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Middle of the road is advisable unless it’s mediocre

Middle of the road is advisable unless it’s mediocre

In most of the classrooms I can remember, there was the front of the class and the back of the class. The gold star, let-me-please-you people who sat in the front row were either the ones who studied, the people who were good at sports or those who looked decent. The back row was stocked with assorted black mark misfits, miscreants and people who just wanted to have fun in the face of boredom. The people who sat in the middle of the class just weren’t there: nobody noticed them.

Not being particularly studious, sporty or pleasing to the eye, I chose the back of the class. Nothing beats chucking wet toilet paper around when faced with a skull-numbing explanation of the mechanics of photosynthesis. Besides, I never envisaged making a vocation out of being something with leaves.

The classroom, my favourite metaphor for life, is very good at black and white, good and bad, sheep and goats and all the other polar opposites, though I still don’t quite comprehend how a sheep is the opposite of a goat. But, like life, the narrow, pedantic worldview cast aside a large measure of truth in favour of the extremes. And I, being a stupid, unruly kid with a bent for exploring the outer limits fell into the trap. I made a mistake sitting in the back row of the class. I should have sat in the middle, or at least two thirds or three fifths towards the back.

In reality, the far corner of the back row on the side closest to the door says a lot about the occupant of the desk: ‘twisted little freak’ for instance, ‘don’t confront in dark alleys’ or perhaps ‘juvenile fifth columnist’. It’s also a dead give-away to teachers. The front row oozes smug righteousness and ersatz dedication. In the dramatic scheme of things, it’s a place for knights in shining armour, fairy tale princesses and wannabe prefects.

I have moved on from the misdemeanours and mischief of the classroom. I toyed around with the front row as well, but didn’t find comfort in ambition, much less long-term security. This leaves me sitting in the middle of the class. And what a comfortable place it can be, in spite of the allure of the extremes.

Why did I not seek out the comfy, non-committal seat earlier? In terms of the extremes, the middle of the class is perhaps the worst place to be. Let’s switch metaphors here…

There are two noticeably cool types of musician. The first is a virtuoso: brilliant at everything, pleasing to the ear and then some. The second is bad, but spelled with a couple more vowels. Think lock-up-your-daughters ‘baaaaad’. This is the person who abrasively reinvents everything we know. You might not like it now, but it will affect your kids thinking well into old age.

In between these two types you get the seriously ‘uncool’ musician, commonly described as M.O.R. or middle-of-the-road. Being M.O.R. has the connotation of ‘mediocre’ and gets you stinging criticism in the music press. Think country music here. Now what sort of a musician would you want to be? Does the word ‘mediocre’ fit in anywhere?

According to my dictionary, the Latin roots of the word ‘mediocre’ are medius and ocris, meaning halfway up the stony mountain. Putting the derogatory meaning of the word aside, what a beautiful place to be. The choice of direction is yours: up or down. You also have quite a good view. The people at the top can only go down, and the people at the bottom have to stay there or begin the long haul upwards.

Another interesting fact that everyone, myself included, forgets is that the mass at the middle gives shape to what lies at the outer edges. In essence, those in the middle define what is good, bad and even ‘baaaad’.

Abandonment of ambition at either end of the extreme is not new to society. In the Sixties it was the drop-outs. In the Seventies and early Eighties Douglas Coupland noted ‘yuppie-downscaling’ in his seminal work Generation-X.

Perhaps it’s an idea whose time has come again and maybe mediocrity is not such a bad thing. It’s time for the average to go post-millenial.


 

About The Author

Pierre Maré

Pierre Maré is a multi-awarded Namibian advertising strategist and copy writer. From 2004 to 2016 he wrote a weekly tongue-in-cheek column for the paper Economist, eventually amassing an impressive 590 articles over the almost 12-year period. This series of Offbeat is a digital rerun of his pieces that received the highest reader acclaim. - Ed.

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