Douche is trending.
I’m going to start by saying this is a dangerous article to write because an article that attempts to define the characteristics of douchery is, well, kind’a douchey. However, usage of the word douche has been on the rise in current culture and I believe I know why, so I’m going to risk it.
In the preface to Being Geek, I briefly explained the definitions of geek, nerd, and dork. While my research found no meaningful distinction between nerd and geek, the term dork was interesting — while being a geek about a topic (say a music geek) means that you are self-declaring that you deeply appreciate a thing, dork is used by geeks to position their geekery above another geek’s field. For example, I’m a computer geek, but those movie geeks are dorks.
It’d be easy to simply map douche to dork and say that douchery was in the eye of the beholder, but I think there is something bigger going on with douche. The label of douche, while slightly hilarious, is also slightly serious.
The Douche Spectrum
To begin to understand the deviousness of the term douche, we need to explore its basic usage. There are three douche use cases:
Self-declaring as a douche — “I can’t figure out how to write this bio without sounding like a douche.” A mostly harmless usage.
Labeling as douche in person — “Your unearned high self-esteem… is kind’a douchey.” Again, a face-to-face douche label is, in my opinion, just good constructive criticism.
Lastly, labeling as douche in absentia — “I’m tired of his transparent self-serving bullshit. He’s a douche”. In an Internet full of individuals screaming for attention, this label is the kiss of death. Here’s why:
If you’re taking the time to create and post content on the Internet, you are in the sales business. You’re interested in someone buying the content; otherwise you’d be quietly taping that content to the wall of your office.
Rands, I want no money. There is nothing to buy.
Doesn’t matter. Just because you’re not charging for it, doesn’t mean you’re not selling it. Yes, there’s a wide spectrum to selling varying from “I’m selling you on this idea” to “Please buy this poster regarding how to pet a cat“, but the act of sharing something with the Planet Earth has a very different motivation than sharing with yourself, and it’s within this act that the dangerous label of douche is hiding.
A Douche Criteria
The label of douche is the end result of a confluence of terribly subjective and contextual cues. As I’m reading your writing or watching your presentation, I mentally measure the following:
Are you for sale? Is it clear that your opinion is being motivated purely by money? Can I literally see the monetary strings dragging you hither and fro? Can I hear your thoughts above what is clearly your business plan? Am I hearing what you’re selling before what you think? Are you never missing an opportunity to self-promote?
Is fame your goal or a consequence? Is your content deliberately inflammatory because you like to see shit burn? Are you enthusiastic with purpose or just annoyingly enthusiastic? Are you just trying to get attention? Wait, are you telling me you’re famous? Really?
Are you human? Are you letting a bit of yourself into your ideas? Can I see you thinking? Do you have moments of humility? Empathy? Where do you end and your ideas begin? Are you just a mouthpiece? Can I discern your motivation?
Is there substance to your style? Did you earn your arrogance? Are you adding something substantive to the planet or are you just noisy? Are you pitching refinement as a mask for aggressively bad taste? Do I have a sense of your experience? Are you beating me over the head with it?
Are you aware that anyone else is here? Are you giving me room to think? Do you speak without understanding consequence? Are you aware of the world around you? Are you transparently self-serving?
Are you a douche?
The Douche Threshold
What matters to you is different than what matters to me. I have a douche hot button — blatant self promotion — but you couldn’t care less. Still, when you label someone a douche, I giggle bit and then I wonder, “What do you actually mean?”
In this age of the empowered individual voice, we are flooded with opinions in blogs, tweets, and likes. As a means of managing this flood, we need a mental model to partition these unincorporated individuals — we need a new vocabulary regarding who is worth listening to and not — I believe that is why the term douche is trending.
The extreme subjectivity of the Douche Criteria can get you in a lot of trouble. If I had to boil all of the criteria down, I’d say the lazy version of the Douche Criteria is, “Do I like you?” Human beings are most comfortable when surrounded with those who look and sound alike — who share the same values. Outsiders are viewed first by their differences rather than their potential. Yeah, it sucks.
My optimistic hope is the Internet hides the individual differences that don’t matter while providing a stage for ideas. This is why the term of douche is not a goofy label that says, “You’re different”, it’s a personal and essential judgement of authenticity.
(This post would not exist without the fine suggestions of the very-non-douchey folks who follow me on Twitter.)