A writer for the alchemic Buzzfeed (a philosopher’s stone which turns all it touches into virulent internet content) explains “why we actually hate all things pumpkin spice.” Turns out, we don’t hate syrupy venti Starbucks lattes, glottal fry, or Ugg boots for their own sake, but for what they represent, which is a certain class identity characterized by
a banal existence, obsessed with Instagramming photos of things that themselves betray their basicness (other basic friends, pumpkin patches, falling leaves), tagging them #blessed and #thankful, and then reposting them to the basic breeding grounds of Facebook and Pinterest.
In other words, the conspicuous consumption of products which show the consumer to have uncultivated taste and lack of individuality. The writer suggests that our position of judging said consumer to be “basic” is rooted in class insecurity—the need to separate one’s own more discriminating tastes from those of the petit bourgeois mob.
One must give the writer some credit for seemingly having discovered the existence of class consciousness without the benefit of a liberal-arts education. However, her attempt at diagnosing “our” snobbery falls short.
“‘Basic,’” she gropes, “is, at bottom, a stereotype.” (And we all know that stereotypes are, ipso facto, bad.) But it’s also sort of racist because it turns out that the idea of “basicness” which is now used almost exclusively among the Buzzfeed set to refer to déclassé white females, is originally stolen from “black” pop culture, so white people using it is cultural appropriation, which is also bad (and inauthentic).
Nevertheless, buried in this essay’s silt are some nuggets of partial wisdom.
Calling other people “basic,” the author suggests, reflects one’s own anxiety about living in a homogenous world of meaningless choices. It is an attempt to distance oneself from middle-class consumer identity.
We say, this is a good thing. Not that we should call people unkind names, but that it is a good thing to question the advertising-driven preferences of consumer culture. Is “class anxiety” of this sort really a problem?
I mean, what are the alternatives? One is to refuse to make aesthetic judgments at all–which is how we got modern art, McMansions, reality television, and basically any public edifice of the 1970s.
The other alternative is to sublimate one’s “class anxiety” into some kind of basic warmed-over “cultural marxism” (Check your #privilege, etc). Which is also gross and unattractive.
Elitism is often a pose, but it at least aims at a higher aesthetic standard not only in what one wears and eats, but in how one orders one’s life. Eschewing banality is a good thing. Developing a conservative taste for simple, elegant food and apparel is one way of improving yourself and those around you.
Indeed, not to turn up one’s nose at the “basic” is, ultimately, to perpetuate the soft misogyny of low expectations.