It Isn’t What It Is

September 22, 2009


“You can run as fast as you want. But you can never outrun the cliché”

The Urban Dictionary contains twenty varied definitions of the phrase: “It is what it is”. Some are dismissive, many point to similar moments of relative appropriateness.

Predominately, I strongly agree with the following:

“A phrase that seems to simply state the obvious but actually implies helplessness.”

“What every last ignorant person in the universe uses to signify an inevitable situation.”

“A trite, overused and infuriatingly meaningless cliche that is utilized by provincials who think they are adding some deep, meaningful insight during a discussion when all they are offering is senseless, unwarranted repetitiveness to what would otherwise be a far better conversation had they not shown the shallowness of the gene pool they spawned from by using this asininely useless and redundant phrase to begin with.”

In my experience the seemingly witty meme is one of the most vapid and rapidly widespread I have encountered. I cannot recall the context I originally came across it, but it seems as though overnight I began hearing it everywhere by everyone, with no common denominator to trace it to. I found all types of people saying it seemingly suddenly.

There are several aspects of this phrase and its presence in the fabric of our language that bother me. The first supersedes the existence of this or any particular phrase, but serves as a prime example that illustrates to me how commonly many thoughts and ideas embed themselves into cultural validity without a hint of conscious consideration by the majority of those whom put it into use. People seldom question the reality around them, which is precisely why reality is what it is around them, it is their own mental neglect, laziness and abandonment of responsibility that contributes to the reality that surounds them.

Things are what they are because you have allowed them to be. Nothing is just what it is, everything is the result of conditional circumstance, which in some small or great way you have had influence over, and thereby contributed to that reality being as it is. For me when I hear someone utter the phrase, I hear someone saying subconsciously “It is not my fault, I’m not responsible and there is nothing I can do about it!” A widespread intellectual coping mechanism that nurtures the mindless sense of excusism that permeates the landscape of the conversational wasteland and serves to bolster the widespread mindlessness that has infected our common culture.

What I find most troubling is its capacity for self restraint and disempowerment in the way it binds ones hands from taking any action. “It is what it is, so there is nothing I can do.” In most cases there is in fact something you can do to alter any currently dissatisfactory circumstance. The hard part is getting off your lazy ass and actually doing it. “It is what it is.” is a sort of mind couch to sit your fat lazy mental ass on so you can do absolutely nothing and avoid conscious responsibility.

Things are never what they are! Things are the current state of a gradual accumulation of conditions or knowledge. An iPhone isn’t what it is. It began with the telegraph and the record player and became an iPhone due to the efforts of people who do not make excuses but push technology further. Saying it is what it is to dismiss potentiality, to deny what things are capable of becoming. Yes, things are what they are in the moment, but the phrase doesn’t go “It is what it is, right now!” Imagine for me if you will the first Northerner disagreeing with the state of slavery in the south, and the plantation owner just saying “It is what it is!” Perhaps then you would be outraged at its use from our current societal vantage.

There is also the logically absurd instances people use it to blatantly disregard consideration or abandon any effort to justify doing what they know is unacceptable. A distraction method used to bring ones attention away from the sheer asininity of ones behavior by directing attention to the utter illogicality of using the phrase to excuse the current circumstance.

There are ofcocarse circumstances in life where it can be appropriately utilized. The following definition from the urban dictionary encapsulates just such a use:

“A phase used to instill a sense of acceptance in a situation. It is used to remind one of the unalterable elements of life.”

There are times when the acceptance of current situations is the healthy and appropriate disposition to take, and such a phrase has a way of illustrating just such an occasion. Personally I feel the negative aspects of the coinage outweigh the positive by ten to one.