Definition – Individuals who inherently enjoy seeing the unexpected or unplanned happen, independently of the people or groups involved in these events.
The Story– The term “Applecarters” comes from an old expression. It refers to those who enjoying seeing what happens when something “upsets the apple cart.” In other words, these are folks who like to see the unusual or unanticipated occur. They want to see the contingencies that those in charge didn’t plan for or expect would come to pass. Basically, they enjoy it when things hit the fan.
As you may have guessed, I count myself among the members of this group of people. I can cite you umpteen examples of great Applecarter-approved moments. I love seeing people break character on live shows, just to watch them get through it and see how their costars react. I find myself hoping for outsider political candidates like Kinky Friedman to succeed, if only to disrupt the status quo. And if there’s one thing to say in favor of the BCS, it’s that it sure is fun to watch teams from mid-major conferences try to bust it, and it’s also fun to see a slew of late season upsets that thrust one or more long shot teams back into big games. We like gaffes, surprises, and the unpredictable. Essentially we enjoy situations where you just have to ask “how are they going to handle this mess?” or “what’s going to happen next?”
However, it’s important to note that these sorts of people see the apple cart being tipped over as an inherent good rather than an instrumental good. That is to say, we enjoy these unexpected events because of the scrambling and unpredictability that follows, not because of any affection or dislike for the people involved. It’s not just about the underdog, it’s about the unusual and unforeseen.
For example, I enjoyed the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks becoming the first sub-.500 team to make the playoffs in the NFL. Now, I have no particular affection for the Seahawks. If anything, I bear some ill-will toward Pete Carroll for being the enemy in the Texas Longhorns’ 2005 Championship season. Still, I rooted for it to happen, because it was unusual. It was different. It was something that made people gnash their teeth and holler and even reevaluate the merits of the current playoff system in professional football. I had no strong feelings about Seattle, I just wanted to see the outlandish occur, and sure enough, it happened.
Applecarter-friendly situations can occur in almost any field and almost any situation. Part of what made the 2008 Presidential Primary race so interesting is that on both sides of the aisle, it was a big question as to who would represent each party in the general election. I had never heard of Virginia Commonwealth University prior to this year’s NCAA tournament, but I was cheering them on the whole way because a play-in game team had never made the final four. Tim Kazurinsky performed a recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live called “I Married a Monkey” for the very reason that he knew that people would enjoy the unexpected, unpredictable nature of having a live animal in a comedy sketch, and it paid off.
That said, this element of the Applecarter mentality can be a double-edged sword. The best example of this is the Writer’s Strike of 2007-2008. As an Applecarter, I was really hoping for the strike, which had been bubbling for some time, to come to fruition. I have to admit, I was only vaguely aware of the substance of the dispute between the WGA and heads of movie and television studio, but I wanted to see how the networks would react. I wanted to see the fallout, and I just generally wanted to see the effect that this dramatic event would have on the “business as usual” that is television. But when it actually happened, there were both positive and negative consequences.
On the one hand, I got to see entertainers like Conan O’brien, Stephen Colbert, and Jon Stewart working without a net. Seeing the type of shows they put on in the midst of this bind gave us some of the most creative and unique work of their careers. It also allowed us to see them a little more clearly and a little more realistically, without the protective sheen of a well-prepared script. On the other hand, it also severely hampered some of my favorite scripted shows. It was fairly clear that shows like “House” and “The Office” had slow burning storylines and character arcs which had to be significantly shortened and felt rushed. These seasons suffered from pacing problems and I cannot help but wonder how much more impactful certain storylines might have been if they’d had those extra couple of months to flesh things out. The upshot of all of this is that sometimes the outcomes that arise from the tipping of the apple cart are good, and sometimes they’re bad.
I have given a great deal of thought as to what makes someone into an Applecarter, and the conclusion I have reached is the following. So much of our modern world is so sanitized, choreographed, and intricately and exhaustively prepared before it reaches us. In advertising, politics, entertainment, sports, and just about any field you can think of, everything has been carefully calibrated to be as perfect as possible, with nary a flaw or the slightest hint of anything short of the ideal to be found.
Everything about a politician, every move they make, down to each word they speak, is carefully plotted in advance based on polls, plans, and other prognostications. Television shows and movies are cast and shot and edited to make a presentation that’s as slick as possible. Pictures in magazines and on billboards are airbrushed and photoshopped until the end results are literally unreal, and present an image of something that could not exist in the real world. The ultimate product is a world and a culture where it has become increasingly rare to see something elegantly, and I would say, beautifully, flawed and human.
Applecarters want to see something real. We want to see a situation where all those people who were paid all that money to plan out every last little detail, didn’t quite plan for something. We want to see when that massive coordinated effort to account for every last contingency fails. We want the unexpected. We want see what happens when, for once, everyone has to face something new and different. We want to see them have to react and come up with response that isn’t canned or pre-prepared, but simply pure, unadulterated, and true. In a world that strives for perfection, we just want to see what happens when things turn out a little less than perfect. Here’s hoping we see a few more apple carts tipped over.