The 'What Would Douglas Do?' Syndrome

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WARNING: The following rant is likely to appear incredibly elitist and rather presumptuous, coming from one who has not even spent a year on h2g2. Please take all criticism of anything with a rather large grain of salt.

This is the Earth Edition of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, after all. A website inspired by Douglas Adams' work and created with his help. So perhaps it is only natural that among the denizens of h2g2 should be a preternaturally large number of Hitchhiker's fans. When many of our Researchers come here, as I did, after reading The Salmon of Doubt1 it seems perfectly normal that we should think a lot about our Founder and what he wanted for this site.

But I feel fairly confident that Douglas Adams would not have wanted people to submit entries to Peer Review that are a pale imitation of his style of humour and writing. Wouldn't this man, of all men, want people to find their own writing style and expand the Guide on their own steam, without drawing on his books? Wouldn't he have wanted people to think and argue for themselves, without using his name to justify their petty arguments? Wouldn't he have been just as annoyed as some Peer Review regulars, when newbies claim that they have the right to submit a few sentences' worth of unfunny crap to Peer Review because 'Douglas did it first'?

There I go. Not only did I sound incredibly elitist, I myself am falling into the trap of presuming what Douglas Adams would have wanted for h2g2. You see, I find this incredibly annoying, not to mention dull, after the umpteenth time someone claims they've got mediumistic powers and can channel Mr Adams' thoughts from the Other Side. Need I mention that Douglas Adams, atheist extraordinaire, would regard such abilities as utter tosh? (If 'tosh' is a word, that is. And if it isn't, well, it sounds good.) And there I go again. Presuming what our dear Founder would have thought.

It does make sense that we should be so concerned with the possible thoughts of someone whose essence is so imbued in this site of ours. But face it, folks: as tragic as it may be, Douglas Adams is no more. He has ceased to be. He has expired and gone to meet his Maker (or not, in Adams' case — see above)... well, you get the gist. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that since dear Mr Adams can't speak for himself, who are we to speak for him?

I have termed this phenomenon the 'What Would Douglas Do? Syndrome'. Firstly, because those who think they can channel our Founder would of course regard him as their bosom buddy — and therefore see fit to refer to him by his first name. Secondly, because their very action seems to be governed by what said rather tall man would think or do in the given circumstance. And thirdly, because this man, their Messiah, seems to be a handy weapon for arguing whatever needs to be argued, rather like a certain other fellow who got nailed to a tree and whose name usually occupies a prominent position in that question.

But let me put it to you, dear reader2: doesn't it irk you when you try to make a reasoned suggestion to a Researcher (usually, I'm sorry to say, a newbie), but your ideas are rejected in the name of 'Douglas', who wrote a certain way and so therefore this Researcher can as well, no matter whether it be in violation of the h2g2 Writing Guidelines? And doesn't it just bother you beyond belief that, when you point out that the Writing Guidelines ask that Researchers not imitate Douglas Adams' work, said Researchers storm off in a huff and never return to our fair site? (And doesn't it just annoy you even further when I write bizarre run-on sentences like that one above? It's a trap just as easy to fall into as the WWDD? Syndrome.)

So, well, don't do it. We're not Borg here, you know, we are our own functioning beings. As is pointed out time and time again, this isn't a Douglas Adams fan site. If you want that you can go to the BBC Cult Hitchhiker's site. We are a living, breathing Guide to Life, the Universe and Everything. And we can't help that the concept for such a Guide was born in the mind of a truly brilliant man. We've just got to muddle along as best we can and make this Guide ourselves, since he's not there to do it for us, and couldn't write the whole thing if he was alive, anyway. We can be perfectly funny and interesting and informative on our own; while Douglas Adams may have been an expert on the best way to brew tea and certain endangered species, who do you think knows more about small-town America or random moments in Irish history? That's right: we, the Researchers, the hootoo community, and not a (sadly) dead writer that no one can really commune with now anyway.

Sorry, Mr Adams. You were brilliant, but now you're dead and we're going to carry on without you, aren't we? That's what you would have wanted, I know. Oh dear. There I go again. It really is quite easy to fall into that good old trap, isn't it? Resistance may be futile, but I will strive for freedom from the Collective — of Hitchhiker's fans worldwide!


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1A posthumous collection of DNA's writing.2I think I've always wanted to use that phrase, and I think it's the first time I've ever done so. Yay for me!

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