Kick Me In The Balls, And I’ll Learn To Love It

When I was twenty-one, I spent half my time crafting awful nicknames for my closest friends.  The goal was twofold:

1)  Find a strange habit of a good buddy of mine did that nobody else had noticed;
2)  Think up a “sticky” nickname, something clever and memorable, that would highlight this unnoticed character flaw in a way that others would immediately laugh at.

If I was successful, then suddenly we’d spend the next three weeks chortling about the way Matt swung his arm back and forth when he got excited about something.  If my nickname was really successful, then others would start riffing on the gag, and Matt’s swinging arm would become a locally viral sensation, where we’d find  a way to riff on Matt’s arm in every movie we watched.  Hey, was Arnie on TV?  He’s the Arm-inator! And we’d laugh ourselves hysterical about Matt, the contract killer, who slaughtered his victims by whirling his errant arm like a helicopter blade.  We’d draw pictures.  We’d imitate Matt with a Teutonic accent.

It was the pre-Internet version of a meme, where we’d endlessly permutate MTV videos to make them all, somehow, about Matt’s arm. All while Matt stood there, nodding stoically, acknowledging that ha ha, have your kicks if you need to.

This may seem cruel.  It was.  The only thing that made it okay was that Matt – and everyone else in my group – was trying to do the same thing to me… partially, because if they were successful at making me the kicking bag of choice for a few weeks, they got kicked less.  But there were about fifteen of us, all out to viciously exterminate each other’s self-esteem through humor.

Thing is, we took pride in our ability to endure.  The whole point was that we were brutally honest to each other, and we could take it.  Sure, I was fat, and had buggly eyes, and couldn’t hold my pot, and… well, I could go on about my failings for days, because in my time with that group every single one of my sins was enumerated, expanded, and roundly mocked.  There was literally nothing unusual about me that wasn’t held up to the light and blown up to Godzilla-sized proportions, to the point where it seemed like I was a walking tub of bug-eyed lard, because everyone was angling to tear me down.

But I didn’t have to be nice, which was another term for “dishonest.”  Being nice meant that you pretended that Mike’s hair wasn’t weird, or that Jake’s habit of wearing a tie wasn’t pretentious and idiotic.  Why should we have to tiptoe around these quirks?  Why should we hide our annoyance?

Why should we deprive ourselves of laughter?

Sure, you had to occasionally take one for the team, but that gave you an honest crossroads for improvement: you could fix the problem, or learn to love it.  Hey, was I fat?  Could be thin.  Hey, was Matt swinging his arm?  Well, he could learn to take pride in that arm-swinging, go over the top of us, and make arm-swinging one of his signature traits, to the point where we’d actually respect him for it, because by God the man may swing his arm but he fucking owns it.

We’d still mock him, but now it was a more respectful mocking.  Matt was a tough bastard.  Stood up to us.

That’s the way things should be.

And maybe sometimes you wanted a break from all of this hi-lar-ious humor, sometimes you wished you could just go to a party and not have someone call you “Fat Willy Wonka” and fucking deal with it, but that wasn’t the kind of world you lived in.  You learned to cope by shooting first; they couldn’t hurt you if you blitzed them, so you’d arrive at a party loaded up with bon mots and new nicknames and the right people to insult.  Better to get your chucks in now.

And maybe sometimes, you showed up fully loaded for bear for that party, and everyone else’s bon mots were funnier than yours, and you wound up the goat.  Which sucked.  But you could get ‘em again, tiger… and if you couldn’t, then maybe you could latch on to one of the funniest guys, laugh really loudly at all of his jokes so he’d be less inclined to pick on you (though he would sometimes just so he didn’t look soft).  This eventually led to subfactions where you had people allying with each other, these groups of hyenas laughing loudly, and one guy who everyone was trying to please because he could turn the tide of opinion.

But we were honest.

Very, very honest.

You can see that kind of honesty all over a lot of traditionally male culture; Howard Stern is the key man for such an environs, and its stamp is also all over Jackass.  40 Year-Old Virgin deconstructs that culture from start to finish, showing its appeals and limitations, which is why I love that movie so.  It’s a brutal, Darwinian environment where empathy is discouraged, and laughter is encouraged at any cost.

The reason I bring this up is because I heard this exchange the other day:

“That’s so gay.”

“Really?  You realize how you’re damaging actual gay people by using their name as a pejorative.  I see your name’s Harold; how’d you like it if we called everything terrible ‘Harold’?”

And I thought: If I was twenty years old, I would fucking grow to love it.  I would take that bowl of metaphorical thumbtacks and gobble them down, because this crude attention meant they at least acknowledged me.  And if I held up under it and never cracked, eventually I’d start referring to bad shit by using my own name, and eventually the guys would realize I was one of them, and I would be one of the hardest motherfuckers in the crew.

So those gays?  Should toughen the fuck up.

That’s the thing. My old crew wasn’t honest.  Nobody would have fucking noticed Matt’s swingy arm if we hadn’t been on patrol for it.  If we were really honest, we would have said, “Hey, we’re all insecure, and desperate to do anything to deflect attention from our own flaws, and by laughing hysterically and bringing everyone down to our level, it makes us feel better.”  But we didn’t, and we didn’t acknowledge how these supposed irritations we found were ones we were hunting for.  We wanted to be vexed.  We wanted to find something to mock.  We wanted to feel like there was no grace or charm in life, just a cobbling of sad quirks and ugliness, because not all of us could have grace.

But when you deal with these folks – and there are a lot of them – you have to realize that empathy as a tactic will fail.  For them, empathy is a weakness.  If you can’t deal with their quote-unquote truth, then you caved to other people’s opinions.  And what do those other people matter?  They don’t.  They totally don’t.  That’s why you spend all of your time mocking other folks, to show them the wisdom of not caring.  That’s why you’re out there, making people mad, trying to get them to act as you do, because if the whole world acted this way then you could justify it completely and have no nagging worries when you’re alone or just feel too battered to deal with this shit.

Do I know how to reach them?  No.  But asking, “How would you like it?” will never work.  Because if you kicked them in the balls, they would grow to love it, because that meant they passed the test.  They endured.  And thus, the world should learn to be like them.

Sad.  And true.  Two words that go together a lot, if you’re truly honest.

3 Comments

  1. gwen
    Nov 26, 2012

    Jesus. Harsh. And utterly true, especially: ‘… by laughing hysterically and bringing everyone down to our level, it makes us feel better.”’
    I always waffle between being tough, and being kind, even to myself. I think I want to be both. I wonder if that’s a thing anyone can ever be?

    • TheFerrett
      Nov 27, 2012

      I think like most things, it’s a mixture. The best stuff in life is gray.

  2. ilya
    Nov 30, 2012

    I rarely had to deal with this but I remember when I started a new job there was a guy there who was exactly like this. Always making jokes at your expense. I understand that it was his way of bonding and I gave as good as I got. But eventually I just grew weary of it. So I just stopped responding, my “reputation” already established. But very soon after that he quit so I never found out where it would go from there.

    The other mutual coworker/friend who participated in these exchanges stopped doing it when the guy left. It just takes one person to change the dynamic.

    I do think that if no one took the bait and laughed along they would stop eventually.

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