Derb and Thom: gloomy and predicting doom!

John Derbyshire is in a very bad mood and predicting that all is lost.

Normally, being an optimistic sort who truly believes that God has a hand in all things and that therefore all things will – in the end – work to His glory, I would shrug at a column such as this, if not for two things.

First, Derb re-inforced his column with this blurb in The Corner:

WE ARE DOOMED, DOOMED [John Derbyshire]
Several readers have emailed in with something like: “My, Derb, did you take one too many of your gloomy pills this morning?”

No, it was the usual dosage. Look, somebody has to act as counterweight to The Corner’s general air of Goldbergian cheeriness. The world is going to hell in a handbasket. We avert our eyes most of the time, but an occasional reminder doesn’t hurt.”

Again, I would probably have chuckled at Derb’s inconsolable doomsaying and moved on, but then I opened an email from my l’il brother, Thom. My LEFT OF CENTER l’il bro. And this is what he put in the subject header:

He wrote: had lunch with a friend, and she told me she was horrified to hear a 4th grader, one of her son’s classmates, say “Is it okay if I take off my shirt? I gotta wife beater on underneath…”

This is in [insert extremely upper-upper tony neighborhood like Chappaqua, here], mind you.

You know what a “wifebeater” is? I’d never heard this before, and she explained it to me, and says it’s very common terminology for this particular garment — she expects that any day now you’ll see it listed in the Sears catalog. It’s a plain old tank top! We’re doomed.

Now, I admit, Thom needs to get out more, he’s a good boy who goes to work, goes home to his beautiful wife and goes to church. He by choice and inclination does not have a whole lot of exposure to pop-culture. He wrote several subsequent emails still thunderstruck by the idea of a 4th grader refering to an item of clothing as a “wife-beater” and thinking nothing of it.

I had to explain to him that the fault for the kid’s boorish insensitivity lies with the parents who, all too often, think it’s cute and cool to hear their children spout the gangsta lingo, even though they would very likely never let the wearer of a real “wife-beater” enter through their gates, unless he was there to put up some drywall.

Still, Thom is truly upset. He actually googled “wifebeaters” and was unhappy with what showed up before his eyes. He cannot believe that there is a generation (or two) out there who don’t think there is anything wrong with calling a sleeveless tee shirt a “wife-beater” and adopting an entire attitude to wear with it.

I do not think we are doomed. But I do wish more parents would do their jobs. I’m sure the mother of that 4th grader has probably told him he is not to hit girls. I wonder if she understands the disconnect, though, in telling him that and then allowing him to refer to his clothing in such a way.

Meanwhile, my brother Thom and Mr. Derbyshire are singing the same dirge, today. All we need is a pub and a bit of Guinness and we could have a fair session on it! :-)

UPDATE: Matteo at Cartago Deneda Est is also feeling the vibe and is singing the song. We have a trio!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Matteo

    Well, if you look at the Book of Revelation and Jesus’s own prophecies of the End Times in the Gospels, we pretty much are doomed in a worldly sense no matter how well we get it all dialed in for a while.

    Coincidentally, I made a post yesterday called “We’re Screwed”. There must be something in the air…

  • Jules (female)

    Well, I’m 19, grew up in a very conservative, sheltered household, and the term “wifebeater” never even made me blink until I was talking to someone recently and they gave Thom’s reaction. Even then the person in question was not a native English speaker. I’d never even thought about the word, and I know I’ve used it within my family and friends without comment. Now, granted, my family isn’t one to sit around talking about undergarments. One is more likely just to pick up the things if they are needed and no discussion. But it’s an extremely specific and therefore useful term: it *only* refers to a thin white ribbed tank top worn as an undershirt (and I have never met anyone who would say otherwise, and I am an Army brat so that’s saying something). I wore them under my uniform all through (Catholic) high school and I think that “wifebeater” was the term in the school handbook when specifying appropriate ways of staying warm in winter. I admit that, although it is as obvious as the nose on my face, I do have a hard time comprehending the term as offensive. Call me stupid if you like, but the literal meaning of a “wife beater” and the use of the word “wifebeater” are entirely separate to me. Perhaps partly because my generation is raised to be aware of “abuse” and not “beating”? And perhaps also because it was always understood that only the very lowest types would wear such garments without a shirt over? It seems more like a class slur than a gender one to me, and while I understand that I should be upset etc I can’t seem to work myself up to it.

  • me2ewe

    I have to second Jules – I only learned what a “wifebeater” was perhaps a couple of years ago, so it’s not a term I use much or hear much, but I understand it to be something of a joke – that the kind of guy who wears such a shirt with nothing over it is the kind of guy who’ll stoop low enough to beat his wife. I don’t see it as an offensive term to women – if anything it would be offensive to men, and especially the “redneck” class. As Jules says, I think it’s more a class thing than a gender thing. Now, a little boy casually referring to such a shirt as a wifebeater does seem to indicate a certain disconnect – I doubt he’s using the term with the “wink, wink” in his voice….

  • Marie

    Being a child in the 50′s in California we refered to them as ‘wifebeaters’ because all male characters of questionable morals in old Hollywood B movies wore them. Usually paired with Levi’s or a pair of belted khakis.

  • Joseph Marshall

    Derbyshire and Matteo are both right. Tee-hee! Nothing penetrates Derbyshire’s consciousness about how well the Brits are doing generally as a people under neo-Liberalism, without reference to a “principled” conservativism. Mental principles do mean something, but you have to have the ones that allow you to test reality

    We on the other hand have been doing rather badly under an “unprincipled ‘conservatism’”and are going to do much worse. No principles and no reality test either. I’ve lost every asset I had under the lack of principle in office since 2000 and personally wish this on no one else.
    But if it takes that to return to some form of reality testing in our politics, I welcome it, and I welcome all the thoughtless people to my world. It’s not so bad. It’s filled, actually, with much less fear.

  • Joseph Marshall

    I’m under coffeed this morning. I should have written “neo-labor”.

  • joated

    We used to call them a “guinea-T” when i was growing up. I guess it was in “honor” of the guys hanging out in Little Italy or the hoods in the movies. Sometimes it was a “spic-T” for similar reasons. PC police must have removed the ethnic connotation and replaced it with a generic. ;-)
    None of these terms are worth crying “DOOOOOOM” over…but for some Guinness….

  • Darrell

    For Pete’s sake…

    We all knew them as “Da.. T’s” –the derogatory nickname for Italians that is no longer used… Italians started anti-defamation movements in the late-60′s and early 70′s(around the time of the Godfather) to purge that reference from the national vocabulary, among other things. The term used in the first sentence in Post 7, was rarely heard outside of the East Coast.

    Some comedian first used “wifebeater,” as I recall, because of the images on the news of men being hauled out from their homes after domestic battery incidents.

  • Annalucia

    Dago T-shirts. That’s what we called ‘em.
    “Wifebeater” I guess is the new, non-ethnically-specific equivalent :)

  • Darrell

    That’s what I said, in a more PC fashion!

    Italians(and I guess most Mediterranean immigrants) used to prefer those sleeveless T-shirts. And used to remove their regular shirts while they worked.

  • B. Minich, PI

    I first heard that term in high school, and thought it a bit odd. It really doesn’t bother me, though – I also got the impression that it is called a wifebeater because its the kind of shirt wife beaters wear.

    Also, remember that Derbyshire is from the UK, the home of pessimism.