Culture & Society

#THANKFULLY BLESSED

exploring basic bitches

By MELVIN LI

One evening at the first marching band rehearsal of the semester, one of our freshman recruits took advantage of her 10-minute break and began video chatting with a friend in the middle of Schoellkopf Field. She was aware of how ridiculous she looked; after she was finished, she trotted over to us and proclaimed: “I’m so basic!”

I looked up. “What’s basic?”

“It means ‘stereotypical white girl,’” she replied.

I thought at first that she had made up the term. To me, “basic” meant “plain,” “normal” or “default.” Most of us here also know that “basic” refers to anything with a pH over seven. It’s the name of a 2003 film starring John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson. It’s a cigarette brand, a programming language and even a language in Star Wars. But a stereotypical white girl? I had never heard the word basic used in that way before, and neither had most of my friends.

Karen Tsai / Design Editor

Karen Tsai / Design Editor

Over the next few weeks, however, I realized that the definition of a “basic girl” (or “basic bitch,” depending on your preference) was more complex than I had imagined. Being “basic” is far more than being unintelligent. On the contrary, “basicness” has nothing to do with one’s grades, although there may be a negative correlation between the two. Instead, a girl’s “basicness” depends on her lifestyle, snacking choices, dress and social habits. For those of you with many hours to waste, take a quick trip to BuzzFeed and you’ll find dozens, if not hundreds, of characteristics, behaviors and hobbies that might make a girl “basic.” For those of you with little time left, keep on reading; I have compiled a brief guide to help strongly acidic individuals, such as myself, understand the basic bitch phenomenon down to its very roots.

So without further ado, let us begin with the basic question (no pun intended): What is a “basic bitch”?

 The Standard Definition

To date, there is no perfect definition of a basic girl. There are only several adjectives and phrases that come close to accurately portraying her, never capturing her completely.

What is now considered to be the Standard Definition (SD) of “basic bitch” is also known as the Internet Definition (ID), since most information on basic bitches originates online. This definition is only applied to girls who genuinely hold stereotypical basic values, which are absolute social conformity and advancement, academic mediocrity, vapid consumption, promiscuity and sensual stimulation, be it mental or physical. Going by the Standard Definition, if you’re a sorority chick with between 500 and 1200 Facebook friends who’s taking 14 credits per semester and going to bed in colorful socks surrounded by green apple orchard scented candles, you’re a pretty basic bitch.

As with most things on Urban Dictionary, the SD is an extremely hateful insult to use on a girl because it implies she is an artificial brat who spends every moment of the day trying to appear desirable, both mentally and physically. Supposedly, everything she buys, every song she listens to and every beverage she sips is selected in a way that maximizes her social appeal. Most “basic bitches” truly enjoy their pumpkin-spice lattes (PSL) and Chipotle gift cards, but to the most devoted basic girls, personal gratification is always secondary to social desirability.

Typical attire for “basic bitches” may include the good old norts (Nike shorts) and Uggs combo at lunch, or putting on a fresh infinity scarf for a selfie before class and then leaving it on for the rest of the day. Yoga pants are usually a dead giveaway, and it’s common “knowledge” that the “basic” girls who wear yoga pants to class probably have never been to an actual yoga class. “Basic” girls tend to be very brand-conscious and will often ignore self-preservation instincts to follow all the latest trends. Here in Ithaca, any girl walking around in a North Face jacket, TOMS shoes or sundresses past November is seriously “basic,” especially if she complains about the cold. Other favored outfits among “basic” girls are the vest, sweater, skinny jeans and riding boots combo, as well as anything worn with black leggings and rainbow sandals. “Basic” symptoms extend to a girl’s living quarters as well. If a girl decorates her room with specially scented candles for every change in season, or Instagrams the fake Marilyn Monroe quote hanging above her bed, you can officially label her a “basic” bitch. And of course, if a friend takes a perfectly beautiful picture of autumn leaves for her cover photo and then spends five minutes filtering the living hell out of it — get your “basic” net ready. The same goes if your friend is addicted to TV shows including, but not limited to, Grey’s Anatomy, Say Yes to the Dress, Teen Mom, Pretty Little Liars and 2 Broke Girls.

