I'm with the Misfits
- 4 Jan 08, 4:11 PM
On a brilliant yellow background, a person in Bozo clown makeup, wearing a big red moustache, aviator sunglasses, leather cap and pants, punches a white gloved fist in the air. Below the image is printed the words 'Normal? Never!'
This past month, I saw the Christmas TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, watched the Julie Taymor movie Frida (about Mexican artist Frida Kahlo), read Simi Linton’s My Body Politic and hung out with my flamboyant friend Nathalie, who has CP. The link that connects these encounters for me is non-conformity.
We live in a society that pressures individuals to conform and be as close to the dominant paradigm of “normal” as possible. Assimilation into the dominant group’s culture, mores and standards is what is expected of everyone. We’re taught it in schools, in the media and by our peers. The more you stray from “the norm,” the more you feel this pressure. Immigrants, people of colour, queers and people with disabilities feel the full force of this imperative to conform.
Rudolph’s parents try to hide his hideous glowing nose with mud in hopes that he will appear normal. The clay comes off and everyone in the playground is horrified. Rudolph finds a friend in Hermey, the Misfit Elf, who recognizes in him a fellow oddball; however, he doesn’t find acceptance amongst his peers until he becomes useful to them on a foggy night when his nose leads the way for Santa’s sleigh His newfound usefulness enables others to look past his disfigurement. This is his way “in” with the dominant group and away from the misfits and rejects.
A lot of people think this way, both those who are considered “normal” and those who aren’t but wish they were. If someone can prove that they are useful to society, then difference can be ignored: we can “get past” things like race and appearance and ability. A perfect world is one where these things don’t matter.
But to me, that’s not a perfect world, it’s a world where our uniqueness, our individual and collective histories, our distinct experiences are no longer valued. The African-American activist bell hooks talks about each of us existing in our “specificity.” She doesn’t dream of a day when her race won’t matter anymore; rather, she envisions a time when we will be able to acknowledge our connections and similarities and also recognize and celebrate our differences.
My other encounters spoke much more positively to the benefits of not “fitting in:”
Taymor’s Frida highlights how Frida Kahlo fully embodied her uniqueness throughout her life. At a time when Mexican painting favoured the expression of populist social themes with large murals, she chose a personal path and painted small, intense images and explored deeply personal themes. She also refused to conform to the American and European art worlds’ expectations of her. She was flamboyant and loud and outspoken. Frida was an original and never deviated from her unique vision.
In her book, cultural critic and activist Simi Linton writes about some of the absolutely unique people she knows in the disability studies movement. They often have dance parties at their conferences and she writes about the peculiar ways in which many of the dancers move because of their disabilities. Someone without a physical impairment couldn’t move in these inventive, distinctive ways. They stand out, theses dancers, and Linton rejoices in their beauty.
And finally, there’s my friend Nathalie who is proud to be a queer sort of queer, an activist crip and an alternative thinker. Someone who doesn’t fit in and doesn’t want to. She has dyed red hair, wears a leopard skin coat and has an in-your-face presence. She and I don’t want to be like everyone else. We want to be ourselves, our best selves and not bend to other people’s expectations. The last time we had dinner together, we raised a glass to toast weirdoes everywhere.
The way we look or speak or dance, the way we draw or paint or sing might be very different from the norm. There’s beauty there. There’s difference to celebrate and not to hide away or fear. Many of us want nothing more than to assimilate, but I say, “Why be normal?” I don’t want to disappear. I am a part of a community of artists and thinkers who are doing it differently by highlighting diversity. That’s me in the Daddy Bozo photo above. That’s me at my best, I think, when I am loose and expressive. When I don’t give a toss. I just want to say that I’m with the misfits all the way.