When I was in high school, my lilywhite oh-so-gentile high school, the popular girls all had long, straight hair parted in the middle. Occasionally they’d add a headband to their doo, colored to match their carefully put together outfit of Villager A-line mini skirt, cardigan, and round-collared blouse. Finishing it off were Danskin tights and Capezio shoes. These girls owned the school, marching together like the WASP sorority sisters in training they so clearly were.
My family couldn’t afford to shop at Fields, where those brands were sold. My clothes came from Turn Style or Montgomery Wards. My hair was wild and curly and frizzed out so much that a simple cloth headband would get lost. I was not popular.
Later, towards the end of my high school years, a new group known as Freaks pushed forward to challenge the hegemony of the WASP overlords. Freaks wore bellbottom jeans that were colorfully patched and embroidered, had long, unruly hair and spent lunch hours getting stoned at the back of the school’s parking lot. Freaks were hip. They were as fervently anti-war (that would be Vietnam) and politically left as the rest of the school was Republican and pro-Nixon. I felt much more comfortable with this group, but lacked their coolly hip attitude.
The reality was that I didn’t fit into either group. I was neither hip nor popular.
The clothes have changed, but not much else. It’s still easy to put someone down, to minimize them by invoking the tyranny of hipness, the cruelty of popularity. Hip is hard work, requiring constant vigilance. Network TV is not hip, unless watched online. Certain shows are required, others forbidden. The fallback if caught enjoying something deemed unhip is to invoke irony or retro-ness as your rationale; otherwise, you’re doomed.
Then there are the derisive “White people’s/first world problems” labels. These can be invoked at any time to invalidate other people’s issues, while simultaneously raising your hipness credentials. I lost my husband last year and am agonizing over this, but it could easily be labeled a “first world problem.” After all, my husband was in his early 60s and died while under medical care.
Those two poles of existence, popularity and hipness, abide eternally. You can choose one or the other, but once the choice is made you need make no other choices; they are made for you. If you choose hip, you wear skinny clothes, skinny glasses. You shop vintage clothing stores for early 60s style clothing and never, ever evince true enthusiasm. Popularity means an embrace of mass marketing produced cultural icons and markers, and a decided lack of interest in anyone or anything outside your carefully crafted corporately sponsored world.
Neither of these options allow for much individuality, for a person to pick and choose what excites them, to select their own personal passions in life. Neither lets you create your own path in this world.
Eventually high school ended, and I grew up and decided that I didn’t want to be hip or popular. I wanted to be me, a person who can both embrace some aspects of each, and reject others. There’s no tightly constructed end to this post, no simple credo to bestow; just my personal observation that life is a lot more interesting when you have to work out ideas and opinions on your own, instead of having them handed to you via membership in a group