In my column last month, I mentioned the TuckerMax message board, a place where people go to talk about sex, beer, and whores, not necessarily in that order. Every now and then, though, someone will slip in an original idea. Recently a thread was started as to what kinds of people each board member has an aversion. And not in terms of racism by the way, we're talking about groups of people who have chosen to be defined by any number of recognizable sub-cultures: neo-hippies, grumpy old people, lawyers, Republicans, people who walk five-abreast on city streets, mimes, etc. Everyone had at least one group that they could claim to hate.
Except me. I spent four days racking my brain, trying to come up with some category of people that I vehemently disliked. And I'm not talking about people who just annoy me, like cab drivers who spend your whole ride talking on the phone, or people who keep trying to talk like they have helium in their lungs even after the helium's all run out, or the undead. I'm talking about a group of people who really get my blood boiling, who I just want to kick in the head until they either change their ways or stop using my oxygen.
Then it hit me - there is, in fact, a group of people whom not only do I detest with a passion, but whose numbers seem to be growing in our society on a daily basis: people who are proud of their least admirable traits. And I know they don't have a union yet, or maybe don't even know that they're part of this group. But they definitely exist and they really piss me off.
Let me give you an example.
You're gathered around the water cooler on Monday morning, talking about the latest episode of "Sex and the City," and one of your coworkers, we'll call her Margo, comes up to get hot water for her daily herbal tea. She listens for a minute as you and Dave and Dave and Sally talk about how sad you are that this is the last season and speculate on whether Carrie's going to marry the Russian guy or if Miranda and Steve will ever do anything interesting. Then she announces, smugly, without being asked, "Oh, you guys are talking about TV. I never watch TV. I'm so out of it when it comes to popular culture. I don't even know what channel that's on."
And then Dave (or Dave) flays her alive and makes her into a woman-suit for being pleased at her own ignorance and everyone goes back to what they were discussing.
In my mind they do, anyway. In real life, there's kind of an awkward pause, as everyone else thinks to themselves, "Umm...who asked you and why do you think we care?" And then someone says, "Oh. Interesting. Anyway..." And Margo goes off, pleased with herself for not only interjecting a useless comment into a conversation that didn't involve her, but also for having the forthrightness to let everyone know about her lack of knowledge. Hmm.
Doesn't this strike anyone else as being terribly, terribly wrong?
How is it that people feel as though their imperfections are good things? And more to the point, how is it that they have no compunctions about sharing these imperfections, and even have the gall to imply that they're better people for them?
It's not just culture snobs (or lack-of-culture snobs), of course. Haven't you ever heard anyone say, "Oh, I'm a terribly picky eater," as though that was a good thing? Like having trained your palate only to appreciate hamburgers, Coca-Cola, and spaghetti somehow gets you more cosmic points than those silly people who eat calamari, falafel, and eggplant. Of course, most of these people haven't ever tried the foods they claim to not enjoy. "That lox looks gross. Is it an ethnic food? I don't eat ethnic foods. I'm not gonna like it." With that attitude, it's a wonder they ever tried sex. ("Is that an ethnic position? I don't do ethnic positions.")
I'm not talking about personal tastes; don't confuse the two. I don't care what foods you like, what you don't like, what actors you just have to see, or whether you prefer reading to listening to music. Doesn't matter. What really gets me is the attitude that being stupid or ignorant or, well, just wrong is commendable.
"Oh, I never know how to pronounce those big words." Yeah? I got a big word for you: interview. As in what you'll fail if you apply for a job and you speak as though you learned English from a correspondence course. "I know it may seem like ni-a-vette, but that's just re-tor-ic." (naiveté, rhetoric)
"My SAT scores were just awful." ...And you're okay with that, why? Sure, not everyone's a genius or good at taking standardized tests, but just what good attribute do you feel that you embody because you wound up limiting your choice of colleges? Is your implication that Jesus loves a failure? Perhaps those people at Harvard would have their chakras better aligned if they'd joined you at Budweiser Community College instead. Chakras. The Indian concept of the body's energy fields... never mind.
"I'm a terrible driver. It's amazing I haven't been in more accidents." How are you proud of this? How is it that you can smugly tell me (and everyone around you) that every time you get behind the wheel, you put other people's lives in danger? Does this mean that you see being a good driver as worthy of ridicule? In what compartment of your small, small mind does being a notably bad driver cause the endorphins to leap through the hoops of your brain? Endorphins. Chemicals in your brain... never mind.
