So I hopped into town for a satellite dish
I tied it to the top of my Japanese car
I came home and I pointed it out into the stars
A message came back from the great beyond:
There's fifty-seven channels and nothin' on"
90% of everything is crap.
This is not technically Sturgeon's Law, but rather Sturgeon's Revelation. Sturgeon's Law, properly formulated, is the broader Nothing is always absolutely so. But they mean effectively the same thing, and when people refer to "Sturgeon's Law", both on and off This Very Wiki, the "90%" quote is what they mean.
The Law, and the Revelation that preceded it, comes from Science Fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon. In the March 1958 issue of Venture Science Fiction, he wrote:
The story then goes that Sturgeon made this comment at a panel discussion at a sci-fi convention, and when the audience predictably protested, Sturgeon blinked and replied, "90% of everything is crap." (This may be apocryphal, though.) It's also not certain whether Sturgeon originally said "crap" or "crud"; when the story first came up in 1979, it implied that Sturgeon said "crap" but had to be quoted as saying "crud". The Portland Pattern Repository, however, has it the other way around: that Sturgeon said "crud", but the public quoted him as saying "crap".
The idea is older than that, though. Benjamin Disraeli wrote in 1870:
In any event, the Law makes sense when you think about it. You can see it in action when the Creativity Leash is removed and anyone can publish anything without any real barriers to entry. Fields like Vanity Publishing and Fan Fiction seem to have much worse writers than professional publishing, but they're actually just reflective of Sturgeon's Law; publishers obscure their crap by rejecting it, and they'll tell you that it comprises 90% of what is submitted. In other words, it's not that published works are better on average; it's that you're just not seeing the crap it produces.
And publishers aren't the only filters of crap. Audiences have their own filters, like the Nostalgia Filter and the Import Filter, which skew certain genres away from Sturgeon's Law only because the crap has a hard time making it through the filter. Anyone who points out how much better Classical Music is than modern pop music based on percentage of non-crap is missing the fact that 90% of classical music was crap, but the crap was just buried in obscurity over the centuries. Ditto for old literature, old films, and old TV shows.
Need to read more? Even The Other Wiki's got an article.
In-Universe Examples Only, please!
- Audrey, Wait!: Most people in Audrey's school are in a Garage Band of some kind, and according to her, most of them are crap.
- About twenty years before Sturgeon spoke it aloud, Raymond Chandler laid down an early form of it in a private letter:
"Granted... ninety per cent of Hollywood's pictures are not really worth making; I say that ninety per cent of the books and plays and short stories they were made from are not worth seeing or reading, by the same standards. And you and I know those standards are not going to change in our time."
- How to Survive a Horror Movie: The general low quality, low budgets, and clichéd writing that show up in many horror movies (especially slashers) are a frequent target of parody. One of the "ejection seats" is great, well-written dialogue, and another is fleeing to a location that's far too expensive for the cash-strapped producers of a horror movie to shoot in.
- "The Library of Babel": The eponymous Great Big Library of Everything contains not only every book ever written, but every book it is possible to write, the overwhelming majority of which are complete keyboard-mashing gibberish.
- Small Gods: Om says that ninety-nine percent of the Ephebian philosophers' ideas are useless but they are tolerated because that last one percent is a "humdinger".
- On Conan O'Brien's The Tonight Show, Denis Leary admitted that the majority of movies he's been in sucked, and cited Operation: Dumbo Drop, Demolition Man, and Whos The Man as examples.
- Black Mirror: "The Waldo Moment": Mentioned on a political scale; specifically, almost all politicians exist only as a fake public reputation who sympathize to get what they want.
- Bruce Springsteen complains in "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)" that he hooked up a new satellite TV receiver to impress his significant other, only to find that there wasn't anything worth watching on any of the 57 new channels.
- Frazz: Parodied in the 10 October 2004 strip. Frazz explains this to a kid using a real sturgeon as a metaphor: another fish comments that it seems to him that 90% of seafood salad is krab [sic], and the sturgeon replies that 90% of everything is krab. Mr. Burke complains to him about the pun and Frazz replies that the kid can look up the real law when he's older.
