Research Day: Gout, Tridents, and High Concept

What is gout? While reading that Benjamin Franklin book, I was struck by how many people of that era (including Ben himself) were afflicted with gout. Unfortunately, the book never explained the ailment, and these days you almost never hear of someone suffering from it. All of which got me wondering if gout hasn’t been eradicated or renamed.

Well, according to this page, gout is still around, affecting “275 out of every 100,000 people.” Gout is a form of arthritis caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints of the body, and is thought to be exacerbated by overconsumption of alcohol, red meat and rich foods (all of which Franklin enjoyed in bulk). The big toe is the most commonly affected joint.

I’m not sure why gout is unheard of these days, since it’s incurable and seems to be as prevalent as ever. Perhaps it’s just lumped in with generic arthritis. Or maybe I’m not old enough to know anyone suffering from it (or to suffer from it myself): it tends to afflicted men after the age of 45 and post-menopausal women.

What were tridents used for?: Tridents are the weapon of choice amongst sea-faring fantasy races, Ocean Gods, mermen, and anthropomorphic tuna cans critters. But what were they used for?

Fish-poking appears to be the original use of the trident, offering fishermen thrice the chances of stabbing a trout that a spear affords. Tridents were also employed as horse prods. But as with anything with a pointy-end, Tridents were soon adopted by warriors. In fact, the peak of the trident’s career seems to have been as a gladiatorial weapon in arena combat. There was even a type of gladiator called a “retiarius” whose job it was to throw nets over opponents and then get all tridental on their ass. Good work if you can get it.

By the way, tridental is an actual word, meaning “having three points of prongs”. Neato.

What does “high concept” mean? Sometime, when encountering a new word or phrase, I immediately scurry off to m-w.com to find out what it means; other times, when I’m feeling slackerly (i.e., 91% of the time), I just gloss over it. But after encountering the same unknown word on half-dozen occasions, I can usually pick up its meaning from context.

Not so with the phrase “high concept”. Despite seeing this in countless movie reviews and articles about television, I’m still not entirely sure what it means. Basing a story on a single unusual idea or something? And if there’s “high concept,” is there “low concept” as well?

According to this article about script writing (which I found by typing the phrase “what is high concept” into Google — it’s amazing how well that works sometimes), “High Concept is STORY as star. The central idea of the script is exciting, fascinating, intriguing, and different. High Concept films can usually be summed up in a single sentence or a single image.” As examples, the article cites Liar, Liar (lawyer is magically forced to tell the truth for 24 hours), Splash (shy man falls in love with a mermaid), and some flick called Valley of the Gwangi (cowboys discover a lost valley filled with dinosaurs). In regards to the latter, the author writes “The poster shows cowboys on horseback herding and roping a T- Rex. When you see the poster, you almost do a double take. Cowboys? Dinosaurs? In the same movie? You want to know more. You want to see the film. That’s High Concept.”

Contrawise, the term “low concept” is used to refer to scripts that are character- or plot-driven. In this interview, screenwriter David H. Steinberg puts it this way:

Look at a movie like As Good As It Gets. Totally low concept. It’s a bunch of quirky characters who do some interesting stuff, but what really happens in that movie? I don’t know. TV is low concept too. Friends is the ultimate low concept show. It’s like six people sitting around on a couch.

Previous Research Day entries can be found here.

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32 comments.

  1. Wow, I didn’t know people still suffered from gout! Interesting.

  2. My ex-husband, who is 35, is currently suffering from gout. He had a flare-up once before when we were living the high life in Albuquerque in ’94. It definitely seems to be tied to a high consumption of alcohol—he told me that the month of May was a “blur of a bender.”
    Just wanted to let you know that it’s still out there…..

  3. A High Concept is one which occurs to a person after the ingestion of alcohol or drugs. For Example:

    The drunk man’s new High Concept for picking up girls, Tell them they have nice tits, failed.

    The crankhead’s High Concept for reorganizing the personnel files in the office was to order the files by the individual’s eye color.

    The pothead’s High Concept for world peace was that if everyone just smoked a doobie together, everything would work out just fine.

    Hope this helps.

  4. I asked a rheumatologist the same question about Gout–does it still exist?–and he actually glared at me as though I were questioning the cornerstone of his profession. Gout was always something I associated with old frenchmen. Like you, I guess I figured it had been eradicated along with Polio and Small pox.

  5. The What is Gout page also states that, “Attacks of gout often occur after indulging in alcohol, particularly wine or beer, or after overeating rich foods such as liver, anchovies, and gravy.”

    I’ve never had liver, anchovies and gravy but it sounds like a meal I can definately avoid overindulging in.

