This guy exists:
You can see where I got the photo, because there’s a logo (looking a lot like a Bud Light logo, by the way) on the bottom of it. This photo was taken at a club in Kansas City’s Power & Light district called Mosaic. I’ve never been there, but I’m pretty sure it’s a lot of house music and Ed Hardy shirts. There’s an entire gallery at inkkc.com.
The captions don’t have names, so we can’t really Facebook stalk him, meaning all we know about this guy is what we see in the photo, and that he was at Mosaic last Saturday.
I kind of prefer it that way, because it allows me to ask a broad question about a specific person.
Where did this guy come from?
Let’s back up a minute, and not focus on Mosaic or 2010. Let’s think in broad terms. Let’s look at some photos of American nightlife over the years.
Here is a photo that came up in a Google search for “speakeasy.”
Speakeasies were places where people — generally on the wealthier side — went to illegally consume alcohol during Prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933. Speakeasies tended to be a little swanky, and they were extremely profitable, despite police raids. This probably was because most of them were run by the mob.
Here is a photo taken at some club in the 1940s.
This is a photo called “nightclub,” that came up on a Google search for 1960s nightclub.
This is a shot taken at Studio 54 in 1974.
More Studio 54.
This is a bus boy at Studio 54 in 1977.
This is the result of a search for “1990s dance club.”
So far as nightlife is concerned, I’d say the decade we just finished was completely defined by this (preposterous) song:
So now I take you back to the guy at the top. Where did he come from? What had to have happened between speakeasies and Lady Gaga to make that photo possible? The inexplicable shirt, the Zoolander face, the cigarette, the trimmed eyebrows, the hours upon hours spent in the gym. It’s all so perfect as to seem unreal. This guy isn’t real, is he? He looks like he’s at some theme party. What must a conversation with him be like?
This is the No. 2 definition of “douchebag,” on Urbandictionary.com: An individual who has an over-inflated sense of self worth, compounded by a low level of intelligence, behaving ridiculously in front of colleagues with no sense of how moronic he appears.
I think that’s a pretty good definition, and I think helps bring us to the point of this post (finally!): Have douchebags always existed, or did our generation create them?
I am not suggesting that our generation created self-importance. Walk through any airport in the country, and you’ll soon be walloped upside the head with self-important Baby Boomers or the sons of Baby Boomers having meaningless business conversations.
So these guys have been around forever. There have also obviously always been idiots.
I think what’s new, and mostly unique to our generation, is a lack of self-awareness and a disinterest in dignity. Free expression has some along way since the 1920s, and even since the 1960s. Socially, more kinds of behavior are considered acceptable than ever before. I see this as not necessarily good or bad. It simply is.
Because people are less likely to govern themselves according to social norms, they are much more likely to look inward and express outward. It makes for a lot more decisions. For example, our culture used to expect men to wear suits and hats in public. This made dressing for the speakeasies utterly thoughtless. You’ve got a black suit, a gray suit and a blue suit. Pick one. But since this social norm has evaporated, men have a lot more options, making it much more likely you’re showing up wearing an undershirt with duct tape on it.
Furthermore, men have become more feminine than ever. Or, they’re allowed to be more feminine than ever. I read a study recently that attempted to explain this. Through scientific testing, the study found that for most of history women were most attracted to what you might call “manly men,” square-jawed guys with lots of chest hair.
This was because, biologically, they were drawn to men who would most likely give them strong, healthy babies and something in their hormones told them men like this would do that.
Well, enter The Pill.
The pill, first approved in 1960, works by tricking a woman’s body into thinking she’s already pregnant. The hormonal effect, the study hypothesized, is that women on the pill (about 12 million these days) lose part of that urge for manly men, because, Hey, their body figures, I’m already pregnant, I want someone to help nurture this kid, not just knock me up again.
This has produced a generation of men who know they can wear shiny shirts and wax their chests and still get jobs at awesome ad agencies.
Ironically, the more people look inward for guidance as opposed to outward, the less self-aware they become. This is part of the reason so many weirdos live in big cities. In a small town, where everybody knows everybody, someone will eventually tell you to stop walking around in Army fatigues, talking to yourself. In a big city, where everybody knows nobody, they just ignore you.
The more our guy at the top looks in the mirror, the less aware he becomes how ridiculous he looks. And the more people do that, the less ridiculous it becomes to look ridiculous.
So I don’t think our generation invented the douchebag any more than it invented The Internet Tough Guy. The traits in human nature have always been there. It just hasn’t been until now that we’ve allowed them to fully manifest themselves.