Monday, February 16, 2009

Crystal 'Meh'

Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies.

            -Elie Wiesel

About 40 years ago, researchers built the foundations of our glorious Internet, with the intent of creating a robust, reliable system to transmit data around the world and hasten scientific progress. Futurists of the ‘60s expected that our technocrats, aided by such technology, would cure cancer, establish colonies on other planets and provide stylish jumpsuits for every man, woman and child on Earth by the turn of the 21st century. 

Well, that hasn’t worked out as planned (where’s my ^&%$ jetpack?!), but porn is much better now, you can order pizza through your TV and we’re blessed with the word “meh.”  

What is “meh?” First off, let’s get one thing straight: it’s not Yiddish. You’re thinking of “feh,” which conveys disgust and disdain. But our friend “meh” is something even more sinister. “Meh,” which actually made its way into the Collins English Dictionary last year, is an expression of indifference and uncaring. We Jews are too excitable and intrusive to even have a word for that concept. Meh’s origins are odd, with Lisa on The Simpsons credited with its first utterance in that context (previously the only usage was as the sound a goat makes). 

Nowadays, the Web is a forest of “mehs.” New Kawasaki ZX-6R? Meh. Ben Spies wins yet another race? Meh. Britney Spears displays her genitals? Meh. Been there, done that, seen it all. Meh, meh, meh. 

Oh ye who meh! How the rest of us tremble in the shadow of your omnipresent worldliness, where only the most extreme, outrageous and exotic experiences have any merit. That Internet has brought the world directly into our brains, so naturally the only way to filter that maelstrom of data is to just notice the superlative. 

Well, that’s one theory. But as far as motorcycles go, I blame the Japanese. 

Used to be we would slaver and quiver with the thought of a real 100-hp streetbike, no matter how heavy. If you wanted decent brakes and handling, you’d pretty much have to do that yourself, and if you wanted good tires, you needed a time machine. But then along came the CBR900RR, the ZX-9R, the YZF-R1 in the ‘90s, affordable machines with GP levels of performance. Then came cheap, grippy tires, then affordable, functional riding gear. Compared to what you could get in the ‘80s, 10 grand would get you a perfect riding experience, making a mediocre rider into a self-determined ‘expert’ in months, ready to “meh” at a moment’s notice.

So when Kawasaki’s multi-million dollar efforts at producing the perfect sportbike are met with a burbling whisper of “meh” on a thousand discussion boards, it has only itself and its sister Japanese OEMs to blame. The victims here would be other industry players who struggle to keep up with such leapfrogging ingenuity, only to get smacked with meh. Ducati builds a 1200cc V-Twin sportbike that makes as much power as a Japanese Inline-Four with a price differential that’s less than the purchasing-power difference between the Yen and the Euro? Meh, too expensive. BMW builds a competitive Superbike racer that will be sold to the public for about what a Yamaha YZF-R1 costs, despite the high price of doing business in Europe? Meh, it looks too much like a GSX-R. 

An odd effect of meh-ism is that new riders seem more hardware focused than before. They don’t want a motorcycle. They want the fastest sportbike they can purchase; it’s okay if I start out on an R6, right? They don’t want to just get out there and experience life on two wheels: a Sportster is a girl’s bike, so I need a blinged-out, customized Road Glide. After all, we don’t want someone to turn the meh cannon on us

I just took the MSF Basic RiderCourse. That’s right, after 20 years of riding, I took that 15-hour class so I could go on and get trained as an MSF RiderCoach. I’ll admit to having a bit of meh in me before I started, but I actually learned a thing or two, and I was even dinged some points on the final evaluation (stay away from the Rebel if you take that class!). I learned I don’t know everything and that I am far from perfection as a motorcyclist. That washed those traces of meh from my bloodstream. 

So if you’ve added “meh” to your browser’s spellcheck dictionary, take it out. The world’s a big place and getting bigger, and you’ll never see it all. 

No comments: