the allure of conformity
August 19. 2000
pictures from the mall excursion yesterday:
Dani and Jen (this one had to be color, of course)
Dani and Jen at the Mall
Dani driving home
Anna is Australian, and she observed that where she lived is a exotic mix of cultures, where you can walk down a street near her house and sample many different foods, everything from Indian to Balkan to traditional American fare. She says that Australian culture has become much more multicultural since the 1950s.
I only wish I could say the same of what I've seen of the United States.
It's an election year, and the presidential candidates are busy touting America's increasing sense of multiculturalism and pandering to minorities for their votes. The traditionally white male Republican party's convention was filled with minority and female speakers. I think this supposed new-found respect for each other's differences is a wonderful thing, but as I look around at this country, I wonder just how much of it is a reality and how much of it is manufactured.
Because I think America, as a culture, is becoming more and more homogenized. This idea was reinforced by my visit yesterday to the King of Prussia Mall, the biggest mall on the east coast. The place was huge, but the selection of stores was depressingly the same. Abercrombie and Fitch. The Gap. The Limited. 2 or 3 or each in the same mall. All of them have clothes that are, for most purposes, the same. There are Abercrombie and Fitches and Gaps and Limiteds all the across the country, and everyone is buying their clothing. Although race and gender and political views are important, these days we are defined as a person by what we own, and everyone is starting to look more and more the same.
Then there are people who separate themselves in groups and claim themselves "original" and "individual". Groups like Punks and Skaters decry the homogenized culture of Britney Spears and the Gap, yet they themselves are creating a homogenized culture of their own. There is a uniform for Punks (piercings, tattoos, weird colored hair) just like there is for those who choose to wear Abercrombie and Fitch. If you aren't sporting multiple piercings and big pants, well, then you're not a true punk. It seems to be that the people who participate in this social group have forgotten the ideas behind the movement in exchange for the "look".
Yesterday, on the way to the mall, Dani said something that stuck in my mind. Referring to all of us in the car, she said, "Wow, we sure are a motley crew...two punks, a jock and...." she paused, trying to figure out what I was. "An artist?"
I guess that's the problem with me. I've never once in my life felt I claimed allegiance to some social group. And believe me, I've tried. I tried to be grunge in Nirvana's heyday, wearing my flannel shirts and big jeans. I tried to be a hippie and a flower child, but that failed miserably as well. Even when I was involved heavily in music and theatre, I never felt like I was part of that group. And even now, when I think of myself, I don't identify myself as an artist, or an generation X-er, or a woman. I'm just me.
Too many people get caught up in a look or a lifestyle, and put no thought into the things that really matter: what you do and what you think. The way to be truly original and individual is in thought and action, not what you wear or what you own. And in the end, it's what you will be remembered for.
all writings, (c) 1999-2000, BRR