When I was in high school, I bought my girlfriend a necklace from Walmart. Of course, I wasn't able to buy something flashy and expensive -- I was 16 and raked lawns for a week to come up with the money. When I gave it to her, she was overjoyed. She asked me where I bought it, and I told her. I had no sooner said the name of the store when she just sort of deflated -- her expression changing from an ear-to-ear smile to that look you get when you're pretending to laugh off a joke that actually offended you to the point of inducing vomit. It didn't matter that she was still holding the same necklace in her hands that made her smile five seconds ago. Everything had changed.
God, I still remember that look.
I learned growing up that if you buy your clothes from Kmart or Dollar General, people will give you so much shit, you'll recategorize the word "humanity" as a nonsensical sci-fi term like it was fucking Klingon. Buy a new couch from a furniture store, and your friends will compliment you on it. Tell them that you got it at a secondhand store, and they'll look at you like you picked it up from the curb outside of a crack house. At the very least, you'll hear, "Really? I'd be too afraid to buy furniture there. You don't know what's been on that." Ironically, if they knew what I'd done on it, they would burn my entire house down out of sheer moral obligation.
However, I've found a really bizarre twist to those secondhand stores. If you're buying what you need from them, people will scoff. But if you tell people you're "antique" shopping, it's perfectly acceptable.
"Wait, you're just decorating your house with it? Phew, for a second there, I almost thought you were a poor piece of shit."
What will never be acceptable to anyone outside of your like-minded circle of friends, however, is your ...
Last November, I wrote a piece on the Occupy Wall Street generation, and the first point was about how we've made the current generation of workers ashamed and afraid of taking certain jobs. A week or so later, Newt Gingrich started bringing up the same point in interviews as a platform for his campaign. When I told friends and family about this, the reaction was baffling.
My family is comprised of nothing but teenage girls.
The general response was, "Wait, so you support Newt Gingrich?" What? When did I say that? I was just shocked that a political figure was using one of my article points as a campaign strategy. I thought it was interesting, and I got a laugh out of picturing him using other article points like referring to his ridiculously large penis or coming up with creative uses for the word "asshole." That doesn't mean that he and I share beliefs. But since my friends now associated me with that crossover, I had to explain my political standing at the risk of them assigning their own assumptions.
Where politics are concerned, the average citizen tends to choose a side and then meticulously pick apart the opposition's values until there's nothing left but toenails and ass hair. We laugh with our like-minded friends over silly statements the other side made, much in the same way that we'd discuss the antics of a rebellious 13-year-old -- slightly angry that they're acting out, but trying to keep in mind that they don't know any better because they're not as smart or experienced as we adults.
"Hahaha! He believes things!"
The danger is that we've let that spill over into our everyday life. Seeing a George Bush bumper sticker back in 2001 told you that the occupants were flag-waving, gun-toting, all-American ass kickers -- you have to remember that after 9/11, his approval ratings were around 90 percent. Seeing the same sticker in 2009, we'd generally perceive those people to be blind sheep fooled by the government conspiracy machine. Without knowing a single thing about the actual people inside that car (including if it's just some guy borrowing it from a friend), we've defined them by what we assumed to be their politics, and we use that to fuel our scoff missile. It's almost entertaining for us to look down on people because of their political standing. Just ask Jon Stewart -- that is if you can make it through his money moat.
Careful, though. That tower contains cannons that shoot servants at you.
Oh, speaking of which ...
This is by the far the most common form of scoffing you'll ever see. You can even instigate it with minimal effort by simply going into any forum, anywhere on the Internet, and starting a thread about your favorite band. I promise you that unless the forum has specific rules against it and moderators in place to delete the replies, you'll have people giving you shit within minutes. Especially if your favorite band happens to be something like Linkin Park or the aforementioned Nickelback.
People take their entertainment very seriously, because there is a raw emotional connection to things like movies and music. A large part of our personality is invested in entertainment, and when someone insults our taste in it, they are directly insulting us as humans on an intimately personal level.
I don't know, man. Nine Inch Nails is just getting weird.
But if you really feel like stirring up some shit, start up a conversation about comedy. Specifically, say on a public forum that you think Dane Cook is really funny. Or that Patton Oswalt isn't. People will lose their fucking minds, and if you can make it through the ensuing bile and sewage that explodes from those replies, you will walk away wanting to punch life back into its primordial state and just declare a do-over.
But we all do it, even if our reaction to someone saying that they love Larry the Cable Guy is just a simple "Really?" It's the way that word implies, "Are you joking when you say that? I didn't expect you to have such shitty, unrefined taste in comedy. I expected better from you." We assume that fans of this type of comedy are not only rednecks, but also extraordinarily stupid, and we love to scoff at those people. Back in 2007, David Cross addressed Larry the Cable Guy in an open letter, responding to Larry's claim that "You don't know my audience":
You have to admit that you kind of asked for this one, Larry ...
"I remember thinking (occasionally, not all the time) 'what a bunch of dumb redneck, easily entertained, ignorant motherfuckers. I can't believe the stupid shit they think is funny.' So, yes, I do know your audience, and they suck. And they're simple."
Now don't get me wrong here, I don't blame Cross for any of the things he said. That exchange was incredibly funny to me. And I'm not taking a holier-than-thou stance on it because I've done every single thing on this list. I'd be willing to bet that of all the people who read this article, I could fit the ones who haven't done it in my bathtub at the same time. But what I am saying is that when you take a step back from it and look at it from an outside eye, doesn't it seem a little ... I dunno ... disgusting? Maybe that's something I need to work on.
For more Cheese, check out 6 Things Our Kids Just Plain Won't Get and 7 Terrible Life Lessons Learned from 'The Neverending Story'.