I used to know a guy that decided one day that he was “punk”. We never had a conversation about it, so I don’t know what he thought that definition meant, but I’ll tell you some clues I saw that point to reasons he thought allowed him to make this change. (Could that sentence have been longer? Yes.)
He started listening to the Cure somewhere around 2005, almost 20 years after the last relevant Cure album. And that’s not saying that it’s impossible to appreciate the band if you didn’t buy it on vinyl in the eighties, I’m just saying that watching a few European concerts and buying the b-sides album doesn’t make you an authority. I find it discouraging when someone calls a band their favorite when they haven’t heard everything by that band, but that’s not my point.
He went to Hot Topic to buy some band patches to stick to his messenger bag and started to wear ripped jeans. You get the idea.
Thinking about this recently made me think a bit about how and why we need to define ourselves socially. Do we mean it, or is it just a show for everyone else? When I was in high school I was a nerd. That’s probably not much of a surprise. I carried the full Todd McFarlane run of Spider-Man in my backpack, wore a Ren and Stimpy shirt at least twice a week, and for two other days a week I probably wore my favorite ensemble: the exact same outfit that Alec Baldwin wore in Beetlejuice. I was tragic, but it wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t wake up one morning and say, “I think I’m gonna be a nerd. I better start listening to what I think nerds listen to and wearing what I think a nerd would wear.” I didn’t try to define what I was—I just was. I chose Native Tongues over 2pac and I loved The Smiths which didn’t really fly at my all-black, gang affiliated high school, let me tell you.
I guess that’s true even now. Nothing has changed. I’m just as nerdy as ever but with the added bonus of adult problems like debt and women. (My God, women. Seriously, people, please tell me—will they ever make sense? Jeez! Is it just me?) I mostly wear black now, but that’s just because I really like black. And now, it seems, the world has finally realized what I’ve known since She’s Having a Baby—Alec Baldwin is awesome.
I guess the question is, does one really have to define themselves? It doesn’t really matter what you’re trying to be, it’s the people around you that ultimately call the shots. As far as I’m concerned, the only definitions that matter are “ass” or “good guy”. As you probably know, people can easily hop between these. It doesn’t really matter where you get your clothes, how much money you make, what color you are or what your sexual orientation is—you’re either an ass or a good guy.
Kanye West is very rich. He is a very creative musician and he worked really hard for many years and eventually it paid off. I’m not going to say that I have enjoyed everything that he’s done, but I can’t deny that he’s talented. But Kanye has tried to define himself by spending lots of money and talking about how important and talented he is. This makes him an ass.
At one point, he wore a diamond encrusted pendant in the shape of Christ’s head that he said was worth fifty-thousand dollars. This makes him an ass. Also, I’m sure it probably means he’s going to hell.
So, how do I wrap this up? Just be you. Who gives a hell what people think about you? Unless you’re an ass, then try hard not to be an ass. It doesn’t matter if you shop at Hot Topic if you’re a good guy. Then again, it doesn’t matter what I think.
J’Mel Davidson is the founder of a local improv comedy troupe called The Feminist Debutante Guild. You can send him the love—or some skinny black jeans—via email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.