Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Killing Kenny: Velcro Shoes and Hot Topic

Aesthetics and the Individual.

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." That saying certainly is true There must be a set of standards in which something is either deemed beautiful or ugly. A set of standards, opinions, given by a culture at any one time that declares something to be of aesthetic value. These rules are crucial to understanding the individual's opinion for what is attractive, and what is not. I want to call this the Societal Norm or SN for short.

I have read and seen on different shows/articles that faces are remembered or forgotten based on how different or similar they are from the collective mean of all the faces that one sees in a lifetime. That some place, in the core of our mind, lies the "Form" of a human being, with the physical attributes of everyone we have ever seen. Then, as we see people's faces, we mark them as individuals
through the differences that we see apart from the collective face. The same goes for entire bodies, or anything else for that matter. Plato explained this concept as "Forms." I have internalized it, making the collective idea of a "chair" or a "person" to be the collective mean of all chairs or people that one sees in a lifetime.

Building a Hypothesis

But what are the set standards of the Societal Norm? What do we consider attractive or ugly based on the differences from the collective mean? I suggest a hypothetical experiment to find out. Go to the Internet, and find 1000 (or any number that's sufficient) pictures, randomly, of people in different poses. They have to be alone, but other than that, it should be totally random. Depending on your sexuality and gender, it will depend on which gender you choose. The easiest way of finding these would be to find porn sites, or modeling sites...etc... They can be clothed, naked, engaging in self-pleasure, but they have to be pictures of one person only in the shot.
Now, putting these images in a folder, use the slide show function on Windows to rapidly go through them (about every 5 seconds or so.) In that time, you have to push one of two buttons. Keep, or discard. The choice should be made instantaneously, with only the mind valuating the aesthetic beauty(or not) of each person. It's amazing how much information is analyzed in that short a time span.
Afterwards, return to those that you have discarded and ask yourself "why?" For male pictures, is it skin tone? Weight? Muscular build, facial hair, chest hair, facial shape, circumcision, race, tattoos, piercings? Or is it something outside the body (which can't be helped in a non-controlled experiment)? Could it be that he is smoking? Or there's an animal in the shot. Or the couch is red, or the wallpaper is ugly....etc.... For female pictures, is it skin tone? Weight? Muscular build, facial shape, breast size, shape of the buttocks, hair color, race, eye color...etc... There are any number of reasons why someone would be discarded in this manner. And given two or three shots of one person, one might be in a discard stack while another might be a keep one. Depending on profile angle, pose...etc... All of this is decided within a very few seconds.
Looking at the Keep stack, analyze each picture in the same time frame, giving 1-5 to each picture (let's suppose out of 1000,300 are keeps.) After this is done, take wallet size photo shots of each one of the 300, and place them on a grid, with 5's in the middle, and 1's on the outer edges. From this, you will see similarities in the people you found most aesthetically pleasing. If you wish, do that will all of them, although it will take longer. This gives you, at the center of the grid, the focal point of what you consider beautiful. Now, here's the important part. Where does that focal point fit in the grid that demonstrates the Social Norm (SN). In other words, how are aesthetic standards dictated by the ideas of society?

Now that Borders has their calendar selections up, look at the swimsuit women / shirtless men calendars, and you'll see what people in the calendar industry feel is the SN. They populate their calendars with those models because the models they have chosen will appeal to the greatest number of people, and therefore create the greatest amount of profit. I doubt very seriously if many calendars of 300 pound shirtless guys with beer bellies will sell to be placed on kitchen walls. It's not the standard by which people evaluate beauty. This is not to say that some culture in the past, where food was a great scarcity, might have found that appealing. And there are people who would definitely buy that calendar and relish it daily. The former is a SN from another time, another culture. The latter is someone who's aesthetic standards have deviated from the SN, resulting in an Individual perceptive of beauty.