  6. Don’t you watch King of the Hill? Bobby got gout from eating at the NY deli every day. Seriously, natives of Guam are prone to gout for some reason and one of my friends thought he was getting it at the ripe old age of 27.

  7. FYI, Polio hasn’t been eradicated either…
    http://www.polioeradication.org/

  8. The relative rarity of gout these days could be due to the improvement of nutrition. With no year-round supply of green vegetables and a questionable water source, a statesman would be sitting on the uric acid pinnacle with a beer in one hand, roast beef in the other…and his big toe left dangling in the wind. Now we know how to avoid it.

    Also, the perceived percentages of gout sufferers from earlier times could be skewed. We don’t hear much about the people who couldn’t afford to overindulge…

  9. Yeah, I always thought it was something old and historic, until I was diagnosed with it. I’m the ripe old age of 33, and had my first flare-up about a year and ahalf ago. Ugh. Way too young. While it usually hits the big toe, I had mune hit my left knee. Let me tell you, the pain is unbelievable! I have a new respect for truly, searing, white-hot, blind-you-to-anything-else pain. Thankfully, I only had that, and one other falre up a year later (that one in big toe). I don’t drink much alcohol but I do (did) eat a lot of meat. Fortunately, dirnking lots of water, moderating one’s high-protien intake, and colchicine (one of the oldest know medicines) makes it quite controllable. But take it from me, you *don’t* want gout. It hurts. A lot.

  10. My Grandmother has gout. Her feet swell just like latex rubber gloves all blown up. Her little toes stick straight out.
    However she is very careful of her diet and follows a strict doctor recommended regime.
    Here are some items from Grandma’s list of what to eat and what not to eat: (yes, this is an actual list….er, not sure if it’s from an actual doctor)

    Forbidden foods:
    herring, herring roe, alcohol (especially beer and wine), muscles, sardines, anchovies, yeast (brewers and bakers yeast)and meat extract

    Not to be eaten more than once a week:
    mutton leg, mutton chops, salmon, trout, turkey, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, chicken soup, venison, lobster and pheasant (fortunately – not alot of pheasant served at Gram’s assisted living center)

    Not to be eaten more than 4 times a week:
    peas, kidney beans, lima beans, duck, goose, brains (brains! they take away the pain), halibut, bass, rabbit, roe (other than herring), tongue, calf tongue, whole grains, oysters and plaic (um, plaic?!)

    EAT ALL YOU WANT:
    cheese (all kinds), chocolate, soda (excluding cola), sugar and sweets (except for pasteries), cream soup (but not cream), fruit (especially black cherries, and bananas), butter (with moderation), milk (condensed and malted), nuts (all kinds), and apple cider vinegar

    Oh boy! Yummy – cheese, bananas and nuts – but alas, no beer to wash it down.
    I bettcha Benjamin Franklin ate most of the forbidden foods so that’s why he suffered from gout

  11. Perhaps I totally off here, but is there a relationship between Gout and Goiters… besides the letter “G”?

  12. Disclaimer: IAND
    The above list may not may not be accurate, and it may or may not cure your herpes…opps I mean gout.

  13. Tridents are fun. The extra prongs make them incredibly usefull for catching weapons, and a quick twist lets you disarm swordsmen.

  14. my boss suffers periodically from gout. alcohol consumption in large quantities usually brings on a new bout. a new bout of gout as it were.

    btw, nice use of contrawise hehehe

  15. Another name for ‘research day’ might be
    ‘detective yeti’.

  16. Detective Yeti? That is just too good. Somebody give Jorn an award of some kind.

  17. High concept movie: one gladiator’s struggle to defeat both his gout and a trident-wielding retiarius. You see a poster of a gladiator eating anchovies with gravy and you want to know more.

  18. Most of you researchers have probably heard of the google glossary, but just in case, http://labs.google.com/glossary . Google quoting “what is [x]” is another great strategy, though.

    Research away.

  19. Im in the Air Force Medical Service, and in my two years on active duty, we have seen more gout than i can count. It is quite common among Military members, as our favorite pastimes include alchol consumption and Eating red meat. But I am also stationed in Texas, and alot of it comes from there too. Its fairly easy to treat usually, but occasionlly one must undergo surgery to cure it. Though i have never had it, i have heard it is particularly painful.

  20. Hey! I exist. I am 46 year old male, with Gout. Gout is hereditary through the male parent, and dominant. These days, you take a little pill (Allopurinol) every morning, and never thing about it again. But growing up, never learned to drink (since it could trigger an attack). Dad does not drink, Granpop never drank. All in all, am happy with it.

  21. your welcome! i’m glad you’ve already had lunch, now you can have it again!!!

  22. Is it just me, or is the defanations for high and low concept completely backward? High concept is something so simple any moron could understand it, while low concept makes you think?

