The thing about "everyone"

Both political pundits and pop-culture commentators have the exceptionally bad habit of referring to "everyone" when what they mean is either (a) an extraordinarily small slice of the population or (b) themselves, their friends, and those like them.

Two examples.

Last November, while discussing the new Marvel film Doctor Strange on The Watch podcast, Andy Greenwald said, "I think that people are battered and beaten down by comic book movies and the Marvel movies." In context, the conversation was about how "everyone" feels—e.g., "people"—regarding the cultural phenomenon of comic book movies.

But note how silly and easily falsified this comment is (coming from an otherwise lovely and thoughtful writer and podcaster). People keep going to see these movies. Not only that, but by all accounts, not least self-report, many to most people who keep going to see these movies appear to like them, even like them very much. That is my own anecdotal experience, at the very least.

Why is it that Greenwald, standing in for the pundit/commentator generally, feels the need to assign to "people" or "everyone" what he himself and/or his friend group feels? Why not say, "It bums me out that there are so many people who lap this stuff up; speaking only for myself, I'm exhausted by it and ready for something different"? Cultural commentary is at its very worst when it becomes self-extrapolation and projection onto the wider culture of one's own and one's circle's thoughts and feelings.

The second example is Trump. And this is simple. Anti-Trumpers feel exhausted, harried, and scared by "the age of Trump." But instead of learning the lesson—a pretty straightforward one, I'd submit—from the election that anti-Trumpers do not exhaust the national population, they extend their feelings of exhaustion and fear to "everyone." So that one can say, offhandedly, "Like everyone else, I'm feeling burdened and worn down by this week's news about Trump." There may be eminently good reasons to feel such a way (indeed I think there are). But that doesn't mean "everyone" does. It means you, the speaker, do, and probably many of your friends. Just say that instead. It's an easy thing to do.

Among others, two risks of this kind of generalization stand out. First, you erase those who are different from you, who feel and think differently than you. And second, you implicitly suggest a righteous inner circle, from which are excluded those who differ from you. Whether this be the pop culture inner circle whose taste in art is the only one that matters or the politics inner circle whose opinion is the only option for decent people, the result is the same. My sense is that, more often than not, this implicit erasure/exclusion is unintended. Pundits and critics would be well served in such cases by simply speaking for themselves, and not for anyone else.


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