Last night at our congregation’s annual variety show, I was among three people chosen to embarrass ourselves answering questions Jeopardy-style for the amusement of the people in our congregation. As it happens, the last category to be chosen involved postmodern slang, and thus I was able to demonstrate to my fellow congregants for their amusement that I had some knowledge of words like lit, ghosting, and basic. Indeed, I must admit that I had not thought to call others basic before as it is not something that I tend to view necessarily as an insult. Of course, I have seen plenty of memes about “basic white girls” and the like, and so I knew what the term was, making fun of people whose interests are all mainstream and don’t like anything that is unusual. I am not the sort of person who would ever be accused of being basic given my own interest in obscure and odd subjects, even if I keep aware of what is in the mainstream even if I do not necessarily approve of it.
That said, it is worthwhile to talk at least a little bit about the subject, because as I thought about being basic, I reflected on the importance of avoiding being basic and why that might be a good thing. A lot of mainstream trends are not very good. Those which are not immoral are often silly and unimportant and will be embarrassing to people later on. One of the reason why few adults bother to learn the slang of young people is that it does not tend to last and as soon as it becomes known by adults, it becomes uncool simply because it is widely known. In a similar fashion, those who become popular in the mainstream become uncool to the hipster elite on precisely those grounds as well–it is not as if hipsters prefer superior culture, but they generally prefer obscure culture because it is less commonly known and hence more exclusive. And I don’t happen to like either of those approaches myself. Something isn’t worth liking because a lot of other people like it, nor is something not worth liking because it is worth appreciating by the mainstream.
What we should do instead is to cultivate our own sense of taste that is as independent as possible from the taste of either cultural elites or the masses. If something resonates with us and it happens to be popular, that’s great. If hardly anyone knows about it or likes it, that’s fine as well. What we like doesn’t have to be either some great secret or popular everywhere. It is not, after all, like the people whose art we appreciate are going to know us or care about us anyway. If they are unpopular they are going to have their own lives and their own search for a living given the lack of support their art would give them as far as a living was concerned. And if someone was popular in the mainstream they are going to have too many other people to worry about in their lives to care about what one fan or reviewer has to say about them. We are immensely foolish if we tie any aspect of our own happiness in life to the fate of any contemporary artist with their dissolute and disordered ways, to say nothing about their lack of knowledge of our personal life and the lack of influence we would have on anything they decided to do. Given the alarming rate at which celebrities die young through some kind of self-destruction, any sort of personal investment in people who do not know or care about us is rather unwise.
Yet part of being basic is being unwise, I assume, in thinking that one will be popular or at least popular enough because one happens to like popular things. We live in such a fragmented and deeply divided culture that every choice to like (or disapprove of) something leads to being disliked by a particular audience. After all, stan culture is not always just about what to like, but also what to dislike, and every artist and every genre has, it seems, some sort of disregard for others. Things cannot simply be enjoyed, but we must pit high and low culture against each other, different genres against each other, different artists within the same genre against each other, and so on and so forth. That is part of what it means to be basic, after all, whether one is a basic hipster or basic white girl or anything else. In such an age as our own we need to be offended and bothered about something, lest we feel we are not alive. And sadly, I am no different than anyone else as far as that goes.