Friday, March 13, 2015

How to make fun of runners

Remember The Dress? Yeah, I know, so last month, but since you are currently online I’m guessing you know exactly what I’m talking about. Before that thing went viral, nobody could have predicted that there would be such madness over a pretty but otherwise not particularly noteworthy frock. One thing that would have been easy to predict, however, is the fact that for every person who posted about it, there’d be someone who would post something roughly along the lines of I don’t give a fuck about The Dress. Which, I suppose, is supposed to mark the poster as being unfathomably cool and astoundingly intelligent, or something, or at least supposed to make the rest of us feel like big stupid losers because we follow, like big stupid loser sheep, any foolish little virality that hits the interwebs.

Bollocks, I say. If you aren’t interested in The Dress, or The Ice Bucket Challenge, or The New Harper Lee Book for that matter, that’s fine. I’m not interested in the Kardashians, and to be honest I’m still not entirely sure who or what they are. That said, proclaiming one’s self not interested in something popular is a funny way of forming one’s identity. Considering its predictability, are you really unique for engaging in ridicule? Does this really mark you as original, rebellious, nonconformist, or any of those other words that we so dearly love to see attributed to us at the end of buzzfeed quizzes? Maybe, maybe not, but personally I’d rather form my identity through things that put me at risk of ridicule rather than through the ridicule of others. It is far too easy to make fun of people’s interests. After all, ridicule by definition tends to pick as its object people who take themselves very seriously in matters that are really quite trivial. And few things seem more trivial than other people’s obsessions.

But just look at that statement. An obsession, when you have one, is the antithesis of trivial. It is our reason for being. We don’t care whether anyone else shares it; it’s ours and we want it, achingly badly. Even though I sometimes cringe when I look back and think about the things I used to obsess about, I would feel sorry for anyone who never went through a similar experience. Obsessions are ridiculous, but they are also incredibly compelling.

When I first moved to Illinois, I lived in a small town and I didn’t know very many people, so I tried to get out and be a joiner for once in my life. One of the things I joined was a competitive Scrabble club. If you’re chuckling, it’s OK; the players are probably used to that. What’s more, they probably chuckle about it far more than you do—because they actually know what it’s like. Laughing at the idea of a bunch of people spending a Saturday afternoon fretting over little wooden squares may make you feel smugly superior for a moment or two, but the truth is you’re missing out on most of the fun. That’s one less human experience you’ll get to have, and if you keep it up, the only experience you’ll ever have is smugness. That’s pretty boring.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should never ridicule anything. Being able to step back and look at something from a distance is necessary and important. And come on, The Onion? Nothing can so consistently make me laugh like it does. (I’m especially partial to reportage about the Area Man.) As Elizabeth Bennet says, “I hope I never ridicule what is wise and good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can.” Feel free to mock me for quoting Jane Austen, and for the fact that I simply must mention my having read all of her books before they were bandwagonned and made into 87 movies.

See what I did there? Made fun of myself. Beat the sneerers to the punch. I know it’s silly to be the person who has to let it be known that they loved the popular phenomenon well before it was popular, before it was even thought of as a phenomenon. (I wonder if any of the other women who bought that dress are now grumping, “I didn’t know what color it was before anyone else didn’t know.”) Likewise, I know a lot of the things I find exciting and compelling may seem perplexing and absurd to outsiders. I’m still going to do them, and I’m probably going to laugh about them harder than the outsiders ever will. Sure, runners wear stupid-looking clothes, say irritating things, behave idiotically and seem to think all that makes them special. Well, it kind of does. It also makes them the butts of a lot of jokes—their own jokes, at their own expense, because that’s part of the enjoyment of it. We get our obsession, and we get perspective on our obsession. Looks like a cake-and-eat-it-too, far as I’m concerned.

So here, at last, is How To Make Fun Of Runners:

1.       Be a runner.
 
2.       Make fun of yourself.
 
3.       Laugh.
 
4.       Go for a run.