Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Thrown Under the Bus? No More!

Thrown Under the Bus by I, Rodius
Thrown Under the Bus, a photo by I, Rodius on Flickr.
Every once in a while, a saying worms its way into our cultural consciousness that leaves you questioning your will to live. Where's the beef? comes to mind.  WHAZZUUUUP! another.  What you talking bout, Willis?  Need I go on?  My current lexi- enemy is the now-ubiquitous term, Getting thrown under the bus.  Hell, my eye twitched just writing it. 

For those of you new to the planet, the term is an idiomatic phrase meaning to sacrifice another person (often a friend or ally), who is usually not deserving of such treatment, out of malice or for personal gain.  Apparently, it was picked up by the mainstream media during the 2008 primary season when it was frequently been used to describe various politicians distancing themselves from unpopular or controversial figures. David Segal, a writer for The Washington Post, went on to call the expression "the cliché of the 2008 campaign."  Well guess what, Dave?  We are leading up to a new primary season, and all I can ask myself, is, Why! Dear Lord! Why?! must I keep having to hear this phrase day after day?

My Waterloo with the line came last night while watching Project Runway, of all things.  In this particular episode, silver fox/mentor Tim Gunn empathized with a contestant who was having difficulties with a team challenge.  I don’t want your role to be so trivialized that you’re thrown under the bus, he cautioned and as he patted her on the back.  That's when I lost it, interweb. Lost. It.  So this is what it has come to. It’s not enough to use the phrase after people have been thrown under the bus or to comment on bus-throwing-unders as they are happening. Now, like an insatiable fungus, this godforsaken blight on the English language has spread its tendrils to the subjunctive, and we are INVENTING situations in which someone COULD be thrown under the bus so that we may remark upon those! (N.B.  To be fair, in the Project Runway universe, contestants exist only to be thrown under an enormous bus.  It is the way of the show.  It doesn't lessen the intensity of my ire, however, when I have to hear the term used out loud.  By Tim Gunn, of all people.  Sheesh!)

There must have been a time when the term was fresh as a summer breeze and didn't stink up the joint like it does now, non?  According to Wikipedia (where, sadly, there is an entire entry for it.  Yes.  Really.), the phrase harkens back to the writer Charles Bukowski, purveyor of all things skid row.  In his work Septugenarian Stew published in 1990, one of his characters, Harry, pushes his friend, Monk, in front of a bus.  While Monk lays unconscious and probably dying in the street, Harry steals his wallet and goes directly to a bar where he spends Monk's money by buying himself  two double whiskeys. Later, he goes to a  steakhouse where, again, using Monk's money, buys two beers and two Porterhouse steaks with fries.  Go easy on the grease, he tells the waiter.  

It is not a moment that launched a thousand Hallmark cards, to be sure.  But a catch phrase?  Could Bukowski have known that this scene would paint an image that would inspire millions - some, like me, to complete and utter distractions- each day?  Maybe this is the silver lining, then.  Maybe this is Bukowski's revenge:  that he managed to wheedle his way into the zeitgeist way past his due date. When you look at it that way, all I can say is, Touche, sir.  Well played.  But to the rest of you who insist on keeping the bus-throwing dream alive I say this:  Stop.  Saying.  That.  NOW!  Go easy on the grease.

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