What does it mean
October 29, 2019 12:39 PM   Subscribe

 
Does it mean, “When adult ‘rednecks’ want to read a book written for children, they don’t read Harry Potter like everyone else does, they read the Bible”? Does it mean “one book that certainly enjoys bestselling status among rednecks is the Bible”? Does it mean, “When it comes to an entertaining and lengthy parable about good and evil, rednecks swear by the Bible whereas for the rest of us, it is Harry Potter or bust”??? All these ideas are terrible.

I dunno, all those ideas work pretty well for me.
posted by rikschell at 12:51 PM on October 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


That's a lot of words to write about shibboleths without using the word "shibboleth."
posted by explosion at 12:57 PM on October 29, 2019 [36 favorites]


I am torn because on the one hand I like quite a lot about this essay and it seems to get at an actually existing internet problem* but on the other I don't think that's exactly why this type of reference is so powerful.

The cluster of chains of references, incomplete thinking and trite reflexive put-downs are particularly fostered by being Very Online. Part of it comes from the desire to categorize and dismiss, part of it comes from the desire to get someone/something that you dislike by association if you can't do it by reasoning and part of it comes from the intrinsic rushedness of social media, where an argument that needs seven or eight tweets to articulate is unusually sophisticated.

But people are also trying to get at things that are "in the air" or made of a constellation or not commonly articulated. For instance, we don't actually have popular but complex language to describe the aesthetics of misogyny, and yet there are indubitably misogynist aesthetics. There's a misogynist "feel" to some cultural productions, even if you can't point out the place where the main character says that women are all just demanding and slutty and rape should be legal or whatever.

I think that it is possible to go from using a reference to convey something "in the air" to thinking it through and explaining it. It's not that making a reference is enough. But if a lot of people are feeling that something is in the air, it's worth considering further rather than assuming that the problem is only a kind of rhetorical contagion.



*“Edward St. Aubyn is just Henry Green for men who read Tatler as an ironic gesture”
I hope this doesn't mean that there is something wrong with Henry Green now.
posted by Frowner at 1:02 PM on October 29, 2019 [20 favorites]


That's a good point, Frowner. She kinda lost me when she claimed we didn't need the term "gaslighting" because we already had "lying." Sometimes when people use weird colorful language it's because they're groping to describe something real that they don't yet have words for.

But I gotta admit I felt justly skewered by this in her conclusion:

We are now expected to know so many more things than before, such that the only way to really get a grasp on any of it is to superficially connect them to other things you also barely understand
posted by straight at 1:29 PM on October 29, 2019 [16 favorites]


That's a lot of words to write about shibboleths without using the word "shibboleth."

I always get shibboleth and aboleth mixed up so I was confused for a minute there.
posted by The Bellman at 1:29 PM on October 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


Does it mean, “When adult ‘rednecks’ want to read a book written for children, they don’t read Harry Potter like everyone else does, they read the Bible”? Does it mean “one book that certainly enjoys bestselling status among rednecks is the Bible”? Does it mean, “When it comes to an entertaining and lengthy parable about good and evil, rednecks swear by the Bible whereas for the rest of us, it is Harry Potter or bust”??? All these ideas are terrible.

The meaning probably depends on the larger context in which the statement is made, but I would hazard to guess that in most contexts it means "The Bible, like Harry Potter, is very popular and also a work of fantasy fiction." Because these are not usually meant to be subtle criticisms. That the Harry Potter reference potentially adds other nuances about good and evil or length of the work is just a happy byproduct of the main attempt to lob a zinger at Christianity. Or it is until BuzzFeed gets a hold of it an publishes a list of 21 ways in which The Bible is just like Harry Potter but for Rednecks, at which point the parallels get drawn out until they become ridiculously untenable. (And during all of this, they forget that parallels between the Bible and Harry Potter are probably just JK Rowling actively borrowing good/evil tropes from the Bible and from western literary canon.)
posted by jacquilynne at 1:30 PM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's like saying The Hidden Fortress is just Star Wars for Japanese people.
posted by straight at 1:33 PM on October 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


I dunno, I think the essay is generalizing too broadly. If I say Richard III is the original incel, ignoring the trite aspect of the phrasing, the attempt is to link the current presumed awareness of incel identity and the feelings that claimed identity might be expected to evoke, and connect it to a person or character who had similar traits, but somehow doesn't evoke the same feeling or have the same kinds of associations as one has with incels.

