{pantoum: What He Is Not}

About a week ago now, I was talking with my Brain Trust about any number of things, and somehow or other I veered onto a digression about a show I hated, which I will leave nameless except that it featured a group of people who specified themselves as “The Fab Five.”

I refuse to argue the point as to whether or not this was a good show on other levels, but I will indulge in a little junior sociology talk and say that I believe it privileged a certain style and shallow substance of masculinity, and it failed, as all alleged “reality” television fails to do, to present anything real. It promoted hyperconsumerism, and a must-have-this-to-have-IT mentality, and I am too big of a not-IT to believe in the all-consuming importance of IT; I don’t have IT, and yet, here I am, getting along crookedly, but my crooked has a lively, working symmetry.

The problem with this show and with other shows which depict populations in stereotyped or generalized ways is that there are people who truly believe the message presented. I recall a conversation with an older friend – she is sixty-five – who, in passing, said, “Whatever would we do without them, to tell us how to dress?” To which I silently shrieked, “WHA????” And yet, she means no harm when she says this – she is at heart a very kind person. She isn’t “othering” deliberately, this is “Lil” being enlightened and tolerant and open and accepting.

And yet: this is also “Lil” having been fed and regurgitating a wholesale lie.

After the end of the television show Will & Grace, a gentleman wrote an essay which ended up on the “Best Of” list from Craigslist – I won’t link; it’s all kinds of NSFW and PG-17 – anyway, the writer wrote about all that the show did to promote misconceptions of various people – how it revived a caricature that is six parts generalization and four parts cliché. The letter was both kindly and kind of snarly, and it made me laugh and wince and cringe.

We are a society in search of an identity. Perhaps we think we need either a Will or a Grace. Maybe we aspire to have a Sassy Gay Sidekick. Real people struggle; struggle to mimic acceptable behavior, struggle to understand social mores, struggle to find a structure which will let them fit in and be accepted. And yet, the social perspective is that difference has some kind of weird cachet and a hipness factor. Think autism, “acceptable” mental illness like depression and alcoholism – these all SUCK. Yet somehow, it’s cool to flash a scars from cutting, talk up our days sober, or bandy about the names of medications. Not that we should be ashamed of our differences, no, but I object so strongly to other people’s realities achieving cult status, and being something to which the empty aspire – as long as they can have the identity badge without any undue suffering.

Western Civilization is, at times, freakishly incomprehensible. Human beings: surreally complicated.

And yet: I believe in the power and beauty of the individual. I know that generalizations exist, I know that people have relationships which are like and unlike anything we can see depicted in media, but every relationship and individual deserves the respect of being original. People are not collectibles, accessories, adjuncts or other add-ons to our own particular internal sitcom. There is no Sassy Gay Best Sidekick. Half the population was not put on earth to serve as your cheerleader, or your mirror.

That is all.

If you remember the rules of the form, it varies lines like a villanelle, and repeats everything twice in a pattern. Of course, every pattern has variations and every original has an exception:

Is Not

Not Girlfriend’s go-to for a “You go, girl!”
Not Hipster’s latest hip accessory,
No spinner in your diva-drama swirl,
Not personal couture advisory.

A Hipster’s latest hip accessory
(Like teacup dogs or black Tahitian pearls.)
Is personal couture advisory,
Applauding for your catwalk strut and twirl.

Like teacup dogs or black Tahitian pearls?
“Collectibles! Trés chic necessities,”
Applauding from the clotheshorse, swish and twirl
An audience: not in their own story.

Collectible – a chic necessity
who understands your inner diva, girl!
A spinner in your daily drama swirl —
No audience within our own story.

Reflective surface to your vanity?
Not. Girlfriend’s go-to? Please. Just you go, girl.

7 Replies to “{pantoum: What He Is Not}”

  1. LOVE that poem. What also really resonated with me: “the social perspective is that difference has some kind of weird cachet and a hipness factor.” I definitely see that happening. Of course, it has to be an “acceptable” sort of difference, too, one that makes you mysterious or fun or quirky, as long as you don’t cross the line into reclusive or manic or eccentric…

    I actually really enjoy The Big Bang Theory and, oddly enough, it DOES remind me (in a caricaturish, silly way) of some geeks I know, but I 100% agree that XKCD is pure quality!

    1. I haven’t seen enough of the BBT to say too much on it – but I have heard a lot – people either love or hate it, I find.

      YES, to the quirky thing, though. I find that pseudoquirk is everywhere, and it makes me feel genuinely weird, like, maybe the me that I thought I was is just patterned off of someone else. It’s a creepy feeling.

  2. Thank you.

    To be flippant, many of us want to be different enough to show that we’re special, but not so different that we subject ourselves to ridicule. I wonder if the desire for different/same can be distilled to the need for appreciation.

    1. …yes. And if that’s the case, then we should maybe somehow more appropriate express, “I want you to think I’m special!”

      Only, I don’t know how to tell anyone how to do that correctly. I just know thinking that autism is hip is NOT it.

  3. Pantoums are perfect for the kind of swirling jabber that goes on about this stuff.

    The show I get wound up about is The Big Bang Theory. I’ve known many, many geeks and these characters do not ring true to me. The xkcd cartoons do it a zillion times better, with edgier humor and respect, even as they send up the foibles of the brilliant, nerdy crowd.

    1. Oh, I VERY much agree!! I haven’t seen anything but clips of BBT, but it offends me that one of the characters is supposed to be super-socially maladjusted, and …that’s all we get, that this is funny because he doesn’t know how to act.

      I ♥ xkcd. So much.

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