Posts Tagged ‘postmodern’

“Just to let you know, your facebook statuses are getting douchier and douchier.”

My dear and always honest friend Lindsay expressed this to me several months ago, when I was in the midst of a paper on Nietzsche and postmodernism that was, like, totally blowing my mind.  And my, but my facebook statuses were indeed getting douchier and douchier.  No question.  Since that fateful day, however, I have begun to hear the word douche used in new and exciting contexts.  How douchey can we be? seems to be the question of the day.

Now, the etymology of the word ‘douche’ has a long and complicated history.  When we call someone a ‘douche’, we are not, of course, referring to the actual item of feminine hygiene.  Nor are we particularly comparing said individual to that item.  Back in the day, my father informed me, to call someone a ‘douche’ was one of the worst things you could say.  Now, we say it routinely.  It references someone (very often male) who behaves in a pretentious, obnoxious, or generally … uh … douchey manner.  It continues to be a derogatory term, of course.  Or does it?

Recently, I have heard (and used) the word ‘douche’ in a highly self-referential fashion.  ‘Hipster douchiness’ has become a regular statement among my circle of friends here in Edinburgh.

“Come and be a douche with us!” stated a text message, inviting everyone along to hang out in the Meadows.  When one sits in a cafe, drinking organic coffee, typing one’s novel on one’s MacBook (or, for true douchiness, iPad), one is achieving a true level of douchiness that few ever arrive honestly at.  Dressing like a hipster, saying things like ‘That is sooooo Postmodern’, reading Nietzsche, speaking of one’s existential self, updating one’s blog with ironic referential comments, shopping at Urban Outfitters, complaining of the difficulty of one’s life while lying in the sun, being a barista in any capacity, talking about being a barista, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, listening to obscure folk music … these are not the hallmarks of true douchiness.  No, true douchiness must be achieved by being AWARE of true douchiness.  By the recognition that one is behaving like a total, complete, remarkable, capitalized Douche.

“We’re so hip, we’re going to a band that even we haven’t heard of!”

This, my friends, is true douchiness.  The Way of the Douche is fraught with peril, for the pitfalls might turn you into an acoustic guitar playing juggler on a unicycle who has no freaking idea of how douchey he/she truly is.  It might turn you into a twenty-something would-be novelist in a cafe bitching about how no one gets just what post-postmodernism is.  The Way of the Douche must be carefully discovered, hopefully with people just as pretend-douchey as you are.  For the true Douche is not a douche at all.  Just someone who enjoys a ironic joke, a scene of pop-culture referentiality, an honest moment in the sun with friends.  Someone who can laugh at themselves.

So, verily, I say unto you: go and discover the Way of the Douche.  I know I have.

How to be a douche in two easy lessons

As my friends are well aware, I am a total snob.  I’m a film snob, a literature snob, and, most recently (due to my sudden interest in Nietzsche, that syphilitic genius), a philosophy snob.  I watch movies with long names and long takes, like Last Year at Marienbad and Dr. Mabuse the Gambler.  I read Thomas Pynchon for fun.  I like Baudrillard and Foucault and words like ‘signification’ and ‘heteronormative structures’.  I write douchey posts on my blog, like this one.

But …

I also like terrible B-movies, slasher flicks, sappy romantic comedies and things in which Bruce Willis or Vin Diesel blows shit up.  And I read genre books: crime fiction, sci-fi, fantasy and their subgenres, steampunk, cyberpunk, even the occasional romance novel.  I do not like contemporary literary fiction as a rule.  Everything recent that I’ve taken interest in usually turns out to be what would be broadly classified as ‘genre’ fiction.  You know, genre.  That thing that snobs are not supposed to like.  That thing that is repetitive and has rules and is, like, generic and stuff.  That section of literature (or film, or art) that is not ‘serious’.

Recently, a furor broke out over the BBC’s World Book Night last month.  Lead by Stephen Hunt (an excellent steampunkish author), a group of fantasy/sci-fi writers responded to what they perceived as the BBC’s anti-genre attitude.  I believe the phrase ‘sneering derogatory tone’ was used.  The BBC of course denies that they sneered at genre fiction. (Hunt’s original post can be found here: Stephen Hunt vs BBC , the BBC’s response according to The Guardian here: BBC Denies Sneering at Genre Fiction ).

I did not see the program, so I really can’t comment on how right or wrong the sci-fi authors or the BBC are.  Being that an opinion is much easier to hold if not hampered by the facts (thank you, Mark Twain), I choose to side with the authors.  But the point that this whole debate makes is one that keeps coming back to me: what’s the matter with genre?

What is it about so-called genre fiction that makes folks like the literati over at the BBC sneer? I use the BBC specifically, but this extends to a whole section of writers, readers, professors and intellectuals.  Why is To the Lighthouse literature, and Farewell My Lovely not? I once took a whole class in 20th Century Crime Fiction at a university known for its stalwart dedication to the canon of English literature.  Why is this debate still going on?

