Culture At Large

In defense of “basic” culture (yes, even Pumpkin Spice Lattes)

Jes Kast

Tis the season for pumpkin spice everything. While this delicious flavor has become a marker of autumn, it is also an attribute of what's come to be known as “basic” culture. Someone considered basic is known for her (yes, it’s usually a her) zealous love of Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes (PSL for short), leggings partnered with Ugg boots and tweets littered with the hashtag #blessed. 

According to New York Magazine, “Basic rolls beautifully off the tongue. It’s a useful insult. Like trashy or gauche, it derives its power from the knowledge that if you can recognize someone or something as basic, you probably, yourself, aren’t it. It also feels restrained, somehow. You don’t quite have to stoop to calling someone a slut or a halfwit or anything truly cruel. It’s not as implicating as calling someone tacky - the basic woman is so evidently nonthreatening she doesn’t even deserve such a raised pulse. Basic-tagging is coolly lazy.” Buzzfeed and College Humor have been all over this, providing quizzes, videos and more to ensure one is not basic.

As we look at the scoffing over basic culture, both critically and theologically, we will notice a few problems arise. The first is the blatant sexism due to a shallow judgment of another human being. As New York Magazine points out, “The woman who calls another woman basic ends up implicitly endorsing two things she probably wouldn’t sign up for if they were spelled out for her: a male hierarchy of culture, and the belief that the self is an essentially surface-level formation.” When the word basic is used to throw shade, we are forgetting that all of us, even the most basic, are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God.

God who created the heavens and the earth became human. God became basic.

The second critique I have is Christological. As we approach Advent, we reflect on what it means that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. God who created the heavens and the earth became human. God became basic. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God is holy, but God is also basic - one of us. God is not over our heads but on the ground with us. Jesus was not born of royalty, but of a basic young woman. Jesus not only became the friend of sinners, but Jesus became the friend of the most basic of human beings.

We are called to follow this Jesus, discovering a God who is with us and for us. Following Jesus we offer grace to all, advocate for the end of sexism and call out dehumanizing labels. Following Jesus we discover God almighty as one of us - how ordinary, how basic. We are called to see God with us in a pair of Uggs, to see Immanuel in an Instagram photo. We are called to the ordinary, familiar and the most basic - Pumpkin Spice Lattes and all.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Theology, News & Politics, Social Trends, Media