POPULARITY PARADES AND THE MADNESS OF CROWDS

IVOR TIEFENBRUN used to exhibit his products at the annual consumer electronics show in Las Vegas and entertain customers from all over the world in the evening. Las Vegas has many alleged attractions, but in Ivor’s view it is a waste of good desert.

One year some Japanese customers asked me to take them to a famous Las Vegas girly bar with a hundred tables arranged around a long catwalk, where over drinks in the smoke-filled room you could watch a parade of shapely semi-naked, long legged females with implausibly large firm breasts, peroxide blond hair and lithe glistening suntanned bodies, perched on high heels, teeter up and down the ramp.

The particular attraction for our visitors was a lady claimed to have the largest breasts in the world, and that explained much of the club’s popularity.  My sales managers and I very sportingly agreed that we should be obliging.

My guests who were tired and jetlagged barely touched their drinks and soon fell asleep, and then we discovered that the star attraction would be the last to perform, leaving us no option but to drink at great expense until her appearance.

The penultimate act that evening was billed as an amateur contest with entrants hoping to win the cash prize and, if not stardom, a lucrative career as a Las Vegas dancer or stripper.

The line-up was far less glamorous than the professional strippers, and they looked much more like normal women, except for a surrealistic looking professional who we had seen perform earlier.  The MC made his preference very obvious when introducing the contenders, clearly wanting the club’s employee to win the thousand dollar cash prize advertised.  The field of contestants was reduced on the basis of the applause each successive contestant received.

With little else to do, in an environment that was far too noisy for conversation, we gazed vacantly as each of the girls paraded their charms in turn until startled by the surprising participation of a plain looking, dark complexioned, flat-chested and big bottomed girl who looked completely out of place.

Spotting the small black haired girl, I started to clap and encouraged my companions to applaud with me. Soon, other bored and rebellious men out of the five hundred or so in the venue also started to clap.

As a result of increasingly enthusiastic vocal support from the audience, our preferred girl survived every elimination round to reach the final.  The audience was then presented with a choice between the plump bottomed lady and the tall Nordic looking Amazonian professional, if you will excuse that descriptive double contradiction.

By this time the entire audience were cheering wildly, with many standing on the tables and stamping their feet and screaming out the Mexican girl’s name.

Attempts by the MC to swing the decision in favour of the synthetic blond goddess had only encouraged evermore raucous supportive chanting from the entire audience, until giving me the darkest possible look he was finally forced to announce that Rosa, the Mexican contestant, was the acclaimed winner.  She was delighted.  In the course of the competition the more support she got, the better she looked, the more she smiled winningly and the more confident, personable and delighted she became.

Hopefully it never occurred to her that her win, rather than reflecting her charms, was a reaction to the unsavoury nature of the competition, the lack of genuine appeal of the other contestants, and the eccentric circumstances that illustrated the potential of crowd behaviour to create an upset.  My customers were utterly mystified by this peculiar turn of events, and feeling it was prudent we said that we were unable to see the lady with the biggest breasts as it was time to leave.

These old memories re-emerged when observing the meteoric rise of Jeremy Corbyn to pole position in the Labour leadership contest, despite in my opinion his extreme views, and his determination to upset most of his fellow citizens’ lives.

Boredom and resentment, and the lack of an attractive contender, have led to foolish but widespread crowd support for Mr Corbyn.  The glare of publicity can help popularise and enhance the attractions of the most mediocre people and the most irrational ideas in defiance of logic.  A public stage can make plain performers into superstars.

Popular acclaim induced by media exposure can make unnaturally skinny odd-looking girls who walk on catwalks and pose for photographs into role models admired around the world, who set standards for beauty and aspirations for lovelier, more natural and healthier looking women.

The same phenomenon occurs in politics as well as the business world.

Through the vagaries of circumstances, rogues and mountebanks sometimes acquire a mass following, despite dishonesty or even performing lucrative service to the world’s most despotic regimes, rather than any appropriate qualifications or legitimately earned good fortune or industrious endeavour.

Hysterical crowd anointed fame can create unmerited success.  To avoid such madness and its occasional dire consequences, including unfair media driven demonisation, people must refuse to succumb to crowd behaviour and the allure of running with the pack.

Instead we must rely on our own carefully considered judgement, and operate as thinking individuals who accept responsibility for our behaviour.  Our unique potential to do good or harm is what we all bring to the world.

Individual behaviour always matters, even in the most complex scenarios, because if a result is uncertain and at any point hangs in the balance, then the action of one single person can determine the outcome.

For better or worse, we all have the extraordinary potential and power to affect others, especially friends, family and colleagues, so we must choose to use our influence wisely.

In any organisation anyone can spot an opportunity to improve performance or secure a favourable outcome.

Anyone can make a mistake, ignore procedures or misbehave and single-handedly help to destroy the reputation or future of an organisation, or even their country.

Narcissistic and hypocritical self-serving individuals can revel in such self-righteous, destructive and anarchistic behaviour, as do hackers and traitors who fully intend to do harm.

Individual behaviour matters, and personal accountability is what matters most.

As Nietzsche observed, “Madness is rare in individuals – but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule”.

Irrational crowd behaviour is the great enemy of personal freedom and collective success.

 

Ivor Tiefenbrun is the founder and Chairman of Linn Products, manufacturer of iconic hi-fi audio and home theatre equipment. This article first appeared in The Herald.

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