Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cultural Reference of the Week: #SheRatchet

My students have been throwing this term around class lately: "ratchet." Being an English teacher and naturally curious, I asked my students for the context of the term. As they say, ask and ye shall receive.

I went from this (half serious):

To this:


With an additional this, thrown in for flavor:


(I, of course, found much more context with this)


I find it very interesting how the "slang" spreads and shifts its context. I teach in an relatively-affluent suburban area, one in which you are not likely to see that sort of behavior/attitude in the local drug store. Yet it appears in the school.

I completely understand how adolescents adopt pop culture references and adapt them to their own living (witness my own experience twenty years back with Grunge - double flannels for life!). What I still don't understand, though, is the adoption of the "gangsta" mentality in suburbia.

I'm no historian, but I assume that the roots of the hip-hip would came from a group of musicians that were experiencing a really tough life. That idea, of course, got bastardized once it became popular. Now, it seems, my students live such an "easy life" that they feel the need to toughen up by "living" a "ghetto" life (I can assure you, there is no ghetto in Clarkstown). The phrases "fake tough" and "phony brave" come to mind (from Full Metal Jacket).

I've seen the baggy pants, the abundance of tattoos, and the rise of "girl fights" happen at my school, and I need to ask - where do they go from here. Is the "ghetto phase" something to be expected these days? Do we idealize a "lifestyle" that emphasizes easy money, easy girls, and easy solutions (bang)? Is this some insane bastardization of the American Dream?

Or is this yet another iteration of the vapidity that seems to be oozing out of high schools today? What do we teach that is lasting? That is enduring? That is meaningful?

To come full-circle: the ratchet conversation continued into my extra help session, where a student working on the literary magazine (and certainly NOT the person who would use the word ratchet), told me that it's just a derivation of the word "wretched."

I'm not sure if she's right, but it is a bit scary that one of the kids' go-to phrases is, simply stated, wretched. Is that some subliminal expression of their psyche?

(P.S. A: I realize they don't use it that way and B: totally reading into it. But hey, that's what I do.)