Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Complexity Complex

Mindmesser, Benmummy, Humongosaur, Stinkfly, Toepick, Rubix-Dude... Do any of these ring any bells with you? If not, you obviously haven't spent any time with a child who's been watching the TV series Ben Ten. I owe my knowledge of Ben Ten to my four year old son Noah, who is obsessed by the eponymous hero and the 60 alien forms, such as the ones listed above, into which he can transform himself. At a time when producers of television shows are accused of playing down to the intellectually lowest common denominator, the creators of this show have done the opposite. As you discover when you go digging around on the net for answers to four year old questions such as "What can Stinkfly do?". According to one helpful wikia

"Stinkfly is... a Lepidopterran from the swamp planet Lepidopterra (a play on lepidoptera, the scientific name for butterflies and moths)... [and is] meant to be a combination of various Earth insects (dragonflies, crickets, and praying mantises specifically). His primary ability is flight facilitated by the four thin wings on his back, which grant Stinkfly high mobility and speed. Stinkfly also possesses disproportionate strength, enough to carry people and objects heavier than himself. In "Don't Drink the Water", the child form of Stinkfly (Stinkyfly) was able to unleash a powerful herbicide gas by farting. Stinkfly's four eye stalks give him a wide range of vision from the sky, including the ability to look directly behind himself. Pollen ducts in his eyes and mouth allow Stinkfly to excrete high-pressure streams of liquids. The type of liquid can range from a flammable toxin to an immobilizing jelly. His razor-sharp tail and pincer-like legs can also be used in melee combat. Stinkfly's primary weakness is water, which can negate his flight if it gets on his wings. In addition, while his body is fairly strong, his wings are not. A more minor inconvenience is Stinkfly's intense body odor (hence the name), which is a result of the oils he secretes to keep his joints moving."

Similarly detailed descriptions are provided for all of the aliens in Ben Ten - which will come in handy if you find yourself having a conversation with a five year old fan. Unless of course, the five year old in question has switched his allegiance to fooball. In which case, you might have to remember the names of every member of the Manchester United or Arsenal squads - and the details of every goal, misjudged foul and penalty.

So what's my point? Well, most people who deal with wine on a daily basis have discovered that, as a subject, it is generally thought to be too complicated. It is replete with just too many appellations, designations and grapes. Okay, there are anoraks and buffs who delight in the differences between Chassagne Montrachet and Puligny Montrachet, and between the wines of the domaines of Alain Chavy, Philippe Chavy and Hubert Chavy-Chouet but they are the rare exceptions. And, being a wine buff is somehow more nerdy, less socially acceptable for many, than knowing the arcane details of sport or music.

The great English wine writer Andrew Jefford apparently addressed the issue of getting people to embrace or at least accept complexity. "If you're having difficulty teaching your kid chess, don't simply trade down to draughts. Look instead for a better way to get him excited by chess..."

1 comment:

  1. I agree - complexity is more nourishing to the mind than the candy floss of over-simplicity - gone in seconds with no trace!