The most ancient social duality is the tendency of humans to split into one of two groups:
The Conformists: who, out of fear of humiliation, band together in like-minded packs; dressing, talking, and thinking in the acceptable way of the majority.
The Anti-Conformist Conformists: who, out of fear of humiliation, band together in like-minded packs; dressing, talking, and thinking in the acceptable way of the minority.
Each group sees themselves as distinctly unique from the other in every way, trying as hard as they can to accent their strengths and insult the other’s perceived weaknesses; but in truth, both are essentially the same.
Fear of Rejection
Humans, by nature have an irrational fear of rejection; the most powerful social force we know. Consider that fear of public speaking often ranks higher than fear of death in studies of human motivators. If those studies are correct, most people would rather die than risk being rejected by a large group of their peers.
As a result of this fear, humans look to their political, social, and religious leaders for guidance on how to act, look, talk, dress, and behave so that they might safely blend in. We learn from our early programming a list of what is acceptable and what isn’t. We learn to give a hard time to anyone who doesn’t fit the mold.
About the time I entered the stage of relativism in my intellectual and ethical development, I started to question conformity. Why should I just blindly do what everyone else is doing? Just because they’re doing it doesn’t make it right. Why don’t more people think for themselves?
I was going through the same process as most students do when they enter college. Experiencing separation from my family and being exposed to many conflicting, yet valid, points of view opened my mind considerably.
As a kid, you tend not to question what your parents tell you. You might resent them for it, but deep down, you know that they are “right.” When you leave the house and begin making your own decisions, you realize that there’s a world of possibilities out there.
If you go to college, or are an avid reader, you begin to realize that people with seemingly opposing view points can both be “right.” The concept of right and wrong becomes relative to the eye of the beholder.
To some people in this stage of development, conformity becomes absurd. Why should they do what others think is “right” when there may not even be a “right” and “wrong” to begin with? (Hence their entrance into the anti-conformist movement.)
How Not to Look
Anti-conformists look to political, social, and religious leaders for guidance on how not to act, look, talk, dress, and behave so that they might safely stand out. Their list of what’s acceptable and what’s not is often simply the mirror opposite of the conformists list.
To show to the world that they are rejecting the norm, they don the uniform of the anti-conformist. Depending on the band, it might be a color of clothing, a hairstyle, a body accessory, or a way of life. While considerably different than the conformists, the anti-conformists begin to look surprisingly alike.
You Become What You Hate
In their haste not to conform, they made the same mistake of their adversaries: letting someone else control how they think. Instead of blindly following someone, they blindly rejected them. By hating the idea of dogmatism, they became dogmatic in their approach.
Just because everyone else is doing something doesn’t necessarily make it right, but it also doesn’t make it wrong. Automatically rejecting the majority is no wiser than automatically accepting it.
Both conformists and anti-conformists are guilty of not thinking critically.
My first introduction to this concept was in my teens as I was developing my taste for music. I found it fascinating to observe the music tastes of other people and analyze how they came to their conclusions.
Depending on where you live, there’s usually a majority opinion on what is considered good music. Popular music (or “pop”) is typically safe, repetitive, and easily memorable; while underground music is typically edgy, harsh, or “different.”
By definition, pop music fans represent the conformists. They like the same type of music as the majority; but do they like it because it’s popular or because it’s good music?
I’ve always found it interesting when I meet people that claim to “hate” pop music. I once worked at a restaurant with this girl who practically gagged herself every time a Counting Crows song played over the house speakers. She always made a big production about how much they sucked and how over-played they were.
I happen to like The Counting Crows, but that’s not the reason I took exception to her reasoning. I’d respect a well thought-out argument about how she didn’t like their playing style or the lead singer’s voice.
It would make more sense to me if she said that she didn’t like the majority of their songs, but one or two were tolerable. That would provide some evidence that she had given them a chance and made a legitimate evaluation.
It’s the fact that she hated the band just because they were popular that puzzled me. The Counting Crows could have replaced their lead singer and changed to her favorite style and she still would have rejected all their music.
In my lifetime, I’ve run across countless people who dogmatically reject all things pop. It’s as if they think that the only way to be smart or cultured is to like the exact opposite of everyone else.
I’m not saying that I’m a huge pop fan. In fact, I have very little pop music in my iTunes library; but I’m not afraid to like a song just because it gets played.
I’ve noticed a movement in the last ten years towards anti-conformist conformity in Hollywood. The film business has always been home to counter-culture types, but lately it seems to be all the rage.
Ratings for The Oscars have been slipping over the same time period, partially because the average American has never even heard of the movies that are getting nominated. This tells me that the taste of the majority and the taste of the Academy voters are slowly diverging.
Along the same line of thinking as those who would reject pop music, it seems as if a growing minority tend to love movies that no one else likes. This holds especially true if the movie doesn’t make any sense. It’s as if they attach themselves to movies that no one else understands so they can claim to be of higher mental capacity.
“If you have to ask, you’ll never know.”
If a movie has an edgy component that will offend the masses: all the better; even if it’s exposition is unnecessary to the story line. This sort of dogmatic rejection of mainstream is just as ridiculous as dogmatic conformity.
Being a member of the independent film community myself, I’m all for low-budget, artsy films… as long as they’re good. I just don’t think that we should be limiting our palate based on a film’s popularity.
I’d like to see a move towards critical thinking, where each individual studies the possibilities, evaluates all sides, and makes a decision based on strong reasoning. Music and Movies are relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but they represent how people tend to think on larger issues as well.
Instead of automatically going along with everyone else or automatically rejecting everyone else, it would be nice if each person would make their own decision with all available information.
If everyone used this type of thinking, we’d still have a wide diversity of opinions, we would just be more respectful of those that don’t agree with us.
(Featured Photo by Hartwig HKD)