Friday, October 22, 2010

Die, Hat Meme, Die!: The Rise of the Ball Cap Menace and the Fall of the American Empire

While mere correlation is not causation, I feel safe in saying that the rise of the infernal ball cap culture among America’s youth bears some direct responsibility for the demise of American global supremacy. You could argue that it was the housing crisis, or fiscal madness in Washington, or overextension in our wars abroad, but maybe it’s the fuckers in their stupid baseball hats who have brought us down.

You know the type, and I’m sure your campus is teeming with these half-witted harbingers of hateful haberdashery. You know what they will bring to campus every day--their cockeyed cap, the Samson-like source of their power. Here they come with their ludicrous head accessory, perched never-straight on their coconut-like crania, serving essentially as an intelligence dial. I can almost hear the drop of the theramin-like pitch as their hats are turned from front to back, telling the world their IQ by the orientation of their brim.

I have fantasies of knocking their hat off and putting it through the cross-cut paper shredder in the faculty copy center. Back in the old days, teachers could do all sorts of Draconian things to students who didn’t meet standards. That’s when education in America generally worked, and before the pussies took over control of our schools. Now, we don’t have ANY standards at all and education is a typhoon of edu-fashions and politically correct, feel-good horseshit, swirling around madly like feces around a drainhole, waiting for the last big flush of our standard of living.

As we all know, straight to the front is how to wear a fucking ball cap. It’s sober, serious, respectable (maybe even indoors) and classic. It shields your eyes and face from the sun. It has a purpose and an historical precedent. Anything other than this, and you are on my shit list, which is written in nearly indelible ink:

Slightly to the side is irreverent and irritating.

90-degrees crooked deserves a HUGE smack, and basically tells the world that you’re a half-witted jerkoff.

100% backwards calls for banishment to a brutal penal colony where you--the utter fuckwit--will serve a life sentence of hard labor and daily torture. It not only looks stupid and abjectly assholish, but doesn’t even allow you to burn rubber in your 1980’s Mustang without having to lean forward in your seat.

Add to this some apical tilt of the cap as it lists to port or starboard, almost falling off of the wearer's head, and you've got a recipe for a thoroughly infuriating absurdity that is better off ceremoniously burned on the campus quad than worn on a human head.

Then there’s the brim itself. It used to be normally curved. Then it became extremely curved in the 90’s. Now it’s fucking FLAT, leaving the wearer looking even more stupid than ever. Leave on a couple of those round, silver stickers and you’ve got a recipe for a Grade A Fuckmunch who should probably just be expelled on sight. Maybe they use the flat brim as a shelf for their energy drinks.

Of course, a lot of this hat madness is influenced by that putrid, rotten “urban” rap "culture" that glorifies violence, anti-intellectualism, unrighteous indignation, a victim mentality, antisocial behavior, and overall patheticness, and our students copy it diligently, unable to come up with their own styles, so this menace transcends race, geography, and even gender. (Yes, Idiot Hats come in pink, too). It has spread far and wide, like all successful memes, and shows no signs of dying out any time soon. Even Obama (“Brothers should pull up their pants”) and Bill Cosby (see Come on People, p. 119, “Back off the Rap”) have opined on this scourge to our society.

Sure, I dressed like an idiot for most of my youth, but I was more-or-less original, and this isn’t about me. It’s about THEM.

The meme has gotten out of hand. Students all over my campus, and my city, state, and country wear these fucking things and they won’t give up the trend. They’re more interested in their precious hat than they are in their own education or self-respect.

But maybe, just maybe, there's a glimmer of light in the darkness, a tide of social sentiment welling up and about to turn...

I was grading papers at Noodles & Company a while back, and a suburban 10-year old put his cap on crooked in front of his mother. “Put it on STRAIGHT!” she demanded. And so he complied. Way to go, mommy. People like you are the defender of the homeland and our dying empire, and I salute you!

(Not only that, but I'd even give her a COOKIE!)


  1. Remember the good ol' days, when gentlemen took their hats off indoors, and certain folk weren't allowed on golf courses?

  2. This post is racist. I'm waiting for the moderator to take it down. Isn't anyone paying attention?

  3. I'm very offended and as I'm an African American, I feel personally attacked. I'm hoping that Fab will take this post down now and block the user from ever coming back again.

