Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Society Gives You Hell

If you find repeated, unnecessary usage of the word "hell" offensive, I highly recommend that you don't follow the link to this video. In fact, the thought inspired by this song concerns the premise of the music video much more than the lyrics of the song, let's discard them for the most part. Sorry I just indirectly cussed at you a whole bunch for so little reason.

This is a song of which I had never heard before my Top 25 Mashup epiphany, from a group of which I have never heard. While the lyrics, which we henceforth mostly ignore, detail someone dealing rather poorly with a breakup wishing all sorts of ill will upon their ex, the video depicts two neighbors, one set very straight-laced and the other group quite alternative, embroiled in an escalating series of attempts to disrupt each other's lives. It seems that both find the lifestyle epitomized by the other distasteful and disturbing. Interestingly enough, the main character from both households is played by the same member of the band.

One might simply write this off as a gimmick designed to showcase how clever we can be with green screens, I think further thought is rewarding. Suppose, rather than simply being played by the same person, the two main characters actually are the same person. Then what initially appeared to be the conflict between two feuding neighbors actually becomes an inner conflict between the forces of acculturation and individuality.

Put simply. the straight-laced household, to me, represents our inner desire to "fit in." Although our culture has fetishized the "individual," or the "rugged individual," a desire to acculturate is by no means a bad thing. For one thing, forging your own way can be hard going, and perhaps not worth it for unimportant preferences. As Hegel notes, "in dress fashions and hours of meals, there are certain conventions which we have to accept because in these things it is not worth the trouble to I insist on displaying one’s own discernment. The wisest thing here is to do as others do."

Furthermore, participating in a shared cultural background facilitates the various modes a sociability that humans seem to require to live happy, fulfilled lives. Through our interactions with others we obtain both valuable practice in interpersonal skills and shared experiences and vocabulary, both of which, in turn, assist us in further social communication. Indeed, acculturation plays a critical role in our social, and consequentially, emotional well being. Those of you who know how well I fit into a crowd are probably waiting for the other shoe to drop.

That other shoe is the call of individualism. For now I would like to set aside that representing individualism with counter-culture is a flawed metaphor, as counter-culture consists of a group rejecting the dominant culture, and is therefore a culture of its own subject to all the benefits and woes of acculturation. Furthermore, the fact that our concept of ourself as an individual is heavily influenced by external stimuli, such as how we think others see us or what we think is the acceptable thing to do, shall be tabled for now. Both of these concepts are quite interesting, and provide fertile ground for thought, but to address either of them would make this post much longer than I intend it to be.

Although conformity has decided benefits, individualism makes valuable contributions to our personality. While, "being true to oneself," is vague enough as to lack all meaning, I think we all have been in situations where we did not feel our actions corresponded with our self image. Sometimes these feelings ought to be overcome, as we try new things, get out of our comfort zone, and expand our horizon, to borrow a few clich├ęs. However, at other times these feelings indicate that we believe that authority is directing us in an immoral or otherwise deleterious direction.

So, in conformity and individualism, we have two powerful, important, and opposing drives shaping our persona. Guess what, I'm not going to even give advice on how to reconcile them, sorry! For one thing, I wouldn't venture to claim that I have done a great job balancing them against each other. I also think that our search for a way to harmonize them within ourselves is one of the most important, difficult, and rewarding struggles that we may face in our lives. So, keeping in mind the importance of the oft uncomfortable interplay between conformity and individualism, I hope they give you much to think about!


elfarmy17 said...

I like how this post wasn't about presenting solutions/ideas: just about making us think.
My dad and I were actually talking about a related topic on the way to school today. While pulling into the carpool lane, we saw a girl walking from the parking lot of the church next door (where lots of kids get dropped off) in sub-30 degree weather without any coat warmer than a Hollister-type "sweatshirt" on.
Dad: "If I had to walk any significant distance, I would be wearing more than she is."
Me: "If I had to walk any significant distance, I would be wearing more than I am now ." I said this from the folds of my double-layered winter jacket with fleece gloves on.
Dad: "Most people this age just care a lot about what other people think."
Me: "Yep. 'Secure mate ASAP. Conform to society in order to do so.' Speaking of which...OH, LOOK! A BOY!"

At which point we laughed, and then I went off to Latin.
Yes, that's the sort of thing we're apt to talk about in the morning.

Kenny said...

Trick is, if you present an issue without advocating a solution, you come off as deep rather than terribly misguided ;) What a wonderful and funny conversation! I have to admit that it took me two Michigan winters to realize that shorts and a t-shirt are not universally appropriate attire in which to wander around, so I have to empathize with people who are willing to endure a little chill to wear that which they desire to wear. Additionally, the desire to "secure mate" can be a rather motivational force. "The passion between the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its present state." - Thomas Malthus, 1798

Personally, I think that a certain level of social conformity in the mate-search is quite reasonable, insofar as one is comfortable conforming to that level. On the other hand, searching for a mate in order to conform to society just seems daft to me. Of course, as mentioned, how I would attempt to forge a balance may be radically different, but no more or less valid, than someone else's attempt.

I'm sure that once people reach your father's age, they no longer worry about how they are perceived ;), but hasn't happened to me yet. Lastly, amazingly witty conversation for the early morning!