Friday links! Unchecked misanthropy edition

In a contemporary weltanschauung that has pretty much abandoned temptation narratives, misanthropy still exercises an evil allure. You must resist. Misanthropy is a sin in the classic sense, in that it feels really good now but will make you feel bad later, and in the long run it will wreck your life. You cannot succumb to it, lest you start treating new people as crises instead of opportunities. Yet evidence for misanthropy’s central proposition is all around—I would say the United States contains about 300 million supporting arguments—and the internet documents it for us in lurid detail. It’s Friday, Missoula has gone from dazzling sun to 40-degree rain, and the temptation to regard everyone as crappy runs high. Like Christ on the temple roof, we must refuse. But also like C on the T-R, we are allowed to get really close. Won’t you maybe indulge just a little with me?

Over at Jezebel, where insightful and infuriating follow each other like the seconds and the second hand, Lindy West has compiled a guide to manifestations of contemporary white racism. I’m assuming that you, like me, now read the adjective “hipster” and hear the words “contemporary white” in your head. “Lindy West” is maybe the whitest name ever to appear over a discussion of racial semiotics, but I guess that observation is in itself racist. For every good point in her article—ersatz gang signs in Facebook photos are probably racist—West seems to make one conflating “racist” with “racial.” For example, she claims this tweet from Zooey Deschanel is racist. She also lards her essay with about 250 words of mindless sarcasm, but it’s worth it to get to item #4. Stuff White People Like did become Stuff Smart People Like, and really fast.

Also, contemporary culture really is racist; it’s just that instead of expecting individual people to conform to racial stereotypes, we now make broad racial generalizations based on that one race-person we know. Consider this man’s review of the Kama Sutra from LeastHelpful.com. In an assessment titled “related information,” he explains that an east Indian lady he knows heard about the book, rented the movie Kama Sutra, and then reported to him that Indians do not like sex. “Her thoughts on this subject has got me to wondering whether the author did any research regarding this and who he spoke to,” he writes. “I realize that my friend represents her race and to tell you the truth, even though I do not know many they all act the same…” He still gave the Kama Sutra three stars.

Meanwhile, Rep. Allen West (R–FL) is culturally precluded from being racist and must take recourse to being a regular asshole. After claiming that 80 House Democrats are communists, West has refused to name names. Not one. It’s a historically unprecedented move, but as the Colonel explains, he’s still basically telling the truth:

Communist, progressive, Marxist, statist…I’m looking at the ideologies, I’m looking at the things they believe in and if you don’t think that we have to stand upon truth and be able to identify and clearly contrast the different principles and values and ideologies…here in this country then we’re never going to get to the fact of accepting the true debate that is happening in America.

Please indulge me as I repeat what this United States congressman told Soledad O’Brien: if you don’t think we have to stand upon truth…here in this county then we’re never going to get to the fact of accepting the true debate that is happening in America. Seriously, dude: if you don’t agree that we have to base our debates on truth—for example, my claim that 20% of US Representatives whom I will not name are communists, and that communism is the same as progressivism and several other ideologies—in America, then America is never going to accept the fact of the true debate that is happening. In America.

Fuck you, Allen West, is what I’m saying here. Rex Huppke at the Chicago Tribune says it better with this obituary for facts, which stands as the sort of bitter satirical indictment that only a newspaper man can produce. “Facts is survived by two brothers, Rumor and Innuendo,” Huppke writes, “and a sister, Emphatic Assertion. Services are alleged to be private. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that mourners make a donation to their favorite super PAC.” It’s the sister and the “alleged” that make it, at least for me.

Don’t read this first part in a four-part Slate series on “the crisis in American walking.” Don’t encourage Slate. Instead, scroll down to the photo at the bottom of the page depicting a twelve year-old in Kentucky getting a ride to the bus stop with her house not far in the background. Better yet, look at it right here:

Props to Aaron Galbraith for the link. Also, why does that twelve-year-old girl look like a thirty-year-old office worker? Oh, right.

Fuck the humans, you guys. No! Help the humans. Appreciate the humans for what they offer, not what they lack. Remember all of which the humans are capable, via this song by True Bathing Culture that Micky sent me:


The cure for misanthropy is always Micky.

14 Comments

  1. Zooey is beloved, and when I use the passive voice here I mean to say “Despite not knowing a thing about her, I, Mike, love her.”

    BUT I believe West makes a valid point about white people casually appropriating and using ironically (or humorously or whatever) aspects of black culture without reflecting on how doing so might reinforce racism.

    How is ironically throwing gang signs different than ironically saying “thug life,” except in medium?

  2. In a fit of dumb optimism, I actually advanced this argument in the Jezebel comments section. Don’t cry for me; I’m already dead. The gist was that “thug life” originated from a racially specific culture, but its ubiquity as a meme is such that it is now American more than African-American. When ZD ironically appends “#thuglife” to her tweet about how she is going to spend the evening watching herself on television, she counterposes her lameness with a meme that means coolness. That’s the central proposition of my argument: that “thug life” is shorthand for “badass life” or “tough and cool life” more than it is shorthand for “black life.” Obviously, this contention is vulnerable to critique.

    By comparison, gang signs remain inextricably connected to gangs in the American consciousness, and gangs=black people in same. They haven’t become culturally universal. Plus, “thug life” refers to a type of life, whereas gang signs are a behavior—like tap dancing or fetching water. When white people flash gang signs in Facebook pictures, they are quote-unquote acting black, whereas ZD is at most evoking black.

