September 1, 2009
We're devoting a column to "That's AWEsome!" because we love this phrase in its current incarnation.
Historically, the word awesome enjoyed a meaning as complex as a good French Burgundy. It was a word with the important role of conveying a feeling of dread mixed with veneration, that would elucidate, say, one's reaction to an encounter with a supernatural being. During the 1980s, particularly in the western United States, "That's awesome!" became an ineffectual expression of garden variety hyperbole... as if we needed yet another term to show that everything was indistinguishably "really great!" Sullied as the decade wore on by over-usage, the word awesome eventually came to be pointed at anything that simply didn't suck too much.
Now, in the late '00s, meta-observation is the main gear of a new generation of meaning-makers – the post-postmoderns. And under their auspices, the phrase "That's AWEsome!" has been semantically re-elevated, though now employed to refer not to encounters with gods or goddesses, but with humanness in all its manifestations (perhaps echoing history's trajectory of increasingly conflating the latter with the former?).
The current version of "That's AWEsome!" with its always-already infused self-conscious reflexivity, does a much greater service as part of our contemporary collection of signifiers. By resurrecting the phrase, this generation has changed not only the connotations of the word awesome, but of the whole concept of cool as well. Increasingly, cool is no longer revealed in the smug smirks of kids in-the-know, with their perma-ironic observations that are the hallmark of Gen X. "That's AWEsome!" is the opposite of the withering sarcasm that was employed to separate those "in" from those "out." The expression defines something unique to those who are ready to get over themselves; ready to stop justifying a nastily exclusive world divided up into "I'm cool, you're not" and "This is cool, this is not." This new brand of AWEsome trumps the old cool. It's now actually cooler to be AWEsome than to be cool.
Here's an example of the new AWEsome, relayed by Artocratic editor Greg Dember:
I was in a long, long line at the post office. One customer at the counter was spending a lot of time, too much time, buying stamps. 'OK... how about 9 with the flags on them and 6 with the bouquet of flowers... no make that 8 and 7... wait, I should get more... what other designs do you have? Can I see that first sheet you showed me again?' Growing impatient, I began exchanging pained grins and eyerolls with the guy in line behind me. Then my new buddy spoke out loud (but still at a polite, conspiratorial volume), 'It's actually AWEsome... it could be a scene in a movie...'
The genius of "That's AWEsome!" is that it gives us all permission to look for the cool and to find awe in everything, in everyone, and in the everyday. The deal is to celebrate expressions of human frailty and foible that are so authentic as to defy all notions of what's accepted, expected, or desirable. We now have a way to give proper reverence to those moments in which humanity is revealed to be as quirky and lovably strange, charmingly vile, base, human, as it is.
And we think that's AWEsome.
AwesomeBlurb #7 Awesome Minister
... I don’t come into contact with religious people that often and I had to that point generally known nothing but the stereotypes associated with the word "evangelical." ...
AwesomeBlurb #6 Mr. Butt
... When I got my class schedule in the mail for my first semester of high school, I scanned down to see that in the column with the teacher's names, listed next to Physical Science 1, was "Butt." I thought someone was pulling a prank on me. ...
AwesomeBlurb #5 One Night On Bourbon Street
... Anxious but still determined to make the most of our meager funds, we eventually found ourselves at a very friendly bar called Oz, where the DJ was announcing a midnight dance contest, and the prize – $100 cash. S and I, both moderately roundish and not terribly light on our feet, thought nothing of it, but J, who had been a theater and dance major in college, ...
AwesomeBlurb #4 Awesome Handyman
... In a few minutes, an old 1950s era truck trundles into the driveway and here comes this grizzled guy, tall, lanky, with beat-up hands and paint-speckled Carhartts, clothes reeking of baked in cigarette smoke –everything you'd expect in a handyman. ...
AwesomeBlurb #3 Banned From an Airplane
Shortly after I finished college, I went to Costa Rica and lived primarily in the jungle for almost four months. In the jungle things mold in like three days. A lot of clothes go bad because the air is so wet; nothing can ever dry. You just get used to this kind of jungle funk. The smell of the jungle is musty and ...
AwesomeBlurb #2 Incomprehensible Speech
One summer evening, I was taking a walk through my neighborhood business/restaurant district. As I was turning a corner, I could hear a deep, booming, male voice talking in what sounded like nonsense syllables. It had the cadence of a normal, albeit loud-mouthed ...
AwesomeBlurb #1 Trekkie's Poop
The thing you have to understand to appreciate this story is, back when I was a freshman in high school, I was the kind of girl who wore black pants and heels, with my dyed-blonde hair done perfectly every single day...
Just write down what happened in your own words. And email it to:
(All blurbs are anonymous, unless the submitter wishes otherwise)