Saturday, August 27, 2011

Against the Grain

The majority of my life has been spent on trying to find my place in the world.

It began in late grade school and my freshly-founded obsession with the idea of ‘cool’.  Listening to the acts of an era in rock now known as ‘grunge’, I looked at the flannel-shrouded, long-haired, guitar-wielding frontmen in the CD inserts, and envied them.  “Those guys have it all worked out,” I would think to myself, and I envied them.  They found their niche in society, and I envied them.  They were publicized in rock magazines and music videos, and I envied them.  With envy, came imitation.

The beginning of my transformation from dork to cool was the decision to stop getting my hair cut.  Soon to follow was my clothing.  The generic striped polo shirts, khaki pants and sketcher shoes were shoved to the back of my closet, and I filled the fresh void with band t-shirts, flannel button downs, ripped-up jeans and Airwalks.  I wanted to be an apathetic rock star, it’s all I could think about.  I wanted to be the cool one that spit in the face of society. 

Sadly, being a thirteen year-old suburbanite didn’t give me many opportunities to do so.  The only evidence of my rebellion is a photo that was taken at my D.A.R.E. graduation.  In it is a very clean-cut police officer and standing next to him is me, with long (badly) bleached hair, ratty jeans and a Nirvana t-shirt that depicts Kurt Cobain handing the camera a lit cigarette.

Take that, society.

A year later, I finally gave in to my parent’s nagging and cut my hair.  With their relief, came a trip to the mall and an all-new wardrobe.  From then on, the days of me looking like a first-year heroin addict were over. 
Now one would think… having the wisdom of a failed fashion paradigm shift might help me avoid making the same mistake in high school, right?

Dear god no.  What are you, high?

High school for me was a series of (now humiliating) trial-and-error experiments.  Until junior year where I finally gave up and stopped caring how cool I looked, I went through about five to six different phases.  The irony is, when I stopped caring about being cool, others began thinking of me as just that… a fact that still makes me wish the Flux Capacitor was real, so I could go back to that D.A.R.E. graduation and smack myself in the back of the head.

Since then, the way I present myself hasn’t changed much.  I dress normally and act how I want to act; as someone who doesn't really care about being cool.  I’ve accepted the fact that my niche in life is that I have no real niche to speak of, I simply float from group to group… knowing that I am destined to do so.
However, that is not so say that I haven’t always envied one type of person. 

The rebel.  The misfit.  The guy that sees the road that his peers travel, and says “fuck that”.  You watch him forge his own pathway through life, and god dammit, you respect him for it… because that guy is the very essence of ‘cool’.

When dry, stuffed-shirt historians mention the term ‘Americana’, they are almost always referring to the “Leave it to Beaver-type” era.  The nine-to-five office jobs, finely-manicured lawns, Mickey Mantle, 7-10 splits, The Beach Boys and apple pies resting in a kitchen window.

I respectfully say, “fuck that”.

To me, ‘Americana’ is more centered on rebellion against the establishment.   Americans, by their very nature, are rebels.  We rebelled against the British in the Revolutionary War, and the result was the founding of our country.  Since then, we have been the very basis of the world’s definition of ‘cool’.  Sure, many countries out there currently look down their noses at us because the way we handle ourselves, but you know what?  That’s what rebels and misfits do; we act like an asshole from time to time.   It’s our way.  Otherwise we may as well become the Sergeant at Arms for the Chess Club. 

Nothing against chess players, I just happen to have a hatred for the game… mainly because I’m terrible at it.

I've always believed that movies are the best reflection on our society, and generation after generation of iconic movies have had The Misfit right in the center, as the story’s protagonist.  Marlon Brando in “The Wild One”, Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape”, James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause”, Al Pacino in “Serpico”, Brad Pitt in “Fight Club”.  All of these people played characters that didn’t fit in, by choice.  We watched them in the movie theater, sipping on our sodas and eating popcorn, rooting for them to come out on top, and you know what?  They always did.  More or less.

I think that a large chunk of people today wish that they could be The Rebel on one level or another. Why not?  It’s tough to explain, but being the rebel or being the misfit is being cool… by it’s very definition.  Cool is the faction that’s a cut above the norm.  Otherwise if everyone that’s normal were cool, where’s the oddity?  Where’s the specialty?

Take for example all of the fashion trends that travel through pop culture.  A new trend would start, with new hip-types that set themselves apart from the rest.  But soon, like a wave, an entire movement begins.  Countless people imitate the originals, claiming to be just as special.  How can one claim to be an individual, or special, or even cool if everyone else is the exact same way?  You’re not a rebel or a misfit at that point, you're the exact opposite.  You’re just as normal as your parents are… as they’re in a fashion trend themselves, only theirs doesn’t involve skinny jeans or knit hats. 

Honestly people, enough with the skinny jeans already. 

Somehow the rebels and misfits always end up being the object of my envy.  A rebel or a misfit doesn’t dress or act a certain way because everyone else does.  He is who he wants to be, even if society says he should do otherwise.  He stands off to the side, leaning against the wall with a Marlboro hanging from his mouth, content with his own company.   If you approach him and introduce yourself, he’ll pause and eye you up before he responds.  Why?  No one knows but The Rebellious Misfit, and he sure as hell won’t tell you.   The most you’ll get is his name and a nod of the head.

While I am not defined as an entirely ‘normal’ person, I’m also nowhere near the realm of being a Rebel or a Misfit, it doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me.  I wish it was though.

Maybe next year.
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