    If you have rules, asshole, you have to enforce them.

    I'm still waiting for YOUR apology.

  4. Kenny called it. Talk about something that has "gotten out of hand." I'm hoping the original poster will reflect for a microsecond and delete this.

  5. I continue to be amazed at what's happened here over the past couple of days. The only thing that makes sense to me is that some small group has decided to ruin this page.

    That would be very unfortunate.

    The Jim/Tim stuff from the past couple of days seemed childish and silly, but this post above? It's far more sinister.

    The writer doesn't actually use the term "darkies," (which is vile), but he might as well have.

    I don't know to combat what's happening here, but if you're a true fan of CM, stand up and demand that something get done!

  6. Actually, when I read this post I was imagining obnoxious, smug, horrifying backwards-baseball-cap-wearing frat boys at the 99% white college where I used to teach. Or more of the same at the boo-yah Southern State Massive U at which my husband teaches.

    But I can't quite tell whether the posts screaming racism are serious or not.

    Having problems with the violence and misogyny of rap culture doesn't equal racism. And that violence and misogyny goes back a long ways.

    Do I have to post the lyrics to "Bitches Ain't Shit"? I will, but they aren't pretty.

  7. I thought No Cookies covered the racial/cultural history behind the meme (including the extent to which it derives from a commodified version of "protest" which bears very little resemblance to protests of the mid-20th century in which people who made careful formal dress part of their strategy put their lives on the line to provoke real change) pretty well in paragraph 10. And then there's the clearly hyperbolic title, which sets a tone for the whole piece. I'm not seeing a problem here.

    Or maybe it's just the fact that, on my campus, as on Stella's, the great majority of kids wearing baseball caps at all sorts of angles are white. For the periodic cap-wearers, the purpose appears to be practical: to cover unwashed hair (and maybe also the bloodshot eyes and breakouts that go along with too much drinking, too little sleep, etc. etc.). The habitual cap-wearers (who also tend to hang out in the back of the room) seem to be trying to hide. To some extent, that works -- like several commenters in a recent thread, I have trouble telling white guys in baseball caps apart.

    And I wonder whether, in taking part in this particular discussion at all, I'm rising to bait I should simply ignore (my initial reason for replying was that I found myself disagreeing with Perfesser Slaughter, whom I recognize as a serious participant with whom I generally agree; Stella's and Bernice's comments came in while I was typing -- carefully, because I realize we are touching on some fraught subjects).

  8. For a recent series of comments on the difficulty many of us share in telling white students (especially those wearing caps) apart, see (sorry, my html skills aren't up to linking from words in comments, so I had to go get this after finishing the post above). For those of us who spend a little too much of our time reading posts here, that discussion (which didn't degenerate into name-calling) probably forms part of the context for this post. For someone coming to the post "cold," I can see how it might raise some questions, though I'm still coming down on the side of acceptable hyperbole pretty carefully couched so as to make it clear that the author was *not* making generalizations about African American students, but about students of any color with a herd mentality that leads to their following a trend that originally arose out of one corner of African-American culture (which is, and always has been, far from a homogeneous phenomenon anyway).

  9. I'll agree with Cassandra and Stella. When I think of backwards hats, I think of Ben Rapelisburger on the sidelines.

    Ben, you look like a nimrod. You act like the worst rapper stereotypes, too. Jerk.

  10. I was going to post what (white) people in sideways hats make me think of, but it's sexist, offensive, lewd and NSFW.

  11. knows how to attach links to words in comments, too. How do you do that? Do you need to know the correct html tags to insert, or is there some other way? I feel dumb for asking, but I can't find any obvious solution.

  12. Count me in with Cassandra and Stella as well. About 90% of my backwards-hat wearing students are lily-white preppies proud of how hip they think they are. I'm also a real live Person Of Color who has been on the receiving end of more racially-tinged threats and insults than I'd care to remember, but I couldn't see any racial hostility reflected in the original post. Sorry, but finding the nihilism and sexism of rap culture repulsive doesn't reflect a slam on all black people any more than my hatred of the Tea Party reflects my feelings about whites in general.

