Magazine article The New Yorker

WHATEVER; FIGHTING WORDS Series: 4/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

WHATEVER; FIGHTING WORDS Series: 4/5

Article excerpt

Attempts to justify Russell Crowe's assault on the night desk clerk at the Mercer Hotel last month came up short around here. Everyone sided with the humble clerk, who had taken a flying telephone to the cheek, and who, as the Times made sure to point out, lived in Brooklyn in a building with a broken buzzer and strips of peeling paint. In the court of public opinion, if not that of the judge, the movie star, with his millions, his quick temper, and his operational doorbell, hardly stood a chance, no matter how aggrieved he may have been.

But then, in the Post last week, came a more detailed account. If it is to be believed--and why wouldn't it be?--a Crowe partisan had cause to take up his case again, and even to advance a gospel of well-directed violence. The story, on Page Six, went like this: Crowe, up late and in his hotel room, was trying to place a call to his wife, back home in Australia. He was having difficulty doing so. He called the desk clerk, who failed to assist him. Crowe became angry. The clerk muttered something. Crowe said, "What's your name? The clerk said, "Josh." Crowe said, "Well, Josh, I'm coming down right now to kick your ass." Crowe proceeded to the lobby, confirmed that the man behind the desk was indeed Josh, hurled a phone and a vase at him, took a bow, then assumed a karate stance, whether in anticipation of retaliation or for Oscar consideration it wasn't clear. Enter the cops.

It might seem, from these particulars, that the villain would still have to be Crowe, but that is only if you ignore (as Crowe could not) what Josh (full name Nestor Estrada) muttered to him on the phone. What Josh said was "Whatever."

Whatever--well, that changes everything. For some time now (at least ten years, since the movie "Clueless" popularized the "whatever" gesture, made with the thumb and forefinger of both hands, to form the letter "W"), "whatever" has been the bane of anyone trying to persuade an adversary or a child of something that this adversary or child would prefer not to be persuaded of. "Whatever" is as incendiary as it is nonchalant; the nonchalance is what makes it incendiary. "Whatever" turns disengagement into something withering and mean.

Fogey insurgencies have sprouted up, incited by moralists who regard the routine deployment of "whatever" as the ultimate symptom of indifference in the culture at large. …

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