This article was last modified on August 24, 2006.


Sega and Breakfast: A Look at Scarcity and First Impressions

In the timeless Kevin Smith classic, “Mallrats”, the character Rene tells her boyfriend Brodie Bruce that he has to have breakfast with her. He declines and informs her that his Sega hockey video game is more important because Hartford is beating Vancouver, which allegedly happens once or twice in a lifetime. As Bruce says, “Breakfasts come and go.” Upset, she dumps Bruce and exits the house through a basement window.

Was this breakfast more important than the Sega game? Does rarity or scarcity make something better or more valuable? And exactly what is a first impression worth?

Hockey and Breakfast, Which is More Common?

In general, we cannot deny that breakfasts are more common and less eventful than hockey games. Breakfasts potentially happen every morning. Hockey games, even before the 2004 NHL strike, are less frequent. Hartford and Vancouver opposing each other is less common than hockey games in general. And Hartford triumphing over Vancouver is even more scarce.

But Brodie fails to make a valid argument on three points. First, this particular breakfast is less common than any hockey game because the breakfast is unique. While not clearly stated, the audience is left to believe that the breakfast will be the first time that Rene meets Brodie’s mother, an event that will happen only once in all of history. If Hartford beat Vancouver twice within one thousand years, this is still twice as often as Rene will make a first impression on Brodie’s mother.

Second, his assessment of the Hartford Whalers is inaccurate. The idea that Hartford beats Vancouver “once, maybe twice in a lifetime” is incredibly understating the reality of the rivalry. According to David Marchak, who has kept statistics on the Whalers and Canucks, the teams have faced off forty-nine times between December 11, 1979 and January 10, 1997 (before the Whalers became the Carolina Hurricanes). In this time frame of less than twenty years, the Whalers won nineteen times. So rather than once or twice in a “lifetime”, the Whalers had actually been winning about once a year.

Let us assume that the movie takes place in May or June of 1994 (which is assumed if we place “Clerks” in 1994 and position “Mallrats” to be set two days prior to this). The Whalers had beaten the Canucks as recently as February 6, 1994 with a score of 4 to 2. Surely Brodie’s memory is not that short-term.

This leads to two possibilities. Either Brodie is completely ignorant of professional hockey or he is being a jerk by playing off his girlfriend’s ignorance. The first possibility is unlikely, because despite his unconventional approaches and tactics, Brodie is supposed to be the more informed and knowledgeable of the two heroes (the other being T. S. Quint). We have every reason to believe he has adequate hockey knowledge and should be aware that the Whalers are considerably better than he gives them credit for. This leaves us with the option that he had lied to Rene, assuming she would not notice. Although Brodie’s character is rude and crass, we are left with the impression he is not a liar or a deceiver. However, this impression is incorrect [1].

Lastly, Brodie gives the impression that this “rare” hockey game must occur at that particular moment (the time normally associated with breakfasts). As we can plainly see, this is untrue. Brodie had the Sega paused from the night before (if not earlier) and there was no reason he had to unpause the game at that precise moment. Furthermore, had he unpaused the game before being notified by Rene of the breakfast situation, why could he not simply pause the game again? [2]

Is Scarcity in General More Valuable?

Let us return to the idea of scarcity again for a moment. I have asserted that the breakfast shared by Rene and Brodie’s mother [3] had more value than a hockey game because of the scarce or rare nature of this breakfast. But does being more rare make something inherently more valuable?

According to economists, scarcity has a great deal to do with a thing’s value. While the proposition of presenting a breakfast or a hockey game as a commodity might seem cheap or insulting, there is no reason anything can not be reduced to these terms. The economic value of a thing is based in no small part on scarcity, as economics in general had been defined by British economist Lionel Robbins (1898-1984) as “the study of the allocation of scarce goods among competing ends.”