  13. I must be seriously Pacific northwest, because I had no idea ball cap directionality had any kind of ethnic valence.

  14. Cassandra, you use an anchor tag:

    <a href="">descriptive text</a>

    Simple HTML tags (for italics, boldface, and anchors) are supported by Blogger.
    Italics are <i>italicized text</i>
    Boldface replaces "i" with "b".

    You can put other HTML effects in posts, but not in comments.

  15. Yyyeahhhh, I ... think ... I'm going to have to to go with Stella on this one, mostly. Hat-boys, where I live, are white and mind-bogglingly entitled. The paragraph about "urban" rap "culture" left a bad taste in my mouth, though, and did not object to the misogyny of rap. It called attention to violence, a victim mentality, and anti-social behavior, and coupled with the image of Obama and Bill Cosby shaking their fingers, seemed like race-baiting to me.

  16. On my campus it's young males of pretty much any race and the image that came to my mind was a student I had in class this am. And yeah,m I think it looks really, really stupid as well, especially the stickers that are left on.

  17. Ah! Like this:

    Picture of Jackie Robinson with his hat on straight

    Thank you, Introvert!

    @Marcia -- I agree something in that paragraph was a bit off. The mention of Cosby's and Obama's opinions struck me as an appeal to authority designed to defuse the race-related issues involved that didn't quite come off, especially when combined with references to victimization that sound a lot like the accusations of "crying victim" with which conservative critics (many of whom are themselves a bit too fond of selective quotation of well-known African Americans) tend to respond to any attempt to point out the lingering effects of slavery, segregation, etc. Part of the problem is trying to figure out how that paragraph fits in with the overall tone of the piece; maintaining a consistent point of view while employing hyperbole at length is difficult in the best of circumstances.

  18. @Marcia, isn't the misogyny of rap a subset or symptom of the "violence... and anti-social behavior" it glorifies? It's not confined to rap, of course, but the backwards cap that's the subject of this post is not a product of misogynist cock-rock.

    I'll admit, I'm a big Jimmy Page fan.

  19. I don't get why it's racist - the contributor writes that "this menace transcends race, geography, and even gender." - but I live in a big city where "urban rap culture" is not limited to young African-Americans. On our campus, it may be even more popular with white frat boys than with our black students, who are mostly scholarly, business major types more prone to three-piece suits than backwards ball caps.

    But I also don't get what's the big deal if students want to wear their caps sideways or whatever stupid trend they follow. Are sideways ball caps any more offensive than Australian sheepherder boots, flip-flops, skimpy halter tops, tee shirts emblazoned with "SLUT" or "PORN STAR" or any of the other stupid fashion trends to which college students succumb?

  20. While I find many student fashions ugly or even stupid-looking I hold my tongue, as I remember what I wore in college, especially that gold chain with the Aries on it. It went so well with those platform shoes, TIGHT white pants and open silk shirt.

  21. I'm bowlered over by this whole discussion.

  22. This has to be nominated as "The Whitest Post We've Ever Had".... you do know, No Cookies, that in the Black community Bill Cosby is looked at as more of a scold or "crazy old man" than anything else? I'm sorry it's not 1962 and all the students are in suits, ties, or sweaters and khaki pants, but somehow the slovenly Israeli style of dress* migrated to the US and combined with West Coast street fashion to produce these abortions....not that the hipster sub-variant is better; most Americans aren't built for the pipestem jeans, and throwing punk belts into the hoodie-tight t-shirt-jeans and boots thing doesn't improve it. I do give them points for wearing the kuffiyah, but they make it look like a Cambodian scarf! I will say that No Cookies sounds like an `80s metalhead complaining about `90s grunge, aka the "shallow bitching of one generation at another."


    * The Israeli look comes from a mishmash of influences, but mostly in this context it means wearing flip-flops or sandals with everything, collared shirts with shorts, or leather jackets with t-shirts and jeans (a Russian innovation.)

  23. Postscript,
    A Cabodian scarf is called a "krama" or "kroma"; rural Khmers wear it as a hat, but during the Khmer Rouge period it was worn more like a Young Octobrist's scarf, and that's what I'm referring to.

