Throughout our days, the either-or fallacy is often presented to us as, “There are two kinds of people…” Ella Fitzgerald crooned about the two kinds of people she could not understand in Duke Ellington’s 1941 song, “Rocks in My Bed”—“that’s a deceitful woman and hard-faced man.”
Writer Amy Tan wrote about the two kinds of daughters in her short story, “Two Kinds,” which was also included in her 1989 novel The Joy Luck Club:
“Only two kinds of daughters,” [the mother] shouted in Chinese. “Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter!”
Seinfeld, the 1990s TV “show about nothing” (but not really), continually showed viewers who received soup (and those who did not), who close-talked and who endured the invasion of personal space and spittle, who double-dipped their chip, or who said yes to unintelligible requests and ended up wearing puffy white shirts on television. Say what you will about the TV show, but Seinfeld often put the world on opposing teams where the characters had to figure out where they stood.
Nowadays the “two kinds of people” way of thinking has evolved to, “Some of y’all have never experienced X (a certain thing or event), and it shows.” Take a gander through social media, especially Twitter, right now, and you’ll find the conditional phrase everywhere. In some ways, the “and it shows” meme is both revealing and endearing to see how pop culture and memory shape how we all view who sinks and who swims.
Nostalgia, it seems, divides us all. The 21st-century if-then statement is another version of, “In my day we had to walk 5 miles to school, uphill, and in a blizzard,” with the implication that because you did not walk your road in another’s way, your weakness and youth show.
Twitter versions of the meme have included the bright line of what it meant growing up with granite kitchen islands, recording music from the radio on cassette tape, not being the line leader in school, or distracting yourself by playing Wii while your parents decided to divorce.
And really, this division of who had it worse (or better) is nothing new. We have been trying to place one another in us-them camps forever. Cain versus Abel. Athens versus Sparta. Diana Ross versus Donna Summer. Beach versus mountain. Disco versus punk rock. Guns versus butter.
Of course, our choices are never that simple, and life, more often than not, provides more choices than the limited ones we are often presented. Some of y’all have never had to hold the grey, betwixt-and-between areas close to your conflicted heart, and it shows.