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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Here’s a Shovel – Can you Dig It?

How great is that song lyric? Great. Very great. I can dig it.

Unfortunately, a cursory Google search only resulted in that lyric being attributed to Tag Team (back again!) in their 1993 hit “Whoomp! There it is.” But I swear I have recently heard a similar, if not identical lyric from a much older song during one of my car radio foray's into the old school jams of Hot 92 Jams. Something like, “Do you need a shovel to dig it?” Something awesome, in any event. If anyone is aware of the original cleverness there, please let me know whoomp, whose it is.

Shockalocka shockalocka shockalocka...

I am sure this is already a whole field of study (Linguistics? American Studies? Communications?), and now, probably a field of much interdisciplinary interest, given the undeniable effects of social media and social networking and well, the iPhone on cultural perceptions and phenomena, but I am fascinated by when words and phrases become adopted for popular use by massive segments of, if not the entire, population. I am equally fascinated by the causes of, and typical time frames for, their extinction. What extinguishes the popular use of a phrase or term that has caught on like wildfire? And which spreads faster, the epidemic use of the word or phrase, or the cure that eradicates it from the collective pop vocabulary? What is the tipping point from cool to uncool? Being used as a joke by the women on The View? Someone has to be studying this.

My basic question - why does no one ask if i can dig it anymore without actually referring to a hole when they do so?

Was the ubiquity of diggin' it born solely from Shaft (e.g. is that when even white people appropriated the phrase for use thereby rendering it totally less cool [we white people do that a lot - unfortunate but true.])? And is that what gets things in the collective pop consciousness to die and be pushed back into the collective pop memory (a.k.a. VH1 Show Development whiteboards), when too many people get access to a phrase? When it's being used in generic, overly popular ways that make it uncool to the people who originally started using it? Or when it's being mass marketed as a thing?

Catch phrases and phenomena from popular entertainment are one thing, but aside from those phrases, few and far between are claims of someone originating a phrase that has become a part of popular dialogue. I was startled, in fact, by Paul Mooney's claim that he originated use of the phrase "N-word (sic - edited because I am not Paul Mooney), please." I mean, that is, to me, a very bold claim. Sure, he'd done the research himself so some bias may have been involved in his tracing it back to himself, but still - wow. You created a phrase adopted into pop language? Impressive. I mean, staggering (Also, that information can be found in Paul Mooney's memoir Black is the New White, which I enjoyed primarily for its completely unapologetic storytelling).

I also wonder if writers or performers who unintentionally create phrases that are adopted by pop language ever see their phrase on a keychain at a 99 cent store and want to get on the store intercom and announce they wrote it, or, if aggressively taking over the PA is not an option, stand by the rack all day and tell passersby that they came up with the phrase that now could be what people look at every time they open their house door, or start their car. I saw a special on Milton Glaser, the artist who created the I (PICTURE OF A HEART) NY graphic in which he describes never having made a cent from that design. A CENT. Can you imagine living your entire life in New York City surrounded by people selling your work and really being fine with it? Glaser made the image as part of an effort to revitalize a city he loves so really, he IS fine with it, as it worked quite well. People do heart NY. Pretty hard. But still, the magnanimity of anonymity seems hard to take. I guess today you could get all the recognition for an idea that you need by posting it as your facebook status. "Ginny DeFrank just created a catchphrase that Hallmark will co-opt for greeting cards aimed at their female 45-55 demographic within a year's time." One thumb's up, and suddenly I'm acknowledged and the sense of achievement overwhelms me. But more on facebook in a moment.

Some catchphrases from pop culture entertainment work wonders - they catch. What am I talkin' 'bout Willis? The Bart Simpson triumverate of "eat my shorts," "don’t have a cow man," "cowabunga" comes to mind. Then there's the "Get 'er done" of Larry the Cable Guy, which is referenced both for genuine recognition of the enjoyment of the phrase, as well as ironically by another segment of the population making fun of those taking genuine pleasure in the phrase and act associated with it (if you're reading this, you're probably in this latter category).

Other catchphrases just hit and stick with pop culture - The Terminator's "I’ll be back," Jack Nicholson's "You can't handle the truth!," Tom Cruise's "You complete me," Seinfeld's "Yada, yada, yada," etc. etc. etc.

Maybe it just means I'm old, but really - did they spoof catch phrases to make catchphrases before? See: every children's movie trailer looking to hook adult audiences in the past seven years. Phrases that surfaced as bullet-proof marketing for one creative property because they were adopted, imitated, and used by America at-large are now either spoofed or recycled for use with another property. Recently the movie the Tooth Fairy used the tagline "You can’t handle the tooth" in its bus stop advertisements. Upon seeing such marketing, my brain kinda went - man, I must be old, and then ehhhh, really Disney? Maybe it's because I find A Few Good Men to be hilariously sacred. But maybe it's like stealing another movie's thunder to get lightning to strike again. Seems like cheating.

