“'Like' still connotes the inadequacy of language in principle and it still operates in a competitive social field, but now—thanks to the queens of middle school—it is performatively integrated with conventions of that media. Adeptly employed (and only the queens can do it just right), “like” acts as a kind of quotation mark in conversations that no longer work discursively, but work more like TV commercials or movie trailers. The word introduces a tiny performance rather than a description, a “clip” displaying a message in highly condensed gestural and intonational form. It all depends on the way language is coupled with the ongoing flicker of imitative visuals, as in this girl’s report or an encounter with an ex-friend:
“She was, like, ‘I’m so happy for you…?” but she didn’t know that, like, I already knew what she said to him….? So I just played it, like, we are the sync sisters…? Because I wanted her to find out later that she, like, had this booger hanging out of her nose the whole time…?”
Each “like” is followed by a fleeting pose, held for just an instant—the whole performance is a string of “takes”—and the ends of key phrases curl up into questions, seeking audience indications that the visuals have been received: a silent and subliminal call-and-response sort of thing, and woe betide the clunky wannabe who can’t follow the nuances, who can’t improvise a version of her own, and make it seem effortless and natural when her turn comes. Among such girls, the interrogatory incantation takes on a tentative tone, a tone that reaches perpetually for reassurance and permission to go on.
Painful to behold.
Life is one long improve, and only the method[-acting]-ready thrive. You gotta keep it real, but you got be good at it too.” Mediated, p. 84-85
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