Thursday, May 17, 2007

Douchebags v. Assholes

Lately my friend D has been musing on the distinction between Douchebags and Assholes. When he solicited my opinion, I said that "douchebag" implied a certain level of dimness that "asshole" did not. While a douchebag could in some rare instances be simultaneously an asshole, an asshole was probably never also a douchebag. There is a cunning and malevolence that is constantly present in assholes.1

In my book, George W. Bush is a douchebag, while Dick Cheney is a perfect asshole. If you saw George Tenet on "60 Minutes" or Alberto Gonzales before Leahy's committee you had to think "douchebag;" while you just know that Karl Rove is a fucking asshole of the highest order.

Now I see that Details has an entire feature devoted to Douchebags. In their estimation, a douchebag is someone who has the latest, coolest electronic toy, owns a trophy refrigerator, and calls his briefcase an "attaché." For Details, douchebaggery seems to be a (privileged) lifestyle combined with lots of good old-fashioned Veblenien conspicuous consumption. Now what I think you've got to factor in here is that, like, a lot of magazines of its ilk, Details is more catalog than it is magazine. I mean, this thing is designed to move product, after all. So their perspective on douchebags may be skewed by their own economic realities. At one point, though, Details consults an OED editor-at-large who points out that "douchebag" is one of those insults guys used to feminize other guys and in some peoples' book, coveting all that crap is rather, well, feminine.

Are all those Williamsburg hipsters douchebags? What about all the Eurotrash that skulks around Soho on Tuesday afternoons? What about your basic suburban dad with garages and basements filled with the detritus of weekend trips to the mall?

Moving on, I turn to the Urban Dictionary, which defines "douchebag" in a few different ways. (I'm going to skip the most popular definition, which appears to have been Freeped by people who are not fond of an institution called Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.) The second most popular definition of douchebag is:
Someone who has surpassed the levels of jerk and asshole, however not yet reached fucker or motherfucker. Not to be confused with douche.

This is no help at all. Doesn't really tell me anything about the actual qualities of a douchebag. Uses one insult to define another. Moving down to the third most popular definition of douchebag:
A person with a shitty personality that needs to "take themself the fuck down" or "go home and get their fucking shine box." A douchebag usually assumes the form of a hair-gelling pretty-boy but can also be described as an overzealous, pompous, or vexatious asshole that most people wish were killed with a Mortal Kombat fatality.
Okay, the "hair-gelling pretty-boy" argues for Details' conception; and while I appreciate the "Goodfellas" reference, this is still not all that helpful. Finally, another definition offers:
An individual who has an over-inflated sense of self worth, compounded by a low level of intellegence, behaving ridiculously in front of colleagues with no sense of how moronic he appears.

A-ha! There's my "dimness" factor. I'm thinking Lumberg from "Office Space," Jonah Goldberg, and certain leaders of the free world. I feel somewhat vindicated.

But wait! If you click douche (in "Not to be confuzed with douche") in that first definition, I see the source of my confusion. First definition:
A word to describe an individual who has shown themself to be very brainless in one way or another, thus comparing them to the cleansing product for vaginas.
But it's the second definition of douche that nails it:
George W. Bush, president of the United States.
Okay, so I was confusing "douche" with "douchebag." I'm glad that's all cleared up.

I think the definition of "asshole" is pretty clear, but I welcome your input on that (plus further thoughts on the definition of "douchebag") in comments.

1In the case of the occasional douchebag who is also an asshole, malevolence probably wouldn't be his goal. Rather, he'd just do something stupid that turned out to be suffused with assholery.

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