Hip To Be Trashy…

Back in the 1980s, Huey Lewis & The News did a pop tune titled “Hip to be Square”, a supercharged, energized piece written by Bill Gibson, Sean Hopper and Huey Lewis himself. Although this song conveys the resurgence of being cool to be “square,” Lewis once expressed this song was completely misunderstood.  The song was more about Huey Lewis & The News than it was people who were square.  The band was so counter 1980s, clean cut, sharp – which made them “square” in such a counterculture age. 

Huey Lewis & The News was counterculture-counterculture.

The phrase “square” is said to have come of African-American slang and has been in mainstream use since the 1940s. Another school of thought is “square” comes from jazz musician culture and a conductor’s hand gesture that means go to a regular rhythm and the hand motion of a square in the air.  Not much of this theory is proven, however, it gives some indication of where it originated.

In the 1980s, it was hip to be square.  In 2020, it appears hip to be trashy.  Yeah, I said hip to be trashy.  As a nation and as a society, we’ve become decidedly sloppy in our demeanor.  Sloppy in how we dress, how we speak, and how thoughtless and selfish we’ve become over time, and what we say to others without much forethought.  We make rude insulting comments without much consideration for who it hurts or the damage it does. 

I’ve long wondered where this pattern began. 

I think it began with us—the baby boomers.

As the late 1960s unfolded, it was hip to be hippie – the 1960s counterculture.  The hippie movement evolved as did the sexual revolution. We wore jeans that had holes in them.  We donned tie-dyed tee shirts.  It became hip to look disheveled and to board a plane looking like we’d just gotten out of bed or been to an all-night pot party.  That trend continued through the 1970s into the 1980s.

This begs the question – whatever happened to common decency?

The popular sitcom “Roseanne” debuted in the late 1980s made it fashionable to be trashy.  Roseanne Barr, a great stand-up comedian and actress in her own right, got her own television series and played herself. Her character – Roseanne Conner – was who Roseanne actually was off camera – quite outspoken and void of a mouth filter of any kind. She said what was actually on her mind at any moment. 

Roseanne did what she did naturally and she did it well.  The result was one of the best sitcoms ever done because it portrayed life in Mid-America – struggling working stiffs trying to survive in tough times. They mixed comedy with the harsh reality of being blue collar in Mid-America. It worked and was a smashing success.

They made us laugh – and cry… It was a portrayal of who we were – and are.    

In the years since, American pop culture seems to have evolved to where even news anchors, politicians, and other figures are rather obscene these days and attacking one other. The media attacks and editorializes instead of simply reporting what happened. Celebrities are outspoken about just about anything they don’t agree with – and quite frankly subjects that are really none of their business. 

And – without getting too political here, we’ve elected a celebrity who is anything but presidential. He doesn’t have a filter on his mouth either.  Can you imagine Ronald Reagan, Lyndon Johnson, Franklin Roosevelt, or Barack Obama trashing another country publicly?  Making fun of a disabled news reporter?  Bashing other heads of state? Baiting our enemies with threats of nuclear war? 

Or – being just downright obnoxious? 

Even if these public figures spoke this way behind the scenes, they never exhibited this sort of demeanor publicly.  Our current head of state has made it hip to be rude and insulting, and so it has gone throughout society ever since he rose to the top. He’s simply a template of who we are – doing what is trendy in America today.  However, to his credit, DJT didn’t start this trend. He has simply chosen to operate off the American playbook with rallies and speeches – fireside chats – most Americans could relate to. We secretly want the freedom to be rude and insulting.

What has made us embrace this trend?  I think the absence of self-discipline and the perception we can do whatever we want when we want. Nice to be able to do whatever you want when you want now isn’t it?  Free to be free. 

However, not free from the consequences. 

The consequences of actions and reckless comments have been far reaching in how the world perceives the United States and the recklessness of what the United States Government has become.

It is challenging to climb back up a sliding board bathed in silicone. 

How we return to being a society rooted in civility and mutual respect remains unknown. We have to really want it.  We have a long way to go.  What’s more, we have to want to return to being a people who look out for each other. 

When I see people helping people in food lines and emergency rooms, I see hope because I think most of want to do good. 

Lyrics to “Hip To Be Square”     

I used to be a renegade, I used to fool around
But I couldn’t take the punishment, and had to settle down
Now I’m playing it real straight, and yes I cut my hair
You might think I’m crazy, but I don’t even care
‘Cause I can tell what’s going on
It’s hip to be square
It’s hip to be square

I like my bands in business suits, I watch them on TV
I’m working out ‘most everyday and watching what I eat
They tell me that it’s good for me, but I don’t even care
I know that it’s crazy
I know that it’s nowhere
But there is no denying that
It’s hip to be square
It’s hip to be square
It’s hip to be square
It’s hip to be square

It’s not too hard to figure out
you see it everyday
And those that were the farthest out have gone the other way
You see them on the freeway
It don’t look like a lot of fun
But don’t you try to fight it
And an idea who’s time has come

Don’t tell me that I’m crazy
Don’t tell me I’m nowhere
Take it from me
It’s hip to be square
It’s hip to be square
It’s hip to be square
It’s hip to be square

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Huey Lewis / Sean Thomas Hopper / William Scott Gibson

Hip to Be Square lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc

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