Over the last decade or so, an alarming disease has spread across the American language. It has rendered speakers, mostly under the age of forty, incapable of articulating a firm declarative sentence. This affliction can be observed in people of nearly every race, religion and credit rating. The most commonly noticeable symptom of this linguistic ailment is an inordinate use of the phrase “I feel” at the beginning of statements where it does not belong.
If one is asked an “Either/Or” question, feelings are irrelevant.
For example; if a barista asks if you would like whole milk or skim in your coffee, responding with “I FEEL like I want skim…” is unacceptable. The barista, who is getting paid very little to wake up early and be scalded all morning, has no interest in your feelings. The barista simply wants to complete your order and move on to the next dehumanizing task of the day. They are not paid enough to acknowledge your feelings. Nobody is. This is why therapists charge such steep hourly fees.
So what, you may ask, has caused this castration of linguistic fortitude? I have a theory that it correlates with, but is not limited to, the following cultural trends and events:
“Self Esteem was invented in the 1980’s. Prior to this time, people were not encouraged to think highly of themselves by default. If one does not have an artificially inflated sense of self-worth, one is less likely to share their personal insights with strangers. In previous generations, a person had to actually accomplish something meaningful in order to be asked for their opinion. Now, one gets a medal just for participation - AND the false sense of entitlement that comes with it.
Home Video Cameras
In the 1980’s and 90’s, American homes were saturated with a new form of technology that turned every family into the stars of their own poorly produced TV shows, still in re-runs during holidays and family reunions to the present day. The home video camera, which began as an expensive novelty item, quickly turned into a ubiquitous documenter of mundane events that could be replayed ad infinitum, or until an overworked VCR scrambled the tape. Previous technologies that produced choppy silent films which required an empty wall and a bulky projector to consume were no match for the ease and portability of VHS tapes. People became accustomed to watching instant replays of their Christmas mornings, Thanksgiving dinners and high school band concerts almost immediately, thus giving everyone the ability to consume themselves as their own entertainment source.
The Writers Strike of 2007-08
In the fall of 2007, a consortium of TV writers banded together for several months and refused to write sitcoms and crime dramas, citing mistreatment and under-appreciation by their producers. Unfortunately, the TV networks were prepared for this. They had amassed an emergency reserve of “reality” shows to fill in the gaps. The American Public quickly adapted to a steady diet of nouveau riche housewives, teen singing contests and food pornography, all of which promoted the culture of self-indulgence and unfiltered “confessional” sharing. When the strike was resolved in 2008, the writers returned to an industry that now demanded more “reality.” Obviously, their plan had backfired. Post-stirke, instead of writing cheesy dialogue accompanied by canned laugh tracks, they had unintentionally created the Bravo network and the catch-phrase, “I’m not here to make friends.”
Weblogs, or as we now call them; “Blogs”
In the late 1990’s, when the internet was measured out in minutes on a phone bill, a new form of self-publication was invented called the weblog. In their primitive form, these weblogs existed as strings of plain text written by mole people for other mole people who needed a medium more permanent than email, but less formal than journalism. The rest of the world was unaware of their existence until the early 2000’s when the masses were given access to things like LiveJournal and Myspace, thus inventing a medium for angsty teenagers, disillusioned college students and under-loved adults to “express” themselves immediately without the buffer of an editor. Every emotional trauma could be published online for the world to consume. This eventually gave birth to current (as of 2016) mediums like Twitter, Instagram and a pile of other instant gratification services that have given the public a false impression that their problems are unique and that their thoughts are valuable.
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So how can we combat this unseemly malady that has turned the American public into self-obsessed whiners? How can we persuade cultural figures like Lena Dunham to stop perpetuating the preponderance of hedonistic turns of phrase in the dialogue of premium episodic dramas that we shamefully hate-watch without cessation? How can we find a balance between self-worth and self-indulgence? These are questions to be left to you, dear reader. Next time you have the urge to provide an explanation for something, qualified by the phrase, “I feel,” ask yourself; why? Do you really “feel” like you need skim milk in your coffee, or can you just ask for it like a grown-up without having to resort to that level of personal oversharing that benefits nobody?