“Millennials Are Killing…” has become a headline cliché so ubiquitous, it’s regularly featured in banner ads. So, the headline “How Millennials Killed Mayonnaise” would seem to make the ironic intent of an essay about the decline in popularity of the jarred condiment very clear, right? A generation raised in the self-referential parlance of online gags can recognize a meme, right? It’s so obvious, I sometimes wonder if I’m the one being trolled, the millennials actually get the irony, and the outrage is itself just a meta-ironic self-referential joke. No, Twitter is not that sophisticated.
Like our jaded palates, social media users are oblivious to subtlety. Online, irony must be couched in the play-baby, pictorial language of LOL-speak and memes. Text jokes come in formats that employ immediately recognizable clichés: “I can’t stop thinking abt,” “Me during sex:,” “Love to…to own the libs.” These are the essentially knock-knock jokes for online. Meanwhile, the digital audience takes tongue-in-cheek, gentle self-deprecation, wryness, and straight-faced dry humor and crushes it into two-dimensional sincerity. These people would read Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad, and conclude either that Europe isn’t worth visiting, or that the author is an idiot.
The keen perception of irony was at one time considered a mark of intelligence, so plenty of it goes over my head. In the same way, an appreciation of subtle flavor nuances was once considered the mark of an epicure. Where a gilded age diner might have appreciated a hint of tarragon and the balance of reduced Chablis to butterfat in a beurre blanc, she might now find a bracing combination of ghost peppers, orange shrub, and Sriracha. In this analogy, beurre blanc is the meme template, and ghost peppers and Sriracha is the cliché: “love to ruin my fish to own the boomers.”
As a respecter of dressings, dips, and condiments, I reject all forms of bigotry and small- mindedness toward such sauces. I welcome the bevvy of earthy, tangy, and tastefully spicy salsas that will inevitably paint our American landscape, sea to shining sea, when we have finally achieved “a taco truck on every corner.” From the six-pack holster of Heinz, Frenches, and three kinds of hot sauce offered with the fried menu of every corporately-provisioned shithole that bills itself a “roadhouse,” to the pho shop caddy of chilies four ways, condiments offer freedom and a modicum of control over meals prepared by others.
This shouldn’t be interpreted as “both-sides-ism” or false equivocation. The six pack with A1 and Heinz 57 is requisite for the enjoyment of heavy, bready onion rings and a well-done beef pat on commodity tomatoes, while the chili oil is more of a gild to an already glorious assemblage of salty broth, chewy tripe, and crisp and aromatic vegetables. It is also undoubtedly true that more tables than necessary are outfitted simply with ketchup, perhaps a plastic mustard squeeze or shaker of Tabasco tucked under a white melamine server station to be procured for the adventurous palate that insists on vibrancy and tang to cut the dreariness of fat and sugar. I (indeed we) likewise recognize that the oppressiveness of the standard American public diet would be unendurable without the freshening levity of immigrant cuisines.
That all said: Mayonnaise is good. It brings unctuousness to sweet and savory alike. It carries volatile oils, tempers acidity, permeates starchy matrices, and oozes along protein channels, marrying seasoning and myoglobin. “The evil genius of mayo is that it gets EVERYWHERE once it’s been applied to a sandwich,” writes millennial Drew Magary in Bon Apetit. You are correct, Drew. This is fucking genius.
I feel the pain of Sandy Hingstrom when she writes that, though she has long brought her mother’s mayo-based salades composeés to family functions, “I’ve had my feet cut out from under me,” as the juniors turn against these codgy old concoctions. In response, twiticos Jamelle Bouie and Jeet Heer collaborated on a twittering that killing mayonnaise-based salads was essentially more heroic than winning World War II. I guess they were being ironic? Meanwhile, K.T. Nelson, who recently penned a completely sincere piece for Vice titled “Owning People Online is The Left’s Path to Victory,” tweeted that he could “not believe this is not satire.” Jesus guy, you’re a fucking writer. I mean, you do best at tweets, but one would imagine you pick up a fucking book once in a while. Not everything is either the Onion or the New York Times. There’s a something called ambiguity, a space between sincerity and absurdity. You should get this since this is where the boys and girls at Vice live.
