The Basic Bitch: Who Am I?

The term basic bitch (#basicbitch or #basic) recently broke through my thick layers of self-induced cultural isolation to become, as a friend puts it, "my favorite meme of 2014." As many of you know already, the term basic (bitch) signifies an unoriginal person who wears the same clothes and likes the same things as everyone else. In a mislead desire to be original, the basic person simply falls deeper into their demographic stereotype. Although basic largely refers to females, my friends and I believe it can be applied to males as well. The term has been circling for a number of years, as celebrated in the music video by Kreayshawn and pontificated on in magazine articles and dictionary entries. Some feminist bloggers have taken offense as well as others who proudly defend their consumerist habits.

Here in New York City, each neighborhood has its basics: the Basic Upper East Side Bitch can be the 12 year-old prep school girl who wears Uggs and totes expensive handbags, while her mom sports running tights from Lululemon with designer sunglasses and unkempt hair. She drinks her latte and chats with other moms as she drops off the kids and heads to bikram yoga. Or there could be the Williamsburg/Bushwick Basic Bitch who wears skinny black jeans, a faded rock t-shirt, heavy-rimmed black plastic glasses, unkempt hair (this seems to cross neighborhood and class barriers), rides a fixed-gear bike and smokes cigarettes in an art studio off the L train. There is the Silicon Valley/San Franciscan Basic Bitch, originally from the Midwest, now a vegan, who works at an internet start up, calls Uber cabs and lives in the Mission District. There are the typical male and female Basic College Bitches who submit to social norms by joining fraternities and sororities, drinking too much and taking classes according to set prescribed familial and cultural values (ie. Econ 1). And there is the Basic NYC Male Bitch whose life is an extension of these frat years, now an investment banker earning six figures, living in a loft in Soho and banging blond broads whose name he forgets the next day. The list goes on and on.

What is with so many people falling into narrowly defined categories of dress and behavior? And don't I, too, fall in with these cultural stereotypes? I am a white female, originally upper middle class, now barely making it by through working in an art-related field, who lives in a rapidly gentrifying predominantly Latin and African American lower-income neighborhood. Despite my good intentions, I enjoy yoga, kale, coconut water and enjoy buying organic products at the grocery store and/or farmer's market. Typical Basic Bed-Stuy White Person Bitch, I would say if someone described me to myself. How unoriginal.

What can one do to distinguish oneself? This question first posed itself to me in the college art classroom, as I struggled to select a thesis topic. What could I possibly say when, according to Ecclesiastes 1:9, there is nothing new under the sun and each artist simply stands on the shoulders of the giants before him. A favorite college professor, Susan Walp, once told me that for years she was obsessed with the artist Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski), until she discovered his artistic predecessor, Piero della Francesca. And I suppose you could continue this trail back through time until you reached the cave paintings of Lascaux, France. In this light, is there such a thing as originality? In case you are wondering, I settled on self-portraiture for the Senior Thesis once I admitted to myself that my work was rooted in self-expression. I made the conscious decision to turn inwards instead of outwards.

The topic of originality arose two years later in graduate school, were nearly every student mimed the head teacher in style or subject matter. This disturbed me at the time, but looking back I wonder if originality is overrated in a traditional painting atelier setting. Perhaps sublimating the ego is a positive exercise for the hot-headed young American who thinks he is the next Jackson Pollock or Henri Matisse. This is the traditional (may I say basic) formula of the teacher or guru: to break you down and build you up again.

Basicdom is rooted in the fear of being oneself. Listening to one's inner voice, whether you call it intuition, the Higher Self, God, or your gut, is the only way to escape the herd-mentality. Our society's consumer culture prays upon our insecurities, making us believe we have to follow fad diets and eat pills if we are insecure about our weight (Paleo/Atkins/SouthBeach/Mediterranean/Herbalife), shop at Lululemon if we practice yoga, buy lacy bras made in China at Victoria's Secret if we want to feel sexy, wear only designer sunglasses if we feel inferior about our looks, go out drinking in skimpy outfits if we want to hook up and feel loved for just one night, marry around 30 because that's what our family wants us to do, tutor our children to qualify for the "gifted and talented" programs at our public schools (or even better, enroll in a charter school!) if we are anxious about their ability to succeed in get the picture.

Conformity is based in fear and the only way to combat this fear is to reacquaint oneself with oneself. It is not necessary to be original because many of us share tastes in clothes, movies, books and music. Be sure, however, to check whether your tastes are genuinely yours or adopted from peers, family, media and the consumer culture at large. Living without self-awareness, without your feet firmly rooted in the ground is basic and should be avoided. While the term basic bitch is offensive because it unfairly targets females as brainless followers, it points to the larger problem of our society as a whole, which is leading an inauthentic life.


Popular Posts