Seeking nonconformity

"I wanna be the minority…I don’t need your authority…down with the moral majority…’cause I wanna be the minority…"

Those are lyrics from a Green Day song. My apologies for quoting a former indie-punk band who has long since sold out to The Man, but ever since I first heard that song, its melody and message have been stuck in my head. With whatever semblance of punk-ness that Green Day has left in them, they’re trying to make another "down with The Man" statement. I don’t think we really need any more major-label un-punk bands telling us that, because we’re good enough at convincing ourselves that we’re radicals even when we’re not.

At one time or another, everyone wants to be the minority. If I didn’t think there was something special about my worldview and my opinion, I would just shut up about it. The reason people talk and write and communicate so much is that everybody has something to say that’s just a little different. Or that’s what they tell themselves.

On the surface, that’s what makes social interaction interesting. Life wouldn’t be much fun if everyone agreed.

You: You know, I just don’t think that George W. Bush will be a very good president.

Your friend: I agree.

You: I really like hamburgers.

Your friend: Me, too.

You: You’re stupid.

Your friend: I concur.

You: I’m leaving.

Complete agreement, then, is not a good thing. We all seem to know that conformity breeds apathy and boredom, and deep down, everyone has a suspicion that he or she is the champion of independent thought, myself included. That’s why I sit around trying to think of interesting things to write.

Nonconformity is the only way to go, then, if anyone is ever going to say or do something worthwhile. Since almost everyone wants to do something worthwhile, nonconformity becomes the norm and is therefore just conformity in a new package, maybe with a different hairstyle. Roll up your jeans and get some horn-rimmed glasses if your Old-Navy-wearing peers are bothering you. Put on a cowboy hat to distance yourself from your yuppie hometown. Write poetry to anger your sports-obsessed relatives. You may think you’re rebelling, but you’re really just re-associating yourself with a new group to whose standards you will conform.

Let’s take, for example, the former sports fan turned poet. Before, he took for granted that football was humanity’s highest pursuit and that Alex Rodriguez was a jerk for going to Texas. He starts writing poetry, and within a few years he’s forgotten all about the Mariners, and now he takes for granted the fact that Shakespearean sonnets are easier to write than Petrarchan ones. He’s no longer rebelling against sports; they’re not even a relevant part of his life. He’s been sucked into a new culture with new rituals that replace beer and hot dogs with tea and scones.

Today’s American culture tells us that being an individual is important. Our personal thoughts and opinions make us unique, and our individual rights are precious. That sounds great, but as anyone who has attended junior high school can tell you, though, there is also in most individuals an innate desire to belong. We can kill two birds with one stone by joining one of the many countercultures available in our great country.

We’re all guilty of being social chameleons because of this dichotomy, searching for a niche so obscure that surely we must be the only ones cool enough to inhabit. The only problem is that if you really find a fad or a movement that no one else wants to join, it gets lonely. So if you don’t want to be alone, don’t be afraid to wear Gap clothes, listen to Indian sitar music, eat meat, protest sweatshops, watch cartoons, write poems, go to basketball games, plaster your room with Limp Bizkit posters and go to church. You’re bound to find some friends who are just as individual and bizarre as you are.

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Title: Seeking nonconformity | Author: Joel Hartse | Section: Opinions | Published Date: 2001-01-31 | Internal ID: 1777