Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Badass.

Badass is a fascinating and problematic concept to me. Even the word itself makes no sense: someone who is badass is neither bad, nor an ass, nor so they have a substandard bottom. Exactly what other qualities they possess is up for significant debate.

The dictionary (American Heritage) says badass is vulgar slang for “a mean-tempered or belligerent person.” Dictionary.com expands on this definition, stating that a badass is someone “distinctively tough or powerful; so exceptional as to be intimidating.” As far as I can tell, the word seems to have spawned out of the blaxploitation films of the 60s and 70s, or in any case it is a new word, only about 50 years old.

The internet (by which I mean the stew of popular culture in which we all squat) seems to define badass as follows:

1. Violence

Anyone badass, says Culture, is going to need to kick some serious ass. The asses kicked are sometimes of the deserving, sometimes not. Badass does not come with a particular moral code: there are badass good guys and badass bad guys. Either way, badass people are not to be messed with, or they will hurt you. Like, real bad.

2. Appearance

To be able to inflict the appropriate amount of violence, a badass person must have the appropriate body type. You must be muscular, in-shape, and able to flip out and kick stuff in the face at any moment. In addition, many badasses have adopted an appearance and attitude to signify this readiness of flipping out and kicking stuff. Signifiers traditionally include sunlgasses, leather, spikes, and/or wacky costumery. The mere presence of these signifiers DO NOT, however, necesarily mean that the person in question is a badass. The form of badass without the content is called posing, and the Intarwubs looks on posers with extreme disdain.

3. Lack of emotion

Badass people show no emotion on the outside. On the inside, though, they are often a powder keg of repressed feelings: whether avenging a family member’s death or settling a personal vendetta, there is usually a rationale behind their actions. That being said, the point is that badass people do not freak out in circumstances when regular people would be gibbering and/or dead. Instead, they sometimes have a witty catchphrase to say, or even better, no reaction at all.

Andy Samberg of Saturday Night Live (with “Neil Diamond” and JJ Abrams) says it best:

You may have noticed that this definition of Badass is overwhelmingly male. In fact, most of the urbandictionary.com definitions of badass specifically revolve around men. So what about women?  If women are to be Badass, says the Intarwebs, they need to act like badass men.

Violence is the same. Badass appearance for women usually plays up their sexuality. Lack of emotion is key, but since we all know women are hysterical*, emotional creatures, we secretly know that their underlying current of Feelings could reach up and incapacitate them at any moment. I mean, emotions are the secret of badass men, too, but there’s no way that their feelings would cripple them at key points in the final battle, right?

My goodness. What a can of worms I am opening. Look at them go. For a fun time, google How to Become a Badass, or  images of Badass.

Let me be clear: I don’t see anything wrong with that definition of badass, I just think it’s a bit limiting. I’m looking for a broader definition of badass, one less focused on ripping the crap out of stuff. Some crap-ripping, well, that’s okay. But that’s not the be-all and end-all of badass.

For example, my roommates and I last year wrote a list of badass attributes that we posted on our fridge. It reads as follows:

  • Confidence
  • Walking your talk
  • Stick-shift driving
  • Mechanic skills
  • Making organic fertilizer
  • Making meaningful rap/poetry
  • Welding
  • Hot blues voice
  • Slaughering and butchering an animal
  • Being an awesome, fast cook
  • Doing everything one-legged
  • Bike commuting and/or repair
  • Juggling
  • Playing the accordian (well)
  • Working on trains
  • Giving birth

I imagine a more all-encompassing definition of badass, one in which the end result is not violence, but rather a sort of ultimate authenticity. I know a three year old girl who is so totally herself without letting anyone else control who she is or will be…she’s pretty badass. Badass, to me, is a combination of self-sufficient, fierce, purposeful, authentic, multitalented, and passionate. And as much as I love me some Reservoir Dogs, I love fierce authenticity more.

And thus it is so.

*Note for my readers who didn’t get the same flavor of liberal arts education as me: Hysteria. I think it’s a hilarious word. Hysteria comes from the Greek word for uterus. The basic theory of the Greeks, our noble and wise cultural predecessors, was that all the ladies were crazy because of their babymakers. The whole menses-babies-lack of penis thing confused the hell out of our classical anscestors, to the point where they came up with wacky theories about menstrual blood being the least pure of all the humours and fluids (sperm being the purest), thus justifying on a biological level thousands of years of misogyny. Whew. In other news, in the 1800s certain doctors discovered that since feminine hysteria obviously came from the uterus, the answer to curing it was clearly to stimulate the clitoris, thus calming the uterus and making the woman posessing said organs more sane. I suspect it was a popular treatment. That’s right, ladies. Orgasms make you less crazy.

4 Comments

  1. “Hysteria is feminine, both in Greek and in men.”
    –Turner Cody’s “Robert Frost” (Which is to the best of my Google-Fu not listenable on these internets.)

  2. Badass to me is a combination of confidence, suave and blue collar skills rolled together into one. Someone who is handy, clear in their intent and purpose and coolheaded about how they get there is Badass. Whether that is translated as violence, social skills, business or anything else Badass is all about having the right attitude and the willingness to walk the talk in a spectacular fashion when the time calls for it.

  3. Anne Bean

    February 7, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Nicely stated, Kevin!

  4. Heck yeah. LK and I approve. We all have a little, or a lot of badass in us.

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