More fun examples!

There are a number of current musicians and actors I like to use to illustrate my examples about how people work. Mostly, they're people I find very easy to read, although I have learned, kind of stupidly slowly, that what I think is obvious and what other people think is obvious are two really very different things. I jam my foot straight into my eagerly-waiting mouth on a regular basis by commenting on things I think everyone is aware of, thereby finding out the hard way that I'm the only one. I also get in trouble an awful lot because for some reason, people think that if I remark that I've noticed something, I'm implying I think it's bad or weird or wrong, when in fact it just means 'hey, I noticed this thing, thought you might want to be aware you were broadcasting it'. No one is aware of absolutely everything that crosses their face or affects their posture, not even scary people like me; I just think of it like letting them know something's about to fall out the back of their shopping bag, in case they want to catch that and stuff it back in.

One of my favorites as of late has been Robert Downey, Jr. Because reasons, basically. One, he's hot. For further information on this, see every movie he's ever been in, plus about 95% of tumblr. Also: my search results.

Two, he's smart. I'm notorious for being able to spot the other gifted kids from like five miles off. I have a sort of internal checklist of "symptoms and side-effects of having grown up rather too smart for your own good". He hits about twelve out of ten. If you're wondering, genius seems to be only moderately associated with formal education, but highly correlated with continuing self-education, and also with being a complete wiseass.

Three, he's funny. It's not always necessary to be bright in order to be funny, but there are whole genres of humor that are only hilarious because they violate some linguistic or social expectation, and in general you have to have some significant brainage to come up with this stuff on the spot while someone is talking at you on live TV. (He's far from the only one; Gracie Allen was a pretty brilliant dumb blonde.) If you can pick apart why you're laughing, it usually tells you something about both the comedian and the audience.

Four, I find him really easy to read. Whether this is true for you depends on a lot of factors, but assuming you know how to correct for sarcasm, his body language and what he says are close to identical. He does not like the feeling that he has to constantly watch his mouth, so he doesn't, and people deal. He can shut up now, sort of, but unless he's actively and consciously engaged in acting, he is totally uninterested in censoring what comes out on his face and in his movements. It helps that he's pretty laissez faire about most of the weird things humans do, but even on the occasions where he's not, it's almost impossible to get him to be embarrassed by whatever's going on inside his own head anymore.

(As a bonus five, he's an active practitioner of the Captain's patented Cause An Awkward Silence technique, designed to make people stop and re-think whatever just fell out of their mouths. It takes some doing -- you either need real planning or some sort of preternatural talent for being rude before you can come up with a question that RDJ thinks is too inappropriate to even answer with snark -- but he does just sit back, eyeball the idiot in question, and give a flat "Wow." Works wonders.)

Because Downey is blatantly uninterested in giving people the answer they want rather than the answer he thinks is appropriate (usually meaning true and/or hilarious), he's also an excellent example of one thing I keep telling people over and over, which is that there are very, very few cases in which you can interpret any one behavior unambiguously without loads of context. RDJ can be pretty determinedly weird on occasion, but if you watch him for a while (HORRIBLE SACRIFICE, I know) he's pretty determinedly weird in pretty much the same ways all the time. The behavior you come to expect in certain situations becomes context, and informs your assessment of stuff he does, stuff other people do in response to him, stuff the gibberingly insane people in the YouTube comments type drunkenly with their cloven hooves, etc.

I have a special kind of loathing for those pop-psych things that purport to tell you, "If your spouse/boss/child/butcher/murderous kidnapper does X, it means Y!" Half of it is complete shit, probably made up by Cosmo editors on a slow day after a three-appletini lunch. The half of it that's true-ish is only true in the aggregate. The average human being has one breast and one testicle, but this state of affairs is only very rarely the case for any one individual. For every five things your self-help book tells you, probably two or three of them are true for any given person you meet -- and there's no way to tell which two or three of them it is until you've actually made a bunch of behavioral observations. The process of spotting situational differences is much simplified if you can find someone whose behavior is largely congruent and thereby predictable. Then you can eyeball them for a while and go, "Okay, doing X, doing X, doing X, aha! This time, he's doing Y! What's different about what's happening now?" and have a snowball's chance of figuring it out.

I've already posted a bunch o' stuff involving RDJ, including a brief breakdown of the non-verbals in the lab scene from Avengers where Tony starts overtly trying to get Bruce to totally be his Bestest Science Bro 4 Eva. I do have a brief follow up note on his appearances with Craig Ferguson: Feedback from the neurotypical-normals and neurotypical-awkwards ranged from "Huh. I think you're right," to "oh jesus christ I couldn't finish watching that, I had to turn it off, SO HORRIBLY AWKWARD." Only one person spoke up in disagreement, a friend of mine who self-identifies strongly with the Asperger's view of the world, although I confess I don't know if he has a formal diagnosis or just kept track of himself for a while and figured it was really bloody obvious. (I can't personally diagnose someone from halfway around the world via blog comments, nothing in what he's written at me makes me doubt his conclusion.) I don't have enough data to come to any real conclusions, but I thought the outcome of that was interesting.

Another reminder that it's mah berfday soon. Allons-y!