Over Memorial Day weekend, I embarked on a quest fit for only the most valiant of parents: A three-day out-of-town theme-park extravaganza. The destination was the Universal Orlando resort, a set of three adjacent parks featuring, among other things, the Incredible Hulk roller coaster. The Hulk is a gigantic green twisting machine that earnestly warns you about the dangers of gamma rays while you wait in line. Next, it launches you out of a giant tube to the sound of an enraged Hulk roar. Finally, it whips you along a track looping seven times at a top speed of 67 miles per hour.
“What are those giant nets doing below the ride?” my mom asked, skeptical, shielding her eyes from the sun, right before my son forced her to ride the Incredible Hulk. “Are those in case people fall out?”
Yikes! Here is the good news: Nobody fell out, and I suspect that the nets in question are for loose change, stray sunglasses, and rogue flying cell phones. Here is the bad news: After riding the glorious Hulk at least four times, and after taking the Jurassic Park river tour twice — complete with a life-like T. rex! — it was time to wander into other areas of Universal Studios Florida, where we had a decidedly less majestic experience. I’m speaking, of course, of the Simpsons Ride.
My kids clamored with almost rabid enthusiasm to experience the Simpsons Ride, which I thought was kind of weird until I figured out the reason: They’re not allowed to watch The Simpsons, as it is inappropriate for children and features occasional bad words. But it was raining, and the ride was indoors, and I figured there wouldn’t be any bad words — I was mostly right — and so on we went.
I won’t bore you with the details of the Simpsons Ride, in which you’re essentially stuck inside a nonsensical LSD-laced cartoon while strapped to what feels like a flying, non-cushy La-Z-Boy. Instead, I’ll stick with one simple highlight: the starring role of beloved Simpsons icon Krusty the Clown. As a character, Krusty, who hosts a dysfunctional children’s television program, is a “cynical, burnt-out, addiction-riddled smoker who is made miserable by show business but continues on anyway.” (That’s Wikipedia’s opinion, at least.)
To make a long story short, for all that the Simpsons Ride lacked in aesthetic value, it left us with one priceless gift: My entire family emerged from the ride shouting various lines in smoky, throaty Krusty the Clown voices. Our favorite, which we’re still occasionally yelling to this day, was a simple two-word refrain: “Who cares?”
In retrospect, I’m not even sure if “Who cares?” was an actual quote from the Simpsons Ride, but it certainly reflects the attraction’s ethos: Much of the ride’s storyline involves Krusty the Clown brushing off perfectly legitimate fears about amusement-park safety and an uncontrolled nuclear reactor. Regardless, here’s the point: It is strangely amusing, delightful, and liberating to yell “Who cares?” Try it, right now, in your own Krusty the Clown voice. Am I right? It feels amazing!
Our culture, it seems, could use a good, old-fashioned influx of “Who cares?”
I should clarify: I’m not encouraging apathy when it comes to important issues, nor do I support tuning out. One should never lose curiosity or industriousness when it comes to the wonders and problems and mysteries of the world. But you know the truth as well as I do: In today’s culture, we are engulfed in countless outrages and skirmishes and dustups that simply do not deserve our time. What they do deserve is a good, old-fashioned, full-throated, Krusty-voiced “Who cares?”
Let’s look at some recent headlines. “We Need to Talk about the Woke Droid” in the new Han Solo movie, explains an earnest piece at Vox. Over at the Washington Post, one writer worries about the quiet sexism wreaked by animals in children’s books: “Give me a female squirrel, a female duck, a female anything.” Google anything from “cultural appropriation” to “Elon Musk,” and heaven help you: A bundle of ginned-up controversies await. Most of them — with the exception of the eyebrow-raising news that Elon Musk might soon be selling actual flamethrowers in California, a state that puts warning labels on everything from coffee to cars — should earn the same Krustyesque response.
There are only a few short phrases in the English language that can completely short-circuit a conversation — and at first glance, the best of them are seemingly benign. “Good for you,” depending on the tone, can hijack a tale of good news. “Calm down” can instantly make a furious person approximately 1,000 times more furious. But really, can either of these rival “Who cares?” When uttered in the midst of sheer and utter nonsense, “Who cares?” can vaporize it all.
In the early 2000s, the office-supply chain Staples came up with the “Easy Button,” a circle of round red plastic you could punch to say, “That was easy!” A few years later, a skit starring comedian Dave Chappelle proposed the “Wrap It Up” box, which would play the increasingly loud orchestra music traditionally used to boot overly long-winded Oscar-acceptance-speech givers off the stage. But what about — and don’t steal this idea, since I think it could make millions — a “Who cares” button?
Think of the social-media implications! Are you faced with a fervent online controversy that shouldn’t even exist? Instead of a “like,” give a gentle “Who cares?” Moreover, the “Who cares?” button could feature a variety of iconic Hollywood voices: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sean Connery, Lauren Bacall, James Earl Jones, Judi Dench, Vincent Price, and Bobcat Goldthwait, all shouting in their own unforgettable ways. But we can’t forget Krusty the Clown, the cartoon who started it all, who would probably use this occasion to shout with all of his heart: “Who cares?!?”