Conformity and Complications

My high school guidance counselor had a bumper sticker on his door that read 0ˆ8Conformity eliminates complications0ˆ9. When Adele first pointed it out to me, I thought it was sarcastic. High school, from my perspective, was the very epitome of conformity — not the entire school, but each clique. People expressed their individuality by preferring Joey to Ross, Express to the Gap, or MGD to Busch. We were unique if nobody had a white baseball cap from the same college as us.

Even the overtly anti-conformist punks and Goths shopped at the same used-clothing stores as each other and listened to the same 0ˆ6underground0ˆ7 bands, and pierced their bodies in counter-intuitive regions. The corporate CEOs in the television, music, and fashion industries, the gods of mass consumerism, had already accounted for the antithesis to mass consumerism's homogenization. Those agitating souls brave enough to resist the onslaught of TRL and Old Navy ought also to have their own niche of stores and CDs, styles and fads, in which they may consume comfortably while maintaining the illusion and sentiment of rebellion.

The true individuals, I think in retrospect, were those entirely deaf to the seasonal directives of fashion and coolness. By that, I don't mean merely not caring what other people think. To project self-confidence and disaffection has been a staple of coolness ever since James Dean, and thus another mass consumerist tool to conform while appearing nonconformist.

My friend Ari comes to mind as a true individual. He wore stonewashed straight-leg blue jeans, t-shirts and polo shirts that made no concerted statement of brand-name affiliation, style, or attitude that the fashion industry works so hard to sell us. Clothes were merely functional, not a conscious expression of his identity. He listened to what I called 0ˆ6angry chick music0ˆ7 — Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple — that virtually no other teenager would admit to liking. He also made a point of being inclusive, inviting friends from disjointed social cliques to his parties. Ari, in my estimation, had a self-knowledge that most people couldn't even feign. Despite his lack of physical coordination earning him the nickname 0ˆ6newborn giraffe0ˆ7, Ari was truly comfortable with himself while other adolescents jumped from one false comfort to another as fashion changed with the seasons.

My high school guidance counselor, by the way, was a genuine advocat of conformity. I won't grant that he was an excellent counselor, but I will grant that he was a realist.

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