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But Not Too Different

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It's cool to be different. We're always looking for what's new, cutting-edge, interesting, unique. One might say it's become cool to reject conformity. However, the nonconformity sanctioned by pop culture institutions always seems shallow and manufactured.

People pay a great deal of lip service to the idea of nonconformity. Nonconformity is a pleasant idea, but there is often some dissonance between our glamorisation of the idea of nonconformity, and our attitutes towards nonconformity done by an individual person in practise.


While watching American Idol this year, both the judges and contestants tend to overemphasise being “different” and “unique”. Indeed, “you are different” is considered to be among the highest compliments you can get from the judges. However, they are only supposed to be different and unique in a marketable and mainstream way.


It's also quite fitting to describe the auditioners who dress up like giant chickens and sing like horses giving birth as “different”. The difference is, that sort of thing isn't marketable. Such auditions are more often described as “weird”, “strange” and “bizarre”.


American Idol is a show that appears to support nonconformity, difference, quirkiness and individuality. However, the mocking light in which they portray the aforementioned giant-chicken-costumed contestants says otherwise. It all adds up to a mixed message-celebrate uniqueness, but laugh at weirdness. Embrace the quirky, mock the strange. Be different, but in a way that is marketable.


They're looking for someone different-but not too different. Someone whose “uniqueness” can be moulded into a neat and marketable package and sold to a mainstream audience. By definition, there are as many forms of uniqueness as there are stars in the sky, and American Idol has a narrow parameter for the “uniqueness” they are willing to embrace and sell. There are people whose uniqueness is not marketable to a mainstream audience.


This is reminiscent of when magazines scream about featuring real women-i.e, those bigger than size zero. And said “real” women are usually young, white, airbrushed, attractice, un-freckled, un-blemished, long-straight-haired and thinner than average. Once again, they're willing to go outside the norm, but not so far as to risk becoming unmarketable. They want to claim to be representing difference while consciously avoiding the risk that would entail.


America's Next Top Model puts a ridiculous emphasis on “having a unique look”. There is a high premium placed on being “different”, and even “alien-like” is supposed to be a good thing. But if they're so cool with difference, why aren't there ever any short fat models? Again, they want someone to be different, but in a way that falls within what they have deemed as acceptable.


In these examples, they're really only putting one toe in “nonconformity zone” while still standing safely in the realm of the mainstream. And that's the attitude a lot of people have about conformity and nonconformity. They glamorise certain forms of nonconformity and difference. The reality of failing to conform to society's norms, however, is not glamorous. It carries a great deal of risk-of being shunned, mocked, told off, persecuted or even killed depending on what sort of society you live in. The thing is, people pay a lot of lip service to nonconformity, but happily make fun of those who do not conform to their idea of “acceptable” nonconformity.


If one is to claim to embrace “difference”, one should put it upon oneself to embrace difference in all its forms. It's easy to say “embrace uniqueness!”, with a clear idea in your head about what uniqueness you are willing to embrace. Uniqueness isn't always glamorous, though. It's often subversive, uncomfortable, offensive, bizarre. I wish the media's attitude towards nonconformity wasn't wrapped up in such a mixed message. A lot of the time when companies claim to be embracing nonconformity, they are embracing a model of nonconformity that fits in with their marketing objective and serves their purpose. They want to be cutting-edge and distinctive, but it is always being done in a way to market a certain brand to a mainstream audience.





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This article has 21 comments. Post your own now!

SpringRayyn said...
Dec. 20, 2010 at 7:21 am
Most of the time when normal people try to be like the models and stuff, then they are VERY different from their peers.
 
stillness.is.the.move This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
May 11, 2010 at 11:49 pm
wow, i agree completely, and you expressed it beauituflly. I've been feeling like this for a long time, but I wasn't ever sure of how to say it. I think i'm going to write an article about this idea for our high school newspaper :)
 
Jayran M. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
May 12, 2010 at 1:51 am
Thank you so much! :)
 
bennyB said...
Apr. 23, 2010 at 7:27 am
here is my thing I dont belive in the word normal becasue eeryone is diffeent and being so is cool to me but being different is not even cool anymore people for example  dres crazy  to be different and thats cool but when everyone is dresing crazy to be different diference is no longer there becasue we are all dressing crazy
 
Jayran M. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 27, 2010 at 4:16 am
Thanks for reading and commenting
 
Tweedilydum said...
Apr. 21, 2010 at 9:02 pm

I love this article! I've always been told that im "different" but i never took it to heart. I don't think people claiming they're "different" ARE unique, because they're still trying to "fit in" with the "different people crowd" lol. its kinda sad actually. When people say im different, i usually say something like, "not really, im just ... ME"

Thanks for writing this awesome piece of work!

 
Jayran M. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 22, 2010 at 12:00 am
Thank you!
 
beckyann1296 said...
Apr. 21, 2010 at 1:02 pm
this article really goes with my favorite quote "why do you have to be a nonconformist like everybody else?" i like ur article!
 
Jayran M. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 22, 2010 at 12:01 am
Thank you. Part of it is that neither 'conformist' nor 'nonconformist' really tells you much about a person.
 
truly_lovely3 said...
Apr. 18, 2010 at 11:54 am
i agree. and if you think about it, so many people are trying to be different and unique that no one is anymore.
 
Jayran M. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 18, 2010 at 2:59 pm
Thank you. I think part of that is that young people unsure in their identity define themselves by what they are not, and what they rebel against.
 
This*Lit*Is*Bananas This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 17, 2010 at 3:11 pm

This is good. I agree. This is something you may find interesting on the topic of American Idol: my teacher Mr. Brown got a copy of the email Idol sends to performers (don't even ask how; he got a copy of the protocol for Olympic employees too), and it basically said "Must be African American or other minority. Must have cool, upbeat, artsy attitude. Must be able to mime-play instrument onstage."

 

Food for thought.

 
Jayran M. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 17, 2010 at 3:53 pm

...mime-playing an instrument? Seriously?

 

Thanks for your comment.

 
saimne This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 16, 2010 at 10:23 pm

nice article...

whos knows the artist of the picture??

 

 
Jayran M. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 16, 2010 at 10:37 pm
Thank you! I don't know who did the picture.
 
saimne This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 17, 2010 at 12:05 am

really? aawwww, sk though...

do you reply to everyones comment?? O__o

 
Jayran M. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 17, 2010 at 12:26 am
Only the cool people ;)
 
Alexander said...
Apr. 15, 2010 at 2:36 am
This really made me see things that I didn't see before. Thank you for the informative and eye-opening read.
 
Jayran M. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 15, 2010 at 2:44 am
Thanks for reading
 
Becstar said...
Apr. 15, 2010 at 1:38 am
This article has really opened my mind up to the definition of 'different' being used in society today. Thank you for such a stimulating read!
 
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