Friday, February 13, 2009

NORMALIZED ABNORMALITY

Isn't "abnormal" really "normal" now?

This is what I thought to myself while reading an article that Vee sent me via email that applauded the "nonconformist" nature of this 43 year old woman's 11 year old daughter. You know, because said daughter thinks this pale dude from a 1984 sitcom is hot! HOW WEIRD! And she don't wear Uggs! She likes her frog-faced rain boots! ECLECTIC, AND INDIVIDUAL!

I don't mean to dog this woman's daughter--really, my problem is with HER MOM! She should know better!

The author of the article is 43. That means she's solidly part of Gen X, the generation that DEFINED THEMSELVES AGAINST "NORMALITY" and made it NORMAL TO BE "ABNORMAL."

But here she is, trotting herself out as "yep, I'm still a weird and quirky mom with weird and quirky kids!" UNABLE TO RECOGNIZE THAT THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS WEIRD OR QUIRKY ANY MORE! Weird and/or quirky is CONSIDERED NORMAL!

I was in seventh grade (and I don't know if it was just 1994, or if this is what happens to everyone in middle school) when it suddenly became REALLY COOL to JUST BE YOURSELF! "Being yourself" was defined as "having a bunch of weird tastes, like being obsessed with Snoopy or wearing scraggy corduroys from Goodwill or being really, really into Egyptology" and it became A RACE to claim "weird" attributes or interests as "who you really are."

DOES ANYONE ELSE REMEMBER THIS, or did I experience this alone?

ANYWAY, I think we can still all agree that our generation (Gen X/Gen Y) PRETTY MUCH ACCEPTS "WEIRDNESS" IN EVERYONE and, therefore, I don't really see a reason to applaud "difference" as something REALLY EXCEPTIONAL AND REALLY DIFFICULT TO DO among today's youth.

NOT THAT I THINK EVERYONE SHOULD "CONFORM" or not receive praise for being comfortable with who they are. It's just not that big of an accomplishment as it was for, say, our parents.

Furthermore, I don't like the way this author defines "conformity" by contrasting her daughter with the Uggs-wearing clones she sees out and about. WHY IS IT CONFORMITY IF IT'S JUST SOMETHING THAT'S POPULAR? The author is so quick to point out "hey, my daughter likes 'Twilight' too!" YET DOES NOT DEFINE THIS AS CONFORMITY. Why is liking something popular NOT conformity when it's a book, but when it comes to clothing, OH HELL, IT'S CONFORMIST!

It just strikes me with the same shades of ridiculousness as my teenage boyfriend and his best friend continuously asking me and my best friend, "Are we weird enough for you yet?"

When you define yourself by your "weirdness," YOU'RE NOT REALLY THAT WEIRD!

3 comments:

Emily said...

WE NEED TO BE WEIRD...like it defines us as different or unique instead of actually having to figure out who we actually are... or something


LOOK HOW WEIRD I AM.

AM I WEIRD YET?

Shawn said...

I agree and disagree with this post.

Agreed: "Difference" or "weirdness" or "non-conformity" as observed by this woman in her daughter is entirely superficial and not anything of note, let alone anything to applaud.

Disagreed: "THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS WEIRD OR QUIRKY ANY MORE!"

There may be some rareified space (your middle school?) where ACTUAL difference (not just wearing rainboots) is celebrated by pubescent youths, but I did not experience this and I would venture to say that the majority of pubescent youths do not experience this either.

Within the realm of those in the mainstream there is probably a much wider range of acceptable styles and tastes than there have been in the past – probably largely due to increasing choice in consumer-based expressions in fashion and media. If – like this woman from the article – we think of mainstream people as being from some 80s movie where the preps all wear polo shirts and the “druggies” all wear leather jackets, then sure, wearing rain boots is really cool and different, but that is not the word we live in and we know that.

However, I do not believe that Gen-Xers created some kind of “post-difference” world where all kids can actually be themselves. I do not agree that “our generation (Gen X/Gen Y) PRETTY MUCH ACCEPTS "WEIRDNESS" IN EVERYONE.” First of all, I am wary of saying “our generation” does anything – if our generation is simply American people aged 20-35 (or whatever) that still means there are all kinds of different contexts of race, class, religion, etc where different norms are dominant … I don’t know if weirdness is accepted among our generation in southern black neighborhoods, or on the Upper West Side of New York, or in a really religious community, or among engineering grad students or wherever.

If we are defining “weird” and “quirky” as simply the transparent attempts of youth to stand out from their peers through clothing choices or music, maybe there is more acceptance of a wider range of options today. But if weirdness or quirkiness is defined as ACTUAL DIFFERENCE from the majority, I do not believe that things are significantly better for those kids who are actually outside of the mainstream. I think that this woman’s confusion is that she does not understand that the mainstream has widened to include things that she (as a 40 year old) may consider weird or quirky. BUT just because the expression of mainstream tastes has widened, does in no way imply that the mainstream encompasses everyone. And those people who are outside of the mainstream struggle. In my middle school having long hair, and wearing Jncos and skateboarding shoes might have made you “alternative” but it bore no reflection of ACTUAL difference. The kids in my school who played Dungeons and Dragons, or were really into Tae Kwon Do, or were really involved in Science Olympiad, or didn’t speak English well were actually “weird” and they paid the consequence in unrelenting verbal abuse and physical intimidation. Maybe now what is “different” has changed, but I do not doubt that in most pubescent contexts there are still those who are different -- or weird, or quirky – and they too suffer the consequences.

It might be true that today most differences in consumer-based expression (clothes, music, movies, books, etc.) are insignificant … but I think that weirdness definitely exists and I do not believe that it is largely accepted.

kristine said...

Shawn, thank you for making the point that reminds me why I should reread my blog before posting it: I was trying to argue that quirkiness was normal in terms of consumer-based expression, not in all realms of interaction. You're so right that "uncool" quirkiness/weirdness like the D&D, Science Olympiad, etc. that you mentioned was (and is) NOT accepted as "cool" weirdness. I didn't realize until reading your comment that I did really just mean consumer-based coolness is the norm, not just special interests. THANKS FOR CALLING ME OUT! (I mean it)