Saturday, 10 September 2011

Trainers for deviance

Overheard on a London bus: one mid-teen schoolgirl  saying to another, ‘do you think it’s weird for a boy to buy his trainers from Topman?’

Topman is, of course, a shop which among other things sells trainers.
Now buying trainers from Topman may show a canny eye for a bargain, or it may be a proof of bad taste. It may simply be an indication of laziness in a boy who never goes further than the shop next door. But weird? How can it be weird?
Enough to get you booted out of your group?
Weird would be buying your trainers from a butcher’s. Weird is sinking a well in the Sahara. Weird is claiming earthquakes are a divine message to politicians and still thinking you’re a suitable candidate for the White House.
What I'd overheard was identification of the boy’s behaviour as deviant from social norms to which the girl felt her group should cling. So she was providing further proof of how powerful the pressure to conform is in childhood.
That pressure is overwhelming in our teenage years. You don’t like the trainers some unfortunate boy has chosen so you shun him. At least that has the merit of focusing on something that doesn’t really matter very much. But then the mentality rolls forward into adulthood when race, creed or sexual orientation become wonderfully fertile ground for identifying forms of behaviour to categorise as deviant.  Attention switches from an insignificant item of clothing such as shoes to a much more potent one, such as a hijab. Those who get their values in these areas wrong by our standards, those who behave ‘weirdly’, are diminished in our eyes. And the crucial, final step is taken by those who decide that any action is legitimate against such diminished people, even if it leads to suffering or death.
Is it completely fanciful to suggest that this idea of weirdness lies behind the 9/11 attacks or the mayhem unleashed on Iraq in response?
So maybe I need to review my own thinking. Perhaps we ought to get back to associating weirdness only with a choice of trainers. At least no-one dies that way.  

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