Slate (yes, I read there often) has an article highlighting some of the all-time great expressions of personal dislike in poetry. From the Roman poet Martial, translated into English in 1608 by Frances Davison, comes my favorite (of course it’s potty humor):
I muse not that your Dog turds oft doth eat;
To a tongue that licks your lips, a turd’s sweet meat.
This has me thinking about great put-downs in pop culture. What are the elements of a great insult? I think the most important element has to be wit. Insult contests are ultimately about who’s smarter (or, in the case of hip hop, badder and smarter). A witless insult can easily be deflected by the insultee simply pointing out its witlessness. Also, if your opening salvo is sufficiently witty you can deflect any comebacks of inferior wit with a sarcastic, “Nice comeback.”
For the similar reasons, originality is very important. Implicit in an insult is a claim of authorship. You don’t want to get caught plagiarizing other people’s insults. That’s an automatic loss. And you can’t repeat an insult that you have already used, no matter how great it was. That’s also an automatic loss.
Of course, many great insults are one-sided affairs–flame wars require two willing participants. And great insults can come in many forms: song lyrics, cartoons, animation, impersonation (caricatured or straight), etc. Great insults can also have fictional, or non-obvious targets.
Here are some good ones off the top of my head:
Jim O’Rourke in “Memory Lame”: “Looking at you / Reminds me of looking at the sun / and how the blind are so. damn. lucky.” It’s even better sung. I laughed out loud the first time I heard this one.
R.E.M. in “The One I Love”: “This one goes out to the one I love / a simple prop to occupy my time.”
Oingo Boingo in “Impostor” (not very witty, but it gets points for its bluntness): “Your head is firmly lodged way up your butt. Where it belongs!”
I didn’t see this one, but I get a kick out of the idea of Trey Parker and Matt Stone blowing up a ham-stuffed Michael Moore puppet in Team America. It was their way of taking care of a personal beef.