Perfect babies, perfect parents, and FAILure
Friday, August 7th, 2009
“My child must succeed! I will give her every opportunity to succeed! She will learn to write tricky words like ‘constitution’ in a lovely, calligraphic hand, but her vocabulary will never include ‘failure’!” It was such modest claims that inspired me to satirize competitive parenting in The Perfect Baby Handbook.
Now, it turns out, that while I was busy satirizing and you were trying not to be too easily satirized, the verb “fail” was turning into the noun “FAIL” (always capitalized) and becoming a cultural phenomenon.
Exhibit A: The website, FAILblog.org, launched in Jaunary, 2008, by the same ingeniously simplistic people who brought you LOLcats. FAILblog invites users to submit images of things that have been done badly, horribly, or disastrously. You might, for example, be able to spot a certain, subtle flaw in this book cover (right).
Exhibit B: This weekend, The New York Times magazine devotes an “On Language” column to the phenom, reporting that Americans are applying the “FAIL” concept to everything from CNN’s coverage of the Iraq protests to clumsy cows, from Bill Clinton to Amazon.com snafus. The recession, one observer tells the Times, has only fueled the temptation to see the world through FAIL-tinted glasses:
“It really started to take off when the financial industry decided to — ahem — fail…Talk about the perfect storm.” The fail meme met the financial crisis head on at a Senate hearing in September, when a demonstrator held up a sign reading “FAIL” behind Henry Paulson Jr., the former Treasury secretary, and Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve.
“Shut up, shut up!” you may be saying. “What about my baby?” Well, just make sure you don’t send him or her to this not-so-august institution:
• Family togetherness FAIL
• Babysitting FAIL
• Homophobia FAIL