Scarcity could be equated with supply and demand. As supply goes down, or demand goes up, or both, the value of any thing increases. The supply of the breakfast is very low (there will only be one), even lower than the supply of hockey games where the Whalers beat the Canucks (nineteen, or an infinite amount potentially in video game form). The demand is comparable, as the demand for either of these situations appears to be “one” (one person demands each situation, unless we consider Brodie’s mother might desire to meet Rene, but there is no evidence for this). While hardly scientific, we should be able to say the value of the breakfast is greater than the value of the hockey game if we consider the value of the breakfast to be one (one demand over one supply) and the value of the hockey game to be 0.053 or less (one demand over nineteen supply). But this only deals with scarcity, which is but one measure of a thing’s value.

Is Scarcity the Only Source of Value?

From the point of view of economics, scarcity is a primary way to determine the value of a thing. Certainly, we are aware that oil prices increase as the supply is decreased (though we could argue the prices increase regardless of supply). And we know that coins have more value when they are declared “rare” by the numismatics societies. But something’s scarcity should hardly be considered the only way to determine value.

Another economics issue is how much work or money was invested into a thing, as this adds some sense of the value. If the value of two things were both “one” using my primitive formula above, this does not mean they would have the same value monetarily. The invested time and funds would have bearing on this monetary value, as we can say the value of a pair of pants would be greater than that of a notebook. Both have adequate supply and adequate demand, but paper is a less expensive item than clothing because of the invested time and money (and other cultural factors I need not address).

But there is value that has nothing to do with money (and as I have no intentions of reducing a breakfast to a monetary value, this is refreshing). Suppose we have two paintings, and they are both unique. One is a Picasso and another is some starving artist from Green Bay. Although the starving artist spent an equal amount of time and funds on his painting as Picasso did, the Picasso is more valuable. Anyone would rather have a Picasso than a random painting by some schmuck (except perhaps the schmuck’s mother).

We could dismiss this by saying the value of the Picasso is greater because the demand is significantly higher. But this ignores the underlying issue. What creates the demand? At some point, Picasso was an unknown artist as well, and some value must have existed in the artwork to draw attention to him and create the demand. Call this some personal value or an aesthetic value or what have you, but the point is that values exist independently of supply, demand, and monetary worth (although these things are still important).

Why Are First Impressions Valuable?

I am stressing that the first impression Rene leaves on Brodie’s mother is of greater value than the enjoyment of a video game. But as a philosopher I cannot arbitrarily say this, I must be basing my assertion on some foundation of value. What forms the basis of declaring first impressions have more value than video games?

Neither of these things have monetary value. Nor do they have aesthetic value. And the supply and demand which we discussed is only part of what makes these situations valuable.

The value lies in the quality of the experience, the creation of memories, and a greater personal value. The hockey game has little personal value beyond Brodie’s immediate gratification of his desires. The experience is unlikely to affect him in the long run. And even his memory is not likely to retain the video game for a significant period of time. Many people can reminisce about great sporting events of ages past (even the Whalers defeating the Canucks), but you seldom hear anyone declare, “Remember that time I was playing Sega and the Whalers defeated the Canucks?” Video games are disposable. We might fondly reflect on a game we love, but remembering any specific time is not a common occurrence (unless something else unrelated simultaneously occurs to increase the significance).

The experiential value and memory of a first impression is much greater and far surpasses the personal value of any video game. Both Rene and Brodie’s mother will likely retain the memory of their meeting forever, and the experience will have ramifications for a lifetime. If Rene makes a bad impression and she remains with Brodie, his mother might dislike her for decades afterwards based on a single misplaced comment. The same could be said for Rene’s opinion of Brodie’s mother, which has an effect on her relationship with Brodie.

First impressions are a special scenario. Two individuals could spend time together one hundred times, and there is no guarantee that a year later the majority of these meetings could be recalled. The first impression, however, will more than likely be remembered a year later, a decade later, and perhaps even fifty years down the road. A first impression creates a sense in our subconscious and acts as a foundation for all we know about an individual. Even situations and events surrounding the first impression become incorporated into this sense and foundation. For example, if I meet someone in a bar, not only will I remember the occasion, but conversely the bar itself might remind me of them and this could change my outlook of the bar regardless of how many times I have experiences there unrelated to the individual.

