I’ve just read about The Second Term Curse which supposedly besets (of course) second-term presidents.
There is also the infamous Sports Illustrated Curse, which is said to befall athletes soon after they appear on the cover of that magazine. Other examples abound.
Roughly, ceteris paribus, on average, all other things equal, these “curses” more or less work like this:
Everything that isn’t a stick in the mud, or the product of a bureaucracy (or a bureaucrat), or isn’t otherwise ossified exhibits, for a given behavior, a range. Batters coming to the plate have hot and cold streaks. Actors have scintillating and dull performances. Golfers hit over and under par. Presidents please then displease the citizenry.
Now most of the time performance, for this or that person, is middling. Professional golfers don’t shoot birdies constantly and consistently, nor do they hit boogies: they hit par—which is why they call it par. For me, I don’t shoot two or three over par each time, nor do I hit nine or ten; my usual tally hovers around five or six over. I mean per hole.
But suppose I were invited to join this summer’s Internet Philosophers Open, held each July in beautiful downtown Gaylord, Michigan. Further suppose that I, strengthened by the love and support of my dear readers (and a sufficient dose of the water of life), shoot par and therefore win.
Instant celebrity would result. My picture and bio would appear on tens of blogs, I wouldn’t have to pick up the tab on the nineteenth, and I’d probably even get an interview request from the local paper. The Mayor would shake my hand. Discussions about t-shirts imprinted with my image would be had. I’d be the talk of the interwebs for hours.
This publicity would not go unnoticed and thus I’d surely be asked to participate in the Fall Bloggers Classic, which is October in Cleveland (weather permitting). Once there, it’s much more likely I’d “revert” to my average performance and finish +297 ( = 18 * 3 * 5.5 ).
Think of the headlines! “Shame and Ignominy on Full Display”, “Briggs Muffs It”, “Tournament Organizing Committee Under Investigation”, etc., etc. The psychic pain of my fall would be so intense I’d probably take to listening to NPR—and imagining that I enjoyed it.
Theories by the dozen would be propounded about why, after showing so much promise, I failed so badly. Some would place the blame on atmospheric conditions. Others would compare the quality of Polish sausages between the two locales. Many would pore over my writings between the two tournaments searching for clues about my mental state.
Some, none, or even all (in part) of these theories might be right—something caused me crumble—but the smart money before the Fall Classic would have bet on a dismal performance, simply because that was the best evidence and the most likely outcome.
But if people don’t recognize this, and only remember the see-sawing of performances between the two tournaments, they might put the changes down to a curse.
This all works in reverse, too. If you witness an atypically dismal performance, chances are good the next will be better. They have “regressed” (in reverse) to their “mean.” Or if you see somebody displaying their everyday ability, that’s most likely how you’ll see them the next time.