Five Bucks

Ari Appel

Ari Appel’s blog “What’s In a Name?” comments on linguistic trends at Whitman College and in public culture at large.

A group of middle-schoolers are crowded around a table for school lunch. Jimmy coats his chocolate chip cookie in ketchup and mustard, dribbles on some soy sauce, and then mashes the whole thing into his mac-and-cheese.

“I’ll pay someone five bucks to eat this,” he says, pointing to the concoction.

This scene is not hard to picture for anyone who has gone through middle school. Like most cringe-worthy memories, it is easy to brush off as insignificant. But it’s worth pausing to ask why kids are paying each other to put themselves through misery. Why do they see money and happiness as tradeable equivalents? Jimmy adds some Sriracha sauce, and the reward goes up to $10. It seems that this can only end badly.

Despite my resentment of middle-schoolers, I have to admit that these kids are just reflecting what the world shows them. Capitalist power relationships are glaring, even through 12-year-old eyes yet to witness their own financial burdens. Watching the news, they realize it all comes down to this: Whoever has lots of money can make everyone else do unpleasant things.* To me, that’s grosser than the cookie.


*them, him, him/her, him/er, em, or ze? An upcoming post will discuss gender-neutral pronouns.