“A little more than bae and less than basic.”
The Hamlet-derived witticism appeared beneath a photo of Taylor Swift belting lyrics into a microphone in a Washington Post piece by Alexandra Petri titled “Words of 2014: In defense of ‘basic.’”
Petri claims to have written most of her piece in a Starbucks, with a Pumpkin Spice Latte close by.
I’m writing mine on the second floor of McKeldin Library, listening to Dave Brubeck’s rendition of “Someday my Prince Will Come,” with my briefcase, in which I’ve got a copy of Romeo and Juliet and Plato’s dialogues Timaeus and Critias, by my side.
An obstinate smirk comes over my face, if nothing else because I think this might be a fun piece to write. I’m no Thelonious Monk, and this keyboard where I’m typing is no piano, yet there’s some music to be made.
What is it to be basic?
“You’re so basic,” the kids would say to each other en masse not long ago.
“Basic bitcheeeeeees!” the sorority girls would proclaim themselves, in an ironic appropriation of a title that was originally intended to deride them.
Maybe we hear the term less now, but its basic (Sorry, couldn’t help that one!) meaning remains clear: “Used to describe someone devoid of defining characteristics that might make a person interesting, extraordinary, or just simply worth devoting time or attention to,” said the third definition of the term on Urban Dictionary.
In short, to be basic is to be painfully boring. It is to be cliché and passé, to dine at a buffet, at McDonald’s, get a parfait, to obey Kanye because so they say and to celebrate one’s name day—unlike Prince Joffrey—at a grey soiree, with a piñata of papier-mâché.
Being basic amounts to a lifestyle and an ethos. It champions complacency, fitting in, conformity and a rabid acceptance of whatever cultural norms might be in vogue at any given time. If it suddenly became popular to wear underwear on one’s head, basic people would do it.
In her narrative descriptions of basicness, Petri writes,
“You wear what they tell you to wear (Uggs, yoga pants, even ponytails), listen to what they tell you to listen to and you like to enjoy Seasonal Beverages … You are just a consumer … Yes, you will buy that Taylor Swift album. Unironically.”
Throughout her article, she notes that in 2014—this is last year we’re talking about—“curation,” or the development and cultivation of unique, personal tastes, was a highly prized attribute. I don’t see this trend changing, personally.
I ask, esteemed reader—are you annoyed by hipsters? Do those pretentious, obnoxiously artsy-fartsy, Jack Kerouac-reading beer snobs who wear skinny jeans and berets, thinking that they’re infinitely cooler than you grind your gears?
I present to you none but the polar opposite of the basics. Even in the ‘50s, I can imagine Kerouac and Ginsberg doing peyote and writing Beat poetry as a sort of retaliation against the bland postwar culture of the suburbs. A supercilious fetishizing of coolness surged, I think, largely in response to its near total absence in people’s daily lives.
If you dislike hipsters, blame the basics for spawning them. If you dislike Drake and can’t stand his ubiquitousness, blame the basics for adoring Drake. If you dislike yourself for being unable to share in an apparently-universal liking of Taylor Swift, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, and sayings like, “Yasss, bish!” I implore you—don’t blame yourself. Blame the basics.
Yeah, there are probably worse things in this world than being a basic individual.
But at present, they escape me.
Before I sign off, I must give props to Petri. Her article was probably the most direct inspiration for mine, and I think there’s something to be said for being able to quote Voltaire in an article where the writer is concerned about falling into the endless chasm of a vapid subculture.
There is something that to me feels decidedly non-basic about adapting Hamlet’s barbed response to Claudius in an opinion piece for a newspaper, much of whose readership—I won’t deceive myself on this one—is probably very basic.
But then, Hamlet’s line was mangled with the word “bae,” and placed beneath a photo of Taylor Swift, and it sinks back again into that endless mire of basicness.
A little more than basic and less than based.
Feature Photo Credit: Courtesy of Christopher Michel’s Flickr.
Horus Alas is senior philosophy major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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