At the same time, these same kinds of conceptual phrasings can work the other way, where a real person is linked to a character or concept as a way to categorize or define more narrowly through shared fandom of the work being applied to real life. Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren have both been compared to Hermoine in that fashion, where the comparison isn't meant to draw out an unexpected parallel, but a shared reference for enjoyment. It puts the fandom before the real in that sense as the likeness is obvious before the connecting link is made; Hermoine is a highly competent woman and so are Clinton and Warren! There isn't anything really new coming from that, it's just celebrating that one likes Harry Potter and those candidates as a form of shared association.

There are other uses of course, some just for the funny, and there aren't really clear boundaries between any of them, the funny can sometimes make ideas more powerful or have more staying power for the unexpected connections, for example. I think the essay is touching on a important subject, but plays too loosely with it to be all that useful.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:42 PM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


The version of the internet we have landed up with often feels less like a place where we can connect to others, and more like a place where we have to learn what TikTok is in order to understand the import of the sentence “Ted Bundy’s granddaughter outed her entire family on TikTok,” and then later on to connect that event to another idiotic and depressing situation by saying “this is exactly like when Ted Bundy’s granddaughter outed her entire family on TikTok,” and on and on like that, until the moment comes where we all lose our grip on reality completely.

Put that way, I am basically just reminded of the episode of Star Trek Next Generation where Picard must learn to communicate with a species that kind of just uses cultural metaphors and allegories to communicate. We are all Darmok and Jalad at Internetagra, now. We just have memes, pop culture, and internet chatter instead of legends and history.
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:01 PM on October 29, 2019 [18 favorites]


It's almost like all words are metaphors and human language and communication is not unlike a particularly compilcated, messy spider web. This is is a stupid thing to rail about, especially when it's mostly just twitter jokes the author seems to actually be mad about. I bet she hates the Yes Yes No episodes of Reply All, too.
posted by axiom at 2:05 PM on October 29, 2019 [10 favorites]


This post is just the Treaty of Westphalia for people with less time.
posted by Mchelly at 2:07 PM on October 29, 2019 [31 favorites]


We just have memes, pop culture, and internet chatter instead of legends and history.

Metafilter, its fingers raised.
posted by jquinby at 2:07 PM on October 29, 2019 [27 favorites]


We just have memes, pop culture, and internet chatter instead of legends and history.

Yeah, but that isn't really new. Tik-tok is no different than, say, Johnny Carson as a reference from a few decades ago, except the understanding the reference to Johnny Carson was US-centric and referencing the events that happened on the show had no more conceptual strength than a reference to Tik-Tok.

And, yeah, the author seems to be downplaying the differences between concepts for their wanted ends. Gaslighting and lying are not the same thing, gaslighting involves lying, but also seeks to convince the person being lied to that they are the one in the wrong by attempting to alter knowledge of shared history.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:12 PM on October 29, 2019 [8 favorites]


oh, i love the x is the y of z construction, and it IS because i'm too proud of my faculty of recognition. my main joy in consuming new media that i love is comparing it to every other piece of media that i love and figuring out what the common factors are. i like to think about why people like things that i hate and make guesses about what similar emotional space they're filling (but i won't pretend i'm being compassionate in my guesses or anything). it's a big 'i understood that reference'/'haha, i do that' for me.

(speaking of which, are increasingly specific and contextual reaction images in place of verbally explaining the concept or emotion you want to get across the same as this? trying to wave towards something "in the air" without the vocabulary to get at it?)
posted by gaybobbie at 2:12 PM on October 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


There’s two different things here—there’s describing Richard III as the original incel because being extremely online is ruining our brains ontologically leading to references floating free from their significant concepts, because none of this matters in a post-truth world, and describing Richard III as the original incel and, because we don’t actually live in a post-truth world, just being incorrect.

In the second scene of the play, Gloucester stops a funeral party to chat up the widow of a man he killed, and succeeds. ‘Was ever a woman in this humour woo’d? Was ever a woman in this humor won?’ He’s a hateful and hilarious villain, but at some level literary comparative analysis has to be right or wrong.

Maybe it shows my age but I wish we’d been able to do this properly in 2003. The most serious people in the world said ‘Saddam Hussein is just like Hitler in 1938’, and instead of saying ‘what? No he isn’t, that’s silly, and anyway it’s a bad faith argument’, a world full of well-educated people took the whole argument on its face. Maybe the problem is too much credulity, not too little.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:16 PM on October 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


Ok, I haven't read the whole essay but I want to propose a movement to stop letting angry male supremacists that call themselves "incels" convince everyone else to use that name. Hateful terrorists give up the right to go by the name they choose. We choose their name. The name I propose is "bitter spinsters."
posted by medusa at 2:22 PM on October 29, 2019 [6 favorites]


It's a metaphor, see.

