Russ, I know you’ve got your thing about David Sedaris, but that’s just too bad. I am not ashamed to say that I love this passage from his story, “See You Again Yesterday.”
Potential boyfriends could not smoke Merit cigarettes, own or wear a pair of cowboy boots, or eat anything labeled either ‘lite’ or ‘heart smart.’ Speech was important, and disqualifying phrases included ‘I can’t find my nipple ring’ and ‘This one here was my first tattoo.’ All street names had to be said in full, meaning no ‘Fifty-ninth and Lex’ and definetly no ‘Mad Ave.’ They couldn’t drink more than I did, couldn’t write poetry in notebooks and read it out loud to an audience of strangers, and couldn’t use the words flick, freebie, cyberspace, progressive, or zeitgeist. They could not consider the human scalp an appropriate palette for self-expression, could not own a rainbow-striped flag, and could not say they had ‘discovered’ any shop or restaurant currently listed in the phone book. Age, race, and weight were unimportant. In terms of mutual interests, I figured we could spend the rest of our lives discussing how much we hated the aforementioned characteristics.
So you know how some words or phrases are either self-negating (e.g., “classy” or “no offense“) or self-betraying — in the sense that no one ever wears a shirt printed with a complaint about “stupid people” who is not, him- or herself, a stupid person? Obviously, there are millions of little cues that give us insight into whether someone is OK or Not OK. Cues that, we hope, evolve from the incredibly silly ones we looked for when we were younger (“OMG, he’s wearing Skechers! Ew!”) into somewhat more important and telling ones (“OMG, he yelled at the waitress/drives a giant SUV/voted for Nader in 2000“). We’re tuned into this stuff because, at least according to the genius ev-psych people, we had to learn to categorize people into Us and Them way back in the caveman days, or we’d get, like, speared, or whatever.
Of course, some of those traits that we find intolerable boil down to aesthetics (like my ongoing appreciation for David Sedaris, whom you scorn). Those are the ones that are ultimately forgivable, or even potentially lovable (think of the plot of every single screwball comedy). Others, though, like the waitress example above, seem to point to actual defects of character and are thus “dealbreakers.” And yeah, yeah, I recognize that using the word “dealbreaker” probably falls into the “dealbreaker” category. (I’m, like, so whatever — you could do so much better.)
What I get hung up on, though, to the point of maniacal obsession — and I know you do, too, Russ, since it’s kind of the whole focus of our blog, and, let’s face it, our friendship — are the cues that fall into an ambiguous area, where the line between aesthetic and moral failings start to blur. You know what I mean. Excessive discussions of physical fitness, lingerie as Halloween costumes, over-use of “Any-vow-bag” cliches. I’m sort of ashamed to admit that I love this aspect of Facebook, which is at its core just one big middle school cafeteria. It’s so hard to resist the invitation to judge other people’s priorities, hobbies, taste and grammar (glass houses, pots and kettles, I get it). And even as I’m scrutinizing, I know that I’m being scrutinized, and that I’m probably just about as lovely and fascinating now as I was in eighth grade. As Russ’s Mom once said, “Nobody is his or her best self on Facebook.” So you and I, Russ, with our fancy social networking and our blogging and all — are we, like, students of the human condition? Or are we just middle-school brats? Simply by virtue of our willing participation in the culture of oversharing, are we putting on the “stupid people” T-shirt?