By Isabelle Cachia-Riedl
You’ve heard it before, you’ve said it before. You felt something “corny,” and instead of just saying it, you felt that you had to express a bit of self-awareness to exonerate yourself of a quite frightening charge: to seem ingenious, trite, or corny.
The word “corny” has a confusing etymology. Its commonly thought to have been used to describe something referring to farms and the lower-class people who worked on them. There is also a strand of the word that traces back to jazz in the 1930s that I would argue is the beginning of the word as we know it today. During that time it was used to describe music that leaned a bit too sappy. Either way, it is likely that it came from African American English, as so much of our new vernacular in the popular culture does (and is rarely properly accredited). But lately, as the word becomes more widespread, its meaning becomes more and more diluted. The fact that we have started using this word so much is indicative of a larger shift in cultural values.
When we say “corny,” we usually are referring to something that takes itself a tad too seriously. It’s often about someone’s over-rot romantic gestures, or their proclamations of love for anything, really. It’s when our stomach drops ever so slightly before we decide to admit that actually we do like “The Notebook.” I don’t want to confine it to just romantic feelings either, the word has become a descriptor for all that is not cool, and the antithesis of cool is trying too hard.
Along with “corny” there is “cringy,” “cheugey,” and likely more that I am too unhip to know. The meanings of these words fill in the negative space to reveal an ideal, the un-corny, un-cringy pinnacle, and that is what I find a bit disturbing. The ideal is the one that does not care enough to try or to love something unabashedly. Clearly, this is not an absolute and words can be used in all sorts of ways (not to mention the thick film of irony coating every surface of our online social platforms); it is increasingly more difficult to decipher what words mean especially out of context.
That being said, the trend towards apathy is clear. We are tired of caring, and what bothers us more than having to give a hoot is seeing another give all their hoots willingly.
I think it is because it reminds us of our own apathy. It takes guts to care, perhaps because we could risk being called “corny” (or a number of other words). Residing in apathy is maybe zen, or maybe it’s just lazy; even the zen monks believe in something. In our capitalist system, you don’t really need to care about anything anyways, all that’s required of you is college (if you’re lucky) then a job then death. Get on that conveyor belt and ride it to the end, baby!
People that subvert this expectation, especially those with power and influence, usually face a huge amount of backlash for being too political. Sinéad O’Connor, an Irish pop artist and activist, for instance, was widely believed to have gone crazy when in fact she just valued standing for her beliefs above her “career.” Only a society that values capital over integrity sees that as anything but admirable.
One of the most common and infamous comments on dating app profiles is the request that “you don’t take yourself too seriously.” Personally, when I see that, I swipe left (yes, I am single). I just don’t understand what is so unattractive about being serious. We became so scared of disingenuous sappery that we are now allergic to any kind of commitment to belief or standard of respect. Take yourself seriously. Be corny about things you love. You do not have to prove yourself in any way to take yourself seriously. I think that is a big misconception. Taking yourself seriously is to commit to learning, improving one’s self and to objectively account of one’s own growth, and that can apply to nearly anything.
Actually giving a hoot can be extremely empowering too. I know you have all cared about something in your life – what if more things could be like that. Get your girl flowers, more than likely she will appreciate it rather than be repulsed by your corniness. Find something you care about and take it seriously, and take yourself seriously for taking it seriously. What else have we got to do with our time here?