On a recent rainy morning, Alyse Grace was standing in the Trader Joe’s on 14th Street, discussing her struggle to be ecologically conscious. “You get to this point where you feel so overwhelmed and so hopeless and so fed up with feeling small,” said Ms. Grace, 29, who traded her 24-packs of Poland Spring for a single nontoxic water bottle after seeing the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth a few months ago. She bought compact fluorescent light bulbs, cooked almost every meal at home with (mostly) organic ingredients and encouraged her boss at a small law firm to start a recycling program.
Then, one evening in December, Ms. Grace cracked. Her fiancé, Ben, had dragged a real Christmas tree and blinking nonenvironmentally friendly lights into her Gramercy Park apartment. “I couldn’t take it anymore,” she said, rolls of non-chlorine-bleached toilet paper looming over her shoulder. “I was tired of feeling guilty, about being this constant … energy and garbage and waste generator.”
“She was just done,” Ben said with a laugh, tossing some spelt pasta into their cart.
They kept the tree and got takeout food that night, eating right from nonbiodegradable Styrofoam containers.
In other words, they said, “Oh, fuck it”?
“Oh, yes, definitely an ‘oh, fuck it’ moment,” Ben replied, elbowing his sweetheart conspiratorially in the ribs.
We are living in an Age of Reproval, a backlash perhaps to the profligacy of the late 20th and early 21st century. To the New Year’s perennials (“Slim down!” “Quit smoking!”), you can now add “Recycle!” “Eat organic!” “Save energy!” All while somehow managing to afford a city that often feels as if it is being taken over by tanned, blow-dried aliens dropping millions of euros on glassy new condos. And so New Yorkers are laying claim to the “oh, fuck it moment”: that minor mutiny, that small, private act of rebellion, that middle finger to the new rule makers. It’s the subway rider climbing into a cab (perhaps resolving to “expense” the receipt) … the gourmet cook eschewing the weekend farmers’ market for the corner Korean deli … the pregnant woman taking defiant slurps from a glass of red wine (hey, the French do it!).
“I promise myself every year I’m going to go to the gym more,” said Rebecca Levy, a freckled brunette in her twenties who was flipping through a rack of sports bras at Paragon Sporting Goods on Broadway. “And every year I’ll be really good for a couple of weeks or a month or whatever.” But “eventually I’m just like, fuck spinning, I want some Oreos.” (It’s “oh, fuck it” to not go to the gym, but it’s even more “oh, fuck it” to not bother to cancel one’s costly membership.)
“When I am on my way to take the subway to work, or after work, and an open taxi drives by, I say, ‘Oh, fuck it,’ and hail it down,” said Dana Gidney, a publicist also in her twenties.
And who these days wants to bother squeezing into tiny pants and a sparkling top to tread the hot hell-coals of some bottle-serviced, publicist-scattered club in the meatpacking district? “Staying inside with my boyfriend and my DVDs? Heaven,” said one young bearded artist found commuting on the L train to his Williamsburg apartment. “It’s not worth it to go out anymore and see the same people doing the same drugs and posing for the same people. I say ‘Oh, fuck it’ to that.” He punctuated the phrase with air quotes. “I got me some Chinese and Netflix.” (Not sending back one’s Netflix rentals in a timely manner in order to get the most out of the monthly fee is “oh, fuck it.” Going to a local store to pick up the DVDs you want to see that night despite having a Netflix membership? Very “oh, fuck it.”)
SPEARS SISTERS LET IT SLIDE
“I convince myself my refusal to go to the gym is something like my inner Riot Grrl revolting against society telling me I need to be skinny,” Ms. Levy wrote later in an e-mail to The Observer. “I’ll be reading all of the women’s magazines, and almost every story is about some new diet or workout routine, and I’ll feel all of this anger bubbling up. I think that partially makes me say, ‘Oh, fuck it.’”
The phrase does have an angry, adolescent ring to it—appropriately enough for New Yorkers, many of whom exist in a sort of suspended angry adolescence. It’s reminiscent of a line from the Reagan-era blockbuster Risky Business. “Sometimes you gotta say, ‘What the fuck,’ make your move,” says Tom Cruise’s scheming sidekick Miles: “‘What the fuck’ gives you freedom. Freedom brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future.”
And yet there is a certain safety to many modern “oh, fuck it” moments: the Oscar-winning actors, like Jack Nicholson and Nicolas Cage, doing lucrative, mainstream movies that Daniel Day-Lewis would never do (you can’t get more “oh, fuck it” than Rob Reiner’s The Bucket List); middle-aged men, like Mr. Gore and Alec Baldwin, letting themselves get fat (the former triumphed by saying “oh, fuck it” to politics); all those 20-somethings getting engaged in droves, perhaps with a wary eye toward their haggard, Cosmo-swilling predecessors (Oh, fuck it … I can always get divorced later)—a giddy plunge into the soft sofa cushions of commerce and convention.
Other Hollywood celebrities take a more obviously self-destructive tack. The public watched raptly this year as once-promising talents Mischa Barton, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears unraveled before the paparazzi’s cameras—declaring “oh, fuck it” to their carefully polished P.R. efforts in a way that, say, Madonna never did. With her failed drug tests, steady diet of fast food, crotch-flashing and erratic driving habits, Ms. Spears seems to be practically hollering the phrase at an entertainment industry that robbed her of her childhood and her dignity. Most notably during her cringe-inducing “comeback” MTV performance in September, which involved stoic hand flicks and pudgy hip sways substituting for dance moves.