Explaining the Awesome
I’m not precisely sure when the word “awesome” was first used to describe something indefinably spectacular and/or amazing, but it seems as if in recent years, it’s gone from the upgraded, superlative version of “cool” (itself a reissue of “groovy”) to the heavily-used catch-all adjective of our generation. I don’t have anything against the word “awesome” in and of itself, but I do have to wonder at what point we stopped demanding more than “it’s awesome” as justification for holding something in high regard.
My campaign against what I’m calling the “Awesome Generality” stems largely from my experiences arguing on the Internet, a hobby that I really shouldn’t engage in if my tolerance for head-to-desk frustration is feeling low. Sort of like building a house of cards with chopsticks — it takes forever to accomplish what you’re attempting, and even if you succeed, you’ll never have a compelling reason as to why you did it. It seems as if everywhere (or at least on the Internet, that paragon of statistical objectivity), we as a generation seem awfully willing to celebrate or praise cultural icons simply because they’re “awesome.” Those who know me well are keenly aware of what could politely be called a “sensitivity” to Batman and what is more accurately described as a futile effort at counter-hype. The fervor of my crusade against the Caped Crusader is directly proportional to the amount of free publicity that Batman receives from the Awesome Generality. (Ironically, the fact that Batman is so popular and is thus occasionally restricted from use in television has given ex-Batman clone and personal favorite comic icon Green Arrow a shot at the mainstream spotlight, so I suppose there’s a silver lining, after all.)
The idea of the Awesome Generality is like so: An idea — like, say, Batman — enters the cultural consciousness. Over the course of time, its exposure and popularity grow so much that its significance becomes independent of the medium it’s in — for an example, ask Chuck Norris’s PR department, whose campaign to cement his manly reputation has been self-sustaining for years. Batman as a character has been in some legendarily bad comics and movies over the years, but miraculously never seems to lose favor among his fans for it. His devotees have declared him awesome, and awesomeness is a shield against even the most potent bullets of mediocrity. The problem, of course, is that at a certain point, the awesomeness of the idea becomes such a given that its positive characteristics become indistinct and taken for granted. Eventually, the situation reaches a point where you have a single idea surrounded by adoring fans, only some of whom fully understand its genuinely good qualities. And standing behind them are a handful of people (like me) wondering what the big deal is about a brooding rich boy who is consistently paired with interesting villains that make his personality seem bland by comparison.
To be fair, I’d be lying if I said that I’d never shouted “That was totally wicked!” (regional variants of “awesome” exist in many flavors) after an exciting movie or show, and my pants would promptly burst into flame if I attempted to deny that my standards for awesomeness are actually fairly low. Marvin the Martian’s disintegration of Duck Dodgers ranks pretty high on my Awe-So-Meter, which I think puts the lower threshold somewhere between marshmallows in my breakfast cereal and a packet of mustard that isn’t half-water. Pedantic though it may be of me to say so, I’m going to call “public service announcement” and politely suggest that assessments of awesomeness be vetted with self-assessment and a rigorous peer review process. I don’t know about you, but I would definitely be interested in reading a journal of papers on why things like S’mores or lightsabers should be regarded as awesome. It might even be kind of groovy.