Really, though. It's just people using one concept as a shortcut to note something about the other subject, right? Why is this so awful? People do this all the time. Some mundane examples:

Trying to explain the new salad bar restaurant in town = "It's Qdoba for people who like veggies."
Describing a new comedy romance sci-fi movie = "It's Hitch for sci-fi fans."
Having a realization about essential oils = "Homeopathy is just witchcraft for white Christians."

The examples in this article are a little bigger because they're referencing not only the works themselves, but the entire cultural context they exist within. Harry Potter and Black Panther are Cultural Things that had Cultural Impacts, and those Impacts are being referenced as much as anything else. But it's not inherently different from any of the more superficial ways you can say "it's like [similar cultural concept] but for [different audience]."

And being mad that you don't have the specific cultural background to understand it is... weird. You're not always gonna understand everything, sorry? If I make a joke about Tupperware syndrome and straight people don't get it I'm not making them "lose their grip on reality," it's just not for them. Not everything you ever read online has to be understood by you. I think there's the assumption that it has to be? But listen, I scroll by all sorts of memes I don't get because I haven't been clued in to the original context. And it's, like, fine, y'all. I still don't get most Mean Girls references 'cause I never saw it. I survived.
posted by brook horse at 2:22 PM on October 29, 2019 [12 favorites]


Metafilter: Where you just yank a whole lot of cultural touchstones together and present the end result as a substitute for analysis.
posted by belarius at 2:25 PM on October 29, 2019 [6 favorites]


This feels like an essay that only exists because the author was angry about the headline of a New York Times piece, a headline which was almost certainly chosen by an editor without asking the writer of that article. And I mean, hey, that's fine if you want to gripe, but the rest of the article is about how Very Online People (not New York Times Editors Looking For Clicks) are like ... doing language wrong? Doing metaphor wrong? That doesn't feel well connected.

I don't know. The various examples given mostly make sense to me, personally. A statement like "The Joker movie is just Black Panther for incels" is not hard to parse. It may be trite, it may be something that a longer, sustained bit of writing could add a lot more nuance to, but it's not a reference out of nowhere that is destroying my reality. The same is true of basically every example given, outside of the headline (because yeah, I don't really know what "The Bob Dylan of Genocide Apologists" means, but again, that's a NY Times Editor, not normal people Doing Language wrong).
posted by tocts at 2:32 PM on October 29, 2019 [8 favorites]


Fiasco da Gama: "The most serious people in the world said ‘Saddam Hussein is just like Hitler in 1938’, and instead of saying ‘what? No he isn’t, that’s silly, and anyway it’s a bad faith argument’, a world full of well-educated people took the whole argument on its face. "

You know who they're comparing to Hitler in 1938 now, right?
posted by chavenet at 2:36 PM on October 29, 2019


So this essay is saying that metaphors that use pop-culture references are the Dennis Miller of criticism?
posted by Jpfed at 2:39 PM on October 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: just this endless chain of references that goes nowhere, this horrible nest of easter eggs that has no effect other than to make you feel on top of things, and too proud of your faculty of recognition

...I think I'm doing what she's complaining about
posted by ocular shenanigans at 2:49 PM on October 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


We are now expected to know so many more things than before, such that the only way to really get a grasp on any of it is to superficially connect them to other things you also barely understand

This conclusion seems so patently wrong as to be facetious. Everyone has always had to know lots of things; what those things were and how they affect one are the factors that change from culture to culture and generation to generation.
posted by sobell at 3:11 PM on October 29, 2019 [9 favorites]


You know who they're comparing to Hitler in 1938 now, right?

Yeah but Mike Godwin said they were right this time.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 3:15 PM on October 29, 2019 [9 favorites]


”whoever decided sex was a sin”

Origen at the Council of Nicea, wasn't it?
posted by acb at 3:24 PM on October 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


Sometimes, I'm in the mood for a pithy one-liner on Twitter to draw a conclusion for me. Sometimes, I'll read a longform article. Amazingly, I can appreciate both.

