I guess I knew about Wendy Williams in the same way that our culture makes little girls know they should wear princess dresses or little boys know they should play with trucks. The kind of knowing that results from those culturally hegemonic signals that fall somewhere between English teacher favorites "nature" and "nurture." You know: how orphan Pip, bouncing from here to there all those years, was ever socialized. For example, I had heard Will Smith or Jay-Z or Lil' Wayne rap about a Wendy. And I remember how an old colleague of mine tuned into some Wendy for "you know, the gossip."
And then I was flying JetBlue last week, and flipping through my complimentary DirectTV, and here is this Wendy Williams, because now she is on the TV, sitting there, talking to Kathy Griffin about Kathy Griffin, and Kathy Griffin's mom. And here is this Wendy holding a photo of Kathy Griffin dressed as Kate Gosselin. (Sidenote: Is anyone making Kate Gosselin wigs for Halloween yet? Because, a killing.) And, what's more, this Wendy keeps calling out "How you doin'?" and then the audience is responding. And it's all very-well, it's all very Arsenio. All of a sudden flashing before my eyes there's Bill Clinton playing the sax and there he is lecturing Sister Souljah. And I know flannels are back, and so is botching healthcare, but I didn't think the 90s would return like this, and so soon.
When I get home I Wikipedia Wendy, because how the fuck did I miss this? I learn that, apparently, "How you doin'?" is her thing. As in, the writers of Friends bestowed it on Joey Tribbiani, and he gave it to all of us, after Wendy Williams said it first. But no one believes that, and even Wiki says there is no record of Williams saying it before Matt LeBlanc made the phrase more played out than all of our copies of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and before that, like, Ten, or maybe Vitalogy. Which is to say, even if Wendy Williams did say it first, why the hell is she still saying it? Even Pearl Jam is doing something different with their new album. (Punk, right?)
So then I catch Wendy again earlier today-because pop culture is like that: as soon as you notice something, you keep noticing it. Then Oprah notices it and then we all do. And then, next thing you know, it's dead because we killed it. Anyhow, here's Wendy yammering about Asbury Park, which on the one hand I know is where some hipsters go to listen to music in that converted bowling alley. But on the other hand, I remember from law school that Asbury Park is an Abbott school district. See, Abbott is a court case that held that in New Jersey the 30 poorest school districts get the same amount of money the 30 richest do. I know what you're thinking: what about the 31st poorest district? But it could be much worse, no? At least New Jersey's system acknowledges that funding schools with property tax revenue is inherently unequal and fucked up and worth addressing through the courts.
Anyhow. This Wendy Williams is a lot of things, and hipster sure isn't one of them. So I have to assume she is from the latter Asbury Park. The gritty Asbury Park. The Asbury Park that gets money from the State of New Jersey because its schools are so poor. And then it dawns on me. "How you doin'?" is local color. If you think English teachers love nature/nurture, then they really love local color. Local color is as American as funding schools with property taxes and, as a literary device, it lets you get away with some serious stuff. I mean, pretty much every character in Huck Finn says the n-word, and that is way more hateful than "How you doin'?" My English teacher, and probably yours too, allowed Mark Twain to take cover behind local color. So shouldn't we let Wendy Williams skate on by as well? Besides, in their better moments, both Mark Twain and Wendy are pretty funny guys. How you doin'?
Luke Mazur, one of our two correspondents on English language usage, spent much of today in an airport. He hates Lynne Truss.