Home > Critic-At-Large > Block that dream

Block that dream

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2014-03-06


Every few years you'll notice that there are words and phrases that have become so over-saturated and abused by popular usage that they become nearly meaningless. Weak, critical adjectives like "excellent" and "awesome" and "terrific" have been absolutely useless for years now, as is the word "fine," which should only be used to describe the texture of a child's hair. "Epic" and "random" have been so thoroughly destroyed by snarling teenagers and social media addicts that they, too, signify nothing to the modern speaker.

There are also relatively obscure words that suddenly become very popular but are never really used appropriately--"disingenuous," for example, is a hot word right now, a 21st century favorite, a word that gets bandied about by lots of people, especially the dumb ones who are trying to sound sophisticated. (It means "insincere," which, of course, doesn't sound nearly as smart as "disingenuous.") Ten years ago, you would have never heard that word, but for some reason it's popular now, in essays, in reviews, in conversations. (And actually, I've read and heard a lot of people, not just the dumb ones, use "disingenuous" incorrectly--they use it to describe someone who thinks he's too smart of too clever by half; they mistakenly think that the root of the word comes from "genius," and not from "ingenuous.")

There are some phrases that I can't believe people aren't too mortified to use in public anymore, and yet I hear them all the time. Any guy who refers to his "man cave," for instance, is simply incomprehensible to me; this is a guy who I will move heaven and earth to avoid. Similarly, anyone who talks about their "bucket list" is somebody I'd rather die that meet; that person would make my theoretical "bucket list" as Number 5: Before you die, never talk to this person. Both expressions are just too tacky, too dorky, too embarrassing, too redolent of the worst of middle-brow pop culture.

There are some words that have relatively harmless or benign meanings yet their modern connotations makes me distrust them, almost every time--innocuous words like "support" or "tolerance," for example, are words that are too often used insidiously and with great duplicity. When some friend tearfully tells you that they "really need your support!" about something, it usually means that they just want you to do whatever they want or to agree with whatever they say, no matter how foolish or shortsighted. The word "support" becomes a hidden manipulator, and it's hard to know, even among friends, when it's being used honestly.

"Tolerance," also, is a tricky one it's become such a hot-button word (and concept) that whenever it's used, it almost emits a uneasy cloud over the conversation. I've been mildly chastised by well-meaning friends for speaking candidly about some difficult subject (race, politics, gender, religion) and every time I've been corrected, the word "tolerant" is always used (as in, "You need to be more") It's hard to get back to the discussion after that word has been dropped; everybody is so freaked out about being perceived as "intolerant" that everybody frets over every single word and the debate degenerates to general inanities and bland, toothless comments. (And I've never quite understood why I need to "tolerate" views that I think are absolute bushwah. Why pretend?)

The phrase that I've learned to distrust the most, however, is the one that you hear teenagers and their parents use all the time. Again, it's another innocuous, hopeful sounding phrase that you can't believe could contain any negative associations, and yet, whenever I hear it, I immediately put myself on alert, thinking: These people can't be trusted.

It's one of those phrases that for some reason seems to instantly turn everybody's brains into mush: "Follow your dream!" Any justification a parent needs for some damn fool excesses given to his kid, well, he can justify it quite easily: "My kid's following his dream!" Listen to a parent describe why he's paying a Modeling Agency 3 grand for his not-pretty-enough-to-be-a-model daughter to take lessons: "She's following her dream!" Or let a 14-year old boy explain why he needs to be on that traveling basketball team, the one that takes up all his spare time and much of his parents': "I'm following my dream!" Or that rock star in waiting, that 10 year old Joe Strummer, the kid that needs the new guitar and the new amp and the new haircut and needs his parents to drive him to Chicago twice a week for lessons, well, he's following his dream! At 10! Yep, he's following his dream! And he's 10!

See, what used to happen, say a generation ago or so, was this: a kid would daydream/fantasize about being a movie star, a rock star, center fielder for the Yankees, whatever, and at some point he might shyly mention it to his parents, who would then say something appropriate, like, "That's nice, honey" or "Wow! Good luck with that!" and then leave it alone. And that was just fine, because it was sort of understood that the kid didn't have to be famous to matter, that it was just fine for him to be a regular kid having some regular, moony thoughts.

Now, though, as soon as the kid mentions anything about a "dream," the parents go nuts, because that's what good parents do now, they go nuts, they do everything for the kid, and so now they're hiring personal coaches and trainers and opera singers and former big league managers and ex-Broadway actors and anybody else that can help prepare the kid for his close-up, his solo, his big moment in the spotlight. And look: of course there's nothing wrong with kids having dopey, moony dreams, and of course there's nothing wrong with a parent wanting to see their kid thinking optimistically about the future. But sometimes it's necessary for the parent to be sort of a mediator between a kid's dreams and the reality of the world. Less than 1% of traveling team basketball players will ever play professionally, yet 60% of kids polled believe they're gonna make it. The odds that a modelling school model will become the next Kate Moss is something like 1 in 500 million, yet the enrollment for the schools keeps going up. It's a total buzz kill, but sometimes a parent just has to say, You know what, kid? You're probably not going to get famous; you're probably just going to end up being yourself. And that's not just "okay," it's better than okay; it's wonderful.

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