Friday, April 2, 2010


A few months ago, in the throes of insomnia and a TV coma, I stumbled across a show called Is She Really Going Out With Him? Despite the cute titled - and theme song, which played as an updated version of the classic Joe Jackson heartbreaker - the show itself was a celebration of all things douche. The premise is simple: take one long-term relationship between a relatively normal girl and a self-involved jerk, add cameras and ultimatums, and watch it on TV. You tend to see match-ups like the one I witnessed: she was a stunning nursing student who wore PVC leggings, and he owned his own hair straightener. Their abiding conflict was that she wanted to get married and he wanted to get bottle service in cheesy Orange County clubs.

The conspicuous consumption, the emphasis on gifts as a prerequisite for reconciliation (he eventually gave her, not a diamond ring, but an emerald necklace the size of a frying pan), the asinine behaviour, the mugging for the was just so douchey.

I'm not sure when the word "douchebag" became such an easily tossed around pejorative. It's clearly been around for a while, but I can remember a time when a popped collar and a snide remark wasn't going to earn someone the label. It has certain 1980s overtones, at least for me: it's always seemed like something surfer dudes would say to a particularly harsh bylaw officer for frowning on their sparking a jay on a public beach. It's possible that it's one of those words that magically appears when you're old enough to hear it. Unlike the big-gun curse words (and you know what I'm talking about if you took French immersion and remember that magical day you learned the French word for seal), there's a plethora of minor names to be called and swears to be sworn. Douchbag seems to fit right in there: it's kind of gross, lends itself well to being spat out in disgust during an altercation, isn't the H-bomb in terms of offensiveness, and evokes a a very specific type of jerk in this day and age: the mirrored-sunglasses-wearing, tanning-bed-using, collar-popping, line-saying ass who is in love with his own self.

When did our culture start liking this guy? I know we're all self-obsessed and superficial, but the douchebags presented in pop culture are so flagrantly unappealing. Anyone familiar with the show Jersey Shore knows what I'm talking about; for people (like me) who got 20 minutes into that trainwreck and had to turn it off, this is the guy with gel in his hair who refuses to move over on the sidewalk for strollers. I thought we hated these people. Why are they getting their own television shows?

I think part of it is helplessness we feel when we encounter a class-1 jerk in our daily lives. There's a sense of injustice that pervades dealing with these people, since they just seem so horrible that they should have, by all rights, been smote by the hand of God. Television, with the editing process that goes along with it, allows us to feel a gleeful schadenfreude when the assfaces inevitably get fired (for being morons), rejected (for bathing in cologne), or punched (for being themselves).

I also think that a certain part of us admires the douchebag, though. They seem to represent a tiny slice of our ids, in a way; the part of us that wants to be loud and obnoxious, the part of ourselves that considers us to be the smoothest ladies' man to ever grace the dancefloor. The douchebag subsection of society has a brute self-confidence that's simultaneously appealing and repulsive. Most people consider how they're perceived by those around them, and modify their interests and habits to be more likable. The douchebags, on the other hand, have faith that they are liked simply for being themselves, and concentrate their mental energies on picking up the girl in the short skirt at the end of the bar.

While I understand the appeal of the douchebag ikon, I am loathe to see the trend become too widespread. We're already a generation that's pretty into ourselves, what with the iPods and the Facebook and the whatnot (and, God, could I sound more crotchety?), and douchebags just take that to its natural end point. If this type of confidence was plastic surgery, most of us would settle for a nose job, while the douchebags have pumped up their breasts to the size of small moons. It's just too much. It becomes cartoonish.

Cartoonish makes for riveting TV, but the thought of actually living in proximity to one of these charmers in my life makes me want to throw myself in front of a train. Which is, I guess, the appeal of the TV influx of douchebags: it's a combination of "know thine enemy" and a laughable example of the 21st century's contributions to the ever-growing trainwreck that is Western pop culture. They confuse and delight me. They annoy me and freak me out. They are a mystery to be savored and ultimately discarded, like one of the bottles of premium vodka that is their lifeblood. Drink 'em in.

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