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the trouble with labels and subcultures

When I read this article I was rather incensed. In fact, I emailed it to myself using the google subject line ‘TERRIBLE article- write against for lip :)’ (and yes, I do actually leave myself smiley faces- professionalism at its finest). For those with no time to read it, the general gist is that the author takes pride in the fact that she’s a ‘geek’ and slanders what she calls ‘fake geek girls’.

I wondered why it bothered me so much (aside from the pretentiousness and hypocritical attitude of the author), but it didn’t take me very long to realise. I have a ‘thing’ against labels. I’m a labelist, if you will. No, it doesn’t bother me that people of feel the need to join a subculture. It’s healthy, it’s inclusive, and I haven’t researched this but I’m sure it would help the ‘ol self esteem to be surrounded by people with similar interests.

The only problem is that subcultures may be inclusive for their members, but they are so exclusive to people who don’t meet their strict definitions that leave no room for individual differences.

I have never been in a subculture. Don’t get me wrong, at eighteen I tried for a few months to ride the emo bandwagon, but I never quite managed to pull it off and was left on the outer. And when you’re on the outer, it can be much easier to see how clique-like people can get about their label.

The article in question is a prime example. The author is so affronted by people who don’t meet her strict definitions of what is and is not a geek labelling themselves as such. I can understand that in a way- I don’t agree, but I see where she is coming from. If you define yourself by such a narrow category and take pride in the label that comes with it, I can imagine that it would be infuriating when people who aren’t like you try to define themselves in the same terms.

In some ways, it reminds of the people that get angry when their favourite band hits the mainstream. “But…but…but…I liked them first!” they gasp, feeling as if a part of themselves is being pulled away. I’ve had it happen, I’m sure you have too, and there’s no denying that our initial reaction was probably similar to the one above (even if we didn’t write an article about it).

Because the band was part of our identity. It’s what made us individual. And if everyone likes it, well then, how different and special must we really be? We forget that our identity is so much more than the band or subculture that we happen to have the most in common with.

Subcultures can be healthy, but labelling yourself with no room for movement is not. By setting up strict guidelines of who you are, it can difficult to really find yourself (as touchy feely as that sounds). Because sure, you may be a tech genius and adore Dr Who…but maybe, if you let yourself be true to your own interests, you might enjoy Twilight and have a thing for top 40 radio. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t make you less of a ‘geek’; it just means that you have a variety of different interests. I don’t think that there us such a thing as a ‘fake geek girl’. When it comes down to it, we all choose how we are presented to the world and ourselves. It’s not up to anyone else to tell us what we are and are not.

Lastly, the idea that one must have had to be picked on in high school to label themselves a geek is ridiculous at best. I was tormented in primary school and wasn’t any more popular in high school because I was a considered a ‘dork’ (big glasses, pants up to the underarms and chronic sinus infections), and I don’t feel a sense of outrage when my friends apply the same label to themselves. It’s not a club; you don’t have to go through an initiation.

And besides, every time I hear it my teenage self jumps for joy that being a ‘geek’ or a ‘dork’ or basically different in any way is becoming more socially acceptable. Hell, it’s even seen as cool. Instead of whining about the terms broadening and hitting the mainstream, the author should feel a sense of relief that kids with similar interests to hers might not get picked on like she was.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: feel free to label yourself, but don’t get offended when other people with slightly different interests label themselves the same way. We’re all individual and it’s about time subcultures started to celebrate that fact.

(Image credit: 1.)

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