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Confessions of a Yum Yucker
To each their own. To a point.
Most days I think there is a very high likelihood that I’ll end up a grumpy old lady.
Oh sure, on the page I’m all pensive but that’s because I’ve had time to think things through. Off the cuff or behind the wheel or gossiping with girlfriends I tend to be more, uh, tetchy.
For a long time I thought of myself as a pessimist, because I believed the world could only be seen as half-full or half-empty. I’ve come to realize that nothing is so binary, and that just because I don’t prance about making Pollyanna proclamations doesn’t mean I’m constructed entirely of doom clouds. I do occasionally keep a ray of sunshine about my person.
But I have a special talent for not liking things that other people think are really quite dandy. Things like Sex and the City. And pumpkin spice lattes. “Poetry” by Rupi Kaur. Leggings by Lululemon. Reality TV shows (bachelors, housewives, Kardashians, bakers, survivors). Also anything having to do with Taylor Swift. (Yeah. I said that.)
My 20s were spent not liking things that other people liked with a special kind of vim and vigor. It was the type of pointless but passionate pursuit you enjoy when you’re still young enough to have energy to waste. Back then I had a belly full of angst and nothing but badly written poems to show for it, so the only surprise about me going full goth is that it took so long to get there (for that I blame my fundamentalist upbringing and resultant lack of cultural awareness).
In my early twenties, I finally found a club I wanted to join. A club full of misfits who got bullied nearly to death in middle and high school and saved themselves by embracing the darkness. By turning it into armor. Into salvation.
I began spending Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and any weeknight I could afford congregating with the rest of the black-clad misfits on the blue-lit dance floor on North Dearborn in downtown Chicago, spinning myself into oblivion as Siouxsie wailed and the Sisters of Mercy claimed Dominion. It gave me a place to belong while I tried to figure out who I really was and where I really belonged.
Going goth also gave me license to sneer at all the sunlit things I already found suspect: blonde boys wearing sportsball caps backwards and cookie-cutter sorority sisters with their Lee press-on (nine-inch) nails. I had misliked and mistrusted them before, but now I had real reason to: they weren’t part of this dark little underworld. In fact, they were the antithesis. They represented everything we rejected, the acceptable cultural norms we were rebelling against.
Before the inevitable monetization and gentrification, before Hot Topics multiplied like a capitalist rash, there was no mainstream supply of tattoo sleeves and guyliner. Goths were a truly alternative subculture, scouring thrift stores and raiding grandma’s closet for bustiers and rosaries and velvet. We were a pack of gleeful outliers and devoted weirdos who clawed out a space of our own. Our dress code was designed to disturb the preps and disgust the frat boys by displaying a variety of nonconformities like shiny medals. We put our insides on our outsides and let our freak flags fly. “We ARE the weirdos, mister.”
Was it silly, all that gothing around? No more so than the rites and rituals performed by the members of any other club that give people a place to belong and a people to belong with. (I mean, have you seen golf?!)
The irony of any counterculture, of course, is that it demands conformity just as surely as it rejects any suggestion of convention. To belong, you must be Other. But specifically Other.
In the case of mid/late 90s Chicago goths, our dress code verged on vampire. We dressed up. All genders. Even if we wore denim in the daylight, when we flocked to the dance floor (under the cover of darkness of course), we wore skirts, gowns, slips, collars, heels, corsets, leather, latex, vinyl, vintage, tulle, and yards and yards of fishnet. T-shirts were acceptable only if they bore allegiance to Alien Sex Fiend, Killing Joke, and friends. Nary a sports team nor baseball hat nor pair of Levis were allowed. That was the uniform of the jocks who laughed and pointed and pelted us with insults. Once we had control of the keys, we locked them out. Let them goggle from the far side of a velvet rope.
For example: The Dome Rome, the Chicago club I frequented most, shared a building with another nightclub called Excalibur. It was the domain of your typical fare of normies and tourists who entered their side of the building by the impossible-to-miss front door. The entrance to the goth club was through an iron gate, down an alley, and up a set of stairs. (Clandestine. Just how we liked it.) Adjacent the bar and across from the dance floor inside, however, a rotating glass door connected the two clubs. It was always locked and usually ignored by both sets of clubbers. But every once in awhile, some intoxicated Biff would catch sight of us and press his gob against the glass to get a better look. “Oh my fucking gawd,” you could lip read him holler for his mates. “Catch a load of these freaks! What are they doing over there, worshipping Satan? Do they think it’s Halloween? Look at this, Jimbo!” And then one of us would alert the rest that the muggles were mugging and we’d all take great pleasure in putting on our freakiest faces and staring the clowns down. They always puffed out their chests and blinked first. “Pfffff, whatever, man! Who needs those weirdos anyway! Gimme another Miller Light and let’s throw some darts.”
*sigh* It was a time.
But I digress. (You should have seen depth of the rabbit hole I just went down looking for 90s goth pix!) What I really want to talk about is the tendency to hate on things other people love. Or as the kids say, “Yucking the yums.”