The author seems to have written an extremely similar article back in April, which also uses her issue with the term "gaslighting" as an example. I say seems because despite being a relatively intelligent person I have a hard time discerning her actual point. I got through half of this article thinking she actually wanted to talk about incels.
posted by lyssabee at 3:29 PM on October 29, 2019


The other relevant piece is that if there are multiple interpretations possible at a few different levels, each of them correct, or at least interesting to think about, doesn't that show the power of the technique? If I can imagine a few different shades of meaning from the Bob Dylan connection, and find the connections intriguing, didn't the metaphor do it's work well? But it's superficial because it doesn't immediately tell the reader how to feel?
posted by Carillon at 3:35 PM on October 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


It's not really a metaphor, it's more like a simile
posted by The Whelk at 3:41 PM on October 29, 2019 [13 favorites]


I think the problem is that the author came to an orchard looking for cabbage.

aka sorry these jokes don't provide in-depth analysis, maybe go look at places that offer that
posted by FirstMateKate at 3:46 PM on October 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


there’s describing Richard III as the original incel because being extremely online is ruining our brains ontologically leading to references floating free from their significant concepts, because none of this matters in a post-truth world, and describing Richard III as the original incel and, because we don’t actually live in a post-truth world, just being incorrect.

In the second scene of the play, Gloucester stops a funeral party to chat up the widow of a man he killed, and succeeds. ‘Was ever a woman in this humour woo’d? Was ever a woman in this humor won?’ He’s a hateful and hilarious villain, but at some level literary comparative analysis has to be right or wrong.


And yet:

I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up...
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.


Now of course you can pick apart his self-awareness, but here he is literally saying that because he can't get laid, he's going to ruin everyone else's good time.
posted by praemunire at 3:51 PM on October 29, 2019 [9 favorites]


Twitter hot takes are TED talks for Very Online people
posted by Pyry at 4:01 PM on October 29, 2019 [5 favorites]


Newton was a volcel, surely.
posted by davros42 at 4:27 PM on October 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


For Very Online People, knowingly dropping a perfectly crafted bomb of very apposite entangled references probably works as a concentrated dopamine hit, much like getting one of the long Tetris pieces in a hole and blowing away four rows at once.
posted by acb at 4:30 PM on October 29, 2019 [22 favorites]


It is not pithy cultural references in isolation, it is their growing ubiquity in common discourse. Reductive, oblique aphorisms that depend on specific cultural knowledge with a short half-life. The author seems lost in the weeds a bit about it, but the point stands that, as they say, it's the dose that makes the poison.
posted by grumpybear69 at 4:33 PM on October 29, 2019 [7 favorites]


Has anyone done a Twitter bot that generates $work_of_fiction is $other_work_of_fiction for $type_of_person tweets? Because that would be a momentarily diverting Twitter bot.

Also Shibboleth would be a younger daughter in a Presbyterian family circa 1857, with pebble glasses and a serious expression.

I realise I'm not helping.
posted by Grangousier at 4:37 PM on October 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: fun to do, and definitely hilarious for people who love zingers, but it also sucks, and replaces the flash of real insight with the far cheaper thrill of recognizing things.
posted by Reyturner at 4:42 PM on October 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


Political insight is the new humor, and the new humor is seeing something you know and saying, "Whoa, I know what that is," which means that The Discourse is just Family Guy for liberals. TY
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:52 PM on October 29, 2019 [8 favorites]


It's not really a metaphor, it's more like a simile.

Similes are just metaphors that really like you.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:59 PM on October 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


the new salad bar restaurant in town = "It's Qdoba for people who like veggies."

I don’t understand two of these three concepts.
posted by billiebee at 5:33 PM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


Also: the satisfaction of putting people/cultural phenomena into boxes probably stimulates whatever part of the brain deals with position in social hierarchy.
posted by acb at 5:41 PM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


I don’t understand two of these three concepts.

This sentence came out of me trying to understand the first concept. It helped, but I will admit I would also benefit from deeper analysis of the concept of “salad bar.” But this is as far as I can take the discussion because I have not actually been in the salad bar. I’m mostly assuming its Qdoba-like qualities.
posted by brook horse at 5:46 PM on October 29, 2019


Furthermore, on the urge to compare references to references:
The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language...
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:49 PM on October 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


Can I rail against the inanity of Miller High Life: the Champagne of Beers in here?
posted by STFUDonnie at 6:00 PM on October 29, 2019 [4 favorites]




Good intro to the concept and problems of the signifying chain and the ambiguity of the master signifier.
posted by Richard Saunders at 7:54 PM on October 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


I agree.



with everyone.
posted by philip-random at 10:04 PM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


That's a lot of words to write about shibboleths without using the word "shibboleth."

Ephraimite insurgent?
posted by biffa at 4:21 AM on October 30, 2019


I'm so confused about this article. I don't think I'm smart enough to understand her central premise, which i think is that re-contextualising and naming things is bad? Or maybe elitist?
posted by ukdanae at 4:50 AM on October 30, 2019


It's just people using one concept as a shortcut to note something about the other subject, right? Why is this so awful?

yeah, whole lot of people seem absolutely infuriated by an essay doing that, don't they.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:18 AM on October 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


Now of course you can pick apart his self-awareness, but here he is literally saying that because he can't get laid, he's going to ruin everyone else's good time.

