Have y’all been hearing folks say, “it is what it is”?
I sure have. I mean it’s darn everywhere. In movies. In television. I’ve even heard Rabbi Spiderman say it. I’ll bet if Porky Pig were working today, he’d totally trade his super-famous trademark “that’s all, folks!” for it.
Although tons of folks kvetch about being tired of hearing that phrase, folks continue to hear it because folks continue to say it; the “it” being the saying “it is what it is,” itself.
Needless to say, the argument against the phrase is that of course it is what it is. What else would it be? The obviousness of it all renders it as unnecessary as saying, “needless to say” before going on and saying the thing that needn’t be said.
But, take a look at the precursers to “it is what it is.”
There was the popular soulful greeting from the sixties, “What it is!” That saying was made popular by black folks in New York City coffee houses and immortalized by Aretha Franklin in her song Rock Steady (which did and does totally and steadily rock, by the way). “What it is!” is actually pretty abstruse, and nobody uses it now but for NPR commentators and the like. But that song really was what it was, and it totally continues to is, y’all.
There was President Bill Clinton, of all people, contemplating what the actual meaning of “is” is. Bill had us wondering if it is indeed what it is. At least for just a minute. Then we all realized that it’s actually real-real obvious what the meaning of “is” is. And that Bill will always be exactly what he is.
But my first personal encounter with this anti-non-philosophy was in that 1978 film, The Deer Hunter. That Robert De Niro character says the following: “You see this? This is this. This ain’t somethin’ else. This is this.”
The first time I saw this movie, I marveled at the apparent absurdity/banality of that line, and I pondered it for a real-real long time. I mean, was that really that? If so, why was he so emphatic about it? I began to suspect that everything was not what it seemed. That it is not necessarily really what it is.
Or is it?
Regardless, “it is what it is” is what it is. I have very little doubt it will be is for a real-real long time, and it may never actually be a was.
It is what it is. And then some.
P.S. We’re still making the movie about my life, and we still need money to make it. It, as they say, is what it is, folks!