5 Topics That Used To Be Small Talk (And Start Fights Now)

Small talk and the holiday season go together like booze and hanging out with your nephews: one makes the other tolerable. Maybe you're meeting a significant other's family for the first time and aren't sure of their politics. Maybe you're seeing your own family, who are living proof that personality is not genetically determined. Or maybe you're going to spend December 24 through January 1 at the one bar in your town that lets you smoke weed after hours, so you can't afford to piss anyone off. In any of these cases, small talk is one of the main tools used to construct a Potemkin conversation: cheery on the outside, but with absolutely nothing behind it.

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Or at least it used to be. Everyone knows the usual rules of polite conversation: no talk of religion or politics, and we should all get along just fine. But in 2016, there are no longer any topics that don't lead back to politics. All the topics we used to count on to maintain the slightest veneer of civility -- like the "nutrition information" on a can of Steel Reserve -- now inevitably lead us back to the danger zone. For example:

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5
Bringing Up The Weather Will Lead To The Death Of The Planet

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What it used to be:

Talking about the weather used to be the paradigm of meaningless, idle chatter. Someone would say, "Boy, it sure got cold fast!" and you would reply, "Sure did! But you know, I really don't mind the cold," and that would be the end of it. There was no need for heated debate. Everyone went around giving their two cents, not even really listening to one another, just waiting for their turn to talk; it was like operating a conversation in "safe mode."

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"Another lovely day in paradise."

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The weather was the perfect topic for small talk because we were all in the same boat. Everyone had their opinions, but the beautiful part was that our opinions didn't matter. Kind of like whether or not it's OK for you to bone in your backyard: Your neighbors could have all the opinions they wanted, but it wasn't going to change what went down. So everyone got along great.

What it is now:

Your college-age cousin yelling "We're destroying the planet with carbon emissions!" while your mom calls him a hippie.

The second someone mentions the weather, run. The conversation will start out harmless enough, but because of the debate over climate change, you've got about two minutes to go from "Some weather we've been having, eh?" to "Exxon is weather-Hitler!"

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4
Complimenting The Food Leads To Culture War

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What it used to be:

As long as you have a single iota of social grace, a quick conversation about the food at your holiday gathering should be completely safe. "Wow, this ham is amazing," was always a great way to fill dead air, and also to test who was sober enough to realize there wasn't a ham. "Did everyone notice how much weight Uncle Mark has gained?" was also a great subtopic in this category, to both make people feel better about themselves and see if your nephews have the basic social aptitude to know they have no Uncle Mark.

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What it is now:

Your dad and aunt arguing about GMOs, even though neither of them can remember what "GMO" stands for.

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"I'll be damned if I am going to let those Greeks and their 'Magic Objects' anywhere near my table!"

What was once a boring, safe topic is now a minefield because the developed world is currently in a food civil war. On one side are people who think that eating anything that wasn't lovingly grown by yoga instructors is tantamount to poisoning yourself with bubonic rat semen. On the other side are people who think that Roundup weed killer should be a standard condiment, like ketchup or insulin.

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This topic could blow up in any number of ways: farm subsidies, organic crops, food security ... what was once an easy way to say thanks to everyone who cooked is now a cultural powder keg, ready to blow us all into a nuclear conflict over ethical vegetarianism.

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3
Discussing Sports Could Rip Your Family Apart

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What it used to be:

Sports has always been an easy conversation starter. People aren't expected to be on the same side and are supposed to give each other a little bit of s**t over it. It's all in good fun. On some level, even die-hard fans understand that we're arguing about the ability of people to manipulate a ball or puck or human head ... nothing to get too worked up over.

In fact, the whole point of sports is to let out our regional aggression so that we don't actually take to the streets and murder each other. So it's no wonder that a little friendly ribbing over local sports teams is a time-honored pillar of harmless small talk.

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What it is now:

"All lives matter!" being screamed from a face that has become an inhuman shade of red because an athlete made a political statement.

