This is the Most Perfect Thing I (Or Anyone Else) Has Every Written In The History of Forever and Ever

11 Jun

You clicked the link for us, didn't you.

You clicked the link for us, didn’t you.

I hate those “Keep Calm and Carry On” shirts. Or mugs. Or bags. Or huggies. Okay, maybe hate is too strong a word, but I do have a visceral negative reaction to seeing someone wearing or toting something with a variation of that imprint. Immediately I know something about you that is completely inane: “Keep Calm and Read On” means that you like to read. Well, good for you, and I’m sure it gives you great pleasure informing random people on Avenue B that you are of the literate. “Keep Calm and Drink On” means you are a member of the exalted drinking class and no one should get between you and your PBR and rail shot. “Keep on and Chive On” means you like Bill Murray. I’m sure the chivemaster feels similarly towards you. “Keep on and Carry an AK-47 Into an Applebee’s” means you’re a douchenozzle of the highest order who does not give a shit about other people’s well-being and even less culinary discretion.

I would wear one that says, “Keep Calm and WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!” but I have scoured the web and none are available. (Birthday in four months, people!)

I’ve been trying to figure out why I hate highly dislike these shirts so much. They are silly and – for me at least – never reflect well upon those wearing them. But, even more, I am troubled by the simple declarative sentence used. It reminds me of the old hippies I sometimes see milling around Union Square. They wear dozens of buttons with peace signs or “Say No to War” or “Guns are Not the Answer” or something about a glass ceiling, or stop and frisk, or drones. This Political Couture changes no one; it only reinforces a sense of self-satisfaction of the wearer.

This seems no different from me wearing a Ramones or Star Wars shirt that proclaims loudly to the world that I enjoy punk rock and space opera. (Note to self: a punk rock space opera MUST happen in my lifetime…Anarchy in Omega Centauri…) And really, I can’t fault people for wearing something that states what they believe. What they believe is important to them, and if they want to tell the world, fine. But.

***

Here are some recent Internet headlines.

“How One Mother Gave Her Daughter With Down Syndrome the Best Day of Her Life.” (Slate)

“This Daily Mail headline might be the most insane thing they’ve ever published.” (BuzzFeed UK)

“The 10 Best Buildings & Skyscrapers in NYC” (Gothamist) (I guess a skyscraper is not technically a building.

“The Person With the Best Answer to the Student Debt Crisis is This Republican From Wisconsin” (Slate)

“26 absolutely perfect ways to respond to a wrong number text” (BuzzFeed)

“The 33 Dumbest Things That Have Ever Happened” (Buzzfeed)

“The 35 Dumbest Things That have Ever Happened” (BuzzFeed) (Yes, a completely different list)

“9 facts about ‘Ferris Bueller’ that will blow your mind” (Huffington Post) (my mind is currently less blown than before)

“When a dude says that maybe she’s asking for it, she has the perfect response. So. Very. Perfect.” (Upworthy)

“The Definitive Ranking of Every Menu Item At McDonalds” (BuzzFeed, on a roll, probably a sesame seed roll)

“The CIA has joined Twitter with the best first tweet possible. (The Verge)

Admittedly it was a damn good tweet:

Then I just decided to start googling “most perfect” to see what would happen. Mostly BuzzFeed.

“32 Reasons Kate Middleton Is the Most Perfect Human Being Alive”

“32 Reasons Why Siva Kaneswaran’s Face is the Most Perfect Face in The History of Faces.” (History of Faces, an easy Pass/Fail class at the University of Phoenix)

“Pick-Up Artist Gets Shut Down in the Most Perfect Way Possible” (HuffPo)

To go after the likes of BuzzFeed and Upworthy may seem like shooting fish in the most perfectly crafted barrel possible. After all, isn’t this just simple clickbait? But think about what it’s saying. “You will like this link. It will reinforce your belief system like a political button or a shirt that reads ‘Keep Calm and Somebody Please Like Me.’ Or at least, it will make you feel that people are actually not that bad because they do nice things once in a while. Or maybe there’s a cat.” It’s heartfelt legal crack that makes us forget about things like school shootings, Ukraine, poverty, all that goddamned student loan debt, and that school shooting that took place in the ten seconds since last time I referenced school shootings.

It’s based on a promise. The promise of the Best, the Most Perfect, the Simplest, the Easiest, an argument that is Destroyed, Demolished, Eradicated. A listing of Definitiveness. A listing of Dumbness that will make you feel less bad about your own.

It’s based on a promise that clicking this link will make you feel good about yourself. That you are right and holy.  Or at least that your affection for felines is totally badass and righteous.

