The Death of Fun as We Know It

Taylor Swift at the 2016 iHeartRadio Music Awards in Inglewood, Calif. (Reuters photo: Danny Moloshok)
Our culture’s default mode of ‘All Politics, All The Time’ is tedious. We can do better.

These days, when people ask me what I do, I tend to brace myself a bit, battening down the proverbial mental hatches. “Oh, I’m a writer,” I’ll say cheerily, warily scanning my new friend’s eyes, especially if that person is my doctor or an Uber driver or a hairdresser or someone else who happens to temporarily hold my life in their hands. “What’s that? What do I write about? Oh . . . ” — here’s the part where I scan the room for an escape hatch, and inevitably fail — “I write about politics.”

Almost instantly, what was previously a sanguine discussion usually escalates into a passionate yelling match, complete with high-octane scoffing, sullen dirt-kicking, occasional hair-pulling, and that classic and excruciatingly painful torture method older brothers use where they punch you in the exact same place on your upper arm over and over. (Mine told me it was “a bravery test.”) Next, we inevitably sulk off in different directions, never to speak again, with the exception of occasionally leaving each other passive-aggressive comments with purposely confusing emoijs on our public Instagram accounts.

Actually, that never happens. I don’t even have an operable Instagram account! The most common response, you’ll be pleased to learn, is actually rueful laughter: “Politics? Well, you certainly have a lot to write about! I bet it’s never boring!”

The first sentence is correct: There is absolutely no shortage of political material to write upon, given that our culture seems to be slowly morphing into a disturbing default mode of “All Politics, All The Time.” The second assumption, however — “I bet it’s never boring!” — is sadly amiss. This is because our culture’s encroaching default mode of “All Politics, All The Time” is almost exhaustingly boring. It is cringe-worthy. It is tedious. It could signal the slow death of fun as we know it.

Witness the odd metamorphosis of Teen Vogue, a once-innocent delivery vehicle for capitalism’s more frivolous byproducts, including lipstick, overpriced high heels — a species of shoe that is now considered highly problematic and distressing, as we’ll discuss below — and occasional helpful assurances that No, for Heaven’s Sake, You Do Not Look Fat in Your Dress, You’re Twelve. Alas, today’s Teen Vogue has kept right in step with the rather annoying times: It has morphed, Incredible Hulk–style, into a seething, politically “woke,” and occasionally terrifying rage pamphlet.

“We walk around as if we were bombs about to go off, worried about admitting how livid we really are, even to ourselves,” declares a recent Teen Vogue essay that was surprisingly not written by the Unabomber. Women should be angry all the time, we are told; in fact, if you’re not angry, something is probably wrong with you. “As far as I’m concerned,” the author continues, again casting doubt as to whether the article was secretly ghostwritten by a man in a makeshift hood crouching in a federal penitentiary, “boys who want to be with only ‘cool, chill girls’ should try dating in the morgue.”

Holy Toledo.

Teen Vogue has morphed, Incredible Hulk–style, into a seething, politically ‘woke,’ and occasionally terrifying rage pamphlet.

We could also discuss another energetic Teen Vogue scribe who recently publicly threatened to bite a series of male private parts off “the Evangelicals” — ah, Twitter, never change — but let’s move on to the pressing national issue of Melania Trump’s high heels. In case you missed it, several of our nation’s leading media outlets staged a collective freakout over the fact that the first lady wore fancy shoes to board a plane for a Hurricane Harvey publicity visit.

No, seriously: People were very upset by these shoes, or at least pretended to be. The Washington Post and the New York Times and Politico all ran mind-numbing think pieces on the issue, bemoaning the “optics” of wearing spike heels to a disaster area, even though Ms. Trump brought tennis shoes for her actual time in Corpus Christi.

Honest question: Did anyone actually think Melania Trump was going to clamber into a bass boat and personally save a bunch of hurricane victims? Of course not. Is everyone just colossally bored? Perhaps, given that political hand-wringing appears to be our sad new version of fun. (This obsessive hectoring isn’t unique to the Trump era, by the way: In 2009, Michelle Obama received a similar shellacking for wearing expensive shoes to a food bank.)

Even poor Taylor Swift — she of the endless breakups, the drama, and the laughing all the way to the bank — is not immune from our culture’s alarming political creep. Taylor Swift is “an embodiment of Trump culture,” asserts a recent take in New York magazine that made me want to throw my computer into the Royal Gorge. Donald Trump is everywhere, you see. In certain circles, he is omnipresent! When it comes to the dark side of Taylor Swift, the essay continues, Trump’s “presidency didn’t invent this grim and cynical strain of pop culture; it’s just given it a good home. None of this exists without our complicity.”

Oh dear. Well, one thing is true: When you extend politics into every sector of your life, you are indeed complicit in the epic war on fun. Please, friends: We can do better. Sometimes Taylor Swift is really just Taylor Swift.


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