Wednesday, May 09, 2007

It Isn't

I used to think my aversion to the contemporary catchphrase "It is what it is" was personal.

When I worked for Anna Wintour (nope, I'm not Andre Leon Talley, it's a metaphor--or is it an analogy?), her favorite phrase was "It is what it is." And her just-as-evil-but-not-quite-as-powerful henchwoman said it even more than she did. So when I left that place of employment, I vowed never to utter that phrase again. I banned it from my home. I don't like to hear it anywhere else, either.

But the issue isn't only one of association. These were two of the most unethical people I've ever encountered, and when they said "It is what it is," they were usually trying to whitewash bad behavior. In other words, "It is what it is" was their ultimate excuse.

On Saturday night, at my high school reunion (I really might blog about it someday), I was talking with an old friend and he said--I can't remember in reference to what, perhaps the fact that he is still single and has no children--"It is what it is."

"Please don't say that," I said, and I told him the story of Anna Wintour and how I've banned the phrase.

Now this guy is much more enlightened and zen and yogic than I am, and he was OK with my personal aversion, but he did push it on the general view of the universe expressed therein, saying, in a lot more words, that he believes things are the way they are for a reason, and everything is the way it was meant to be (yes, Phantom, this is what we were talking about just last week).

In fact, in my life, this has been the case. I've been very lucky and privileged, and the bad things that have happened to me--and there haven't been very many at all--have ended up causing good things that I wouldn't want to have missed. I was devastated by my parents' divorce, but 25 years later, there is no question it was for the greater good. Two years of infertility were terrible, but they resulted in E, and that's all that needs to be said about that.

However, and this is what I said to my friend, there are certain things that I simply can't find any justification for. My friend J dying at 26. Lucy's brother being killed. AIDS. The war. Child abuse.

While it would be nice to think that the current penchant for "It is what it is" betokens a benign acceptance that stands against capitalist striving of all sorts, I might venture to suggest that it is in fact, or at least also, a capitulation to a world where things as they are pretty much suck.

I know I'm overreacting to a silly catchphrase, but, hey, language matters.


Kelly said...

Sure does. I say that one way too often. Usually in an "I'm just going to have to accept things" kind of way...not as an excuse.

Dawn said...

I think of "it is what it is" as a version of "you're stuck with it so you might as well suck it up." I'm more comfortable finding my optimism mired in pessimism. You know, I'm all hope for the best, expect the worst. That's my cliché!

niobe said...

Wow. I thought I was the only one who told people never, ever, ever to use that phrase around me. I think you're right. It is the motto of the ethically challenged.

It's what my soon-to-be-ex boyfriend said to me when I told him that I was, um, not exactly thrilled to learn that the person he's been seeing behind my back was my soon-to-be-ex best friend.