Archive - Aug 27, 2010

What Ever Happened To Petty Bullshit?

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Memo to Matt Zoller Seitz: YOU'RE WELL-DUMB.

OK, I freely admit that this one has been sitting at the bottom of the pile for like two months, and I'm only bringing it up now because the thought of writing about Alan Simpson makes my ears bleed. But back on July 5, Matt Zoller Seitz inflicted upon the readers of Salon a piece straight from the bowels of Andy Rooney's recycle bin - a lengthy piece entitled "What Ever Happened To 'You're Welcome'?

Now, I do all my Salon reading via RSS these days so that I can avoid accidentally reading any Camille Paglia articles, and this one had the kind of title that screamed STAR ME. Unfortunately, it also had the kind of premise that screamed THIS CAN WAIT, and so it has. But basically, Seitz, or Zoller Seitz, is cranky because nobody says "you're welcome" when he thanks them anymore.

Now, if Google Image Search is to be believed, I am about to shock you. Matt Zoller Seitz is not 87 years old, and is not in line ahead of you at the supermarket trying to pass off an expired coupon for the wrong size of Ensure. I know that's hard to accept, but it's true. He's probably under 50. He has a Twitter account. And he flies into such an incomprehensible rage whenever someone substitutes "no problem" for "you're welcome" that he writes long pieces about it. Long pieces that Salon inexplicably publishes. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"'No problem' translates as, 'What I did for you was not the sacrifice you so charmingly believe it to be. I hereby release you to get on with your day, blessedly free of guilt.' In other words, 'No problem' reverses the terms of the transaction. Rather than your doing a favor for an establishment by shopping there, suddenly the establishment is doing you a favor by having its employees help you, then reassuring you that it was no big deal, seeing as how you were already in the store and all."

OK. I say this as someone who admires thoughtfulness and self-awareness and analysis in most of its forms, but this motherfucker thought WAY too much about this, for WAY too long, and has somehow overlooked a key blind spot in his use of a retail analogy. The employee is not the establishment. When you thank a minimum-wage Wal-Mart employee, you're thanking the employee, not the establishment. And since the employees are not making a living wage or enjoying themselves at all, yes, they ARE doing you a favor by helping you. Especially because you come off as a bit of a dick.

As a frequent user of "no problem" as a response to gratitude, I need to let Seitz in on a little secret. Ninety percent of the time, it's a lie. When someone tells you "no problem", odds are, you've been a problem. It may not have been your fault, or it may have been entirely your fault. But we're letting you off the hook either way. We're letting you go on with your day, blissfully unaware that you may well be a giant walking bagful of problem. And we do this because we're in a power dynamic that makes it easier to absolve you than it is to fix you.

In such a situation, "you're welcome" is semantically equivalent to "thank you, sir, may I have another?". But we don't want another. We want you to go away with a minimum of fuss. With, if you'll pardon the expression, no problems.

The best, and by best I mean horrifyingly suckiest, bit about the piece is that even after he recounts people explaining to him that language changes, that there's an increasing influence from Romance language expressions like "de nada", and that his pet peeve is shitting all over the carpets and fucking the neighbor's lawn gnome, he still closes with a pathetic "who's with me, guys" paean:

"Am I correct in believing that a two-word phrase — very possibly the most direct and unfussy acknowledgment of gratitude in the English language — is fading fast, and might be poised to go the way of dodo birds and 8-track players? And if I am right, is there any compelling reason to lament its passage? Or should I just take a nice long look in the mirror and admit that I see a grumpy, prematurely old white man who's giving himself agita over things he can't control, and who really should save his money so that he can buy a house with a lawn that he can warn kids to stay off of?

Neither. What you should instead do is take a long look in the mirror and realize that you're an epic douche-waffle who wants to impose archaic and arbitrary linguistic standards on people who live lives mostly downstream of you based upon an overwrought, over-rationalized psychic reading of their motives. And on top of that, you got paid a shitload more than it was worth to complain about it on the Internet. Then maybe you'll learn the difference between a curmudgeon and a tool.