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The Invented Terminology of HoS
Happy Thanksgiving everybody. During the Trump era, there were these goofy Op-Eds around this time of year on how it’s your moral duty to deprogram your racist uncle before the mashed potatoes get cold. That genre has mercifully waned, but in its stead, I present a new holiday attempt at changing the world for the better: How about you make a House of Strauss term go viral. And in a good way. Not in a Rick Santorum way.
Etching a phrase into the greater lexicon has long been a grandiose goal of mine and yet I repeatedly fail. For years, I blathered professionally about the Golden State Warriors, only to see other luminaries coin popular terms like “Death Lineup” and “Splash Brothers.” I just want my own piece of the culture, and now it occurs to me that I have a modest army at HoS, an army that’s dispersing all across the country to have big table conversations. This situation is ripe for some astroturfed coinage.
Maybe you think this holiday is a good occasion to learn more about your family. Wrong. It’s actually the perfect occasion to disseminate the arcane terminology of a paywalled newsletter. So, for your consideration, I’ve listed the HoS phrases that might show promise. Feel free to let me know if I’ve missed any good ones. Also, share your own in the comments so I can stea—er, so you can have your own shot at linguistic trendsetting.
This isn’t literally a description of a befuddled baleen. Instead, it describes a dynamic whereby a corporation puts a loyal customer demo on the back burner so as to court a larger demo it can potentially win over.
From my Nike’s End of Men essay:
The idea is that a company, as its aims grow more expansive, starts catering less to the locked-in core customer and more to a potential whale which demonstrates some interest. Sure, you can just keep doing what’s made you rich, but how can you even focus on your primary business with that whale out there, swimming so tantalizingly close? The whale, should you bring it in, has the potential to enrich you far more than your core customers ever did. And yeah yeah yeah, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, but those were birds. This is a damned whale! And so you start forgetting about your base.
Fat is Potential in Disguise
FIPID has gained some traction, thanks to the references by NBA writer John Hollinger over at The Athletic. It’s mostly a sports theory, but apply it to life if you will. The basic premise is that fat guys constitute a potential NBA Draft market inefficiency. Sure they’re fat, perhaps speaking to work ethic issues. But, if they’re this good already while pudgy, who knows what potential might be unlocked with some portion control. This term is like the love child of Mel Kiper Jr. and Richard Simmons, if you care to picture that.
Okay, now we’re getting into media theories. The premise of this term is that, in the social media age, many have been hypnotized into becoming voluntary PR workers for whatever cause. In our epoch, thanks to PRification, everyone from New York Times reporters to your aunt on Facebook angles their messaging more for maximum rhetorical impact rather than honesty. So you don’t say that Joe Rogan took a commonly prescribed drug that’s yet unproven as a Covid mitigator. You say that Rogan took “horse dewormer.” Like a barn animal. Because it sounds worse. That’s not observation or real communication. That’s a PR tactic.
Don’t Apologize Double Down (DADD)
Speaking of PR-ification, here’s my main PR rule, available to sociopaths everywhere: When in a dumb controversy, a public figure is better off defiantly self defending than they are apologizing to the mob. The public apology is a common mistake, better suited to a pre-social media era. While we should aspire to apologize more in our own personal relationships, where trust is present, we should almost never say sorry to a mass of digitally connected strangers. The latter allows sharks to smell blood, inspiring more attacks. The issue with apologizing in public is that it removes all doubt that you’re wrong, emboldening detractors and deflating defenders. The incentives are quite perverse, because they favor shamelessness over honesty, but those are the incentives. I first started to notice these new dynamics back during Tiger Woods’ fall from grace in 2010.
The Emperor’s Old Clothes
I’m fascinated by prestige media’s rhetorical tactics, specifically their collective ability to insulate themselves from obvious critiques. One such method is to dismiss the growing frustration with the media’s cultural authoritarianism as cliché, and therefore irrelevant.
