Posts Tagged 'douchebag'

Whose Language is it Anyway?

Tristan Axelrod

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In my previous article for this magazine, I published a humorous description of a stereotypical, ceaselessly annoying college student whom I termed the ‘classroom douchebag.’ This student tends to desperately seek attention by steering class discussions towards his/her own interests, life experiences, sexuality, etc. I was proud of this article, and feedback was overwhelmingly positive—I also submitted it to Collegehumor.com, where it garnered a ‘national featured article’ distinction and was published on the front page.

I thought that my article was relevant, witty, and innocuous. But of course, someone rained on my parade. Not a big surprise. Criticism came in the form of a comment on the Debatable website. One reader wrote:

At the risk of Tristan calling me a “douchebag,” I will now steer the conversation toward gender issues. The word “douchebag” is a term which is offensive to women. To call someone a “douchebag” is to suggest that that person is only worthy of cleaning out a dirty vagina. I appreciate that Tristan is trying to be humorous, but “douchebag” is by far not a humorous word. There are a multitude of other words which Tristan could use and I highly encourage him to do so. Given the current discussion on campus about appropriate terminology, Tristan might as well have said, “Those who steer the conversation toward gender issues are so gay!”

Now let me be the first to say that I apologize to anyone who was truly offended by my article. I was not targeting individuals. I hinted in its closing that I am guilty of many classroom douchebag tendencies as well, and I at least attempted to avoid using discriminatory terms. I think the real issue raised by this comment is that of language appropriation. At a place as demonically politically correct as Middlebury College, it is often difficult to tell if certain words are acceptable at certain levels of discourse. I’d like to examine a few contentious words here and share with you what a few minutes of internet-searching can tell us.

Douchebag: Coming from the French verb meaning to shower or wash, douching is the practice of cleansing the vulva with a mixture of sanitary liquids (water, vinegar, iodine, others depending on preference) that are squirted into the vagina from the aforementioned bag. What my smarmy dissenter failed to mention, however, is that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the majority of doctors polled recommend against douching as in fact being unsanitary and causing serious health risks—douching may clean the vagina in the short-term, but it also undermines the body’s own cleansing process, killing ‘good’ bacteria and skin cells and washing out natural lubricants. This can lead to greatly increased risk of infection and birth complications.

Similar to baby formula and pesticides, douches are marketed to consumers as a product conducive to good health and safety, while in fact they can cause serious harm. So, far more than suggesting that a person ‘is only worthy of cleaning out a dirty vagina,’ I was suggesting that the actions of those described in my article are not only distasteful, but also misguided and detrimental to the general well-being of the public. Is this not a fair suggestion for certain individuals?

There’s a specific reason that I still want to use words like ‘douchebag’ and it is personal, having nothing to do with denotations and connotations. It happens that I’m a musician. I’ve also dabbled in poetry on occasion. I love languages because of their innate beauty, and I take a very musical approach to any speech or text I create. As a musician, composer, poet, and writer, I get good grades, good audience feedback, and I’ve won my fair share of awards. So I feel qualified to say that there’s a reason words like ‘douchebag’ are staples of my repertoire. They are rhythmically and melodically satisfying. You’ll notice that those who propose alternative terms (like “jerk”) tend to propose words or word combinations that are cumbersome and flat.
You can see, perhaps, a reason why “The Classroom Douchebag” would be a bigger hit than “The Classroom Jerk” or “The Classroom Asswipe.” The first is rhythmically unsatisfying, and the second inserts a distracting rhyme and ends on a weak syllable. In contrast, the word ‘douchebag’ is connotatively perfect while providing the proper rhythmic and melodic contour to the title.

That brings me to the real point of this article: language is not and should never be overly concerned with denotation and connotation. People who pretend it should be so and attempt to force their will on others are gay. Ha! I’m so sorry.

Language is the property of people who use it. Obviously, if language is employed in political or other discourses, the boundaries are more restrictive because strict denotative and connotative substance can have real-life implications. But the vast majority of the time, language is merely self-expression— awesome in its power to uplift the self, but not so important in the grand scheme of things-to-be-offended-by. I would not argue that people have the right to offend others while expressing themselves. But people do have the right to make the choice to risk doing so if there is an expressive need to employ language in a certain way. To simplify: I am going to do what I want with my language, and I dare you to try and stop me.