  24. Omigod Patty nailed it. I wonder if she works where I work.

    But in college in the mid-80s you could find me in a variety of vintage dresses and combat boots, with hair I cut myself with children's scissors. And we argued about whether it was OK to wear the Cleveland Indians baseball cap if you wore it ironically, or the keffiyeh as an accessory. Also, most of the cool lesbians had mullets. God knows Gen X had its own brand of fashion idiocy.

  25. The keffiyeh isn't idiotic; it's very useful in the desert (as a hat/scarf/towel/tribal identifier), less so in North America....lesbians were still going for the mullet look into the early 2000s AND Generation X also falls into the 1980s (some people lump in everybody who was born from 1965 to 1976 - Ted Rall has a long article on the sloppiness of generational markers for the "X" people on his website

  26. I think the suspicious comments were self-defeating self-fulfilling prophecy. I don't think the OP is a real racist, but the fear that his first several masterful paragraphs, which had me dabbing my cheeks with a paper towel, might be racist, made him cite Obama and Cosby for permission. And THAT's when it started to sound iffy. But I don't think there was genuinely malicious intent.

    And the beginning was f***ing gold. GOLD.

    But my blue collar husband and I disagree with you about completely backwards. Completely backwards keeps your hair out of your eyes when your hands are full of tools and you can't stop or someone loses a finger. But then again, my blue collar husband is now also literally ripping off a worn out t-shirt and quoting Hulk Hogan. I hope questioning the authority of someone who can quote Hulk Hogan doesn't make me racist against whites.

  27. "And the beginning was f***ing gold. GOLD."
    - Wombat of the Copier

    No it's just ranting about cap-wearin' fools in a semi-comical manner. Spastic presidents and faith in a fallible market did more to destroy America than the Ed Hardy-wearing idiots of Basketweaving 101.

  28. I wear my hat backwards and I have a very high IQ. I also take my hat off indoors (Well...most of the time I do). So, bite me.

    Mathsquatch out.

    By the way, I'm white.

  29. Strelnikov, by Gen X I meant people born about 1965-1980, sloppy or not. I'm at the early end of that, so was in college in the mid-1980s.

    What was idiotic about the keffiyah was not the object, it was the use of it as an accessory by well-meaning white liberal girls who thought it just looked purty.

    And the mullet is always ridiculous. It's a generation- and sexual-orientation-spanning way of looking like a total tool.

  30. When my daughter was first exploring relationships with boys, I told her just two things:
    (1) Every single boy --no matter how nice he seems-- is interested in just one thing above all other things. Never forget it.

    (2) If any of these boys ever posts at our house with a hat on backwards....he'd better be a catcher.

  31. When my daughter was first exploring relationships with boys, I told her just two things:
    (1) Every single boy --no matter how nice he seems-- is interested in just one thing above all other things. Never forget it.

    (2) If any of these boys ever posts at our house with a hat on backwards....he'd better be a catcher.

  32. Ball caps bother me too, but I think that's mostly influenced by the fact that I had a student (male) tape key word definitions on the inside of the brim of his ball cap to try to cheat during a test. It really didn't work out for him well, and I totally busted him.

    I think the straight brim is just odd, and I yell at my younger brother (22) every time I see him wearing one. Purely because he does it for no other reason than "its cool." We're not white, and I'm really not sure who he's modeling after because he doesn't really listen to rap (my best guess, sports figures bc he's a sports nut) but he can't give my any good reason to wear it that way. So I will continue to fuss at him until he can present a legitimate, well thought out argument (He just LOVES having an older sister that's a professor)

    And wearing a hat any other way but straight forward also doesn't make any sense to me (minus the few situations, such as playing catcher as mentioned above, where having it backwards is actually beneficial). But I was never "cool" so I mostly just assume that I don't understand a lot of trends (and boy there are a lot) because I'm a giant, giant nerd. And I'm okay with that.

  33. I am short, so car visors never actually block the sun for me. I also hate that bit of sun that gets in over my sunglasses. Somedays I also just don't like being aware of how BIG the world is, and limiting the upper range of the world is also helpful.

    For all of these reasons, I have a variety of baseball caps and golf visors I wear when driving and when walking outside, often with the brim tilted as needed, no matter how dorky it looks. (It also keeps my hair out of my face, brim forwards. Brim backwards, and it just hits my neck weirdly. This may also be connected to the shortness.)