It’s counterintuitively brilliant. If you’re making observations about the thing that’s at the heart of modern American discourse, you’re so last week. If other people are noticing the same thing, even worse. Booooo. Unfashionable!
You’ll see some flavor of this in most reviews of recent Dave Chappelle specials. We’re told that the times have passed him by, even as his shows dominate news coverage and draw huge numbers of fans. Obviously, if the most prominent comedian, author, podcaster, and journalist are all expressing concern about something, it’s a figment of their imaginations. Or whatever.
If you make the conversation about the celebrity’s staleness, you don’t have to actually have the conversation. And perhaps that’s the point. Unfortunately, the modern modal journalist response to the little boy who called out the naked emperor would have been a bitchy, “Oh, so you’re one of those ‘Emperor’s Naked’ types?”
Okay, I’m not the first person to use the term “hive mind.” I just find it to be the most useful concept in explaining how consensus gets built these days. Much as conspiracy theorists might hypothesize about an organized, top down pursuit of cynical aims, media spaces operate in a fairly ad hoc capacity. And yet, these media spaces quickly arrive at conclusions that nobody can deviate from if they wish to maintain professional standing. How does that happen? I’d argue that communities on Twitter almost operate as one mind, pooling together thoughts while efficiently purging bouts of dissonance. In the end, clarity of purpose is achieved, stupid as it often is.
Sports journos just happen to be part of a social media hivemind that exhibits a collective instinct for narrative protection. The hivemind need not take meetings to express a scheme. It functions as a form of crowd wisdom, constantly testing rhetoric, bouncing away from whatever undermines its plan like a Roomba evading a chair.
This is the process by which nominally apolitical public figures get chased into the conservative category. They didn’t choose it; They were “zoned” by an overzealous media that perceives all deviations to hail from the enemy side. I used Aaron Rodgers as the example:
His attempts at maintaining neutrality will fall on deaf ears among those dictating the discourse. Rodgers, with his critiques of “woke” and “cancel culture,” plus his vax refusal, has been zoned “red,” whether he likes it or not. Before, Rodgers was an open atheist who said Colin Kaepernick should be in NFL, and thus he coded as liberal. He was a practitioner of “subtle activism,” as The Washington Post put it in 2018. No more. Now he’s a practitioner of the less subtle but oh-so-pernicious “misinformation.” So the newly Red Zoned Rodgers, whether he gives a shit or not, now has more friends on the right than friends on the left. Maybe he maintains neutrality from here on out, but many people would naturally gravitate to the side that doesn’t hate them.
No, not the colorfully named little brother to Peyton, Eli, and Cooper. I’m talking about the Gawker style of not simply strawmanning an opponent, but summarizing them with a stigmatized frame, an act of maligning by defining. I’ve also called this process, “Stigmatized Summation,” which could be a better phrase. You tell me.
As an example, from an article that ripped the very venture you’re reading:
It certainly appears that’s how Strauss fancies himself — he’s already connected his newfound writing journey to the likes of Bari Weiss, who loves quitting high-profile, well-read gigs over free speech concerns but once tried very hard to get Palestinian professors fired for speaking freely; Matt Yglesias, who rebrands approximately every six months after people get mad at him again for a bad tweet; Andrew Sullivan, the king of Just Asking Questions about race science;
I feel like that’s…not the most informative description of three successful writers who are currently thriving on Substack?
But what do I know? I’m a guy who’s never made a term go viral. Until now, hopefully. So, loyal HoS readers, go forth and make it happen. As your older relatives start to kibitz about booster shots, interrupt them and spout context-free media theory, explained in invented terminology, preferably at very high volume. When your brother breaks the news of his wedding engagement, respond with, “Fat is Potential in Disguise,” and wink, with full confidence.
In all seriousness, have a fine holiday. I appreciate that you’ve made this blog experiment a viable career and I couldn’t ask for anything more professionally. Or at least I shouldn’t. Much as I crave term virality, I’m beyond thankful for the station afforded to me by all of you. Take care.