Maybe it's this idea that's been drummed into us from birth that we're all special because we're all unique. Throughout our lives, we're told that being ourselves is a good thing and that we should be proud of those things that make us, well, us. But that's crap. Just because you might see your being unable to spell as a defining quality, that doesn't mean it's a good one. I mean, I know I definitely have my issues, but I don't brag on them as though they were commendable. You don't see me saying, "Oh, I have no head for finances. I even ran up nearly $20,000 in credit card debt over a 5-year period." Well, now you see me saying it, but it doesn't really count this time, okay?
"I was such a slut in college. I once slept with the entire first string on our football team in one weekend. Can you believe it?" Ummm...yeah. Not only do I believe it, but you've also just inadvertently informed the group that a) you have no self-esteem, b) you confuse sex with love, c) you're looking for validation from men because Daddy didn't hug you enough as a child, and d) I should wear a condom.
If the best thing you can say about yourself is a negative quality, maybe you need to reevaluate your life and stop trying to convince me that something like totally blacking out whenever you drink is admirable. Again, I'm not perfect, and yes, this is something I've done on, luckily, not too many occasions. But I'm not proud of it. I'm not putting it on my resume, J-date profile, or face tattoo any time soon. (And for those of you following along, yes, I have a girlfriend; the J-date comment was for effect only.)
"I steal stuff from stores all the time." Hey, that's fantastic. Call me from jail when you get busted and let me know how that's working out for you.
There is, of course, the possibility that this is just ingrained in human nature and people have been doing it since time immemorial. You know, Benjamin Franklin stops by your farm in 1775, and you say something like, "Britain or the colonies? Beats me. I don't pay attention to politics. They're so boring. Want to see my new wig?" And next thing you know, the Red Coats have confiscated your cattle and your wife is two-timing you with some "lef-tenant."
"Change a tire? I've never had to change a tire. I have no idea how to do it." Then learn, moron. Chris Rock did a whole bit on a certain group of people who love to "not know" stuff (with gratuitous use of the n-word). I don't think it's limited to the sub-culture he was lampooning; the knowledge (or lack thereof) changes depending on your socioeconomic status, but the pride in not knowing it doesn't. I saw a scene from "The Simple Life" recently where Nicole Ritchie was totally okay with the fact that she had no clue what a Laundromat was. Not knowing something should make you ashamed. The really sad thing was that Paris Hilton had to tell her what it was, but then followed it up with, "Like in that Josh Hartnett movie." And these girls live in New York City where there's, like, three launderettes within two blocks of wherever you happen to be standing. Ignorance is not a virtue.
I don't know that there's any solution to the problem, of course. Our society is so full of egoists and deluded self-sycophants that maybe we're all headed in that direction. Maybe some day it will be a good thing when someone says, "Oh, I could never sit through a movie that's longer than two hours. I get bored after that." And we'd all applaud their honesty and wonder what's wrong with us that we were actually compelled to watch said film all the way through. I certainly hope not, though.
But I do have a favor to ask. Next time you find yourself tempted to join the ranks of those I abhor, just as "Oh, I have no fashion sense," is about to come out of your mouth, stop, think of me, and shut the hell up. I don't really care if you have fashion sense or not. You could dress like an extra from The Dark Crystal, as long as you didn't boast about how bad you know you looked. I think, in this way, we could work together to stop the world from ending in 2012.
Anyway, that's the end of my column this time. I guess. I never finish anything well. Does that make me special?
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
2.9.04 @ 7:07a
"I was such a slut in college. I once slept with the entire first string on our football team in one weekend."
I can't believe I didn't hang out with girls like that more often in college.
Very good read, Adam.
2.9.04 @ 9:04a
I think the reason you didn't hang out with those girls, Dave, is that they were busy doing the football team.
Wait - does UNC have a football team? Took me three years to discover that Tufts had one.
2.9.04 @ 9:14a
Yes, UNC has a football team. Not a good one anymore, but it's there.
Your column just rings the truth. I've heard almost everything in there, except for the "stealing stuff" one.
2.9.04 @ 10:54a
My ex, Becky, pointed out to me that in some cases, this making light of one's faults might come from a place of insecurity. I suppose she might be right, but it still doesn't make it a good thing. I'm sure I'm guilty of it, too, but I'm trying harder. If there's an aspect of your personality you don't like, don't point it out, change it. Or so I would think.
2.9.04 @ 10:58a
Flaws are beautiful. I think what you're hating here, Adam, are desperate pleas for attention via an awkward attempt at self-effacement.
God, I'm such a pretentious know-it-all.
2.9.04 @ 11:20a
Irony is the spleen of wit.
