Occasionally I’ll read Esquire, because I’m VERY cultured and, unlike The New Yorker, it has boobies. Yesterday, I finally got around to an article by Stephen Marche from three months ago (I was busy reading other - just as important - things, such as Mr. Skin’s top ten “Red Muffs Underwater”) about the “quirkification” of America: the rise of the Michael Ceras, and Zooey Deschanel Christmas albums, and “alternative” comics with their flannels and thick frames. He makes a strong point; everyone is in such a rush to seem different and odd and unique that, actually, no one is. What got me, though, is a throwaway line towards the end about how Dirty Harry of the seventies would waste the Michael Cera of the aughts; and I found myself fantasizing about it - Cera stuttering through his last words while Harry Callahan unloads his chamber into someone so intentionally unsure of themselves they can’t even break character long enough to deliver one last earthly stanza. Think about it. You feel that throbbing in your dick? I know I do. The last time I got this hard it was thanks to a mix of Viagra, "Enter Sandman," and the sight of the Patriots running onto the field. Because while Marche focuses on “quirk,” what he barely mentions is this new type of timid geek ruling class that has emerged at the heart of it all. They are kind kings, of course - prone to snark, not violence - but at some point everyone gets tired of bowing. So, if you will, allow me to b*tch:
I know I’m writing this article for BroBible. I know it would be a slam-dunk for me to make fun of indie bands and Occupy and baristas. I know my Red Solo Cup Votes at the top would break some kind of record previously held by a “Hookup Heroes” story involving a lacrosse stick and a Burberry shirt and Carly Rae Jepsen. But the truth is, I work with these people. I’m a struggling comedian in New York City. I haven’t gone an hour without running into someone I know wearing an ironic graphic tee. I’m a oxygen-breathing fish in a sea of self-deprecation and veiled references to 80’s sci-fi. And, truthfully, I like my co-workers; they’re kind and funny and sort of normal. But make no mistake, I am always apologizing. I don’t mean outright declarations of regret, but if I want to even have a shot at any of my comic peers not shutting me out immediately, I have to approach with my hat in my hand like I’m asking Scrooge for a Christmas bonus (that’s a thing, right? In the Jewish version, Scrooge goes back in time to kill Jesus. It’s awesome). I have to be twice as kind and humble as the next guy. Why? Because I’ve got a nice watch, a snapback, and a button-down I chose to tuck in today. Because I was in a fraternity. Because I played football in high school. Because I haven’t heard the Japandroids “album” (aaaaaannnnddd they’re called CD’s, guys). What I’m saying here is that in all the efforts of our wonderful generation to shut out the stereotypical “frat-boy”, you’ve shut out THIS stereotypical “frat-boy”. The rulers of our Internet Age sneer at pretension to the point that ambition becomes a faux-pas; they hate self-delusion to a level that self-confidence is impossible; they yearn so wildly for authenticity that nothing can possibly match their ideal - and we’re forced to drape ourselves in irony. And so the society we’ve created is just as closed as the one we’ve left behind. Only it’s not jocks stuffing nerds in lockers; it’s nerds sneering with passive-aggressive judgment while they sip small-batch bourbon. The king is dead. Long live the king.
In the eighties and nineties, muscled-up action heroes ripped the heads off of communists because if there was something we could all agree on, it was free markets and steroids. This summer, we’re getting an action-thriller where Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who maybe has never lifted anything heavier than a pint of Kefir) stars as a fixed-gear bike messenger. I’ll let that sink in for a moment...a fixed gear. Bike Messenger. It’s being described as an action-thriller. I’m sorry, unless Arnold Schwarzenegger is running train on some aliens in between having sex with his manly looking nanny, then that’s not my type of action-thriller. The Bike Messenger may be the moment our youth culture finally jumps the shark (like flower children and disco and grunge before us) and we all just collectively decide to get to the gym and stop getting bad tattoos. Because we are not more self-possessed now; we’re the same as we always were. And we’re not more authentic. So lacking are we in that department that a movie studio green-lighted a serious film that feels like a parody of our lives.
At one point in the aforementioned Stephen Marche article he writes, "At all costs, be yourself." Sage advice, but easier said than done. A quick story: not long ago, during a JCC pick-up basketball game, I punched an old man in the face. I’m not saying this out of pride - it was a sucker punch, really - but it was a moment of real, cathartic authenticity. I know you’ve had the chance to punch someone in the face (pricks are universal); so I ask a really simple question: did you? It seems such a basic consequence of life; a true moment, a seizing of the everything that makes you a real person. It didn’t even have to be a real punch, it could just be an audible ownership of that prick, a QUICK “F Off”, a shot at his manhood. It’s natural to act. It’s natural to aspire to be the Schwarzenegger. It’s unnatural to aspire to be Joseph Gordon-Levitt just because he wears a slim-fit suit well. As cavemen we ate, killed, and excreted semen. That’s it. There wasn’t a single caveman who was still mad at a some caveman bully from years back. There wasn’t a caveman who ate vegan. There wasn’t a caveman who had a hyphenated last name. There wasn’t a caveman who felt proud because his cave was in the ungentrified part of town. Maybe we should all start wondering about our inability to grab your own humanity and act on it before judging me for chanting “SHOTS” and shamelessly hitting on every woman in my field of vision. Because while I don’t “get” your Dino-Riders shirt, I DO “get” having a good time. I DO get that 10,000 years of evolution gave you a dick and some testosterone, not a penchant for the films of Cassavetes (you came up with that one on your own). So join me; seize that authentic humanity you’ve been pushing aside. What’s the worst that can happen - besides a hangover and a loss of indie-cred? You might get a sense of who you are. Oh, and let’s hit the gym tomorrow, bud - I’ve got a pinnie you can borrow.
Jared Freid is a New York City-based comedian. You can follow him on Twitter @jtrain56 for videos, columns, and plenty of penis jokes.