The other day I noticed this tweet from renowned Twitter wit Bad Banana:
“The apathy community”: genius. (And “But whatever” ices the cake.) Because maybe you’ve noticed, as I have, that this whole community thing has gotten out of hand.
I’m not referring, of course, to the actual cracked-pavement-and-stucco community in which I dwell. Nor am I referring to “Community,” the occasionally very funny NBC series.
I’m talking about disease communities like “the HIV community,” “the diabetes community,” and “the cancer community” (and sub-communities like “the breast-cancer community”). (In the 19th century, was there a “consumption community”?) And faux communities like “the intelligence community” and “the arts community.”
This plague of communities begs to be spoofed, and Bad Banana isn’t the only one to have risen to the challenge. Also on Twitter, in May, the comic Andy Borowitz mock-announced: “Playboy’s 3-D Centerfold Creates Excitement in Masturbation Community.” (The tweet was later deleted, for reasons unknown, but not before I wrote it down.)
Last month, a Berkeley blogger, Infospigot, ended a post about a dead deer on a city street with this rumination:
I wonder how long it will take word to spread in the carrion-eating community of the choice meal awaiting out there.
During the TV season just ended, I counted three four snarky “communities” on “30 Rock”: “the celebrity community” (in the Valentine’s Day episode), “the pervert community” (in “Future Husband”), “the porn community,” and “the janitor community” (the last two in “Khonani”).
Pious overuse has brought us to this pass, my friends. Tony Proscio, author of In Other Words: A Please for Plain Speaking in Foundations*, defines “community” as “a corral for keeping people together in your own mind.” He continues:
[I]n phrases like “the intelligence community,” “the arts community,” or “the child-welfare community,” the word drops a deliberate scrim in front of a bunch of shadowy people whom no one is expected to identify. Most of the time, those who use such phrases really mean to say “people in these fields whom I consider important, but can’t or won’t name.” Used that way, the word falsely pretends to give information while actually blotting out important details.
I’m sure all of us in the language-blogging community will say: Hear, hear.
* I wrote about In Other Words in a 2006 post, “Resisting the Jargon Juggernaut.”