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The Classroom Douchebag

Tristan Axelrod

Are you an attention-seeking whore? Do you feel like the only way to reinforce and validate your identity is through conspicuous conduct in the classroom? Do you have an overblown sense of self-consciousness that can only be alleviated by projecting your neuroses onto your peers at wildly inappropriate times? Have no fear: these simple instructions will lead you to the highest echelons of douchebaggery. Soon enough, your self-satisfaction will blind you to the disgust and disdain of your professors and classmates.

Add to the discussion only to show how smart you are. Bonus points for starting your inane rambling just as class is ending, so that it is plain to everyone that you are trying to make up for your lack of attention and participation, and that you don’t care at all about taking up other people’s time. Your commentary should be only vaguely relevant to the discussion, making it clear that while you know what the discussion is about, you haven’t been listening to anyone. If possible, intentionally obfuscate your point because you’re sure that in doing so, people will just assume that you’re too smart for them.

Always direct discussion to your pet issue. Are you a WAGS major? No matter what class you’re in, be it music history, microeconomics, or modern architecture, be sure to steer all the conversation in your class towards gender issues. Never stray from your belief that gender issues (or concerns regarding homosexuality, Judaism, socio-economic classes, profit motives, or theater) create the conflicts that define all life experiences. Try not to allow anyone to speak, on the assumption that other opinions, in any discourse at all, are irrelevant.

Make plenty of references to your previous life experiences. Nothing brings out the best in a class discussion like hearing about how you sailed the Indian Ocean on a 12-meter yacht, or spent last summer working with HIV-positive albino orphan sex workers. Also, make your reference just random enough that everyone is pretty sure that you are lying.

Make plenty of references to previous classes with the professor. You and the professor are in a secret, super-awesome club. Make sure everyone knows that. Quote lectures from the previous class and try to turn it into a discussion just between you and the professor, and include as many in-jokes as possible. Only talk about books, movies, and other media from the previous class, and let everyone know that you have mastered all of them, and that this class is child’s play. Do your best to convince everyone through your insightful commentary that really, you could essentially teach this class. And don’t even limit yourself to previous classes with the teacher: claim to have memorized the bible, written a doctoral dissertation on the rights of women in the court of John of Gaunt, and discussed the finer points of constitutional law with your friend William Rehnquist. The more you impress people, the better. And remember that your professor is your personal buddy who is endlessly proud of your scholarship, wit, and insight.

Dress for success. Inappropriate clothing is what takes you over the top: for guys, the loafers/slacks/collared shirt/sport coat combo is pretty popular. Just make sure that if it rains, you wear a suede overcoat and velvet gloves— extra points for a tailored felt hat. For girls, the uggz/stockings/miniskirt/tanktop/scarf/gaudy earrings/too-much-makeup combo is very prevalent and highly successful. But there are numerous variations on these themes—my favorite is the skin-tight faux turtleneck with corduroys on a guy; it really draws out the femininity while still showing how much he works out. Anything will work as long as it conspicuously reinforces the self-image you are trying to validate with your behavior.

Variations on a theme

There are other ways of proclaiming your douchebaghood:
Jock Douchebag: Only wear jerseys, workout clothes, ball caps, etc. If you are called upon in class, try to convince everyone that you can barely read. Before and after class, banter loudly with other jock douchebags about the latest sports figures, a recent game, or the party over the weekend. You’ve discussed these things already, but now other people can hear you, so it’s special all over again.
A Capella Douchebag: Sing. Sing loud. Sing whenever you can, at inappropriate times. Try to pick pop songs everyone has heard, but don’t talk to anyone else: you can only associate with members of your a cappella group, which everyone knows is the best one on campus.
Drama Douchebag: Your personality cannot be contained in the iron cage of the real world! It can only be liberated by that airy bastion of artistic purity, that Mecca for all that is too truthful for reality, that glorious freedom, that fiery ensemble of divine expression— the theatre!

So, do you see yourself doing any of these things? Then maybe I’m speaking to you. But perhaps, on the lower frequencies, I speak to myself…

See you in class.