    Also, the more you see of Zooey Deschanel, the less you like her. By you I mean me.

  3. Interesting. I hear your analysis, and it makes sense.

    But it seems that a dominant culture—white folks—are getting to decided that “thug life” now means “badass life,” whereas gang signs still are too dangerous (read: black) to be adopted by a white mainstream. Tupac and others for whom (at least in order to sell records) “thug life” meant something more don’t get to decide what it means anymore.

    This situation of a dominant culture appropriating whatever it wants on whatever terms it wants is descriptive: it just is. But I don’t think it should be normative.

    And here the overall importance of having a bit more sense, a bit more awareness, still resides. A TV/movie/film star white woman who probably is a just fine person can say “thug life” in order to make a joke on Twitter that incrementally endears her to fans and incrementally increases her fame. But she also can say #mylifeissohard. Instead of leaning into the white privilege she enjoys, she can make an equally funny joke that points to, rather than relies on, her privilege.

    And each of us as individuals, however we are situated by society, can be more aware and make better choices that point toward a better world rather than more of the same.

  4. To me the major difference between gang signs and thug life is that of specificity. Thug life refers to an entire lifestyle where gang signs were made to refer to distinct groups of people.

    I also find the hashtag “thug life” to be significantly funnier than “my life is so hard.” #thuglife draws the comparison of how Tupac watching youtube clips of his hologram on his hidden island is pretty badass where ZD watching her “adorkable” show should be badass in the same way, if only she weren’t so twee. The only joke behind #mylifeissohard is that she’s rich.

  5. I don’t mean to drive this discussion into the ground. I do think it is an important and interesting one to have. I am at risk of just repeating myself, but here goes…

    I’m not following Mike S’ distinction. My understanding of “thug life” was that it was created by a group of people to describe themselves. Now thug seems to be used as a general negative term by aspects of white society, but it also always seems (to me) to carry a racial undertone (how often do you see “thugs” used to describe young white people?). Additionally, some young hip white people use “thug” or “thug life” to funny in the same way they say “that’s so ghetto” or flash fake gang symbols. The appropriation seems more fully complete—to Dan’s point—but not any different in form.

    Yeah, Zooey’s retweet probably was funnier. Personally, I didn’t think it was referencing the hologram/secret lair stuff at all but only the general theme “thug life,” just the same as if it had read “ghetto life.” Mike’s interpretation is much funnier than I would give the original credit for.

    But for me the relative humor isn’t really the point, and I wouldn’t stake the merit of my argument on the quality of my dumb replacement joke. Instead, I’d say two things: 1) creative enough people can make funny enough jokes without recourse to race and 2) if they can’t, they should stop making jokes.

  6. Language evolves.

    When I was growing up in St. Louis, “gay” meant joyful, happy. We had just appropriated “queer” (strange) for reference to homosexuals, causing us to hesitate to use an otherwise very useful word for any other purpose. A “thug” was, seriously, a brutish hoodlum (ie a “hood”) of any ethnic background. It’s current use in “thug life” is a narrowing of that original use.

    This explains why older people step on their linguistic lips so often.

  7. I think that language like “thug life” can be ethically appropriated by anyone for any purpose. Even by members of the oppressive race.

    The only time language appropriation becomes a problem is when it is institutional in nature. If thousands of white girls over the span of a few years absorb the idea that they should do gang signs in photos, that is democratic cultural change, and not institutional. You can’t fight democratic cultural change, and if you can, the solution is worse than the original problem.

    It seems especially strange to try and defend “thug life” as belonging to non-whites, protecting it for them, as if criminality is a valid form of cultural expression. I feel facile pointing this out, but can you really imagine a self-professed thug, seen as a carrier of thug life by his thug peers, sadly having to change his pose in a photo knowing that his means of expression have been co-opted by white girls? Even if that happens, should we care?

    The theoretical implications are more important of course. But even in a worst case scenario, that white girls are thoughtlessly appropriating culture that is not theirs, I would question who gets to decide that it is not theirs. The entire argument seems to proceed from our mutual agreement with the author that thuglife is code for “black.” Das racist!

  8. Re: Mothership’s comment about the term’s migration to a different meaning. The original use of the word “thug” comes from the Indian gang of killers (the Thuggee) that robbed and murdered people in India starting around the 14th century.

  9. Catching up after a Combat! absence.

    I’m sensing, in a few of the posts I’ve read, a push-pull over the characterization “hipster.” Do you hate the word, or see yourself in it, or both?

    Can I solicit a post where you [try to] establish what that word means? I don’t think it has any association with “contemporary white,” as you suggest here. I think it has a lot more with an ever-more prevailing cultural norm—specifically that “quirky,” vain self-indulgence is “cool”. Is hipsterism “cool” anymore?

    In this argument, people love to bring up and disdain Gen X and slack culture, as if that act is sufficient for sound reasoning. But at least Gen X was about something: the rejection of Baby Boomer values and norms. Hipsterism, if it’s about anything, is about taking Baby Boomer values and norms for granted, and using the wealth it created as its own, and then doing stupid art or opening a stupid coffee shop or DJing a Monday night at this really cool drag bar that nobody goes to yet. I would take people who hate their parents too much over people who love themselves too much any day of the week. At least you know they’re paying attention.

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