Originally Posted by Graham
the basic idea is that if one [academic] reaches a faulty conclusion, then another echoes him (trusting that the first [researcher]'s credentials confirm him as some kind of authority), then another follows, and another, until eventually, you have a chorus parrotting the first misguided theory, lending a false air of credibility in numbers to an idea that was wrong to begin with.
It's the scientific equivalent of mob behaviour.
This is altogether one of the more important articles that has ever been linked from this forum, and it provides a fine example of how the topic of our Web site--the suppression of timeless beauty by modern culture--is a microcosmic analogy of a wider societal phenomenon.
This writer's notion of a cascade effect
is well worth keeping in mind, when considering any body of received wisdom. The effect is not confined to the scientific community, but extends to all academic fields, including the study of literature, history, politics, etc. The first writer who addresses a given topic blazes a path through the jungle, as it were, and then everyone who comes after him simply follows his trail--because it's easy to do so. Everyone depends on previous conclusions and adopts them, and no one bothers to consider whether the initial scholar's trail is the correct one. They simply take it on faith.
Consider, for example, the critical reception of the poetry of Lord Byron. In the 19th and early 20th century, many Christian writers of literary history cast aspersions on his work because it was perceived as being insufficiently pious. Some even condemned it as blasphemous. (Byron did, after all, pattern the central figure in his work, the "Byronic Hero," after the Satan of Milton's Paradise Lost,
and penned a drama telling the story of Cain from Cain's perspective.) Then, in the later 20th century, as literary criticism became dominated by Leftist academics, the poetry was morally faulted again, except now, the complaint was that Byron espoused Romantic individualism rather than the kind of political collectivism (socialism, "social justice") that the new crop of critics favoured. Neither group's criticisms had much to do with the actual literary merit of Byron's work. They simply reflected the biases of the academics, and as the philosophies changed, the details of the criticisms were amended, but the basic condemnation remained.
The same is true of plus-size beauty. In the works of Charlotte Bronte, for example, the author creates many compelling, gorgeous, full-figured feminine characters, but much as she acknowledges their beauty, she rebukes them for their vanity. In our time, the same characters are reproached by literary critics, except now, they are condemned for embodying unfeminist or anti-feminist modes of being. Yet in fact, these characters are among the most vibrant and captivating individuals in the author's books.
Academics, journalists, researchers all behave according to human nature, and as in any community, everyone enjoys feeling the strength in numbers, loudly acclaiming the popular view. No one enjoys being an outcast; no one enjoys being labelled a "heretic" (or whatever modern political equivalent substitutes for this term). Modern scholars condemn the group-think of previous generations, and praise the heretics of the past, then turn around and behave just as those whom they have condemned--engaging in group-think themselves, and ostracizing the "heretics" of the present day
The word "revisionist" has negative connotations in academic circles, and yet revisionism in a general sense may simply constitute an effort to escape the "cascade effect" described above, to re-evaluate and re-examine the blindly-followed critical paths of the past, and to blaze new, possibly richer, possibly more accurate, trails.
Plus-size beauty is still awaiting just such a cultural revision, just such an aesthetic reappraisal. A perceptive article like the one posted above suggests that such a revision is at last becoming a distinct possibility.
Kelsey Olson in an adorable beret; new at Torrid:
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