Introducing the new/female/British version of something else.

Caroline Overington and Jodi Picoult.


A headline on Mamamia recently invited me to “Meet Australia’s answer to Jodi Picoult” and so I did, finding myself virtually shaking hands and having a small sip of internet wine with Caroline Overington  She was lovely.

As a non-Australian I’m afraid to say I’d never heard of Overington but part of me still felt similar sentiments to those expressed by one commenter at the bottom of the piece that “comparing Caroline Overington to Jodi Picoult is doing Caroline a massive disservice”.

I’m conflicted over this.  Comparing Overington to Picoult serves a purpose.  As a foreigner I wouldn’t have known who Overington was or what she did if it was just her name in the headline and mentioning Picoult helped me to place Overington.  Also, other places have made the comparison. Media only has a few seconds to grab people’s attention and relay as much information as possible, the headline did just that and I can’t write headlines for toffee so what do I know?  But part of me can’t help but think – do we constantly need to be comparing people?  Can’t we just be people in our own right without standing us next to someone else?

Michael Phelps has been compared to Missy Franklin

During the London Olympics Missy Franklin was described as the female Michael Phelps in the Sydney Morning Herald.  She isn’t.  Of course Phelps is a talented and decorated male swimmer and Franklin is a talented and decorated female swimmer but there’s so much more of a difference between them.  Whilst Phelps didn’t receive any medals at his first Olympics and won 6 golds at his second when he was 19, Missy got her 4 gold medals at her first Olympics when she was 17.

Two years isn’t usually a big age gap but the difference between a 17 year old and a 19 year old can be huge.  When Phelps made his big impression at Athens he was a year out of high school and all his educational requirements were fulfilled, he didn’t have to go to university and could spend every non-eating and sleeping moment in the pool if he wished.  Franklin, however, got her haul of golds (which, if she was a country, would have placed her 21st in the medal table) with a year of compulsory education to go.  When I was 17 I was worrying my bottom off about choosing a degree course and university and thinking about all the exams I still had to sit.  All of that felt like enough of a problem and I didn’t even have to think about improving my world record time in the 200m backstroke.

Calling Franklin the female Phelps isn’t fair on her.  Even if the intention is a compliment rather than an insult she should have been applauded for her own efforts.

There was another male/female comparison when Bridesmaids came out.  Rather than just describing it as a great new comedy and maybe analysing it by comparing elements of it to various other films, it instead got the blanket comparison that it was “…a ‘Hangover’ for girls“.  Or, people were so aware that it was being slated as the female Hangover that they wrote about how it definitely was not a Hangover for women, no siree.  Either way it seemed like Bridesmaids couldn’t be mentioned without some talk of how it was or wasn’t like The Hangover, it was as if it couldn’t exist in its own right.

The Twilight series

This isn’t just a male/female thing, comparisons can also be between people of the same gender.  Now that Stephenie Meyer is a household name she doesn’t need much more of an introduction than ‘author of the Twilight series’.  However, before ‘R-Patz’s’ face was imprinted on our brains as that of Edward Cullen, the author could expect headlines such as “Stephenie Meyer: A New J.K.Rowling?

At least there’s a question mark at the end of the sentence to indicate that maybe she isn’t.  This particular article goes on to say that actually the authors are pretty different and the only similarities are that they write about the sorts of things most people don’t believe in (vampires and wizards) and many readers of their books would like to jump into the pages, a la Mary Poppins and Bert’s street drawings, if it was physically possible.

The chain continues though.  Now that Stephenie Meyer is famous enough to be a ‘name’ some media outlets are asking “Is Suzanne Collins the new Stephenie Meyer – or Better?” She’s neither.  Are fans reacting to her books in similar ways?  Maybe, but what she writes and who she is can exist separately from Meyer.

Of course we need comparisons in order to place new things but shouldn’t we be a bit more thoughtful about it?  Aren’t we always more as an individual than one comparison to someone or something else?  Saying Purple is the new green doesn’t really tell me much about it except that they’re both colours.  But if we compare and describe it in relation to lots of things we can get more of an idea.  ‘Purple – well it’s similar to blue but with a bit of red mixed in there and it’s not at all like yellow’.

Comparisons are essential, handy, often complimentary and lord knows I probably make them all the time but the problem is that by describing someone, especially someone who’s already successful in their own right, as the new/female/male/Armenian/Alien version of something else we risk belittling its achievements and creativity and putting a label on it that can’t be shaken off.

Grace Cox is a Britain-based Brit and a recent graduate who oh so originally doesn’t know what to do with her life.  Whilst she figures it out you can follow her on Twitter and read her blog.

Have you ever had something recommended to you by virtue of comparison?

00:00 / ???