Ok but then we're back to the original "what does the word 'incel' name that is new" question from the essay. Either it's a cutesy shorthand for something like 'misogynist with frustrated entitlement towards sex' and the word is actively harmful to our understanding by hiding the constituent parts of the concept, or it's talking about something specific to this time and place, in which case it is as ludicrous to talk about characters from Elizabethan drama being incels as to talk about them as bitcoin miners.
posted by PMdixon at 6:38 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


Ok but then we're back to the original "what does the word 'incel' name that is new" question from the essay.

I'm not sure why this is seen as a hard question. The difference between "incel" and "misogynist with frustrated entitlement towards sex" is that the latter is an observation and the former is an autonym. It's a very different thing to say, "there are men who act this way", versus, "I am a man who identifies as a man who acts this way".

"Incel" is not just a description -- it's a statement of intent.

And yeah, it can seem flippant to then talk about a historical figure as an incel, in the same way it can seem flippant to talk about a earlier historical figure as having been kind of a nazi, but I'm not seeing how it is confusing or causing a problem. Pointing out that a figure (historical or fictional) has properties that make them seem more like some later group that didn't exist in their time can be a valid avenue of discussion. Or, y'know, a trite joke that's not harming The Discourse.
posted by tocts at 6:59 AM on October 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


Either it's a cutesy shorthand for something like 'misogynist with frustrated entitlement towards sex' and the word is actively harmful to our understanding by hiding the constituent parts of the concept

Well, that is something of the point to using terms that have current emotional resonance when speaking of works that some may approach from a more distant perspective. While I personally wouldn't just leave such a terse shorthand analogy as a sort of key to "unlock" Richard III, there can be use for such a thing if the conversation isn't properly taking account of some of the underlying ideology behind Richard's action or the play or whatever.

I did, for example, allude to some likeness with incels when there was a discussion of Rick from Casablanca because Rick, in the article that was quoted and in general, is seem as "cool" even though that "coolness" carries a large helping of sexist ideology along with it that is all too common in much of the history of culture. Me being me, of course, I belabored the point by drawing out the elements of comparison to make the point and not leave it as a straight analog, but the idea is much the same.

You make the comparison to use current culture to bring out something that may not be given enough weight in an older work under the assumption that current culture associations will say more to someone when you believe the reference will hold a certain kind of emotional validity to the audience you're speaking with. The reference is intended to work both ways, in likening something about the work to current circumstance while also using current values to open up a way of looking at the work in possibly a different way.

That's the goal for many of the quoted tweets in the article, but of course the success of each can vary and sometimes indeed be offbase if taken in the wrong sense or as the sum total of the work or that which it is being compared to. By coincidence, I happen to be reading a book right now called Shakespeare and Modern Culture, which specifically about this very thing, how we use and possibly misuse analogies or quotes from Shakespeare's works to explain modern actions. The quotes sometimes misrepresent the plays, or the sense the ideas may have been used in them, but they can take on a new life of their own absent the original context. Analogies can be used well or poorly, and figuring out which is which and why is an important little effort to make, but just dismissing them entirely doesn't make any sense as they do have important use.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:16 AM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm still a bit baffled as to why she thinks that this is at all new. Facile, superficially witty hot-takes have been around about forever.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:22 AM on October 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


we all have our particular epiphanies, profound moments when the obvious becomes ... obvious. And I suspect we're at a point in the evolution of human communication (and the tech that serves it) where the degree of confusion is pretty much unprecedented, and a key factor in this confusion is (perhaps) that a ubiquity of people not exactly making their points (finishing their thoughts -- leaving too much hanging in inference), and that a lot of this manifests in stuff akin to the "so and so is the original such and such" shorthand.

A while back I said, I agree with everyone. And I meant it. Most of the critiques in this thread are pretty solid, but I still think there's something to the original notion, the original ...

nightmare that resulted is that we are now expected to know so many more things than before, such that the only way to really get a grasp on any of it is to superficially connect them to other things you also barely understand

... that it's wise to consider.
posted by philip-random at 8:57 AM on October 30, 2019 [5 favorites]



It's not really a metaphor, it's more like a simile.
I think the Greeks had a precise word for it, but they weren't distracted by the internet.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 7:47 PM on October 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


I want to thank metafilter for diving into this particular plate of beans. There was a hint of a concept in the article but I think she was too distracted with her own hangups to convey what she meant. But the conversation here definitely helped me hit the nail on the head with what I was trying to glean from the OP.
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:41 AM on October 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


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