- KickBeat: The Big Bad's ostensible motive for claiming a monopoly on the world's music (beyond making money) is to act as a gatekeeper to keep trash away from the public. His credentials as a Man of Wealth and Taste are a bit... questionable, however.
- Pathfinder: Kingmaker: One of the reasons for Valerie's break with her former paladin order and the Church of Shelyn is that their religious doctrine holds all art to be sacred (Shelyn being goddess of the arts in addition to the main Love Goddess in the setting). Valerie believes most art is terrible and of little practical use, though she does find doing embroidery comforting. It came to a head when she tore up a love poem from one of her legion of Abhorrent Admirers right in front of him, an act of severe blasphemy that would have gotten her severely punished had she not Rage Quit on her own.
- Sonic Dreams Collection: Make My Sonic is an Affectionate Parody of the questionable quality of many Sonic the Hedgehog original characters.
- Akfamilyhome: This is discussed in "Old Mario Flash Games":
- I still wanted to see how well these games have held up, and whether or not some of the games have aged over the years. Spoiler alert, most don't.
- Citation Needed: "However, because of the very nature of unmoderated newsgroups, alt.sex.stories soon found itself a repository for a great number of poorly-written, sometimes barely coherent “stroke” stories consisting of a few sentences or paragraphs."
- Game Sack: An entire video has been dedicated to Genesis games with horrible sound, with Joe attributing this to either a shortage of talented composers or a lack of incentive to learn how to make video game music, due to how new this technology still was at the time. He considers games composed with the GEMS sound engine to be a compounded case of this, with numerous Western titles being released with "that familiar low-quality Genesis sound that people associate with buzzing and farts", consequently cementing "the Genesis' reputation for bad sound". He does list the soundtracks of Comix Zone and Tommy Tallarico as exceptions to the rule, but strictly that.
- Idols of Anime: Discussed with Lovedol in the review of Uta No Prince-sama. She mentions while she used to be on the bandwagon of hating the entire Harem Genre, the latter is proof that not all of them are necessarily bad shows even if there's still a little bit of Sturgeon's Law.
- Jimquisition: Sterling sometimes discusses things that can actually be really good, but most of the time it's done very badly, to the point where the entire idea starts to look irredeemably bad. They specifically cite the Unity engine, which has made some very good games, but is used so often as a shortcut that any game seen using the engine is viewed negatively by default.
- Night Mind: Nick really doesn't look fondly at shoddy CreepyPasta that tries to pull this off with existing cartoons such as Squidward's Suicide and Suicide Mouse, finding almost all of them exceptionally lazy, uncreative and blatantly attention-hungry. His one and only exception is Lasagna Cat, which he perceives to have seriously set the bar.
- Pokesins: Even with the Plusle and Minun system in place so that a negative and a positive thing cancel each other out, the majority of episodes end up with more Minun than Plusle and have a score in negative numbers. It took eighty-three episodes of Pokesins before an episode earned a positive score, that being Johto Episode 15, "Fighting Flyer with Fire" at +11.
- raocow: Mentioned by name in this video, mentioning that most Newgrounds games are utterly terrible. Exaggerated when he says that the good is only a small percent of a small percent, rather than the usual ten percent.
- SCP Foundation:
- The "History Of The Universe" recap on the website history notes that this is in full force every time there's an uptick of newcomers: "Numerous new SCP articles were being posted every day, and many of them were extremely poor."
- SCP-914's experiment log is open to the public. Naturally, most of the stuff added has had to be deleted. New log posts now go through a simple quality control process before they're posted to the log itself.
- That Dude in the Suede: He applies it to animesque programs, and goes on to focus on the remaining ten percent.
- Todd in the Shadows: Todd invokes it twice, saying in his Top 10 of 2010 that "Nothin' On You" really stands out because "songs with bad pickup lines are all I hear", and in his Worst 10 of 1976 that the good music of that year makes the bad ones look even worse than they are.
- Vampire Reviews: Maven fully admits that most vampire fiction is schlock, so when it comes to quality she'll take what she can get.
- Zero Punctuation: Applied frequently, with an even more negative twist: "Everything is shit until proven otherwise", a.k.a. "the Guantanamo Bay approach".