Warhol, like him or hate him, made great strides in making pop culture art.  Thomas Pynchon wrote a potboiler, a steampunk novel, an adventure story.  Cormac McCarthy writes westerns, but no literary critic will admit that he’s working in the tradition of Zane Grey.  Robert Louis Stevenson is taught as canonical, but lest we forget that he was a genre author: horror (Jekyll and Hyde) , adventure (Kidnapped, Treasure Island), historical fantasy (The Master of Ballantrae).  Dickens was a popular writer who got published in monthly installments in magazines.  Jane Austen, let’s face it, wrote chick lit.

I blame the Modernists.  Before Virginia Woolf et al began venerating themselves, novels were largely modes of entertainment.  They were a popular medium intended for a wide audience longing for a three volume escape from mundanity.  They were TV for the middle classes.  The best ones (for my money, Dickens, Hardy and Thackeray, but that’s debatable) were entertaining first; the depth of their subjects, their political commentary and social consciences were a marvelous addition.  The Modernists made the novel deep as a cave and just as dangerous.  They gave it a greater social conscience, and moved it towards real political efficacy, but in the process lost sight of entertainment value.  We read Ulysses because it’s important, but is it fun?

This is not to say that there is no place for intellectual books.  I love intellectual books.  I also don’t want to be bored by something just because it’s ‘important’.  Anti-intellectualism is a terrible thing, but sometimes I get the sense that intellectuals are looking to cordon themselves off from the rest of the world, to look down their noses at something just because it does not fit into an arbitrary criteria of ‘art’.  The fact is that literary fiction is as much a genre as anything else: there’s BAD literary fiction, and there’s good.  We just slap the phrase ‘literary’ on it and suddenly it’s a tome worthy of the New York Review of Books.  Good genre fiction is difficult; it requires as much skill, as much intelligence and attention to detail as any other work of art.  Entertaining people is hard work.  So, basically, we all need to get our heads out of our own asses and realize that literature is a slippery category.  Besides, some literary fiction could be improved by a dirigible or two.

This is going to be one of those ‘geez, my life is fascinating’ sort of posts.  Brace yourself.  I live in Edinburgh–a glorious city, beautiful, gothic, that drives me completely insane 9 days out of 10–and, this being Scotland, it was something of an event when the sun shone yesterday.  Not only did the sun shine, but the wind had sunk to a light spring breeze, the sky was totally clear, there was no chance of getting all four seasons in one day, as there usually is in Edinburgh.  So as I am on ‘vacation’ from grad school, so to speak, I betook myself to the Meadows, a public park in the middle of the Old Town.  There I witnessed what happens on a sunny day in a place known for its continuous greyness.

It seemed that the entire city turned out to picnic in the park.  There were people juggling, boys on unicycles, crowds of students with those little barbeques you can buy at Tescos, couples sleeping, children playing, bicycles inexplicably and dangerously traversing the crowd.  I laid down on a nice sunny patch of grass, had my lunch, opened my book, turned on my music and settled myself in for a few hours of existential contemplation.

The problem with existential contemplation on a sunny day in Edinburgh is that you begin to consider, naturally enough, your existential self.  Which I did.  It happened when I sat up to remove my shoes.  In a flash, I saw myself, sitting there on that green expanse.  And I did not like what I saw.  I saw a twenty-something girl in Levis, H&M tank top, wearing worn down red Converse with no socks, listening to folk music on her iPod, iPhone tucked into her back pocket.  I saw a girl drinking an organic smoothie while reading ‘American Psycho’, eyes shaded against the sun by her horn-rimmed, retro sunglasses, head propped up on a messenger bag with pins that read ‘Peace: Back By Popular Demand’ and a picture of Che Guevera.  I saw (and I tremble as I write this): a hipster.  The only thing missing was a pashmina and skinny jeans.

Allow me to rephrase that: I saw a fucking hipster.  Because I, like the rest of the civilized world, do not like hipsters.  They are false creatures of darkness who use ‘ironic’ ironically.  They move in packs, like werewolves, and listen to bands you’ve never heard of just because you’ve never heard of them.  They ride unicycles…and there is nothing I irrationally despise more than the unicycle (it defies all laws of God and Man, but let’s not get into that).  They are pop-culture leeches and they have usurped all the good things, like Godard and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and acoustic guitars.

And I am one.  Joanna reassured me that I could not be a hipster if I wasn’t doing any of the things I was doing ironically.  But of course, I am ironic by nature.  I’m a sarcastic, snarky film snob.  And isn’t not doing something ironically that  you should be doing ironically by extension ironic? The irony of being un-ironic in an ironic setting? Dear.  God.

Kerouac defined the hipster of the 1940s, but went on to say that there are a million and one false hipsters out there.  There’s an excellent quote from ‘Desolation Angels’ about this, but I can’t find it.  And now I’m referencing Kerouac and my cliched nature is complete.  Fuck.

In my defense (from myself), I actually want to read American Psycho.  I have a Che Guevera button because I respect him, and I have read some of his work.  I love my Cons, and my iPod, and my iPhone Caligula.  Levis fit me, and they are not artificially distressed.  I was drinking a fruit smoothie in an attempt to get my 5 a day.  If anything, I am a sincere hipster.

How very ironic.