Anyway – totes moving on, how's about the abbreviation of "totally" that has become "totes"? Remember when Totes was a popular brand of gloves and slippers that really slammed the advertising onto us in the month right before Christmas? Or how about how everyone from ages 15 to, hm, I'll say 40? now uses the word "fail" as a precursor to anything that does not work as it should, including minor accidents like spilling a drink, or major life events. For example, if one were to ask a girlfriend to marry him and to get a negative response, upon retelling the story, something like "lifemate acquisition fail" might be used to cap it off. Totes might say something like that to one's best bud. Turn exclusively to a life of "bromance" after a fail that epic. (Epic is, in the opinion of the crockpot, vastly over-used. At nigh epic proportions. Because really, if everything is epic, epic kind of loses its meaning, no? Totes loses its meaning).

Originally I thought totes and fail were in the same category of, I think online creation and dissemination for cultural adoption, but then I remembered maybe it's Paul Rudd's character saying "Totes Ma'goats" in I Love You, Man (also one of the originators of common acceptance of "bromance!") that totes brought totes to the tongues of teens and twenty-somethings everywhere. I totes catch myself saying totes when I talk to myself, but then I am mad at myself for totes using it. The question is, why do I not want to be part of the pop culture using "totes"? Fail, to my hypothesizing, became massively popular in use because of, a blog devoted to enumerating failures of all kinds in visually hilarious ways. A viral sensation among links friends forward to friends, suddenly folks took the link and FAILED to not also take the adoption of "fail" into their vocabularies. Interesting and new. I am not saying I'm above it. Nope, totes use the fail. This blog? Brevity fail! But why do some popular phrases become attractive to and used by some, but hated or eschewed by others? What's the difference there? And what can jump all boundaries and attack an entire culture?

Two fabulous examples of ubiquitously recognized, yet widely and vehemently loved or hated, depending on one's stance, are the abbreviations LOL and OMG. Created to make texting, tweeting, chatting, facebooking, easier, faster, simpler, less keystrokey, laugh out loud and oh my God both serve a purpose in abbreviating commonly used phrases or reactions people have that it takes words to communicate in visual only media. If the other person cannot hear you laugh, typing "I am laughing out loud" indicates that one is laughing like, for real laughing, not laughing to oneself. LOL simplifies this entire concept into three letters. Yet I know many many fine people who HATE the LOL, because it also represents a different type of computer user, a different level of communication sophistication, and, in many cases, a different age level. Like, maybe one belonging to someone still following Miley Cyrus's Twitter feed. So how is the decision made that no, something that, for all intents and purposes does simplify communication, should not become something one uses? And in the recent movie ads for It's Complicated (also a Facebook reference), Alec Baldwin's character says "O.M.G. I thought he would never leave." This line was funny enough to enough people that it was selected for MASS AUDIENCE RECRUITMENT. A joke that played best to the most people, I'm sure. And it's true! Not only would parents and middle-aged people of an age akin to that of the cast think that adopting the language of the kids these days be a plucky thing to do, but so would I, someone who is a child of the people depicted by Meryl Streep and Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, but still too old to have organically adopted O.M.G. into my vocabulary. Who draws the line between ironic use and intended use? And how does one create a line that spans the two? And, when does a line go out of style? And, who let the dogs out? Alas, those seeking answers kinda got the Shaft.

These are the mysteries of pop culture. This was definitely an epic point clarification fail by me, but I totes put the word "crock" in the url so that I can't be taken to court. WYSIWYG, ya'll.

Olympic aside - the crock would like to personally congratulate American alpine skier Julia Mancuso for winning 2 silver medals (neither of which even SHE thought she would, according to color commentators) and skiing her butt off at the Vancouver games. Her 2 new and totally unexpected silver medals (despite her wearing a tiara, I still like her because she's getting a PR shaft), she has remained no more than an afterthought in NBC's coverage. She TIED the all-time record of 3 women's alpine medals with her other medal from Torino. So like, record holder who was a complete underdog is not enough of a story, how? Only because Lindsay Vonn is the one with the talking points and the press package. Come on NBC, love everyone, not just the face people. I shouldn't like Lindsay Vonn less because she's got a better publicity machine. But I do because it's overshadowing some folks doing amazing and unexpected things - like being the second best in the world at two things in two days. Um, recognition fail!


  1. I don't think it's a true dedicated PR machine that is getting Lindsay the attention. She's hot. Similarly, Kelly Clark the snowboarder... not that hot, but an amazing athlete. Who did we get more face shots and video of her in Africa from? The hot blond chick, gretchen. Notice how they are all in full makeup at the end of their runs too? No real athlete works out in makeup. I want to hate the Olympics... but it is so hyped and shiny and exciting! They are preying on some instinctual need to care about these people I've never met doing sports I don't believe exist. AAUUUUGH.

  2. I do think it's a PR machine. Her husband and coach's nickname is T.V., partially bc those are his initials, partially bc he's always on tv. bc guess what, he's also very hot. End of the slope? Mic overhearing their talk? "Suck it up [stop crying], you look good, you look good" (go greet your fans and get a Wheaties endorsement. I think they're working w/ all they've got, which is also a whole lotta hot. And, for the record, Julia Mancuso is also very pretty. She's just not groomed to be the golden girl, and i think L. Vonn absolutely is. Adorable USA Olympic rings pom pom hat? On immediately! Golden, in every sense.

  3. I actually hate Lindsey Vonn. I've written two blog posts about her and then took them down because they were too mean. Also, I think it's at least 50% NBC's fault that I hate her. I am also pro-Mancuso, even with tiara.