One day Filha came home from kindergarten espousing a whole new philosophy that I learned about when she dipped a chunk of Granny Smith apple in a blob of ranch dressing. After I reacted with a strong Euw!-slash-full body shudder, she slurped a drip off one small finger and said, “Don’t yuck my yum, Mom.”
“Wait, what?” I said. “What does that mean?”
“Miss Jordan teached it to us today when Berkeley said Rainbow Dash is her most favorite My Little Pony and Nick said, well, he thinks Rainbow Dash has a dumb voice but not as dumb as Pinkie Pie’s. Then Miss Jordan said that if someone else likes something and thinks it is yummy, we shouldn’t say, ‘Eeeeeuw, YUUUUCK, grooooosss.’ We should just let them like their yum, even if it’s different than the things we think are yum. It’s okay to have different yums.”
“Oh. Huh!” I had to sit down to process that one. “That is… really beautiful. I wish someone had taught me not to yuck people’s yums when I was in kindergarten!”
“Mmm-hmmm,” Filha said as she stashed an entire apple wedge in her cheek. “I’m gonna get my ponies and play outside.”
I have been thinking about not yucking other people’s yums ever since. For like, seven years.
I’ve been thinking about all the ways in which I have been guilty of yum yucking. I come by my contrarianism naturally — I was disavowing Cabbage Patch Kids as a niblet simply because they were all the rage and anything that was loved by EVERYBODY was inherently suspect. (Notable exceptions being the Aurora Borealis and Dolly Parton.)
But in the depths of my twentysomething desperation to find myself, to be An Individual, I got mean about it. I rolled my eyes. I perfected a superior kind of chuckle, the kind that lets you know I am definitely not laughing with you. I made my mental list of what I thought was cool and had no qualms about letting you know that the shit you liked was not on it. To this day I cringe when I think about how hard I went on my friend Michael for his ardent love of Nicole Kidman. (Sorry, Michael!)
Lately I’ve been having this conversation about yucking yums with friends who are now parents of teenagers — teenagers with very loud ideas about what is or is not lit. Or fire. Or Gucci. Or whatever word the youths are using for cool these days. My nephew recently told my sister he will never hang out with any girl who is a Swiftie (that’s a hardcore Taylor Swift fan). And while both my sister and I sympathize with his musical elitism, we’ve let him know you can’t just reject a person outright because they prefer pop to punk or whatever. If I had filtered out friends based on musical preference, I’d have tanked several amazing friendships simply because they know every NSYNC dance move by heart, and I think Justin Timberlake is a weasel.
Music is one of those things, though, that most humans get really passionate about. (Not that people don’t get passionate about My Little Pony, rest assured!) Maybe it’s because music, more than anything else, has such power to move us. Not just our bodies, but our moods, our memories. Music finds its way through the smallest cracks, streams under locked doors and lights us up from the inside. Breaks through all those barriers we build to keep ourselves safe. To keep ourselves cool.
Music makes us look like fools and not give a single god damn about it.
What kind of music unlocks us in that way though, that is subjective. And so we get incredibly passionate about what we like and don’t like. Our yums and yucks. We ascribe morality to it. This music is “good” and that kind is “evil” and if you like this or that then you, too, are “good” or “evil.”
Every single generation does this to the next:
>Two years ago Lil Nas X caused all kinds of pearl-clutching amongst conservative preachers and homophobes with his release of the Montero music video.
>Nirvana turned things upside down in 1991 with Smells Like Teen Spirit. GenXers found in him their Grunge Messiah while their Boomer parents screeched, “That’s not real music!”
>In the 1970s Alice Cooper brought shock rock into the limelight and rumors started that all those makeup-wearing rockers were bona fide devil worshippers. Baby eaters, even.
>Johnny Cash wore black “against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others' ideas.” He rebelled all over the 1950s/60s country music scene.
>Bebop in the 1940s was the exact opposite of the highly popular swing music, “featuring willfully dissonant harmonies, breakneck tempos, and frenetic rhythms that made dancing difficult.”
>Jazz forever remade the music scene in the 1920s and caused many an upright white citizen to feel “a profound sense of anxiety.”
>Even supposedly “classical” music like Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring caused a riot at its premier in 1913.
Think about the music you love, the music that makes you feel like you belong in the universe. And then think about the music that makes you feel uncomfortable. Fingernails on a chalkboard, two cats fighting in a barrel, you just don’t get it. How can anybody like that crap? Right? Now just sit for a minute with your feelings about the kind of people who like that music.
Why do they have to be a certain “kind of” people? Why can’t they just like what they like and you like what you like and I’ll like what I like and we’ll all keep our headphones on and make up our own dance moves, silent disco style?
I don’t know why. I don’t.
But I, too, have a lot of feelings about people who like music that I abhor.