And I think you're right. Though there are people who honestly seem to think that their flaws distinguish them from everyone else. It's like the difference between someone being overconfident because they're self-delusional and someone being cocky because they're covering for low self esteem. The actions may seem the same, but the impeti (impetuses?) come from opposite ends of the spectrum.
2.9.04 @ 12:24p
Great column. I wanted to let people know what pushes my buttons - false modesty drives me INSANE. If you are good at something - that is fantastic - but don't pretend like you don't know. That really um..gets my goat. (I dont think the expression "gets my goat" gets nearly enough play)
2.9.04 @ 12:38p
Irony is the spleen of wit.
But is this irony or sarcasm?
People's flaws do distinguish them from everybody else, the same way their strengths do.
And how is not watching television a flaw? It's only a flaw in your eye. So where, in your first example, you find Margo to be flawed by abject cultural inawareness, she may find you flawed by being slaves to the HBO marketing department and the absolute tripe they call entertainment. When in reality, she's just being a bitch by butting into a conversation she has no place being in.
I think Joe called it. It's attention-getting tactics. If you get mad at them for it, it's worked.
The terrorists have already won.
2.9.04 @ 1:38p
Bing-friggin-O. You just nailed it, Jackie.
lee anne ramsey
2.9.04 @ 1:55p
I agree with Jackie, but "Margo" also works at my office. Here is a woman who works in the CREATIVE department of an ADVERTISING AGENCY and she just loves to tell us how she never watches tv or listens to the radio. It chaps my hide (another underused expression) every time. And she wonders why her ideas seem so 1980s? Is it because that is the last time she watched a commercial?
2.9.04 @ 4:41p
You know, your example of TV non-watchers isn't really a good one. I'd tell you why I don't watch TV, but that would be crowing about my own shortcomings. But it's not because I'm a snob, although that's why I don't watch some shows in particular.
In your other scenarios, though, I think it's not so much being proud of not knowing something than it is not being ashamed of not knowing. I have a stepsister who sees nothing at all wrong with the fact that she thinks the Capitol of the US is located somewhere near Seattle.
2.9.04 @ 4:57p
I thought the expression was "chafes my hide." Ah, well, neither here nor there.
I'm not saying that people who don't watch TV are somehow flawed for not doing it (defensive much?) - I'm saying that people who crow about it to those who obviously do watch TV annoy me. Being ignorant of pop culture is a flaw. The same way that being ignorant of the classics or of geography would be. Ignorance is ignorance. And to use it to indicate that you're better than someone else - that's my problem. Sure, not everyone can be a renaissance man, but I'd always argue that a healthy interest in learning about any subject that piques other people's interest is always a better reaction than a rejection of said subject and a smug self-righteous implication that you're a better person for it.
2.9.04 @ 5:18p
Adam, you forgot the college slut's follow up line. "But then I found God, and now I will only sleep with the perfect man."
Not watching television isn't a bad thing. Actually I don't see these people as being proud of flaws, so much as being socially inept. No one cares if you don't watch television, or if you slept with the entire football team (well, maybe, but that's a different subject), and in the case of Paris Hilton, the girl just comes across as being so far removed from the realities of daily life she very possibly has little clue as to laundry, or ordering from the dollar menu at a fast food restaurant.
Interesting take on people.
2.9.04 @ 7:42p
I don't see most of your examples as people being proud of things they're bad at. It's just a self-depreciating comment.
I think it's perfectly fine for people to join in on a conversation by poking fun at themselves.
Your non-TV watcher example is made annoying by how the person is saying it (and by butting into the conversation), not by what they said.
2.9.04 @ 7:51p
Not defensive, Adam, so much as truly embarrassed to admit the issue for me, but I will (cuz I'm defensive about being called defensive) - it's the short-attention span thing. I can think of quite a few shows I've liked, but I can't seem to keep the night the show is on in my head for a full week.
And truly, I'd much rather be ignorant of pop culture than some of the things I'm not ignorant about, you know?
2.9.04 @ 8:27p
Yeah, saying "I don't watch prime time TV" is akin to saying "I don't eat fast food." Sure, you're missing out on something, but you're not missing out on much.
2.9.04 @ 8:55p
I'm not discussing the pros or cons of not watching primetime TV. I'm discussing the attitude behind feeling smug or holier-than-thou for not knowing something. No matter what it is. The people could have been standing the water cooler around discussing the Rodin exhibit at the local art museum and "Margo" could have said, "I only study prehistoric art. I couldn't tell a Rodin from a Calder," or they could have been talking about The Lion King and she could have mentioned that she doesn't attend musical theater. It's not the subject matter that's important.
