Ask Matt Labash

Ask Matt Labash: A special philistine edition, defending mall culture, and chumming with a fly rod

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Matt Labash
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      Matt Labash

      Hi, welcome to “Ask Matt Labash.” I’ll be your host, Matt Labash. The idea for this column – if idea isn’t too strong a word – is that it is not a column at all. Rather, it’s a conversation. One in which I do ninety-five percent of the talking. If you did most of the talking, you’d have to watch my eyes go dead and my attention wander until it was my turn to talk again. So trust me, it’s better this way.

      For those unfamiliar with me from my day job at The Weekly Standard, I’ll give you a capsule bio by way of introduction: I have the gift of wisdom. Does that sound arrogant? I’m sorry, that wasn’t my intention. I didn’t choose wisdom. It chose me. If I had my druthers, I’d have chosen another gift, perhaps the untold riches of Lil’ Wayne, whose teeth are made of actual diamonds, or to be the sexiest man alive, like Rachel Maddow. But wisdom is what they gave me, so wisdom is all I have to give back to you.

      This is not, you should know, a mere advice column. If you need advice, I’ll give it. But the only rule here is that there are no rules. You can ask me a question about anything that’s on your mind: current events, pop culture, media, theology, string theory, fishing tips, wicker repair. The only limits we have are those of your imagination. And those of my knowledge base. Which is considerably limited, truth be told. So try not to ask me anything that requires research. Though they tell me I have access to Google on this computer if we need it.

      If all goes according to plan, ours will not be a traditional writer/reader relationship. It’s more complex than that. I might empathize or cajole. I might educate, instruct, or inspire. I might pretend to answer your question while actually reporting you to Social Services, since you’re a dangerous person who should not have contact with children. I might tell you to climb up on my shoulders, that you’re not heavy, you’re my brother. Or I might tell you that you are heavy, and that you should hop down until you lose a few pounds. I might just sidle up behind you, put my big strong man hands on the small of your back, and whisper in your ear the words of the poet, Kenny Rogers: “We’ve got tonight, who needs tomorrow?”

      To which you’ll say something like, “I can’t, I’ve got to go home and wash my hair.”
      To which I’ll say something like, “Shhh. We’ve got tonight babe, why don’t you stay?”
      Wherever this takes us, our journey begins now:

      <i>Matt Labash is a senior writer with The Weekly Standard. His first book, <a href="">Fly Fishing with Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys</a> will be published next month by Simon & Schuster.</i>

Editor’s Note: Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here

Dear Matt, I like pop music, chain restaurants and the average shopping mall. I like box-office smashes and even the occasional New York Times bestseller. Why must I be ashamed of this? Does everyone have to be quirky? — Layla M.

You’re a brave lady for admitting such things in public. If I weren’t happily married, I’d whisk you away to my local mall, where we’d hit the multiplex and see something insufferably low-to-middlebrow, preferably with homoerotic vampires, or anything featuring Tyler Perry in lots of prosthetics playing fat’n’sassy black women. Afterward, I’d feed you BBQ chicken pizza and lettuce wraps at the California Pizza Kitchen (“CPK,” to those in the know). We would laugh and canoodle, perhaps enjoying an overly-sweet Jacob’s Creek Moscato, with Katy Perry playing in the background. (Studies show that 90 percent of all songs played in malls are sung by Katy Perry. The other 10 percent being sung by The Black Eyed Peas.)

From there, we’d head off to Menchie’s for some “fro-yo” as the children of the Mall say. I’d probably get something wholesome and healthy, like dairy-free mango tango sorbet. But you — you’d get a heaping cup full of pina colada tart with fruity pebbles and Heath toffee crumblings from the “snackage bar,” because you’re clearly a naughty monkey. A decadent lust pot, who is just itching to have me take you back to your Pottery-Barn furnished boudoir where you’d wear a necktie blindfold as I spanked you in slightly-dangerous-but-ultimately-non-threatening fashion, as fantasized about by the gals in your “Fifty Shades of Grey” book club.

The point being: there’s no cause to be ashamed of your unapologetic in-the-main-vein taste. Sure, the sound you hear might be that of your soul withering inside of you. But you’re what made this country great. Or at least what helped us achieve our pre-2008 levels of consumerist mediocrity. Because you bought what The Man is selling, thus providing untold sums of corporate earnings and much-needed service-sector jobs. Which are looking pretty good right about now in recession-addled America. Plus, you like these things. They make you happy. And if you think you’re happy, you are. Happiness, like being in love, is largely a perpetual state of self-delusion. Much as loving someone isn’t merely an affirmation of their positive traits, but choosing to overlook their negative ones, being happy isn’t purely about happiness, however that’s defined. It’s about choosing not to be miserable. And if the California Pizza Kitchen (which if we’re being honest, is pretty freakin’ tasty) helps inoculate you against the rest of life’s indignities, I say embrace it.

It is better to be uncooly happy than unhappily cool. For being the former is more desirable than moving to Austin or Williamsburg or Branson (so uncool, that it’s going to soon be regarded as cool — just watch) so you can live out your days as a hipster malcontent. If everybody’s a quirky rebel, there’s nothing left to rebel against. Every outlaw needs a law, in order to have something to break. Every counterculture needs a culture against which to measure itself. They are, in effect, the parasites, and you, the bourgeois host upon which they feed. You are just busy being you. Whereas, they are forever concerned with not being you. Without your ilk taking up so much unfashionable space throughout America, hipsters might choose to live everywhere, instead of in the enclaves that they flock to. So even if you do nothing else with your life, just for keeping them sequestered, a grateful nation thanks you.