As a fan of Americana—an optimist who looks at old, broken-down shit and sees opportunity— I’ve brought many a crisp shredded coleslaw, perfectly balanced between sweet and tart, smoothed and rounded by judicious plops of mayo and yogurt, to a barbecue or potluck, only to have it passed over in favor of some garish assemblage of laughably crude slabs of red cabbage and carrot assaulted with lime juice and an uneven confetti of cilantro leaves. I’ve had American-style potato salads—russets boiled in their jackets, peeled and splashed with white vinegar while hot, and gently tossed with mayo, celery, eggs, mustard, relish and cayenne—shunned for like…quinoa and yams with tahini dressing from the latest issue of Cooking Light. It’s some kind of a signal. Some kind of a sign.
Joanna Rothkopf, Deputy Editor (average New York salary: $102,000) at Esquire, apparently likes, at least ironically, mayonnaise salads. So she played along briefly in her rebuttal, before getting down to the brass tacks: Hingston doesn’t just love mayonnaise, she’s “very obviously grappling with her anxiety about aging into oblivion and what I’m sure is, for her, stressfully persistent racism.” The internet certainly does embolden people. Rothkopf herself has presumably eradicated all traces of implicit bias in her psyche by eating spoonfuls of awaze, and will stay forever young and woke by slathering herself in tamarind chutney nightly before bed. This is how it works.
This is how reading works: there’s a thing called tone, and you grasp it by reading both closely and charitably. Right now my tone is hostile. No amount of charity will change that. We’re going back to English 400 something or other, the hard class where you couldn’t just write that Hemmingway was a misogynist or whatever and get a B+. Here’s an example of Hingston’s tone:
How do you think “Hold the mayo” became a saying? There was always mayo, and if you were some kind of deviant who didn’t want it, you had to say so out loud.
So class, let’s ask ourselves, “did this 21st century writer honestly ever believe that requesting a sandwich without mayo is the mark of a deviant?”
Yes, @RunGRP, what’s your take?
Well Mr. Slut, the writer was born in the mid-20th century, and I honestly believe she is trying to bring down my generation. And the unique wisdom of my generation is that her generation is responsible for every problem we now face. She’s old and white, and she should log off forever.
Well Mr. GRP, that’s an opinion you have. What about the substance of the text though?
Do you honestly expect me to engage with a fascist like this Mr. Slut? I’m going to the student union right now.
Anyone else care to take on this passage? No? Ok, how about this oft-quoted gem:
My son Jake, who’s 25, eats mayo. He’s a practical young man who works in computers and adores macaroni salad. He’s a good son. I also have a daughter. She was a women’s and gender studies major in college. Naturally, she loathes mayonnaise.
Ok class, do we believe that this woman writing in a city lifestyle magazine, who makes macaroni salad for family functions, is honestly telling the world that she loves her son better than her daughter, and that gender studies majors have a “natural” aversion to mayonnaise? Yes, @SciBabe?
Well, Mr. Slut, she also speaks fondly of gelled salads, which are gross, and like, mayonnaise is packed with sodium and fat. She doesn’t seem to be aware of the scientific consensus on…
Right, but do you think she doesn’t really like her daughter?
Look, I don’t have to explain the nature of my oppression to the oppressor. I’m going to the Dean’s office, misogynist.
Ok class, everyone who’s left (half the class has filed out behind SciBabe), let’s take a look at this one last passage before I dismiss us a half hour early:
“Just because something is old and white doesn’t mean it’s obsolete. Look at Shakespeare. Look at me.”
Ha! This is pretty funny right? Is Hingston saying, after all her panache and verve, that she feels vulnerable and obsolete? Is she sincerely comparing herself to Shakespeare? Yes, @kedinik, what say you?
Well, it’s hilarious that she basically owned herself but, I think this whole article is really an object lesson in white fragility. This is all about white people’s fear of diversity in the new American landscape that my generation is shaping and welcoming. This is one long micro-aggression against different cultures and races vis-a-vis their foodstuffs.
Ok, uh however you say that name, are you suggesting that Hingston is sincerely xenophobic? Is Hingston ever completely sincere in the piece? Or is she having a bit of fun? Simultaneously skewering both herself and the sensitivities of the nominal targets of the piece.
“I think Hingston’s idea of fun, if that’s what this is, is extremely problematic. There’s nothing fun about xenophobia!!!!”
Whoa! Whoa, calm down a little…
“I WILL NOT CALM DOWN! I will report you to the Dean of Student Affairs!
I leave the podium and walk out the door.