Monday, March 31, 2008

Being different

Was struck recently with this news that young people who sport a goth look or who are seen as being too "emotional" for comfort are now being branded as “emos”, short for people who emote a lot, by their peers. Had to check first with msword’s thesaurus if there is actually an “emote” in english. But only found “emotive”. Following a hunch that it was not the word I was looking for, I checked the Webster’s Universal Dictionary and Thesaurus (1993 edition). And there I found again the word “emotive”, meaning “characterized by or arousing emotions”. I was right, it was not the word I was looking for. A few entries up however was “emote”, an intransitive verb that referred to the display of emotions in a theatrical manner. A closer adjective in Filipino would have been maarte, which had several meanings in the local language like being picky or choosy, hard to please, too sensitive or emotional, angst-ridden, depressive, or melodramatic. In other words, acting like someone who’s running for an award in the FAMAS (the local counterpart of the Oscar’s). Found this Urban Dictionary site which gives some interesting definitions for emo.

Anyway, just had this thought that it seems tables have been turned for nonconforming individuals in society. About a decade ago, back in college, fine arts students who come to class in jeans that looked like they have been pelted with mortar shells or rifle bullets and shirts that appeared to have been retrieved from the dumpsters were treated like rock stars. Rich students, the so-called “101 kids” (because they liked to hang out in front of the college registrar’s office, room 101), who wore black and had eyeliners were like movie idols to ordinary folks like me who just did not have the stomach to do a similar act. Fortunately, during those days, there was another option for those of us who were somewhat fashion-challenged: going deep, thinking more profoundly, being an activist, serving the people or the country. A common thread running through all three types is the contempt that many young people then had for the uncomplicated life, for uncritical conformity to society’s norms, for conservatism of any kind. That’s also why we had the term “nerd” which was condescending, and derogatory.

Probably like emo now. So, is the use of this term another sign that the world has indeed swung politically to the right and that young people nowadays are starting to be more comfortable with being part of the common lot? Are they afraid to stray from society’s standards? Or have they been so homogenized, so spiritually and intellectually stunted by current fundamentalist and consumerist ethos that they have completely lost the capacity to imagine a uniquely individual existence? Would they be contented with just having a normal life: growing up, finishing school, landing a 9 to 5 job that pays them well, acquiring a condominium unit, car and some other property, starting a business, becoming famous, marrying, having children and dying with a stack of cash and bank books under their bed? But, perhaps the underlying derisiveness in "emo" points to contempt for skin-deep or cosmetic rebellion, and the desire for deeper and more meaningful dissent among today's youth.

If that is the case, then I think I can breathe a little easier.

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