Nor is it a question of tastes or preferences - so you don't like sitcoms (or whatever). I don't care if you don't get HBO; I'm sure there were some mighty fine people who refused to go to the "talkies" in the late '20s. It's the implication that a deliberate lack of knowledge is something to be commended. Or, moreover, that those people who do display a knowledge of said subject matter are somehow inferior for doing so.
2.9.04 @ 11:07p
Well now this is very interesting, because of things like the recent debate over the use of the word "evolution" in text books in the Georgia school systems. Here we have an example of teaching what I would call ignorance. There are many who agree with the theory of creationism and refuse to acknowledge evolution.
You're right in the notion that choosing not to expand your knowledge base is limiting and tends to make people look foolish, but they are exercising their freewill.
Let's face it, I missed out by not caring enough about football to watch the Super Bowl, so I didn't get that once second glance at Janet Jackson being exposed. I did get to see it from about 15 different angles on the Internet after the fact, but I was exercising my freewill in not watching the football game.
2.10.04 @ 8:17a
There are many who agree with the theory of creationism and refuse to acknowledge evolution.
I work on a daily basis with many of these people: "We have always looked the way we do now. Scientists can 'prove' anything they want to."
2.10.04 @ 10:07a
Robert - I'm not questioning their free will. I believe that people have the right to think and do anything they want as long as it doesn't interfere with my right to think and do anything I want.
My column was solely about attitude. I dislike people who are smug about their flaws. Period.
And David, how dare you insult me by insinuating that I evolved from a lesser being. If man descended from monkeys, why are there still monkeys? Answer me that, smart guy.
2.10.04 @ 10:32a
I agree with Matt - I think it all depends on delivery and purpose.
To interrupt a conversation with that viewpoint is, indeed, smugness. "Margo" shows no interest in the conversation at hand, the people having it, and nor does she try to ask for inclusion by saying something like, "Oh, I never watch TV. I'm always running around. What am I missing here?"
But if I say I'm a horrible speller, which I am, regardless of my knowledge of words and the ability to put them together, I'm not being smug. I'm actually displaying humanity and humor. The context by which I convey this information: "I visit AWAD just so I can learn to spell!" shouldn't be annoying to anyone. It's a demonstration on how I recognize my shortcomings, and don't take myself too seriously.
Which too many people do, and that "chafes my ass."
2.10.04 @ 10:54a
Ah, Adam, I see you have your own website.
2.10.04 @ 11:14a
But if I say I'm a horrible speller, which I am, regardless of my knowledge of words and the ability to put them together, I'm not being smug. I'm actually displaying humanity and humor.
Right, but you're not being smug. And you're not insinuating that it's something to be proud of.
But I know people who do. Or I've heard them, at least. Like they're poo-pooing the ability to be able to spell because they, themselves, can't. I agree with both of you that it's a question of delivery and purpose.
Where did I ever say that it wasn't?
Oh, and thanks, Dave. I'll put in a good word for you with The Maker.
2.10.04 @ 11:18a
You didn't. I was just being smug on my viewpoint.
You know these people you're talking about? I usually either:
1) mock them.
2) walk away.
Not necessarily in that order.
2.10.04 @ 11:29a
This one is becoming more and common nowadays:
"I am so bad at returning emails".
Then start calling people. I have found so often that making a 1 minute phone call actually saves me load of time as opposed to writing an email and waiting eons for a response.
2.10.04 @ 11:29a
Email has become the same as phone calls in many ways. The same people who used to not call you back, now just don't email you back!
2.10.04 @ 11:53a
That's funny. I find I'm actually a lot better with e-mail. That might be a function of cost, though, or a reluctance to use up my daytime minutes.
2.10.04 @ 1:41p
I enjoyed the column, well done. One thing stuck out from the comments:
Being ignorant of pop culture is a flaw. The same way that being ignorant of the classics or of geography would be. Ignorance is ignorance.
It's true that ignorance is ignorance, but we're born that way and we die that way. The pursuit of knowlege is quixotic and the more one learns the more one realizes how much more there is to know. (Cliche, but accurate.)
Be that as it may, some endeavors are more instructive as to the human condition than others. Ignorance of the tenets of the US Constitution, for example, is arguably more detrimental to any American than ignorance of Pop Culture. While both are flaws, they differ vastly in degree.
That may be an absurd comparison, but I can't see Day's of Our Lives contributing to peoples' self-awareness the way that Hamlet did.
2.10.04 @ 2:23p
I give up.
