Thursday, February 7, 2008

I'm A Survivor

Fan, I'll admit.

Some members of my extended family have nothing but disdain for my Reality-TV Habit (Note: I am only hooked to the "gateway" reality shows of Survivor and The Apprentice. I have yet to go all Project Runway or America's Next Top Model hardcore). But unlike people I know Who Pretend They Don't Watch Soap Operas, I own my Survivorism honestly. I can barely contain my excitement at the DVRed debut episode of the "Fans Versus Favorites" Season awaiting me in that little silver box by my TV (or in cyberspace, or wherever DVRed shows are stored...that technology alludes me...and honestly, doesn't interest me until it MALFUNCTIONS).

My middle school students in Washington, D.C. would regularly dis each other for the shoes they wore, despite the fact they were all struggling to be legit: few of them could afford the basketball kicks they truly lusted after. Because I myself sported shoes from discount stores which they Sometimes Accidentally Complimented Me On, I tried to convince them, "Hey! You have to OWN your Payless Shoes! Payless Shoes are COOL!"

But you can only imagine the skepticism with which they greeted my Enthusiasm For Cheap Shoes. And they would quickly return to calling each others' shoes "nasty," "dirty," and "ghetto." And I would continue to be glad there was a Dollar Store in my neighborhood. While they were busy trying to bust out of the confines of their economic circumstances, I was discovering that I could too. Having moved beyond college and high school (and while I was never exactly a Slave To The Trends), I no longer felt any pressure to impress people with the brands I wore/used. I was living in a working-class, urban neighborhood of diverse cultures. My students certainly loved to scrutinize my clothes (and my hair, and my word choices, and my food, etc...), but that tendency was more a symptom of our mutual curiosity about each other than anything else.

I recently visited a classroom at my high school where students were reviewing for a test on The Great Gatsby, discussing the novel's setting, the 1920s, and society's focus on wealth and fame. As a contemporary tie-in, the teacher had photocopied an article about recent trends in consumerism that apparently transcend class. For instance, Target, a discount store, has the cache of coolness among all kinds of Americans. "Grungy" fashion trends often camouflage who actually has money to spare and who doesn't.

Nevertheless, we're all conscious of what we do, wear, say, and watch, and what that says about who we might be and represent. Which is why, I explained to students, if you wear jeans that are "Sevens" you're acknowledging what's valued in denim today, and if instead you consciously sport uncool or vintage jeans, you're pretty much acknowledging the latest fashion and its hegemony, too--through deliberate flouting of What Everyone Else Is Wearing. Media and advertising are so pervasive that to be "in" is one thing, but to be "out" On Purpose appears to make you just as much a victim of Worrying About What You Look Like. I suppose the best case scenario is Not Knowing At All, and Hence, Not Caring, What You're Supposed To Buy To Be Cool and/or Hip. This is a little bit what it was like to live in Kenya: Blissful Ignorance of Many Things Unimportant.

Back to Survivor: I've told my students, among other nuggets of advice, Give Yourself Permission. What I mean by this is, as you grow, learn to sort out all the things you've been told aren't acceptable, aren't part of your class/culture, aren't RIGHT, and decide which of those you feel in your heart aren't so harmful. Despite your upbringing and peer pressure, for example, you might find:

1. A little Reality TV won't kill you
2. Cheap Shoes don't make you Totally Lame
3. There is more to Human Beings than their specific Religions, Ethnicities, Gender Identities, Sexual Orientations, Political Beliefs, and Cultures...
4. What makes you truly, healthily, heart-filled happy (and what doesn't hurt anyone else), is probably the Very Best For You. No Matter What Anyone Else Says.

So, I myself will continue to do some of the Dorky Stuff I have always done, and not worry TOO MUCH about what others think and what others say (on occasion, I will feel defensive of my unpopular choices, and on occasion, I will still succumb to trendy jeans and Pottery Barn Sheets).
But for now, it's Time For Survivor! Clear the couch!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know who one of those People Who Pretend They Don't Watch Soap Operas are...LOL. This is your sister by the way.