Intrepid commenter dtcwee asked:
what role does the goal play in determining whether an endeavour is shallow? What is a shallow goal? And can an earnest effort at a shallow goal be considered ‘deep’?
Appearances are always more shallow than reality. The phrase “style over substance” is pejorative because we take for granted that substance is almost always more important than style, such that an inversion of priorities is contemptible.
Goals that invert or disrupt natural priorities may be considered shallow, like putting style before substance. For example, an academic whose goal is to obtain a high number of publications, but who isn’t concerned with the quality or significance of his work. A singer who wants to be high on the charts but doesn’t really care about how he gets there. Or a multitude of bloggers, youtube account holders, and other social media fanatics who desperately want to somehow get rich, but don’t have any genuine motivation or inspiration behind their content: – these can all be considered people with shallow goals.
But is this really different from the previous post where we defined shallow endeavours as instances where “the efforts, knowledge, everything that makes up the endeavour itself, are insufficient for the stated goal”?
I think they are different, because in the examples given above the goals are quite specific and oriented toward the defect we are calling ‘shallowness’. These are not cases where the academic mistakenly thinks his shallow efforts to merely get published are appropriate to his position. No, a shallow goal contains a kind of duplicity or deception, like a shoddy good masquerading as something of quality. Whereas a shallow endeavour might see someone totally out of their depth, a person with a shallow goal is quite able to achieve it. The value of the shallow goal lies in deceiving people, finding shortcuts, cutting corners, and so on.
But as with the previous case of the shallow endeavour – a shallow effort directed toward a genuine goal – it is only with the benefit of greater knowledge that we can label the shallow goal as somehow deficient. It is ‘shallow’ relative to the normal expectations, in the same way that a product or service is considered defective according to established norms.
I’m sure we’ve all come across situations where people have, in good faith, attempted to undertake a project vastly beyond their abilities. But many of us have no doubt also come across situations where people have, in bad faith or cynicism, tried to pass off a half-arsed job as the real deal.
The terminology here is far from definitive, because the original intention was to clarify depth rather than shallowness. In that case, what really matters is that we have so far described two cases of insufficient depth – one intentional and one unintentional.
In this context, how should we answer the second part of the question:
can an earnest effort at a shallow goal be considered ‘deep’?
In theory it can, though the scenario would be somewhat comedic, in that it would imply a person so dedicated to a shallow goal that their efforts become disproportionate to the goal and do approach depth.
Take, for example, the Swedish film ‘The Swimsuit Issue‘ in which a group of middle-aged Swedish men become involved in synchronised swimming as a joke, but start to take it seriously and end up competing in major competitions. There are other examples that will come to mind later, but the point is that there can indeed be depth in the pursuit of a shallow goal, however, the depth seems to engage and transform the character in new ways, such that by the end the nature of the goal itself has changed, and is perhaps no longer shallow.