Is it just me, or are we turning into a society of don’t give a damn(ers)? Everywhere I look I see these cheeky memes – typically subverting the wholesomely retro image of a smiling housewife – with a statement that invariably reads something like “Darling, does it look like I give a (insert colourful word here)?” I pass department store windows and can’t help but notice the vast array of T-shirts bearing similarly irreverent slogans. And cyberspace appears to be crowded with images of young people (literally and figuratively) holding up the middle finger to the world. It seems like less of a fad and more of a growing epidemic!
The iconic smiley face of yesteryear accompanied by the cheery “Have a nice day” has been replaced, it would seem, by the ‘bird’ – and the tag line now reads “(Again, insert colourful word) You!” On the surface of it, it’s defiance dressed up as humour and sarcasm. All of these power statements serve to proudly assert the “I don’t care” mantra of the individual in question. More specifically… “I don’t care what you think of me.” “I’m immune to your taunts, insults or problems.” “Look at my face, is my face bovvered?” Much like the character from The Catherine Tate Show trying to get out of awkward situations by feigning indifference, I find these feisty claims of imperviousness and lack of concern to be very telling indeed…
I sense a great deal of vulnerability behind the bravado. In fact, I get the distinct feeling that most of these folks secretly do care – but they don a cloak of bravura to hide their brittleness. All that witty tough-talk belies a certain fragility.
As I observe the emergence of this culture of ‘unaffectedness’ I’m filled with a deep sadness. Because if so many young people are professing (make that protesting) to not care, then it suggests that they’ve either experienced – or are in constant anticipation of – cruelty or abuse in some form or the other. It’s as if they’re on high alert, expecting attack. Much like when somebody unconsciously folds their arms whenever they feel threatened or uncomfortable. I think it speaks of their need to feel safe and protect themselves in an increasingly hostile and belligerent society that so many young people have taken to adopting such an antagonistic stance.
I can hardly blame them. We live in a sometimes cruel world. Human beings are capable of evil awful things. Prejudice, bigotry, bullying, hate speech, uncaring and cutting remarks are rife. Random, unsolicited acts of kindness are rare. Our cynicism is raging. It’s really hard to maintain a positive outlook when negativity and ugliness get the lion’s share of the prime time news. So many people seem to me to be all gnarled up inside. They’re hurt. Angry. They’re lashing out. They’re those trolls and ‘haters’ – channeling and offloading all their rage and pain upon unguarded bystanders. It’s no wonder so many people are all prickly and on the defensive!
But is developing a thick skin or faux imperviousness really the solution? Isn’t there a danger that not giving a damn prevents us from seeing and experiencing the good things – the beautiful things – too? Might I offer another approach, Dear Young Person?