Insipid Aspirations, The Permanent and Ethereal

Bret Stephens, the former Wall Street Journal pundit who was brought aboard the New York Times as its token lightning rod, has announced that he is quitting what he calls the “pornified” twitters.

Twitter is no different. Bigotry flourishes on Twitter, since it offers the bigot the benefits of anonymity along with instantaneous, uncensored self-publication. It’s the place where their political minds can be as foul as they want to be — without the expense or reputational risk of showing their face at a Richard Spencer rally.

Twitter doesn’t merely amplify ugliness. It erases nuance, coarsens thought, turns into a game of “Telephone” in which original meaning becomes hopelessly garbled with every successive re-tweet. It also facilitates a form of self-righteous digital bullying and mob-like behavior that can wreck people’s lives.

A disappointing grasp of the medium, for sure. It’s hard for even the most best among us to twit thoughtfully. Nuance requires effort, discipline. The lazy twitterer can blame twitter, but his failing is that he’s lazy. A good mechanic doesn’t blame his tools.

Stephens’ problem isn’t twitter, but people. They’re awful. They’re stupid. They’re mean, nasty, hateful and just plain awful. With some experience, one learns to shrug off the myriad awful twits, because there is neither an intelligence test nor a sanity test to purchase a keyboard.

So some blithering idiot responds to a random twit by @-twitting you some platitudinous idiocy? Toughen up, Brett. Ignore it.  The world is filled with such people, and always was. Now you see it because, for the first time in your life, they have the ability to display it before your eyes? In a flash, it will disappear, as its replaced by the next twit, which may be just as awful, worse or, on the rare occasion when someone willing to put in the effort to put twitter to its highest and best use, absolutely brilliant.

That’s what we wait for, that one stroke of brilliance. We suffer the stupid so we don’t miss it. Most importantly, the stupid disappears, as if it never happened.

But then, lamenting the vicissitudes of youthful aimlessness, David Brooks includes this terrifying paragraph in his homage to “no trespassing” signs.

All the while social media makes the comparison game more intrusive than ever, and nearly everybody feels as if he or she is falling behind. Recently I came across a website with popular message tattoos. The ones people chose weren’t exactly about carefree youth. They were about endurance and resilience: “I will break but I will not fold”; “Fall down seven times, stand up eight”; “Don’t lose yourself in your fear”; “The only way out is through.”

Unlike the twitters, Brooks refers to tattoos. They’re not just for sailors anymore. For reasons that elude old-timers, young people find tats and piercings to be cool, which apparently trumps any concerns about permanent self-mutilation.* Some think a butterfly on what used to be called a “private part,” before vagina inspection parties, is cute. Whether they’ll think the same when the grandchildren show up is another matter.

But Brooks isn’t talking about a “meaningful symbol,” like that Chinese character you were told means “strength” but actually means “squid.” Instead, the body has become a canvas for insipid platitudes that reveal their hosts transitory angst. What was once the fodder of Saturday Night Live gags has become not merely a daily affirmation but a lifetime one.

Don’t lose yourself in fear?

Well, okay. Of course, fear is what keeps us from walking in front of cars, too, but you can’t fit that on a fortune cookie. Yet, this is important enough to some young person that she will have it permanently emblazoned on her body with “no regerts”?

While Brooks may discuss, albeit in a way that enables every misery-denier the opportunity to reply, “not me, David, not my kid,” the empowerment of prolonged if not permanent adolescence, the lie of following one’s passion because the world can never get enough Digiridoo players, and that a Ph.D. in gender and deviant sexual studies has a bright employment future, is probably a huge mistake. Yet, we tell ourselves the lies we want to believe to justify doing what we want to do. Why not? Aren’t we entitled?

But putting it in ink on your body, whether tequila driven or after the deepest introspection ever, has become so embedded in acceptability that Brooks notes only the depth of despair reflected in the platitudes and not the fact that these will forever be part of their lives.

Brett, it’s just the twitters. Of course the vast majority of it will be awful and stupid, nasty and brutish. Don’t blame the twitters for offering every blithering idiot the opportunity to @-twit you. Even if you don’t see their lack of nuance and depth of thought, even if you ponder how they still know how to breathe, at least it provides the necessary catharsis for the terminally stupid so they don’t explode and make a huge mess.

