An Ode to The Latrix
When culture vetted through consensus is pushed into your smartphone, why bother cultivating your own?
I’ve been obsessed with the concept of a latrix recently and whether it could ever come into existence organically today.
What’s a latrix? This is certainly the first time I’ve typed it, and maybe even the first time I’ve read it typed. Pretty alienating concept for me to start an essay with, given that maybe less than thirty people in the world even know or remember what it is.
So let me scuttle a latrix for now and start with something you maybe have heard of: a neck. Bear with me if this was also a regional thing, but a neck was a popular high-school bro reason to exact some tepid physical punishment on your friends. It’s not “necking” someone with a kiss like in a British teen romance, but a means of in-group real time fact checking—whenever your friends say something blatantly incorrect, you would get to “neck” them.
Delivering a neck was swift. The second your friend was spittin’ that dumb shit, you’d exclaim “THAT’S A NECK!” and place your elbow on the back of their neck, quickly running your arm down it through the lengths of your pinky finger, aiming to burn them with the friction. In practice, this often ended up being more of a fore-arm karate chop, but this was considered poor form.
Either way, you were judge, jury, and executioner when delivering a neck. The only way your friend could get out of it was claiming a “self-serve” where they would acknowledge they were wrong and neck themselves before anyone else got the chance to—throwing themselves upon the mercy of the goon squad.
Someone gets some a piece of pop culture trivia wrong? “NECK”. Someone misremembers the details of a story from a party the night before? “yo that’s a NECK”. Someone inflating the numbers on their Gears of War K/D ratio from the night before? “NECK YOURSELF”. Necks served an important social function—a self-regulating tool between high-school dudes getting out pent up angst by meting arbitrary justice to one another.
I have no idea how big the concept of necks were in terms of my age group around the country, but when I was in high school in Virginia in the late aughts, most people in my high school knew what a neck was. When I interacted with kids at other schools locally, they knew what it was also. My wife went to high school around the same time as me further away in the district and had heard of it as well, but without the aforementioned “justice” component, essentially reducing it to a slap on the neck with a brand name.
When I look at Urban Dictionary submissions from the time I was in school though, and even thereafter, I get the impression a Neck had a variety of forms but was reletively wide spread. Troubling enough, reviewing these definitions over the years, it seems many cretins subscribe to the Neanderthal neck slap as the defacto Neck technique over the sophisticated slide chop, which is truly philistine behavior.
Regardless, the variety of usages and punishments from over a decades worth of definitions validates to me that Necking was like an offline “meme” from and age before we called them that.
The last time I was in a physical high school was a couple of summers ago, helping my wife set up her classroom before her next year of instruction. In a series of trips between her car and her classroom, I hauled crates of textbooks, a minifridge, and a litany of other weirdly sized or shapes items through a series of empty high school hallways. Given it was the summer, the series of club posters, administrative flyers and other paraphernalia you’d expect to adorn the walls of a bustling high school weren’t there, leaving the walls empty with the exception of a variety of painted murals.
These murals were reminiscent of similar ones that were in my high school, seemingly “donated” by the artsy-kids from each graduating class. What was cool about them though, was that each mural seemed to be a very time-specific tribute to all of the big cultural moments that happened that school year, crystallized into one class-year memorial. I liked the 2019 one, pulled together with the framing of Avengers: Endgame so much I snapped a picture of it:
Listen, I know it’s a stale-ass meme at this point, but fuck it! I’m tickled by the fact Big Chungus is immortalized in a high school for freshman to confusingly tilt their heads at in 2049. That’s kinda cool in some twee-subversive way.
But the fact I thought the mural was cool gave me a little pause. I’m not young or particularly plugged in. Why did I know about most of this stuff?
A latrix is not something an adult would have heard of at the time, and it’s certainly not on Urban Dictionary. A latrix was a hyper-local variant of a neck, that seemed to exist amongst athletes on a couple of different teams from a couple of different grades in my high school.
