Thursday, October 8, 2009

Social Identity Ornaments by Jeremy Graham

It’s often the work of Hollywood, or another mainstream media provider, that sets the bar and the stereotypes of the various cliques and social groups of people. With our “monkey see, monkey do” instincts permanently ingrained in our primate DNA, we can’t help but take societal stereotyping as concrete truth. The individuals in these social cliques are marked with ornaments; common traits or accessories that visually identify an entire group of people.

When it’s all laid out, it’s easy to see how backward it all seems, but that is what makes it all the more interesting to emulate. Conventions built by these mainstream media companies are helpful, in a way. Our brains interpret the world as simply as possible and creating labels is simply a way of organization. It’s neither natively meant to offend, nor does it usually accurately describe the wider scope. Yes, there do exist in the world people that are living stereotypes: a rich Texan oil tycoon with a pasture full of cattle, or a jock with the IQ of a butterfly, but generally these labels are simply that: labels. It’s almost like describing a mythical creature or spirit. They may or may not exist but that won’t stop the masses from portraying them as if they were as real as rain.

For this reason, it’s perfectly acceptable to dress up as a nerd or a jock for Halloween or a party. You won’t offend anybody by wearing nerd glasses with a pocket protector. You can take it further and wear your fake glasses regularly to give yourself an identity, or label, with which others can quickly identify you. Ironically, this is something that can be learned from the mainstream media. Some big television stars bear identity ornaments that define their appearance. For example, Drew Carrey and Adam Savage of Mythbusters have famous appearances thanks to their nerdy black wayfarer glasses. Drew Carrey even underwent laser eye surgery to correct his vision, and yet he continues to wear fake glasses to retain his visual identity.

Hollywood is often criticized for the social conventions they create, but if anything, it should be thanked for creating a repertoire of lovable fictional characters that the average Joe can quickly identify. Social identity ornaments are simply a way to bring individuality to members of a six billion strong community.

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