Thursday, June 30, 2005

FLASHBACK: Too many nonconformists are all alike

Each Thursday, I will post "flashbacks," articles written when I was in college and actually funny. The following unaltered column was originally published April 22, 1998 in The Red & Black in Athens, GA. Call it a trip down memory lane, call it the worst kind of masturbatory blogging - I just can't believe I wrote this over seven years ago.

Widespread Panic doesn't do it for me.

Far be it from me to consider myself a true Athens resident, though, because suddenly every one of us is the biggest Spreadhead ever. I, though, will be honest - I couldn't name one of their songs.

Of course, I was interested to see the sights Saturday night, and I trekked downtown to find a mass of people, seemingly most from out-of-town, partying hippie-style.

Color me not impressed. Sure, there were people having fun, and I can appreciate that. Unfortunately, while walking around attempting to get away from the smell of patchouli and sweat, I began to think. And that's never a good sign.

Watching the tens of thousands of people, I began to wonder how many would have considered themselves Panic fans a month ago. I could almost hear the mooing as I witnessed the entire city become a herd of cattle.

Is there anything wrong with that, though? After a bit of initial skepticism, I found myself almost appreciating the instant fandom of the masses. It's all in good fun, and nobody's getting hurt.

Of course, then my cynical side had to pop up. I started looking around at all the people who, most likely, had been Panic fans for a long time. The hippies.

I bet if you cornered each one of them and asked them about themselves, they'd label themselves "non-conformists." And then they'd go join the rest of their friends - who look exactly like them. The same clothing. The same hair. The same dancing style. Even the same damn hippie attitude.

Which is fine, if that's what makes them happy. But I couldn't get over the idea that most of them actually believed they were not conforming to anything (I get this bitter when I'm tired and the only sober person around).

So what defines "original" today? What does "hip" mean? What exactly makes one "cutting edge?"

Who cares? If somebody has a style you want, copy it. If it makes you happy, do it for yourself. There's no shame in that. Don't, though, insult other people's intelligence by insisting you're original.

As a guideline, the following is a list of things that won't make you an "insider" in any social clique or class. They won't make you a guru of coolness. They won't make Michael Stipe want to give you a high-five. Do these things if you want to, but swallow it - you're a conformist, even if you: Listen to Marilyn Manson, P.J. Harvey or Tori Amos. Wear Doc Marten's, bell-bottoms or the top of your way-too-baggy jeans at the bottom of your butt. Smoke and are proud of it. Don't smoke and are proud of it. Watch "The X-Files." Have a Coke in the morning. Are a far-left Democrat. Are a far-right Republican. Save souls from eternal damnation. Refer to Trent Reznor as "my muse." Hate Greeks. Are passionately pro-Greek. Don't have a clue who Golden Pantry Guy is. Love "South Park" and have a copy of "The Spirit of Christmas." Haven't seen "Titanic" just to be "the only one." Play golf. Consider yourself a Vegan (ask Linda McCartney about the health benefits). Make cheap jokes at the expense of dead people. Have a "Darwin" fish on your car. Wear clothes eight sizes too small (for the love of God, listen to this one). Love hacky-sack, frisbee or golf. Are gay. Have ever referred to anything as "da bomb." Enjoy line-dancing. Really respect Kevin Smith's "subversive mentality and mise en scene."

The list is endless. True, it does seem like all of the original ideas have been used up. All the themes have been turned into theme parks, as Christian Slater says in "Pump Up the Volume." But stop whining and please, admit that you may just be a little bit like some of us normal, conformed folk. We aren't that terrible.

– Josh Massey is a staff writer for The Red and Black. His column appears each Wednesday.

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