True “basic bitches” are never referred to as “basic” in public, for their behavior gives them away so immediately and consistently that no one feels a need to actually call them out. According to Noreen Malone of New York, one of the most important hallmarks of a genuinely “basic” girl is that she “fails to surprise us.” Going by the SD, a “basic” girl’s exploits cause no shock, warrant no double takes and fail to elevate the pulses of even a single available male. To reference The Matrix, spotting a basic girl is like being in love; no one has to tell you, you just know it.

Recently, the term “basic bitches” helped lead to the use of “acidic” to describe all the human females with non-basic characteristics, “Acidic bitches” is more or less identical to “bad bitches,” and refers to independent individuals who aren’t readily swayed by fashion trends, popular culture and fitting in. There is nothing shameful about being acidic, and if your friend ever tells you that the pH of the room plummets when you walk in, just tell her that drain cleaner hurts a lot more than vinegar.

History

According to BuzzFeed contributor Saeed Jones, the term “basic bitch” had actually been around for over a decade prior to its mainstream popularity, initially referring to any unsophisticated person. In 1984, the band Klymaxx released a hit single called “Meeting in the Ladies Room,” which included the line, “I’d hate to come down to their level and become a BW / a basic woman but if they don’t stop it’s gonna get scandalous.” It’s not clear what the band defines as a “BW,” but this is one of the first recorded instances of “basic” referring to a woman. The roots of the term as we know it date back to a controversial 2009 YouTube video by male comedian Lil Duval, which lists dozens of stereotypes associated with working class black women. Duval rails against behavior such as “singing any Beyoncé song all day,” having “five kids with three baby daddies” and stepping into night clubs “with those fresh heels on, toes done and the back of your ankles ashy.”

The term slowly gained popularity in the hip-hop scene over the following two years. Lil Wayne released a song called “I Am Not a Human Being,” in which he insisted that he was not “basic”: “I got my foot on the line I’m not racin’ / I thank God that I am not basic.” At the end of his song “Hard in the Paint,” rapper Tyga also defends himself from the term, saying, “Don’t compare me to no basic bitch.” Both songs helped transform “basic bitch” from a generic insult to a decidedly negative phrase. This would culminate in 2011 when The Game released a song titled “Basic Bitch,” which criticized unattractive urban working class women who frequent nightclubs with “fake bag, fake ass and she beggin’ for Patrón.” At this point, the phrase “basic bitch” usually referred to desperate prostitutes who wore knockoff heels and clothing in an attempt to make quick money at nightclubs. It was often used interchangeably with the word “ratchet,” which refers to pathetic, ghetto-sprung divas with unpolished heels, dyed hair, torn leggings and cheap purses. Many feminists spoke out against the “basic” label, stating that it was a term invented by men to further the sexual objectification of women, but the phrase’s popularity continued to rise among both genders.

That same year, female musicians began including the controversial term in their work, despite claims that it was misogynistic. The most notable example of this was Kreayshawn, whose debut single and later viral hit “Gucci Gucci” contained the refrain: “Gucci Gucci, Louis Louis, Fendi Fendi, Prada / Them basic bitches wear that shit so I don’t even bother.” This song marked a turning point for the meaning of “basic,” as Kreayshawn specifically attacked women who wore expensive designer clothing and cosmetics. When asked to describe a basic bitch, Kreayshawn replied: “You can smell a basic bitch from a mile away. You can smell that bitch’s perfume. A basic bitch is just someone who likes what’s typical to like. The radio puts stuff on the radio that they think is typical and you should like it, and that’s something a basic bitch would like. She likes those normal brands and wears them all the time because that’s some basic shit.”

Young women increasingly began using “basic” on each other as an insult, breaking the male monopoly on the word. A few bold girls even began referring to themselves as “basic” as a form of self-deprecating humor. Eventually, females made up the majority of people who used the term and committed “basiccusations.” From 2011 onwards, the concept of “basic bitches” gradually evolved to what it is today: white, mainstream, somewhat affluent young women who seek to advance their lives by buying the right products, listening to the right music and socializing with the right people.

This shift in definition is better demonstrated by the April 2014 CollegeHumor video “How to Tell if You’re a Basic Bitch,” which is perhaps one of the most mainstream occurrences of the term to date. BuzzFeed has also helped spread awareness of the term, publishing over two dozen articles, quizzes and surveys with the keywords “basic bitches” and “basic white girls” that same year. In fact, most BuzzFeed articles about basic bitches were published in 2014, proving that the basic bitch phenomenon is still breaking into new territory to this day.

