I finished Adam Kotsko’s Awkwardness yesterday.
I think that it was good, if slim, and the content works for what Kotsko is doing–laying out the nature of awkwardness, how we experience it, and ways to combat (or rather, embrace) it. I read this review of the book over at The New Inquiry a mere moment ago, and I think that it hits on some important issues, which I am going to ignore here.
I want to talk about Kotsko’s notion of radical awkwardness. I think that it’s a brilliant thing, and something that needs to be interrogated. Ultimately, Kotsko sees radical awkwardness as something that can draw connections, bring beings together, and foster some kind of balance between the critically awkward and the normative. Active rejection of the normative allows for the individual to break the very idea of the normative down, and I can get behind that; if radical awkwardness is a response to “a lack of any norm at all,” to embrace rawkwardness (a term I just coined) means to eschew the social order. And this is good, probably, especially in the light of breaking down barriers between different races, classes, what have you–radical awkwardness allows for Larry David to associate and have a complex friendship with a black couple, arguably something that he wouldn’t be doing if he weren’t radically awkward.
The worry I have is that radical awkwardness doesn’t transcend the gender and sex gaps. In fact, women are mostly silent in Awkwardness, since the characters that are analyzed most closely are, with the exception of Lindsay Weir from Freaks and Geeks, males. I’m not calling Kotsko out, however, because I get it–men are fully at the center of discourses of awkwardness and narratives inside that discourse. It isn’t his fault that the wealth of entertainment in the field of view concerning awkwardness is almost solely centered around men.
In any case, I’m not sure that rawkwardness makes softer barriers between men and women in Kotsko’s view, and rightly so; he pulls enough strong examples from Apatow’s movies to confidently say that, in Apatow’s universe, “women represent the social ordering that is going to deprive men of their awkward adolescent bonds.” This is really the state of popular film right now: the male as the fun child, the female as the strict regiment that binds. It doesn’t end in comedy, though, where this breaking and re-establishment of the social order is a keystone of the genre. Inception operates on the same fundamental idea; women will drag you down from your fantasy.
It’s hard for me to believe that rawkwardness can ever break this down, even if it breaks down the social order. If awkwardness is caused by a lack of communication, and rawkwardness allows for better communication, is it really awkward anymore? What can we say about abnormal when the normative is swept away?
I’m left thinking of awkward women. I’m thinking of Florence from Greenberg. I’m thinking about Charlotte in Lost in Translation. I’m not sure that radical awkwardness could even reestablish some sense of fullness in either of those characters, and I’m left wondering if there is simply an access to awkwardness that women are fundamentally ill equipped for. Would rawkwardness cut through the complex social relations that they have with the world in order to make them feel like they’re part of their community? I don’t know.
It could be an inherent problem with how women are written in contemporary media. With only one way out, and that resolution always coming in the form of plot, women are often absent from multiple readings. It’s a sad thing, but it’s true right now; it’s hard to think of an awkward way out of a problem when the problem was constructed with a single, plot-oriented solution.
In any case, I’m rambling and asking questions. You should read Awkwardness. It gives something wonderful, and takes nothing from you, and it should be lauded for that. Also, it has a bright orange color, which makes people ask you about it, in which case you awkwardly explain that it’s a theoretical justification/explanation for awkwardness.