Welcome to Grouchland
● By Style
Illustration by Aaron Roseli
Man, we’re grouchy these days.
On a recent drive to LA, I was yelled at the whole time. Not by my wife or kids, but by signs placed every few miles on the side of I-5 exclaiming, “Stop the Congress Created Dust Bowl!” I have no problem with agricultural interests expressing their opinion about important water-use issues. But do they have to scream it at us for 300 miles? It’s bad enough we have to pass through Coalinga.
Contentiousness is everywhere. I’ve waited at a stoplight behind a truck with a bumper sticker reading, “Don’t like my driving? Kiss my a**.” He wasn’t even driving poorly. In fact, he stopped quite smoothly. I imagined getting out of my car and tapping his window to praise his braking skills. Then I imagined getting punched in the face, so I stayed put. Vehicles are a big source for these expressions of ill-naturedness. There’s a myriad of decals featuring all sorts of hand grenades, skulls, brass knuckles and assorted vulgarities, not to mention incontinent cartoon characters peeing on things their drivers don’t like.
But it’s not just on the road. T-shirts are big conveyers too. I saw a young mom at the Folsom Premium Outlets not long ago pushing a baby in a stroller. Being a dad, I couldn’t help but gaze admirably at the child for a moment. Then I noticed Mommy’s shirt, which declared in very bold letters, “I’ll give YOU something to be f*****g famous for.” I’m not even sure what that meant, but I certainly didn’t feel like finding out. I averted my eyes and slipped into the Nike store. How about those form-fitting shirts with the word “Affliction” floating above a whirlwind of scrolls, curlicues and puffy, swirling lines? “Affliction” is defined as “something that causes pain or suffering,” which the wearer apparently wants us to think means him. I want to tell him he’d be more intimidating if the shirt’s background didn’t look like the magic cloud My Little Pony lives on.
And then there’s the Internet, where there is no limit to Web sites and blogs devoted to nothing more than high-tech excoriations of this or that. The most unpolished sources are comment boards of online news stories, where the level of vitriol can be startling, as can the levels of ignorance, careless spelling and frequent use of ALL CAPS TO INDICATE THE WRITER IS NOW SCREAMING. Here’s a real, if succinct, example that came from an area newspaper’s Web site in December. In response to a story about Sierra ski resorts hurting from lack of snow, a dismissive post sniffs, “Oh well. Less stoner idiots on the road, less traffic in general, less promo of a lame past time.” Or maybe this person was actually an optimist, simply trying to find an upside to potentially severe and debilitating drought. At least the spelling was good and they kept their caps in check.
I don’t know. Maybe all this surliness started with cable news or talk radio, where everything is either all good or all bad and regardless, the loudest one wins; or maybe with reality TV, where conflict equals ratings. Or, more probable, it’s always been around but now more prevalent because we’ve gradually become more tolerant of incivility. Whatever the source, it seems all this effort to intimidate one another would be exhausting. But it shows no sign of abating. Which is why I breathe a sigh of relief whenever I find myself following a minivan with one of those decals of a happy stick figure family. Even though I FREAKING HATE THOSE THINGS.