Derivation from the SN

Perhaps society has done something to alienate the individual. Thinking back to the South Park episode, the Goth group was on the outside of the social system. And whether that was because of their standards, or the other way around (they were rejected, so they rebelled against society and developed individual standards), is unclear. But the idea of rebelling against society is an appealing one, so I shall look at it further.
I guess rebelling isn't really the word I would use for myself. Ignoring would be better. When I moved to Georgia from Oklahoma, I had already garnished the "Victim" sign on my forehead. When I complained to my mom about it, she simply told me to "Ignore it all, it'll go away." So I simply ignored everything. What was popular, was not for me. Everyone went gaga over Aladdin, I have never seen the movie totally. When people started wearing WWJD bracelets or whatever little knickknacks they thought were "cool," I could have cared less. Course, I didn't have any friends to try to impress. Nor, at the time, did I want any.

I think the main fashion rebellion I insisted on was Velcro Shoes. I wore them because I didn't want to take the time to tie regular shoes. In fact, I only stopped wearing them after the 8th grade because they no longer made them in my size. To me, Velcro was so much easier to deal with than having these shoelaces everywhere. My mom thought it good to, as the shoes most everyone else wore, Air Jordans, Nikes, Reeboks, all were $100 or more. Mine could be had for $20 or less.

I still feel that way, finding more fashion at Goodwill than the Gap, and finding no real need to get brand names when normal clothes will work just as well. I traveled along at my own pace, ignoring everything that society told me was appropriate, creating my own standard of living. And while I have some regrets, that maybe I didn't do some of the things I should have, maybe gotten in trouble a little more, let my conservative stance slack a little, it all worked out*.

As I have finished reading Ayn Rand's main novels, I can relate to the fashion and appearance taken by Dagney Taggart, or Hank Reardon, or Howard Roarke, as outward expressions of the inward simplicity of their philosophies. They are unique, individuals in a sea of socialites, uncaring about the rest of society thinks. To me, there is nothing more beautiful in this world than the characters of those novels, shining in individualism while society crumbles around them.

I have a friend who, having lived a short life filled with drama and hard times, has decided to die his hair. He feels that the "Emo" style fits his personality best. When I asked him why he wanted to dye his hair, he told me that he wanted to be unique, to find his individuality in school and in life. He wanted to express himself. While I don't necessarily believe that the unjust and unfortunate treatment that the world around him gave him had a direct correlation with him dying his hair, it is a possibility. I have often told him that he could write a memoir of his life so far, fill it full of the truth, and no one would believe it. It would read much like Augusten Burroughs' memoir Running with Scissors. Now, taking what I have mentioned above about the Societal Norm, why would he, after having been mistreated by the world around him, want to emulate what society says is normal? It is very natural for him to rebel, as a lot of teenagers do. His focal point for what is attractive is much different from the SN. His standards are different, unique, and he has achieved what he started out to do when the majority of his hard times ended (give or take being run over by a car.)

But was the hair dying and Emo look necessary? Couldn't he have expressed himself similarly without changing so drastically? Truly, I don't know. The inner rebellion must have an outer expression, at least, for the extrovert, such as he is. To me, going away from society's standards does not mean changing my physical appearance, the music I listen to, the things I do. But to some people, that's exactly what it means. They must change their own standards as a symbol of rebellion from society. This makes them, as well as myself, unique. Individuals who have changed from what everyone else thinks for whatever reason, and they have moved away from the cliques and the stereotypes. They become themselves.

Of course, society would be amiss not to notice this, and to profit off of it. While most people shop at the Gap, or A&F, or wherever, there are those who try to stand out, to be unique, that find Hot Topic the place to find clothing. Society benefits from those rebelling against it. That's capitalism for you, and it's very fitting it should be this way. It begs a question, then. When does the expression of individualism become swallowed up by the standards of the masses. Again, cue the South Park episode.
The Goth kids (the true individuals in the school) increasingly become outraged at those who are just playing "vampire," emulating the popular Twilight series. So they burn down the Hot Topic store.

So I'll conclude this part here. Next I'll take a look at some of the other books that have dealt with individualism, and deal with parity in the NFL, which is probably the most Socialist business venture in America today.

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