Whereas a neck was a slice or a chop on the back of your neck, a latrix was a multi-finger poke right to the small of your throat. It was was very similar to a method called a “guzzler”, but instead of flicking the top of ones throat as you would in a guzzler, you would almost viper-chop the bottom of it. That was a latrix.
If memory serves, you would deliver a latrix in the similar context to a neck. In it’s own way, it was a completely logical evolution: If you have a friend spouting bullshit all the time with the self-awareness to protect his neck, he’s leaving that supple, tender throat ripe for pummelin’.
If a latrix was barely different then a guzzler and barely different then a neck, why does it exist at all? Why not? What else is childhood but overlapping lifespans of jokes, catchphrases and actions you goon around with to make your friends laugh until you run them into the dirt and have new ones sprout from the ashes?
Maybe I’m a crusty sap indulging in nostalgia, but what feels magical about a latrix is that there are probably twenty or so people in the world that I could run into today that I could reference it to that would trigger an amazing rush of memories. For me, I imagine walking into a musty locker room after a lacrosse practice and protecting both the front and the back of my neck, trying to humorously but accurately get the details of some weekend party correct as not to get a punishing. For me, there was a time when giving a latrix or a neck or a guzzler were all a part of this rich tapestry of a language that lived and died in a formative boyhood era; subconsciously burrowed in our brains before we scattered like pollen in the wind.
While a latrix is a one off example of a high-school in-joke I randomly do remember, it also represents the hundreds of pointless catchphrases or in-jokes that I’ve since forgotten, which while sad, also feels like an indelible component of a healthy childhood that feels good to leave behind. I’d like to think nearly everyone has a group of friends from long ago with their own secret culture and lore that sounds equally asinine when typed up in essay-form.
So back to the mural, and bear with me as I try to thread a needle betwixt two disparate thoughts: While I’m (a) not saying that a latrix was a big enough of an inside joke to merit making it’s way onto some hypothetical high-school mural and (b) I also understand that if a mural is gonna encapsulate an entire year you’d want it to be as mass-appeal as possible, something about the two concepts when I turn them over in my head doesn’t feel right. Was our culture always so flat that an out of touch 30 year old could look at something created by high school seniors, for high school seniors and completely comprehend it? Or is something else happening?
The reason I’ve been thinking about necks and latrixs recently is I’m wondering if kids talk like this anymore, or even feel the compulsion to come up with their own in-jokes. My buddy who invented the latrix works with kids, and also said that most in-jokes he hears kids talk about are heavily influenced by pop culture or politics, but not so much out of just quirky happenstance. My wife has noticed the same: now that she’s been teaching about 10 years, most in-jokes her students tell seemingly spawn from memes and TikTok videos.
While this is all anecdotal, it got me thinking: Do in-jokes organically come up in groups of friends anymore, or did the proliferation of abundant 4G and social media kill the concept entirely?
In a pre-smartphone world, culture was a lot more hyper-localized when your world was as small and navel-gazing as a high schoolers. Weather you were amongst friends or not, or in a chatty mood or not, time around a lunch table had to be filled, and unless you were burying your head in your arms and pretending to sleep, there was no retreating from it into a cell phone. High school is a series of forced and at times banal interactions where awkward teens have to spark conversational embers from nothing, and I think the mechanics of such conversations could breed weird turns, leaving any number of incidentally funny misunderstandings or phrases to take on a life of their own.
I wonder if in the era of the smartphone and instant gratification, does the space exist for this happen? As soon as a teen feels an iota of of boredom or the awkwardness of a break in conversation, they have an infinite scroll is waiting for them. If they want to share something funny, they can scroll through a meme account, find an especially dank one, and copy/paste it away to a group chat to snag some residual cred as a finders fee. Considering high school is already an awkward era where everyone is trying to fit in—why expend the energy or take the risk of being unique or funny on your own terms when you can outsource what to talk about to Instagram or Snapchat or TikTok or wherever else things are trending?