Why Do We Say It? What Does It Really Mean?

“Basic” is not as derogatory as it was during its early hip-hop days. But with such a negative definition online and a history so entrenched in the urban working class, why has the label “basic bitch” become so widely used among girls today? Why do so many girls jokingly refer to each other and themselves as “basic” when sources online tell us that no girl wants to be associated with the term? All over the Internet, articles embracing the “basic” subculture are spreading almost as quickly as articles that attack it.

Indeed, there are some scientifically proven benefits to being “basic.” Ella Ceron, author of “9 Scientific Reasons Why You Should Embrace Your Inner Basic Girl” on Thought Catalog, states that “basic” girls are much healthier and happier than the people around them precisely because of their basicness. Sure, those avocado toast Instagrams and #fitness hashtags may look ridiculous online, but these eating and exercise habits will definitely benefit your health in the long run. Taking selfies with pumpkins or sorority squatting in front of bonfires means that you’re probably spending plenty of time outdoors, which of course is better than sitting alone on your behind all day typing up articles like this. Even blind conformity, the most important element of basicness, has its advantages; eagerness to embrace social trends gives basic girls access to valuable social capital not available to antisocial misanthropes.

But these factors alone can’t account for the sudden widespread usage of “basic bitches.” There is one more force at work here — popularity. As more and more people began to use the term “basic bitch,” its meaning lost its specificity. Back in 2009, “basic bitch” simply meant “stereotypical, inner-city, unoriginal ratchet girl at the club.” As more people began to use it, the label’s meaning changed to “stereotypical rich girl who overspends on clothing and cosmetics,” and then to “stereotypical white girl.” But girls today often use the term on friends who don’t exhibit any of the above characteristics. You don’t have to be ghetto to be basic anymore. You don’t have to be rich. You don’t even have to be white — BuzzFeed even has a guide to Hong Kong basic bitches! The only thing any of the definitions have in common is “stereotypical,” so the best way to be basic is to behave “stereotypically.” But how? This depends on the era, nothing more.

The 2004 film Mean Girls is a perfect demonstration of how an object’s original meaning can be lost as its popularity rises. When Tina Fey wrote the film’s screenplay, she was satirizing the “queen bee” phenomenon, the rise of those charismatic, aggressive, manipulative, wealthy alpha girls who often dominate school settings. As the film’s popularity exploded, however, many young women failed to recognize it as satire and began idolizing characters such as Regina George, instead of mocking them as Fey had hoped. Fey later said in an interview: “Adults find it funny. They are the ones who are laughing. Young people watch it like a reality show. It’s much too close to their real experiences, so they are not exactly guffawing.” Today, rather than serving as antagonists to the heroine Cady Heron as Fey intended, the Plastics are arguably the most popular characters in the movie.

This “Mean Girls effect” can be similarly applied to “basic bitches.” Since “basic” girls are, by definition, unaware that they’re “basic,” they stop being “basic” the moment they call anyone else a “basic bitch.” Therefore, as more and more girls use the term, the number of true “basic” girls in the universe must be declining. As Michael Reid Roberts of The American Reader put it: “Arguably this means that the more people become familiar with the word, the less useful it becomes; there are literally less basic bitches to name. Anyone familiar with the term knows that actual basic bitches are not important for the word’s use, though; the basic bitch names an absence, a vacancy, a phantasm.”

Just like the meaning of “hipster,” the meaning of “basic” has evolved with the times; only for “basic” it happened over the last few years instead of over decades. “Hipster,” which now describes a broad range of affluent white Millennials in gentrified neighborhoods, once specifically referred to lovers of jazz and bebop in the ’40s. Similarly, with time, “basic bitch” has grown to become an umbrella term for any girls who do anything that might be considered typical. It’ll be a while before the Urban Dictionary Standard Definition of “basic” falls out of use, but among friends, “basic” is as harmless as “stupid” or “ridiculous,” at least for now. Despite all our documenting, researching and debating, we still may never know what “basic” will mean next. #blessed #thankful #tbt

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