Monday, March 16, 2009
SMUG? DON'T BE.
Smug. What a word. What a notion. It sounds smug. It looks smug. In this way it may be the perfect word. For me, it has very much been the word of the winter period 2008/09.
My use of it began towards the end of last summer. I run a bar that is awkwardly situated under a fabulously pretentious jazz club. The kind of jazz club where you sit down at tables with red wine and stroke your beard (whether you have one or not) to, what to me sounds like the sonic equivalent of someone having a desperate, frustrated wank. If you, during a performance have the temerity to make the smallest sound, someone old with an impossibly thin ponytail will turn around and very loudly “shh” you.
Anyway, the place is run by a gaggle of jazz heads that are very serious about their joyless cacophony, in the way that you’d expect a bunch of half-baked, pseudo-educated pedants would be. They are so purist about jizz-jazz that they’ve ended up with the polar opposite of the original idea of jazz, leaving it all wet, white and wank. The point is that they are so convinced that, because of their taste in music, they have some sort of moral high ground, that those who do not share it, should fear it and respect them on the grounds of their preference. It’s aesthetic blackmail, which is absurd.
I don’t take kindly to being spoken to in a condescending manner because I like pop and think it’s as important to dance, fuck and get wasted, as it is to read, listen and think. My point is that that kind of elitist, purist twaddle is really smug, and I’m sick of dealing with it. However, and this is my absolute favourite aspect to the beautifully complex “smug”: it is impossible to use it in the way it is intended without implicating yourself; accusing someone of being smug is a fantastically smug thing to do - The Curse of Smug.
Lets face it, it is impossible to criticise someone for congratulating themself, without implicitly congratulating yourself, for not congratulating yourself.
In my mind there is absolutely nothing wrong with congratulating yourself on occasion, especially if, as in my case, your achievements are generally quite small and insignificant and no one else is likely to acknowledge them. But lets tackle another word listed as a synonym to smug: self-satisfied. No human being living in this world could ever deserve to feel self-satisfied, not even if you’ve just won the Nobel fucking peace prize, because the state of play is just not satisfactory, by anyone’s standards. Also, if you are satisfied, you are without a doubt a complete bore and of no use to anyone. In fact, you are barely human, if at all.
It is after all the dissatisfaction intrinsic to human beings that make us “special”; makes us innovate, learn and experiment. In fact, monkeys and great apes indulge in the aforementioned activities, so if you are not making stuff, acquiring some knowledge or trying some shit out, you are definitely a bit crap, like a whelk or an asparagus perhaps. You’re not as fun as monkeys, that’s for sure.
Let’s return to the paradox that is smug though; as you may have noticed, I by writing this, appear unbearably smug. I am not surprised; I was once accused of being an Olympic Narcissist. Narcissism is often confused with smugness, even though they both display similar attributes in a social context, their root causes are completely unrelated to one another. Narcissists are fundamentally insecure and wrestle with a perpetual sense of social inadequacy: obsessed with how they come across. Unfortunately, this obsession has the opposite of the desired effect, narcissists are usually too busy having the right haircut to pay attention to anyone else and as a consequence, do not come across well at all. On a happy note, most narcissists grow out of it, usually their self-obsession is an expression of immaturity and most people do eventually grow up and get over themselves.
In a galaxy millions of light years away from insecurity and a sense of social inadequacy, “smug” does not doubt itself and is confident that it is socially superior. “Smug” is a gaseous giant, rotating on its own axis, smelling its own gassy explosions and loving it: “smug” revolves around what looks like a star, but it is in fact Satan’s arsehole, from which he (the dark lord himself) dazzles the planet Smug with glaring sunbeams. Planet Smug shares a solar system with the planet Arrogance, but Arrogance is a cold, lonely rock at the very outskirts, unable to enjoy the warmth or light of Satan’s rectal radiance.
“Smugness, like ragwort, is incredibly difficult to get rid of once it's taken root. The hot bath of achievement may have long disappeared down the plug hole of life, but the scum line of smugness will last until it's scoured off by the Brillo of ridicule.”
Fighting “smug” and its curse is a tricky one: first of all, “smug” loves company. Smug achievers will stick together: recyclers, cyclists with helmets, parents with “gifted” offspring, and “spiritual” people. They will sit around and congratulate each other endlessly, exaggerating the value of one another’s achievements until they have blown so much smoke up each other’s arses that they loose all perspective. If this is allowed to carry on the layer of smug-smoke becomes noxious and impenetrable, the only ones able to survive in these foul conditions are the sanctimoniously extreme; people like Oprah Winfrey, Jeremy Kyle, Sarah Ferguson, Trevor McDonald, Tom Cruise or Robert Kilroy Silk. These people are beyond any redemption; they have become immune even to the most advanced satire. I call this phenomenon the Talk Show Host Complex, it takes hold in those who live their lives patronizing others, those whose opinions are never questioned, whose advice is never rejected: the self-appointed anointers. Ignore them, they’re screwed anyway and so is anyone who pays them more than strictly anthropological mind.
Secondly, you cannot fight smug with any degree of earnestness what so ever, which means that Canada is doomed (oh well, never mind), the war must be fought in the style of a satirical ninja: close, hand-to-hand combat, peppered with swift blows. There can be no heroics, grand gestures or parades in the war on smug, for obvious reasons, but the next time someone in your vicinity talks to you with their eyes closed, tells you that you’d be much better off doing things their way or lets you know how good their insurance is when you’ve just been burgled, rip the shit out of them immediately. The future of the human race depends on it.
If you remember only one thing, remember this: Not being shit is not the same as being great. At least if you’re shit, you’re probably interesting.
Mia Tagg 2009®
More Smug? “Smug Alert”, Episode 1002, Season 10 of South Park.