2.10.04 @ 2:41p
I just think the issue here, Adam, is that you don't do enough with your examples to differentiate between what someone says and why/how they are saying it. So rather than give an example of someone saying "I'm not a good driver", which, depending on the person and context could just be an unself-conscious stream-of-consciousness comment, you need to stress that that person was BRAGGING about sucking at driving. Is it the ignorance that bothers you or the bragging about being ignorant? I feel it's the latter, but you get into trouble with your examples by not making that clear.
2.10.04 @ 3:05p
Well, it's tough to insinuate inflection in writing. I made the attempt using italics, and in addition, I assumed the readership here was clever enough to understand that when I say, "she says smugly," I mean for it to be read, um, smugly.
Sure, people can talk about their flaws or their shortcomings in a clear manner, possibly lamenting them, possibly just discussing them. I know bad drivers who totally fess up to it without any hint of self-deprecation or pride. But what I wrote was "'I'm a terrible driver. It's amazing I haven't been in more accidents.'" And placed it in the context of being proud of it.
I know I'm getting defensive here, but at no point in time did I intend to judge people's preferences or insult their abilities (or lack thereof). My point, which I had thought was pretty clear, was that what bugs me is when, rather than trying to better themselves, they take on an air of complacency or even satisfaction over their faults or inadequacies.
I don't mind if someone's ignorant of any subject - I know very little about quantum physics, for example - but I don't go around saying, "Quantum physics? I just get so confused. Those science guys can have it." It's the attitude that bugs me, not the lack of knowledge.
2.10.04 @ 3:13p
I just stepped in, no vitriol here. But, the "ignorance is ignorance" comment kinda sucks. Sure, it's true, but there are some things I AM glad I don't know how to do, such as how to clean a gatling gun or make crystal meth. Not everyone can know everything and like you say in your column, in a different way, it's not a contest where know the least, or the most, is the point.
2.10.04 @ 3:25p
Again, I don't care how much you know.
I care if you're bragging about what you don't know. Especially to people who do seem to care about whatever the topic is.
I don't care one way or another if I know how to clean a gun or make crystal meth. But I wouldn't, if I found myself hanging out with a bunch of meth cookers, say something like, "I have no idea how to make that. Why would I bother? Don't you guys have anything better to do?" or somesuch.
2.10.04 @ 4:35p
Adam, for the record, I thought your placment of italics were perfect.
2.10.04 @ 4:46p
2.10.04 @ 4:50p
2.10.04 @ 7:53p
But I wouldn't, if I found myself hanging out with a bunch of meth cookers, say something like, "I have no idea how to make that. Why would I bother? Don't you guys have anything better to do?" or somesuch.
This just made me think. Perhaps.. just perhaps, what you're running into in people is that they'd like to be interested, or they'd like to know something, or they'd like to be better drivers or whatever, and are too embarrassed to actually say as such. And since you're evincing interest in the topic that they'd like to know more about, they approach it in the only way they see fit, which is entirely inappropriate to the situation.
Or maybe what I'm trying to say is that some people don't do well in social situations.
And how do you know they're actually proud?
If I found myself hanging out with a bunch of meth cookers, I might well tell them all about how little I know about making crystal meth in an effort to at least have some sort of conversation, and possibly learn something.
2.11.04 @ 12:04a
I thought the column was funny. Why are you people analyzing it to death? I never think that much about magazine columns...I can't be bothered to look past the surface humour, really.
2.11.04 @ 1:50a
Thank you, Jack, for adding a little perspective.
And to answer what seems like your question, Erik, you don't necessarily know if the deal is that someone's proud. But ultimately, it doesn't matter. Even if they're just pretending to be proud to cover up their insecurity, that doesn't make it better. I pointed out earlier the difference between an inflated sense of self and cockiness used to hide low self esteem. Ultimately, it doesn't matter, as both are annoying as hell. Same in this situation, I think. It's no less anoying if someone is playing off their insecurities instead of simply admitting them. I never said they were necessarily proud; I said they seemed proud.
2.11.04 @ 2:02p
You're right, Jack. And really, I only got involved in this discussion because of the discussion.
But anyone who reads my stuff should know that I don't care about all that much more than getting some laughs. Even if I have to contradict one of my real opinions.
2.13.04 @ 8:23a
So you're saying you're consistent in your inconsistency? Is that irony or poetry?
2.24.04 @ 4:32p
I must belatedly admit that I thought it made some very good points and was a very funny column, but then I have no sense of humour, I've been told. ha ha ha ha
Of course, I disagree with those grumps who think that. They just don't get my subtle, sophisticated quips. Right? Right.
BTW, chaps my hide or chafes my hide really mean the same thing for purposes of using that particular expression. If your lips are chafed they need some ChapStick. I think. But then, what do I know?