There is something about “healthy” grocery stores that makes people think junk food is good for them. If I’m in Vons, I know that Reese’s are candy and that candy is not healthy. But bring me to Whole Foods, and I’ll see Justin’s organic dark chocolate peanut butter cups as natural, high in antioxidants and farm-fresh.
It’s more or less the same peanut butter cup; it just has a different label. Yet on multiple occasions I dupe myself into thinking that eating a Justin’s chocolate is like eating an apple or a piece of broccoli. Surely, an organic sticker means it is more substantial.
For decades, popular culture has glamorized the notion of “counterculture.” From beatniks to hippies to the grunge scene, the people on the outside often become the people everyone strives to be. Like Justin’s chocolates, popular culture has marketed these fringe artists, writers and musicians as better, cooler and more substantial humans than celebrities with more mainstream success.
Glorified counterculturelooks like taking your coffee black (even though you hate the taste), mass-produced Joy Division shirts from Urban Outfitters and the popularity of niche stoner comedy shows like “Archer.” It also looks like the assumption that if a man likes books and art, talks about queerness and feminism, has long hair and makes killer Spotify playlists, then he is a better person, partner, friend and lover. He is a Justin’s peanut butter cup. He is good for us.
For many of us at liberal arts schools, grease stains from fixing cars, grass stains from playing sports and other mainstream manifestations of “manliness” are no longer enough to steal our hearts and make us swoon. We’ve been bred to identify these characteristics as expected, “basic,” potentially even problematic. We want boys that talk about intersectionality, have issues with their fathers and really enjoy performing oral sex.
And when we find them — in our critical theory classes, at our favorite used book stores, playing pick-up sports games with other well-dressed men with minimalist line tattoos — we assume that they are amazing male allies, responsive and responsible sexual partners.
But candy is candy. A disrespectful, immature player is going to hang you out to dry, whether he is wearing his shiny letterman emblazoned with his last name and team mascot or if he’s wearing “Glenn’s” older letterman that he picked up ironically at Goodwill. Being out of the mainstream doesn’t translate to being better than the mainstream. Being Whole Foods in a sea of Vons does not mean being a better person.
Today’s equivalent to the classic jock heartbreaker is the “softboy.”
He’s not the arrogant, sporty boy with a fast red car who forgets to text you back because he’s watching the game with his buddies and doesn’t really care about you. He’s the quiet, white Converse-wearing, leather notebook-holding, American Spirit-rolling, sulking guy that stews over not texting you back between sips of cold-pressed basil lemonade. He doesn’t really know if he cares about you yet, and he needs ‘him time.’
Their beards and Planned Parenthood bumper stickers make us expect they’re not the boys we’ve been warned about. Their packaging makes them look healthy, their proximity to other “artsy” people makes them look substantial, their sense of self makes them look good for us. So we assume good intentions. We reason they didn’t really mean that low-key super sexist comment. They didn’t intentionally talk over our opinion on the film “Gone Girl.” They don’t actively try to make us feel ugly and alone. They know what consent means. They have all the right packaging and yet, they can still really suck.
Justin’s or Reese’s, a trapezoidal cylinder of processed peanut butter covered in chocolate is candy. Yet the “organic” label, the proximity to eight-dollar kombucha and fruits I can’t pronounce, the high price alone sways me to believe that Justin’s is better for me than Reese’s, that Justin’s chocolate won’t give me blackheads, that “Justin” isn’t like the other guys.
Just because someone goes to Occidental doesn’t mean they understand privilege. Just because someone posts about queer theory doesn’t mean they don’t have their own internalized prejudices. Just because someone is an artist doesn’t mean they should be excused for not calling you back.
As counterculture and “health food” transition into the mainstream, titles like “hand made,” “artisanal,” and “small-batch” nestle in our minds as more progressive, more educated and generally better. We think that artsy boys can’t hurt us, liberal spaces can’t be oppressive and food from Whole Foods can’t be unhealthy. And yet, some well-read boys wait a month to text you back, some liberal arts school administrations promote racism and sometimes you can give yourself a gnarly food baby from anything, even organic chocolate. Don’t let the wrapper fool you: a hipster tool can do as much damage as a first string varsity womanizer, even if they claim to be Fair Trade Certified©.