I’m sitting on the F train on my way home from Brooklyn, (staring at the ground the polite way most people do when they’re on the subway) when these two guys in tight pants board in mid-conversation and sit right across from me.
“What was I supposed to do? I was in Iowa. Literally the only thing to do is watch TV with my family,” one of them says to the other.
Oh heaven forbid! I think to myself. I actually enjoy doing nothing when I go home to visit my folks.
“So I go into the living room, and my mother is watching Toddlers In Tiaras. At first I’m like ‘this is awesome’ because I watch the show religiously. But then I realize that my mother and I aren’t laughing at the same things. She watches it… un-ironically” emphasizing the nasal portion of the word as though it’ll rocket forth toward the moon from his upturned nose.
I’m listening to him go on and on, arrogantly bashing his own mother, not even for the shows she watches but her motivations for watching them, and I’m fucking disgusted in this little twat. I too enjoy the theme of cultural enfreakment present in most of the fine programming that TLC has to offer, but I’m not surprised or offended that a substantial segment of their viewing audience watches in earnest.
“Can you imagine? Baudrillard would have had a fit!”
Baudrillard? Are you fucking kidding me? You pretentious hipster douchebag! When will people learn that quoting something obscure for the sake of passing judgement on how uncultured others are… makes you look like a dick. A total fucking tool. So what if some people watch what YOU think is bad television?! So what if they listen to what YOU think is bad music?!
It’s that kind of entitlement that… Oh… shit….
* * *
About once per year I make a trip to see my mom in Green Bay, Wisconsin, as I have for the last 13. Most of the time I’ve made this trip for Christmas, but this year we decided that a Thanksgiving get-together would be more convenient. After a feast of venison, wild turkey, and multiple pies, I sat my satisfactorily bloated ass on the couch to watch the Packers vs Lions game already in progress – tuning in just as the half-time show began.
“Seriously? Nickelback? Why would they get Nickelback to perform during half-time,” my sister asked.
“I know, right? Its like they want people to change the channel!” I laughed.
“Hey now. I’ve been hearing a lot of this lately. What does everybody have against Nickelback all of the sudden,” asked Chuck sounding slightly annoyed.
* * *
My mom’s husband Chuck is in his 60s. Recently retired, he spends his time fishing, hunting, customizing his camper, remodeling the house, building a new garden shed, and adding after-market mods to his Jeep. A gigantic caribou head hangs above his living room TV, and a menagerie of stuffed deer heads, wild turkeys, and black bears populate the rest of the house.
I’ve never known Chuck to have many opinions on popular music, when he and my mom first got together about 15 years ago, Chuck’s music collection consisted of little more than a couple of Kenny Rogers tapes. I wasn’t exactly surprised that he knew of Nickelback. At the same time I wasn’t surprised that he was unaware of the seething hatred for Nickelback expressed by so many online. He and my mom only just made the switch from dial-up Internet to broadband in 2010, primarily (if not exclusively) to use Facebook.
* * *
As I sat on that couch, I looked at Chuck and thought of how I would begin to construct my explanation without coming off like the pretentious New York blogger that I’d become. To me, Nickelback had been reduced to a punchline ages ago.
“When it was first announced that Nickelback was going to be playing the half-time show a few weeks ago, there was a huge backlash online because they’re just so…douchey,” I began. “There’s been a lot of anti-Nickelback sentiment online for a while now. They’re kind of a joke unto themselves. People love to hate them.”
Chuck stared blankly. I was failing at not sounding like me.
“Here, let me show you some things,” I reached for my laptop and quickly pulled up the following images.
Chuck half-smiled and half-grimaced, perplexed and amused by the effort with which people will express criticisms over what would otherwise be a trivial detail.
“Why should I care what his hair looks like? His hair doesn’t even look like that anymore!”
“Oh, hold on. There’s more.”
“So people hate Creed too?”
“Oh! Creed is the worst!”
“You used to like Creed.”
* * *
Chuck was right. When he and my mom first got together I was listening to Creed’s “My Own Prison” on repeat at regular intervals, between Chumbawamba and White Town. It would be another year before I would become too good for anything mainstream and listen exclusively to Praga Khan, Faithless, Meat Beat Manifesto, and other artists that that I deemed “underground enough” to represent me through my taste. Chuck knew me back then, and he knows me now in my adult life, well after having fallen behind the curve on what music is supposedly relevant today.
* * *
I continued to scroll through pages of Google Image search results for “Nickelback sucks” when Chuck interjected, “stop. Lemme see that one.” I expanded the pic.
Chuck wasn’t laughing.
“Well… a lot of people associate Nickelback fans with white trash,” I stammered. Chuck rolled his eyes. Our conversation ended there. But as soon as the words had left my mouth, I remembered what my family looked like 15 years prior.
* * *
We had been living in South Dakota for a decade plus. My mom was working two jobs to support three out of her five kids. Occasionally mysterious bags of groceries found their way to our door when we ran out of food, presumably left their by concerned members of our church. We weren’t living in a trailer, but we weren’t far from it.
Chuck wasn’t as poor as we were. By comparison, he seemed rich given his huge truck, huge boat, much nicer house, and executive job. He was, and still is, very much an outdoorsman. He speaks with the thick accent of someone who’s spent a lifetime hunting and fishing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a dialect known as “Yooper” to the locals. Yoopers are not exactly rednecks being that the climate calls for keeping the neck covered most of the year, but the general idea is not far off. Now, Chuck is far from being the kind of religious, right-wing, bigot that many rednecks and Yoopers tend to be; and he doesn’t identify himself with these generalizations. He fervently denies being a Yooper. But he’s fully aware of how others might lump him into those labels, given his proclivity for guns, camouflage, and his “north woods” accent.
* * *
Back on the couch in Wisconsin, I reflected on who Chuck was, who I had been as a kid, and the perceived image of a Nickelback fan. I thought about the other cultural touchstones utilized in anti-Nickelback imagery (from the Demotivational format to the Odd Future spoof), how foreign these portions of our lulz-based lexicon were to Chuck’s experience, and how a guy like Chuck (a surprisingly progressive and tolerant old white guy from Wisconsin) is possibly quite foreign to the most vocal of Nickelback critics.
I never really nailed down what people love to hate about Nickelback but I came to understand that there was an air of ignorance and class-ism present in most of the Nickelback jokes – class-ism that’s not entirely fair to atypical Nickelback fans like my step dad. I’m not saying I feel bad for Nickelback. I still find them hilarious. But I feel bad for guys like Chuck, and realize how hypocritical and arrogant I must look in his eyes.
I felt something similar when interviewing Chuck Testa this past year, and the year prior from the the owners of The Mountain, makers of the Three Wolf Moon T-Shirt. Unlike Nickelback anti-fandom, owners of taxidermy and those who wear wildlife emblazoned t-shirts are not openly mocked through these memes, but they’re praised only in irony. I’m not about to go on a crusade to shame the Internet for making fun of, above all, white people, but I’ve become clearly and brutally aware of another stereotype: the Midwestern kid who moves to New York to work as a professional blogger and lolcat connoisseur only to realize the true meaning of Thomas Wolfe’s novel “You Can’t Go Home Again” which, for the record, he hasn’t even read.