When Analogies Collapse

I once heard someone say that if you push any comparison far enough, it will fall apart. I had that comment in mind this week when I kept running across comparisons that didn’t quite work. Or really didn’t quite work

The first is from a good soccer blog called The Run of Play. They were writing about a recent FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid match. Those two teams are the heavyweights in Spanish soccer, and two of the best clubs in the entire world. But when they played last week, Barca embarrassed Real Madrid, winning 5-0, which is rare, rare, rare. Good soccer teams like Real simply don’t get drubbed like that.

To give credit where it’s due, Alan Jacobs can write well:

There’s something fey abut how Barça plays when they’re at their best, as though they’re engaged in some odd game of their own and are not even aware of what observers (including, or especially, the other team on the pitch) think about it. Real played an extremely high defensive line yesterday, and for minutes on end Barça seemed content to pass the ball around at midfield — and then there would be some sudden, inexplicable drive forward and the ball would be in the net and everyone would be thinking, Wait, what just happened there?

That’s a good summary, and the set-up of two of Barça’s goals looked utterly unthreatening until one brilliant pass sprung someone, and the ball was in the back of the net. But the challenge for Jacobs is to put it in perspective; and he takes his shot:

Barcelona plays like slime mold. Slime mold is sort of an organism and sort of a collection of organisms: it combines or divides according to circumstance and need. Sometimes it will assemble itself into one vast colony, sometimes split into hundreds of them. Its intelligence is not directed but collective and emergent, swarming; there’s no one player or coach making the crucial decisions, those decisions just happen.

Jacobs even links to a slime mold video at the cellular level, but I still think his shot misses rather badly. If you want to belabor the point, check out slime mold in time lapse:

As lovely and orange and organicky as this may be, it in no way reminds me of Barça.

I will sneak up on the second analogy, which is only kindasorta an analogy, by mentioning that the season’s hot new flavor is bacon. I’ve heard of bacon alcohol, bacon ice cream, bacon bandages and bacon air freshener, and even My First Bacon talking plush toy. After a little while, you say, “I get it. People like bacon. Let’s put bacon on stuff. Let’s put bacon on a donut.”

A while back it was pomegranate. Who knows what will be next. I was at a party last week, and there was beer with coriander in it. Maybe coriander?

But at some point during Bacon Madness™, it was bound to happen: Someone would take the bacon meme a strip too far. And last week, we reached that point: bacon lube.

Not only is bacon full of fat, thus grease, which is itself a lube (making the product redundant), you open yourself up to a whole spate of stupid double-entendres, like having a sizzling session of sex, or bringing a whole new scent and flavor to the term “porking.”

I know I’m becoming the Andy Rooney of comparisons. I can’t make the mental leap to describe one of the world’s best soccer teams as fungus-like organisms that use spores to reproduce.

And I only want to get my bacon flavor from bacon, and not a sexual aid. Call me what you will: uptight, old-fashioned, even Victorian. I know it’s a missionary position. But it’s still better than piggy style.


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