Friday, April 22, 2011

Conforming to What?

Image source here.

Lauren Says: 

Conformity is such an issue once you hit teenagerdom, such a frustrating, pointless issue. As a kid you don’t care if everyone else likes the same stuff as you, that doesn’t make it any less cool for you. If anything, liking the same thing as everyone else helps you fit in when you’re under twelve. Hit thirteen though, and it’s like a switch is flicked to snob setting, and all of a sudden liking the same band or movie as other people becomes trés uncool (give it five more years, and so does dropping French into your everyday language).

It gets worse as you get older, and once university begins there’s a nearly obscene race to know of the most obscure musicians, espouse wanky crap about artists and forms no one has ever heard of, be inspired by authors who only wrote on novella, in Greek, about the tragedy of the human experience. Everything from hairstyles to fashion to stationery brands becomes involved in this competition to be most different from the crowd, to not ‘conform’.  

But what exactly are you conforming to? Does liking the new Katy Perry song really define anything about you? It certainly doesn’t make you the same as every other Katy Perry fan, surely we all realise that, there are just too many variables there. So why all this inane pretentiousness?

I have to say, I’m a bit of a snob myself when it comes to sharing my preferences around. If I like a band that’s not so popular in Australia yet, I sometimes don’t spread word too far around about the music, just because I like some things to be special and don’t always want to be involved in everyone else’s dialogues. I like to think that my experience has been unique. I think we all feel this way about certain things, and that that’s ok. What I don’t think is that we should deliberately avoid liking things that are more popular just because other people do. It’s plain silly, really, and the only impact this brings about is that we miss out on good things.

It should also be stated that choosing to take the ‘road less popular’ is still making a choice to be like a group of people, the ‘road less popular’ people. It’s certainly not a unique choice to make. Which is fine, except I’m not sure it’s a very good choice to make either. Choosing to dislike whatever anyone else likes really sets you up to have limited options.

I think it’s time to put a stop to this circus, or at least, I’m going to. It’s just so tiring, isn’t it, always avoiding the trend? Wouldn’t it be easier to simply be, to like what you like, dislike what you don’t and stop caring about everyone else? Let’s save the word conforming for the big issues like patriotism and gender roles, things you can actually conform to, and leave our taste in music, media and clothes out of it.

Ell-Leigh says:

To conform or not to conform, that is the question… Whether tis nobler in the mind to covet the EPs and Albums of obscure indie bands no one has heard of, or to, okay, I give up... Er, listen to Britney’s new album until you know all of the lyrics by heart or such and such a “total sell out band who’s first album was clearly superior” ’s third or fourth album because you simply like it. Of course that’s not the only way one can conform – but it seems to be one of the most prevalent in my life at the moment. So I’ll focus on that one.

This week I read Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. The general gist of the book goes like this; Annie has just realised that she’s wasted the last fifteen years living in a go-nowhere town, dating Duncan, a university lecturer obsessed with a recluse, obscure musician from the 80’s named Tucker Crowe. When they are sent a cd of never before heard, unfinished demo tracks, Annie brushes it off as incredibly inferior to the finished product, an opinion which Duncan not only disagrees with, but considers a huge cultural faux par. After both expressing their thoughts through articles on Duncan’s Tucker website, Annie receives an email thanking her for her kind words and agreeing with what she’d written– could it be the real Tucker Crowe?

It is a great book, and I devoured every page. I made a point to underline and circle the page number of this particular quote; There was a same need for obscurity, the same suspicion that if a piece of music had reached a large number of people, it had somehow been drained of its worth (p133). Sure, sometimes a song is massively over played and you want to rip your ears off whenever you hear the lead singer of Kings of Leon singing about how his Sex is on Fire. (It’s been said once, and I’ll say it again, your doctor can give you a cream for that.) However, surely the merit of a song can’t rest on its obscurity? It’s a bit like the whole tree falling in a forest thing; if a good song is played but nobody who hears it wants it to stay as obscure as possible, does the song really exist? Surely there have been some incredibly beautiful, outrageous or just plain awesome songs written that have never gotten big, or gotten heard by many people at all – the question is, does this tarnish the song’s actual brilliance, and if not, for those who do hear it, does it’s obscurity really make it better? A superior song, culturally?

Why should we conform to not liking a certain band just because everyone else has heard of them? Doesn’t getting voted into the top ten of the Hottest 100 ensure that the song is actually good, not the opposite (this doesn’t count for music by The John Butler Trio…). Perhaps, as someone recently told that she was out of her uncle’s will because Britney’s new album was on her iPhone, I’m a little biased towards the idea that the hugeness of an album doesn’t make it inferior, and that conforming to the snobbery of popular music is just another way to disregard your true feelings. How can you stay true to yourself when you brush off an album because critically, or socially, it is considered poor taste?

I have concluded that it all comes down to being content and happy with who you are; whether that means your iPod is filled with Gaga or Dylan, obscure demos from unheard of screamo bands or gigs of pop music from the 90’s. It’s really just a case of owning your taste in music and not letting others’ opinions let what that music means to you change. I love Jeff Buckley; one of my besties described it as having “more wailing than the South Seas” (BONUS POINTS for MEGA-PUN). That doesn’t mean that either of us is more or less superior, culturally speaking than the other, it just means that I like my music deep, mournful and dramatic and she likes hers with a smidge less of the angst. Before I had the epiphany that popular music doesn’t necessarily equal bad music, I used to hate Lady Gaga because I thought she was a musician who hid her lack of talent behind flashy costumes, film clips and leotards. Now I have all her albums and love them, because they’re fun. Sure, some of it is “bad”, but that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to love it.

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