Same, Same in Different

An all-time favorite of behavioral sciences is the study of the likeness of characteristics in couples. Hypothesis 1: “like will to like” or “birds of a feather flock together” verses Hypothesis 2: “Opposites attract”. Countless studies show that Hypothesis Nr. 1 seems to be more readily observable, leading to the frustrating result that the rich apparently mainly marry the rich while the poor marry the poor, so love doesn”t seem to manage the job of smoothing out the uneven distribution of wealth in society to reduce poverty.

Thus, Marylin Monroe alias Sugar”s plan of marrying a millionaire may not be as simple as it sounds – and after all, by the end of the 1959 movie “Some Like it Hot”, the not-so-rich musician Sugar ends up with the equally not-so-rich fellow musician Joe. However, Joe”s friend Jerry does indeed attract millionaire”s Mr. Osgood”s attention. But then again, regardless of money, Joe and Osgood share the very like trait of both being male.

Marylin Monroe – “I want to be loved by you” movie scene:

But the real problem of studies – or dating websites – that try to determine the optimal match of “stable” characteristics between people is that this approach misses out on the actually interesting thing about people interacting with each other: the unforeseeable dynamics that develop. Nevertheless, such scientific studies remind you that it might be worthwhile trying to learn about the people who are close to you. The Velvet Underground propose a rather straightforward approach to this in their seminal 1969 song “I”m Sticking with you”, which was released officially for the first time in 1985, and re-released in 2002:

The amazing thing about pretty much all pieces by the Velvet Underground is that they actually only introduce very small and simple experimental variations to mainstream music and lyrics – yet, while much of their music and lyrics are “same, same” as the mainstream, nevertheless their resulting music is always radically “different”. For example, the lyrics are taken very literal – the only reason for “sticking together” is because the singer is “made out of glue” – no studies of characteristics or any other justifications are necessary. She suggests to simply observe, and imitate without further elaboration. Despite her light-hearted approach to the difficult subject matter of learning and adapting to people, she is aware that her ruthless suggestion propels her into a sphere that is beyond the stage of scientific or subjective evaluations: “When we swing – We hang past right or wrong.” This phrase is accompanied by a non-standard transitional musical interlude between the first and last parts of the piece – which is one of the unusual variations introduced to the general structure of the verse-chorus beginning and the repetitive ending (also found, for example, in the song Peaches by the Presidents of the USA).

When people start imitating each other, it may appear to observing scientists that their characteristics become more similar to each other – but most likely, they actually merely are establishing a basis to create something new. Dissimilar characteristics may open the doors to new worlds that require you to adapt and change – but also similar characteristics may pressure you to come up with new things, due to threat of things becoming boring, as they get too predictable.

Brian Eno, one of the co-founders of Roxy Music, famously stated that not many people bought the music of the Velvet Underground, but everybody who did started a band. Probably, some of these newly-founded bands such as U2 and REM initially simply played and analyzed the songs as of the Velvet Underground, but then always proceeded to do something that”s kind of same, same – but different.

One of the greatest values in interacting with other people – or even only with other people”s music – is perhaps best expressed by JD in the 4th episode of the 7th season of Scrubs “My Identity Crisis” (not to be confused with Christopher Durang”s play ” “Dentity Crisis”) – “We all want to be appreciated for our unique identities – but when we decide to change who we are for someone we love, we can surprise even ourselves, with whom we”ve become.”

Have a same, same, but different week,


PS: Here is a Cambodian piece from 1973 by Ros Sereysothea – “I”m 16 years old” from the soundtrack to the 2009 movie “Same Same But Different”: