The Triumph of Awkward

The Constellation of Awkward: and we all shine on...
The Constellation of Awkward: and we all shine on…

“Awkward” is a star.  I’m not sure how it happened or who exactly is responsible, but the word is everywhere.  It’s…hot, which is an odd place for “awkward” to be, but let’s face it, anywhere “awkward” goes instantly becomes an odd place, hence its genius.  It’s a pinch of an off-recipe ingredient delivering the ringadingding  punch that lands an ordinary meal on the mat, leaving it to wonder who the hell it is and how it got there.  (Try introducing some cinnamon to Hamburger Helper sometime to appreciate the flavor of this analogy.)

Awkward* has been echoing around the American Pop Lexicanyon for nearly a decade now, and it has a resonance that lends itself to all kinds of disparate applications.   Awkward is making headlines, regardless of its contextual suitability: in International News, “Pakistan’s Awkward Healing Process”, in Sports, “Derek Jeter believes it will be ‘awkward’ without Jorge Posada starting a playoff game”, in Celebrity Beat,  “Megan Fox kissed a girl – and the girl felt ‘awkward'” .  Perhaps Pakistan’s healing process would be better described as “complicated”, or Derek Jeter’s  Posadaless playoff game, “challenging”, or the act of kissing Megan Fox as “not unlike tongue-bathing Satan’s chamber pot”, but nope, Awkward gets the nod every time.

Before Awkward became the bark of a million dogs in our cultural nocturne, it was just an adjective used to describe a dearth of skill or ease in either a physical or social sense.  It was also useful in describing situations created by those demonstrating that dearth of what I’ll call Social Smoothery.  Not surprisingly, it was the go-to word whenever the subject of adolescence came up.  This is something for which I feel a certain personal ownership; like anyone who spent prom night listening to Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland double LP (in its entirety!) on 5 pound headphones, or playing Dungeons and Dragons solitaire, or designing dresses for long-dead noir vixens,  I’d like to say I was into Awkward before it went Hollywood.

Michael Cera: The Sammy Sosa of Goofball

Which is not to say I begrudge its success.  Being intimately familiar with “the real Awkward” allows me to vicariously enjoy its whodathunkit zeitgeist in a “Revenge of the Nerds” kind of way.  Its rampant misappropriation is in itself, so wrong, so triumphantly awkward, I can only compare it to the career trajectory of one Michael Cera, the Sammy Sosa of goofball.

Its popularity as a misused word, however, is revealing.  Given that a culture’s priorities are often apparent in its putdowns,  Awkward’s status as the putdown of choice is indicative of the fact that Social Smoothery is prized in our culture over more honest and enduring attributes.  Anything “complicated” (like peace in the Middle East), or “challenging” (like facing a playoff game at a perceived disadvantage) or “uncomfortable” (like tongue-bathing Satan’s chamber pot–I mean kissing Megan Fox) is deemed Awkward and therefore lacking Social Smoothery as if it were a buzz-killing faux pas at some big party.  The word works a subversive magic when miscast in this crowd-pleaser of a role.  Like a kind of bizarro chameleon that transforms its surroundings to match its ungainly image,  Awkward’s guileless, cumbersome, yet honest presence skews the existing paradigm in such a way as to alert us to the glib superficiality of its surroundings, and gee, how awkward is that.

*Who am I kidding?  Awkward’s gone big time; it can eschew those quotation marks like Madonna ditched Ciccone.

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One Response to “The Triumph of Awkward”

  1. Abba Kafka Says:

    So good. So win. So perfect. As usual.

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