American Trends & Fads
Americans either stay on top of things, or they don’t, and when they don’t, they may feel a bit out of place with the conversations around them. For the longest time, I wondered how many folks understood the term “woke” to describe people.
One of my favorite resources for understanding the street interpretations of the words and phrases in Americana patois is the UrbanDictionary.com. They define “woke” as the act of a person being pretentious about their care of a social issue. The attempts of some to impress by dishing out their feelings of importance about issues does overwhelm at times, but I think the crowd-sourced Urban Dictionary misses the mark by weaving pretention into its definition. It was similar to the way Fox News spent so much time disparaging the concept. It’s like a mother beginning to use Facebook and then her kids deride the platform because it has gone mainstream and is no longer hip.
Hip is a baby boomer word. Back in the day we used it when we liked some thing or person. When a band was hip, it didn’t mean “hipster,” like today, it meant the group was trendy, cool and up on all the latest things. Some say it was a perversion of the word “hep,” as in “hep cat” from the Jazz era, but who knows? The only hip baby boomers care about today is the joint that connects their legs to their upper torsos.
American trendsetters often guided us toward the next big things, but they weren’t always right. If you bought a Betamax video recorder, you may have been hip but you were also wrong. During the fashion era, woke fashion leaders told us guys to wear skinny ties, then wide ties, then no ties at all. Women know this game much more profoundly than men because their styles are annually dictated by the wild ideas of Paris and New York. It takes a long time for JCPenney to catch the fever of a new style, but by the time they do it’s no longer woke.
It’s funny to me how politicians get their underwear in a wad, whether they are wearing briefs, tidy whities or if they have gone commando. Thanks to the Urban Dictionary, we know that means not wearing underwear. The origins for this are either “out in the open” or “ready for action,” but one must know the difference between a fad and a trend.
In 1982, I read the book Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives. This was written in our pre-internet days, so the author used newspaper coverage as a gauge for analyzing data. He simply counted the number of column-inches each subject got in all the newspapers and used that to determine how those topics were trending. He also explained the difference between a short-term fad, like Davy Crockett hats, and the true megatrends that propelled our nation. By reading that book I learned that northern industrial cities would lose populations and southern cities would grow, and that’s exactly what happened.
In June 2020, the magazine Psychology Today published an article titled, The Promise and Problems of Being Woke. Here’s an excerpt, “Many people, especially the youth, have a heightened awareness of our troubled past and, understandably, seek to correct our collective wrongs. This is where the term “woke” comes into play. It is defined as, ‘aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).’” Note the difference between the Urban Dictionary definition. In this case, being woke is all about alertness with no posing implied.
The article continues, “Perhaps the long-overdue correction of ‘wokism’ is, sometimes, leading to an over-correction of sorts.” We saw that recently with the uproar about the Academy Awards that led to the Twitter campaign of #AcademySoWhite. The Academy acted and moved the needle rapidly because they had a huge backlog of African American scripts, projects and casting. Aside from the host-less, humor-less awards show this year, there were so many honors for projects by people of color that someone commented, “Why is everything about Black people?” That wasn’t racist; it was merely an observation. It reminded me of being the only white person at a 1970s Motown review concert. I loved the music but wondered why I was the only white guy there.
Our society often uses political correctness and shunning to block people with different opinions. There was a strange reaction when the term #BlackLivesMatter surfaced. First, it wasn’t very “woke” to say “all lives matter.” The goal of that phrase wasn’t promoting equality but rather diluting the indictment. When Trump stated that the “BLM movement is racist,” all chances of respect were lost. Most people don’t understand that slogans like “blue lives matter” create one colossal petri dish of cancel culture.
Here is a question. If the idea of being woke is “seeking to correct our collective wrongs,” then aggressors who push back at the woke patrol are attempting to stop that effort. The rebellion by some Republican lawmakers against the New York Times 1619 Project is an attempt to block truth from the next generation so they will never do the “woke” thing. I used to use the term “mulatto” when referring to people of mixed race, then stopped using the word when I discovered it’s appalling “nod and wink” origin as the offspring of a male donkey (a jack) and a female horse (a mare). A person of mixed race is not an animal, they are a person. Once I had the correct information, I was able to eliminate a wrong. I’m not woke for knowing, I’m just trying to do the right thing.
I would suggest that the term and concept of “woke,” is not a trend but a fad. People may hang their hat on the word, but the expression and label don’t automatically fix the world. “Woke” is just another class one joins. The belief beyond the word has the potential of profoundly changing the world. And of course, conservatives hate the word because they know, deep down inside, they will never be allowed in the club. Poor babies.
The foundation of the woke movement is people with strong social convictions wanting to make a better world, but it’s a world they are defining, not really a democrat truth. I might get canceled for suggesting here, but all they want us all to do is wake up and smell the coffee, or for a woke person, smell the cappuccino.
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