  34. Well, we certainly seem to have gotten some panties (or man pants) all bunchied up over this bit of hyperbolic fashion policing haven't we?

    Personally, I believe the co-opting of ANY functional clothing as a fashion statement to be a sign of social apocalypse. Remember, leg warmers, running suits, carpenter pants, parachute pants?

    Today it happens to be ball caps, and yes, it came -- in large part -- from the urban, hip-hop, "thug" meme. (Though, during my NYC teaching days, it seemed more the statement of young Italian men.)

    I think the "style" of wearing the authentic sticker is yet another step down into the pit of American crassness. "Hey, look, I want you to know I spent $60 on this, when I could have gotten a perfectly functional, nearly identical version for 1/3 the price!"

    In a similar vein, earlier today, I saw a book about Justin Bieber, with the Beebster hanging his head, holding his chin in his hand ... trying to look all thug ... rather a stretch for a teen-something VERY white kid from Canada!

    Ultimately though, when it comes to fashion, it is the unalienable right of everyone to look as dorky, dweeby, preppy, grungy, slutty, thuggy as they want for tomorrow there will be a "new" style which must be slavishly adhered to.

    Nehru jackets anyone?

  35. I think Wombat diagnosed the rhetorical issues correctly. While I didn't entirely agree with the motives No Cookies ascribed to the hat-wearers (as I've mentioned, my students seem to wear baseball caps as camouflage, not fashion statements), I thought the first few paragraphs were very funny as a general commentary on some late-adolescents' absorption with their images. It was the "see, some black people agree with me" sentence that fell flat (though parts of that paragraph did help to clarify that the author was not targeting African Americans, which, as some of the reactions suggest, was necessary).

    And yes, Strelnikov, the chosen examples of "African-American thinking" were questionable: Cosby is cranky and generally out-of-date, and Obama -- for all that I respect his decision to identify simply as African-American -- has a pretty complicated racial identity (though, as someone who has written about trying, at one point in his own adolescence, to fashion a black male identity mostly out of the bits and pieces of possibilities that were available to him through the media, he seems a bit more relevant to the discussion than Cosby). But the real problem is that referencing two (or even twenty) African Americans who agree still invokes the assumption, on some level, that there's some sort of African-American consensus out there to be referenced -- which there isn't.

  36. I don't mind that my students wear baseball caps in class, in any direction. I am, however, currently making one student turn his bill to the back during class because he has a tendency to nod off in class, if I can't see his eyes.
    My problem is with the students who show up to the job fair dressed as if they are going to a club! Those are some wild outfits. And the odd thing is, the students don't understand why they are not dressed appropiately.

  37. "My problem is with the students who show up to the job fair dressed as if they are going to a club! Those are some wild outfits. And the odd thing is, the students don't understand why they are not dressed appropiately."
    - rdbike2229

    What you may not be getting is that these clowns are coming directly to class FROM the club.

  38. I'm just glad the girls have stopped wearing pajama pants to class. and full makeup and jewellery mind you. I mean they showered, put on full makeup and jewellery, and then got BACK INTO their PJs. That particular trend was inexplicable to me, but it only lasted one season at least.

  39. Now that I teach a sea of ponytail-girls and hat-boys in college hoodies, I mourn for my old job's parade of green-haired club kids in fun fur boots and Elton John glasses. They were a lot of fun, and their outfits never compromised their intellect. Sure, there was a certain conformity to their forced outrageousness, but at least the results were variegated enough to be interesting. If I see one more pair of flip-flops or Juicy Couture sweatpants, I may die of boredom.

  40. I'm a backwards ball cap wearer (although my brim is rounded). Why would I choose to cover my head in such an amazingly atrocious and offensive way?

    I have terrible hair. Always have. Now I'm also balding, so it's even worse now.

    But wait! That doesn't explain why you wear the cap backwards, that most hated of directions!

    Well, I like to see things. Brims, being opaque, block things that I would otherwise see. Things that I do see when my hat is turned backwards.


  41. I'm really disappointed in the comments made by my colleagues here. Political correctness has eroded what was a once proud profession. Then again, what else would we expect in Emperor O's golden age of enlightenment?


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