Upon meeting my friend Hannah, I was also listening to Limp Bizkit and eating tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. My impression of Hannah (a good one) is fresh in my mind, and along with that I have retained the memory of the music and the meal despite the fact on any other day those things would be easily forgettable.

First impressions might even drown out seemingly more important events. My good friend Jodey and I met while I was being tried in a courtroom setting. I have not forgotten the trial, but I do not for the life of me remember anything said during the proceedings. Introducing Jodey to my parents and the words spoken, however, are something I can clearly recall.

Can First Impressions Be Overcome?

If first impressions are important, a concern might be how do we overcome bad first impressions? If Rene and Brodie’s mother do not get along [4], can they patch up their differences and put the impression behind them?

While there is no way to guarantee a first impression can be overcome (we certainly cannot control another person’s thoughts willingly), there are two ways that are very effective. The first is more of a preventive measure: avoid first impressions. First impressions are created when we come in direct contact with another individual. If we come to know them indirectly, the first impression will never be created. Take for example a friend you have you met years ago in school. If you met them after having them in several classes with you, you probably do not recall actually meeting them – you just know they were always there. This creates a sense of familiarity without actually knowing the person at all, and softens the first confrontation (and usually avoiding an impression).

The other way to overcome a bad first impression is to cover the impression up with a series of good occurrences after the fact. Many people who start out as enemies (such as two guys who have dated the same girl) will grow to become friends as they slowly realize how much they have in common. Without a series of fortunate events, however, the men will retain a negative sense for each other without any rational reason. And if individuals have an open mind, future meetings might cancel out a prior first impression by simply dismissing it as “an off day” or some other similar way of coping with a change of heart.

Conclusion

We have wandered from the initial discussion, but not without making some valid points along the way. These points are important in analyzing the conversation between Rene and Brodie, because there is always a wider context to any isolated event. In other words, no isolated event is, in reality, isolated.

Rene was in the right. She felt the value of a first impression was more important than a video game, and our discussion shows she was correct. Moreover, Brodie’s handling of the situation was immature and poorly executed, giving Rene even more of a right to assert her position. She stood firm on her convictions and for this we must commend her.

In the end, everything worked out as it should. Rene was granted the breakfast with Brodie’s mother (and was well received). And Brodie had to go to great lengths to win back Rene from her new suitor. A fitting punishment for his treatment of her, and hopefully an adventure that taught him a lesson or two for the future.

Notes

[1] Whether Brodie is ignorant or a jerk is not relevant to the overall point of scarcity, but serves as a point to ponder on the side. Throughout the film, we are supposed to be in his corner, encouraging him to win back Rene. But the reality is that as much as he may love her, he treats her poorly in general and lies to her. All he has going for him, is that he is the lesser of two evils when compared to Shannon Hamilton. But there is no reason Rene could not remain single or easily find a third option.

[2] Another thing to notice is that while Brodie puts a fair amount of emphasis on the importance of his game, his devotion to said game is quickly extinguished. Shortly after the scene with him playing as the Whalers, we have a scene where he is visited by T.S. There is no indication that Brodie ever finished his game at all and more than likely turned the Sega off.

[] Brodie’s mother, as it turns out, is a mysterious figure in the film. She is referred to multiple times, but is never seen or heard anywhere in the movie. I bring this up because there is no indication that Brodie’s mother is even home when Rene requests the breakfast. When T.S. arrives at the house minutes later, there is no sign of Brodie’s mother or her automobile. We are left to believe Rene did not have the option of sharing breakfast with Brodie’s mother at all, though this does nothing to negate his attitude.

[4] This is strictly hypothetical. As the epilogue to the film makes perfectly clear, Rene was well-liked by Brodie’s mother.

Sources

“Lionel Robbins” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lionel_Robbins viewed March 9, 2005

Marchak, David. Canucks vs. Harttford Whalers. http://www.comnet.ca/~dmarchak/canvHAR.htm viewed March 8, 2005.

“Scarcity” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scarcity viewed March 9, 2005

Smith, Kevin. “Clerks” View Askew Productions, 1994.

Smith, Kevin. “Mallrats” View Askew Productions, 1995.

Also try another article under Miscellaneous
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

Leave a Reply