"Oh what fools these mortals be"
September 6, 2013
It’s not like I need another T-shirt. Especially one with writing on the front, which limits pairing. Still, when the shirt popped up on someone else’s Facebook page, I coveted it immediately. I know a thing or two about being a greater fool… yes, I do.
I first heard the expression in the early Eighties, here in Park City. I was brought into a very small group of people who had formed a kind of pre-PAC for local elections. It was called The Clean Water Fund. Make of that name what you will. My business partner and I were brought in to help with the marketing of a few select candidates, that some powers that were thought should be elected. One man, who still lives here in town, was both a city council-person and a realtor for a major business. He was the guy who expressed the idea, if what we proposed for the town seemed a bit pie-eyed optimistic, not to worry, there was always a "greater fool."
I understood this first in the economic sense. If you purchased a bit of land that might seem like a gamble, not to worry, the town was on an upswing and there would always be a greater fool (than you) who would pay more later. It was the kind of expression used with a wink in your voice. It was mocking. You may have been a fool but there was still… a greater fool.
Regular readers (both of you) of this column know I have been a huge Aaron Sorkin fan for years. Back to the "West Wing" days. Certainly, "The Social Network." And now, "The Newsroom." This year’s episodes are flying by, with the most recent, which included a star turn with an almost-soliloquy for Jane Fonda as the stoned, bejeweled, begowned (probably there is no such word but you get it) CEO of her own news network. And with the tweet this week from Jeff Daniels revelaing there will be a third season, geeky, newsy fans everywhere are elated. And honestly, so are the snarky critics it gives them a worthy show to dissect.
But last season, which ended over a year ago, had an episode that has haunted me. The news anchor, Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, was in the hospital suffering perhaps from, um, mis-medicating himself. And he was suffering from exhaustion and depression. A New York magazine had done an article about him with the headline, "A Greater Fool." Only in this case, it was not a reference to a study in economics but rather a kind of misplaced optimism.
There were lots of other plot turns, including the return of Sorority Girl, who you may recall (if you are as addicted to this show as I am) was in the very first episode. Will had been on a panel and she asked the question, "What makes America the best (or greatest, I don’t recall the exact words) country in the world?" And he responds, uncharacteristic of his cheerful, balanced, Nebraska boy persona. He explains America is not the greatest country in the world in….and then he lists statistics from birth rates to high school dropout rates to health care… all areas where we place seriously low on the international scale. And he concludes with the implication… we could be (the greatest) if we recognized/worked at those things.
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Poor Sorority Girl has been slapped verbally. And it is a slap heard ’round the media. Everything about Will gets questioned and he realizes he has snapped something. The season then proceeds to watch him try to tackle his work and love life and we watch him unravel to the place of the final episode, where he is hospitalized. Sorority Girl has turned up in the office to be hired as an intern. When he returns to work, he recognizes her face but can’t place her, at first. When he does, he asks her just what she thinks she is doing there, asking for a job. And again, just playing from memory and not Sorkin’s actual script, she says something to the effect, "because I know what A Greater Fool is, and I want to be one."
And so, The Shirt. It is in navy only and a slim cut and the website advises ordering it, "one to two sizes larger than you usually wear." (Which is confusing… should I order it two sizes larger or will one suffice?) And it is printed with, "I know what a Greater Fool is and I want to be one."
In all my many lives, up to now, I think I have been a fool, repeatedly. I like to imagine, on occasion, I’ve been a greater fool. I hope my desire to think something could be better, infinitely better than it currently exists, motivated me to make changes to my life and my work. I hope I have had a healthy dose of "well, this could be better," even when others thought things were "good enough." I hope I’ve stayed a careful skeptic when dealt news that seemed too good to be true. And I hope I am working to upset the status quo any chance I get.
Look, I understand it’s just a shirt with a quote on it. With shipping and handling it will be under $30. I can afford it. I don’t really need another shirt of any kind. But something tells me I’m gonna order it anyway (and I will go through the closet and give away at least two shirts to compensate for the addition). I probably won’t get around to placing the order today but I think I might go online this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.