The Passion of the Zeitgeist
Have you ever faked it?
(page 1 of 2)“PASSION IS A CROCK,” said my old friend Wally Kidder, the noted scold and table-slapper, when I bumped into him at the coffee shop the other day. I looked up from my laptop screen and saw an expression I knew well: dilated eyes, flared nostrils, outthrust chin. The weight of the chip on his shoulder had tilted him noticeably to the right. His clenched hands and tensed forearms rested twitchily on either side of his coffee mug. He looked like Popeye during a spinach embargo. ¶ “You’re dissing passion?” I said. “What’s the matter, has your wife pointed out your deficiencies in the marital-bliss department again?” ¶ “Funny,” he said. “Hilarious. Like you’d ever hear about it if she had. Which she hasn’t, okay? Ever. For the record.” He tightened his scowl a notch or two and said, “What’s your deal, anyway? Why do you always go straight for the personal attacks?”
“Must be my passionate Scando-German blood,” I said. “Either that or I hang around with you too much. But listen—what’s the outrage du jour? To what do I owe the perplexing prospect of your pugnaciously pursed piehole?”
Wally groaned theatrically, muttered something unprintable about alliteration being the last refuge of dorks, and whipped from his pocket an ad he’d torn out of a newspaper. It announced the grand opening of a new podiatry clinic. There was a photo of two doctors (one smiling, one not), an anatomical sketch of a healthy foot, and a slogan: “Bunion and hammertoe care is our passion!”
I chuckled. That was a mistake.
“It might be funny,” Wally said, “if it wasn’t so sad. If it didn’t reveal the extent to which the word passion has been degraded in our culture. If it didn’t just about break your heart—the thought that these hard-working healers had to resort to such cheap emotional appeals in order to convey their dedication to treating the ills of humankind’s lower extremities.”
I was about to tell Wally he was taking this way too seriously when a faint aroma of rat wafted into my consciousness. “Wait a second,” I said. “ ‘Break your heart?’ ‘Healers?’ Do you have money in this foot-doctoring operation?”
“No,” he said with a guilty grimace. “But my brother-in-law is the sour-looking guy in the picture.”
“Ha!” I said. “So this rant is personal.”
“You’re missing the point. It’s not about this one ad. It’s about how this ad came to be inevitable.” Wally snapped his fingers. “Gimme your laptop,” he said.
I slid it across the table. “I’m Googling the phrase is our passion,” he muttered, typing, as he always did, with his two middle fingers. “Here we go: 389,000 hits. To mention but a few: ‘Corn is our passion.’ ‘Marketing is our passion.’ ‘Wedding photography is our passion.’ ‘Customer service is our passion’—lots of people claim that one. ‘Fundraising is our passion.’ ‘Radiant heat is our passion.’ ‘Product testing for everyday requirements is our passion.’ ‘Representing women only in divorce is our passion.’ ‘Automation is our passion.’ ‘Manufacturing labels and tags is our passion.’ ‘Property in Turkey is our passion.’ ‘Help-desk software is our passion.’ ‘Your potential is our passion.’ ‘Your delight is our passion.’ ‘Your obsession is our passion.’ ‘Your passion is our passion.’ ”
“I get it,” I said. “There’s lots of passion out there, but you’re not buying it. So what?”
“Passion has become the great validator. No, check that. Claiming to have passion has become the great validator.” Wally’s voice was rising; people around the coffee shop were giving us looks. “Last fall, during the governor’s race, when Mike Hatch went into bulging-neck-vein mode about that ethanol gaffe, his explanation was Hey, it’s not that I have anger issues—I just have passion, man. It was too little too late, but he understood that self-proclaimed passion covers a multitude of sins.” Wally stopped to hyperventilate briefly. “You can’t open an oil-change shop, much less a medical practice, without claiming it was destiny that led you to this pneumatic wrench, that your soul sings the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ every time you glurp a load of 30-weight into somebody’s Camry. Everybody talks about passion. Nobody talks about expertise.”
“The claim of passion is meant to convey expertise,” I said. “If you’re passionate about Pennzoil, presumably you’ll be compelled to learn everything there is to know about the, uh, glurpage thereof.”
Wally looked at me as if I were a particularly stupid puppy that had just soiled his favorite shoes. “Dude, you are one credulous knucklesucker, aren’t you?” he said. “If someone says they have a passion for help-desk software—well, is that a recognizable human being? And when was the last time you dealt with any entity—a company, a store, a government agency—of which you could even contemplate saying, ‘Man, those guys are all about customer service’?”
“I like my dry cleaner,” I said.