Lobbed first in derision of a figure of queer hyperbole — the hypersensitive (endlessly wounded) and thus hyperdefensive (humorless, policing) but also hyperdramatic (complaining) claimant to a marginalized identity — “special snowflake” has curved back on its originators. On leftbook (and screenshots of e.g. the Glenn Beck fanpage) the term turns toward the critical exposure of self-absorptive white tears, of xenophobia as demand for safe space, and of racist diaperbabies “triggered” into losing their civility.
What does this insult presume? What is its force as insult? Calling someone a “special snowflake” antagonizes their presumed fragility, but why? And what does it mean to reverse the gesture?
An insufferable video on the “Millennials Question” can perhaps partially explain this. Motivational speaker / marketing consultant / would-be diagnostician Simon Sinek would characterize the snowflake as somebody who received too many participation trophies and now enjoys too much instant gratification to square their self-perceived singularity with the demands of a reality principle. To demand this kind of singularity is to become a social type defined by petulant inadequacy to typification.
Another video comes to mind too —
Somebody says “go get your diapies changed.” An echolalic turkey gobble noise jumps from the young person raising two middle fingers to the older trump supporters crowding in and screaming back the gobble noise. In a longer version of the video we learn that the young person started screaming to interrupt a speaker with a microphone and then gets drowned out by people shouting “USA!” x 3. Aggressive mock applause gets mirrored back while people shout hurray and sarcastically bellow “Oh yeah oh yeah.” The most legible sign says “SPEAK OPENLY DISAGREE HONESTLY PURSUE SOLIDARITY” and then, handwritten, simply “Trump.” Toward the end you can see the young person kind of bobbing up and down into a mortification dance where the absurdity of the confrontation somehow redeems the shame of not knowing what you’re doing or even exactly why. Everyone is filming everything.
I wonder if this captures the moment it became possible to use “special snowflake” to antagonize the fragility of those who feel threatened by left-liberal and radical counter-“policing.”
What is happening here? When does infantility act tactically?
Can the rhetoric of infantility (calling somebody else a baby) be thought on a continuum with infantility as reversion to prediscursive noise or the enactment of a shared shame dump where discourse must become formless (acting like a baby)?
Can “snowflake” not just reclaim but also re-weaponize (ascribed) hypersensitivity?
A partial bibliography could have you read the books Elaine Showalter mentions in this paragraph from the introduction to Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Culture (1997):
Americans also tend to feel defensive about hysterical disorders after the recent spate of accusations that this country is becoming a hysterical victim society. It’s a standing joke that Americans no longer view themselves as sinners struggling with the guilt of lust, avarice, or greed but rather as sick people addicted to sex, shopping, or sweets. Books like Charles Sykes’s A Nation of Victims (1992), Robert Hughes’s The Culture of Complaint (1993), Wendy Kaminer’s I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional (1993), and Alan Dershowitz’s The Abuse Excuse (1995) mock and denounce what they see as the twelve-step, self-help culture of contemporary America. Because many of these books have an ideological ax to grind, they seek political scapegoats and simple answers for a complex phenomenon. Pundits blame the recovery movement on Freud and psychoanalysis, changes in sexuality, or a collapse of American family values. These attacks are so sweeping and so vitriolic, so one-sided and so unfair, it’s no wonder patients, psychiatrists, and therapists feel threatened and panicky. In the Journal of Psychohistory, Nielltje Gedney, for example, charges that critics are after “the total annihilation of therapy and therapists.”
Also “Bart’s Inner Child,” S05.E07 of The Simpsons (first aired in 1993), screencaps in the facebook group “I am leabing dIS gronP,” and Sarah Schulman’s Conflict Is Not Abuse (2016). Apparently the term “special snowflake” has been traced (by Wikipedia) to Fight Club (1996) and the film version thereof (1999), and there’s probably something to be written about “edginess” as a genre of disaffected teen masculinity diffused from that. See too the fashion philosophy of “normcore” (as snowflake antidote), e.g. in this manifesto thing called Youth Mode: A Report on Freedom.
Aren’t there dissonances in an alt-right that can both lash out in murderous envy at “normies” and ally themselves with a perhaps broader based (or rather cross-generational) backlash against “snowflakes”?
(Somehow it took me over a year to realize that to write something about this one would really have to engage Lauren Berlant’s “Theory of Infantile Citizenship.”)