A Year That Took The Awe Out Of ‘Awesome’
It was an “awesome” year. In my annual search for a word that pretty much describes the past year, I have found that almost everything, everywhere, was “awesome.”
I am using the A-word in the sense that I have heard my son’s generation use it since he was in grade school in the 1990s.
To the new generation, I detected, the world boils down to two extremes: everything is either “awesome” or it “sucks.” No longer is “awesome” is reserved for those people or things that actually inspire awe. “Awesome” has grown like a grade-B movie monster into a universal sign of praise (“That’s an awesome necktie”), delight (“You live near here? Awesome!”), and gratitude (“You brought me a cup of coffee? Awesome!”)
But nothing marked 2014 as The Year of Awesome as profoundly as an early December tirade by Fox News co-host Andrea Tantaros against a Senate committee’s report on CIA torture. “The United States of America is awesome, we are awesome,” she insisted. “We’ve closed the book on [torture], and we’ve stopped doing it. And the reason they want to have this discussion is not to show how awesome we are. This administration wants to have this discussion to show us how we’re not awesome.”
My comment: Fear not, Ms. Tantaros. America is still awesome. In fact, I think we look even more awesome for arguing our torture policy openly and honestly, instead of sweeping the issue aside — which would be the opposite of awesome.
But failure could be as awesome as success in 2014. For example:
Awesome Fails, Political Division: This will be remembered as the year when President Barack Obama’s approval ratings slipped so low that, as one friend of mine quipped, even the Thanksgiving turkey wouldn’t take his pardon. Nervous Democrats in red-state midterm re-election contests tried to behave as though they’d never heard of him. Kentucky Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes memorably refused repeatedly to say for whom she voted for president in 2008 and 2012, citing her right to privacy as “matter of principle.” Right. After a strong start, she lost handily to Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell. An awesome fail. As the late Molly Ivins memorably advised, “You got to dance with them what brung you.”
Most Awesome Fail, Entertainment Division: Bill Cosby faced and survived public allegations a decade ago that he had drugged and raped women. But this was the year when cellphone video of a monologue in which rising comedian Hannibal Buress mocked Cosby as “a rapist” went viral in ways that devastated Cosby’s reputation as he refused to discuss the matter. What changed? The new “awesome” generation. Post-boomers like Buress, 31, are too young to have witnessed Cosby’s heyday as a breakthrough multimedia entertainer. Knowing him better as a preacher over the past decade for pull-up-your-pants conservative moral values, they hold him to a different standard. As Saturday Night Live’s Michael Che, also 31, put it in one of the year’s most awesome quotes, “Hey, Bill Cosby, pull your damn pants up.”
Awesome Banking: Lenders have become so tight-fisted since Wall Street’s 2008 crash that even former Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke was turned down for a loan. “I recently tried to refinance my mortgage,” he said during an October conference in Chicago, “and I was unsuccessful in doing so.” When the audience reacted with laughter to that awesome revelation, Bernanke added, “I’m not making that up.” Maybe lenders “have gone a little bit too far on mortgage credit conditions,” he observed. Gee, d’ya think?
A Retreat from Awesome: Remember when military operations in the Middle East rolled out under such awe-inspiring, take-charge names as Operation Desert Storm, Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Fox, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn? Half the battle seemed to be won by attaching a snazzy name to it.
Yet in labeling the October intervention against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, military brass chose the awesomely underwhelming “Operation Inherent Resolve.” As a seasoned broadcaster advised me when I was learning to write for television: “Never use a $100 word if a $5 word will do.”
Will 2014 be the year that buries the overuse of “awesome?” I hope. For now, have an awesome New Year.
(Email Clarence Page at email@example.com.)