There is something about having a constantly digital gavage of “trends” and “viral moments” bearing down on you at at all times that has quietly but profoundly taken up lot of space over the course of the last ten years. Every day on a big social media platform, there seems to be a narrative or a moment that demands for you to have an opinion or joke about, even if you don’t particularly care about it. It feels like to me, where the mental space previously existed for kids organically develop their weirdness, we now have tools to fill that space before any of those weird sparks of creativity can catch.
For example, I would wager a bet that if Big Chungus was a big in-joke at my wife’s high school, I bet it was equally big at nearly every high school in the country. Doesn’t something about that feel weird? That instead of little high school communities having their own dialects, quirks and culture that pass around via word of mouth, they are all kind of share the same one beamed down by some impersonal social media consensus? Isn’t also a bit weird too that oh, by the way, my adult contemporaries are gawfawing at the same Chungus jokes they are? When the Chungus is so Big, that it demands so much mindspace at such a massive scale, then that Chungus is too Big for me to abide.
As a write this, I’m pretty self aware that these are some real those were the good ol’ days lamentations of a neo-boomer emerging from his fast-fashion flannel chrysalis. It really is a digital-age version of strapping on my Teva’s, picking up some GMO-free micro greens from the back of a truckbed, and driving home in my Subaru Crosstrek with a “Shop Local” bumper sticker on the back. “Meme Local!”, I unironically exclaim.
So sure, maybe I’m hyping it. Maybe the mass-appeal sellout Big Chungus is equally creative as a homegrown, indie latrix and this is all a tortured point I’m chasing my tail on.
I guess what I ultimately fear, especially in the context of a generation steeped in this environment, is everyone starting to sound exactly the fucking same, and what that means at scale.
Even amongst my own peers online, I notice a particular voice or set of catchphrases— sometimes even ones I catch myself using. You can’t not go your social media and not see a small collection of these:
Calling things the G.O.A.T.
Posting a meal with Om Nom Nom.
Talking about some show with an emotionally evocative and saying “all the feels” or “I’m not crying your crying”.
Posting some personal project with “I did a thing”
Friends visiting friends with a caption of “reunited and it feels so good”.
These are probably outdated examples because I don’t use social media as often, but I think you get my point—when you actually read the content friends are tagging pictures with and posting, it begins to feel and sound like everyone doing impression of what Social Media should look like until it collapses into a singularity. It’s like a hall of mirrors where the pictures are all different but the voices are all the same.
If a single “voice” is democratized as some Geth-assimilated consensus and is pushed down to anyone who lives a modicum of their lives online, what does it mean for kids that grow up into it from the jump? Where do the original ideas come from? How does art, film, or music get made without sounding immediately like everything else? It almost feels as though as the best way to maintain a level of uniqueness and creativity is to stay as offline to cultivate your own persona, but this feels like a luxury people increasingly do not have.
I’m not unique in the sense that I didn’t particularly like high school or myself in high school, but as an adult with a hindsight, I do think a lot of my personality was indelibly shaped by the way my synapses were forced to fire during that time during a buffet of cringey school, job or dating interactions. It’s hard to imagine how I’d be different if I had a cultivated culture from social media catch me if I fell, but I’d have to assume I’d have a poorer mind for it.
Around the time I started finishing this draft up, my group chat from college lit up. One of my college friends got the second vaccine and was laid up the entire next day, saying it made him feel like a “baby back bitch”.
I was caught off guard, because this again felt like another vague high school memory that slipped out of a crack in the amber. Baby back bitch. What is it’s origin? In my telling, this was the by product of a generation of boys hearing Chili’s baby back rib jingles on local rock stations and trying to make something edgy out of it. Did it make its way to Woodbridge, or did it come from Woodbridge to here?
I suppose it all doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I just hope that little pockets of weirdness are out there thriving, and that the other voices we invite into our lives with the subtlety of a power washer into our retinas aren’t making us poorer for it.