  23. Peteman, have you seen “Being John Malkovich”?

    I wonder… what do y’all suppose is the highest concept movie ever made? Perhaps 2001: A Space Odyssey? What about lowest?

  24. ‘High Concept’ – meaning that the concept of the film is the center, and is more central to the quality of the film than almost anything else.

    ‘Low Concept’ – meaning that the concept means almost nothing and character development takes precedence.

    “Friends” as a character study — never thought about it quite that way before…

  25. I, too, have known someone who had gout (he was probably about 30 at the time).

    The quintessential high-concept pitch is, of course, Michael Cassutt’s

    “He’s a chimp! She’s the Pope! They’re cops!”

    In some circles I am familiar with “high-concept” is a derogatory term.

  26. So, Tool…that movie intrigues me…when is it coming the gigaplex near me?????

  27. RE: Valley of the Gwangi: I actually *saw* that movie as a kid (c. 1969), though it was the dinosaur thing that sucked me in more than the cowboys. Not bad as a Harryhausen-style stop-motion yarn, etc., but “high concept”? “Glib concept” might be more apropos for the definition you cited. I mean, Friends could also be described as “Six people sitting around on a couch, and occasionally sleeping with one another.” Uhhh, do I have your attention now?

  28. You can get so low concept that it’s high concept by intentionaly trying to have no concept.

    For example _Clerks_.

    _Friends_ almost makes it. _Seinfeld_ with its “about nothing” slogan is trying to do that.

    Sort of wraps around…

  29. Gout runs amok among the males of my family. Actually, it sorts of limps along and whimpers…

  30. I found this page from a link from someone else, and I think I’m going to have to add it into my daily blogging reads.

    I also find it funny that someone else from Albuquerque (my current place of residence) posted here.

    Anyways, yeah – I’ve been suffering from gout since I was 20. I’m only 24, but even so, gout at 20 is just ridiculous. That person who got it at 33 – that’s nothing! ;) Just kidding.

    Seriously though, it’s the worst pain I’ve ever had in my life. I used to just try to live with it, and keep some of these little green pills around that would knock out a flare up in four to six hours, but from the period of Christmas of 2002 to about April of this year, it never went away. It would remain as a dull pain in my foot (not my toe always, more often my ankle but sometimes the toe), and it would flare up about once a week. If I tried to stay on my feet, I could walk it off, but it got too bad. Now I’ve got some Allopurinol that I took for awhile, but I haven’t taken it for about a week and I’m still fine. I’d like to stay off of the drug as much as possible, simply because I don’t like the thought of taking a drug daily for life.

    I don’t eat sweetmeats, I don’t drink, or do any of the other things that cause it. It just appeared. As far as I know, I don’t even have a family history of it. Go figure.

    If you suffer from gout – try eating more cherries. I hear that cherries are the best thing for gout, but I haven’t had a flareup since I learned about that a few weeks ago.

    Great site, I’m sure to come back. :)

  31. OK, if you thought all this gout info is fascinating, catch this. I turn fifty in September, and about a week ago I had my first attack of gout. Worse pain I’ve experienced ever, with the possible exception of facial shingles, which I had over ten years ago. In fact, after the shingles, I thought I was pretty much immune to pain. Apparently not. So, do I consume a lot of alcohol? Nope. Am I an organ meat eater? Never. I’ve never even been hospitalized a day in my life. But you know what I HAVE been doing assiduously for the past year? Taking low dosage aspirin! According to my doctor, that’s what likely caused it. For all you folks who take low dosage or baby aspirin as a part of your regimen for heart health, beware. In some bizarre way, taking regular dosages of aspirin don’t cause flareups of gout, but low dosage can. Yeah, doesn’t make logical sense to me, either, but I guess that’s the difference between medicine and logic. Type low dosage aspirin and gout into Google and check out some articles (here’s one: http://www.hosppract.com/issues/1999/06/dmmjones.htm ).

  32. The term ‘high concept’ is also known as the ‘elevator pitch’. You have to be able to tell anybody what the film is about in the 30 seconds of an elevator ride. Alien was orginally pitched as “Jaws on a spaceship.” (Lara Croft would be “Indiana Jones with tits.”) Nowadays you have to make a bunch of pitches all in one meeting. Usually if you get a contract for one production they’ll ask if you have anything else. This is a no brainer question — you have something else, lots of something elses, two or three of which are being worked on seriously. It’s all about volume, the more product the better. This is why ‘high concept’ is used. It’s obvious it only works for the most plot-driven and simplistic films. What’s American Beauty’s high concept pitch? The Lord of the Rings? “Midgets travel to a volcano to destroy a ring”?

    Regardless, it’s newspeak.