***

I hate have a gross revulsion when people call something Orwellian. Like, “the NSA is Orwellian,” or “stop and frisk is Orwellian” or “Amazon is Orwellian.” In his essay “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell said that “The word fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.’”  One could make the case that the word “Orwellian” has also fallen into a general vagueness through rampant overuse.

I get that just about everyone believes that “Orwellian” means living in a surveillance state. But Orwell – in both his famous fictions of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm and his essays – was always more interested in the perversions in the use and misuse of language. Words, he understood, have power. We give them meaning, and new meanings are assigned to them through their applications or misapplications. He was troubled by the inexactness of words. “Never use a long word where a short one will do,” was one of his rules. The use of complexity when simplicity would suffice can often be used to intentionally confuse listeners or deflect criticism. Take, for example, this piece of contemporary beat poetry:

Reports that say there’s — that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

My concern with the use of words like Best or Perfect or Easiest is in their exactitude. They are definitive absolutes which cannot be improved upon. They don’t just imply but bluntly state that you will like this, that it is superior to all others of its kind, even if it’s just a photo of Bradley Cooper.

Absolutism is something I have always had issues with. It’s what makes orthodox religion intolerable to me: there is a 100% certainty that this thing happened, that what this particular text said is true, and those who don’t believe at worst are going to hell, at best are not going to heaven. It’s what bothers me with Second Amendment absolutists: their (mis)reading of the Constitution says that they can basically take large guns into, well, anywhere. It’s what I can’t stand about both sides of the abortion debate: neither can admit that the other side may – just may – have some valid points.

The overuse of the words Best and Perfect diminish their power. These are words that should be used sparingly, but are thrown out on the Internet willy-nilly like gifs of Tina Fey rolling her eyes or references to [INSERT YOUR POLITICIAN OF CHOICE] as Hitler. Of course the phrase Most Perfect is impossible. Perfect, like pregnant, is a word that cannot be modified. Something either is perfect or it is not.

Perfect is an overused word that describes something that is almost non-existent. Like the “pursuit of happiness,” perfection is something we strive for but rarely achieve. Except in baseball, of course.

***

I love my friends. I love having really awesome debates with them. I especially love talking baseball with certain people. “Who’s the best player of all time?” one asks me. I respond with, “Willie Mays…or maybe Ted Williams. I mean, you can’t go wrong with the Babe.” And that’s not even getting into pitchers. (Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Greg Maddux) The discussion continues. I can talk religion and philosophy and politics with people. We don’t all go, “Well, I completely agree with that.” Many of our beliefs are not even that fully formed. I may be stridently anti-death penalty, but I am less so about many other things. I don’t believe Monsanto is going to kill us all, though I don’t trust them. I come from an old school New Deal Democratic family, but I don’t believe unions are the great equalizer they may once have been, though I am also not on the side of Management. There are plenty of things I have never formed a concrete opinion on. Either I don’t have enough information, or I just don’t care that much about certain issues. Maybe someday I will become more of a zealot for certain things, but as of now, on many issues my position is vague and subject to change.

I doubt. Doubt is the best (oh shit, I said it) thought process we have. Doubt is disconcerting because when I doubt something I cannot feel good about myself. I cannot say, “I know this to be true, and me to be right.”  Doubt is the no man’s land between safe harbors of certainty.

Each time I sit down to write this blog I go in with an idea. It’s not a firmly set belief, just a thought that had been percolating in my head for a few days. My writing is a quest to find out what I actually think about something.  Sometimes I come up with an interesting thesis, but find it lacking in its merits. Other times I become more rigid in my beliefs, only to regret them a few days or weeks after publication. When I say to people that when I was younger I was more liberal than I am now, that is a mistake. True liberalism is being anti-rigid in one’s beliefs. Too many of my fellow liberals are liberal in their beliefs but conservative in their thought patterns. They don’t change. That is the definition of conservative.  

What we lose in the rise towards Absolutism is the grey area of doubt. When we proclaim everything the Best, nothing is. Claiming something ordinary to be Perfect mocks those few things in the world that are perfect: twenty-three baseball games, one Picasso, the view of Manhattan from one specific spot on the Brooklyn Bridge, Brubeck’s Time Out, this week’s episode of Louie, Ned Beatty’s speech in Network, Young’s Oatmeal Stout, you sharing this post with your friends, first kisses, Roger Ebert’s review of North, and, of course, the physical comedy of Tina Fey.

 Tina Fey Eye Roll gif

Everything else pretty much sucks.

UPDATE (6/12/14): This entire post is now moot thanks to Clickhole, but thanks for reading.

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