Sunday, January 3, 2010

Resolutely not joining in

The lovely thing about liberalism is that it permits rather than proscribes - better to allow gay marriage / abortion /what-have-you and let those that don't want one opt out, than set strict social norms and ban everything in sight. In utility terms, it just makes more sense. But a weird transformation has taken place such that this free-an'-easy approach, while valuable in relation to important issues, has become almost prescriptive.

The sexual revolution of the 1960s was supposed to free people from boring old stigmatic norms of the context in which having sex was acceptable. But (and my primary source is David Lodge here) there grew up a belief that 'free love' was not an option, but a requirement. Those that didn't want to join in were 'square' and it led to pressure on people to do what they didn't want to do, which was kind of missing the point of what it was supposed to be.

Now, we have a situation where it does feel like one is supposed to be having sex, taking drugs, falling drunk out of nightclubs while wearing nothing but a selection of items from Claire's Accessories (knickers optional), because this is what celebrities do. This is what we should be doing...

Bizarre. What if you don't want to?

Modern freedoms are supposed to free us. But instead it seems like they have simply replaced the old proscriptive attitudes with new, spangly prescriptive attitudes. We are encouraged to believe that we should be doing what they are doing - and if we can't (because we are not a premiership footballer or a fashionable girl about town who was in Hollyoaks for a season and got a couple of photoshoots with FHM) then this is something to which we should aspire, so we can - and should - live vicariously through these various celebs.

We don't need to live vicariously through others. The point of these freedoms is that our own lives can be (spiritually, if not materially) whatever we want them to be. We are free to ignore the X-Factor, the charts, the fashion pages, the gossip mags, Simon Cowell (although there are practical difficulties there), but there remains this lingering, lurking feeling that if we do, we are weird.

Now - having crawled my way out of a situation where being perceived as 'weird' was the least of my problems, I'm not actually vastly oppressed by that. But I do find it annoying. And how difficult must it be for kids / teens / people trying to find themselves (bleah - but you know what I mean - who works out who they really are until later in life?) to resist this insidious 'should should should'? This isn't just the direct peer pressure of your cohort at school - go on, have a cigarette, have a drink, have a joint, have an E, have sex, everyone's doing it - but a pervasive miasma of 'should should should' coming from pretty much everywhere. It's bloody difficult to avoid and harder to resist.

I'm not really making resolutions this year - the usual stuff, do more work, drink less, smoke less, be more creative, finish book, are all things that I try to do full-time rather than because the turkey is still a near memory and my birthday is coming up - but I am resolutely opposed to this pressure. I will continue to do as I wish. I will continue to say when I am offended - which strangely seems to cause yet more offense - and when I don't want to do something.

Because this new free age seems to be less about doing what you want to do, but doing what you don't want to do. Because you should want to do it. And if you don't want to, then you're just weird.

Fuck that. I will remain resolutely unfashionable, I will continue to wear flat shoes and no make-up (this is not a feminist statement, I just don't want to), I will continue to wear clothes I have had for years and only buy stuff I like, I will continue to listen to the music I like, and watch the TV I like, and have the hobbies that interest me, and I will continue to say 'no' when offered tequila shots / karaoke evenings / a make-over / casual sex because I don't want to do that.

Now, this may mean I appear conservative. Even dull. Possibly (given the folk music and the painting) a little bit weird. But I beg to differ. This is my life, thank you very much, and I will do it my way. You can keep your vicarious cookie-cutter everybody's-doing-it new formula for happiness and shove it, quite frankly. Because now, that is what looks conservative to me - and saying 'sod it' and going for a nature walk instead, might just be the new radical.

Here's to the simple things in life. And life itself, real and raw and immediate, not portrayed in glossy full-colour magazines and TV programmes, however much that claims to be 'real life'. It isn't. It's somebody else's life. It isn't mine.