Word Badge

January 20, 2015 “In the last analysis” was a word badge in 1964, paradigm and stochastic in 1974, reify and conflate in 1984, privilege and marginalize shared the spotlight in 1994.  A single word or phase identifies a half- generation of intellectuals, scientists, artists - a hipoisie, not crazy enough to be the avant garde but surely had a taste of what it was up to. Academic buzz words that transcend the jargon of a single field.  these words are hot stuff for a few years as they pass from professors on the cutting edge to their graduate students then through journals and conferences out to the rest of academia ending up on the lips of an entire cohort.  Are you in or out?

Why do these signifiers of the inside scoop matter?  How do they work?  Why do they evaporate into uncoolness after a few years of omnipresence?  they are generational markers that with a single word signal an entire Kool Aid cocktail of authorities endorsed, novels read, humor shared, scientific, literary, artistic dogma ingrained.

Just say stochastic in 2015 and one knows that advanced degree in whatever was received in mid- late 1960s-early 1970s and this person carries the full-Boomer package: Modern Synthesis Darwinism, early Elvis, Beatles-Stones with a side of Simon and Garfunkel, love JFK, hate LBJ and Nixon, don’t connect with pop music after James Taylor, CSNY and Carole King, read Thomas  Kuhn’s first edition, snickered snidely at Desmond Morris and Robert Ardrey, smoked a little weed while reading Carlos Castaneda to a paramour with Dead on the stereo and a half-written thesis stewing over at the Smith corona. “Catch-22” and anything by Vonnegut.  If into the humanities: One swerved along with Harold Bloom, thought McLuhan was indecipherable but wouldn’t admit it, strained to understand the five frogs: Delueze, Debord, Derrida, Baudrillard and Foucault.  If into art - Camp was getting moldy, minimalists were cool, race and gender render was getting traction, Richard Prince was stealing, Cindy Sherman and David Salle were the last of the line then it all gets fuzzy.  One word - stochastic - unlocks this whole package that need not be spoken - it is taken for granted.

When one hears “In the last analysis” Dave Brubeck and Kingsley Amis pop into the brain along with a Mort Sahl and Leny Bruce comedy LP,  deep respect for Freudian psychoanalysis and use of the term psychoneurotic if English.  One gets Francis Bacon and Franz Kline, acknowledging de Kooning as an all-time master while totally mystified by current auction prices, feared the Soviet Union and the nuclear threat  but jury still out on Stalin - he DID defang Hitler.  Brainworms consist of “Doggie In The Window” “Ghost Riders In the Sky” and “Hot diggity” along with some “Chewing gum Losing Flavor”  and “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands”.  Graham Greene and John Le Carre said it all. First plane ride was in a DC-7 and one got dressed up for the occasion.

James Bond is too cool for words.

Reify and conflate bring up early Zep, “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, Watergate, semiotics, deconstruction, Julian Schnabel’s broken plate extravaganzas, study in Verona or Barcelona, six months at The American Academy in Rome.

One reads an Op-Ed piece by a shiny face thirty year old assistant professor who introduces the language of gender-filtered marxist postmodernism and one can almost name his graduate thesis advisor and the University where she teaches - smell the burnt spandex of the bra and spy the tattered Sontag paperback with the cat pee stain next to the avocado plant.

Here in Nashville in 2015 there is a language of fundamentalist Christianity that I have yet to penetrate.  I hear the words “brother” and “amen” in otherwise normal conversation between very hip, intelligent people and wonder about the scope, the scale of the belief that it signifies.  One hears a man refer to his conversation mate as “brother” and it means they both believe God created the world in six days 5,000 years ago not because it’s true but because it signifies.  They are part of a very large southern family that does not involve northerners, big city slickers, jews, blacks or non-believers - no offense to these folks - hey! we love ‘em all - work with ‘em every day - they just don’t belong among the elect.  They rarely miss a chance to thump the Bible.  Mention of The Bible will come up in an otherwise normal conversation - weird.

Word badges are not jargon though they may have evolved from it nor are they buzzwords or slang.  A word badge has the power to signify the core beliefs of an entire demographic: its zeitgeist, its genius loci, literature, humor, athletic and political heroes, hot cars, movies, songs - the whole ball of wax.  Say one word and we know you - “Ducky” - child of depression, WWII vet or teen, the whole 1950s atomic consumer suburban “LIFE magazine” deal. “Stochastic”-academic heyday in 1972, genetic drift, computational modeling. “Camp” - Sontag, Warhol, Batman on TV, the closeted gay subtext opera/ballet, Judy Garland, Busby Berkley musicals.