Friday, April 26, 2013

Stereotypes, the Choosing and Feeding Of

Third week in a row posting something relating to identity. Is my teenage insecurity showing?

In other news (same news, really), English class was actually thought- (and ire-) provoking this week. For a unit on pop culture we watched the movie The Breakfast Club, the premise of which is high school stereotypes. In the post-film discussion, someone brought up the question of why characters dress as they do.

As usual, that reminded me of a Goss post: Death on the Nile. Goss discusses how characters in Agatha Christie's stories are often stereotypes (I can't vouch for that myself, since I've not yet had the chance to read the Miss Marple short story collection I got last week) and, more centrally, how
 ...appearance is a series of codes. We know the codes (although different people might know different codes), and we use them to create our public selves.


At my school, many girls wear yoga pants and North Face jackets and earrings and makeup. The code here usually indicates: rich, white, potentially spoiled, probably in AP humanities classes, sports involvement possible, Valley Girl inflections, flirtatious, outgoing. Also, probably not very smart.

However, I should not be so superior. The yoga pants girls are declaring their allegiance to a group and a value system different from mine, but that does not mean I am any more of an individual than they are.

Last year I overheard a girl explaining to her friend why she was trying out for swim despite the tough practice schedule: "What I really want is a duffel bag and a sweater with my name on it." In other words, to belong to a group. I don't do school sports, but I suspect that part of the reason I wear my band jacket so often (despite it being obnoxiously red) is because it is, indeed, a sweater with my name on it. (My euph is the "duffel bag", though the dimensions, I would argue, are more inconvenient.)

My appearance, then, stereotypes me as a band geek (the jacket) + Asian math/science nerd (glasses + messy haircut).

So far so standard. But I noticed, looking at this blog, though I do have content related to those aspects of my personality, it's subsumed by the angry music and links to writing articles and fumbling attempts at developing a personal philosophy.

The stereotypes we commonly associate with ourselves are approximations, and there's a whole lot of rounding error.

Next question: what makes someone choose one set of stereotypes over another? Most of those decisions are probably default. You make a small decision and then momentum does the rest.

If I had (the horror!) chosen choir over band in sixth grade, I certainly would not be the same person. Though I do respect a lot of the advanced choir girls for their musicianship, I maintain that there's a certain level of mastery that people who play instruments access that is inaccessible to people who are simply vocalists. Then there's the discipline of marching. And again, the individual cultures of the two groups: we have band staff, they have choir council.

Sorry, this is petty. But it does illustrate: how much of my ire is my opinion, and how much is because band kids are supposed to laugh at choir kids? (We actually get along fine, honest, in the upper strata. I will not speak for the freshmen.)

Next question: how can I judge people based on appearance when I know that my school persona leaves many of my interests (mythology, ancient history, Stoicism, fantasy and magic systems, etc.) covered? After all, I don't live in a murder mystery (so I hope). People do unexpected things. Maybe that girl with the dark roots and the lululemon athletica lunch bag actually knows everything about Aztec theology. I can't say for certain that she doesn't. Perhaps she has good reasons to pretend, to hide.

If people don't know who you really are, how can they possibly harm you? Stereotypes are hungry things. They will swallow all the cast stones.

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