Would you rather every twenty-something strut about with the brilliance of their twit permanently inked as their tramp stamp? The awful twit will disappear into the ether momentarily. The insipid tat will be there forever. Stay on twitter, Brett. Do it for the children.

Plus, begging off the twitters is so over, and doesn’t work anyway. Just wait until the Social Justice Defense Council bans you, and at least you can get martyrdom out of it. And unlike a tattoo, it goes away soon enough.

*In my youth, long hair was cool. But then, we could always cut our hair.

46 thoughts on “Insipid Aspirations, The Permanent and Ethereal

  1. Mike G.

    I’ve seen some women that would’ve been beautiful but for the “sleeves” of tats running down their arms and the dragon’s head peeking out of the top of their low slung blouse between their breasts.

    1. SHG Post author

      As have I. Every time I watch one of those “red carpet” shows, I ponder what they were thinking as they’re dressed in couture, hair perfect, bejeweled, with some awful tat defiling their body. Even worse are those brides’ dresses shows, where the woman obsesses over a gown of virginal purity with some cartoon character poking out of her bodice.

  2. Richard G. Kopf


    Please stop writing about tats.

    Think of twin PhDs in biology (one of whom was a Division I swimmer and other a 6’3″ former high school tight end who could bench press 100 pounds more than he weighed), who live down-under. They proudly display deplorable ink over all over their beautiful bodies–bodies sculpted, even in their late 30s, by the cult that is known as Crossfit. Then consider my slavish devotion to the customs of the mid-twentieth century where tats (and body building) were considered tawdry and tasteless. These contradictions are the very essence of cognitive dissonance. I don’t want to think about them because my mind begins to spin entirely out of control causing me to worry about the coming necessity of the dribble cup.

    So, again, please. Just stop it. Not for the children. But for old people.

    All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      I apologize for my total lack of sensitivity, Judge. At least now I know what to get you for Christmas.

      1. Richard Kopf


        Damn you!

        You take pleasure in the pain of others. Moreover, you prey on the old and their inability to remember where they left their car keys. You like cats too. Simply put, you are the most deplorable in the basket.

        I am reporting you to AARP, the American Kennel Club and Hillary. So there!

        All the best.


  3. Allen

    I enjoy inexplicable tattoos. A recent one I spotted was the Disney World Magic Kingdom logo on a young woman’s arm. What happens when the Disney Co. takes you to court over copyright and trademark infringement for your tattoo, was just my first question.

  4. wilbur

    Anonymity for me is necessary, given my employer, as my opinion on many topics differs from my publicly elected boss. Anonymity is a privilege, carrying with it a responsibility to not post anything so rude or crude that I would not post it under my real name.

    1. el profesor presente

      It sounds so tacky spelled out like that. Maybe that’s why so folks prefer to call it “the champagne room.”

        1. el profesor presente

          Lusty Leopard Community College. Tuition was a little steep, but good drink specials and a knockout faculty.

            1. el profesor presente

              No offense, but Big Red Tavern sounds like a place where the VIP Room is where they keep the salad bar.

      1. Jake

        Guess how long it’s been since anyone other than an old white guy (or a woman in the immediate family) shared their opinion of other people’s tattoo choices? Trick question! It’s never happened.

        1. SHG Post author

          Nah. The grownups do it all the time, just not in front of the children.

          But as long as I have your attention for 8 second, explain to me what it is that you find attractive or desirable about body mutilation? TIA

          1. Jake

            Cutting the end off an infant’s Johnson, so he adheres to the grooming standards of a bronze age goat herder is ‘body mutilation.’ I and everyone close to me have tattoos, and we all do so for personal reasons. My reasons are my reasons, and in light of your bias, I think it will be a challenge for you to understand.

            …But it doesn’t hurt that my lovely wife finds them attractive.

            1. SHG Post author

              So your wife tells you she likes it and you believe her. Okay.

              Please try to resist the urge to sneak in an infants’ “Johnson” reference. And its grown-up word is penis.

