Column
January 18, 2017

The queen is dead

TV catchphrases aren’t meant to live forever. Even the most successful character slogans like “Dy-no-mite!” and “Don’t have a cow, man!”—which made the jump from in-series use to real-world use—gradually faded from the American lexicon except as fond memories of our pop-culture past.

Of all the television-born crossover phrases, however, possibly none has flamed out more abruptly or permanently than the proud affirmation “Yas Queen!” of Comedy Central’s “Broad City.” The series from which the craze sprung—a zany sitcom about the New York City misadventures of a duo of Millennial women—borrowed the enthusiasm-based mispronunciation of “yes” (which was previously popularized in a viral Lady Gaga fan video) from queer POC culture and reapplied it to straight white feminist culture in 2015. By 2016, “Yas Queen!” (sometimes spelled “Yas Kween!”) had become a humorous yet earnest rallying cry of confident female approbation for the show’s viewers and young people in general, used to cheer on any woman who was—to invoke another outdated catchphrase—“winning,” whether in fashion, her career, or her personal life.

From the terrifying political dystopia of 2017, the triumphant fearlessness of “Yas Queen!” could not feel more distant. How did “Yas Queen!” die? In short, Hillary Clinton lost.

In the same way that “I’m Rick James” became unutterable after Dave Chappelle fled to Africa, its overuse suddenly a source of collective shame, “Yas Queen!” just doesn’t make sense with Hillary Clinton living in exile in the woodlands of Westchester County, New York. The phrase wasn’t invented to praise her specifically—she was only one of many “queens” upon whom we heaped love in 2016, alongside, for example, Beyoncé and Simone Biles. But “Broad City” co-creators Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson were vocal Hillary supporters, and when she made a special guest appearance during the show’s third season, the destinies of “Yas Queen!” and the Clinton campaign (which began to manufacture “Yas”-centric merchandise) became inextricably tied.

One thing I still sometimes wonder about is why Glazer and Jacobson were Clinton supporters in the first place. They—like Lena Dunham, the creator of “Girls” (the seriocomic HBO version of “Broad City”), who, as a tireless campaigner, became Hillary’s most vigorous celebrity spokesperson—belonged to the wrong demographic, since on the whole, young progressive women gravitated toward Bernie Sanders, not toward Clinton. Glazer, Jacobson, and Dunham are all individuals and are entitled to their own views, but as emissaries of Millennial culture, they were, in a sense, remiss in their duties by putting forth the politics of an older generation. Some of us wrote it off as a simple difference of opinion, but their Clintonism seemed to illustrate that our relatable Millennial celebrities were, after all, not like us: they were celebrities. They didn’t need Bernie to help them out with their college debt; they were already queens.

When I hear a “Yas Queen!” today, whispered from the haunted footage of pre-Trump America, I hear only complacency: who, after all, is a queen, and why, and are you sure? I see a cohort of liberals who had lost track of what really mattered, prematurely celebrating the victory of a cheerful, substance-free version of identity politics that spoke only to people cut off from the oppressive forces that afflicted the groups whose interests leftist identity politics had traditionally sought to advance. Why, again, were we all patting ourselves on the back? Because Hillary Clinton, the corporate-backed war hawk, was about to be president?

Like the Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—who became a beloved liberal meme in 2014 as “The Notorious RBG” and then, slipping out of character, went on to call Colin Kaepernick “dumb and disrespectful” for peacefully protesting police brutality—Clinton ultimately showed that feel-good internet fads were not the same thing as actual politics. The only positive thing about the presidential election of 2016 may be that the liberal tide of undifferentiating good feeling has receded: none of us is queen, and we can only mumble “no, no, no,” as we wonder where we went wrong. We have a lot of material to cover.

Alice Peck Banner

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