basis. Through this series, hopefully the illusion of the “Monolithic RotoViz” will dissipate. As an entity, RotoViz is Whitman-esque: large and containing multitudes. If I do my job, this series will reveal our multitudinousness-ishness in all its glory.

Why “The Dissenting Costanzan”?
In college I took a Milton course in which the professor told a story about how as young men in the 60s at UC Berkley he and a rebellious, free-thinking friend took an introductory philosophy course with a self-proclaimed hippie instructor. For the final exam they had been told to review the course material and think about how it applied to life, but otherwise they were given little guidance on how to study, and when the final exam came all the students entered the room with their blue books and took their seats only to find that the instructor did not have any exams to hand out. Instead, he wrote on the board one word—“Why?”—and then told them to start writing.

Frantic and unsure about what to do, my professor looked over at his friend, who—with a mischievous grin creeping across his face—was still looking intently at the board. About 30 seconds later, he calmly opened his blue book, wrote two words, closed the blue book, and walked up to the instructor, handed in his final, and walked out of the classroom as my professor (and every other student) watched with titillated horror. After the door closed, the instructor opened the blue book, read its contents, chuckled, and looked up at the class to see everyone looking at him, to which he said, “That guy just earned his A—what about you?”

The two words in the blue book: “Why NOT?”
That rebellious, free-thinking friend’s name: George Costanza.

In the early stages of thinking about this series, the powers that be and I threw around quite a few potential names, always unsure of what we were going to call this unofficial ombud-esque column. Here are some of the original names we thought up:

  • “The Independent Thinker”
  • “The ContraVizian”3
  • “RotoVizian Interlocution”
  • “Under the RotoScope”
  • “Reasonable Doubt”
  • “The Conscientious Objection”
  • “Advocati Diabolicus”
  • “Sqauring the Labyrinth”
  • “Raising Rosemary’s Baby”
  • “The RotoViz Hell of Shame”

I’m joking about the last three: They were never on the table. I kept them in my back pocket in case we ever got really desperate. That we entertained “Advocati Diabolicus” shows you how close to desperate we came.

At one point in the process, Frank DuPont—in case you ever wondered, the guy who runs RotoViz has a name, and we’ve been told it’s “Frank DuPont,” but we’re still not totally sure that’s correct, and this is coming from a guy named Matt Freedman—the first time Jon Moore met me, he asked if he could see my ID just to verify that my name was really my name, which is a little bit (although not at all) like asking a woman on the first date if you can peruse her medical records just to verify that her boobs aren’t fake—because, you know, in society—

Boobs : Female :: Name : Male

I forgive you Jonreally—anyway, Frank at one point in the process wrote this in an email:

. . . Some other potential phrases to throw in the mix for naming the column – something involving dissent. . . . Ideally it should be simple and make sense on an intuitive level. Even our readers are like Costanza. They don’t want to have to think too hard about it.

I know I’m a little like George Costanza. Are you? Of course you are. You know why?—because Costanza is the Everyman: The would-be Biff Loman, the one-time fake marine biologist, the eternal pretend architect, the almost employee of Vandelay Industries, the owner of not-Jon Voight’s car, the Latvian Orthodox convert, the occasional possessor of “Hand,” the inventor of “It’s not you, it’s me,” the facilitator of the unforeseen and refused ménage à trois opportunity—and, of course, the Lord of the Idiots.

George is doubtful, mistrustful, “paranoid, neurotic,” and bright—“oh, maybe not academically speaking”—but he is “perceptive,” and as the master of deception—“it’s not a lie, if you believe it”—he has the intuitive ability to sense when something might not make sense. After all, this is a guy who spent years telling people he scored a 1409 on his SAT—which was a numerically impossible score to get—so how could he not be a master of logic?

“A regular guy . . . likes sports . . . watches T.V.” Is he smart? “He knows how to read. And he also knows finishing an entire book doesn’t prove anything.” These quotations are George’s descriptions of Steven Koren, the hopeful scholarship student turned Van Buren Boy, but they could just as easily describe George himself, as could these: “His G.P.A. is a solid 2.0! Right in the meaty part of the curve—not showing off, not falling behind.” OK, that’s not great, but “I’m sure we’re all aware of the flaws and biases of standardized tests.” These aren’t standardized tests—these are his grades.

Look, George is really a smart guy—smart enough to know that, if he wants his current girlfriend to see a piece of paper that says he has a good IQ, he’ll need to have someone else take an IQ test for him. That’s the type of applied brilliance sorely missing in the modern world.

In general, I suppose that we at RotoViz desire for our posts to be as Costanza-proof as possible—for them to be able to withstand the (dare I say) bald pessimistic, caustic, and probingly meta-concerned deconstructionist post-postmodern inspection of the most Costanza-like reader imaginable. If our posts can do that—“if I could talk to the mothers and have sex with the daughters”—then we’d “really have something going.” Oh, you got something going.

So basically I’m trying to say that, for the purposes of this series, “my name is George. I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.”

Why “The Dissenting Costanzan”?—why the f*ck not???

Welcome to the New York Yankees.

 

  1. Just imagine that I said “make explicit” while licking my lips like Crispin Glover’s Andy Warhol in Oliver Stone’s The Doors. That should help give you the sense of what I’m (not) going for.  (back)
  2. I think the answer is “a strong female counterpart, a deliciously evil villain, and unbelievable era-agnostic campiness.  (back)
  3. I still hold this one close to my stone-cold heart, probably because I came up with it.  (back)

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