          2. Jake

            Today, what you call body mutilation I call art -and I’m a supporter of the arts. The man who did my sleeves (arm coverings) is my close friend. As a child, when the rest of us were out smoking weed, chasing tail, and tossing the ball around the streets of Boston, he sat at the Museum of Fine Arts, studying. Later, he received his masters at the Angel Academy in Florence, Italy.

            Today, in addition to tattoos, he does classical realist paintings on commission for private buyers and institutions including the Catholic Church. My right arm looks like a Bouguereau painting.

            My tattoos are also a form of self-expression and yes, the medium is part of the message. The artist and I talk about what I am trying to communicate and then we collaborate on the design. I suspect my path to being a productive member of society was not so straight and narrow as yours. My arms are totem poles…They tell my story.

            1. SHG Post author

              Is there no other way to “express yourself” than to permanently mark your body? The question isn’t whether tats can be “art” (though let’s be real, most are not), but why the medium is the message. If your “art” is on your arm, what happens when you decide to go for a Modigliani instead?

            2. Jake

              Of course, there are other channels for expression. I’m a marketer, I know them all, and I use some of them.

              I can’t escape the feeling that the hill I need to climb in explaining this to you is steep, perilous, and unlikely to result in success. We’re arguing a matter of opinion which is typically derived from deeply held values like religion and perspective formed during formative years. When you take a break, you probably get out the khakis and go to the country club. When I take a break, I wear a leather cut with a three piece patch and climb on a Harley.

              I agree that many tattoos are not art. Like everything else in life, you get what you pay for, and my budget is considerable. Ironically, the artist who does my work stopped accepting payment other than dinner many years ago.

            3. SHG Post author

              When you take a break, you probably get out the khakis and go to the country club.

              Ah, grasshopper. You understand so little. I wear the khakis with a leather blazer (Ralph, Purple Label) when I go out to drive my Healey.

            4. Jake

              PS- Modigliani was a craven hack with a doting mother. I’ve seen better work hung on refrigerators with souvenir magnets.

  5. Jake

    PPS – As an example of the chasm between our perspectives: You see the permanency of tattoos as a bug. I see it as a feature.

    1. SHG Post author

      I see failure to use the reply button as a bug too. But you don’t explain to me why you see it as a feature? Frankly, I still don’t see an explanation for why you want to turn your body into the tapestry. I understand art, even if you lack an appreciation of Modigliani (to each his own), but the nexus between art and tats is missing. Art is good, but why on the body?

      And to get off your more personal justification, what of the nice kidz with less artful tats, like the skullz and fake Chinese symbols? What’s the attraction there?

      1. Jake

        “And to get off your more personal justification, what of the nice kidz with less artful tats, like the skullz and fake Chinese symbols? What’s the attraction there?”

        Self-expression mixed with some rebellion, I suspect. I wouldn’t rule out chemically impaired decision making.

        Again, I started this conversation by stating that I know lots of people with tattoos who all have their own reasons for doing so. From my perspective, the important question is: Do we support the right of free people to do what they want with their body?

        Side note: Did one of your kids get a tattoo or something?

        1. SHG Post author

          Chemically-impaired decision making isn’t generally considered a good thing. I’m not suggesting we pass laws to prevent people so inclined from getting a tat. Do I look progressive to you? But that doesn’t mean they get a free pass on thoughtful discretion. And no, neither of my kids has a tattoo, of their own choice. One asked me if I would mind if he/she dyed their hair purple, and I told them to go for it. After all, hair grows out. But it was just a test. They didn’t do it.

  6. Jake

    “But you don’t explain to me why you see it as a feature?” The permanence is part of the expression. It’s a level of commitment which communicates something to the viewer. It elicits a response, as evinced by this conversation.

    “Art is good, but why on the body?”

    Why with clay? Or canvas? Why with musical instruments, performance, and film? Art both transcends the medium and is materially affected by it. Are you sure you’re not asking this question because of a pre-conceived notion of what art is?

    1. SHG Post author

      Silly response. Because it’s not your body, it’s not permanent. You can sell a canvas if you get tired of it or decide it no longer reflects your ascetic. Plus, you don’t have to carry a canvas with you, no matter where you go or what you do. You can’t sell your arm. Plus, arms are handy things to have.

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