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"Why is she running so fast? Is it some kind of statement about being chased by cops? Disgusting."

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Sports are pure entertainment. There's absolutely no need to get political with sports. Except that it's 2016 and people are getting straight-up murdered by the police left and right. So naturally players felt compelled to use their platform to talk about it.

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One of the biggest sports stories of the year was 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand during the national anthem. He was bringing that whole nasty "Black people being murdered" thing into the homes of people who just wanted to watch football. And if someone brings up sports, be on the lookout for a hit parade of this year's insane political arguments, such as "Criticizing police is wrong" and "We don't care what quarterbacks think, what they wear, what they drive, and what cereal they eat."

2
Talking About Exercise Will End With Someone Getting Punched In The Face

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What it used to be:

We're all just human. And in the 21st century, a big part of being human is wishing your body looked less human and more like the product of a human and a coat rack. So for a good long while, a perfectly safe conversation was "Wow, what have you been doing to keep so thin and rigid?" Then the other person would feign modesty by saying, "Who, me? Or this mahogany GRUNDTAL valet stand?" and you'd both have a good laugh, but secretly shoot daggers at the coat rack.

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"That skinny b***h."

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What it is now:

Exercise? Your own personal workout routine? Gotta be apolitical, provided your primary exercise for the last month hasn't been triceps extensions from pulling your hair out. But even excepting that, talk about fitness is doomed to start a political argument anyhow. Because fitness leads to health and health leads to healthcare and healthcare is the path to a college freshman explaining the virtues of free market economics. And for anyone who has dealt with health insurers, it is physically impossible to listen to a rant about objectivism without punching someone in the face.

1
Celebrity News Will Give Everyone An Aneurysm

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What it used to be:

They say that fame is only a blessing to those who don't have it, that once you become famous, all the gossip behind your back and being recognized in public become a terrible burden. But we all know that's a bunch of bullshit meant to keep us non-famous people content. Celebrities are like friends we all have together and yet are too cool to hang out with any of us.

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That's why everybody's on the same side when it comes to celebrity and entertainment news. Traditionally, these conversations looked like your mom being scandalized that John Travolta is gay, leading her to say, "But he was in Grease!" and then thinking about that for a minute before going "Ooooooh."

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What it is now:

Can you get any more frivolous and light than celebrity goss? In 2016, few things are more dire than our celeb goss. Absolutely any talk about celebrities will eventually lead back to the most powerful celebrity at the moment: the one who ran Celebrity Apprentice. Now, this is one of the four articles on the internet today that's allowed to not be about him. So let's not squander that, and suffice it to say that when this topic comes around, there will be some impolite conversation.

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Nothing to see here.

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Whether you disliked him, liked him but worried he might be a Nazi, or liked him and are now worried he might have been opportunistic with this vague Nazism, you can at least agree that he is a controversial person and has an undesirable level of association with neo-Nazis (too low or too high is up to you, gentle reader).

Honestly, the safest thing to do this holiday season might be to brazenly smoke weed in the living room. This will a) not actually hurt anyone and b) give most people something to agree on. Since 61 percent of the nation favors some kind of legalization, it's maybe the single topic we agree on the most this year, so lean into it. At the very least, it will make your nephew gifting everyone taxidermied animals funny instead of creepy.

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Aaron Kheifets writes things for money, including this sentence. You are allowed to follow him on Twitter.

For more, check out 5 Well-Intentioned Phrases That Have Been Ruined by Assholes and 5 Ways Our Generation Has Ruined 'Being Offended'.

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2016 is almost over. Yes, the endless, rotten sh*t hurricane of a year that took away Bowie, Prince, and Florence Henderson and gave us Trump, Harambe, and the Zika virus is finally drawing to a close. So, to give this b*tch a proper Viking funeral, Jack O'Brien and the crew are going to send out 2016 with Cracked's year in review in review. They'll rectify where every other year in review goes wrong by giving some much needed airtime to the positive stories from 2016 and shedding light on the year's most important stories that got overlooked.

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