Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Return of an Old Friend

Having lived through the '80's once, I've felt some alarm at their return. I remember the fashions with a mixture of embarassment and dread. Because I went to a private school, most of my clothes consisted of khaki pants and white dress shirts; however, even the draconian rules of the Oblates of St. Francis DeSales could only go so far in curbing my clothing crimes. I must admit that I, too, owned a few pink shirts and acid-wash jeans. I had oversized eyeglass frames and gelled hair. I wore paisleys on everything, except for my hypercolor shirts.

I'm not proud.

However, having felt the self-righteous, ascetic embrace of the 1990's, I can admit with pride that I've made it through eighties rehab. I've reflected upon my fashion sins and done penance. Brothers and sisters, I am healed.

I didn't go through it alone. I can't count the number of friends who hide their mulleted and permed school photos like a guilty secret. We bore our shame together, and we survived together. As a generation, we have soldiered on.

Now that people in their teens and twenties are embracing the embarassing styles of my youth, I find myself cringing. Popped collars. Leggings. Those ruffled skirts that make you look like a prom queen who finished the evening having rough sex in the back seat of a station wagon. It seems to me that everyone increasingly looks like a road-show stage production of Pretty in Pink.

There is, however, one survivor of the eighties that I find myself welcoming. It's an old friend that I abandoned in my haste to distance myself from my childhood. It's someone who was always there for me when I needed him most.

It's good old douchebag.

For me, the eighties was the golden era of douchebag, and that little rubber sack will always symbolize the spirit of that decade. According to various sources, the word was first employed in the late sixties as a slur for unattractive women. However, it soon gained currency as a predominantly male-oriented insult. By 1979, the term was common enough for Saturday Night Live to air "Lord Douchebag," a sketch based on the inventor of the douche. Although I was too young to watch the episode, the term soon filtered down to my age group.

Until then, I'd made do with a solid triumvirate of insults: Asshole, Jerkoff, and Faggot (keep in mind that this was the eighties and I went to Catholic schools, one of which was all-male. "Faggot" was tacitly encouraged by my teachers and priests). All three of these words served me well, and each was moderately satisfying, but there was still something missing. There was still a hole in my life.

That hole was filled by douchebag.

Douchebag was rich and satisifying. While asshole ("AssHOOOOOLE!"), jerkoff ("jerk OFFF!"), and faggot (barked like a clipped Nazi command: "FAGGOT!") were all fun to yell, douchebag gave me so much more. It had a natural rhythm ("DEWSH bag!"), and combined the soft sound of "douche," reminiscent of a water balloon, with the hard, emotionally fulfilling "bag," which ended the word on a complete note.

However, as with the word "wicked," the Valley Girl accent, and John Hughes' oevre, Douchebag was too cutting edge, too stylish to last. It simply became too famous, too fast. Before long, douchebag, like hypercolors and boyfriend jackets, was a shameful reminder of foolish excess. I, like so many others, consigned it to the rubbish-heap of childhood as I seized the trappings of maturity.

Then, in 2004, I saw a ray of hope. A website, "John Kerry Is a Douchebag, but I'm Voting for Him Anyway," gave the word new relevance. Suddenly it had cachet again. Soon I started hearing the word in conversation. Granted, it had to share airtime with the incomplete "douche," the otherworldly "shower pocket," and the unnecessary "D-bag" or "DB," but it is still out there, and it's gaining ground.

Welcome back, old friend.


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