Nickleback, for example. If you haven’t heard of them, I’m sorry to ruin your streak of ignorant bliss. Nickleback is a run-of-the-mill Canadian band that has been around for two decades and has been the whipping boy of the musical universe for nearly that long. Nickleback as a litmus test for douchebag. One of the most hated bands in the world. Seriously! (Although apparently Imagine Dragons is now neck-and-neck for that title?)
I’m not sure how it got to be this way. I mean, the band is as bland as any other bro-rock fare; a gaggle of generic white guys flogging their guitars into mediocrity, busy being whole grown ass men who think a lyric like: You’re so much cooler when you never pull it out /‘Cause you look so much cuter with something in your mouth is a good idea.
A music review of the band last year said, “Objectively boring and lacking genuine substance, (lead singer) Kroeger’s gravelly voice has been labelled as a budget version of James Hetfield’s, and that’s not a good thing. Ultimately, the band have failed to create enough material of genuine originality, and their new single ‘San Quentin’ perfectly reflects this point. How anyone is releasing music so heavily reliant on the worst elements of Metallica and Mötley Crüe in 2022 deserves an inquest.”
So. Yeah. Nickleback: musically inferior and lyrically problematic and at best just another misogynistic bunch of dudebros. It’s not hard to yuck that yum. Plus, I have yet to meet a Nickleback fan who makes me re-examine my long-held assumption that loving this band means you, too, are cool with being just one more uninspired, unimpressive chuffnut rolling about this planet with an overinflated opinion of his own self-worth.
See what I mean?
I’m a yum yucker.
What (if anything) does this all have to do with Portugal?
I don’t know. It’s the doldrums of August, I have a lot of random things rattling around in my head and spilling all over my keyboard and I just live here — everything’s not about my zip code.
But. I have thought recently about yum yucking in relation to other English-speakers over here. My fellow immigrants. Starry-eyed expats gushing on chat boards about how magical everything is.
I’ve thought about how easy it is to read their posts and roll some eyes. How thoughtlessly their yums get yucked. How second nature it is for me to go grinch, especially online, especially to strangers. And for what?
I’m not an angst-ridden 23-year-old anymore. I’m not searching for my place in the world. I don’t need external validation to tell me who I am. I like myself just fine.
So perhaps it’s part of my eventual evolution into that grumpy old lady I started this post imagining. Or perhaps it’s just laziness. A temporary lapse of empathy. The endless human tendency to group ourselves into Us vs Them. Friend vs Enemy. Normal vs Weirdo. Good vs Evil.
Kindergarteners are better humans than grownups, maybe. Stingy with their yucks. Generous with their yums. Quick to be and let be.
It would be nice to end here: To each their own! Live and let live! Different strokes for different folks. Agree to disagree. Whatever floats your boat. You do you.
We’re not in kindergarten, and it’s not quite that simple. Also, I’m not Pollyanna, remember?
Yes, more empathy. Yes, less yucking. Yes, float your boat and fly your freak flag and do you with all the joy your heart can muster. But also there is a line that must be drawn. A question that must be asked, which is: Does it hurt anybody?
You can yum your yum all you like and I will (learn to) let you be UNLESS that yum hurts somebody.
Then we’ve got a problem that we can’t just hold hands and kumbaya our way through.
“We can disagree and still love each other UNLESS your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
--This quote is often attributed to James Baldwin but according to my research, it was actually said by writer and speaker Robert Jones, Jr..
Rainbow Dash as your favorite pony or Carrie Bradshaw as your style icon or (sigh) Taylor Swift as your pop princess or Don McClean singalongs on the praça are all well and good. I might not get it, but you don’t need my approval or permission to yum your little heart out!
But when you roll coal to own the libs, it’s your own earth you’re burning. When you holler along to “Try That in a Small Town,” your dog whistle comes through loud and clear. When your favorite author is Jordan B. Peterson, you’re announcing that you’re also a big fan of the patriarchy and you really wish all these women would just shut up and sit down, already. When you MAGA, when you Chega, when you freak out about the Barbie movie because it’s too “woke,” when you use the word “woke” like an epithet but you don’t even know what it means, when you want everyone to yum your gun so you can carry it everywhere, anywhere, for no good reason? Well, we’re not talking about a personal preference for pegasus ponies and Swiftie bracelets anymore, are we?
There’s a line across which a pickup truck isn’t just a vehicle and music is more than a nice tune to hum.
Because the world isn’t as safe — and people aren’t as innocent — as Filha’s kindergarten was.
So I’ll refrain from yucking as much as I am able. But every once in awhile, I’m going to have to raise an alarm.
Bonus Reading Tip: One of the reasons these posts take me so long to craft is that I spend forever hunting down easter eggs for you: links to videos and articles and other juicy morsels that add interest, depth, or context to the main topic I’m writing about. So if you want to get more out of one of these essays, read it straight through and then go back and click the links to see what else you can see!
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Copyright © 2023 LaDonna Witmer